About the Author
John Reynolds is the founding head of the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit in the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Rhodes University.
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The state and state policy: a theoretical perspective
As shown in the previous chapter, the adoption of the PGDP as the overarching policy framework of the Eastern Cape Provincial Government did not lead to the achievement of many of its objectives.
It was not just that the PGDP was not implemented as planned, which would not be particularly surprising, given the complex links between planning and implementation. What concerned me was the scale of underachievement, particularly by a provincial government under the executive control of a former liberation movement, the ANC , in partnership with the SACP and COSATU . What was needed was an understanding of the way in which the promise of the PGDP had been hollowed out not just during implementation, but during the process of its development. What was at issue was the way in which this policy development process had unfolded, and what it showed about the limits of policy challenge within the South African state.
What I found useful in thinking through the PGDP process was to think of the state not as a unified agent, but as the primary terrain on which power is contested and organised. This terrain is not a tabula rasa, however, but is located within a particular social and historical context that has implications for the strategic possibilities for the exercise of power. The ways in which power is exercised and organised also shape social relations and the strategic selectivities in terms of which power can be organised in future. For me, this perspective is most coherently expressed in Jessop 's (2008) strategic-relational approach, which "starts from the proposition that the state is a social relation" (Jessop, 2008: 1). This approach is valuable not only because it provides an abstract explanatory framework for ways in which power is exercised and organised, but because it is oriented towards concrete-specific analyses of the shifting boundaries between the state and society, of the relationship between state power and power exercised at a distance from the state, and of the links between social relations and state forms.
I consider policy as the discursive form in which the organisation of state power is expressed. Considered at the level of discourse, policy is linked not only to other policies, but also to a range of views of the world, and all of these (other policies and views of the world) arise in social contexts and affect those contexts. But, as Pierson (2005) argues, policy is more than just a moment of choice or the outcome of rational selection by strategic actors. Although agency does shape policy content, it is exercised on a strategically selective terrain, i.e. it operates in terms of strategic possibilities and constraints (Jessop , 2008), or, put differently, it operates in institutional settings that are located in time and are subject to path-dependent processes (Pierson, 2004). This means that although the content of policies reflect, at a discursive level, the organisation of power, power is not uniformly distributed through the state, and is exercised within a field of power where it can be countered and has unintended or unanticipated consequences. The material outcomes of policy emerge from the exercise of power in relation to the strategic selectivities of the state, and policy development and implementation alter the strategic possibilities for future policy and state action.
This means that, in the context of this book, the PGDP has to be considered not only in relation to other key policies of relevance to the content of the PGDP, but also to the particular form of the South African state in its social and historical context. Analysis of the PGDP process within this larger context allows one to avoid the dangers of snapshot perspectives (cf. Pierson , 2005), and to understand the particular materiality of the outcomes of the development and implementation of the PGDP. Although I pay detailed attention to the process of development of the PGDP, I do this with knowledge of its outcomes and in relation to the socio-historical context within which the process arose and in which implementation occurred. This chapter provides a theoretical grounding for that analysis, which, in Chapter 2, includes consideration of the structure of the post-apartheid South African state, of the shifting boundaries between the state, as "a distinct ensemble of institutions and organisations whose socially accepted function is to define and enforce collectively binding decisions on a given population in the name of their 'common interest' or 'general will'" (Jessop , 2008: 9), and society, and of key state policies.
The state and state power
In the introduction, I provided evidence of continued poverty, unemployment and inequality in the Eastern Cape, despite the PGDP and more than a decade since the transition to a constitutional democracy, and despite the ANC winning substantial majorities in all post-apartheid elections. This situation raises questions about the nature of state power and the links between the actions of the state and the economy. Such questions take on particular force when one considers the historical links between the territory now called the Eastern Cape and the development of South African capitalism , as explored in Chapter 2.
Although one can have better or worse kinds or varieties of capitalism (cf. Esping-Andersen, 1990; Padayachee , 2013a), inequality is fundamental to capitalist relations of production, which are built on exploitation. In modern capitalism, increasing numbers of people are cast to the periphery of economic activity with little hope of formal employment or access to the means of production, and capital assumes ever more complicated forms (cf. Harvey, 2010). Ultimately, those in employment and those in what might be called the surplus population are linked in relation to the nexus of exploitation, as argued by Alexander, Ceruti, Motseke, Phadi and Wale (2013) in their study of class in Soweto, South Africa's largest township. They describe the employed, the underemployed and the unemployed in Soweto as constituting a differentiated proletarian unity, portions of which mobilise in terms of particular means and ends (e.g. strikes aimed at changing conditions of work, or barricades aimed at effecting changes in basic service provision), but remaining in relationships of mutual dependence and shared benefit from victories in struggle and shared loss in defeat.
Key to understanding capitalist social formations and the capitalist state is viewing class in relational terms (cf. Wright, 1985 and 1997; Przeworski , 1985). Classes are not the only groupings into which people are organised or even potentially organised, but describe the ways in which people are organised in relation to the nexus of exploitation at the core of capitalism . Social groups, including classes, are organised, disorganised and reorganised on an on-going basis, and the dynamic of their relationships with each other, i.e. the struggle between them, is a key social dynamic at the core of any given social formation. Under capitalism, where market relations encroach on an increasing range of areas of human interaction, the understanding of class relations, in complex relation to other forms of group organisation, take on a key importance. For Przeworski (1985: 71), "class formation is an effect of the totality of struggles in which multiple historical actors attempt to organize the same people as class members, as members of collectivities defined in other terms [e.g. Catholics, French-speakers, Southerners, etc.], sometimes simply as members of the 'society'".
It is when considering the domains in which class struggles are played out, and considering the state as primary amongst those domains, that the link between the state and the economy becomes clearer. The state is not an autonomous domain or a unified agent that intervenes in the economy but, rather, the primary domain in which social relations of production are shaped. Poulantzas (1978: 128–129) expressed this as follows: "The (capitalist) State should not be regarded as an intrinsic entity: like 'capital' [capitalism], it is rather a relationship of forces, or more precisely the material condensation of such a relationship among classes and class fractions, such as this is expressed within the State in a necessarily specific form [emphasis in the original]".
Poulantzas (1978: 36), just like Gramsci (2007: 75, 310), sometimes drew the boundaries of the state so widely that aspects of what is often called civil society (e.g. the church) were included within its ambit, but it makes for greater analytical clarity to consider class and other social struggles within the domain of the state and at a distance from the state – or within political society and civil society – while acknowledging the interactions between these domains (cf. Therborn , 1978; Jessop , 2008).
However, a view of class relations (or social relations more broadly) as condensed in the state, but of the state as one amongst a number of domains within which class or other social struggles occur, constitutes a paradox. Jessop (2008: 7) expresses this as follows:
On the one hand, it [the state] is just one institutional ensemble among others within a social formation; on the other, it is peculiarly charged with overall responsibility for maintaining the cohesion of the social formation of which it is merely a part. Its paradoxical position as both part and whole of society means that it is continually called upon by diverse social forces to resolve society's problems and is equally doomed to generate "state failure" since many of society's problems lie well beyond its control and may even be aggravated by attempted intervention.
The particular complexities of the relationship between the South African state and other institutional ensembles, civil society in particular, are explored further in Chapter 2.
The concentration of class relations in the state does not mean that class relations are visible in the structure or personnel of the state. It also does not mean that there is some grand conspiracy in terms of which deals are made that are to the benefit of particular classes; although influence by social groups is sought and gained, the process of organisation of social relations is far more subtle than that. For one, class domination is hidden; in the words of Poulantzas (1976: 188):
The capitalist state presents this peculiar feature, that nowhere in its actual institutions does strictly political domination take the form of a political relation between the dominant classes and the dominated classes. In its institutions everything takes place as if the class struggle did not exist.
This is particularly apparent in the liberal democratic state form, which is structured in terms of formal legal equality, which mirrors the apparent equality of market relations, and outcomes appear to be the result of multiple individual transactions, just like in market relations. What attracts people to participate in democratic processes is the promise of indeterminate outcomes, which holds out the possibility that participation could result in outcomes that are beneficial to those who participate (cf. Przeworski, 1985).
However, even if one accepts that the state is a social relation, that it is the primary site for the organisation of power, that it is charged with the maintenance of the cohesion of the social formation, and that, in its democratic form, the state holds the promise of realisation of diverse outcomes, how are capitalist social relations reproduced, and can power be organised in such a way that relations of production are radically changed, for example to socialism? The notion of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR ), which has been a key component of the ideology that has bound the Tripartite Alliance together (cf. Wolpe, 1988), and has been a key discourse supporting ANC hegemony (cf. Hart, 2013), promised that South African social relations would be changed radically through a two-stage revolution through which state power would first be won by the Alliance, followed by the establishment of socialism via democratic means. The second stage of the revolution, the transition to socialism, has continually been deferred to the future and, as Wolpe (1988) pointed out, was not universally accepted by all in the ANC even during the anti-apartheid struggle. Has the delay in the radical transformation of South African social relations been a matter of limited political will? Even if radical transformation was to be delayed as per the NDR thesis, why has neoliberalism taken such a strong hold in South Africa? These questions are explored further in Chapter 2, in the context of the analysis in this chapter.
Explanations relying on the operation of a power bloc under the hegemony of the dominant class are not entirely satisfactory, particularly if, in the state, "everything takes place as if the class struggle does not exist" (Poulantzas, 1976: 188). To accept the notion of a power bloc without relying on the existence of conspiracies or deals, one has to view the power bloc as depicting the particular configuration of classes and class fractions that have come to dominate a social formation at a particular point in time. Unlike the notion of a ruling bloc (cf. Hart, 2013), which is more tangibly an alliance of organisations that more or less successfully maintains executive control of the state apparatuses1 or a particular faction of the ruling party (e.g. Hart 's references to the Mbeki ruling bloc), a power bloc is inferred rather than tangibly identified. But how is the existence of a power bloc inferred, and, even if we can answer that question, do we need to refer to the existence of a power bloc to explain how social relations are reproduced?
For Therborn (1978), investigation of state policies is the means by which the relations between class forces can be inferred. The class character of state policies "may be seen in their direct effects upon the forces and relations of production, upon the ideological superstructure and upon the state apparatus" (Therborn, 1978: 34), and identification of the class character of state policies, in turn, allows one to infer the ways in which state power has been organised.
This is quite a different conception to the one offered by rational choice theory (cf. Pierson , 2004 and 2005), in terms of which the content of state policies is viewed as the outcome of the rational actions of many individuals, representing an equilibrium much like what neo-classical economic theory would predict for market relations (cf. Fine , 1980 and 2001). Rational choice theory focuses on the surface appearances of state activity, and ignores the more persistent outcomes of state activities that survive beyond particular individuals, or groupings of individuals, and might go against their "interests", assuming those can be defined (Pierson, 2004 and 2005).
Unlike what might be predicted in some rational choice accounts, the state is not a blank terrain or domain in which power can be exercised without constraint. Particular states arise in particular socio-temporal contexts, which affect the strategic possibilities for the exercise of state power (Jessop , 2008). State apparatuses also present strategic opportunities and constraints tied to the previous exercise of state power (e.g. existing policies, procedures, institutional configurations and personnel). These strategic opportunities and constraints are what Jessop (2008) refers to as strategic selectivities, and it is within his strategic-relational approach that the dialectical relationship between strategic selectivities and agency is clarified (also see Lukacs, 2002, on the unfolding of history in terms of a dialectical relationship between the subjective and the objective).
Incorporated in Jessop 's (2008) strategic-relational approach is what authors such as Pierson (2004) refer to as path dependency. Pierson (2004), proceeding from a different theoretical foundation to Jessop's, argues that the development of institutions over time is a process of uncertain outcomes in which the sequence and timing of events have effects on present and future development possibilities, in which capacities and systems develop and become the modalities through which future institutional actions occur, and in which some events might have long-term consequences that are not necessarily predictable at their occurrence. Although he has sympathies for both rational choice theory and historical institutionalism, he identifies shortcomings in both approaches and argues that they could complement each other. Pierson's (2004) approach is not so much concerned with explaining particular social outcomes – e.g. the reproduction of capitalist social relations – as challenging notions of rational institutional design, analyses of institutional outcomes based on the choices of individual actors (without denying the place of agency), and exaggeration of institutional plasticity.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Development Planning in South Africa"
Copyright © 2018 John Reynolds.
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Table of Contents
Figures and tables viii
1 The state and state policy: a theoretical perspective 13
2 The post-apartheid South African state and economy 34
3 Overview of the provincial growth and development planning process 65
4 Provincial government political priorities 2002-2004 99
5 Preparing for the writing of the PGDP Strategy Framework 123
6 Development of the PGDP Strategy Framework 145
7 Developing PGDP programmes and gearing for implementation 188