Copyrights @ Journal 2014 - Designed By Templateism - SEO Plugin by MyBloggerLab

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Imperialism and Modernity

Nasser in Syria, 1960
As to imperialism, it relies on two forces: the one positive, derived from its scientific and technological activity and we cannot confront this force except through adopting it and seizing this decisive battle as an opportunity to leap to the level of modern science and organization. We shall then be delivered once and for all from the vestiges of reactionary mentality and the absence of planning. The negative force of imperialism is derived from the shortcoming and loopholes, which still exist in our society and its conditions. The loopholes give imperialism collaborators among our people who are enslaved by their private interests and blinded by ignorance and prejudice. It is within our power today to wrest this weapon from imperialism in order to purify our internal front, isolate the conspiring elements and speedily and decisively tackle the causes of plotting and deviation. - Michel Aflaq, Choice texts from the Baath Party founders thought
It is a strange phenomenon that modernity in the colonized world has had to be constructed against the "Modern World". The Third World modernizers - Secular Arab nationalism, South-East Asian Marxism, Latin American left-wing democracy and Pan-Africanism - all had to fight a vicious and bloody battle against that inventor of modernity - The West - in order to implement the process of modernizing and secularizing the society. The West had first projected the characteristics of barbarity and reaction onto the colonized, and then later, as some Westerners became "aware" of his own complicity in the barbarity of imperialism, projected the imagery of the "noble savage", unfairly ripped out of their "natural" habitat onto the colonized. Neither of these projections allowed for a coherent modernity to develop in the Third world.

But neither of these projections had anything to do with reality. There was no "natural condition" of the colonized - they were neither barbarian tribalists slaughtering each-other, nor mythical peace-loving shamans living outside the corrupting influence of civilization. All over what is now referred to as the Third World there were complex civilizations, which developed science, trade and art, that were systematically and brutally destroyed by the West. In China and India, the British took advanced societies that had become the manufacturing centers of the World, and artificially converted them to impoverished nations.1  Subsequently, the West viewed the impoverishment of those people's as natural and given. The impoverishing of India also erased its history, leaving nothing for the Western gaze to see but the poverty and subjugation. Indians lived in the dirt, starving and miserable, because that was what Indians did. Both the Western idealization of the people of India as wise, noble savages and the demonization of them as ignorant primitives served the same function - to condemn the people of India to eternal poverty and subjugation. Against this notion, the poor of India have rebelled repeatedly. The communist movement, the Dalits, the resistance of the tribes that never seized in India for decades on end is not noted. In this way, the poor of India have their agency and self-determination robbed from them. They wanted to be neither the eternally barbaric animals of ignorance that the demonizers cast them as, nor the wise shamans that represent a "purer" life that the Western idealizers cast them as. We are left to ask, along with Arundhati Roy, what was the true liberatory act: Gandhi, a privileged member of the Vaishya caste, wearing the robes of a low-caste Dalit, or Dr Ambedkar, the Dalit, wearing a suit?2

But do the colonized of the World simply wish to repeat the modernity of the West - that modernity that was built on their backs? It is not quite so simple. The multiple contradictions that present themselves when considering modernity in the colonized world are endless. Modernity as such would always be tied to the West, and its colonialism. How were the colonized to respond? Consider Meisner's take on the development of Marxism among Chinese intellectuals:

As faith in Western democracy eroded and with  the internal political awakening stimulating new hope for effective and immediate action, the  Bolshevik message offered both a new intellectual faith and a new political model. Marxism was seen as the most advanced intellectual product of the modern West, but one that rejected the Western world in its capitalist form and its imperialist relation to China. The latter was most forcefully  demonstrated through the nationalist appeals of the Leninist theory of imperialism (which gave the colonial and semi-colonial lands a crucial international revolutionary role) and the new Soviet government's renunciation of the old czarist imperialist privileges in China. To become a Marxist was one way for a Chinese intellectual to reject both the traditions of the Chinese past and Western domination of the Chinese present. 3
Third-World Marxism, and other such "modernizing" ideologies, had to commit to a dialectical inversion in order to achieve their goals. They had to perform a double negation - a negation of themselves as dominated from the outside as well as the negation of themselves as dominated by their own past. Western modernity was predicated on the subjugation of the "non-moderns" in the sense that it had to actively prevent the rest of the world from effectively modernizing. Thus, being "non-modern" became a weakness, rather than a strength, in the fight against Western colonialism and imperialism. It was precisely that condition which the Western imperialists aimed to keep them in. But this inevitably created tension, because just as the West had prevented the independent development of the Third World, it had also systematically demonized or erased the cultural and social heritage of those peoples. How do you then create a "modern" identity without legitimizing the colonial erasure and demonetization of the older, "non-modern" identity? It was a contradiction that was difficult to overcome. The contrast between the secularism and progressive thought of Mossadegh and the Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah is an example of that contradiction.

What's more is that, while many of these countries thought modernizing would put them on equal footing to the West and enable it build relations with the West as equals rather than as between dominating and dominated, the West never allowed these countries into the "modern" sphere. Arab Ba'athism, once the agent of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment in the Arab world, was recast as another expression of Arab tyranny, its official secularism used as a thin veil for ancient religious sectarianism. China - one of the most modern countries in the World - is seen as an expression of the oriental Confucian despotism of old. Russia, by any standards a modern, industrial country, is also excluded from this sphere as long as it walks an independent path. As NED-stooge Carl Gershman explains, Russia "will be ready, sometime in the future, to become a modern European state" - if it is ready to accept regime change.4 Such rhetoric helps explain the dynamics of Modernity as an ideology - Modernity is The West, and people who work for The West. Any colonized nation that intends to modernize on its own has to face Modernity as an ideological, exclusionary construct that will not let itself be reduced to a simple formula of industrialization, bureaucratization and the invention of civil society. The "barbarity" of the un-modern colonized nation resisting a colonial occupation is seen as the exact same "barbarity" as the colonized nation modernizing itself, because the effect is the same. It undermines Western dominance. The "primitive barbarian" and the "modernizing Totalitarian" are two expressions of the same Western fear. 

Indeed, the development of the "totalitarian" discourse is a projection of colonial prejudices against the "primitive tribesman" onto a situation wherein the colonized attempts to gain access to modernity. Almost all societies that have attempted an independent road toward modernization have been demonized as "totalitarian." The entire narrative of totalitarianism has its roots in this racist, orientalist notion. See Arendt:

“When the Boers, in their fright and misery, decided to use these savages as
though they were just another form of animal life they embarked upon a
process which could only end with their own degeneration into a white race
living beside and together with black races from whom in the end they
would differ only in the color of their skin. They had transformed themselves
into a tribe and had lost the European’s feeling for a territory, a patria
of his own. They behaved exactly like the black tribes who had roamed the
Dark Continent for centuries. 
My point is not the awful, Conradian diction or even the stark conceptual separation
between the European and the African. It is the effect upon the Boers and
thence – so the retrograde diffusionist argument goes – upon Europe. We
“degenerate” into a race-based, primitive and nomadic, rootless “tribe” (or “race
organization”) no better than them.
Thanks to this contact with the primitive, not
only do we come to think in terms of race (i.e. in a racist way), but this mode of
thinking later morphs into a tribal nationalism that, in turn, becomes modern
anti-Semitism and totalitarianism
(“a whole outlook on life and the world”).
This last phenomenon “lies in the nature of tribalism rather than in political facts
and circumstances”
While it's true that many of these anti-imperialist modernizers have been repressive and that the rapid economic transformations they subjected their people to caused traumas and suffering, the condemnation of these societies as "totalitarian" by the Western intelligentsia is more than hypocritical. It is in effect a whitewash. Western modernization not only created the Dickensian conditions of the working class of its own countries, but built it on the colonization, enslavement and subjugation of the rest of the world. By comparison, these "counter-modernizers" were exceptionally mild. Yet, for daring to break the pattern of domination and exploitation, we call them "totalitarian", and cast them once more into the category of the primitive brute that must be destroyed. It doesn't matter how many people voted for them, and what their people think of them, the very act of independent development is a sure sign of totalitarianism. It's through this lens Hugo Chavez, elected president 15 times by the people of Venezuela, can be cast as a Latin American Saddam Hussein.

Third World modernization threatens not only the West as such, but capitalism as a whole. Even as many of these movements wear anti-communism as a badge of honor, and view the establishment of a national capitalism as their goal, the indirect consequence is a threat against the pillars on which neo-imperialist capitalism stands, namely - inequality between nations, neo-colonialism and unipolarity. Unlike many on the left, I do not view the BRICS-project as an emergent, competing imperialist capitalist structure that will resurrect the inter-imperialist conflict that resulted in WWI. The difference between the inter-imperialist conflict of the early 20th century Europe and the emergent BRICS-project is who is doing the fighting, and what they are fighting for. WWI was a conflict between Western capitalist powers over the control of the colonies, while the tensions between the US and BRICS is a conflict between the Western capitalist countries and the nations that were formerly colonized! What isn't recognized is the extreme fragility on which BRICS is a purely capitalist project. By virtue of being formerly colonized nations counter-modernizing against Empire, they are in effect slowly erasing the possibility to carry out the organized plunder of the Global South on which global capitalism is predicated. The bourgeoisie of the West and of the BRICS countries will find themselves in a world wherein the effective neo-colonization of another country will be increasingly difficult. There would be, if BRICS are successful, the creation of a vacuum in which international powers would be unable to exercise the concrete power needed to endlessly expand. In such a vacuum, the possibility of creating a powerful socialist movement presents itself.

Global production would be increasingly socialized as the competing bourgeoisie becomes unable to assert its dominance in a coherent fashion. This could certainly lead to heightened and more chaotic repression - but it also creates a global working class that can express its strength in a unified way. The bourgeoisie would, if BRICS succeed, be faced with a working class that is ever more inter-connected, with greater abilty to assert its interests. BRICS may fare great successes as national developmentalist projects, but as the contradictions of the capitalism they are building plays out, it risks undermining that very same capitalist structure. In that situation, it will only be the socialists who can carry out the task of fully modernizing the world - what Suzy Kim calls heroic modernism:

The revolutionary and emancipatory potential of Marxist thought that differentiates it from the liberal variety is precisely the elevation of the most downtrodden and exploited to the position of privileged subjects - the ones to bring about a better future for all humanity. Invoking the term heroic modernism, I mark socialist modernity as distinct from either capitalist or colonial modernity in its belief in the emancipatory potential of history through new forms of community. Socialist modernity embodied the capacity of people to boldly step out as political agents to make history, even if the conditions were not of their choosing and the outcomes were not what they intended. It is the very definition of heroism: the courage to try even at risk of failure. 6
With all this being said - we do not know if the "counter-modernizing" of the BRICS countries will be successful. With global tensions adding up, especially between the US versus Russia and China, the violence of global capitalism might just as well lead to a period of reaction and destruction. It is unclear for how much longer the US will tolerate the counter-hegemonic influence of the BRICS without a war. But what is certain is that the face of the old world is shifting its shape. The colonized world has shown that it's ready to take its own path. But is the West ready to face a de-colonized Modernity?

1  Mike Davis - Late Victorian Holocausts 
2  Arundhati Roy - The Doctor and The Saint 
3  Maurice Meisner - Mao's China and After

4  Carl Gershman - A New Opening For Democracy In The Post-Soviet Space
5  As quoted in this excerpt of From China and Orientalism: Western Knowledge Production and the PRC by Daniel Vukovich
6 Suzy Kim - Every Day Life in the Korean Revolution

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The importance of substantive democracy

Bourgeois democracy is democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, exuberant promises and the high-sounding slogans of freedom and equality. But, in fact, it screens the non-freedom and inferiority of women, the non-freedom and inferiority of the toilers and exploited. Soviet, or socialist, democracy sweeps aside the pompous, bullying, words, declares ruthless war on the hypocrisy of the "democrats", the landlords, capitalists or well-fed peasants who are making money by selling their surplus bread to hungry workers at profiteering prices. - Lenin, Soviet Power and the Status of Women
An often ridiculed concept is that of "substantive democracy" - mostly by libertarians and liberals, but frequently also from the Left. The idea of "substantive democracy" is seen as a mere propaganda tactic used by totalitarian states to keep it's population in chains, conjuring up classic "Orwellian" imagery of a Big Brother who denies his subjects political freedom by using economic bribery and guilt. It is, despite it's anti-authoritarian rhetoric, a quite authoritarian sentiment if you think about it. The bourgeois democrats have become the masters of coating their own elitist authoritarianism in democratic sounding language - and no more is this true in their critique of substantive democracy.

Very often, it's not the traditional concerns for political liberty and civil rights that are at the heart of their critiques of "authoritarian leaders" - it's the audacity that they would stoop so low as to actually institute economic reforms that serve national and popular interests. This is, for the bourgeois democrat, a cheap trick, a form of political bribery unknown to the respectable democrat. Anyone who institutes popular reforms in the economy that aims to serve it's people instead of the insignificant minority of exploiters and imperialists is a ruthless authoritarian who is using political reform to further their own power-hunger. Serving the immediate economic needs of the many is "short-sighted" - the task of the "true democrat"is not to give in to peoples unquenchable and destructive thirst for unimportant and economically harmful things like public education, healthcare, wealth-redistribution and full employment. Instead, the bourgeois democrat should "know better" than the people, implementing long-term reforms that, while at this present moment seemingly only serves the minority of capitalists, will bring people jobs, economic growth and some healthy incentive to work a bit harder in the coming neo-liberal paradise. 

Hiding this fundamentally authoritarian mentality is the mirage of formal democracy. The formal democratic process is viewed as the ultimate peak of liberty and freedom, and subsequently, anything that threatens or transcends this process is viewed as the negation of liberty and freedom. In the liberal, bourgeois democratic world-view, anyone who breaks the sacred shackles of the established political order is at once a tyrant - and the motive to transcend such a system cannot be anything but a quest for personal power. But bourgeois formal democratic processes, historically progressive compared to previous eras, sometimes stands in the way of liberation rather than it's realization. It becomes nothing more than a crutch for the hegemonic class to dismantle genuine opposition, to keep popular resistance in check, and to justify the repressive class society. 

Substantive democracy becomes the enemy of "real" bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois power paints itself as the last resort of popular power against the irrational, short-sighted mass of people demanding economic security over formal rights, regardless of how practically unattainable the exercise of these rights are to the vast majority of people. These same people mock the idea that there was substantive democracy in the Soviet Union. Full employment, the near abolition of homelessness, the guaranteed social right to healthcare, education both lower and higher, relative gender equality and a living wage are all snobbishly derided as irrelevant to the undemocratic nature of the historical socialist states. But those of us who've felt the brunt edge of poverty, who have experienced the exploitation and oppression of capitalist power, who have had our bodies forever scared by the thorns of the class system, see the focus on serving people's economic needs that distinguishes the historical socialist movement from others in a different light. We can never accept a "democratic" system that is predicated on the exploitation of the vast majority of people by a small minority - in fact we refuse to call it democratic at all. 

Does this mean that we throw the baby of formal democracy out with bourgeois democratic bath water? No. Like Chavez, I am convinced that socialism will not survive without the popular participation of the masses. The moment the Soviet Union faced it's ultimate decline was in the 80's, were the leaders started dismantling the last scraps of the deformed systems of popular, proletarian power in the workplace, party and soviet councils. The modern struggle for socialism will be impossible without the simultaneous struggle for the popular sovereignty of the masses. I believe a successful modern socialist movement can be built on the idea of direct democracy, that extends democracy to the trade unions and workplaces. As Al Szymanski points out, these structures existed, albeit in a crude form, in the Soviet Union, and such ideas should be studied and reworked for the modern age. But at the heart of socialism, whichever form it will take, will be an economic and social system that serves the needs of the many. Substantive democracy is the framework around which legal democracy should be formulated. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

, , , , , , , , , , ,

The Need For Anti-Militarism

The common folk know
That war is coming.
When the leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.
- Bertolt Brecht: A German War Primer 
The dark cloud of war and militarism once again looms over Europe. The entire continent has become a victim of warmongering at a rapid pace since the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia conflict and the Charlie Hebdo incident. The Russian is coming, and ISIS is around every corner! Those in power play victims of these menacing outside forces - and seek to victimize us. At every moment, the media, the politicians and the army generals try to equate their interests in war with ours. It is the shared European ideal we must defend against the Oriental existential threat. It is the blood and soil of our European brethren which have to be protected at all cost. The people of Europe has heard this call before - will they be fooled again?

The only fear of those in power, is that you do not fear. That is why they are so desperate right now. That is why they are so desperate to label those with dissenting opinions as apologists and propagandists for some sinister outside force. To speak out against the warmongers is now an act of "running errands for Putin" in most mainstream political discourse. But what has Putin's, and Russia's "errand" been? That their country shouldn't be militarily surrounded by the U.S and NATO. Such a brazen display of right-wing chauvinistic Russian nationalism! That the Russians even dare speak out for their supposed "right" to be free of military encirclement is in itself an act of aggression! The only appropriate response is for the U.S. and NATO to increase militarization of Russian borders! Any aggressive - or defensive - response from Russians when faced with this fact is of course an ex post facto legitimization of the justness these actions.

In Ukraine, we are told to stand up for the self-determination of nations. "We're upholding the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small," Barack Obama bravely read from the teleprompter at the latest SOTU. But the talk of self-determination "supported" by U.S. government is phony and dishonest. As Lenin reminds us:
A thousand times the imperialists have “renounced all thought” of annexations and of the financial strangulation of weak nations. But should we not compare these renunciations with the facts, which show that any one of the big banks of Germany, England, France and the United States does hold small nations “in subjection”? - V.I Lenin: Bourgeois Pacifism and Socialist Pacifism
It is this hypocrisy which spits in the eye of every genuine national liberation movement. This hypocrisy is not a product of ignorance - it's a genuine affirmation of the West's own perceived supremacy and impunity. Where were the Western leaders who denounced the IMF, as it is looting the Ukrainian economy and victimizing its citizens right now? Where were those who cry for the national integrity of Ukraine when the son of Joe Biden became the lawyer of a major Ukrainian energy firm? Where were those who cried out for the self-determination of the Ukrainians when the IMF appointed non-Ukrainian shadow bankers as important ministers of the new Ukrainian government? And, what expression of self-determination is it to deliberately bomb your own civilian population?

What the bourgeoisie want is to obscure their class rule. They hide it behind a rhetoric of ethnic, cultural and national identity, an identity that is constantly portrayed as under attack and up to dispute. Eleven French cartoonists were shoot by French-born terrorists, and all of a sudden, our entire European identity is in question. If that is enough to turn our civilization to shreds - then one must wonder where our self-perceived supremacy stems from? It certainly doesn't seem to be the strength and staying-power of our ideals - but with our truncheons, our guns and our bombs it is quite a different scenario. Right now, Sweden, Finland and other parts of Europe are under intense pressure to join NATO - militarization is in full effect all across the world. We are arming ourselves against an enemy at such a pace that we are inevitably going to invent one.

What should be the response of the people toward the warmongers? Our duty is clear - do not give the war-profiteers, the militarists and the imperialists even one inch. Our task - just like Liebknecht's and Lenin's in WWI - is to denounce the militarism of our own governments because they are opposed to our interests - and are directly insulting our interests. To argue that the poor and exploited of one country should take up arms to kill the poor and exploited of another country is a shameful thing. Karl Liebknecht said it best:
How long should the gamblers of imperialism abuse the patience of the people? Enough and more than enough slaughter! Down with the war instigators here and abroad! - Karl Liebknecht: The Main Enemy Is At Home 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lenin on Annexations

With hypocritical accusations thrown left and right regarding annexations still in the air, I was struck by Lenin's comments on the topic, almost a 100 years old, from Bourgeois Pacifism and Socialist Pacifism
'“All countries must renounce all thought of annexations... of the economic subjection of any people whatsoever....” What magnanimity! A thousand times the imperialists have “renounced all thought” of annexations and of the financial strangulation of weak nations. But should we not compare these renunciations with the facts, which show that any one of the big banks of Germany, England, France and the United States does hold small nations “in subjection”?   Can the present bourgeois government of a wealthy country really renounce annexations and the economic subjugation of alien peoples when millions and millions have been invested in the railways and other enterprises of weak nations? 
Who is really fighting annexations, etc.? Those who bandy magnanimous phrases, which, objectively, have the same significance as the Christian holy water sprinkled on the crowned and capitalist robbers? Or those who explain to the workers the impossibility of eliminating annexations and financial strangulation without overthrowing the imperialist bourgeoisie and its governments?"