Simon Clarke’s “The State Debate” and the puzzling case of the Boeing strike

by Jehu

Boeing machinists march from company's Renton, Washington factory to their union hall to vote on the company's final contract offerIn his paper (published as chapter 8 of Simon Clarke’s book, “The State Debate”), Sol Picciotto states:

“The principle of territoriality of jurisdiction is the corner-stone of the international system based on the nation-state. The transition from the personal sovereign to an abstract sovereignty of public authorities over a defined territory was a key element in the development of the capitalist international system, since it provided a multifarious framework which permitted and facilitated the global circulation of commodities and capital. The independent and equal sovereign nation-state is therefore a fetishised form of appearance, for the world system is not made up of an aggregation of compartmentalised units, but is rather a single system in which state power is allocated between territorial entities.”

Frankly, this statement is ambiguous — it is not really clear to me exactly what of the “independent and equal sovereign nation-state”, is a fetishized appearance of the world market for Picciotto.

Is it the “equal” part?

The “independent” part?

The “sovereign” part?

Or the “nation-state” part?

Of all the attributes of the nation-state mentioned by Picciotto, the only aspect of this fetishized appearance he cannot dispense with is the “nation-state” part itself. Since “the political” and “the economic” are irreducibly separate within the open Marxism school, the nation-state itself cannot very well be called a fetishized form of appearance of the mode of production. Instead, all attributes attached to the nation-state – equal, independent, sovereign, etc. – are fetishized forms of appearance of the nation-state itself.

The state power is not constituted by competition between national capitals organized as states, but is “allocated” between territorial entities. However, it turns out that, in practice, “exclusive jurisdiction is impossible to define”; which, of course, means that, in practice, this alleged “cornerstone” of the international system based on the nation-state is impossible to define? Moreover, as the development of the forces of production increases, it becomes more difficult to define the realm of national sovereignty.

“With the increasing international integration of capitalist social relations, the extent of overlap [of territorial jurisdiction] and potential conflict becomes greater”

Since, in his conception, “the political” and “the economic” are irreducibly separate, Picciotto can’t very well admit nation-state sovereignty [i.e., principle of territoriality of jurisdiction] is progressively abolished by the world market; instead, jurisdictional sovereignties “overlap”, leading to “conflict” between states.

Picciotto’s problem is that he has proposed two systems side by side: First, the mode of production, which is a single world system of production. Second, the nation-state, that exercises “territorial jurisdiction” within this single system of production.

Since, at the national level, the “open Marxism” school holds to the idea that “the political” and “the economic’ are irreducibly separate, this assumption necessarily requires an overlay of multiple nation-states on a single system of production. Tied to this problem is the idea within this school of Marxism that the state power is determined not by the interests of the total national capital, but by the class struggle. On the basis of these assumptions, the school must explain how both the world market and the class struggle explain the actual development of the nation-state.

But, and this is the big problem, they have to explain it while holding to the dogma that the class struggle determines the whole process. You cannot very well argue that, at the national level, the state power is determined by the class struggle, but, at the level of the world market, the state power is determined by capital. One or the other of these assumptions has to be relaxed to explain the development of the nation-state.

And here is the big problem they run into with this “class struggle” approach: Even if we accept a role for the class struggle in determination of the bourgeois state power, this class struggle is not carried on by the working class against a national capitalist class, but against the entire world market. The class struggle in Venezuela, Egypt or Greece, is not against capital in Venezuela, Egypt or Greece, but against a mode of production encompassing the entire world market. The capacity of the proletarians to determine the state power in these countries is not determined by the balance of forces within the country, but the balance of forces everywhere at once and together.

The open Marxism school cannot side-step this conclusion. They can only pretend it doesn’t exist.

When the workers union at Boeing balked at cutting their own retirement benefits, Boeing responded by threatening to move production to a more “hospitable” area. Immediately twenty-one other “jurisdictions” announced their intention to compete for the jobs Boeing proposed to relocate. The outcome of the negotiations at Boeing was sealed by this simple announcement. The open Marxism school has the responsibility to explain what has to be seen as a counter-intuitive outcome within its own assumptions regarding the class struggle.

The Open Marxism school cannot be allowed to simply ignore this contradiction between their theory and the real world — again.