Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Transitional and Failed Societies: What Are They?

This piece comments on some segments of Community Policing: National and International Models and Approaches by Mike Brogden & Preeti Nijar (2005).

States undergoing some kind of transformation are usually the sites of international criminal justice, which are supposed to settle scores with the past and provide a stable basis for the development of a (capitalist) democratic society. Although this is my starting point for this essay, it is worth pointing out that Brogden and Nijar are looking at similar states but more from the perspective of developing a critique of community policing models which are being ‘exported’ there by the advanced capitalist countries (particularly the USA and Britain).
Of the countries that Brogden and Nijar study, they seek to divide them into three groups those which developed community policing themselves (Mostly western advanced capitalist countries but some Asian countries are included in this category – namely Singapore, Japan and China), transitional states and failed states. I wish to examine these categories to determine their usefulness beyond this particular instance.

Transitional states are those which have usually gone through some international criminal justice ‘cleansing’ of the past (either a Truth Commission or International Criminal Court/Tribunal). They usually (but not always) have had some kind of dictatorial government and are in the process of attempting to build institutions of bourgeois democracy. Examples of these countries include such places as South Africa and Chile in the early 1990’s for example. For me a key ingredient of being a ‘transitional’ state rather than a ‘failed’ one is that the state remains intact – it is merely modified or purged of a few elements.

Brogden and Nijar state that “‘Failed’ societies… are essentially states in which the primary reason for transformation is due to the collapse of structures of political governance… (which) have been disappearing into a void.” (pg.189-190) However, they later go on to state “In this text, the term ‘failed society’ is intended to encompass those societies of the previous Soviet system which straddle a chasm between the disappearance of their command economies and the chaotic onrush of a free market system.”(pg.190)
There are two points I wish to make in relation to this, both related to each other. Firstly, that the term failed society is a poor one really – much better would be collapsed or even better disintegrated society. Secondly, surely societies where there has been a collapse of the ruling bodies into a void range further than just post-Stalinist countries. For example, what about Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few years – surely they are prime examples of power vacuums? I’m sure there are further examples that could be utilised here too.

But before I conclude, I wish to return to the notion of transitional states. In them there is a key question which I have asked in relation to them which is what are these states a transition from and to what. In there case they are transitions from a dictatorial/fascist regime to a capitalist democracy. But there are other types of transitions – in particular for us the question of dual power where the transition to a workers state is posed. The problem with the examples used in the book is they look at transformation from one form of capitalism to another or from non-capitalism to capitalism, but never with any state that is going into a non-capitalist form (whether from capitalism or not). How can such a schema be of use to us when it has such flaws?

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