Sunday, February 18, 2007

history hasn't ended

here's another response to an anonymous commentor to my last post. the commentator at some point asked why i had not become an anti-left turncoat after the failure of the ussr (which s/he seemed to interpret, as so many others, as the overall failure of leftism) and the arrival of the supposed end of history, and thus why i had not adopted the free-market dogma that is the faith of the contemporary global order and thus become yet another post-1991 fundamentalist:

a lengthy quote from tariq ali's latest:
the post-1989 disillusionment, cynicism, and an embittered view of the past affected every continent without exception. and those who now adopted the victors' view of history came from all social classes and political backgrounds: left social-democrats, eurocommunists, ex-trotskyists, pristine pure sectarians in their prime and now transferring the same vice to serve older causes, maoists once prone to street-violence, marxist theorists, staunch anti-imperialists who in their zeal had defended the ethiopian dergue and the disasterous soviet intervention in afghanistan, former anarchists--representatives of all these people could be found serving virtually every neoliberal government--in europe and north america, south africa and brazil, china and australia and the muslim world--or, where this was not possible, applauding wildly from the sidelines. they still believed in the class struggle, but had changed sides. they had not understood that the historical graph never rises consistently. it is a broken and contradictory line that can fall to zero and then rise again, suddenly and without warning.

politicians and academics, novelists and playwrights, filmmakers and journalists united to celebrate each new triumph of the wc [washington consensus]. nor should it be forgotten that in those heady post-1991 days news of victories came thick and fast. the more recent the convert, the stronger the ardour with which the new world order was defended. there was an intense longing to break decisively with the past and to demonstrate this as publicly as possible in self-righteous tones, without a blush of shame. what better way but to denounce the opponents of 'humanitarian wars' (the colonial whip that is one of the more savage and hypocritical heirlooms from previous centuries) as reactionary enemies of civilization and all anti-capitalist alternatives as paving the way to totalitarianism? having convinced themselves that no other roads were possible or desirable, they remodelled their lives and work to meet the requirements of the new order. a few even found themselves unable to condemn torture as long as it was being carried out in the interests of humanity and civilization. others discovered that old-fashioned colonialism was not such a bad things after all and defended imperial occupations of sovereign states and the creation of new western protectorates in the balkans or the hindu kush. and all the while they insisteted that they were the true voices of reason. yes, they had joined the ranks of the imperial armies as propagandists; yes, they had supported wars and occupations, but no other choice was on offer. were there other choices, then, when montaigne derided european racism, toussaint led a successful revolt against slavery, mark twain denounced the imperial occupation of the philippines, or marcel proust mocked the bibilical pretensions of zionism?

the left, the antiwar movement, the handful of tough-minded journalists still permitted a voice in the mainstream media, the 'idiots' who attended the festivals of the world social forum, the 'islamo-fascists' all derided the coarse cynicism of the neo-imperialist folk and their role as treacherous turncoats. thus described, rage injected venom into their opportunism. not a few soft-spoken, snivelling journalists and academics were transformed overnight ino warriors for the imperialist cause, desperate to please their new master and, as a result, often more boorish and belligerent than those they served. a similar constellation of characters had emerged after epochal defeats in previous centuries. . .in many cases, these by no means unintelligent people expended much of their energy in the primitive and petty task of self-justification, which meant that their most recent productions displayed no signs of intellectual hunger. in the new milieu in which they found themselves there were always more experienced and more consistent defenders of the status-quo. to make themselves heard they had to work harder than more traditional conformists: they had a past to expunge. some succeeded. were they all devious and insincere? i don't think so. the conversions, in most cases, were genuine enough, albeit a few continued to convince themselves that they remained 'on the democratic left' or were the 'only real left'. why this insistence? perhaps to admit a total break would mean placing their life's work on a funeral pyre. vanity forbade such excesses.

the bandwagon careerists who clambered aboard the 1990s war chariot had been hasty in assuming that because they were finished, everything else was too. the earth had been stolen, surveillance satellites littered the sky, but free thought and dissidence had not completely disappeared. illusions about the civilizing function of a bloody empire and the rancid rhetoric of wc [washington consensus] politicians were being destroyed on the battlefields of iraq and in the mountains of afghanistan and subsequently in lebanon. nowhere was this more the case than in the late president monroe's imperial backyard. the glimmer of an actual political alternative, however, was visible only in latin america [decidedly and unfortunately not in post-soviet eastern europe]. there, new social movements had thrown up new political leaders. they were insisting that, despite the fall of the soviet union, the world was still confronted with old choices. either a revamped global capitalism with new wars and new impoverishment, chaos, anarchy, or a rethought and revived socialism, democratic in character and capable of serving the needs of the poor. these leaders were determined to rescue the stranded ship 'utopia', to initiate more egalitarian, redistributive policies and to involve the poor in the political life of their countires. for proclaiming these modest goals they were traduced and vilified. their real crime is to challenge the certainties of the new order, to disregard the forbidden signs of the wc. an ally of that consensus can crush its opponents, torture or kill political prisoners, ban all rival parties, sell half a country's assets for private gain and still obtain the 'international community's' seal of approval. but if a government challenges the priorities of the global system in the name of an invigorated democracy and an ultra-democratic constitution and, worst of all, continues to be re-elected by its stubborn citizenry it will be vilified and attacked. for refusing to concur with the wc it is accused of 'totalitarianism' and the order goes out that it must be crushed politically, ideologically, and if necessary, by force of arms. this is the world in which we live today, a world described with telling scorn by harold pinter.

--pp. 23-25 from pirates of the carribean: axis of hope.


olechko said...

This is the silliest name for the most serious book! xox

Stefan said...

agreed. i had to explain to an astonished friend who brought the book for me, on a visit from the usa to riga, that i was not reading some book about the movie series--i guess she didn't look very carefully at the cover, nor read the backside cover. the title, to me, smacks much too much of all-too-clever marketing; a more sober title would have been preferable.

makes me think of both one of my comparative lit professors/advisors and of the work of theodor adorno--both encouraged a struggle against cliches and against marketing jingo in political/ theoretical/philosophical writing. . .

but this shouldn't take away from ali. pirates of the carribean is a good read, most especially for those unfamiliar with what is happening in venezuela and bolivia, who is unfamiliar with the history of those countries and/or who may be on the verge of opening his/her mind against the incredible torrents of misinformation that is produced in the western media about the ongoing transformations there. . .

Taras said...

Sveiki Stefan!:)

Long time no see. I too agree that the marketing-driven title of the book infantilizes the social developments in the Caribbean landscape. Just what kind of people would have hope in Captain Castro? It’s definitely not those Cubans who'd risk their lives to reach the Florida coast.

I believe that redistributive policies in commodity-rich countries can and should work miracles only if they strike the right balance between consumption and investment. But, as we know, neither Bolivia nor Cuba has that much oil to start with — which may not be so bad, after all.

Oil can be a tricky business. Take the Soviet Union. High oil prices in the mid-70s kept the Cold War-crazed gerontocrats under the illusion they could resuscitate worker morale with small doses of consumer goods. We all know what happened when the oil revenue that financed the therapy ran dry. Low oil prices in the mid-80s drove the last nail into the USSR’s coffin. Of course, none of this would have happened had Soviet socialism not surpassed Caribbean capitalism in exploiting workers.

What happened next merits a separate discussion. For Eastern Europe and the Baltics, it was “Good bye Lenin.” (By the way, have you seen that movie?:) For Ukraine, it was “Hello Y2K.” (Yanukovych, Kuchma, Kravchuk)

That’s when the straight-jacket wardrobe of Soviet socialism came in handy. A junta of apparatchiks and entrepreneurs, later known as oligarchs, capitalized on it. Without it, they would have never built their highly in-no-way-tive old boys’ networks. And from my ideological observations, those Y2K networks connect with Washington just as problematically as residents of Pyongyang would connect with Paris croissants:)

How many Ukrainian politicians speak a foreign language? You can take the boy out of the USSR, but you can’t take the USSR out of the boy:)

Angela said...

See my blog, please!!