Wednesday, June 13, 2007

States Continue to Matter

In a post titled "The errors of 'post-politics'", Jodi Dean takes issue with the notion of "post-politics", the idea, advanced by Ranciere and Zizek, that we are in a "post-political" period, given the facts of neoliberalism and the apparent subjection of political entities (states) to "the demands of corporations and the seemingly inevitable logic of the market", among other indicators. Jodi rejects that these facts, which she accepts, are indicators "of a post-political situation". She explains:

States continue to matter. More specifically, the different states of the US (and other countries, obviously, as well) and cities and various other regional political groupings continue to exercise authority and influence. Clearly they matter enough for some to spend a great deal of money in campaigns and contributions in order to influence or control them. The left-wing lament over post-politics overlooks this continued reality, ceding in advance a key terrain, as well as failing to analyse the situation.

I think she is right on here. I would go further: not only do states continue to matter, but, in fact, capitalism needs states.

I will have much more to say about this when time permits. In the meantime, it is always instructive to look again at Chomsky. I've been reading his book Towards a New Cold War, which collects essays written between 1973 and 1980. In an essay from 1977 called "American Foreign Policy in the Middle East", he writes the following:
The oil companies face local problems as a result of continued American barriers to a political settlement of the Arab-Israeli crisis in the only possible manner, that is, with a two-state settlement along roughly the 1967 borders. But the basic long-term interests of American capitalism have, so far, been adequately served by this policy. As noted before, this is not the first time that the oil companies, despite their power, have been subordinated to more general interests. After the CIA-backed coup that restored the Shah of Iran in 1953, the five major American oil companies were informed that the National Security Council had determined that it was "in the security interests of the United States that United States petroleum companies participate in an international consortium," replacing the former Anglo-Iranian Oil Company monopoly, in order to reactivate the petroleum industry, shut down by international boycott, and "to provide to the friendly government of Iran substantial revenues on terms which will protect the interests of the Western World in the petroleum resource of the Middle East". Anglo-Iranian was less than enthusiastic, preferring as the "ideal solution" that they "return to Persia alone"; and the American oil companies themselves were more concerned with short-term problems involving their production facilities elsewhere. But obeying the U.S. government directive, they accepted a 40 percent share in the new consortium, thus supporting the Shah and the "national interest," while incidentally displacing Britain from another part of its former empire. Not a great sacrifice to be sure [. . .], but an illustration of the role of the state in serving long-term economic interests ignored even by the companies directly involved.

American scholars typically take such incidents as support for the general doctrine that the government simply serves some abstract "national interest" and that policy is at best marginally influenced by the concerns of major corporations. Myra Wilkins, for example, notes that "the Truman Doctrine, for instance, committed the United States to defend Greece and Turkey against Communism, and in the process created security for corporate Middle Eastern oil investments; yet, Texaco's chairman of the board testified that the promulgation of the doctrine caught him by surprise," referring to Senate testimony. How literally one should take such testimony is an open question, but it may well be accurate. If so, the case simply illustrates a natural principle, quite well supported by such evidence as is available: Corporate executives are concerned with specific problems of maximizing profit, extending market control, and the like, while the state executive, largely staffed by representatives of corporate interests, is concerned with the long-term, enduring, and general interests of American capitalism. [. . . ] As long as the state uses its power to enhance "profits beyond the dreams of avarice," as in the case of the oil companies, and to secure the conditions for their enhancement, it is hardly necessary for those concerned more narrowly with business operations to intervene more directly in affairs of state. (pp. 333-334)

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