An Event sponsored by Amanecer and the Bay Area IWW branch
I have been working too much and Flamengo has been playing like shit, so I have not have time or inspiration to come back to this blog. Hopefully that will change soon.
However, for now, here is the audio of two events I spoke at in Southern California, one in San Diego and the other one is Riverside. Many thanks to SoCal Workers Solidarity Alliance for helping put these events together, and for the comradeship and company. Hope to see y’all soon again.
Click on the links
We had another event in Los Angeles, but the recording is trapped by my lack of computer skills.
This is the string of comments on my posts around an anarchist program. I’m posting this as a refresher for people about some of the themes going on around that post, since I’m revisiting the subject shortly, and would love to have more discussions like this with people.
Very quick first comment before I forget this:
On Gramsci and war of maneuver and war of position, I don’t think these are posed as open warfare vs. ideological struggle. Rather I think of the later as protracted struggle over time with many small battles and periods of lulls. The best analogy, taken from the military context that the terms come from (as I understand them), is the difference between how warfare was conducted in the US War of Independence and Civil War (armies meet on an open field, form lines, and begin to shoot at each other and its over a day or so) vs. trench warfare that developed in the early 20th century, especially in WWI.
I guess posing it as ideological vs. open is not the best way to describe what I was thinking.
I think the distinction is also not as clear cut as you put it. The idea of war of maneuver rests on the ability of attacking (so, when you cite the Civil War, both armies conducted offensive campaigns, with very little to defense. Gramsci’s description of war of maneuver resembles part of WWI and WWII, but it is specific to key events. For example, the invasion of Normandy was war of position for the Nazis but not for the allies, not only because of the lack of defensive positions, but because they had the initiative of the attack and they overwhelmed the Nazi defenses with superior force. The invasion of Berlin, on the other hand, resembles more two different forces fighting a war of position.
The warfare of the Civil war is antiquate because even an attacking force (engaging in war of maneuver) must protect itself and think of preservation, just as in trench warfare, one must also think of offense and gaining enemy territory. The different is in immediate aims and therefore in methodology, I think. The neo-liberal period of world capitalism was a clear example of ideological war of maneuver, in order to gain back territory (ideological and geographic) lost during the sixties and seventies (anti-imperialist movements, people of color liberation struggles, women’s struggle, etc…)
At any rate, if Gramsci meant what you said, the idea of war of position became even more vague and therefore even more useless. A protracted struggle cannot have a single, overarching strategy, because that needs the complete passivity or at least inflexibility of the other side. And capitalism has proven itself to be extremely flexible.
Maybe we need a study group on Gramsci to resolve this question
I can’t really follow your discussion on warfare tactics, as that’s not really my forte… but as I understand it, Gramsci was trying to counter pose the idea of revolution as simply an insurrection that siezes the state vs. the idea of a protracted struggle with ebbs and flows. And a protracted struggle often requires more strategy and planning than a short battle, just as game of chess requires a more intensive and adjusting strategy than does a 3 minute wrestling match.
I think this quote from Manuel Gonzalez Prada of Peru (writings as much as a decade before Gramsci wrote his words) describes the sentiment best:
“If bourgeois society can’t be uprooted in a single day and in a single assault, it can be undermined little by little , through many successive attacks, not in a decisive battlefield victory but in a prolonged siege with victories and defeats, advances and retreats. What is needed is a series of partial revolutions.”
OK, now after re-reading the who piece, here are some general comments…
“After detecting the weaknesses of the defenses of the State, we must proceed into using our analysis of our own power and that of allies willing to join, and create an assault plan with the possible allocation of that power to the weak point of the State machinery.”
I’m curious about this sentance. Is this the strategic imperative that you think is most important? I’m not exactly sure by the way the piece is written.
I’m usually opposed to ideas that we need to find the “weakest” or “most strategic” link in the chain of capitalism and the state. While I think questions like this will become more important when there is a more realistic potential of having a revolution, at this point that’s not the case. I don’t think this is what you are doing, but I think that type of approach can lead folks into what Jefferson calls ‘revolutionary crystal ball gazing’ (think BTR and national strategy) and it usually doesn’t produce much results.
I think what’s most important is building our forces, a base if you will, and this means finding places where there is the greatest will and subjective potential to building movements, motivate people to organize or take existing organic organization and move this forward in more powerful and combative directions.
… Maybe I’m totally confusing what you’re saying though, so let me know your thoughts/response.
Ok, On the first point. I think we are agreeing. I think I messed up by putting it as a open warfare vs ideological struggle. The way you put is what I mean.
Second point. When I wrote this, I tried to be comprehensive and not tell people what I thought was the best solution but give the tools to ask the question and them come up with their solution. I personally think that there can be no real offensive strategy today (a war of maneuver), only a defensive one (a war of position).
It seems clear though that this text needs some deep revising for clarity and needs its analysis expanded.
The other thing is that defensive struggles can also wind up becoming offensive. For instance the 2006 immigrant rights protests were defensive in attempting to stop HR 4437, but at the same time this advanced the effort to pass some type of comprehensive immigration reform. After 2006 congress was at least debating the issue and bills were on the table (even if nothing has actually passed), though before the possibility was out of the question…. a movement of millions in the streets and closing down work places accomplished in a matter of months what a number of non-profit lobbyists could not do with decades of lobbying.
Other examples are advances in labor, with many important victories or moments of struggle arising out of defensive strikes and actions against repression, wages cuts, etc, that wind up uniting people to carry forward wider demands. One movement that has the potential to do this now is in the struggle in higher education against the cuts.
Hum… I guess I really need to rewrite this.
A defensive strategy overall also implies offense – that’s what a war of position is. It is called counterattack and you use it to wrestle by degrees ideological ground from the opponent. It is still an overall defensive strategy because it is not an attack that aims to completely destroying the ruling class oppressive apparatchik, even when it demands for more than just bread and butter issues. So, we can say that May First 2006 was a counterattack built on a defensive strategy (defending the right to stay became the launch point to asserting that immigrants have rights)
One thing that it comes out out to me in this interaction is that I need to go a lot deeper on Clausewitz theories around offensive strategy and defensive strategy, which became self-explanatory after you read the man, but not so much before you do.
Hmmmm, I’m having troubling with the later category of the offensive. If consider May 1st 2006 as a defensive counter attack and any movement that still demands more than bread and butter (but still not the end of the system), then what is an example of a offensive?
If we remember the beginning of the Russian Revolution, it started with the women’s march on the Winter Palace- demanding food and I think the release of political prisoners. The Spanish Revolution as well wasn’t offensive either then because it was a reaction to stop the outbreak of the the July 19th right-wing/military coup. China was in large part a movement against foreign domination and occupation (first Europeans and then the Japanese) and Mexico 1910 was a movement against a dictator etc etc.
… I think every movement begins with a more limited scope. Take the recent Oaxaca rebellion, it began as an annual (almost ritualistic) teachers strike that faced repression, which in turn united a wide movement which supported them with an occupation of the zocalo and this spread to become an occupation of much of the town center that became to self-consciously see itself as a a new power that contested the power of the government (dual power). Though within every example are both revolutionaries who’ve been hard at work for many years advocating revolutionary ideas and many times leading/playing key roles within the mass movements and a radicalized base that is pushed to become more radical by the actions of those in power.
Quick comment on the use of military concepts for strategy formation from some of my own thoughts on cursory readings of military & corporate strategy.
– Much existing writing on strategy begins with the premise of a defined body, to be applied to certain defined ends.
– Strategy then concerns the direction of a known body to known ends, utilising calculable forces.
– This isn’t possible for us, as the primary purpose of the org in the current stage of struggle is to develop the internal organisation of the class, i.e. to create bodies capable of exerting forces.
Basically I think the current primary purpose of revs is to develop the organisation of the class, so that it becomes capable of acting to advance its own interests. At this stage the class is too dispersed to talk about a general offensive against State or capital; we can do this only in relation to specific struggles.
The two aspects of socialist strategic thought, acquisition of power and application of power are necessarily linked (i.e. the class develops its powers through struggle), but our general weakness means that the former is our main concern for now.
I would agree with daramcq. At this stage the goal cannot be to develop the best strategy to challange the state/capital. It is simply impossible as the popular movements as well as the revolutionary forces are too weak. Rather, the main task as I see it is to build the potential of mass movements through popular organizing as well as building revolutionary political consciousness more generally. This also means that the vast majority of consideration in developing a strategy needs to be given to subjective factors (who is willing to struggle? … what groups have the consciousness, experience, mutual support, history of struggle to draw from and above all will to endure the long road of struggle?) rather than objective factors of political forces (such as when people say transportation workers are strategic because they move the goods or issue xzy is strategic because it attacks the key weak point of capitalism, etc). In fact I think too much of what passes for left strategy, such as the later examples I just gave which entail waiting for some key even that is always just on the horizon, amounts to what a friend calls ‘revolutionary crystal ball gazing’ …. and usually the revolutionaries are always wrong!
Or to put this in fancy terms…. only a class-for-itself is capable of making a revolution, so the task/question is how we can move from a class-in-itself towards a class-for-itself. There is only hard word ahead and no magic bullets or crystal balls.
I’m confused if you guys are disagreeing with me, or just adding to what I’m saying…
Ok. I think the critique that daramcq makes in the beginning of his comment is spot on. The revolutionary organization is not an army or a corporation and should not be treated as such, even more an anarchist organization, that is concerned with a social transformation of society as opposed to a merely political one.
That being said, I do not disagree with what you guys said as far as what a general strategy of the revolutionary organization should be. I do think that a revolutionary organization should be a “known body with known ends.” The popular movement is not, now, anywhere near that.
Both of you guys talk about developing or building the class-consciousness but what that looks like in actuality? More importantly, what it means for the organization you are part of? It is a question of what means to employ, and what goals must the revolutionary organization, not the popular organization, set for itself.
My main concern with this is the organization of anarchists as such, not with the organizing of the class; I’m concerned about cleaning the house before starting the party.
I actually didn’t mention class consciousness! (though t’is important)* I’d say our first issue is developing bases of organised power in the class. That means revs focusing especially on permanent organs and building up structures of self-organisation within them.
What the @ organisation can do to help this process is to develop a good understanding of where such bases lie, or can lie, and equipping militants to engage within them. Site-specific strategies should emerge from the process of engagement.
I would actually counter-pose that the structural power of workers is important, as it will be an important factor in the possibility of success and the tactics that can get there. Also, the existing organisational structures will be an important factor in influencing strategy (clientelism in community sector, craft unionist tendencies, etc.).
In summary, the rev organisation should enable directed engagement of militants with the class, and bring its resources to bear on creating (or developing) bases of self-organisation. Its resources are primarily people-based – skills, analysis, etc.
Hope this is more clear.
*(aside, I think class consciousness will develop from the practice of class-based organisation, and rev consciousness from combative class-based self-organisation)
Trying to write this as a blog post was a bit reckless of me. Although these ideas have been distilling through my brain for a while now, it is clear now that there is a lot of rewriting that needs to be done to this piece to make it readable and, most importantly, clear and understandable. I will continue to post the rest of it, and than rewrite it, though. There are two reasons for that. One is simple continuity, and secondly I hope to get criticism that can help me improve the final piece. Also, there’s gotta be a sexier name for this piece than the one I have – Huerta Grande is nice and memorable, this name would probably become some ugly acronym like PCBEAPN. Ugh!
So, here’s to part 3:
Tracing Goals and Methods of Achieving Goals.
The objective of a political program is not victory in a concrete, specific struggle, or even victory per se. We must not believe that a good strategy assures victory – a good strategy simply enhances our chances of victory, but there is much in our work that is unpredictable and untangle, and cannot be made work simply by our clever assumptions.
The work of the revolutionist is much like the work of the farmer. Before planting a seed, a farmer will plow the land, fertilize it and clear aggressive weeds that might kill the seed before it germinates. When the seed does germinate, the farmer must control temperature, soil humidity, pests and a number of different environmental and plant behavior. Yet, through this whole process, even if the farmer does everything right, there’s no guarantee that the plant will survive or bear fruit. The farmer works to improve the plant’s chances of survival and reproduction – the farmer does not control the process but tries to influence it.
It is the same with the revolutionary, Leninist and Guevarist mythologies notwithstanding. Revolutions are acts of collective will exacted at precise material and historic conditions. As Malatesta once put it, we see Anarchy as the ultimate end of history not because history will inevitably end in Anarchy, but because Anarchy is the goal we think history ought to lead too.
All that being said, we then see the goal of the program of the anarchist organization to help ferment the favorable conditions for the revolutionary seeds to germinate. Yet it is quite a grandiose goal, and vague – in other others, useless beyond being a guiding principle. The specific organization of anarchists need specific goals that it wants to accomplish.
Goals of an anarchist organization are different of the goals for a larger movement organization because the function of the anarchist organization is different from the movement organization. The goals of the specific anarchist organization should relate to winning as the members of the the Dielo Trouda group put it, the leadership of ideas in the struggle in which they participate.
Goals should be divided in short, medium and long term. Short term goals refer to goals of a year or so, or that refer to an specific short term campaign. So, short term goals can be about the specific strategy around supporting a strike, or a campaign around a round of budget cuts to school or city services. Here, the objectives for the revolutionary organization should be around proposing solutions to the problem faced by the movement that broaden the realm of the possible and move people towards the realization of their own power, towards direct action.
Medium term goals for the revolutionary organization involve the growth of the sphere of influence of the ideas of the organization. That includes not only creation of a base with which the organization interacts and specific theaters of struggle in which the organization will act, but also internal goals such as growth and recruitment strategies, the kind and level of propaganda activities the organization wishes to engage in, and methods of creating theory and empowering the members of the organization to be both organizers and theoreticians on their own right.
Long-term goals for the anarchist organization refer mainly, I think, about the creation of lasting, effective alliances with social movements and with other anarchist organizations, and the creation of continental or transcontinental federations and strategies.
Two asides must be added to this. First, these goals reflect only the ideas around the practices of the organization regarding itself. Social movements, as the engine and brain of the revolution, subscribe to a different process. Second, this refers to local or regional organizations. Continental and transcontinental organizations are a different kind of monster, and I don’t wish neither have the capacity to tackle it.
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Ok. So I realized two things when I finished writing this. First, there is a lot I need to explain around Clausewitz’s theories on war and how they affect my look on strategy. I think I need to write something that specifically deals with strategy – maybe still as part of this, maybe as a companion piece. Secondly, I think I am done with this line of thought as a line; this outline has been sucked dry and I cannot just pile more things on top of it in without first coming back and really reworking this thing as a whole so it makes sense. Yet, there is still a lot I want to talk about on the subject or related to it, so expect more post coming out on the question of anarchist strategy and program.
Note: This is a work in progress. Many of these ideas have been stewing in my head and the heads of some comrades of mine for quite some time now, but in writing them (specially in a blog) I tend to forget things or downplay others. I’ll probably revisit and re-write this thing when it is all written (The golden rule of good writing – rewrite it!). Much of these ideas are based out of Huerta Grande, the work of Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks and several years of conversation with my good comrade Adam at Machete 408, plus others. My thoughts on strategy, I must admit, owe much to the analysis of Carl von Clawsewitz’s On War, which I guess is not a very kosher confession for an anti-militarist anarchist. And still further, some ideas of the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists will make an appearance. If there is a point with which you agree, disagree or would like to see explained further, please say so, it would be very helpful. Ok, here we go again.
* * *
Strategical program of action based on the political analysis
Class warfare is nothing if not a war. It is the “act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.” The will is the political objective of the different parties who engage in the war. The will of the bourgeoisie is the maintain its dominant class status – our will is the elimination of class society and social hierarchy.
We are forced here to expand our idea of war to include the ideological groundwork for the actual event itself. The Iraq war was not started on March 20, 2003, with the bombing of the Al-Dora farms. In fact, the war had already started on February 5th, when Colin Powell made his now infamous presentation to the UN security council, because the White House had already decide to go to war.
The class warfare between the bourgeoisie and the different exploited classes (peasants, proletariat, the dispossessed or lumpen proletariat, etc.) has been going on for at least two centuries, sometimes as open physical warfare, and sometimes as an ideological warfare. Antonio Gramsci defined these two situations as a war of maneuver and a war of position.
Yet the idea of war of position is too broad and vague to be of any practical use to us. It can refer to any moment from the reactionary times we live in to the eve of the “storming of the Winter Palace,” but these two situations have very little in common and we cannot fathom to use the same strategy in both cases. To be more precise, we must first decide if we are in the offensive or the defensive. It is not a question of actions being offensive or defensive, but if the overall movement of working people (be it local, national or transnational) is winning new ground or trying to defend the ground already won. The sentiment expressed by the “we are winning” tag in Seattle reflects the first analysis, while S.T.O.R.M. based its strategy on the defensive mode of the people’s movement.
The question of the movement being defensive or offensive is a crucial one, and should be analyzed in depth by the organization seeking to create a program. It is also important to understand that each situation carries a difference in outlook and a different set of problems.
If you assume an offensive view of popular movements, the primary analysis should be to detect what are the defenses of the State and which weaknesses they present. The defenses of the State may be physical (arsenal, police, army, etc.,) or ideological (the law, “deterrents” like prisons or torture, the media and the formation of public opinion). More likely, it can be a combination of all of them in different degrees.
After detecting the weaknesses of the defenses of the State, we must proceed into using our analysis of our own power and that of allies willing to join, and create an assault plan with the possible allocation of that power to the weak point of the State machinery.
I put this forward because I am trying to create a broad how-to manual on creating a political program. I have yet to be presented with any slightly convincing argument for this view, and I find it quite dangerous to the overall health of popular movements.
Defense is the strongest form of struggle. This might conflate with some people’s romanticizing the periods in which social movements were in the offensive, such as the thirties and the sixties.Yet it is worthwhile to notice that decades after these movements were crushed by the State, their legacy remains, if a little eroded. The reason for this is that once that ideological ground is won, it is hard to be lost. It has been chipped away, perverted and attacked constantly, but the ideas that racism and sexism are bad are still a big part of the general discourse. (Clearly things are much different in practice, and the idea of racism has been stripped of all its systemic value and made into a individualistic relationship, but my point is that the need for racial equality wasn’t part of the discourse of this country until very recently.)
The aim of defense is preservation, while the aim of offense is conquest. A defensive outlook for social movements would aim first at defending the terrain won on previous struggles, such as the great labor unrests from the thirties and the civil rights struggle from the sixties and seventies. From a defensive perspective, the lack of activity is a gain.
It is also important to say that while defense aims at preservation, it cannot be its endgame. Defense aims at amassing ones forces to the point that one can then engage on a offensive. And it is paramount to find the breaches that might open in the ideological battlefield against the ruling classes, attack at those points and win them over, and then hold them.
Keeping all that in mind, the defensive or “war of position” strategy should first analyze what are the areas attacked by the State that must be defended. Priorities should be assigned based on:
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Ok. Again I didn’t get to all I wanted to say. Next, I’ll talk about tracing goals, and methods of achieving goals. Also, will take about the particular difficulties that anarchist organizations face when creating a program.
Much of my time today is spent advocating for the need of an objective and functional program for anarchists in the United States. This is an ever present and paramount need, yet there’s very little out there about what an anarchist program ought to look like, what it is composed of and what exactly are its practical applications.
There are prerequisites to creating an political program, and attaining these prerequisites will shape our program and subsequently our strategy as anarchists. It is also important to note that, most likely, there will be not single, unified program and strategy to all anarchists in the U.S., but many different yet similar and complementary strategies.
The Political Analysis
The analysis of the current situation – its different forces and the relationship of power they share now – is the first and perhaps the most important step in creating a strategy.
Much of what we see being called political analysis today tends to focus on the other, particularly the other of the activities of the ruling class (the most recent war or attack on working people) or the other of movements outside our immediate range (Bolívia, Palestine, Argentina or Korea, for example.) While all these factors are important, the political analysis should be primarily focused on the situation in the United States; it should tally up the forces of reaction and the ones for revolution, it should try to understand what those forces aim at and consider how they might act to reach their goals.
To be a practical tool, political analysis must be precise. It cannot be optimistic (the Oscar Grant protests are the beginning of the uprising of the black youth!) , nor pessimistic (Fascism is here!), no matter what our feelings may be. It should not be one-sided, but it must take in consideration that every social act requires at leas two protagonists, even if one is just passive. We should be brutally honest with ourselves as the Left in considering our strengths – yes we are tiny, but how tiny? Where is our sphere influence? Where can we affect change?
We should use words and concepts carefully and specifically to mean what they mean – we are not living in a fascist society, nor in the Great Depression of the thirties. While comparison can be an useful tool, it is only so when we are clear about the difference as well as the similarities between the two or more situations.
Political analysis should also be clear about the motivations and needs of social forces, and separate possible consequences from what those needs are. Glenn Beck’s bosses are not keen on fascism, but did not disparage at whipping up fascistoid elements in the American right in order to reach their goals, specially because they think they can control those elements. If we keep a historical perspective, which a good political analysis should do, it is debatable if they can.
The best political analysis will be still incomplete, but it should give a clear picture of the historical elements and forces at play in at a determined moment.
The Analysis of Our Own Power
This is a refining of the previous exercise, but focused entirely specifically on anarchists. Sometimes it can be even more focused, and be entirely focused on one particular organization or region of the country. The more focused it gets, the more helpful it will be.
I particularly think that, given the current situation of anarchists and anti-authoritarian left forces in the in the U.S., there can be no real national strategy except building local power. Strong local organizations can later on get together to try and formulate a national strategy. There are some that disagree with that, and that is fine. The question to be answered is where and how can you affect the most change? That includes not only different social struggles, but different groups in that social struggle, different situations (material, geographic, etc.) and different angles of the same struggle.
Again, precision is everything. We must not let our aspirations and politics blur our vision when categorizing these aspects of a social struggle. There isn’t just the revolutionaries and the masses; there is the conscious revolutionary (libertarian or authoritarian), the movement activist (normally espousing a uncoalesced vision of “social justice”), the active participant (those participating in the movement for particular gains such as housing, better working conditions or an end to police brutality against a specific community). There are movements of the lower-middle classes and upper-working classes (such as the movement around foreclosures), the movement of the working poor (such as movements of the unemployed) and movements of the most economically brutalized (such as movements of homeless people). I could go on giving examples of other different categorizations, but what I am trying to say is that these different categories are affected is different ways by our ideological propaganda, by our actions and by our proposals (both practical, on the ground proposal and proposal for a future, re-organized society).
Well, that’s all for now folks, I’m not trying to write a book in this post. Next time I’ll be looking at the intersection between the political analysis and analysis of our own power, and the hurdles around creating an anarchist political program.
I was listening to NPR they were talking about this picture they have of a room full of lobbyists waiting to take a bite out of the new health care bill. People started calling in and identifying the lobbyists or just disparaging at the lack of representation for ordinary people and the sense of powerlessness that arose form that.
I started thinking about the common understanding of what “the government” represents and what it means for anarchist practice to be “anti-government” or “anti-State.”
While I don’t like using words that are basically synonyms and assigning them different meanings based on my political leaning, I think that there is an interesting distinction to be made between government an State.
Government is a concrete reality, the day-to-day operations of the apparatus of the ruling-class,
The modern bourgeois State is part of a superstructure, a construct and a reflection a bourgeois-dominated relationship of production. While that is absolutely true and succinct, this way of presenting the State hides the actual nature of the State and actually contributes to the enhancing of a critically skewed perception of what the State is as a relationship of power.
However, that explanation can hardly account for the different structures we see forming different States worldwide. What the United States government, the Chavez goverment of Venezuela and the Brazilian goverment have in common is that they are built around a particular mythos, based on a different interpretation of the relationship of power between the State and the civil society. It is paramount to understand the mythos in which the national State operates in order to learn how to be better prepared to wage a war of position for society’s cultural hegemony.
The Brazilian government, for example, is built under a perverse Comte’s positivism, and based on that, a belief that a “scietifically” structure society can guarantee individual rights and collective harmony. A rough sketch of the particular Mythos of the Brazilian government is that it is that scientific society, that it is based on the rights of the individual and in collective harmony, and that its laws are the fruit of such scientific methods. In reality what we see is an extremely manichaeist system of government, in which those that do not conform to the “scientific society” are seen as cancerous to the general harmony and to individual freedoms – and the State as the guardian of that harmony and those freedoms.
Understanding the root mythos of a given State can help us understand deeper the attitudes and the discouse of the government and also of the population of a given country for, as Marx said it, “the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.” It can also help us develop social movements that can resonate with the true aspirations of people often ebbed inside the oppressive mythos of Statism.
By the way, Upping the Anti #8 ran an delicious editorial on the political implications and opportunities of State mythos. You should check it out.