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Telescoping Passive Revolution

by Adam David Morton on March 2, 2016
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TahrirIn preparing for an engagement with Brecht De Smet’s new book Gramsci on Tahrir: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt, I thought it would be a good idea to dust-down a few earlier blog posts of mine in order to provide a ground-clearing exercise on thinking about Antonio Gramsci’s concept and condition of passive revolution. My goal in this endeavour is therefore to re-blog a series of four posts all revolving around the notion of passive revolution.

The third in the series, entitled ‘Telescoping Passive Revolution’, originally appeared on For the Desk Drawer (4 November 2013). The post appears without any changes. The aim is then to develop a wider commentary on passive revolution, as well as Brecht De Smet’s important new book, in subsequent contributions to Progress in Political Economy. The fourth in the series is entitled ‘Deflected Passive Revolution’.

An updated paperback edition of my book Revolution and State in Modern Mexico: The Political Economy of Uneven Development has now been published. A central proposition of the book is that the conditioning situation of uneven and combined development on a world scale — as the geographical expression of the contradictions of capitalism — shapes the spatial, territorial, and scalar configuration of state power. However, although shaped by the condition of uneven and combined development, it is also the balance of class forces within state spaces that alters the developmental trajectory and spatial form of statehood through emergent passive revolutionary class strategies defining the rise of a state in capitalist society.

In more detail, a focus on the affinal concepts of uneven and combined development (drawing from Leon Trotsky) and passive revolution (drawing from Antonio Gramsci) reveals pertinent features of modern state formation in an historically specific sense within the twentieth century transition to and transformation of modern capitalist political space in Mexico. In relation to uneven and combined development it was Leon Trotsky that sketched how capitalism unfolds by “drawing the countries economically closer to one another and levelling out their stages of development” but also, thereby, “developing some parts of world economy while hampering and throwing back the development of others”. To then paraphrase, the historical process is the correlation of both equalisation and differentiation within the uneven and combined development of capitalism. In my argument, Antonio Gramsci’s concept of passive revolution then refers to processes in which aspects of the social relations of capitalist development are either instituted and/or expanded, resulting in both “revolutionary” rupture and a “restoration” of social relations across different scales and spatial aspects of the state.

CoverThe crucial element in passive revolution is the statifying tendency to reorganise or restructure the geographies of capital accumulation. This means that the state form becomes the dominant site, generator, and product of spatial projects in attempting to maintain the relationship of ruler–ruled and the incoherence of popular initiatives from below. My argument leads to the outlook that such processes across Latin America will clearly be different across state forms. Yet the condition of passive revolution does provide certain clues to the diversity of Latin American history and thus forms of transition to capitalist modernity within the region and, especially, in relation to spaces of state power in Mexico. Hence my argument that the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) stands as one of the links in a chain of passive revolutions called forth by capitalist modernity in Latin America. My aim, then, in Revolution and State in Modern Mexico is to demonstrate how specific processes of passive revolution capture the territorial, class, and spatial relations of socially uneven and combined development in Mexico at the state level but also across various scales.

Rather than assuming a conditon of ‘normal’ hegemony, characterised by the reciprocal combination of force and consent, my argument is that state space in Mexico was configured by a minimal hegemony indicative of the experience of passive revolution, where the state–coercive element superintends the struggle for hegemony. Hence the significance I place on the meaning behind telescoping passive revolution: the coercive class practices of passive revolution are best understood dialectically when telescoped with struggles for hegemony. A crucial aspect of my book is how it remains sensitive to the coercive circumstances constituting modern state formation. Passive revolution thus provides an alternative approach to theorising coercion and hegemony shaping twentieth–century state–making in Mexico. Through dialectically telescoping passive revolution together with hegemony, Revolution and State in Modern Mexico adds an additional standpoint to the emerging literature that aims to develop fresh analysis of the historical roots of coercion in relation to broader hegemonic processes of state–making in Mexico, such as Wil Pansters edited Violence, Coercion and State-Making in Twentieth Century Mexico.

ZapatistaThe new lengthy epilogue to the paperback edition engages with some of these theoretical issues that have sprung forth within debates in Latin America on passive revolution since the publication of my book. Also, I sketch some of the dominant contemporary territorial and scalar geographies of passive revolution and forms of resistance shaping the state spatial restructuring of Mexico under capitalism. These include the war on drugs, the so-called democratic transition since the election of Enrique Peña Nieto, and the enduring relevance of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) in commanding counter-spaces of resistance.

Adam David Morton

Adam David Morton is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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