In the past decade, many ex-colonies in the Middle East and Africa, like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, have been left teetering on the brink of failure. These countries, argues the National Unversity of Singapore’s Dr Ali Kadri, are examples of a new breed of state which is neither an institution of all institutions nor an institution of itself and which engenders reverse development and debilitates man. “By virtue of its inward collapse,” Kadri writes, “it is a differentiated and degenerative form of even the nation state defined as a social club. Individuals in these on-the-brink states have no state or one government that they can call their own.”

By Dr Ali Kadri

When colonialist forces created states in their own images, they re-founded institutions that organise social structures in line with their strategies. When, after decolonisation, many of these states in Africa and the Middle East weakened under military or neoliberal assaults, they were dubbed ill-governed or ‘overdeveloped.’ The ‘or’ between military and neoliberal is inclusive. The neoliberal bent is imposed by shifting national class structures to accept the imperialist terms of surrender via neoliberal policies by power structures, foremost in which, is actual or potential military power. As for overdeveloped, it is said that ex-colonies borrowed loose and over-fitted systems of government and administration from their Western patrons. More recently, many of these ex-colonies have failed and many others teeter on the brink of failure. Libya, Yemen and Syria can now be added to Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. However, these failures are not a onetime occurrence after which states resurrect in better shape or form. They have become states that exist in a continual condition of failure, violence and collapse.

After the destruction of their indigenous industry and national means for the reproduction of life, they are relegated to a condition of insecurity and more dependency on the export of raw material. For the imperialist forces that enjoy the benefits of resource grab, they need to ensure that rent from resources are devolved in ways that entrench divisions, sectarian, ethnic or otherwise across the social spectrum. In this new breed of state, the state is neither an institution of all institutions nor an institution of itself. It shares sovereignty with the imperialist forces and administers rent redistribution. Iraq, for instance, bought drones to protect its pipelines when more than one million of its orphaned children are stranded in the street of Baghdad and daily car bombs wreak havoc and destruction across its landscape.

This new breed of state is neither sovereign, in the sense it cannot provide national, communal or individual security, nor does it exercise autonomy over policy. It is simply there to ensure continued divisions so as not to facilitate the aspirations of working people irrespective of sex, colour, gender, sect etc., in a more resistant stance to imperialism. As models engineered to offset the debilitating effect of the crisis of capital on declining rates of profits, they are instruments of working class differentiation and control. And in view of the prolonged financial recession, the possibility exists that there could be more of these states now. What occurred in Iraq and Libya can engulf all of Africa, a matter that explains the adamant rejection of NATO intervention in Libya by the African Union. In the post-Soviet era, the old form of the sovereign and nationally industrialising state no longer tallies with present-day imperialist ambitions. In an organically set mode of capital accumulation, when some states, such as the BRICS and East Asia, break the mould of underdevelopment, others, in Africa and the Arab world will pay a heavy price of underdevelopment. Further immiserisation of social conditions in the politically vulnerable part of the planet reduce the price of recourses to below value, both the real and ideological inputs, employed by capital across the globe.

At its peak in the 18th century, the state was ideally conceptualised. The nation state, according to Hegel, was ‘the realisation of the spirit’ or ‘the actuality of the ethical idea.’ For Kant, it was also ‘[a]n autonomous state, one in which the authority of its laws is in the will of the people in that state.’ By the time class divisions deepened in the 19th century, the state, in Marx’s words, became ‘the institution of organised violence which is used by the ruling class to maintain the conditions of its rule.’ Or putatively for Weber, ‘the organisation that monopolises legitimate violence over a given territory.’

In our age of colonialist intervention couched under humanitarianism, the state became a social club modelled upon the fagging system of English public schools. That is, in the late 20th century, the concept of the state had to annul the concept of class altogether from the definition of the state. The state became an association of persons, living in a determinate part of the earth’s surface, legally organised and personified, and associated for their own government. This new breed of state developing in a constant condition of failure, however, fits none of the above definitions. By virtue of its inward collapse, it is a differentiated and degenerative form of even the nation state defined as a social club. Individuals in these on-the-brink states have no state or one government that they can call their own.

Ideally, for Hegel to have reached his definition of the state as the actualisation of ethics, he followed the contradictory path of the development of the spirit over time as it oscillated between the in-itself mode to the for-itself mode, embracing larger and more inclusive forms of social organisations. The appreciation of the realisation of the forms of thought constituting the state in a process of self-negation amounted to freedom. For Hegel, the shape of the state was such that in the despotic Orient, one was not free but all are free. In the slave age, some were free. In the Prussian state, one and all were free. In this modern form of ‘failed or on-the-brink state’, the individual is not free, his or her communal form of organisation realised in the state is not free and, ultimately, Hegel is not around today to discover a new mode of social organisation in which neither one nor all can be said to be free.

Materially, from its very birth, the nation state was a constituent of capital and armed with a welfare task, principally, the function of reproducing, by coercive and ideological means, a malleable and acquiescent working class. The state became the mediation of the dominant class in the political process. But in this new breed of continually on-the-brink or failed state, social disarticulation is profound on the material level, albeit, as a result of deepening wealth discrepancies and the fragmentation of the social order. On the level of consciousness manifest in the schism separating social consciousness from social being, it even becomes more profound. What I mean by the latter is that although working people would stand to benefit from collaboration and unionism, they adopt reconstructed identities bolstered by tainted rents that would drive them apart. Thus, as ballot box elections bereft of social and economic rights are organised, the citizen would not be voting in a state encompassing the whole, for that state does not exist. What exists after politically engineering divisions into the constitution is the differentiated social group, the sect and/or ethnicity for which the personal vote becomes mandatory since it handles the disbursement of the social product and rents.

Hence, personal livelihood comes to depend on allegiance to sect, regional grouping or ethnic identity. In no minor measure, the crisis of internationalism and its social ideology contributes to this disintegration. This new breed of state, furthermore, is no longer the institution by which the comprador class organises and maintains a dependent mode of integration with global capital; for a comprador class to exist, it must be set against the ‘other’ or the national bourgeoisie within a nation state. In this new breed of state, there is no national bourgeoisie to speak of. In Iraq, for example, two opposing militias guarding two different pipelines are said to shoot at each other when luring tankers to their delivery points. This is a stage in the development of third world states where national militias pitted against each, in close proximity to US military presence or bases which can tip the balance of forces in favour of or the other, come to represent the new form of social organisation that make up the nation state. This is what the colonial state looked like in the past, but smartly enough, this newly colonised state appears independent and without a preponderance of foreign soldiers on national grounds.

On the development side, it goes without saying that this new breed of state not only engenders reverse development, but it also debilitates man. Shorter life expectancy, higher infant mortality and illiteracy abound. Equally important, fragmented, insecure and de-developing states fall prey to drone politics and diplomacy. It is a state in which there is no analytical short or long term; the short term disaster shapes the long term tragedy. Its de-development, social weakness and incapacity to sui generis build national defences, drastically shift the balance of forces in favour of imperial powers. There will of course be the isolated anti-imperialist violent incident, but it is no more than the sting of a wasp in the armour of the charging knight of empire. Militarism as a province of accumulation flourishes. It is wrong to assume that the US lost in Iraq or Afghanistan. The US working class lost because it has to foot the bill, but its financial elite, and the global elite allied with it, have succeeded. Capital wins when it weakens/controls and under-develops raw material exporting states as was the case in Iraq.

The analytical notion that it is worse to escape exploitation by capitalism than to be exploited by it omits the fact that nothing lies outside the reach of capital as a social relation under capitalism. It forfeits the concreteness of colonial history and post-colonial military intervention altogether. Value as a qualitative category is created by the totality of the material available to capital. The dislocated billions in the third world whose income amounts to no more than 5 percent of world output are, by their very state of being, part of the material of capital. The real and ideological pressures that the pauperised and politically disempowered third world mass exerts on reducing the costs of production in terms of cheapened primary resources and lowering wages is essential for profit making. Just as important, the continued dislocation of the pauperised mass by war and indirect colonisation resituates the balance of forces upon which the money form and its associated financial system present themselves as symbols of power and power structures. Imperialist power progressively disengages more of the social material in the third world for the purpose of cheapening third world assets and resource grab. It also fragments and appoints itself as a proxy sovereign in order to reproduce the terms of trade and price ratios in its favour. The enigma that the cost of imperialist wars exceeds the returns from the colonies in moneyed terms occurs because exchange prices are not set by benign market conditions, but by the fact that a powerless third world mass cannot negotiate the price at which it valorises its assets. To some extent, encroachment wars couched under humanitarianism create the disastrous social conditions that implicate accumulation by the degree of destructiveness they cause.

The encroachment side of accumulation can be said to have thrived so far, further leveraging a market expansion side of accumulation beset by the crisis of financialisation. But development is not only combined and uneven, it is also organically tied together. This means that the rate at which capital metabolises man and nature will also rise in inverse proportion to the crisis of capital under financialisation. The growth process in middle income countries achieved so far as a concession related to shifting balance of forces with imperialism, will imply more dislocation wrought upon the poorer class countries. Many more countries are poised to undergo this metamorphosis to a state, which is the form of social organisation of militias plus American drones/military bases. Iran is one possible target, which would expand the car bomb corridors from the Fertile Crescent to Afghanistan. So far, capital successfully tested these new forms of social organisation in the periphery. At the expense of the working class everywhere, it has been nicely drawing the rewards of Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq for more than two decades. However, much like it tested other disasters before in the colonies and then applied them at home, in the defunctness of present day internationalist ideology and a western political economy that measures value creation from Eurocentric spectacles, capital might as well bring these experiments closer to home once again.

Dr Ali Kadri is a Senior Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute. Kadri was visiting fellow in LSE’s Department of International Development and head of the Economic Analysis Section at the United Nations regional office for Western Asia. He is curently conducting research on the political economy of development in the Arab World.

The MEC Blog offers opinion pieces from time to time. MEC does not endorse the content of pieces, nor do they reflect any corporate view of the MEC.


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