Mark Neocelous is Professor of the Critique of Political Economy at Brunel University, UK. Author of several books incl. most recently 'War Power, Police Power' (2014 EUP), 'Anti-Security' (2011 Red Quill Books) and 'Critique of Security' (2008 EUP/McGill). Many of his articles can be freely accessed here.
This interview was originally conducted in March 2014 for Kampfplatz (a journal of philosophy, published in Turkish in Ankara, Turkey) and its Turkish translation was first published in the 6th issue of the Kampfplatz in May 2014. More information about Kampfplatz can be found on their website (in Turkish).
Kampfplatz also annually co-organizes State and Law Symposium (devletvehukuk.blogspot.com — in Turkish only), in memory of young academician Taner Yelkenci, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations every May in Izmit, Turkey. One of the international participants of the 2014 Taner Yelkenci State and Law Sypmosium was Mark Neocleous. You can view the video of his talk here.
Gülden Özcan & Ersin Vedat Elgür (GÖ&EVE): Before getting into the details of your work, we would like to discuss with you the university as an institution and the current positions of academics in relation to politics. At the very beginning of your book Imagining the State you mention how the number of polemic style books and articles has been decreased and indeed almost become invisible as a result of academic research and evaluation practices that had been taking away the self-confidence of academics under capitalism. With your work in general in a sense you re-claim this right of producing polemical texts in the world of academia which has been dominated by the culture of capitalism. You not only claim but also practice this right by writing polemical books such as Imagining the State, The Fabrication of Social Order, Critique of Security and most recently, perhaps the most controversial of all, your edited book called Anti-Security. In these works while dealing with the conventional assets of the discipline of political science such as the state, law, fascism and civil society on the one hand, you also introduce new terms, or rather the terms that only certain disciplines take issue with, to the area of political science such as police power, security, monstrous, the dead and pacification on the other hand. Can you tell us the kind of experience you have had while being in academia and producing such work? Also, our journal Kampfplatz, too, aims to offer a space for polemics (as, we hope, its name tells it all) and thus aims to have a kind of publication policy that stays away from academic rituals. Do you think there are ways to stay out of the academia in the act of producing knowledge, or is it possible to institutionalize knowledge-production besides the academia? What would be the place for such activity: independent journals, independent academy-like institutes, or perhaps community libraries?
Mark Neocleous (MN): There is a tension at the heart of academia for anyone trying to produce radical work. On the one hand, we need the time and space to think, read, discuss and write, and academia is therefore still a good place for anyone trying to do these things. As a form of wage labour — and we must never forget that being an academic is still, despite everything, a form of wage-labour — being an academic allows far more autonomy than almost any other job in the world: being an academic enables one to escape a huge amount of the kind of discipline that other wage-laborers face on a day to day basis. On the other hand, academia is a space that is ‘disciplined’ in a completely different way: it is a space dominated by disciplines, which in turn are meant to discipline us. The disciplines exercise discipline. This poses a major problem for developing radical thought within academia.
Think of how Marx is taught, often to students in their first year of their study as one approach to the discipline they are studying. Marx gets taught as a ‘sociologist’ and is found wanting, Marx is taught as offering a ‘method in politics’ and is found wanting, Marx is taught as an ‘approach to history’ and is found wanting, and on it goes. Of course, it is not surprising that he is found wanting in all of these fields, because he never set out to be any of those things. But the University seeks to train us to be one of those things. And so Marx’s attempt to grasp the nature of the social totality runs against the very idea of the University, which wants us to think not about totality but only about one of its fragments: politics, history, economics, law, and so on. At the same time, Marx’s project was ‘the ruthless critique of all that exists’, as he put it in 1844. This is why the concept ‘critique’ is in the title or subtitle of so many of Marx’s texts: the critique of Hegel’s philosophy of right and the critique of critical criticism in the 1840s, the critique of political economy presented in Capital, the critique of the Gotha Programme. But the last thing the University wants is to be the site of the ruthless critique of all that exists. It doesn’t want critique and it doesn’t want to examine the totality.
All of which might explain why Marx never made it as an academic. But maybe we can get at the same point another way, but briefly thinking about someone who did make it as an academic and who did so by having the discipline imposed on him, namely Max Weber. Weber is no radical — quite the opposite, of course — but his experience is symptomatic of the problem which radicals do need to deal with. Think for a moment of Weber’s biography: he writes a PhD on medieval trading companies and their legal principles. He then works on Roman agrarian history and its law. He then starts training for the Bar, but also teaches law in Berlin. In 1894 he takes up the Chair in Political Economy at Freiburg, moving to Political Science at Heidelberg a couple of years later. He writes some more on agrarian history and then a work on the Protestant ethic. At this point his personal health problems mean that his career stutters and flounders, coming to a standstill for a period. Much later, in 1918 and having recovered from the ill-health, he becomes Chair of Political Economy in Vienna. Note the way he identifies himself in the speech he gives in Munich in 1918, called ‘science as a vocation’: he begins by referring to ‘we political economists’. Even before his death he still thought of himself as Professor of Economics.
So what do we have? A biography which covers agrarian history, law, political economy. A biography that can tell the story of the most of his life without once using the word ‘sociologist’. Yet what is the ‘official knowledge’ about Max Weber learnt by every first year student in the social sciences? That he is a sociologist. Weber has been defined as a sociologist, even Canonised by the discipline — Saint Max of Sociology! — regardless of the fact that he worked across law, political economy, history, politics. Weber himself would have recognized this for what it was: a product of the power of classification that takes place within disciplinary practice. This is a practice in which the University system labels us, trains us, and shapes us into one discipline rather than another, making us become a Professor of some discipline or another and thereby internalizing the very thing from which we should be trying to break free.
Weber’s career coincided with the solidification of the disciplinary system that we now take for granted, which really got set in place somewhere in the last couple of decades of the nineteenth and first couple of decades of the twentieth century. Academic disciplinarity is a product of the development of the modern University, circa 1870 through to World War One. This is the same period in which one sees the emergence of so many professional-disciplinary academic bodies. Just look at the dates in which the first professional disciplinary associations were established in the US: the American Historical Association in 1884, the American Economic Association in 1885, the American Philosophical Association in 1900, the American Political Science Association in 1903. This coincides with and correlates with the formation and consolidation of a departmental system of administration which replicates and reinforces the disciplinary divide. Thus the rise of the modern university and emergence of modern academic disciplines were part of same phenomenon of ‘professionalization’ of disciplinarity. It is a little ironic that one of the reasons Weber became so well-established within sociology is for his work on the iron cage of bureaucratic discipline, and yet one thing that permeates his work is his insights into the ways in which this iron cage destroys people trying to work against it but having to exist within it. Inside and against the discipline machine is not a pleasant place to be; Weber really did think it could destroy people.
And who does it destroy most? Anyone trying to do radical work. The whole system is designed to act as a blockage on radical intellectual labour. Althusser would say, yes, that’s why the educational apparatus is the most important ideological state apparatus. Maybe we can put it slightly differently and say that the University system is designed to pacify intellectuals. Having read our Foucault, we know that ‘discipline’ refers to a branch of knowledge or teaching but also to training: self-control as well as external control, methods of obedience, orders as the commands of authority and orders as structures of power. The disciplines monopolize the production of knowledge in their field, and thus discipline the producers of ideas and arguments. Hence the idea of the ‘disciples’: disciples are always followers of the rules established by the leaders within the power structure of the disciplinary group, but who then also reinforce the discipline. The problem with trying to be a radical within and against the discipline machine that is the modern University is that one is always fighting this fight. ‘Polemics’, as you mention, are more often than not polemical because they disrupt disciplinary norms. And the even bigger problem is that too many radicals who might produce some powerful and polemical work end up producing uninteresting stuff within and for their own discipline. The lessons of the discipline are learnt, repeated, and repeated again, and failure to play this game, failure to be part of a discipline and failure to reinforce that discipline’s disciplinary norms, leads to punishment. And what do most academics fear most? Expulsion from the disciplinary group and with that the destruction of one’s disciplinary identity.
In that sense independent entities such as Kampfplatz are crucial to radical and polemical work. As you know, I am part of the Editorial Collective of the journal Radical Philosophy, and we also aim to do the same. The journal was established in the early 1970s precisely as a polemic against the way philosophy was taught in British Universities: as sterile, apolitical, analytical philosophy. So the journal as a whole has always intended to treat philosophy itself as a space of battle, but also a space where other political battles could be carried out. But I have to tell you that sometimes it is a struggle, precisely because of some of the reasons I just gave. First, because a lot of writers hold back from being too polemical in case they upset too many people, but also because a lot of academics have succumbed to a certain kind of publishing treadmill, which satisfies their employers and helps their careers. This is no doubt one of the reasons why independent journals are in decline, selling out to large corporate publishing houses, which then sell the journal at inflated prices to Universities. This should be a warning of how difficult it might be for Kampfplatz. I wish you a lot of luck.
GÖ&EVE: Thank you! In your work, but in particular in your books Administering Civil Society and The Fabrication of Social Order, you state that thinking the state as a relatively autonomous subject on its own right will help us better comprehend the re-production of a series of administration practices and order making tactics. In this process the state needs a number of mediating institutions in order to produce the consent. However, in your later works you focus more on the concepts of “security” and “the security apparatuses.” Is it because you think that in the near future the state power (and also the struggles against it) will center on violence rather than consent?
MN: No, not really. One has to conceive of state power in terms of both violence and consent, and in terms of how the manufacturing of consent goes hand in hand with the exercise of violence. I don’t think it is helpful to separate them out at all, though I appreciate that for analytical purposes such a distinction sometimes needs to be performed. But to give you one example: there is a myth concerning the distinction between the military and the police that suggests that the military is somehow concerned with violence and the police somehow concerned with consent. To begin with such a distinction is a terrible mistake. For me, the concepts on which I focus all contain this combined power of violence and consent. Think of the logic of security, for example. If you start counting the number of human beings tortured, mutilated and murdered in the name of security one would probably never stop counting. And yet consider too how much the manufacturing of consent takes place through the idea that what we all want is ‘security’.
GÖ&EVE: But there is surely an oscillation in your work from consent to violence?
MN: You might be right. Or maybe it is less of an oscillation and more a straight development, as the work has developed through the years. One can track a line between Administering Civil Society, where the issue of violence is far from central, through The Fabrication of Social Order, where the violence of the police power comes through a little more but is still situated within a broader regime of the constitution of bourgeois order and subjectivity. I think in retrospect that I really should have done more in that book to spell out the violence. In Critique of Security I do this a little more — as you know, there is a polemical reference to ‘the six million’. Now with War Power, Police Power (which is currently being translated into Turkish) the violence perhaps takes centre-stage. As the title suggests, the police power is really connected explicitly with the more obvious violence of the war power. But the point is that this is not so much about where I think state violence is going as it is a development in my own work as I have sought to refine the arguments concerning the state.
GÖ&EVE: The universe of your works is constituted by the concepts of the state, security (and its apparatuses), civil society, and law. Obviously the changes in the institutional structures these concepts imply and the changes in the mode of relations these concepts have with each other would refer to the structural changes in the organization of civil society. Today, do you see any structural changes in the organization of capitalism? If such change exists how does this affect the organization and administration of civil society? What is the differentia specifica of such changes in capitalism as well as in civil society?
MN: Much depends on when you are comparing the change to. Right now the most significant fact is that we are living in a time of ‘austerity’ measures, in which the working class are having to pay for disaster imposed on us by a specific sector of capital. The cuts in public spending as Western capitalism moves out of this crisis are having the most significant impact on working class living standards. That much is clear to see. This has facilitated significant shifts to take place in the key forms of political administration. Most telling in the last few years has been the major transformation taking place in the realm of welfare. The extent to which the welfare system is designed to reproduce wage labour has now been made clearer than ever before. Under the guise of cuts in public spending, described by the ruling class as a fundamental necessity due to the supposed emergency facing capitalism, the central logic of welfare has been revealed. Where previously welfare had been cloaked in the language of need, now it is openly discussed as a mechanism for reproducing wage labour, and low-paid wage labour at that. In other words, one of the central planks of political administration, the welfare system, has shifted with the changing tides of capital. But at the same time, capital gets managed anew with the shifts in political administration.
GÖ&EVE: Speaking of emergency, you write about the continuity of the state of emergency as opposed to liberal and conservative claims that treat the state of emergency as an exception. This would appear to be proved true by history here in Turkey, where we see a number of declarations of martial law and states of emergency, and where we all witness how these states have been normalized even after the martial law and states of emergency are removed. However, now, we also witness that these evidences are being hidden under the conceptualization of a supposedly charismatic leader striving towards personal power and more power. What do you think the role of the critique of political economy as a discipline, which sometimes stands against the obscuring role of the fictive analyses and such personalization, would be? As a professor of the critique of political economy (indeed as the only professor with such title) what do you think of the modes of (possible) relationships diverse disciplines listed under social sciences to this specific discipline of the critique of political economy?
MN: First, let me try and resist your calling the critique of political economy a ‘discipline’. As I said earlier, I have a problem with the disciplining of the universe. I want to hold on to the idea of the critique of political economy as anti-disciplinary. This is why Marx’s Capital can move from the commodity-form to the history of enclosures and cover so much ground in between. The critique of political economy is a method, not a discipline. But we might also think of the critique of political economy as the revelation of the secrets of the bourgeois world. As I point out in War Power, Police Power, Marx’s Capital is in fact a book of secrets. Throughout the whole book one constantly senses Marx laughing as he reveals secret after secret: the secret history of the foundation of wealth, the secret discovered in the New World by the political economy of the Old World, the secret of the Roman Republic, the secret of the flourishing state of industry in Spain under the Arabs, the secret of bourgeois sympathy for the poor, the secret of the capitalist complaint about the laziness of the working class, the secret of the fetishism of commodities. Marx loves revealing the secrets of the ruling class. Most of all, the purpose of the critique of political economy is to reveal the secret of accumulation. What is that secret? That capital must constantly create and recreate and administer wage labour in order to extract a surplus. How does it do this? Through the state and its apparatuses. Maybe we need to adopt Marx’s approach. Maybe then we can make the point about the state of emergency another way: the secret of the state of emergency is that it never really ends, the secret of the state of exception is that it is not exceptional, the secret of ‘normal’ law is that it contains within it the emergency powers.
How does this connect to your question about the leader? Maybe we need to consider the ways in which the logic of emergency and the logic of the strong leader almost always come together. They feed off one another. The ruling class asks itself ‘How can we solve this emergency?’ and answers ‘we need a strong leader exercising emergency powers’. ‘How can we get out of this exceptional state?’ Answer: ‘We need a strong leader with exceptional powers’.
GÖ&EVE: The key argument in your book Critique of Security is that “the key concept of liberalism is more security than liberty.” As we understand it, security is rather affiliated with the modes of accumulation regime and labour control strategy founded under capitalism, than being an object in itself. However, in your Critique of Security, we see less of an emphasis on the political economic side of security, more of an emphasis on security being a depoliticizing discourse (or ideology), in other words the emphasis is more on security being a political tool. While we Marxists always try to understand the effects of the economic structure, we underestimate the importance of the new spaces that interventions from the political sphere open for capital. What is the relationship between the state, security and capital when you think it in terms of infrastructure and superstructure? Does the determination in this relationship have a coherent direction?
MN: It is complicated, because if we think in terms of capital as the ‘economic structure’ rather than liberalism as a political discourse, then security gets opened out as a series of contradictions: on the one hand, capital thrives on the insecurities it generates. On the other hand, capital thrives on the incessant demand for more and more security. Security itself becomes commodified. There is no coherent direction, I think, but the state, security and capital constantly play off one another in a way that suits all three: security operates as both commodity and ideology. That is why I think a radical starting point for the critique of political economy right now is precisely to de-fetishize security. We need to do so not just to battle against state and capital, but also because the more we accept the imposition of security on our minds and being then the more we give up other ways of thinking and being — that is, other more radical ways of thinking and being. The more we succumb to the discourse of security, the less we talk about the things we really need to talk about and the less we talk about them in the ways we should be talking about them. Take, for example, food. There are few needs more fundamental, few activities more sensuous, and few activities in which it can be such a pleasure to commune with others. And this centrality of food to our being is revealed in the history of revolutions and rebellions underpinned by the issue – food riots and the political economy of bread in eighteenth century Britain and France, the hunger marches, the ‘salt march’, the list could go on. A rich history centred on a fundamental human need, together constituting a powerful foundation for political demands, but all of which is now to be subsumed and nullified as ‘food security’. Just as we say less and less about hunger and more and more about food security, so we equally say less and less about exploitation, alienation, oppression, domination, war. The more we talk about security, the less we talk about the material foundations of emancipation, the more we come to share in the fetish of security, the more we become alienated from one another and the more we become complicit in the exercise of state power. Worse, once we allow ‘food security’ to be the issue then it becomes what state and capital want it to become: the security of the supply chain. What is being ‘secured’ in ‘food security’ is not healthy meals for human beings but the health of capital.
GÖ&EVE: And we see that you try to do this in the edited book Anti-Security. But in your attempt to de-fetishize security, don’t you think that there also exists a risk of re-fetishizing?
MN: Yes, you are absolutely right, and it is something that some of us talked about as we worked on the book. In particular, part of the desire was to actually stop talking about security. So, yes, on the one hand one might say let’s stop talking about it, in order to de-fetishize it. On the other hand, staying quiet about it is hard to do, as I have found out since Critique of Security was published. Since then, I have been invited to God-knows how many workshops and conferences which try to do ‘x’ to security, where the ‘x’ is meant to imply some kind of challenge to security: Humanizing Security, Challenging Security, Democratizing Security, Disengaging Security, Dismantling Security, and on it goes. What often goes on is yet more chatter about security. It is chatter that is meant to be ‘critical’ in some way — the way of ‘critical security studies’ — but ends up merely peddling yet more banalities about security. This is what we need to get away from, but how we do so is not easy. ‘Anti-security’ as a term is not subtle, I know, and certainly not as subtle as ‘critique of security’, which I prefer. But what it lacks in dialectical nuance it makes up for in directness. It offers no space for security intellectuals, even the critical ones. ‘Anti-security’ sets itself up against something: it is a polemic. And it recognises that within that battle space will be those who purport to be critical about security but in fact perpetuate banalities.
We might look at this another way as well, for the same problem came up again in my recent book War Power, Police Power, where I wanted to move beyond the discussion of security. The problem is that so much of what takes place in discussions of war and police takes place ‘under the sign of security’, as I put it in the book. And the final chapter of that book is called precisely that: under the sign of security. And so you are absolutely right: there is a tension there which we are aware of. Maybe it is worse than a tension. Maybe it is a trap that security has set for us.
GÖ&EVE: But maybe it is a trap you have pushed yourself into. You start from the discourse of security alone and put it at the centre of your analysis, but as you clearly demonstrate in your earlier work, modern nation-states have been built on other justifications too. For instance, if the main governmentality is security, or as you put it quoting from Marx if security is the “supreme concept of bourgeoisie,” where do we put all the other mentalities of liberal government? Also, thinking through the relationship you built between “national security” and “social security” which we think is very impressive, can you explore little more how ideological consent is re-produced on the basis of the concept of security alone?
MN: No, because it isn’t. But what is interesting is the extent to which the various other justifications play off of and feed into the discourse of security. So, for example, in the chapter ‘Under the Sign of Security’ in War Power, Police Power, I consider the ways in which other concepts have recently come to the fore, concepts which feed into the powers of war and police and which have done so under the sign of security. The concepts in question are trauma, anxiety and resilience. These terms seem to offer a certain kind of ‘neutrality’ and play heavily on our feelings and fear of the damage caused to human beings by war and capital, and yet what is interesting is how they actually support the powers of war and police — how they act as ‘justifications’ as you put it — and, more to the point, the ways in which they come to do so through their connection with ‘security’.
GÖ&EVE: Speaking of the state in the face of the relations of determination, we want to talk little more about the epistemological roots of your theoretical framework. In the very first sentence of your Administering Civil Society you state that “this book offers a Marxist theory of the state.” In this book you put the tension between Althusserian and Foucauldian approaches to the state at the center, and elsewhere although you always clearly declare your Marxist standpoint, you take Foucault’s writings as a reference point (be it to criticize or to build arguments on his writings). In this sense you seem to harmonize these two distinct (or, to some people, mutually exclusive) epistemologies quite well. For instance, you put forward the relation between liberalism and security resembling a Marxian meta-narrative, but you also give priority to a decentralized concept of pacification, to some extent resembling Foucauldian notion of bio-power. In this context, where does your state theory stand in this so-called dichotomy? Could the exit point be your conceptualization of “political administration” that you suggest at the very end of your book Administering Civil Society?
MN: In retrospect the category of ‘political administration’ was my attempt to think through the idea of a police power before I really highlighted this. Highlighting it came a few years later, in The Fabrication of Social Order. In Administering Civil Society the three major phisolophical protagonists are Marx, Hegel and Foucault. I was aware in writing the book that both Hegel and Foucault had the concept of police and that there were some interesting overlaps between them. I did nothing with this at the time, aside from a few brief comments. That book was first published in the UK in 1996. As you know, my next project was not The Fabrication of Social Order but in fact my short book Fascism, published in the UK in 1997. When writing that book I was constantly coming across the use of the phrase ‘police state’ in the literature on fascism. I was not happy with this phrase as I think it obscures more than it reveals. ‘Police state’ is an inherently liberal concept. It is a concept which acts as a blockage on understanding — people want to say things such as ‘the fascist regimes were police states’ and leave it at that, as though we all know what a ‘police state’ is. In Fascism I did not deal with this as a problem, but simply left it to one side and without succumbing to the liberal tendency to simply describe fascist regimes as ‘police states’. But following so closely on Administering Civil Society it got me thinking that I really needed to work through the problem of police power. That project became The Fabrication of Social Order, published in the UK in 2000. Why am I saying all this? Because I think the category ‘political administration’ in Administering Civil Society got folded into the concept of ‘police power’ in The Fabrication of Social Order.
But you ask about Marx and Foucault. At the time of writing Administering Civil Society the debate about the two was in a very different place to where it is now. Now the debate is more nuanced, relaxed even, whereas at the time Foucault was being discussed as a way of thinking about power without Marx at all. It was very much Foucault versus Marx. Foucault was being presented to us as a way of saving ourselves from the crude thinking that Marxism was said to be, and nowhere was this clearer than in the way Foucault’s account of ‘power’ was said to be somehow more compelling than Marx’s concepts of state and capital. In retrospect I realize now how much this was driven by a certain sociological appropriation of Foucault, and a very Anglo-American sociological appropriation at that. The debate now is very different.
That said, it also has to be said that I meet some people who think of my work as very Foucauldian, whereas I also met people who ask me why I am always attacking Foucault. So how one reads the way Foucault appears in my work is often very much down to the intellectual and political affinities of the reader. Of course, Foucault himself would find all of that very amusing. He would see the attempt to measure the level of my truth of my ‘Foucauldianism’ for what it is: a police operation trying to limit what can and can’t be said.
Finally, since we’ve been speaking a little about secrets, let me tell you a little secret of my own. Really, my book Administering Civil Society should have been called something else. It should have been State, Power, Administration. That title would have been an indication of how we might think with both Marx and Foucault, because the title would have played on Poulantzas’s State, Power, Socialism. That was how the book started out, but the title was changed at the last moment, a decision I regret.
GÖ&EVE: That’s interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is Poulantzas’s interest in the problem of law in that book. So what about the rule of law? Do you think that the law will take a new shape within the relationship between the state and security as you define it? Do you think is there a possibility to keep the classical division of powers between legislation, execution and jurisdiction specific to bourgeois democracies? Or, in a broader framework, do you think the law is capable of defending its legitimacy as a mediator between citizens and the state?
MN: Well, you need to be careful with talk of a supposed ‘classical division of powers’ between legislature, executive and judiciary. Liberal ideology likes to insist on this divide, but the bourgeois state always finds ways of overcoming it, in both theory and practice. At some level of abstraction, the state has to be thought of as a unity, and from a radical perspective we need to avoid being taken in by the distinctions liberalism likes to impose on us: legislative versus executive, law versus administration, constitutional versus exceptional, normal versus emergency, courts versus tribunals, state versus civil society and, of course, military versus police. If we take these divisions as our starting point we never get out of their liberal origins. But your real question concerns law rather than the separation of powers, and it is indeed law that we keep having to return to in radical thought because the problem of law permeates everything we do, and here I want to insist that the beauty of the bourgeois system and the real genius of the ruling class has been its ability to place bourgeois law at the heart of the class war and to simultaneously conceal this behind a series of myths, such as the myth of the ‘rule of law’ and the myth of ‘law and order’. And if we apply this geopolitically to the class war globally, the myth of ‘international law’. If we want to think of our project as the revelation of secrets, we would do well by starting with the secret of the rule of law: class war.
GÖ&EVE: Turkish politics right now might prove to be the perfect case study for what you are saying. What started as “Gezi Resistance” in June 2013 continues nowadays as protests against the AKP government’s corruption and unlawfulness. In this process, new laws have been enacted to fight against events, persons and institutions.
GÖ&EVE: And yet these developments have taken away all the assumed seriousness and legitimacy of the state. With a new law made overnight the whole institutional structure of jurisdiction has been changed. The ones who were brought to the court on the accusation of planning a coup d’état against the democratically elected government and kept under custody over 5 years have now been released on the basis of this new regulation and they became “heroes.” Police as the main security apparatus of the state is attacking people more violently than ever without any limits and/or control. Do you think what is happening in Turkey right now is contingent given the situation of the global capital and its historico-social construction through the state and its apparatuses of law and security, or do you think it is rather signaling to a more structural transformation in the Middle East? Or do you think there is a broader movement emanating from the Middle East and Maghreb spreading across the globe (of course we also have in mind the current interventions of the US government in Venezuela and Ukraine)? Where do all these stand concerning your arguments in your forthcoming book War Power and Police Power and your conception of pacification?
MN: Whether what we are seeing is a broader movement emanating from the Middle East and spreading across the globe or whether what is happening in Turkey right now is contingent on the situation of global capital one can not say, nor should we try. Capital is global and needs a global system of pacification. The exact nature of that pacification, its specific techniques, its modus operandi, its technologies, its justifications, will always vary from state to state but also within each state depending on the precise level of resistance and how organized such resistance might be at any one time. Hence we need to read Gezi and its aftermath in terms of global pacification, but without flattening it out such that we lose its particularities. Conversely, we need to understand pacification in terms of a global process but without losing sight of particularities. This is not an easy task. What makes it difficult is not the banal act of banning Twitter, which only a fool could think would be effective. Rather, what makes it difficult is precisely developing the theoretical tools which allow us to think in terms of the universal and the particular.
One of the reasons some of us have tried to develop the category of pacification for radical politics is because it highlights the global or universal nature of the process but also allows some nuance for the particularities. But even more important is that it seeks to think the process of pacification in terms of law and war, war and police, ideology and practice. Or, to go back to your earlier question, violence and consent.
GÖ&EVE: You point at a danger when you state in Imagining the State, that “to be anti-globalization could just as easily lead to a reterritorialization of capital—that is, to national socialism.” In Turkey the leftist opposition has translated anti-globalization into anti-imperialism, which in turn created an oxymoron: nationalist leftists. In the context of your analysis in Imagining the State, could you explore the view that “the state is only one way of organizing and imagining space” for an alternative political organizing. You suggest that “if we are to recover a sense of the range of political possibilities… we have to think politics outside of the statist political imaginary.” Regardless of the current nationalist leftist opposition, in the analyses of the history of Turkish politics and also in practice we have so long been overwhelmed by the state power. This hegemonic political imagination in Turkey first reflected itself in the founding principles of the Republic, then in the tutelage of the military over the statist politics, and most recently in the rule of the AKP government which has turned into the state itself. In this context, how could it be possible for a left alternative to move beyond the state both in theory and more importantly in practice?
MN: The problem of ‘nationalist leftists’ is not a new one, of course. In fact, one might describe this as one of the major problems of the last century. This year it is 100 years since the outbreak of the first ‘world war’ as the ruling class have called it, and one might say that was also the outbreak of a form of ‘nationalist leftism’ that undermined the whole international working class movement. Worse, in another form it turned out to be the first step towards the rise of fascism. Which takes us to the heart of your actual question: how do we think politically outside of the state? Which is also a question which asks: how do we think politically outside of the nation-state? The question is crucial, and the problem huge. On the one hand, there are all the trappings of the nation: the patriotism, the jingoism, the flags and the anthems, all working to incorporate the working class into the body of the nation. On the other hand, there are newer and in many ways more profound mechanisms incorporating us into the state as a state rather than just the nation as a nation. Think of the ways in which we are being nurtured into the war power and the police power right now. I mentioned a moment ago the way resilience has come to the fore. But did you know that British school children are being taught resilience in schools?
GÖ&EVE: Resilience at what?
MN: At bouncing back! This is the key term in resilience: ‘bouncing back’. We must all now learn how to bounce back from whatever crisis, emergency or attack is coming. But since the crisis, the emergency and the attack are all being fought with the powers of war and powers of police, resilience is essentially a way of incorporating political subjects into the war power and the police power. What bothers me most is those leftists who think resilience training is a good thing. This is the new nationalist leftism: adopt the key categories of state power, learn to play your part in the war power, learn how to police the system.
Gülden Özcan, PhD Student, Department of Sociology, Carleton University.
Ersin Vedat Elgür, PhD, Editor of Nota Bene Publications and teaches at the Department of Philosophy, Dicle University.