By Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has searched fruitlessly for a new grand strategy — something to define who Russians are and where they are going. “In Russian history during the 20th century, there have been various periods — monarchism, totalitarianism, perestroika, and finally, a democratic path of development,” Russian President Boris Yeltsin said a couple of years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “Each stage has its own ideology,” he continued, but now “we have none.”
To fill that hole, in 1996 Yeltsin designated a team of scholars to work together to find what Russians call the Russkaya ideya (“Russian idea”), but they came up empty-handed. Around the same time, various other groups also took up the task, including a collection of conservative Russian politicians and thinkers who called themselves Soglasiye vo imya Rossiya (“Accord in the Name of Russia”). Along with many other Russian intellectuals of the day, they were deeply disturbed by the weakness of the Russian state, something that they believed needed to be fixed for Russia to return to its rightful glory. And for them, that entailed return to the Russian tradition of a powerful central government. How that could be accomplished was a question for another day.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, to whom many of the Soglasiye still have ties, happened to agree with their ideals and overall goals. He came to power in 1999 with a nationwide mandate to stabilize the Russian economy and political system. Thanks to rising world energy prices, he quickly achieved that goal. By the late 2000s, he had breathing room to return to the question of the Russian idea. Russia, he began to argue, was a unique civilization of its own. It could not be made to fit comfortably into European or Asian boxes and had to live by its own uniquely Russian rules and morals. And so, with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin began a battle against the liberal (Western) traits that some segments of Russian society had started to adopt. Moves of his that earned condemnation in the West — such as the criminalization of “homosexual propaganda” and the sentencing of members of Pussy Riot, a feminist punk-rock collective, to two years in prison for hooliganism — were popular in Russia.
True to Putin’s insistence that Russia cannot be judged in Western terms, Putin’s new conservatism does not fit U.S. and European definitions. In fact, the main trait they share is opposition to liberalism. Whereas conservatives in those parts of the world are fearful of big government and put the individual first, Russian conservatives advocate for state power and see individuals as serving that state. They draw on a long tradition of Russian imperial conservatism and, in particular, Eurasianism. That strain is authoritarian in essence, traditional, anti-American, and anti-European; it values religion and public submission. And more significant to today’s headlines, it is expansionist.
The roots of Eurasianism lie in Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution, although many of the ideas that it contains have much longer histories in Russia. After the 1917 October Revolution and the civil war that followed, two million anti-Bolshevik Russians fled the country. From Sofia to Berlin and then Paris, some of these exiled Russian intellectuals worked to create an alternative to the Bolshevik project. One of those alternatives eventually became the Eurasianist ideology. Proponents of this idea posited that Russia’s Westernizers and Bolsheviks were both wrong: Westernizers for believing that Russia was a (lagging) part of European civilization and calling for democratic development; Bolsheviks for presuming that the whole country needed restructuring through class confrontation and a global revolution of the working class. Rather, Eurasianists stressed, Russia was a unique civilization with its own path and historical mission: To create a different center of power and culture that would be neither European nor Asian but have traits of both. Eurasianists believed in the eventual downfall of the West and that it was Russia’s time to be the world’s prime exemplar.
In 1921, the exiled thinkers Georges Florovsky, Nikolai Trubetzkoy, Petr Savitskii, and Petr Suvchinsky published a collection of articles titled Exodus to the East, which marked the official birth of the Eurasianist ideology. The book was centered on the idea that Russia’s geography is its fate and that there is nothing any ruler can do to unbind himself from the necessities of securing his lands. Given Russia’s vastness, they believed, its leaders must think imperially, consuming and assimilating dangerous populations on every border. Meanwhile, they regarded any form of democracy, open economy, local governance, or secular freedom as highly dangerous and unacceptable.
In that sense, Eurasianists considered Peter the Great — who tried to Europeanize Russia in the eighteenth century — an enemy and a traitor. Instead, they looked with favor on Tatar-Mongol rule, between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, when Genghis Khan’s empire had taught Russians crucial lessons about building a strong, centralized state and pyramid-like system of submission and control.
Eurasianist beliefs gained a strong following within the politically active part of the emigrant community, or White Russians, who were eager to promote any alternative to Bolshevism. However, the philosophy was utterly ignored, and even suppressed in the Soviet Union, and it practically died with its creators. That is, until the 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia’s ideological slate was wiped clean.
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Editor’s Note: We are quite aware that the author below is no Marxist. But his views on world affairs are always interesting, and have recently been taken seriously by both Obama and Sanders, but not Clinton. So with more than a grain of salt, he’s worth a read.
The American Interest
April 17, 2016 – As its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture.
Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signaling the coming of a new global realignment.
The first of these verities is that the United States is still the world’s politically, economically, and militarily most powerful entity but, given complex geopolitical shifts in regional balances, it is no longer the globally imperial power. But neither is any other major power.
The second verity is that Russia is experiencing the latest convulsive phase of its imperial devolution. A painful process, Russia is not fatally precluded – if it acts wisely – from becoming eventually a leading European nation-state. However, currently it is pointlessly alienating some of its former subjects in the Islamic southwest of its once extensive empire, as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia, not to mention the Baltic States.
The third verity is that China is rising steadily, if more slowly as of late, as America’s eventual coequal and likely rival; but for the time being it is careful not to pose an outright challenge to America. Militarily, it seems to be seeking a breakthrough in a new generation of weapons while patiently enhancing its still very limited naval power.
The fourth verity is that Europe is not now and is not likely to become a global power. But it can play a constructive role in taking the lead in regard to transnational threats to global wellbeing and even human survival. Additionally, Europe is politically and culturally aligned with and supportive of core U.S. interests in the Middle East, and European steadfastness within NATO is essential to an eventually constructive resolution of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
The fifth verity is that the currently violent political awakening among post-colonial Muslims is, in part, a belated reaction to their occasionally brutal suppression mostly by European powers. It fuses a delayed but deeply felt sense of injustice with a religious motivation that is unifying large numbers of Muslims against the outside world; but at the same time, because of historic sectarian schisms within Islam that have nothing to do with the West, the recent welling up of historical grievances is also divisive within Islam.
Taken together as a unified framework, these five verities tell us that the United States must take the lead in realigning the global power architecture in such a way that the violence erupting within and occasionally projected beyond the Muslim world—and in the future possibly from other parts of what used to be called the Third World—can be contained without destroying the global order. We can sketch this new architecture by elaborating briefly each of the five foregoing verities.
First, America can only be effective in dealing with the current Middle Eastern violence if it forges a coalition that involves, in varying degrees, also Russia and China. To enable such a coalition to take shape, Russia must first be discouraged from its reliance on the unilateral use of force against its own neighbors—notably Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic States—and China should be disabused of the idea that selfish passivity in the face of the rising regional crisis in the Middle East will prove to be politically and economically rewarding to its ambitions in the global arena. These shortsighted policy impulses need to be channeled into a more farsighted vision.
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By Lauren Langman
The progressive social movements of 2011, followed by the rise of Left parties such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, can be best understood as what Herbert Marcuse called the Great Refusal: rejections and contestations of domination reflecting a variety of grievances stemming from the multiple legitimation crises of contemporary capitalism. As Jürgen Habermas argued, the multiple legitimation crises of the capitalist system migrate to lifeworld, the realms of subjectivity and motivation that evoke strong emotions such as anger, anxiety, and indignation that dispose social mobilizations. What is especially evident as a goal of these movements is the quest for dignity as rooted in an emancipatory, philosophical, anthropological critique of alienation, domination, and suffering pioneered by the Frankfurt School—quite cogently argued in Marcuse’s analysis of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts. But grievances and emotions do not lead to sustained social movements; there must be recruitment, organizing and organization building, leadership, strategy, tactics, and vision. The Frankfurt School’s critique of domination can be complemented by Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony in which “organic intellectuals” understand how the system operates (with due attention to the salience of the cultural barriers to change), while also proffering counterhegemonic narratives, organizing subalterns, and initiating “wars of position.” A critical perspective on contemporary social movements provides a politically informed critique with visions of utopian possibility in which membership in democratic, egalitarian, identity-granting/recognizing communities of meaning allows for, indeed fosters, community, agency, creative self-realization, and the dignity of all.
I. Ideology, Hegemony, and Domination
Why do the vast majority of people “willingly assent” to the domination by the few, despite vast economic inequalities, growing hardships, and the thwarting of the self? This has long been one of the central questions for the Frankfurt School’s critique of ideology and character structure in which authority becomes embedded within the self, making possible uncritical acceptance and conformity. These insights provide the rich understanding of the conditions of our age, especially of those that enable (or thwart) emancipatory social movements.
The grievances that result from the contradictions and adversities of neoliberal capitalism need to be articulated by intellectually informed, radical activists. Quite independently of the Frankfurt School, a parallel line of analysis and critique was developed by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Communist theoretician and organizer who conceptualized “hegemony” as the ideological control of culture, which produces the “willing assent” to the domination of the “historic bloc” (the capitalists) and through which the “naturalization” of the historically arbitrary is presented as normal, natural, and in the best interests of all. For Gramsci, the critique of hegemony and the development of counterhegemonic ideologies and organizational practices are the tasks of “organic intellectuals” who understand the role of culture in sustaining domination. They understand the ways in which the dominant culture thwarts political and social change, which in turn necessitates a cultural rebellion, mediated through the “wars of position” in which counterhegemonic discourses would overcome cultural barriers and the “normality” of social existing arrangements in order to achieve social transformation. One of the major tactics for such organization is so-called “popular education,” which enables people to understand how ruling class privileges are based on the exploitation of the masses. Gramsci’s analysis complements the Frankfurt School’s critiques, while his experiences as an activist provide insights and tools to envision and, indeed, make possible an alternative kind of society.
A. Critical Theory
1. The Psychological Foundations of Politics
The Frankfurt School brought psychoanalysis into the critique of domination. From Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm, they subsequently developed a political psychology in which authoritarianism, an aspect of character acquired in childhood, made possible the embrace of conservative, indeed reactionary politics. The understanding of the superego as internalized authority, showed that people would passionately submit to “powerful,” authoritative leaders in order to gain their love and assuage feelings of anxiety, loneliness, powerlessness, and meaninglessness. Thus, authoritarians are psychologically disposed to embrace the elite’s political agendas that stress toughness, determination, and power. Authoritarianism is typically coupled with a sadomasochistic need to dominate, denigrate, and feel contempt toward the weak and the helpless, and authoritarians typically project aggression toward the out-groups (paranoia).
The early Frankfurt School studies of authoritarianism showed how these authoritarian character structures resonated with fascist propaganda and ideology. In a number of books, papers and empirical studies of working-class Germans, and a large postwar study of Americans, authoritarianism was shown to be highly correlated with the conservative to reactionary political positions that glorified authority, denigrated subordinates, and projected anger and aggression toward the out-groups, especially racial minorities and Jews. Authoritarians are thus generally patriarchal, homophobic, and racist, in addition to being highly conventional, conformist, and maintaining a rigid, black–white, either–or, cognitive stance. The enduring significance of these studies can be seen in the contemporary work of Robert Altemeyer. We might also note that, in many ways, these studies of authoritarianism anticipated some of the recent approaches in cognitive psychology and emotion research.
Nevertheless, while being a crucial aspect of political beliefs and actions, authoritarianism is only a part of the story of the internalization of various ideologies. Following what has been said, it is absolutely essential to underline the fact that people’s political beliefs are not shaped by rational considerations, logic, or evidence. Rather, the character structure and the patterning of various needs and desires shape the ways in which people perceive the world, evaluate events, and choose actions. For Gramsci, the ideological control of culture shaped the production of ideology to produce the “willing assent” to domination. But, without a theory of psychodynamics, he could not explain the motivation of people to assent to their own subordination. In 1930, Freud provides the first hint, claiming that the values, norms and laws of society that demand sexual repression and obedience to social dictates, are mediated through the identification with parents, and become sedimented within the superego. People subsequently develop identities that have been ideologically crafted, but not under the circumstances of their own choosing. The identities of prior generations, shaped by earlier authority relationships, weigh down upon the individual to colonize his/her consciousness and desires in the way that the values of the ruling classes/hegemonic blocs become internalized as essential parts of the individual’s identity and values. That this is not a rational process is also made evident by the studies of authoritarianism and anti-Semitism mentioned above.
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By Bruno Cava
Translated by Devin Beaulieu
The difference between populist discourse and classic liberal discourse is based in that, for the former, the “people” is something that should be constructed, while for liberals the “people” is something already given. In this first case, the construction of the people implies the construction of a new representation. In the second case, the representation is only made to consider a society that precedes it, the pre-existent, is already formed.
In populism, the history of the construction of a people occurs through the division between “us” and “them.”
Populism denounces the false universal of the existing representative order, which does not represent us anymore, in order to directly demand a new universal. During the bourgeois revolutions this was the struggle against theancien regime according to which it was possible to liberate from the parasitic aristocracy in order to form the nation and bourgeois citizen, now considered a universal category. During the anticolonial struggles, this was the struggle against the metropole and imperialism in the name of unity, for national liberation. According to Antonio Gramsci, the construction of the people, the folk, unites intellectuals, workers, and peasants through the national-popular collective consciousness in order to liberate themselves from the bourgeois.
The Construction of the National-Popular
In Brazil, ideas of the national-popular were present in developmentalist versions, where national modernization combined with popular emancipation by means of mobilizing, pedagogical, and organizing actions. The conquest of power would not take place simply as the capture of the State, but would happen through the laborious cultural and ideological dissemination of national formation from the bases. The task of underdeveloped intellectuals in this project consists in leading the process of illumination of the masses, in agreement with an emancipatory program. Thus, whereby, sufficiently industrializing the country to form a conscious proletariat would overt falling into some form of economic determinism. Without the militant work of popular emancipation, modernization, invariably, will produce further class domination.
The political theory closest to this national-popular promise, although elaborated in the context of industrialized societies of the economic center, is Gramscian theory. According to Gramsci, who wrote in the first half of the past century, the exercise of power in capitalism is not sustained only through coercion and fear. It has to produce, above all, a diffuse legitimacy that, through innumerable collective cultural institutions, continually captures the consent of the majority. The representative field in its ensemble, composed of governments, parties, and unions can, in this way, operate as if representing the “general interest,” closing fissures and stopping deviations.
Ideology, then, does not appear as a system of systematic mystification. As if ideology were a veil opposite to reality, a mystical curtain that separates the people from the truth about the real relations of power. Further, ideology has a material character: that determines behavior and penetrates habits. Capitalism, in essence, does not fool anyone. Perspectives that capitalism can lose strength by means of denouncing its mystifications are naïve. Individuals already know that capitalism is a complex of exploitation that generates, at one extreme, luxury and waste and, at the other, misery and violence.
Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony
This is what Gramsci named hegemony: the normal form of politics in developed and complex societies, in which representative democracies prevail. Hegemony is a cultural operation on a large scale, which precedes a unity forced by the state, determining the existence of a hegemonic group that emerges as the bearer of “general interest.” In terms of hegemony, the crux of the question is not to question how capitalism functions, but rather, how we, ourselves, make it function. Capitalism possesses an evidence and emotion, permeated, in which we are involved in elaborating in our daily lives, our plans and ourselves.
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[Editor’s note: The following interesting piece is from an ‘independent’ group of private US intelligence analysts, and reflects the views of ruling elites. We should note, however, that there is nothing accidental or new in the US empire, embodied from the early days of the Republic in the widely embraced notion of ‘Manifest Destiny.’]
By George Friedman
Stratfor’s Geopolitical Weekly
April 14, 12015 – "Empire" is a dirty word. Considering the behavior of many empires, that is not unreasonable. But empire is also simply a description of a condition, many times unplanned and rarely intended. It is a condition that arises from a massive imbalance of power. Indeed, the empires created on purpose, such as Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany, have rarely lasted. Most empires do not plan to become one. They become one and then realize what they are. Sometimes they do not realize what they are for a long time, and that failure to see reality can have massive consequences.
World War II and the Birth of an Empire
The United States became an empire in 1945. It is true that in the Spanish-American War, the United States intentionally took control of the Philippines and Cuba. It is also true that it began thinking of itself as an empire, but it really was not. Cuba and the Philippines were the fantasy of empire, and this illusion dissolved during World War I, the subsequent period of isolationism and the Great Depression.
The genuine American empire that emerged thereafter was a byproduct of other events. There was no great conspiracy. In some ways, the circumstances of its creation made it more powerful. The dynamic of World War II led to the collapse of the European Peninsula and its occupation by the Soviets and the Americans. The same dynamic led to the occupation of Japan and its direct governance by the United States as a de facto colony, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur as viceroy.
The United States found itself with an extraordinary empire, which it also intended to abandon. This was a genuine wish and not mere propaganda. First, the United States was the first anti-imperial project in modernity. It opposed empire in principle. More important, this empire was a drain on American resources and not a source of wealth. World War II had shattered both Japan and Western Europe. The United States gained little or no economic advantage in holding on to these countries. Finally, the United States ended World War II largely untouched by war and as perhaps one of the few countries that profited from it. The money was to be made in the United States, not in the empire. The troops and the generals wanted to go home.
But unlike after World War I, the Americans couldn’t let go. That earlier war ruined nearly all of the participants. No one had the energy to attempt hegemony. The United States was content to leave Europe to its own dynamics. World War II ended differently. The Soviet Union had been wrecked but nevertheless it remained powerful. It was a hegemon in the east, and absent the United States, it conceivably could dominate all of Europe. This represented a problem for Washington, since a genuinely united Europe — whether a voluntary and effective federation or dominated by a single country — had sufficient resources to challenge U.S. power.
The United States could not leave. It did not think of itself as overseeing an empire, and it certainly permitted more internal political autonomy than the Soviets did in their region. Yet, in addition to maintaining a military presence, the United States organized the European economy and created and participated in the European defense system. If the essence of sovereignty is the ability to decide whether or not to go to war, that power was not in London, Paris or Warsaw. It was in Moscow and Washington.
The organizing principle of American strategy was the idea of containment. Unable to invade the Soviet Union, Washington’s default strategy was to check it. U.S. influence spread through Europe to Iran. The Soviet strategy was to flank the containment system by supporting insurgencies and allied movements as far to the rear of the U.S. line as possible. The European empires were collapsing and fragmenting. The Soviets sought to create an alliance structure out of the remnants, and the Americans sought to counter them.
The Economics of Empire
One of the advantages of alliance with the Soviets, particularly for insurgent groups, was a generous supply of weapons. The advantage of alignment with the United States was belonging to a dynamic trade zone and having access to investment capital and technology. Some nations, such as South Korea, benefited extraordinarily from this. Others didn’t. Leaders in countries like Nicaragua felt they had more to gain from Soviet political and military support than in trade with the United States. (Continued)
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Black Panther liberation school, a main instrument of counter-hegemony.
[Full document available as PDF download HERE]
By Amil K.
Revolutionary Initiative / Canada
Sept 10, 2013 – The main concern of the prison notebooks is the development of “the philosophy of praxis”1 with the aim of rejuvenating communist strategy in light of the failures and setbacks in Gramsci’s period. However fragmentary the passages of the notebooks are, they compose a totalizing system of thought in which a major focal point is the question of strategy. While there is so much more to the prison notebooks in terms of Gramsci’s intellectual contributions than questions of class war and strategy – hence, the Gramsci being a treasure trove for liberal academics – many of the notes point back to what Gramsci calls the war of position. But this concept can only be appreciated by unpacking some of the conceptual apparatus built up around it throughout the prison notebooks, which includes concepts such as the historical bloc; the ‘analysis of situations’; hegemony; Gramsci’s concept of philosophy and the organic intellectual; his distinct notion of the Party;and finally, his explanation of civil society.
Understanding the Historical Bloc
One of the core concepts of Gramsci’s prison notebooks is the ‘historical bloc’. While the term is only scarcely mentioned in the prison notebooks, given the concept’s role in framing much of Gramsci’s conceptual apparatus it can be argued that Gramsci’s prison notebooks are a long-running elaboration of the concept. There is no section dedicated to the historical bloc, only a couple short passages:
Concept of ‘historical bloc’, i.e. unity between nature and spirit (structure and superstructure) unity of opposites and of distincts (137).
Structures and superstructures form an ‘historical bloc’. That is to say the complex, contradictory and discordant ensemble of the superstructures is the reflection of the ensemble of the social relations of production (366).
If I may take the liberty to flesh this out somewhat, in light of my reading of the prison notebooks, the historical bloc is the organic but contradictory unity between the dominant and subaltern social groups in a given historical period, the relations of which are historically emergent and need to be understood as such in order to understand the nature of the relations among these social groups in the present. Whereas ‘nature’ here is considered relatively fixed and generally changes only over much longer periods, the ‘Spirit’ is the contradictory unity between structural and super-structural elements in a bloc of time. On the one hand, the concept of the historical bloc is a rather orthodox reformulation of Marx’s historical materialism, a principle thesis of which Gramsci paraphrases at certain points throughout the prison notebooks: “1. That no social formation disappears as long as the productive forces which have developed within it still find room for further forward movement; that a society does not set itself tasks for whose solution the necessary conditions have not already been incubated” (106).
On the other hand, Gramsci’s elaboration of the architecture of the historic bloc (without actually referencing the term) throughout the prison notebooks reveals an awareness of the incredibly dynamic and ever-shifting character of the relationships among the “discordant…ensemble of the social relations of production” (366). The acute awareness of the dynamism at play amongst various levels of relations of force is a feature of Gramsci’s thinking that makes his analyses of history so penetrating and his overall method of historical and political analysis such a force of rejuvenation for “the philosophy of praxis” and the communist movement. Of particular importance for Gramsci, and for any communist movement, is a comprehensive study of the oppressed and exploited classes within their own historical bloc.
In his note “History of the Subaltern Classes: Methodological Criteria”, Gramsci provides a schema for what such a historical reconnaissance actually consists of when it comes to the “subaltern classes.” Whereas the historical unity of the ruling classes is realized in the State (and therefore its historical development can be traced through the development of the State as well),
The subaltern classes, by definition, are not unified and cannot unite until they are able to become a “State”: their history, therefore, is intertwined with that of civil society, and thereby with the history of States and groups of States. Hence it is necessary to study: 1. The objective formation of subaltern social groups, by developments and transformations occurring in the sphere of economic production; their quantitative diffusion and their origins in pre-existing social groups, whose mentality, ideology, and aims they conserve for a time; 2. their active or passive affiliation to the dominant social formation, their attempts to influence the programmes of these formations in order to press claims of their own… 3. the birth of new parties of the dominant groups, intended to conserve the assent of the subaltern groups and to maintain control over them; 4. the formations which the subaltern groups themselves produce, in order to press claims of a limited and partial character; 5. those new formations which assert the autonomy of the subaltern groups, but within the old framework; 6. those formations which assert the integral autonomy (52).
This schematic outline for studying the subaltern is a major component for understanding the historical bloc. This method of historical analysis is the means by which a communist formation ultimately determines whether or not a favourable situation exists for the subaltern social groups to accumulate revolutionary forces and whether the situation is favourable to them becoming the ruling class at a given conjuncture of history; in other words, the essence of this historiographical method reduces to the question of whether the situation is favourable for revolution in the present historical bloc.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari
June 24, 2014 – TEHRAN (FNA)- Prominent American sociologist Prof. William I. Robinson believes that the United States government is the biggest perpetrator of terror in the world and its military adventures across the globe have claimed the lives of millions of innocent citizens.
According to Prof. William I. Robinson, “if we define terrorism as the use of violence against civilians for political objectives, then the US state is the world’s leading terrorist.”
“US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire – claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries,” said Prof. Robinson in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.
Prof. Robinson also went on to say that capitalism, which is the predominant economic and political worldview of the United States and other imperial powers is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, even worse than the crisis in the 1930s, “because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states.”
William I. Robinson is a professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book entitled “Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity” was just published in 2014. In the early 1980s, he worked as a journalist in the war-torn Nicaragua. From 1984 to 1990 he was a member of the Union of Nicaraguan Journalists. His articles and writings have appeared on such news websites as Al-Jazeera, Huffington Post and Truth Out.
Prof. Robinson took part in an exclusive, comprehensive interview with FNA and responded to our questions about the demise of capitalism, the future of globalization, the setbacks and failures of the US foreign policy and the human consequences of Washington’s military adventures. What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the consequences of the US military expeditions across the world, including the devastation of the natural resources of the countries that are attacked, the killing of the unarmed civilians, the forced migration and displacement of the war-hit population, the pollution of the air, the infliction of irretrievable damages on the environment and the erosion of democratic institutions in these countries? Who is going to compensate for these losses?
A: The US state is acting as the gendarme for global capitalism at a time when global capitalism is in deep crisis. It is the core institution in what I have referred to as the transnational state, and in my view it represents at this time the interests of transnational capital, of a transnational capitalist class.
The United States has committed successive war crimes and crimes against humanity in recent years. However, let us recall that this is the continuation of a long historical pattern, what we used to call imperialism, and some still do refer to as imperialism. The United States as a country was born on the basis of the slavery of Africans and other peoples and genocide against the native populations of North America.
Expansion from the original East Coast colonies began from the very inception of the Republic. Texas was annexed from Mexico in 1836 by white Southern slavers who were seeking to expand cotton plantation based on the slavery of Africans. This expansion continued in 1848 as the United States annexed one half of Mexican territory in a war of aggression justified by “Manifest Destiny”. US rulers then launched extra-territorial expansion, starting with the invasion, occupation, and colonization of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Cuba in 1898, and followed by literally hundreds – perhaps thousands – of interventions in the 20th century, including convert operation, the orchestration of coup d’etats, counter-insurgencies, military invasions, occupations, and so forth – throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, but also in Southern and Eastern Europe. US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire – claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries – yet US rulers had the arrogance and cynicism to claim that its aggression against the world’s people was in the name of freedom and democracy.
Of course the United States does not hold a monopoly on such expansionism and interventionism in the modern era of capitalism. Over the past two centuries, and even earlier, England, France, Spain and other European powers were carving out their own colonial empires, unleashing unfathomable brutality and suffering. The culprit here, beyond a particular nation-state, is an outwardly expanding capitalism involving imperialism and colonialism. The United States stands out because it became the dominant world power in the wake of World War II and set about to construct a truly global empire, the likes of which the world had not previously seen.
However, and this is the key point I wish to highlight here, US intervention around the world clearly entered a qualitatively new period after September 11, 2001. This new period should be seen in the context of emergent 21st century global capitalism. Global capitalism is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, and in many ways the current crisis is much worse than that of the 1930s because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states. On the other hand, global inequalities have never been as acute and grotesque as they are today. So, in simplified terms, we need to see the escalation of US interventionism and the untold suffering it brings about, including what you mention – the killing of unarmed civilians, the destruction of the environment, forced migration and displacement, undermining democracy – as a response by the US-led transnational state and the transnational capitalist class to contain the explosive contradictions of a global capitalist system that is out of control and in deep crisis.
You ask me who is going to compensate for these losses. That will depend on how the world’s people respond. There is currently a global revolt from below underway, but it is spread unevenly across countries and has not taken any clear form or direction. Can the popular majority of humanity force the transnational capitalist class and the US/transnational state to be accountable for its crimes? Mao Zedong once said that “power flows through the barrel of a gun.” What he meant by this, in a more abstract than literal way, I believe, is that in the end it is the correlation of real forces that will determine outcomes. Because the United States has overwhelming and “full spectrum” military dominance, it can capture, execute, or bring to trial people anywhere around the world… it has “free license”, so to speak, to act as an international outlaw. We don’t even have to take the more recent examples. In December 1989 the United States undertook an illegal and criminal invasion of Panama, kidnapped Manuel Noriega – whether or not he was a dictator is not the point, as the United States puts in power and defends dictators that defend US and transnational elite interests, and brought him back to US territory for trial. What country in the world now has the naked power “flowing through the barrel of a gun” to invade the United States, capture George Bush, Dick Chaney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other war criminals, and bring them somewhere to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity?
Q: In your writings, you’ve warned against the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the slant accumulation of the global wealth in the hands of an affluent few and the impoverishment of the suppressed majority. What do you think are the reasons for this stark inequality and the disturbing dispossession of millions of people in the capitalist societies? You wrote that the participants of the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos were worried that the current situation raises the specter of worldwide instability and civil wars. Is it really so?
A: We have never in the history of humanity seen such a sharp social polarization between the haves and the have-nots, such grotesque levels of inequality, within and among countries. There have been countless studies in recent years documenting the escalation of inequalities, among them, the current bestseller by Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” The pattern we see is that the notorious “1 percent” monopolizes a huge portion of the wealth that humanity produces and transnational corporations and banks are registering record profits, but as well that some 20 percent of the population in each countries has integrated into the global economy as middle class and affluent consumers while the remaining 80 percent has experienced rising levels of insecurity, impoverishment, and precariousness, increasingly inhabiting what some have called a “planet of slums.”
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By CJ Polychroniou,
Truthout | Interview – 08 June 2014
Henry A. Giroux (Screengrab via Disposable Life / Vimeo)"The commanding institutions of society in many countries, including the United States, are now in the hands of powerful corporate interests, the financial elite and right-wing bigots whose strangulating control over politics renders democracy corrupt and dysfunctional," says Henry A. Giroux.
To read more articles by C. J. Polychroniou, Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.
C. J. Polychroniou, for Truthout: It is widely believed that the advanced liberal societies are suffering a crisis of democracy, a view you share wholeheartedly, although the empirical research, with its positivist bias, tends to be more cautious. In what ways is there less democracy today in places like the United States than there was, say, 20 or 30 years ago?
Henry A. Giroux: What we have seen in the United States and a number of other countries since the 1970s is the emergence of a savage form of free market fundamentalism, often called neoliberalism, in which there is not only a deep distrust of public values, public goods and public institutions but the embrace of a market ideology that accelerates the power of the financial elite and big business while gutting those formative cultures and institutions necessary for a democracy to survive.
The commanding institutions of society in many countries, including the United States, are now in the hands of powerful corporate interests, the financial elite and right-wing bigots whose strangulating control over politics renders democracy corrupt and dysfunctional. Of course, what is unique about the United States is that the social contract and social wage are subject to a powerful assault by the right-wing politicians and anti-public intellectuals from both political parties. Those public spheres and institutions that support social provisions, the public good and keep public value alive are under sustained attack. Such attacks have not only produced a range of policies that have expanded the misery, suffering and hardships of millions of people, but have also put into place a growing culture of cruelty in which those who suffer the misfortunes of poverty, unemployment, low skill jobs, homelessness and other social problems are the object of both humiliation and scorn.
Neoliberal societies, in general, are in a state of war – a war waged by the financial and political elite against youth, low-income groups, the elderly, poor minorities of color, the unemployed, immigrants and others now considered disposable. Liberty and freedom are now reduced to fodder for inane commercials or empty slogans used to equate capitalism with democracy. At the same time, liberty and civil rights are being dismantled while state violence and institutional racism is now spreading throughout the culture like wildfire, especially with regards to police harassment of young black and brown youth. A persistent racism can also be seen in the attack on voting rights laws, the mass incarceration of African-American males, and the overt racism that has become prominent among right-wing Republicans and Tea Party types, most of which is aimed at President Obama.
At the same time, women’s reproductive rights are under assault and there is an ongoing attack on immigrants. Education at all levels is being defunded and defined as a site of training rather than as a site of critical thought, dialogue and critical pedagogy. In addition, democracy has withered under the emergence of a national security and permanent warfare state. This is evident not only in endless wars abroad, but also in the passing of a series of laws such as the Patriot Act, the Military Commission Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and many others laws that shred due process and give the executive branch the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or a trial, authorize a presidential kill list and conduct warrantless wiretaps. Of course, both [former President George W.] Bush and Obama claimed the right to kill any citizens considered to be a terrorist or who have come to the aid of terrorism. In addition, targeted assassinations are now carried out by drones that are more and more killing innocent children, adults and bystanders.
Another index of America’s slide into barbarism and authoritarianism is the rise of the racial punishing state with its school-to prison pipeline, criminalization of a range of social problems, a massive incarceration system, militarization of local police forces and its use of ongoing state violence against youthful dissenters. The prison has now become the model for a type of punishment creep that has impacted upon public schools where young children are arrested for violating something as trivial as doodling on a desk or violating a dress code. Under the dictates of the punishing state, incarceration has become the default solution for every social problem, regardless of how minor it may be. Discordant interactions between teacher and student, however petty, are not treated as a criminal offense. The long arm of punishment creep is also evident in a number of social services where poor people are put under constant surveillance and punished for minor infractions. It is also manifest in the militarization of everyday life with its endless celebration of military, police and religious institutions, all of which are held in high esteem by the American public, in spite of their undeniably authoritarian nature.
As Edward Snowden made clear, the hidden registers of authoritarianism have come to light in a trove of exposed NSA documents which affirm that the US has become a national security-surveillance state illegally gathering massive amounts of information from diverse sources on citizens who are not guilty of any crimes. To justify such lawlessness, the American public is told that the rendering moot of civil liberties is justified in the name of security and defense against potential terrorists and other threats. In reality, what is being defended is the security of the state and the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the controlling political and corporate elites.
Six Theses on Anxiety and Why It is Effectively Preventing Militancy, and One Possible Strategy for Overcoming It 1
Reposted with the kind permission of the Institute for Precarious Consciousness
1: Each phase of capitalism has its own dominant reactive affect. 2
Each phase of capitalism has a particular affect which holds it together. This is not a static situation. The prevalence of a particular dominant affect 3 is sustainable only until strategies of resistance able to break down this particular affect and /or its social sources are formulated. Hence, capitalism constantly comes into crisis and recomposes around newly dominant affects.
One aspect of every phase’s dominant affect is that it is a public secret, something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. As long as the dominant affect is a public secret, it remains effective, and strategies against it will not emerge.
Public secrets are typically personalised. The problem is only visible at an individual, psychological level; the social causes of the problem are concealed. Each phase blames the system’s victims for the suffering that the system causes. And it portrays a fundamental part of its functional logic as a contingent and localised problem.
In the modern era (until the post-war settlement), the dominant affect was misery. In the nineteenth century, the dominant narrative was that capitalism leads to general enrichment. The public secret of this narrative was the misery of the working class. The exposure of this misery was carried out by revolutionaries. The first wave of modern social movements in the nineteenth century was a machine for fighting misery. Tactics such as strikes, wage struggles, political organisation, mutual aid, co-operatives and strike funds were effective ways to defeat the power of misery by ensuring a certain social minimum. Some of these strategies still work when fighting misery.
When misery stopped working as a control strategy, capitalism switched to boredom. In the mid twentieth century, the dominant public narrative was that the standard of living – which widened access to consumption, healthcare and education – was rising. Everyone in the rich countries was happy, and the poor countries were on their way to development. The public secret was that everyone was bored. This was an effect of the Fordist system which was prevalent until the 1980s – a system based on full-time jobs for life, guaranteed welfare, mass consumerism, mass culture, and the co-optation of the labour movement which had been built to fight misery. Job security and welfare provision reduced anxiety and misery, but jobs were boring, made up of simple, repetitive tasks. Mid-century capitalism gave everything needed for survival, but no opportunities for life; it was a system based on force-feeding survival to saturation point.
Of course, not all workers under Fordism actually had stable jobs or security – but this was the core model of work, around which the larger system was arranged. There were really three deals in this phase, with the B-worker deal – boredom for security – being the most exemplary of the Fordism-boredom conjuncture. Today, the B-worker deal has largely been eliminated, leaving a gulf between the A- and C-workers (the consumer society insiders, and the autonomy and insecurity of the most marginal).
2: Contemporary resistance is born of the 1960s wave, in response to the dominant affect of boredom.
If each stage of the dominant system has a dominant affect, then each stage of resistance needs strategies to defeat or dissolve this affect. If the first wave of social movements were a machine for fighting misery, the second wave (of the 1960s-70s, or more broadly (and thinly) 1960s-90s) were a machine for fighting boredom. This is the wave of which our own movements were born, which continues to inflect most of our theories and practices.
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The economics of immiseration would be impossible without the politics of seduction, and capitalism’s appeal to our unconscious will to power and domination is not easily countered.
"The domain of seduction is the sacred horizon of appearances."
Jean Baudrillard, On Seduction
" ‘[I]mmiseration’ concerns not just the wages workers’ receive, but how long and how hard they have to work in order to get them."
Frances Wheen, Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography
"[C]apitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based."
Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century
By Joseph Natoli
Truthout Cultural Analysis
March 31, 2014 – The genius of the internal combustion engine engineered by Etienne Lenoir in 1860 was to release the pressure of such combustion to pistons, rotation and movement. Explosion was controlled and detoured; ignition could be repeated and catastrophe avoided each time. Rising pressure and calibrated release equals relief. Psychology responds to this analogy, as does politics. Increased pressure on low-wage workers makes headlines: "The Walls Close In: Low Wage Workers Finding It’s Easier to Fall into Poverty, and Harder to Get Out." But all wage earners, underclass or middle class, are feeling the pressure. Thom Hartmann reports, "wages have gone down almost seven percent since the recession. And, that decline followed more than three decades of stagnant wages thanks to Reaganomics."
Neoliberals, moderate or immoderate, pragmatic or crazed, attribute this sorry state of affairs to a number of variables that Liberals agree with, mostly referring to a transition from a low-tech society to a high-tech society, from a manufacturing base to a financial base, from a hunting, farming and manufacturing economy to an information economy. None of this has any drawing power. But the neoliberal steady refrain, from Reagan’s Welfare Queen to Romney’s 47 percent, has seductive power with that pivotal, crucial, voting middle class. The seductive spin is well-known: "The slow degeneration of working-class family life and the creation of a ‘moocher’ class too lazy and indulged to get a job results from ‘big government’ nurturing and coddling." There is a seductiveness also to other neoliberal reasons as to why immiseration is like the wolf now at every door but those of an elite few. Each "reason" touches a hot spot already fully charged within us. The collapse of a "nuclear family" is the collapse of a patriarchal order that is itself an order preserving male desire. The bureaucracy of public education is no more than the resistance of what is public, governmental and socialist to personal choice and individual freedom. The power of unions resides in a communist-like solidarity that obstructs the free and competitive play of business.
To read more articles by Joseph Natoli and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.
All of these briefs are seductive spins within the American cultural imaginary, not because they rest on uncontested fact and evidence, but because they rest on seductions and repressions already deeply embedded in that imaginary. In other words, the way we think now is so heavily layered in fantasies and illusions that the argument that wins the day does not appeal to rationality but rests on those fantasies and illusions. As I have suggested before, this imaginary and its accompanying fantasies and illusions are not partisan, there being no politics ruling imagination. But there is a political use of the imaginary, what I call the politics of seduction, and that arises from an economics of immiseration. There would be little need for the former if such an economics had not led, as it has, to immiseration for an increasing number and the anxieties that emerge from a fear of inevitable immiseration for many more.
There are numerous varieties of seduction, from Eve’s in the garden to Baudrillard’s sense that we seduce by enacting a weakness that we see in ourselves as well as others. We all harbor a never-fulfilled appetite to eat the world whole, and we choose an individual freedom, a supremacy of self-interests and desires, that urges us, like Milton’s Satan, to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven. The fantasies of desire are Janus-faced – as are the illusions of power. They have their weaker side – an impotency of desire, a feckless command and a captured will. Romney’s 47 percent of the population would eat up the world if they could but are totally impotent and cannot do so. The totalizing power that the elite seek can never be blocked by the feckless command of unions. Big government is no more than a ridiculed domain of power, not our own, that presumes to rule us. The fantasy links to male desire and personal choice are too transparent to require exegesis.
Seductions work because the appeal is to what is in us, both the desires and the fears, and therefore connections are made and recognition ensures response. And while both appeal and recognition are felt, they are unthought and pre-discursive. We do not think what is unthinkable. We do not express what we fear to think. Nevertheless, power remains here. Eden’s garden is no more than a confinement we need to go beyond, explore what’s outside; God’s one law, call it regulation, blocks our libertine and liberty-seeking nature. We do not need to be tempted to bite the apple; as unthinkable as this may sound, we were made to bite it. And much more. We have an appetite to possess and not to share. All that we have never quells a desire to have yet more. Mutual sharing and aid has no seductive power in our elemental level of being – but domination does. All other species, according to Genesis, awaited Adam’s naming, their identity and place in the world forever held within the province of human need and desire. Global warming can be conquered just as we have conquered nature all along the way. Global ecology movements thus have little seductive attraction as the rational arguments, especially in regard to human-caused climate change, have not been able to deactivate the seductiveness of what is irrational.