Contra le 18 brumaire

To protest against nobility on the grounds of exclusion was to beat against an open door. Which is why the historian seeks in vain for some putative revolutionary class-let us call them the bourgeoisie-thwarted in upward social mobility, and bent on the destruction  of  the  privileged orders. In 1789 there would indeed be such a group but their  most significant and powerful members would  come  not from  outside  but  from  the  inside of the nobility and the clergy. And they were not the product of an “aristocratic reaction” but its exact opposite: an aristocratic modernization.

Parting Shot

This site had a simple goal, to open a space for my political ranting, a sideline for me, hence the occasional nature of these pieces. They have become increasing occasional as time’s gone by and, the darkness of (the) age conspiring, my thoughts have erred off into diverse directions. So I am hoping to re-jig this page to allow for more variety,  more … alterity.

Alteritas, the late Latin original lying behind the contemporary buzzword, was as my domain name indicates its inspiration. To alteritas it shall return.

But do let me mention here in one parting political shot my conviction that capitalism is not sustainable, at least as far as humans are concerned. Socialism was only a theory when capitalism was already a behavior and then afterwards an ideology which spawned theory itself. But in a world where capitalism will soon leave humans behind as productive agents of profit and therefore as subjects of interest, the idea and the ideals of socialism remain relevant, if we want to keep humans around.

Enough said on that point.


Sad New Year’s Greeting

In guise of New Year’s greetings an old friend sent the following link to a piece in Truthdig by Neil Gabler:  Here is what I replied to him (revised for publication here).

Thanks for sharing this piece, and of course best wishes for 2018.

Yes, there is a lot of truth in what Gabler says, not just about the racial, gender and generational dimensions of the right wing ascendency, but the religious or quasi-religious social psychology behind it.

Yet I find him overly optimistic about the future of progressive politics in the US. To some extent, Gabler himself is contaminated by the American religiosity he describes. There may well be such a thing as “good” ethically-oriented religion, but I see religion as being generally on the wrong side of the proverbial long arc of which many progressives have spoken, sometimes with but a wing and a prayer. Religion has never been about compassion and ethics; on the rare occasions it moved beyond the primal reaction to fear and the subsequent tribalistic belief in being in some way a chosen people, religious ethics were at best a mitigating overlay, a cover. Marx had it right: religion is the opium of the people. Roughly 40% of the US people are addicted to it, and the rest still fall under its sway.

So I shall not be acting as if I believe that compassionate ethics will serve as a base for the mass movement required to reverse the capitalist order of things, or even the much more modest goal of social democratic movements to improve the lives of those who have only marginal, non-liquid capital, often the paltry pensions and home “equity” acquired via mortgages, those who are paid wages, those who pay rent and are not paid it.  Plus those not paid at all.

Indeed, this crisis may be marking the return of hard-line socialist, indeed communist alternatives to capitalism, or at least renewed consideration of them. Unfortunately, Americans, with their base-line religiosity and jerk-knee belief in (their own) human good have been ideologically innoculated against coherent materialist visions which would drive such a serious “class” struggle.

In other words, we are returning to the nineteenth century political logic in which Marxism and other socialist ideologies were understood by a minority as the sole way to resist capitalism. That will further exacerbate the conflict, especially since the plutocrats are already in power and will ruthlessly try to quash any prospects of change.

All this is say: I don’t like our chances, in 2018 or beyond.

Towards a European Confederation of Vichy States?

The unsettling report that Breitbart News will be expanding its operations from London and Jerusalem to Paris raises a number of questions about what kind of alt-right Europe it has in mind.

We don’t know if next year France first and then Germany will be able to withstand the rise of Marine Le Pen’s Front national or Frauke Petry’s Alternative für Deutschland, to say nothing of the other national chauvinist parties across Europe. In fact, another date with destiny is coming even sooner. The defeat of the December 4th constitutional referendum called by PM Matteo Renzi could trigger Italexit, the Italian equivalent of Brexit, and the withdrawal of the continent’s third largest economy from the Euro, likely a fatal blow. [Update 5 Dec: Renzi lost the Italian referendum and will be resigning]

What we can say with certainty is that forces are aligning against EU unity. The goal of Donald Trump’s “chief strategist” Stephen Bannon, who will be resigning as CEO of Breitbart, is without question to promote fracture of the post-war European project of unification.

What would Europe look like if Brussels and Berlin lose control and a swarm of xenophobic protectionist governments take over? For one thing, there will be increased inter-national conflict among them. The initial shape these frictions and clashes might take is already visible as the prospect of a hard Brexit grows.

There are many signs that some accomodation between the incoming Trump regime and Putin’s Russia is in the works, a new Yalta. Like the old one, this one will boil down to who gets what (Yalta is, ironically, in Crimea). Let us not make the mistake, however, of taking US isolationists, who now have considerable influence in the Republican Party, at their word. The US will not withdraw from the world stage any more than it did after Yalta. Instead, it is mutating in order to impose itself anew in different ways.

“Making America Great Again” entails the dismemberment of the rival centers of European political power established after WW2. As power vested in European unity dissolves, the antagonism between European law and rights on the one hand and US corporations on the other will be resolved in the favor of the latter, including social media giants like Google and Facebook. That is just the beginning.

Classic European imperialism was defined as the highest stage of capitalism, this as conceived against the background of WW1. Marxists of that time were optimistic. They imagined that capitalism had reached its acme. So let us not call the emergent form of imperialism before us now the “highest” let alone a “late” phase of capitalism. That it is driven by the dynamics of capital accumulation should not be doubted, though.

We have seen before what patriotic but militarily and economically subservient populist nation-states look like. The collapse of France before the onslaught of Germany led to the establishment of Vichy France, which served the interests of the German rulers of Europe but found nationalist ideological salve to justify its submission to them. We can already detect the outlines of this capitulation to US interests in the abject fawning of European Far Right leaders before the new American tyrant.

Is the fate of Western Europe to become a confederation of Vichy-like nationalist regimes allied with and subservient to the US? This is an increasingly real possibility upon which I shall comment in the weeks and months to come.

Is the Sky Falling?

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and shortly thereafter the Soviet Union collapsed only a few political scientists, they like to call themselves, could claim they saw it coming. Not just our hearts but our minds are fixed –  “fixated” it might be better to say – on continuity, stability, notions of what is already known. Change, however, is not only constant, it sometimes proceeds abruptly, swinging from one state to another in unforeseeable ways.

Last week we entered one of those chaotic state changes. We experienced a bifurcation within a system we had been thinking of as linear. The outcome cannot be predicted.

In the case of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “West” was able retrospectively to justify what was an extraordinary transformation that virtually no one had foreseen by putting this great Wendung down to the normal and expected victory of (capitalist) human values, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc, etc, over an alien tyranny. [On this point, see this 5 Dec piece in the Guardian:}

Behind such self-satisfied, chauvinistic reactions lies a larger dynamic. One crutch to which our minds cling is moral precept, which we imagine helps guide us through the chaos of our lives. Arguments people raise in political dispute are often ineffective because they come across like someone else’s moral precepts got up in the drag of reason.

I am no more exempt from these forms of blindness than anyone else. But a few weeks ago, like a cat who feels an earthquake in advance, I began battening down my mental hatches. I turned back in memory and then in inspiration to the political beliefs of my youth. I ended up voting Peace and Freedom as if grasping onto a raft after the wreck of a ship I had had forebodings about but boarded anyway. If you’ve got to go down, at least go down honorably in terms of your beliefs, preferably those you held when younger, when you still really cared.

If I knew how to bring capitalism to an end, a deep wish for most of my adult life, I might have tried harder or more systematically to do so. (On this point those who read French might enjoy Les thèses de décembre, the manifesto I co-wrote in Montreal when I was active in the socialist movement there forty years ago.)

I barely slept Tuesday night. When dawn came on Wednesday I felt I had been cast up by the vagaries of this storm onto a shore I had once sailed forth from. There was closure, of a sort, and in this closure itself a new beginning, at least for me.

Is Trump’s election one of those triggers which sets off chaos and eventually carnage around the world? We don’t know yet, but he is on record proposing a large number of policies destructive of world order as presently constituted. He is obviously an agent of creative destruction, the essence of capitalism according to the Austrian economist Schumpeter, who saw this inner dynamic as the principal contradiction which would led to its collapse. Others are not so sure. Like a virus which mutates to ensue its survival and proliferation, the economic system based on capital may well have a long future ahead.

So, yes, the sky may be falling, as chicken little warned. But the sky falls differentially depending on where and who you are. This is a corollary not only of chaos theory but of capitalism itself.