The Egyptian Struggle May Inspire A Working Class Struggle Against Entrenched Power In Many Other Parts of the World.

This is the version of the previous post in the form that it appeared in the print edition of Stabroek News, Thursday 3 March, 2011

By Christopher Carrico

Anthropology Programme

University of Guyana

photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy

 

This was originally going to be a History This Week article for Stabroek News when I was last scheduled to write for this column.  Unfortunately, the analysis of Egypt which I had embarked on at the time turned out to be far more complicated than I had initially anticipated. I did not realize that my article was not deliverable until too late, and Stabroek News was left in the unfortunate situation of having no History This Week article to print for that week.

However, I continued forward with the essay, and because of the timeliness of the material that I was writing about, I chose to publish this piece as a blog on As It Ought to Be (asitoughttobe.com) on 13 February, 2011.  The blog post generated enough interest to be picked up by the Pan-African newsletter, Pambazuka (www.pambazuka.org), later that week.  Pambazuka summarized my argument as ‘”Whether Egypt’s association with US-backed capitalism has been disrupted is a question that factory workers might yet decide,” writes Christopher Carrico.’

I offer the article now for the space where it was originally intended.  It is offered here in an edited version, but I have made no attempt to bring the article up-to-date on the state of the situation.  I felt this was best because it was an essay written ‘in the heat of the moment’ on one Sunday in mid-February, when millions of Egyptians were ecstatically celebrating the removal from power of President Hosni Mubarak.  To bring the article up-to-date, or to think about these events in the context of the current situation in Libya, would require completely different article than this one, which was meant to reflect on a very specific moment of time, and to share my reflections on this particular moment with a Guyanese audience via Stabroek News.

Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt from 14 October, 1981 until February 11, 2011. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced Mubarak’s resignation to the Egyptian public and to the world, and state power was handed over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a body of the 18 highest-ranking officers who head the Egyptian military. As of Sunday, 13 February, the Egyptian military has dissolved parliament, suspended the Constitution, and imposed a military junta that has declared itself an interim government responsible for overseeing an ‘orderly transition’ to civilian rule in six months time.

What I have to say here is largely based on the reports of people like Hossam el-Hamalawy, Web 2.0 Activist, and member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist party.  In explaining the power that blogs, Facebook, and twitter have had in the popular movements in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, el-Hamalawy notes that ‘Nearly 20 million out of 85 million Egyptians have access to the Internet, but its strength lies in the fact the traditional media have themselves begun to use it as a source of information’.

El-Hamalawy wrote in his blog 3arabawy (www.arabawy.org) that:

(Middle class) activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy — the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years.  And while I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who receive $1.3 billion (US Dollars) annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a “civilian” government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics… (and) guarantee Egypt will continue to follow… US foreign policy…

Reform-oriented opposition leaders had been ‘urging Egyptians to suspend the protests and return to work, in the name of patriotism.’ Most of the crowd in Tahrir Square dissipated.  Thousands of hold-outs, however, insisted that the setting up of military rule does not meet the main demands of their protest, and refused to leave the Square.  The military indicated that it would use force if necessary to return Cairo to ‘normalcy.’  And the military police fairly rapidly removed the majority of the remaining protestors from Cairo’s streets.

But Hossam el-Hamalawy has made a critical observation that has largely been ignored in the Western media, ‘Whether Tahrir Square occupation continues or not, the real fight is now in the factories.’ As of the time of 7 February, el-Hamalawy reported in an interview with the French NPA (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste), that:

There are four hotbeds of economic struggle: a [steel] mill in Suez, a fertilizer factory in Suez, a textile factory near Mansoura in Daqahlia (the Mansoura-España garment factory in the Nile Delta region) on strike — they have fired their CEO and are self-managing their enterprise.  There is also a print shop in southern Cairo called Dar al-Matabi: there, too, they fired their CEO and are self-managing the enterprise.  But, while workers are participating in the demonstrations, they are not developing their own independent action as workers.  We still have not seen workers independently organize themselves en masse.  If that comes, all the equation of the struggle will change.

El-Hamalawy’s twitter feed, his blog, and like-minded others, such as the contributors to #egyworkers have been providing us with encouraging news such as:

  • The temporary workers in Helwan Steel Mills staged a sit in, south of Cairo.
  • Thousands of Public Transport workers demonstrated in el-Gabal el-Ahmar in Nasr City.
  • Railway technicians continued to bring the countries trains to a halt.
  • Around 5,000 workers in El-Hawamdiya Sugar Factory went on strike.
  • Oil workers struck over economic demands, to impeach the Petroleum Minister, and halt subsidized gas exports to Israel.

And the list goes on and on.  El-Hamalawy wrote:

Some have been surprised that the workers started striking. I really don’t know what to say. This is completely idiotic. The workers have been staging the longest and most sustained strike wave in Egypt’s history since 1946, triggered by the Mahalla strike in December 2006. It’s not the workers’ fault that you were not paying attention to their news. Every single day over the past three years there was a strike in some factory whether it’s in Cairo or the provinces.

As intoxicating and encouraging as all of this sounds, Reuters reported that ‘Egypt’s new military rulers will soon issue a warning… against anyone who creates “chaos and disorder”’.

The Military also banned meetings by labour unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and told all Egyptians to get back to work after the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

El-Hamalawy reminds us that ‘when the army took over in 1952, (the) first thing they did was execut(e) two strike leaders at (the) Kafr el-Dawwar textile mill.’

It is exactly the emergence of even more repressive regimes, intent on a struggle to the death to put the breaks on a workers’ revolution in the Arab world, that Vijay Prashad warned of when he wrote that ‘if power is not seized, counter-revolution will rise.’

Prashad’s examples of the potential dangers in this case included the rise of Islamist parties.  In Egypt, it is the Muslim Brotherhood that is best organized. But it seems fairly clear that in Egypt, as had always been the case in Pakistan, the real force to be reckoned with is the military, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s power mainly deriving from its mutually opportunistic relationship with the Egyptian Armed Forces.

One would expect that the prospect of a military dictatorship, with links to radical Islamists would be an alarming prospect to established powers in the United States and Israel.  In all actuality, this is as nearly opposite the case as can be possible.  It is the United States and Israel that have mainly been responsible for the also mutually opportunistic relationship between the established powers in Cairo, and the established powers in Washington and Jerusalem.  Samir Amin describes the ambitions of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood as follows:

‘The military and the Muslim Brotherhood accept the hegemony of the United States in the region and the existing terms of peace with Israel.  And their complacency continues to help permit Israel’s continued colonization of what remains of Palestine.

The reason for this is not some Zionist plot, or some secret conspiracy between Mubarak, Israel, and Washington.  The reason for this is the open agreement between all parties on the existing parameters of the established order: the established order of capitalism under US hegemony.  This includes the Muslim Brotherhood.  Amin also writes that:

‘The key is that everyone accepts capitalism as it is. The Muslim Brotherhood has never considered changing things so seriously. Besides at major workers’ strikes of 2007-2008, their MPs voted with the government against the strikers. Faced with the struggles of peasants evicted from their land by large landowners, the Muslim Brotherhood took part against the peasant movement. For them the private property, free enterprise and profit are sacred.’

What would really be a threat to the Egyptian military, to United States foreign policy interests, to the Israeli state, and to established capitalist powers in the region, would not be the emergence of a new Islamic extremist party in alliance with the Egyptian military: after all that has simply been the status quo of the Mubarak years.  What would really be a threat to these established powers is if the idea of socialism caught on in the Arab world, and beyond.  And if the popular classes of nations around the world were inspired by Egypt to take concrete actions that challenge entrenched power in their own nation-states.

 

Socialism or Barbarism in Egypt and Beyond: An Open Question

originally published on As It Ought to Be on 13 February, 2011

also republished as “Revolution in Egypt?  What Revolution?” on Pambazuka on 16 February, 2011

Pambazuka summarized my argument as follows:

Whether Egypt’s association with US-backed capitalism has been disrupted is a question that factory workers might yet decide, writes Christopher Carrico.

 

“Everyone should start forming unions & labor associations now. If we don’t build those now, we’ll be fucked by the regime soon.”  — Hossam el-Hamalawy on twitter, Sunday, February 13, 2011.

Let us be clear from the outset. There has been no revolution in Egypt… yet.

Hosni Mubarak has been President of Egypt since October 14, 1981, and his government has consistently acted on behalf of the country’s economic, political, and military elite for the almost three decades since.  Mubarak resigned as head of state this week: on February 11, 2011. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced Mubarak’s resignation to the Egyptian public and to the world, and state power was handed over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a body of the 18 highest-ranking officers who head the Egyptian military. As of today (Sunday, February 13, 2011) the Egyptian military has dissolved parliament, suspended the Constitution, and imposed a military junta that has declared itself an interim government responsible for overseeing an “orderly” transition to civilian rule in six months time.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/elhamalawy

What I have to say here is largely based on the reports of people like Hossam el-Hamalawy, Web 2.0 Activist, and member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist party.  In explaining the power that blogs, Facebook, and twitter have had in the popular movements in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, el-Hamalawy notes that:

Nearly 20 million out of 85 million Egyptians have access to the Internet, but its strength lies in the fact the traditional media have themselves begun to use it as a source of information.  If the best known bloggers or online activists post something on their blogs, read by some thousands, it’s more or less guaranteed that BBC, Al Jazeera, or other traditional media will grab the info and it will be read by millions.  Information is thus going to spread. 

http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/hamalawy080211.html

El-Hamalawy wrote in his blog 3arabawy that:

(Middle class) activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy — the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years.  And while I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who receive $1.3 billion (US Dollars) annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a “civilian” government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics… (and) guarantee Egypt will continue to follow… US foreign policy…

Reform-oriented opposition leaders have been “urging Egyptians to suspend the protests and return to work, in the name of patriotism,” and in the name of rebuilding Egypt.  Most of the crowd in Tahrir Square, which activists estimate was in the millions earlier this week, has finished with its celebrations, and left the Square as it leaders urged.  Thousands of hold-outs, however, insist that the setting up of military rule does not meet the main demands of their protest, and refused to leave the Square.  The military has indicated that it will use force if necessary to return Cairo to “normalcy.”  According to the Guardian, Reuters reports that:

Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers shoved pro-democracy protesters aside to force a path for traffic to start flowing through central Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Sunday for the first time in more than two weeks.
Protesters chanted “Peacefully, peacefully” as the soldiers and military police in red berets moved in to disperse them. Scuffles broke out and some soldiers lashed out with sticks.

The military police chief told protesters to clear tents from the square and not to disrupt traffic.

“We do not want any protesters to sit in the square after today,” Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa Ali, the head of military police, told protesters and reporters, as soldiers removed tents from the square.

… The early morning violence did not last long, but the army action, backed by dozens of military police, split demonstrators who had previously controlled the square into smaller groups.
“In the square, in the square, we demand our rights in the square,” some chanted as soldiers corralled the crowd.
About 2,000 demonstrators remained in the square and some tents were still pitched in the grassy central area.

But Hossam el-Hamalawy has made a more critical observation that has largely been ignored in the Western media, “whether Tahrir Square occupation continues or not, the real fight is now in the factories.”

As of February 7, el-Hamalawy reported in an interview first published on the website of the French NPA (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste), then reposted in MRZine, that :

There are four hotbeds of economic struggle: a [steel] mill in Suez, a fertilizer factory in Suez, a textile factory near Mansoura in Daqahlia (the Mansoura-España garment factory in the Nile Delta region) on strike — they have fired their CEO and are self-managing their enterprise.  There is also a print shop in southern Cairo called Dar al-Matabi: there, too, they fired their CEO and are self-managing the enterprise.  But, while workers are participating in the demonstrations, they are not developing their own independent action as workers.  We still have not seen workers independently organize themselves en masse.  If that comes, all the equation of the struggle will change.

He went on to recount that when the workers in the factories are included with those in Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo, the BBC estimates that the maximum number of protestors in Egypt leading up to Mubarak’s resignation was around 8 million people nationwide, and the majority of these 8 million were Egyptians who are poor and working class.

El-Hamalawy’s twitter feed, his blog, and like-minded others, such as the contributors to #egyworkers have been providing us with encouraging news such as:

  • The temporary workers in Helwan Steel Mills are now staging a sit in, south of Cairo.
  • Thousands of Public Transport workers are now demonstrating in el-Gabal el-Ahmar in Nasr City.
  • Railway technicians continue to bring the countries trains to a halt.
  • Around 5,000 workers in El-Hawamdiya Sugar Factory are now on strike.
  • Oil workers started a strike today over economic demands, to impeach the Petroleum Minister, and halt subsidized gas exports to Israel.

And the list goes on and on.

El-Hamalawy’s same blog from yesterday tells us the following encouraging news:

“Some have been surprised that the workers started striking. I really don’t know what to say. This is completely idiotic. The workers have been staging the longest and most sustained strike wave in Egypt’s history since 1946, triggered by the Mahalla strike in December 2006. It’s not the workers’ fault that you were not paying attention to their news. Every single day over the past three years there was a strike in some factory whether it’s in Cairo or the provinces.”

As intoxicating and encouraging as all of this sounds, Reuters reported earlier today that:

“Egypt’s new military rulers will issue a warning on Sunday (today) against anyone who creates “chaos and disorder”, an army source said.

The Higher Military Council will also ban meetings by labour unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and tell all Egyptians to get back to work after the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak.”

And el-Hamalawy reminds us that “when the army took over in 1952, (the) first thing they did was execut(e) two strike leaders at (the) Kafr el-Dawwar textile mill.”

It is exactly the emergence of even more repressive regimes, intent on a struggle to the death to put the breaks on a workers’ revolution in the Arab world, that Vijay Prashad warned of when he wrote that “’If power is not seized, counter-revolution will rise.”

“Clara Zetkin warned that the emergence of fascism can be laid partly on the failure of the workers… to move toward revolution effectively enough. Part of that effectiveness is to challenge those… willing in certain circumstances to turn against the Left and become the foot soldiers of fascism.”

http://radicalnotes.com/content/view/154/39/

Prashad’s examples in this case included the Islamist parties, Hezbollah and Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood. But it seems fairly clear that in Egypt, as had always been the case in Pakistan, the real Fascist force to be reckoned with is the military, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s power mainly deriving from its mutually opportunistic relationship with the Egyptian Armed Forces.

One would expect, along with American reactionaries like Glen Beck, that the prospect of a military dictatorship, with links to radical Islamists would be an extremely alarming prospect to established powers in the United States and Israel.  In all actuality, this is as nearly opposite the case as can be possible.  It is the United States and Israel that have mainly been responsible for the also mutually opportunistic relationship between the established powers in Cairo, and the established powers in Washington and Jerusalem.  Samir Amin describes the ambitions of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood as follows:

The military and the Muslim Brotherhood accept the hegemony of the United States in the region and the existing terms of peace with Israel.  And their complacency continues to help permit Israel’s continued colonization of what remains of Palestine.

The reason for this is not some Zionist plot, or some secret conspiracy between Mubarak, Israel, and Washington.  The reason for this is the open agreement between all parties on the existing parameters of the established order: the established order of capitalism under US hegemony.  This includes the Muslim Brotherhood.  Amin also writes that:

“The key is that everyone accepts capitalism as it is. The Muslim Brotherhood has never considered changing things so seriously. Besides at major workers’ strikes of 2007-2008, their MPs voted with the government against the strikers. Faced with the struggles of peasants evicted from their land by large landowners, the Muslim Brotherhood took part against the peasant movement. For them the private property, free enterprise and profit are sacred.”

What would really be a threat to the Egyptian military, to United States foreign policy interests, to the Israeli state, and to established capitalist powers in the region, would not be the emergence of a new Islamic extremist party in alliance with the Egyptian military: after all that has simply been the status quo of the Mubarak years.  What would really be a threat to these established powers is if the idea of socialism caught on in the Arab world, in the Mediterranean world, in the Islamic world in general, in the European world, and beyond.  This is why Obama, the US State Department, the liberal capitalist media, and the liberal capitalist states of the world, want to so enthusiastically announce that there has already been a revolution in Egypt.  They want to announce that the revolution has already occurred, as a way of avoiding grappling with the meaning of the prospect of a real revolution: in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Algeria, in Yemen, in Morocco.  If it does not stop there, who is to say it will not come to places like France, or even Germany or the U.K.  Who knows where it will end?  We have been led to believe that we must do everything possible to keep it from it coming to the United States.

DEATH (after an Egyptian poem of the Twelfth Dynasty)

Grand Street, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Autumn, 1985), p. 53

 

DEATH

(after an Egyptian poem of the Twelfth Dynasty)

Robert Fagles


Death, you are in my eyes today

as when a shattered man becomes whole

as when, after a long illness, a man walks abroad


Death, you are in my eyes today

like the scent of myrrh drifting, clouding

as when one crouches under the jib and the wind swells his sails


Death, you are in my eyes today

like the odor of waterlilies, heavy and sweet

as when one sprawls on the sliding banks of drunkenness


Death, you are in my eyes today

as when one longs to see his house again

after a man has wasted years, decades in captivity


Death, you are in my eyes today

like the sudden unveiling of heaven

as when one reaches a goal, great heights he never knew


Death, you are in my eyes today

like a well-beaten road

as when one returns from the wars, home, home at last

Grand Street articles posted

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 24, 2011 

Grand Street articles posted

Doug Henwood writes:

Back in the late 1980s, I wrote four articles for the literary journal Grand Street, edited by Ben Sonnenberg. They’re on the transformation of the corporate titan (Morgan to Pickens), Yale and the CIA, Greider’s book on the Fed, and a psychoanalysis of money.

You can get them here. And thanks to Christopher Carrico (here too: Christopher Carrico) for sending them along.

Grand Street articles

And here, Henwood elaborates on experience working with GrandStreet, and its editor, Ben Sonnenberg:

Back in the late 1980s, I wrote four articles for the literary journal Grand Street, edited by Ben Sonnenberg. (Alexander Cockburn has a wonderful memoir of him here, illustrated with a photo he took of Sonnenberg and his friend Edward Said.) Grand Street was wonderful, and so was Sonnenberg—by far the best editor I ever worked with. He could suggest more in a phrase or a pairing of books for review than most editors could in a lifetime of comments.

Here are the pieces (and thanks to Christopher Carrico for sending them along). They’re scanned PDFs, so they’re each about a megabyte, sorry to say. But it’s worth preserving the original layout, because it was a beautiful old-style journal. Maybe someday, when I have a lot more time, I’ll turn them into text.

Old Livernose and the Plungers: J. Pierpont Morgan and T. Boone Pickens, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 175-184.

Spooks in Blue (Yale and the CIA), Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1988), pp. 212-219.

Federal Offenses (Greider on the Fed), Vol. 8, No. 1 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 209-218.

Money, Mind, and Matter (a psychoanalysis of money), Vol. 9, No. 1 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 237-246.



INSURGENT ANTHROPOLOGIES: CAST AWAY ILLUSIONS, PART 2

 

INSURGENT ANTHROPOLOGIES:

CAST AWAY ILLUSIONS, PART TWO

By Christopher Carrico

http://asitoughttobe.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/insurgent-anthropologies-cast-away-illusions-part-2/


 

 

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:5.3.10SarahPalinByDavidShankbone.jpg

One contradiction that both neo-liberals and neo-conservatives face is the difficulty of how to protect the free pursuit of liberty (especially through markets, private property, and the accumulation of wealth) from the democratic demands of the majority for social justice, intervention in the market, and the equitable distribution of wealth.

While neo-libs and neo-cons are both, in theory, against intervention into the economy by the state, both have come to be for the very aggressive use of the state when state intervention is useful for the protection of property, wealth, and entrenched power.

Paraphrasing David Harvey, I noted in this blog last month that:

As in the case of some of the classical theories of liberal democracy, neo-liberal theorists are concerned that the free functioning of the liberal economy be protected from the sometimes irrational influences of the democratic masses, whose demands for equality, a social safety net, collective ownership, or national protection could irrationally interfere with the smooth functioning of otherwise ideal liberal capitalist economies.

Following the argument put forth by Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy in their book Captial Resurgent (2004), David Harvey argues that neo-liberalism is most coherent not when viewed as an economic model or as a political theory, but rather when seen as a project for the restoration or creation of capitalist class power.  Hence its contradictory relationship with the state: it claims to be against state intervention, while being heavily in support of state actions that are intended to buttress the power of capitalist elites.

Neo-conservatives also put forth rhetoric against “big government” intervention into the economy, while at the same time supporting state interventions intended to protect and promote the economic interests of ruling elites. Neo-conservatism, while differing in emphasis in some ways, is perfectly in keeping with the neo-liberal goal of strengthening capitalist class power.

The reign of the free market, the unchecked power of capital, and economic and military imperialism, all create a great deal of social disruption, anomie, and chaos. The capitalist freedoms that both neo-liberals and neo-conservatives advocate are forces that are constantly threatening to tear apart the very fabric of society.  (Harvey 2005: 81-86)

The neo-conservative answer to the chaos and anomie that permeates the world that the liberals created is not to question liberalism’s fundamental economic premises. Rather, neo-conservatism seeks to address the social disorder caused by capitalism by advocating a strong state with coercive powers to control “the chaos of individual interests” (Harvey: 82).  In this sense, neo-conservative views of the role and function of the state are similar to those put forth by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651).

When neo-cons talk about their desire to check the “excesses” of liberalism they reveal one of the ways in which neo-conservatism in practice is as deeply contradictory as neo-liberalism in practice.  By no means do neo-conservatives want to control and regulate capitalist interests (the real source of social disruption). Instead, neo-cons hope to make democratic majorities more governable through the use of a coercive state, and through an appeal to morality, religion, nationalism, and tradition.

Again, quoting David Harvey at length is worthwhile here:

… the moral values that have now become central to the neo-conservatives can best be understood as products of the particular coalition that was built in the 1970s, between elite class and business interests intent on restoring their class power, on the one hand, and an electoral base among the ‘moral majority’ of the disaffected white working class on the other.  The moral values centered on cultural nationalism, moral righteousness, Christianity (of a certain evangelical sort), family values, and right-to-life issues, and on the antagonism to the new social movements such as feminism, gay rights, affirmative action, and environmentalism.  (84)

These forces have gathered more strength today than ever in the US, best exemplified by the emergence of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Furthermore, similar sets of conditions have led to similar outcomes in many parts of the world. Conservative calls for a return to tradition (and even outright calls for authoritarian governance) have been seen as answers to the chaos that has been caused by liberal capitalism. To the Tea Party, we can add the resurgence of neo-fascism in Europe, the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party and other Hindu right-wing parties in India, and the rise of authoritarian states (and violent and reactionary non-state actors) in much of the Islamic world.

The evocation of national, religious, and racial solidarities in a world that was (many told us) supposed to be becoming more globalized, cosmopolitan, and tolerant, has been one serious sign of broad-based right wing politics of fear mongering. Rather than looking at structural economic problems: declining standard of living for the majority of Americans, increasing unemployment or peripheral employment, the overwhelming and unprecedented burden of debt taken on in every sector of the economy, from households, to corporations, to local, state and federal governments, etc., neo-conservatives find scapegoats in non-white immigrants (legal and illegal) from all over the world, in Islamic terrorists, and in competition for markets and resources with developing countries whose labor costs are far lower than labor costs in the U.S.

2. Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle.

Those progressives who are today disappointed in Barack Obama need to examine their worldviews, see which of their hopes were realistic in 2008, and prepare for struggle in what are most likely going to be a bitter two years ahead for American politics.  As I noted in Part One of this blog, neo-liberal policy was a bi-partisan project.  It was initiated in earnest in the U.S. under the administration of Ronald Reagan.  However, the neo-liberal agenda was wholehearted supported by conservative and “New Democrats.”  The quintessential New Democrat, of course, was President Bill Clinton – completer of the Reagan revolution.

There was very little that Barack Obama told us in the primaries and the presidential campaigns that seemed to break from the mold of the Clintonian New Democrat. Indeed, one of the things that was so striking about the knockdown, drag out fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries was that their views on policy were virtually identical to one another.

In speaking to African Americans, Barack Obama used his candidacy as evidence that Americans now lived in a “post-racial” world, and asserted a version of the culture of poverty thesis which stated that African Americans would do better in white society if they behaved in a more responsible manner.

Obama promised from the outset that he would escalate the war in Afghanistan, which is now sinking into an ever deepening quagmire, deeply affecting Pakistan (not only in the border areas). His recent visit to India was motivated in part by his wanting to court India as an ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in the region, thus exacerbating already tense relations between these two communal religious groups in South Asia.  His visit involved enormous arms deals and no doubt increased tensions between Indian and Pakistan, both countries who possess nuclear weapons.

Obama’s choice of Joe Biden for the Vice-Presidency was particularly telling. A long term leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a well know “Liberal Hawk” who has supported every major imperial adventure that the U.S. has embarked on in his career (in the name of spreading freedom and democracy around the world – with the barrel of a gun.)

Obama immediately prioritized the bailing out of banks during the crises that began just before his election.  He has been slow at beginning to help Americans whose homes are being foreclosed, at beginning jobs programs that do not reduce unemployment rates, but rather merely slow down their escalation.  His “massive overhaul” of America’s healthcare system turned out to be one that might be more adequately described as “minor tinkering”

At the environmental summits in Copenhagen and in Cancun, the Obama administration did nothing but show up, and protect the interests of America’s big capitalist polluters. In the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration has either been unwilling or unable to hold BP to full accountability for the disaster.

The handling of the disaster in Haiti, with a US military presence, and thousands of NGOs on the ground has made a major disaster into an even bigger disaster than it needed to be.

Civil liberties of all kinds continue to be stripped from American citizens, and even more so, from immigrants, legal and illegal.  Massive deportations and costly and ineffective border patrols are expanded year after year.

And then there was the matter of the extension of the Bush era tax cuts, and appointment this week of a former banking industry executive as Obama’s new chief of staff.

It’s not like there hasn’t been any progress, though.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, which means that openly gay people can kill innocent Iraqis and Afghanis just like straight people are allowed to.

The question is, however, whatever led us to believe that once we elected Barack Obama as president, he would do anything other than largely pursue the politics of the same?  Both major parties in the U.S. are beholden to big capital in seemingly inescapable ways.  No candidate would ever make it past the early primaries if in fact she or he did have a truly progressive political agenda.

If we think historically about when real democratic change has happened in the United States, it has generally not been a gift given to the American people by the government from the top down.  Rather, the expansion of rights and liberties has usually been the result of the long and hard fought struggle of organizers and activists against systems of entrenched power.

It took Abraham Lincoln a long time to realize that, in spite of his reluctance, the freeing of African slaves was going to be necessary for the North to win the Civil War.  Most of the framework for recognition of trade unions, minimum wage laws, workplace safety laws, and New Deal social programs were initiated under the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.  But these programs were not solely a result of the beneficence of an enlightened president.  They were fought for and won through generations of militant trade union struggle, and Roosevelt probably would not have found many of these measures necessary if there had not been a massive, militant, and organized working class demanding political change.

Likewise, the Civil Right legislation written during the Kennedy Administration, and signed into law under the Johnson administration, would have never been proposed simply because of the beneficence of the ruling elites in the Kennedy Adminstration.  The real work that accomplished some of the goals of the Civil Rights movement had to do with grassroots organizing, not with the empathy of Kennedy or Johnson with the struggles of the African American people.

Because we did not struggle to push the Obama towards serious political reform during the first two years of his administration, the struggle for the next two years is going to be even more difficult.  We have a Congress and Senate, the majority of whom can only be described as enemies of humanity.  And we have a president who caved in on many of the marginal differences he had with the Republican Party, even when there was a Democratic “super-majority” in the Congress.

Maybe the best we can hope for is that the experience of the Obama presidency will lead people to cast away the illusion that some charismatic figure will emerge from the Republican or Democratic Parties and lead us to the Promised Land. Perhaps it will become increasingly possible (as people were beginning to see leading up the Democratic Primaries in 1968), that it is not leaders who change the world, but ordinary people who find the courage to demand that something change, before it’s too late.

CAST AWAY ILLUSIONS, PART ONE

By Christopher Carrico

originally appeared on As It Ought To Be:

http://asitoughttobe.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/insurgent-anthropologies-cast-away-illusions-part-one/

reprinted as “Cast Away Neoliberal Illusions: Insurgent Anthropologies” in CounterPunch, Weekend Edition, January 21 – 23, 2011:

http://www.counterpunch.org/carrico01212011.html

1. THE TEA PARTY AND OTHER PALEO-CONS

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Just as it is ironic for the name of the fight against Western cultural imperialism to be invoked in defense of oppressive traditions and inherited privilege in the non-Western world, it is also ironic for the protection of Western values to be invoked in defense of the social exclusion of (and violence and warfare against) non-Western peoples.

There is no use in denying that for some Europeans (and their descendants in North America, Australia, etc.) a racial worldview in its paleo-conservative form still animates much popular xenophobia, the scapegoating of immigrants, and the justification of military and political-economic imperialism.

There is only so much that progressives can do to dialogue with far right racists.  Progressives can continue to articulate the biological facts about race, and continue to testify about the historical and contemporary reproduction of racism and imperialism in Euro-American societies.  Most importantly, progressives can form alliances in anti-racist struggles.

With the rise to prominence of the Tea Party in the United States, and the resurgence of far right nationalisms in Europe, the threat from paleo-conservatism has become far more pressing than many had imagined with the triumph of liberalism in the late twentieth century.  Just like the racist populisms of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the paleo-con agenda promotes a notion of democracy that is restricted in national, racial, religious and class terms.  Like the Democratic Party before and after the American Civil War, the Tea Party claims to believe in Democracy.  Democracy, that is, for white, property-owning American citizens of European Judaeo-Christian descent.

Whatever fantasies an intellectual like Marcus Garvey may have had about finding common ground with white racial separatists, this position is untenable in a world where the defense of white privilege remains an important factor in the political economy of many of the world’s advanced capitalist nations.  By way of racially stratified labor forces, for example, and by way of the relative ease by which wars of aggression against non-white peoples are justified in comparison with wars against the nations of Europe and its settler colonies.

Furthermore, whatever illusions that some American trade unionists might have once had that they could hide behind nationalism (ally themselves with nativists in order to restrict wage competition by restricting immigration, boost the American economy through militarism, etc.) it now seems likely that the new immigrants are the only hope that the American labor movement has of ever re-building a mass base, and that militarism has helped to bleed the American economy dry of resources that could have been put to far more productive use, and more equitably shared.  The struggle of American laborers (clearer today than ever) is to fight alongside the immigrant laborer for better working conditions – against the same enemy, the transnational capitalist class.  The struggle to end the War Economy also needs to be seen as inseparable from the struggle for economic justice.  The old populist and nationalist illusions must today be rejected in no uncertain terms.

1. NEO-CONS AND CLASSICAL LIBERALS


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For much of the neo-conservative and     center-right as well, the specter of race still haunts its rhetoric.  On the surface, and in its public discourse, neo-conservatism concedes to liberal democratic theory most of its main tenets about equality and tolerance.  But racism haunts the neo-conservative discourse through the use of coded language that white voters and citizens recognize as being statements about race, even when race is not directly mentioned.  This discourse has often very clearly shaped policy, and in the America that I grew up in, we all knew that talk about crime, drugs, welfare and poverty was talk about race: regardless of the “color-blind” language, and regardless of the empirical realities of these social phenomena.

But let’s set the far right aside for a moment, and take the neo-conservative rhetoric at face value.  The Western values that neo-conservatives claim that they are protecting are not the values of ethnocentrism, colonialism, racism and imperialism.  Rather, the values that the neo-cons claim that they are protecting are the values of democracy and reason, whose lineage they trace back to the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, the values of universalism, the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and the values of science, progress, equality, liberty and individualism that emerged out of the Western Enlightenment.  All of these, they claim or imply, form the basis of the superiority of American and Western European values over the backwardness of much of the rest of the world. The values of the non-Western world, according to these views, are often rooted in blind adherence to repressive traditions, obedience to undemocratic, arbitrary authority and inherited privilege, resistance to scientific and political progress, tribalism, communalism and conflict based on an attachment to primordial identities, and the suppression of individualism by conformity to the collective.  Samuel Huntington articulated these claims by reference to differences in “civilizational” values.  According to Huntington, differences in civilizational values often emerged out of differences in religious heritage: the values of Islamic civilization, Confucian civilization, etc., were said to be unavoidably headed towards conflict with the above mentioned values of the enlightened West.

For neo-cons, the West is modern in all of the positive senses of this world, and its duty – its historical mission — is to remake the rest of the world in its own image.  In some sense, the neo-con rhetoric is quite faithful to Liberalism as it was classically conceived.  David Harvey has made this quite clear in lectures and public talks where he has offered a close analysis of the speeches of George W. Bush, where he has revealed the Bush administration’s affinity to the ideas of classical liberalism.

1. NEOLIBERAL THEORY

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Anyone who was interested in serious political economic analysis during the years immediately before and after the end of the Cold War, was aware that there was considerable continuity between the policies of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush presidencies, and the Clinton presidency.  Many of us noted during the 1990s that Bill Clinton seemed to have completed the Reagan revolution: instituting strict welfare reform policies at home, disciplining the labor market through economic policies which exponentially increased the wealth of Wall Street, while keeping Main Street relatively secure by offsetting stagnating or declining hourly wages with an increase in working hours, and an expansion of the availability of consumer credit.

The Clinton administration (albeit with a Republican controlled Congress) helped government absolve itself of responsibility for the poor and working poor, and helped big capital suppress wages, and use the mechanisms of debt to increase its absolute exploitation of the majority of American workers.  Meanwhile, internationally, the Clinton administration aggressively pursued the interests of American capital, in the name of a new model of globalization, where a rising tide would lift all boats, and the invisible hand of the market would bring not only economic prosperity, but also, freedom, liberty, and happiness to the world’s poor as well as to the world’s rich.

Unfortunately, the real situation internationally was much like the domestic scene writ large.  Big capital, particularly finance capital, experienced a rapid increase in its power worldwide.  In the developed world, finance capital often flourished at the expense of industrial capital.  In some parts of the developing world (in what dependency theorists once called capitalism’s “semi-periphery”) finance capital leveraged the rapid development of industrial capital, and the consolidation of regional economic blocs and the regional centralization of capitalist class power.  These processes could be seen in East Asia, in India, in South Africa, and in Brazil, for instance.  Other areas of the developing world, however, became more truly peripheral to the world’s capitalist markets, and whole economies were devastated with a stroke of the pen by the World Bank and the IMF, coupled with the aggressive pursuit by core capitalist countries of the agendas of their own capitalist classes at the expense all other considerations.

This era, which we have come to call neo-liberal (according to its supporters as well as to many of its detractors) was said to be one in which the notion of the nation-state was declining in significance, and state-based regulation and intervention in the economy was said to be counter-productive and a barrier to economic growth.  The example of the triumph of Western capitalism over the Soviet Union, and the collapse of Soviet-style centralized and bureaucratized state socialism was seen, in these years just after the fall of the Soviet Bloc, to be all the empirical evidence that was necessary to prove that only free markets, laissez-faire capitalism, and the removal of state regulations could create the environment in which dynamic economic growth was possible.

In A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey (2005: 64-67) characterizes the neoliberal theory of the state, as pioneered by theorists such as Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman, as having the following characteristics:

1. “According to theory, the neoliberal state should favour strong individual property rights, the rule of law, and the institutions of freely functioning markets and free trade.

2.  Also according to the theory, divestment of state ownership of assets, and privatization of nearly all state-owned industries and resources was considered imperative to the proper functioning of dynamic economies.

3.  With the emphasis on free markets, also came an emphasis on personal and individual responsibility, and the subsequent withdraw of the state from concerns over “welfare, education, health care, and even pensions”.

4.  All barriers to the free movement of capital needed to be swept aside.

5.  Finally, and some would argue most ominously, democracy was viewed with some suspicion in countries that did not have developed economies and a robust middle class.  As in the case of some of the classical theories of liberal democracy, neo-liberal theorists are concerned that the free functioning of the liberal economy be protected from the sometimes irrational influences of the democratic masses, whose demands for equality, a social safety net, collective ownership, or national protection could irrationally interfere with the smooth functioning of otherwise ideal liberal capitalist economies.

While these theories, for the economists, formed an internally consistent whole, there were a series of contradictions inherent in their effects in the real world that have contributed to the economic crisis which the world has experienced from 2007 until the present.

Of particular interest to me, is one contradiction of the neoliberal state that was apparent prior to the presidency of George W. Bush, which events since 9/11 have exacerbated.  That is, while neo-liberal theory emphasizes that The State ought not to interfere in the economic realm, this rule is unevenly and unequally applied, in predictable ways, and with predictable consequences.  Under neo-liberalism, states have been perfectly willing to increasingly use their coercive powers, not to bring the excesses of capitalism into check.  Rather, under the neo-liberalism, the state has increasingly used coercion and force to act on behalf of capital, in order to discipline labor and agents of dissent in the capitalist metropole and peripheries, but also, increasingly, to attempt to discipline any challenge to the continued dominance of world capitalism under American hegemony in the 21st century.

These contradictions, which so many progressives had hoped would be resolved under the Obama administration, to more “moderate” capitalist policies such as those of Keynesianism or of a return to the welfare state policies of the mid-20th century.  Unfortunately, most of the tendencies towards the coercive use of the state on behalf of capital have continued, and I would argue have even been expanded and deepened, under the administration of Barack Obama.  My next blog, Part Two of “Cast Away Illusions” will further explore the contradictions which have led the state, under the leadership of Obama, to behave as a bully on behalf of Big Capital, and to continue to pursue, on the international stage, a doomed policy of American Full Spectrum Dominance.


Tears

Thränen, “Tears”

Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected Poems and Fragments, pgs 95-6.

1998, Penguin Classics.  Michael Hamburger, trans.  Jeremy Adler, ed.


Tears

 

O heavenly love, the tender, if you I should

Forget, if you, the site that a fate has marked,

The fiery that are full of ash and

Even before that were wild, deserted,

 

Dear islands, you, the eyes of the wondrous world!

Since only you concern me and matter now,

You banks where the idolatrous, where

Love, but to heaven alone, does penance.

 

For too devoutly almost, too gratefully

In days of beauty there did the holy serve,

And furious heroes; and no lack of

Trees, and the cities at one time stood there,

 

Visible, like a pondering man; now dead

Those heroes are, the islands of love defaced,

Disfigured nearly.  So for ever

Love is outwitted, for ever silly.

 

And yet, soft tears, not utterly now put out

For me the light of vision; a memory.

To make my dying noble, still, you

Thievish, deceitful ones, let outlast me.