Fishermen playing with fire

I’ve written this blog just when I came back from a trip to Vietnam in June but only found time to publish it now. In June, the confrontation with China was certainly the number one topic people wanted to talk about with us foreigners living in China. We were up in the mountains, near the Chinese border where the Chinese had made their incursion in 1979 in their unsuccessful attempt to punish the Vietnamese for their invastion of Cambodia. The memories of this war are well alive; many peasants we talked to had witnessed or even fought the Chinese marching down the valley through empty villages. The Chinese quickly became caught up in guerilla skermishes and were no match for the war trained Northeners. Apparently Chinese veterans have often complained that the PLA soldiers had not even been told that they were in Vietnam when they were attacked by villagers old and young, men and women. Whether this is true or not, in any case, the Chinese withdrew quickly and made this episode one more non-told stories of the past. Many students of mine had never heard of the Chinese war in Vietnam. Only recently there is little more  knowledge and, obviously, due to the current tensions between the two countries.

Yet, what is most interesting in the recent clashes is that they most often involve non-military groups, namely fishermen. Only today, the New York Times’s sinosphere blog reports that China detained seven Vietnamese fishermen. The clashes are happening around an oil rig that the Chinese have set up in the disputed waters of the Paracels Islands. In May, a Chinese vessel rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat. The video capture of the ramming incident is playing all day long on Vietnamese TV screens now. What is happening in the South China Sea looks like a civilian, econonomic enterprise that is attacked by civilian fishermen boats and defended by other civilian boats. No military clash — apparently. Yet, both sides have been training and equipping their civilians, their fishermen and fishery coast guards, militarily. Fishermen are also at the forefront of China’s disputes with Japan and the Philippines (here’s an interesting map of all disputes). They clearly are not in the area by pure coincidence and it can be doubted that they are fishing.

Why this use of fishermen in these disputes?

Two interpretations, one optimistic and one pessimistic, are advanced, often tacitly, in the little analysis that has been done on the matter. In one interpretation the use of fishermen can be understood almost as a good sign: China and its neighbour are only engaging in a provocative teasing game but wish to avoid military escalation and confrontation — a lot of smoke but no fire as one author says. This is typical realist explanation that sees war still as a means to achieve political goals, in this case the control of the natural resources in the South and North China sea bed. The skirmishes of the past months serve the establishment of negotiation positions and it now ‘only’ needs sensible proposals for the various countries to come together and work out a peaceful settlement.

On the other hand, one can think that the aim of the provocative game is first and foremost the ignition of nationalism within the respective states. Fishermen, or civilians more generally, are more easily depicted as victims of unfair aggression. National solidarity will flair up more easily than if the anyway rather unpopular governments in China and Vietnam send in their anyway rather unpopular military. If this is the strategy, indeed, then it is, from what we saw in Vietnam, working quite fine. Nationalist feelings are flying high. And the presence of these militarising civilians on the war propaganda scene contrasts starkly with the complete absence and silencing of pacifist non-state actors in China and Vietnam.

Both interpretations are weak, however. The use of civilians in this conflict has never been systematically investigated. In the usual deafness of IR and foreign policy analysis for non-governmental and non-statist forces, the fishermen are seen, if ever considered in their own right, as tools in the hands of their governments. Yet, it remains to be explained why fishermen would prefer being rammed and shot at instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing, namely pulling fish out of the waters. If the fishermen would be seen and analysed as agents in their own right, the story might look very different from the above interpretations. What stakes do the fishermen have in a conflict over the disputed waters? What stakes do they have with their governments? What expertise, knowledge, skills do they bring into the security policy of their country? Who are those fishermen in the first place? How is their relationship to the government articulated? How dependent or independent are they from the government and military?

These questions are important if one wants to understand whether they are simple tools of the military and government which can be simply called off or sent there and here. If they are, the more optimistic interpretation might be justified as the provocation game might be under control. However, it is unlikely that the fishermen are fully dependent and commandable instruments of their masters. Rather, they might well the agents provocateurs, and not victisms at all, of these conflicts. They might be much more authors of the conflict, of its interpretation, of the strategy to choose and the tactics to employ than a statist perspective allows to see. Consequently, the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea conflict are much slimmer than the realist interpretation avows.

If the fishermen participate actively in the securitization of the South China sea situation, it further remains to be seen how and why the governments on all sides interact with these discourses. Again, a simple author-receiver model of policy is highly inappropriate. The common assumption that the Chinese or Vietnamese governments need nationalism as a placebo for popularity is certainly highly attractive given the high levels of dissatisfaction and disentchantment of the population. Yet, why and how the nationalist propaganda translates securitization moves by civilian actors, or more generally, how these interactions in the end work out has not been analysed in this case. In the case an analysis will concede a more important space to the securitziation moves by non-state actors like the fishermen, the question of conflict resolution will have to be asked anew. The current paradigm of conflict resolution most often evolves around the idea that power and identity struggles in Asia most necessarily will develop into territorial conflicts and conflicts over material, non-divisible resources. The model, obviously, being Europe of the 19th and 20th century. Yet, if the South China Sea dispute is a large securitization discourse that is powered by fairly different and other motives — social, political, economic — it might neither trail towards territorial conquest nor negotiated resolution mechanism. It might simply continue as long as the social, political or economic conditions, that made the securitization game possible in the first place, continue to exist.

So, there remains still a lot to do in order to understand the mechanisms of this conflict and its risks of escalating into full-scale war, its chances of peaceful resolution or its simmering on forever. What a red  herring!

Protestantism, liberalism, peace

Reading up and down political theory and asking myself how this could be related to peacebuilding (in order to write that very chapter of my book) I was more and more puzzled by the relationship between Protestantism, liberalism and peace. Yes, this must be a HUGE area and yet, I searched google scholar and the usual databases up and down, to find very, very little if not anything at all on this topic. So using once again the blog as notepad and virtual ‘fridge’ to keep ideas fresh for later use….here we go, some reflections on Protestantism, liberalism and peace:

Since Max Weber we have an idea of how Protestantism and liberalism are ideologically linked. Historically, the history of Great Britain and the US show clear linkages between political ideas of toleration, civil society freedom and light state control over individuals as ways out of religious conflict arising from the spread of protestant and reformist churches.

On the other hand, there seems to general consensus that current peacebuilding efforts are to be labelled ‘liberal’. Some hold them to be too liberal, other not liberal enough (see David Chandler’s recent analysis) yet that political liberalism is the driving ideology underlying contemporary peacebuilding seems in little doubt.

However, nowhere has the link been made between Protestantism, liberalism and ideas of peace as advocated by the so-called ‘international community’ (of which we know, of course, that it isn’t really a community but as shorthand for the couple of powerful states and international organisations who orchestrate contemporary peacebuilding it will do).

This is so despite a renewed interest in dissecting our understanding of ‘peace’. Oliver Richmond in particular has devoted parts of his work to the question ‘what is peace’ yet similar to others he has ended up with a list of attributes to be attached to the notion ‘peace’: there is now not only the liberal peace, but also the victor’s peace (realist interpretation of peace), peace as social justice (apparently the Marxist version) and a post-structuralist understanding of peace. Richmond’s classification reflects largely the traditional English School interpretation of IR theory as ‘Hobbesian’, ‘Kantian and ‘Marxist’, or realist, liberal and Marxist and to this classical mix he adds a pinch of Foucault.

There is also hybrid peace, which is not defined in terms of political ideology or understanding of IR theory but rather a very rough category, any kind of peace effort that includes local actors. And then there is Michael Barnett’s proposition of a republican peace as alternative to the liberal peace which is, again, ideologically ill defined but preoccupied with the type of institutions that should be built in peacebuilding efforts.

What is common to all these interpretations and proposals of peace is that they see themselves as secular proposals. The rift between secular social science peace research and religious motivated peace research is rather obvious in the publication behaviour of the authors. On the one hand, there are the Yoders and Lederachs who publish monographs and in theological or philosophical journals. On the other hand are the secular peace researchers who prefer social science journals and, cautiously aim at integrating the larger IR debates by publishing in traditional IR outlets like Review of International Studies or International Organization. Quite interestingly and contrary to Yoder, Lederach makes very little of his religious background in his writings and seeks to impress a secular audience as much as he aims at reformulating basic principles of mennonite thought on peace. He resembles in this Ralph Niebuhr who argued for a secular peace philosophy in order to counter the reality of international politics that could not be captured with pacifist ideas alone.

Yet, this secularisation of peace research has rather obscured its religious legacy and continuities (older IR research has in fact more openly discussed the links between religious views and views of the international system, for instance Hedley Bull’s discussion of Martin Wight but somehow this has been lost in the more recent debates). Instead of critically analysing those religious roots, most of peace research continues to transmit values and ideas, which are based in Christian, and for large parts, protestant morality and ethics. The secularization of peace research might even have reinforced the tacit, subconscious and ‘normal’ essence of these values up to a point that it might appear extremely strange to even ask the question whether our, i.e. Western, white, European or Christian (or monotheist) ideas of peace are in any way culturally particular. This would not be blog post but a scholarly book if I had good, evidenced and fully argued answers to that question. Yet, I can throw in some arguments about striking parallels between protestantism, liberalism and certain visions of peace that can be typically found in Western (understood LARGE) discourses.

First there is this idea of ‘improvement’. Now, there can be a huge theological debate over the degree to which different protestant denominations argue about the scope of individual improvement but it is certainlynot entirely wrong to assert that the key ideas of protestantism are that men (and women) are born as individuals with one life in which they have to strive to move as far away as possible from the sinful, unreasonable and unrational child they are towards a person that can justify, morally and in terms of his or her beliefs, to have been selected by God. (I should maybe simply copy-paste Max Weber’s caveat as to the sociologists view on religion being forcebly superficial and rought as compared to the hairsplitting intracacies of the theologists’ views…in any case this here is meant to be a very rough sketch not yet a full theological, sociological discussion…apologies hence for very rough renderings of protestantism).

‘Improvement’ includes the idea of progress and perfectability of men. Much of Max Weber’s essay on protestantism and the spirit of capitalism aims at showing just how much these ideas of perfectability and improvement have been ideological motors of enrichment, invention and technological progress that have marked the capitalist age. But the idea of a capacity of improvement as key characteristic of societies and states can be found also in the early writing of liberals such as Mill and in later ideas of modernisation and development like in almost caricatural form of Rostow’s stages of development. Although critical theory and post-colonial thought have severely undermined the confidence of the modernist discourse, the idea of ‘improvement’ remains a central tenent of most development and also peacebuilding discourses.

It can be found in the language of any agency report one wishes to consult: every report will talk in progressive terms and assert that things are moving forward (never backward, you mind), that progress was achieved here or there, growth ignited here, take-offs orchestrated there. The paradigm of progress also sharply shapes policy oriented social science research, notably in the forms of scales on which societies can move up or down: the Freedom House scale, the failing states scale, the civil society scale etc. Improvement is indeed the key justification of any post-conflict reconstruction effort, what counts is that the lives of people become better and if they haven’t done so despite all efforts then this is because XX (insert: international community, the UN, the USA or any other culprit) has not tried hard enough.

Having to try hard, having to work hard, having to overcome obstacles is again another very protestant trait of peacebuilding. Again, the core distinction of protestant belief to Catholic bellief is that even though man has not chosen her destiny, it is still man who has to work hard to fulfill her fate. It is every individual who has to overcome the imperfections of the real life and who has to do so urgently, given that we only have this one life for that. Max Weber pointed out that it is this idea that the course of humanity can be changed and that destiny can be actively filled was at the origin of any political concept of social engineering (although Weber did not call it that way), i.e. of the idea that a community can be organised in a way that every single person can be set to improve.

The thought that that men who are born miserable are luckier because they have more opportunities to prove how hard they are believing in God and to prove how hard they work to overcome the obstacles of fulfilling their destiny is only a psychological perversion for those who do not believe in the individual and determinate selection of God’s children. In the mindset of protestant beliefs it is entirely reasonable that having more proves of true belief to deliver is a clear indicator of being more selected.

It might be that the continuation of peacebuilding and development, despite their multiple and variously discussed and analysed failures, is due to this same perserverance. If peacebuilding or development assistance has failed up to now then this only shows how much it is necessary to continue. If Sysiphos would have been protestant he might have been happy.

Individuals who do not succeed in fulfilling their destiny have, in most protestant thought at least, mainly themselves to blame. They are probably not pious enough, not hard working enough, victim of deadly sins, seducations and temptations, not well integrated in the community of believers and distracted, or…simply not selected. The peacebuilding discourses about ‘spoilers’ or ‘trauma’ bear similarities in that they pathologize the societies in question for not achieving peace. If societies cannot find peace despite various efforts of conflict resolution, then it must be that they are caught in erronous beliefs (e.g. ethnic nationalism), that they are victims of seduction and temptation (e.g. warlords), that they are, temporarily at least, incapable of doing things right (e.g. traumatized) etc.

A final parallel between protestantism, liberalism and peace that comes to my mind is the tension of international law and interventionism which reflects not only the ambigious relationship between society and state in liberal ideology but also the ambigious relationship between individual, community and god in protestant movements. On the one hand is the sovereign individual communicating directly and personally with God, and on the other hand is the community surveilling the individual that this communication takes place in due form. On the one hand is the autonomous civil society minding its own business, and on the other hand is the state providing the legal protective space for the civil society to mind its own, and nobody else’s business, e.g. as seen in legalizing and enforcing private property. On the one hand is the sovereign state and the autonomous society, and on the other hand is the responsibility to protect norm (or however any interention norm had been called in the past) to oversee that the principles of international law may only be applied to ‘decent people’ as John Rawls called democratic and non-democratic, yet liberal states.

These are a couple of, admittedly very rough parallels between Protestantism, liberalism and peace yet they appear to me promising inroads into a genealogy of peace, as it is understood in contemporary peacebuilding. Comments, and especially corrections on my views on Protestantism, most welcome!

 

 

Finally a full stop to the (in)famous greed vs. grievance debate: Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch and Halvard Buhaug (2013) Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War, New York: Cambridge UP.

This book will hopefully set an end to the deeply fatigued and flawed debate about Paul Collier’s  and Anke Hoeffler’s claim that grievances do not matter for the outbreak of violent conflicts. Its epistemology is the same as Collier and Hoeffler’s, that is the book is situated in the behaviouralist research paradigm. It therefore can hardly be brushed away as ‘non-scientific’ as it uses exactly those scientising tools that are now so popular in the Journal of Peace Research. We have categories, variables (dependent and independent, of course), causal mechanisms and datasets with a lot of numbers, a nicely constructed research design and pretty proofs of hypotheses (including some francy graphs which are most useful for teaching) . And grievances matter. Full stop. Yeah.

Yet… this book also has everything that makes behaviouralist research so boring: a  lack of critical and reflexive discussion of categories, terms and notions; a superficial, opportunistic and partial reading of sociological, historical and anthropological literature; a couple of sweeping claims which would be almost funny if they weren’t so ideologized western-centric — for instance the claim: “In the new era of national self-determination and popular sovereignty that followed after the American and French revolutions in the late eighteenth century, it become increasingly difficult and costly to conquer territory, let alone to control it against the will of the local population” (pos. 986 in my kindle version) – to say the least, this is a very unusual way of describing the century of empire and colonialism….

And of course the study suffers from the greatest weakness of behaviouralist research, namely findings which are absolutely unsurprising for everyone who knows from zillions of case studies and historical literature that ‘civil wars are not a stupid thing’ as Cramer said so nicely in his book.

What do we learn from this study? If there are objective inequalities in a society and if there are ethno-national cleavages along which these inequalities run, if these inequalities are aptly exploited by the state, for instance by consistently maintaining discriminating and excluding policies, and if the groups can be mobilised through discoursive frames that pitch ethnic groups against each other or against the state, we have a situation with salient grievances. In such a situation there is an increased likelihood of armed and violent conflict. Bam!  What a truly revolutionary insight.

Now, to be fair, within the paradigm of behaviouralist research this book reformulats these insights most astutely and takes refreshingly new approaches to number crunching. It is, hence,  able to set an end to the (in)famous debate over greed vs. grievances by showing that economic fortunes of populations are closely interrelated with their political standing and that this in turn shapes their preparedness for violent politics. It allows for a multi-layered and hence somewhat more complex reconstruction of pathways to rebellion than those that this kind of research had produced before where mountains or oil where identified as causing violent politics. It reintroduces politics into the equation and it tries at least to account for processual developments and change. The latter tentative is inherently limited and restricted by the rigidity of quantitative models – there is simply a point where a category has to be fixed and a time span has to be defined consistently across many cases.

The research also has a take on a couple of questions, which this type of research had, up to now, rarely asked. It formulates ideas and hypotheses about the role of emotions, hence departing from the debilitating rigidity of the rational actor model. Indeed, the authors identify emotions as being the essential ‘jigsaw puzzle piece’ that connects objective grievances with the mobilisation of groups through discursive frames.

It also, and this is really something quite unusual for this kind of research, attempts to conceptualize conflicts as relational process. The authors conceptualize conflict process as conditioned by social relations first by taking into account group dynamics. This goes together with their emphasis on emotions and the consecutive departure from methodological individualism. Here, individuals and potential rebels behave in certain ways because they are members of groups, because others are important: their sympathy, their gaze and their feelings, good or bad.

Second, they conceptualize conflict processes as relational as they formulate a ping-pong of action and reaction between the adversary groups, or between the adversary group and the state or what the authors call “the interactive logic of claims and counterclaims issued by challengers and incumbents” (pos. 1352). The study makes extremely good use of social movements literature and this section in particular relies heavily on Jeff Goodwin’s “No other way out”. Yet, their relational thinking also finds its inherent limitation through the behaviouralist research design in which processes have to be linear and progressive to be measurable in order to avoid endogeity problems or reverse causation.

And so in the end, the study’s analysis does not go much beyond the already existing qualitative literature on grievances and violent conflict. Its central piece, the new data set of ‘Ethnic Power Relations’ offers a tool for bringing about the behaviouralist, measured proofs of what much of the qualitative case studies have already argued before (notably those quoted by the authors like Wood’s case study of El Salvador or Jeff Goodwin’s comparative case studies) and it is, surely, an achievement in itself. The dataset is certainly helpful for studies on power-sharing mechanisms and can serve well for practitioners interested in conflict prevention. It is a fine example of applied science in social science and conflict research.

Yet, in terms of understanding the how and why of conflicts the study still leaves many more questions open than it answers. First, the conflicts identified by the authors are only a small section of all armed conflicts the world has witnessed in the past decades. Notably, a large number of those conflicts which have shocked the world public most like the war in Sierra Leone or Liberia, the conflict in Somalia, large parts of the conflicts in the Congo are not considered. They obviously fit the overall framework as the authors’ focus on ethno-national groups is determined by the fact that they only have data for these groups but not by their framework.

Second, the framework is too general and unspecific to provide insights into the concrete why and how. Where do those elites come from who frame inequalities as grievances? How are these frames transmitted? How does the interaction with other groups interfere with these framing processes? Are framers, mobilizers and fighters a homogenous group or do internal divisions exist and what effect does this have, for instance on radicalization or, on the contrary, pacification? What is the role of layered and clustered identities and how do they affect mobilisation processes? These are just a couple of questions that remain unanswered by this book.

Third, the book suffers like most of this literature from its definitory focus on government-rebel group conflicts. In many social conflicts, the target of the rebellious group is not forcibly the state or the government (the RUF being a case in point as their interest in capturing the state seems to have been relatively low, see Peters).  Nation-state borders and official governments might also be simply irrelevant (blatant cases of non-existing governments like in Somalia for instance) or their involvement might be hardly recognisable in conflicts. Indeed, as Duffield pointed out some time ago in his book “Global Governance and New Wars”, many current conflicts might be better understood as conflicts over different forms of political organisation and community than those traditionally understandable with the nation-state goggles on.

In sum, the book makes an important contribution to the debate within the behaviouralist paradigm as it uses behaviouralist tools to demonstrate some of the conflict processes that have already been well analysed in the qualitative literature. It does not go beyond this as the behaviouralist paradigm does not allow delving into deep with the messy, contradictory, spiralling and irremediably non-linear social processes of conflict. Yet, as hopefully final word on the question whether the importance of grievances can be measured and therefore ‘count’, it has a brilliant place to take. It also reveals a long row of questions that still seek answers but which are unlikely to find them in this kind of quantitative analysis.

Oh, and it certainly desserves a brownie point for being one of the rare studies of this kind which locates the causes of the Croatian war, among others, in the discriminatory policies of the Tudjman regime and the Kraijna Serbs’ reaction to these, and not firstly in Serbian ‘barbarism’.

 

 

 

 

 

The violence of non-violence

The  50th anniversary of the March on Washington has passed last year — incidentally I am writing  a paper on Dr. Martin Luther King as icon of the West for a conference. Reading through all that has been published on ‘the speech‘ I was baffled again about the great discrepancy that exists in the pompous celebrations of Dr. King and his ‘I have a dream’ speech and the realities of black lifes and movements in the US (and around the world for that matter). Birkbeck College had Angela Davis as guest in October and in her public lecture she lays out precisely which parts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s is remembered and which has been cast away, forgotten and denied (the podcast of the lecture can be found here).

A common answer to the question why Martin Luther King has become so famous and not the Black Panthers or Malcolm X is that Dr. King used non-violent strategies. And non-violence is, of course, better than violence. I especially often heard that elogy of non-violence during my interviews with UN staff. None of those who said that were black. The two blacks I interviewed (from Haiti and Kenya) did not mention Martin Luther King nor non-violence.

The idea that Martin Luther King is “shining forth in the darkness of an age of nuclear weapons and genocide” as Chakrabarty and Carson write on their book cover superficially seems plausible to me as white, European, well-fed, well-educated and utterly middle-class woman. Yet, it is once again the common sense part of this answer that bothers me. Isn’t there a question that we social scientists have to ask about the relationship between revolutions, social change and violence? Where would be today if there hadn’t been violence in 1776 or 1789?

But this is a long question to answer and this blog is not quite the right place. But there is another tweek of the non-violence-is-good equation that bothers me and that is the simple fact that any non-violence strategy  needs brutal violence to be effective as social movement strategy. And it needs that violence to be known and seen everywhere. Sit-ins that are not washed away by water hoses and tear gas, demonstrations that are not battled down or leaders who are not martyrs are simply far less effective than if they had been met with equally peaceful ignorance.

Let’s take the March on Washington. Would it have attracted so many people and would it have been such huge event if there had not been for the hundreds and thousands of children and teenagers blasted off the street by high-pressure water hoses in Birmingham, Alabama, just a couple of weeks before? Wasn’t it a general principle of the civil rights movement that the non-violent protests had to be contrasted with the extreme violence of the state, the police, the army and more generally the white population and its KKK? The violence with which these protests were met was an absolutely essential part of the success of the movement!

Hence, the civil rights movement was not non-violent! This is not to say that the civil rights movement provoked purposefully violent responses, it rather aimed at exposing the brutality and violence that was already there. The site http://www.splcenter.org/civil-rights-memorial/civil-rights-martyrs provides a list with short biographies of people who were killed in the 14 years from 1954 to 1968 when King was murdered. This is a list of the people who were murdered as direct result of the civil rights movement. How many more have died from the consequences of ill treatment and torture, arbitrary imprisonment and inhumane working conditions? Impossible to know.

Yet, pointing to the violence that is necessary to make non-violence an effective social movement strategy reminds of the original antagonism that lay at the heart of the civil rights movement. The argument that non-violence is something inherently good, something laudable per se, becomes rather shale and meak when one starts to look at who is saying that about whom. A close look at the list on the website above speaks a clear language: the civil rights movement was non-violent for whites only. Well, not exactly, it was non-violent for those against whom the protests were directed and it was very violent for those who sought freedom, justice and equality – which they eventually achieved legally and constitutionally but which is still a far cry for large parts of the US. It is, maybe, the most remarkable aspect of the movement that the violence that was commonly and usually directed against blacks only now also killed whites like James Reeb or Viola Gregg Luzio.

Might it be that Dr. King’s non-violence was good because it spared me, the white, middle class woman? Wouldn’t I have good reasons to think differently about how the justice achieved (or not achieved) through non-violence if I had been subject to the violence that was necessary and corrolary to Dr. King’s strategy? The non-violence of the civil rights movement is a negative vision of peace and justice as it asks only for unjustice to stop but not for justice to be construed actively. Elizabeth Wood emphasizes how the guerilla struggle in El Salvador had created a pleasure of agency for the campensinos as it allowed them not only the dignity of ‘standing up against’ (which the civil rights movements certainly did, too) but also effectively, actively and vigorously fight for ‘their’ land and life.

Did non-violence give the same pleasure of agency? It certainly claimed to do so but did it? And if so, was that pleasure of agency enough to actively construct a more just world for blacks (or any ethnic minority in the US for that matter)? This is an important question to answer because if the answer is negative, then the only reason to believe in the moral superiority of non-violence is that it spared one part of the population of being killed — and not incidentally the one that was not non-violent. So, the questions is not only whether taking up violence might be a more ‘rational’ (in sense of efficient) and empowering option for those who are protesting and resisting but also if the morality of non-violence is not a rather hypocritical and, basically, extremely conservative morality.

 

 

Posting again

Well, the research leave is over since quite some time but bizarrely neither the book is finished nor have these blogposts written themselvs. Hm…..

So I decided to take up writing again. I can tell that it will not be as frequent as before and probably shorter pieces (or maybe not). But it will be again on my readings on peace and war in the world and this and that thought, idea and reflection. Just to repeat it again, this blog is not an academic paper repository. Some of what I write is polemical, yes. Some of it might be not well digested, yes. Some of it might be utterly indegistable, yes. That’s what blogs are for. They are a repository for ideas and arguments that might (or might not) become parts of more polished, sophisticated, weighted, balanced and I don’t know what papers. These blogs are my little fridge to keep these ideas fresh.

Research leave

I’m on research leave. Strange and increasingly seldom thing to happen to academics, and even stranger and rarer for academics in management positions… So, I’m hovering over my book manuscript (last printout burried somewhere in the pile of papers on the right) on The Peacebuilders. Now, this turns out to be a greater adventure than what I thought it would be. So the blog, too, is on leave now. The list of future entries gets longer though, so I’ll be back!

The Iraq War Ten Years After – The national security archive papers

“The U.S. invasion of Iraq turned out to be a textbook case of flawed assumptions, wrong-headed intelligence, propaganda manipulation, and administrative ad hockery, according to the National Security Archive’s briefing book of declassified documents posted today to mark the 10th anniversary of the war”, introduces the national security archive its webpage where they publish a number of documents related to the US and UK decision to invade Iraq. The documents are hugely interesting and should not be missed in any teaching on the Iraq war.

These are just a few observations of mine:

All documents confirm what every keen observer knew from the start, namely that Bush administration grossly exagerated the WMD risks if not using outrightly false information, that the US administration did not think one little second about the aftermath of the invasion, that the UK followed to lick boots.

But they also show that a major mind frame of the time was the conception that the invasion would run smoohtly like a repetition of WWII invasion of Germany: run them over, bomb the baddies out, de-baddy the society (De-Ba’athification they call it), dispossess the big industrial complexes and run them by corporate boards (like IG Farben or Volkswagen), introduce a decentralized political system, and you’ll get a stable, democratic society. As if there had been no Cold War, no decolonization, no fall of the Berlin wall, no globalization talk, no internet, no change of the world and if baddies were simply baddies. World politics in Hollywood standards.

Colin Powell’s speech to the UN appears almost like a comic strip rather than a serious discussion of potential war. Especially the slide “Iraq is Harboring Terrorists, Including Al Qaida”. One wonders if there are, today, any other terrorists than Al Qaida … Joke aside, it was, after 9/11 entirely sufficient for a Secretary of State to put up a slide like that with an extremely vague and superficial organigram and to yell “fire”….well, looking at France’s talk of “terrorists” in Mali it is still sufficient today…if you want to play war, just yell “terrorists!”, how simple.

There is also an uneasy question of academic complicity that creeps up. All these false and erroneous CIA reports for instance…they were written by so-called experts: area experts, political analysts, engineers, anthropolgists, lawyers etc. People who had been recruited because they had excellent degrees, probably because they came from fancy universities, and because they had already shown that they were good at writing such kind of stuff. Because they had been well trained in our universities… which seemingly entirely failed to produce the critical thinkers and to diffuse the critical knowledge we are supposed to be producing.

Bourdieu’s secret admirer in the Caucasus: a world-system biography, by Georgi M. Derlugian

Chechnya is one of these places that are commonly only known through their TV or internet mediated pictures of destruction and violent emptiness. Personally, the name Grozny makes me think of images in which little elderly women with colourful headscarfs and grey coats hurriedly run inbetween rubble and ruins, with half a loaf dark bread and maybe some tomatoes in a basket under their arm. It is, that is for sure, not a place where I would expect someone even knowing the name of Pierre Bourdieu or having read him. Shame on me for my lack of awareness.

Georgi M. Derlugian’s book is an immensly refreshing reminder of the stifling ignorance we have of exactly those parts of the world that are most often in the news. It is furthermore an excellent exercise in dismantling received ideas, prejudices and stereotypes of civil wars and of uncivilized so-called islamists or warlords. The most exciting aspect of Derlugian’s book is, indeed, that he resists simplifications; on the contrary, he masterly delves into the entire complexity of the end of Soviet socialism, the fates of peripheral developmental states in the great neoliberal age of the 1980s and 1990s and the complexities of shifting elite and popular systems and cultures in these marginalising world regions.

Derlugian centres his intelligent analysis of change and violence in the Northern Caucasus around the figure of Musa Shanib (or Yuri Shanibov in the russianised version). The admirer of Bourdieu, that’s him. Shanib also happened to be a prominent figure in the  independence movement of the region, first assisting Dudayev in his bid for Chechen independence, then leading a volunteer force into Abkhazia in their secessionist struggle against Georgia. Shanib’s personal history comes to stand for the political and social history of the former Soviet Union and its republics, most notably of Chechnya.His trajectory, bizarre as it seems, is representative of the Soviet nomenklature, its tribulations in the post-Stalin era and their disillusionment.

Derlugian draws on a large number of illustruous examples for his analysis: Charles Tilly, Rendall Collins, Immanuel Wallerstein and Pierre Bourdieu, himself, of course have inspired his approach of socio-political archeology. Yet, unfortunately, the theoretically inspired discussion of sociological paradigms is the weakest part of the book. The author frankly admits not being at ease with the often parochial chapel fights of the discipline; nevertheless, a more systematic comparison of these authors and a more thorough exploration of the synergies their work might offer would have been much appreciated, if not already for the fact that there is still very little written on the matter. Apart from some occasional, hardly discussed and even more sparingly referenced uses of the concepts these authors have coined, there is relatively little of Charles Tilly’s thorough historical and archive-based puzzleworking, Wallerstein’s lengthy theoretical comparisons of economic paradigms and national economic histories, Rendall Collins’ experimental sociology, or Pierre Bourdieu’s extensive empirical research in Derlugian’s book. There is also, contrary to what the title makes the reader expect, very little of Shanib’s view and understanding of Bourdieu. From this point of view Derlugian’s book is disappointing.

However, he compensates for this theoretical weakness through his own, original field research. Although not as systematic and detailled as Bourdieu’s work, Derlugian bases his research on Bourdieu’s claim that all politics are, essentially, struggles over social positions and power. Derlugian carves out which social classes contributed in which way to the disasters of the Soviet breakdown. He argues that three classes played a central role throughout the existence of the Soviet Union and that their interactions in each subnational region, most notably in each Republic, predicated whether the disintegration of the Soviet Union would result in collective violence or not.

The nomenklatura was, according to Derlugian, primarily responsible first for fractionalizing the Soviet state and second, for carving it up during privatization and to the benefits of their private bank accounts. This thesis is anything but new and has been discussed in various forms before. What is new, however, is how Derlugian interweaves this narrative with the particular story of the nomenklatura’s fate in those Republics, which were the furthest away from the political centre such as Chechnya.

The two other social classes emerged from the split of the Soviet Union’s principle class, the proletarians. Whereas the job security and boring predictability of a state-guided life led one part of the proletarians, in the 1970s notably, to embrace intellectualism, another larger part sank down to a sub-proletarian status as state-sponsoring ceded in the 1980s before it completely broke down after 1989. Derlugian goes to some lengths to explain why the emergence of a large class of intelligentsia, which in their intellectual expressions reflected a broad range of democratic orientations, did not lead to a broader democracy movement like it did in Poland, Hungary or the Germand Democratic Republic. In his view, a peculiar mixture of proletarianization of the intelligentsia, of state repression and surveillance but also lack of organisational opportunities – for instance the lack of unionization due to state-paternalistic undermining of professional groups – hampered the transformation of the Soviet intellegentsia into a broader social movement. The Soviet state’s reach into all professional categories, whether doctors or drillers, stiffled any autonomous organisational capacity, and it did the more so in the provincial republics of the Caucasus where the state’s grip was doubled by the more traditional social structures of clan and family networks. The intelligentsia resented the Soviet system less for its politically authoritarian character than for its central government tendency to tamper with those networks which commonly provided extra income from gift making (otherwise called corruption), smuggling, insider deals or outer-institutional work (e.g. doctors doing private visits for private money). Derlugian concludes that this class’ democratic orientation would better be called a consumerist orientation: “In sum, the university-educated proletarian specialist did not merely seek an opporutnity to earn extra money and gain access to scarce goods. They sought to translate certain kinds of occupational capital into the consumption and symbolic display associated with the prestigious imagery of the Western middle class.” (p. 146) A Potemkin democracy struggle so to say.

The subproletarian class, finally, is one that official Soviet ideology denied to exist yet whose reality not only preceded the Soviet breakdown but which also has been constantly growing since the economic downturn started in the late 1970s. Derlugian admits that this class is the most difficult to characterize as income opportunities, local hierarchical positions and even education might vary enormously across the category. He offers a phenomenological characterization (you recognize a subproletarian if you see one) and one based on the dialectics of formal and informal income sources. Subproletarians, notably in rural regions, will, according to Derlugian, draw their income from a large variety of sources of which state employment would be one but not the main source; others would be any kind of agricultural production, side businesses like shops or little workshops, migration to construction sites in more labour affluent areas or any kind of illegal income. The inclination to diversify business has made this class a fertile recruiting ground for illict trafficking and violence entrepreneurs.

The latter’s habitus fits particularly well to what Derlugian calls the brutality of the subproletarians’ lives: “A great deal of aggressiveness is displayed in the dress and demeanor of males and in the ‘marketplace scandalousness’ of many women. Domestic violence serves to reaffirm the fledging patriarchy; street gangs become the default mode of socialization among adolescents; violent sports like boxing and wrestling serve to uphold the virtues of masculinity; vandalism against the symbols of the dominant order (be it a defenseless park bench or a toilet seat in a public restroom), seemingly unmotivated hooliganism, and occasional rioting all help to vent social frustrations. Sub-proletarian social beliefs are precariously suspended somewhere between the ritualistic religiosity of peasants and the secular confidence of urbanites. Hence the responsiveness of sub-proletarian masses to secular populist or religious fundamentalist cults” (p. 153).

Such sweeping generalizations are not uncommon in Derlugian’s book and they make the reader feel uncomfortable at times: not a single footnote, not a single systematic comparison of any empirical data upholds this assertation that the certainly more visible violence of sub-proletarians would be, indeed, more brutal than the often better hidden violence of the middle class or of elites (referring to examples of other societies it might even be doubted that hooliganism or boxing are good indicators of sub-proletarian classes). This is one passage where Derlugian dreadfully fails to achieve one of his declared goals of the book, namely to displace prejudice as he reproduces his own appreciations of sub-proletarian culture. It sometimes sounds that Derlugian is rather cladding his own intelligentsia prejudice towards the subproletariat in academic terms.

The empirical weakness is in those parts particularly evident where his theoretical approach is equally weak. From describing the historical emergence of these three main classes of Soviet society, Derlugian is faced with the task of explaining how social class translates into collective politics. He is certainly not the first who has failed to convincingly explain how individual dispositions turn into collective movements. Yet, his slight tendency of stereotyping makes some of these passages sound strikingly superficial given that his field research otherwise is brilliantly detailled, fine grained and differentiated.It is Bourdieu’s “habitus” which he (wrongly but that is not the matter here) likens to Tilly’s routine scripts that receives the honour of becoming the keystone in the bridge that Derlugian builds from his purely social to the political analysis.

The three classes initially shared the same habitus in the streamlined Soviet society, hence, they respectively responded to the same discourses and ideas for change that circulated in the revolutionary moment since Brezhnev. Nationalism notably became the central idea that allowed coalitions of regional nomenklatura and intelligentsia to say good-bye to Moscow all the time populistically mobilising the support of the sub-proletarian classes. So far, he argues, the same happened in all republics. Yet, why some republics tumbled into violence and civil war, and others not, depended not on ancient hatreds or other arguments that have been made about ethnic violence. Rather, the reasons why the transition succeeded without violence in some republics but not in others have to be saught in the “mundane details of administrative relations, social networks, class and group attributes, and various conflicting efforts to reshape the networks and reframe the goals that taken together produced the vector of nationalist mobilizing and violence” (p. 174)

It is with this programme that Derlugian’s departure from conventional wisdom becomes most pleasant to read and think about. Derlugian makes three arguments against the common statement that nationalism brought the Soviet Union down. He first points out that chronologically nationalist discourses appeared only long after perestroika had set off other ideological and social movements. Nationalist mass movements in form of demostrations etc. only appeared at a later moment in Gorbachev’s era; before that social manifestations had been held over environmental issues (Chernobyl), social issues (like youth) or health issues (alcoholism). Nationalist discourses and nationalist events (ralleys) etc. hardly attracted any interest in those early times.

Derlugian further argues that those nationalist movements which then, with a time lag of several years, gained in strength, drew mainly on two of the three dominant social classes: the local and regional nomenklatura that had become extremely disgruntled with Gorbachev’s “de-bureaucratization” policies and the sub-proletarian underclasses which grew in size and which slowly became aware of the end of state-sponsored employment and social welfare. Violence resulted, in his view, if the two established direct relationships, the former addressing directly the latter for support, thereby marginalizing the intellectuals. Had his book ended here he would not have added anything to the well-known argument of ethnic entrepreneurs populistically manipulating the masses. Yet, Derlugian asks further where the intellectuals disappeared to, and it is here where his account originally interweaves the personal story of Musa Shanibov with the history of the Soviet disintegration and Chechnya’s wars. Comparing the Armenian-Aserbedjan conflict, the Georgian conflict and the events in Chechnya, Derlugian describes how the intelligentsia class was crushed by the unhealthy coalition of nomenklatura and sub-proletarian crowds. The nomenklature itself is described as a victim of the contradictory and, in the end, substanceless politics from Moscow that left the bureaucrats rely on their own networks for survival, hence, engaging in a nationalist competition to rally support from the masses. Derlugian singles out the lack of a “bureaucratic” ethos, which preceded Gorbachev’s reforms and had translated into an extensive system of patronage on the central governments costs. Notably in Georgia, the breaking away of Moscow’s suppport accelerated the nomenklatura’s fall and the nationalist turn.

On the other hand, Gorbachev’s increasingly obvious incapacity to manage the breakdowns of regional party structures, and his unwilligness to combat nationalist movements gave the latter even greater momentum. Turning to Shanibov, Derlugian describes in detail how the intellectuals in these republics were confronted with the dilemma of either being ran over by the historical situation or to rally with nationalism. In Derlugian’s account, nationalism became essential for political survival. Independence of the republics, before and in the wake of August 1991, precipated the nationalist movement even further as now popular unrest catalyzed dissatisfaction of the crumbling Soviet system against local and regional elites. The breakdown of the Soviet Union and the unleashing of nationalist and ethnic violence in these republics followed several interlooping spirals of escalation in which each social group aimed at surviving by betting on the nationalist card: “As the Soviet state was breaking apart, the scramble for fragments of its political and economic assets became increasingly turbulent. The course of events could turn on such small contingencies as timing, personal acquaintance, contemporary social ‘mood’, or one lucky move. The broaken and chaotic system of relations nonetheless formed a maze that allowed only certain pathways.” (p. 219) Short-termism was endemic to the system’s breakdown.

Reproducing the structural differentiation of peripheries and semi-peripheries in the world-system, socio-political changse without supporting economic changes escalated into violence. The violence and its causes pushed these regions further into the periphery. If Derlugian’s explanation of the unholy alliance between a nomenklatura that is squeezed by the dilemmas of ungovernability and sub-proletarian masses is correct, the prospect of the region’s further descent into deindustrialization and poverty is anything but cheerful. Middle classes shrink and hardly reproduce themselves, notably with those gaining valuable professional qualifications emigrating; proletarian classes are further pushed into the sub-proletariat due to the increased de-industrialization of these regions; intellectuals like Shabinov emigrate or remain marginalized and forced to subdue to radicalizing ideologies, which confer them a position in the infernal system; bureaucrats and politicians keep their grip to power through authoritarian violence and patron-client networks.

This pattern is not exclusive to the Caucasus and this is why Derlugian’s analysis is highly relevant for the analysis of other conflict cases. Although his analysis could have been in parts formulated in a more straightforward and systematic way, his insights in the mechanisms by which those parts of the population will rebell who have been for a long time excluded from any chances of social mobility and participation through socio-economic status, are highly valuable for further research.

Yet, just as Bourdieu himself and many who used his sociology, Derlugian stops short before answering one crucial question. If classes are constituted by varying configurations of capital (social, economic, cultural etc.) and if politics is nothing else than the struggle of these classes over social positions how can we know at which point such a struggle will be violent? This is less an empirical than a systematic question. Bourdieu observed empirically for the middle classes an almot unsatiable desire to emulate and imitate higher social classes; he also testified empirically that those classes, which traditionally have been seen as potential radical elements in a society, i.e. the working class and other subordinate classes (petty clerks, small shop owners etc.), find a common ground in a cultural, moral, and ethical attitudes which favour authoritarian morality and discipline. In the mid-1990s Bourdieu saw a glimmer of hope that new social movements of the time, i.e. the unemployed movement or the students’ movement of 1995/6, could be this confictual and radical force just to see them vanish quickly and being absorbed in the “pensée unique” of neoliberalism.

Yet, there seems a point when subordinate social classes choose to use armed force against a dominant class. The question is why and when. That the subordinate class wants its share of the cake is not a sufficient answer as exactly Bourdieu’s studies have shown the huge weight of symbolic power that keeps the subordinate classes accept and even justify their subordinate status (see for instance Bourdieu’s work on real estate and home buying in France). That timing and luck contingently play a role is not a helpful answer either. Yet, the procedure of looking at coalitions and alliances between different groups and how their respective positioning forces the various social classes to choose their arms (literally) is a promising approach for the analysis of social conflicts that turn into war.

One intervention, two winners, tout bénéfice!

Despite their January promise to be out of Mali within a couple of weeks, France is still engaged in chasing alleged terrorists through the Atlas mountains. Yes, remember! The war in Mali. Well, the French are still there (and the fifth French soldier has been killed just a couple of days ago). Yet, after having bombed out and killed the presumable leadership of AQMI (Al Qaeda in Mali) the war could be declared over. After all, it is already obvious who the main winners of this intervention are: the French Légion Etrangère and Mali’s putshist president Traoré. The former has successfully proven worthy of its long tradition of chasing natives in Africa. Relying on Chadian auxiliary forces with their exotic camel scouts and the Malian army which was given the honourable task of terrorising the population, the Légion Etrangère showed that good old school tactics of hunting down the ennemy are still more effective at keeping unorderly rebels at bay than drones and waterboarding. One could, disrespectfully, argue that blowing up so-called terrorists in the desert by the aid of hundreds of men, drones, telecommunications, satellites and camels, and, not to forget, more than 100 million Euro, constitutes in the end a rather meager victory yet! compared to US efforts to hunt down Bin Laden and to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban, the French excursion in Mali does seem quite successful. Those French nationalists who still believe that the world would be better off if it were ruled by them and not those uncultured Americans have had their most gleeful moments in the past couple of weeks.

The greatest winner of this war, is, however, without any doubt, Mali’s President Traoré. He won on every front: The French have kindly bottled up the Touaregs and chased away other rebellious elements in the North of the country, so he’s rid of that problem; Traoré showed the rest of the world and most notably the big money givers how decisively anti-islamist Mali is; he also has successfully convinced the rest of the world that his army needs better equipment and training and more money, which is something that a former general who putshed himself to the president’s office should always be pleased about; furthermore, he has gained international legitimacy for his regime by talking the international community’s talk of elections and reconciliation missions and he has successfully set into motion the rally-around-the-flag effect within Mali by first scaring Malians in the South ouf of their socks and then reaping the fruits of their excitement that their former colonizers still have such an efficient Légion Etrangère. And if Traoré is lucky and the international community decides to reward him for all these brownie points, he’ll get a real UN mission in his country with all the UN agencies, NGOs and other elements of the emergency caravane. What an economic booster that will be! For him, this intervention clearly was “Tout bénéfice”!

 

And no, the US are not liberating Afghan women…

American officials often justified the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by an argument about liberating Afghan women. In the dust and haze of the Bush administration’s lies this seemed just one more handy pretext. It is therefore somewhat surprising to see just how much the fate of Afghan women continues tos preoccupy the US adminstration and legislature, with hearings being held on a regular basis referring explicitly to Afghan women. Despite its certainlygood intentions, this fixation on liberating Afghan women has a couple of exasperating aspects to it, foremost of which is the entirely distorted perspective on the US role in helping trample any advancement for women in countries with reactionary regimes.

In the past, the US tried extremely hard and often successfully to squelch any communist or socialist regime in Third World nations, including Afghanistan. Yet communist or socialist regimes typically  did a great deal to abolish traditional legislation that kept women out of work and out of the “community”. For these regimes, the “women’s question” was closely associated with larger issuess of social justice, class equality and the progress of the working class (or whatever other formerly oppressed group was put forward). There are good reasons to critically discuss how effective these policies were in promoting women’s freedoms, as rather often radical feminism was denounced as hostile to the working class and feminists ended up in dissidence. Some argue,  probably not entirely incorrectly, that the main aim of communist women’s politics seems to have been to move women from the home to the factory without  really conceding positions of male power and influence.

However, the association of women’s politics with larger issues of social and political justice as well as economic  redistribution had two healthy side-effects:First, the “women’s question” was lifted out of the morass of biological or cultural arguments about women’s “nature” and set into a political and socio-eocnomic context. Second, women’s status was changed from within the political system and with economic and social rewards for the families that followed the party line. By targeting communist or socialist regimes in the name of a supposedly better and more progressive ideal – liberalism – the US destroyed this association and it did so in two ways.

First, the US supported the most reactionary groups in society to fight against the communist or socialist government of Afghanistan  up to the point of literally lifting them on to the throne. History will judge whether the losses for women’s freedoms  provoked by these US-sponsored counter-revolutions were more than just “collateral damage”. It is quite obvious today that the losses for campesinos in general were intentional goals of the strong Latin American lobbies in the US, and hence, not  so-called collateral damage rom the US contra strategy but rather an intended consequence.

However, supporting reactionary groups was not the only way that US hysteria with communist regimes in the Third World destroyed advances of and prospects for women’s freedoms in these countries. By crushing these regimes and imposing some sort of reactionary (neo?)liberalism in these countries, the US largely contributed to dissociating women’s question” from larger questionsof social and econmic justice. The “women’s question” became a stand-alone issue, and, in the best liberal tradition, one of rights rather than one of status, recognition and equality. As a question of rights, the “women’s question” all of the sudden was a human rights issue–and just as other human rights issues, it became a yardstick for civilizational and cultural progress, and so  drowned again in the swamp of culture and nature.

What is more, particularly in those countries where the US intervened militarily in the post-Cold War era, the “women’s question” was now part of the “clash of civilizations” (which remains an ideology only Al Qaeda and the Tea Party believes in) and a marker of imperialism. As the reactionary forces the US had fed through during the Cold War turned upon their former masters, they obviously turned upon the “women’s question”too, partly because, yes, they were reactionary, but partly also because women’s emancipation had become part of the cultural package of US imperialism. Therefore, when the House and Senate now babble over women’s freedoms in Afghanistan, they are just reinforcing the dwindling spin against women.

But this is yet not the nauseating aspect of this. One can still concede that those NGOs and legislators advocating more women’s rights and protection in Afghanistan do so in full awareness of this history,yet still assumethat it is better to bang the drums for Afghan women now. What is exasperating in this is much more basic: the complacency and smugness that makes them believe they know best what Afghan women now need, and whatever it is they need, that it can only be achieved if the US promotes it…it is exactly the same complacency and smugness that made Cold War warriors chase communists in the Third World back then.