[Marxism] a thought on a quote in Lenin's Tomb
gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com
Fri Dec 6 15:04:37 MST 2013
“The state does not have an essence. The state is not a universal nor in
itself an autonomous source of power. The state is nothing else but the
effect, the profile, the *mobile* shape of a *perpetual* statification or
statifications, in the sense of *incessant* transactions which *modify*, or
*move*, or drastically *change*, or insidiously *shift* sources of finance,
modes of investment, decision-making centres, forms and types of control,
relationships between local powers, the central authority, and so on. In
short, the state has no heart, as we well know, but not just in the sense
that it has no feelings, either good or bad, but it has no heart in the
sense that it has no interior. The state is nothing else but the
*mobile*effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities.” [my
This is from Foucault’s 1979 lectures on bio-politics. There Foucault
outlined the creation of a new subject by what we now think of as the
forces of neo-liberalism. Dufour has brought these lectures to public
attention and Richard has also put them on the Marxist agenda. And we owe
him a debt of gratitude for that.
I will try to leave to one side my hostility to Foucault and the terrible
damage his views have done to a generation of students. He was the conduit
out of radicalism for thousands via the faux radicalism of postmodernism.
What I do want to draw attention to is the ears of the Nietzschean donkey
that pop out from behind the lines above. There is first of all the
emphasis on flux. Nietzsche got this from Hearaclitus, he of the river
that one could not step into twice because new waters were always closing
around one. Nietzsche exaggerated the flux to the extent that one could
not analyse anything because it was artificially extracted from a flux.
There was no concept of a depth ontology with relatively enduring
structures, tendencies and mechanisms in Nietzsche’s thought.
So let us get back to the quote above. Of course states move, shift and
change, but underneath it is the deep relationality rooted in the class
system. That is the core and it has not shifted or morphed since the rise
of the modern state. So talk of flows here and there and shifting all
distract from the reality of the generative core of class relations. Now if
we want to use that metaphor, the core could be thought of as constituting
the heart of the state. Certainly it constitutes the essence of the state,
and no amount of Heraclitean thought can gainsay the reality of class
And a final thought on the ubiquitous plural as in “governmentalities”.
This is a favourite trope of the postmodernists. Everything is to be
pluralised and/or accompanied with scare quotes as in ‘truths’. The intent
is to destabilize analysis and explanations and to emphasis instead that we
are dealing only with a plurality of perspectives. As always the onlie
begetter of this line of thought is Nietzsche who claimed science describes
but does not explain. Of course it is explanations that we need if we are
ever to liberate ourselves from the rule of the bourgeoisie.
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