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Article posted Dec 31 2013, 1:51 AM Category: Commentary Source: C4SS Print

Statism As Disempowerment

by Alexis

Many statist-leftists in the Global North would probably bristle at the notion that their politics can promote disempowerment amongst marginalised and/or oppressed groups and communities. “On the contrary!” they might say, “My statist proposals will actively counter disempowerment of such groups and communities, by giving them more resources (e.g. financial aid), and preventing discrimination against them (e.g. from employers).”

One can debate the ethics and efficacy of the various left-statist proposals put forward. But setting all of that aside, there’s one small problem: When are those proposals going to get implemented?

Some of them will only be able to be implemented “after the revolution”, when a “dictatorship of the proletariat” has been established. Some of them could theoretically be implemented now, or in the very near future, at least amongst the democratic states of the Global North. But most of them rely on the presence of two things: substantial sustained pressure from a signficant section of the population, and an overall context in which the state-corporate nexus has more to lose than gain from giving in to such pressure.

For example: the statist welfare programs so beloved of the statist left were often first implemented in the context of:

(a) Global North countries still drinking from the cup of direct imperialism (e.g. the British Empire), resulting in more resources available to fund such programs;

(b) war, or post-war conditions, with issues of scarcity creating the conditions for widespread sociopolitical discontent;

(c) mass social movements, willing to undertake various forms of direct action, which regularly threatened to soon lead to the overthrow of existing states and rule by far-left political parties.

Various independence / nationalist movements have substantially reduced (a); the wars engaged in by Global North countries in recent times have not resulted in issues of scarcity as described in (b); and ongoing mass social movements based in direct action, as per (c), are often more the exception than the rule in Global North countries.

So when statist-leftists in the Global North call for e.g. more funding for personal welfare programs, they’re doing so from the bottom of a long climb. The corporate state isn’t going to increase such funding just because “it’s the right thing to do”; it will have to be shown that not doing so will threaten its existence, or at least the general stability of the society it’s governing. But such statist-leftists seem to think that’s all that’s necessary is to elect A Good Party to government, which will then be persuaded to “do the right thing” by a number of policy papers showing how It Makes Sense – as though the state is an idealised scientific institution, rather than an institution that speaks and hears power. Mass social movements based in direct action from communities? Pffft, old hat!

And if ‘mere’ substantial changes to personal welfare programs represent a long climb, well, how much longer and steeper the climb involved in the calls for a revolution to overthrow the bourgeois state and replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat!

For many years, I was a far-left statist. I gave substantial amounts of time and money to statist-leftist causes, including when I was doing paid full-time work. I strongly believe that burning the candle at both ends in this way substantially contributed to me developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has prevented me from being able to work full-time for around a decade and a half. Several years ago I applied for disability benefits; my application was rejected, as the state, contrary to the advice of a CFS expert, declared me “fit for full-time work”. Thus, for many years, I have been fortunate enough to be financially supported by partners.

Now imagine that, instead of giving all that time and money to causes that often haven’t progressed – indeed, if anything, those causes have found themselves even more on the back foot – I had instead given that time and money to creating/building a community-based disability insurance organisation, in which individual members contributed funds, to then be disbursed to members in the event of them becoming disabled. Even if the amount I received from such an organisation was relatively small – yet still bigger than the amount of money I put in – it would still be something far more substantial than the amount I’ve thus far received from the state for my disability, i.e. nothing.

So statism has disempowered me. I substituted the hope that the state could, in the near- to medium-term, be convinced to comprehensively support the disabled (and the marginalised, and the oppressed etc.) for taking immediate concrete steps to establish community-based support systems which don’t depend on the state’s continuing largesse in order to be able to function.

How disempowering is it to encourage people to engage in a Sisyphean task as a solution to their problems, and for many of those people to feel an increasing sense of hopeless as, year after year after year, the goal seems to draw no nearer (and indeed, often seems to get further away)? How disempowering is it to encourage people to think that people can’t provide mutual aid to each other, but instead must constantly appeal for a system of table scraps from the state? How disempowering is it to encourage people to focus on the state enforcing a minimum wage, rather than on collective direct action (e.g. industrial action) to ensure a living wage for all?

Time to empower ourselves by starting to build a new society within the shell of the old.

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