Power…it’s limitations and what it is….
Emma Burnell has a relatively interesting musing on LabourList about power and its nature. A couple of points I would like to pick up on; I don’t for example like the argument that the Queen has ‘trappings of power’ because it maintains the pretence her (and the Crown, which is the real issue) have none which is far from the truth. Many powers the Crown hoards are in fact, exercised by the executive, the government of day in the name and on behalf of the Crown. Many powers the Queen has directly, like the ability to dissolve Parliament, for example, have not been used accept upon request but could in theory be used in a social crisis, probably to the detriment of democracy. This is why republicanism and opposition to the constitutional monarchy state (as opposed, to this or that monarch themselves as a person) is an important part of a programme for advancing democracy.
A materialist analysis of power would hold that power is vested in social structures themselves and that these structures determine social relations and indeed there is alot of truth to that understanding of power and it provides a valuable insight into how power works. Sadly, this is one that is almost entirely absent from Emma’s analysis and it would benefit greatly from that being added in. A materialist understanding tells us how David Cameron is limited in his ability to confront Murdoch because he controls the flow of information and people judge politics heavily on the information they receive and the perceptions this forms in them.
However, materialist explanations of power tell us *a* as opposed to *the* truth and formal logic can only partially explain the world we live in. Materialism, for example, has precious little insight into how events seem to occur at random independent of a material reason and other phenomeana. It is my submission that the left is somewhat imprisoned by its own materialism in that it sees it as the last word. Take, for example, the classic Marxist line that religion is merely a product of alienation created by class society – I don’t think this in any way adequate for explaining why humans build religious structures and sets of beliefs – it fails to recognise more basic yearnings and indeed needs within human beings and at its worse is plain dangerous because it reduces us to drones, blindly subjugated to the forces or production and other intangible laws which are just as distant from us as any theological or mystic text. It fails to recognise that social class is in many instances totally irrelevant to why people find, need and construct institutions of faith. If, after all, religion was the sigh of the oppressed then why are so many oppressors religious too? It can’t just be that they feel bad and ‘alienated’ too there is more going on here than Marxism explains.
Science and materialism can be made into gods too and they are in so many ways gods that have utterly failed the left – you only need to look at far-left sects that are often more like doomsday cults; screaming the end is constantly neigh on a supposedly materialist basis. It’s dogged committable to a blind materialism is part of what explains the lefts complete decline and utter collapse. I digress a little. Returning to the point; Emma finds power to be illusive because there is no materialism to leaven her argument; no analysis of how power is both exercised and expressed structurally. However, the wider left suffers from the reverse problem of a commitment to materialism that is unyielding and actually deeply un materialist in its eventual concluding point. A rounded analysis is what is needed to understand highly complicated concepts like power and build some foundations for a renewing of progressive theory only then can the left stride forward and become the progressive force it once was and hopefully will be again.