As I write I am watching the joint press conference, more a joint organized propaganda effort, held by newly, narrowly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and newly re-elected United States President Barack Obama. The media would have us believe that the men are separated by an ideological divide that puts the President on the left and the Prime Minister on the right. This is something of a spurious assessment and more of a self-serving obfuscation of the realpolitik facts on the ground. I say obfuscation because I believe that both the media and the agents of political power in the US and Israel fully understand that, to paraphrase a favorite metaphor of the American foreign policy class, there is no daylight between how Obama and Netanyahu view the issue of national security and Israeli imperialism. We like to believe, we are led to believe, that the American President brings a relatively pacific point of view to the events unfolding in Palestine and the greater Middle East and North Africa in contrast to Israeli belligerence. This is a foolish belief of course given the almost unyielding American support for every Israeli policy of expansion and military action in the past 50 years.
We see the Israeli/Palestinian situation as an essentially foreign i.e. un-American problem: one inherently weak party protecting itself from the predatory hatred of the other. Israel is beset by enemies on all sides and has taken many controversial (but ever justified) actions in order to secure their position and territorial integrity. Of course that position is self imposed and the territorial integrity is relative given the reality that the state of Israel is a completely artificial state founded by colonists. It is ironic that we see this is a “foreign” problem, of course, because the United States has the exact same origin story, at least in its own collective cultural consciousness. A persecuted religious minority transplanting itself into foreign soil enriched with theological and nationalistic significance by an important religious text. The side effects are of course the same as well; entrenchment followed by territorial expansion justified by self-inflicted isolation in alien lands. The natives become savages and the savages become enemies who must be first contained and then obliterated. The Americans did this to the indigenous populations and nations of the American continent and the Israelis are in the process of doing the same to the native Palestinian Arab population and non-european immigrants.
There is no daylight between the process of systematic extermination and containment perpetrated by the Americans against the “Indians” and the Israeli apartheid that has led to the slaughter of tens of thousands of Palestinians and the mass imprisonment and abuse of the same within controlled military camps and regions. Of course the Palestinians, like the “Indians”, have fought back offensively and in reaction to imperial incursion and both committed their own share of violent acts. The difference of course lies in the power structures that governs/governed the relationship between the invading and invaded parties. Both the Indians and the Palestinians started out in the majority in their realm but through attrition and patience on the part of the invading parties became exploited and abused minorities. This of course sets up the situation wherein the “natives” fight back and are then labeled violent aggressors thereby justifying ever more violent and draconian action against them and their interests. This macabre feedback loop is inherent to the imperialist mission and explains why those who are invaded and exploited are often the ones blamed for the violence inherent to imperial warfare and colonization.
History is of course written by the winners but this is only half of the truth. The “facts on the ground” are also authored by those in command and it is difficult if not impossible to get any information that would lead to a less biased assessment of any given imperialist/colonial situation. As it is with the exaggerated zeal of the converted the nationalistic fervor of the invader is magnified by the self-imposed nature of the situation at hand. This land was chosen by the invader and in time the invader comes to believe that indeed it was the land that chose him. This delusion is reinforced by the cultural zeitgeist fed by media, origin myths, and shared artistic interpretations of events.
This is the psychology of the conqueror and the creed of the victorious nation; a vital state of affairs for the perpetuation of the Pax Mercatus form of universal economic imperialism. Chaos on a nationalistic level preserves the capitalistic order of society by disrupting the ability of the proletariat to pull together and communicate. The more there is conflict between peoples over land and race and tradition the less effort will be spent investigating the real nature of capitalistic exploitation and creating a revolutionary democratic order. Read Conrad, Kipling, Achebe, Tolstoy; these great writers understood that capitalist preservation and expansion are at the center of the Imperialist mission. Exploitation and conflict go hand in hand. The less political power a people have the more they are in thrall to the market forces manipulated by those who control government and business systems. The Indians in America became pawns of the dictates of the American government in favor of Imperialist market expansion.
This same process is unfolding in Palestine. The West Bank and Gaza are now nothing more than prison camps for a population that is unwanted and indeed threatens the lie that Israel is the only bastion of participatory democracy in the Middle East. They are an inconvenient roadblock on the road to a true liberal democracy based upon market capitalism. The Middle East and North Africa are one of the last frontiers for the full expansion and implementation of the Pax Mercatus. The United States, or at least the capitalistic and governmental forces that control the policy of the nation, have a real interest in keeping the Palestinians, poor and a potential activist worker class, an unrepresented and unheard class of violent savages. There will never be peace in the Middle East within a capitalist paradigm. It is futile to even try; capitalism sees no profit in a free and empowered Palestinian population so there is no impetus for the capitalist governments of the West, especially the United States, to do anything in favor of Palestinian human rights. The conquest will continue until the basis of the Pax Mercatus, free market capitalism and the liberal representative democracy that preserves and expands the system. There is no profit in peace so we must forge ahead and create a system where profit is not to be considered in the context of human dignity.
Imagine if you will a foolish paradigm; a notion you may soon enough choose to forget. But imagine just the same. See the world as it is; riven, tempestuous, “everywhere man in chains”. There are mechanisms in the world, institutions and cabals. Not in a sense that an idiot would have you understand; no Bilderberg or Soros boardrooms or Masons. No something much more banal then all that. Governments and representative bodies, capitals and palaces and parliaments and cathedrals. All beautiful outward expressions of civil vitality and republican freedom. But of course the republic is shadow box, playing off the dreams and yearnings of catered nationalist sentiment. No real passion, no real potency, no real ambition. Just threadbare panache disguised as a national dialogue.
The world as it is, as it truly is, the people as they are, do not crave influence or ambition without limit. We do not look into the eyes of a golden god and hope for a lifetime gifted with the Midas touch.
We look deeply, longingly into the eye of a Cyclops. It is the eye that looks back whenever a man contemplates his life and work. Adolph von Menzel painted a masterwork called Steel Rolling Mill, but it is often called the Cyclops for the glowing furnace that stands gaping and glaring at the center of the composition. All working human beings know something of this eye, this point of contemplation and desperation. It is a life that stares back, a lifetime of work or worry or stress or fear condensed and floating like a collapsing star in the midst of an existence of existence, of the reality of pain and work and love and pleasure. The working human being is always watched by the Cyclops, by this beast of spiritual burden bourn by everyone not born sucking on silverware. No one but a true human being, a true member of the proletariat, can contend with this boogey of subtle, satisfying angst. No millionaire or potentate can understand the withering gaze of expectation, want, shame and lust that every human being who wants for anything must contend with at every moment from birth until death. Only the poor know this Cyclops. The rich can only comprehend a blind fate.
The perversion of government, the true friend of this Cyclops, this beast, makes us reluctant anarchists; not wanting misrule or the collapse of the social contract, but a mode of ruling ourselves without any sort of system built upon the inherent mistrust of the people, the proletariat. The problem with the current manifestation of the left wing is that it expects revolutionary results from a system inherently antithetical to the notion. We celebrate a democracy that never existed, a promise that was never fulfilled and we espouse in the name of institutions, values we never really practiced. There can be no democracy in a republican system, in a capitalist system, indeed in a system that does not recognize the inherent drive for comfort, happiness, love and improvement that define the human animal. There is no innate drive to wealth and there is no natural craving for the exploitation of others. This is taught, inculcated and is indeed mimicked without thought by generations who saw nothing but a celebration of greed and largesse in their societies and culture. There is no natural monopolist or millionaire. Humans want a more rich reward and have a simpler creed: respect, mutual and unforced, and love unyielding and understanding.
Why not try things anew? Why not risk death or pain in the pursuit of peace and happiness? You do already now, and within the current system any such satisfaction will be perpetually deferred. If you are being pushed over the edge why not then just jump? Perhaps you will land on your feet. Perhaps you can live to see the day when the working part of humanity looks back into the eye of the Cyclops and force him to blink. It was a foolish paradigm, I know that now, and you should not feel guilty for forgetting about it all.
“What we are witnessing is the closing of the American mind.” This not at all sanguine appraisal of the contemporary American condition is offered tonight by radio demagogue Mark Levin. This sage of American reactionary pedagogy is of course a corporate tool and shill for the capitalist establishment but that does not mean he does not have a certain understanding of the conditions underlying that problem that faces us today, albeit unwitting.
In a civil society you must have a moral order. Right versus wrong, good versus evil, just versus unjust, and means versus ends. They’re not the same thing, and when we talk about moral order, you must have a moral order to have a rule of law, for the free market to work, to advance national security.
This declaration of principles is an almost perfect elucidation of the reactionary capitalist doxa. The argument of Right and Wrong are a convenient dichotomy for those attempting to disguise their lack of moral authority. Compassionate conservatism (see compassionate capitalism) failed, globalized market based prosperity is a oxymoronic farce and supply side theology has been abandoned as the worst sort of wishful thinking by any capitalist economic theorist not wishing to be laughed out of the ivory tower. All that remains to the reactionary capitalist is the fantasy that what they do is for the Right against the Wrong; painting change as an intrinsic Wrong perpetrated against the “people”, in reality the consumer, the customer. Levin is also correct that there must be a moral order, or at least a beloved facsimile of one. This can be patriotism, or family values (actually Bible based Christian paternalist misogyny and authoritarianism), or the most potent, love for the free market. On that issue the American mind is indeed “closed”. Or at least it would appear at first glance.
The Now is the essence of the inevitable. What we experience and live on a moment by moment basis seems to demand the a priori acceptance of the conditions being experienced as inherent to existence. Or at least this is the case in the realm of societal evolution. The status quo is an addictive prospect and a potent intellectual narcotic. This is why it is so often drafted in the reactionary philosophy. “You must have a moral order to have a rule of law, for the free market to work, to advance national security.” Levin actually repeats himself three times in this sentence: the rule of law is the free market which is the main impetus and rational for the aggressive militarization of the police state and conversion of the military into a police apparatus known as National Security. “It’s a free country”, we are reminded by the political Right, their voice raising another octave. Of course, but freedom to what end? Freedom to consume? Freedom to choose where and when to consume? “Would you, sir, like to take the red train to hell or the green?” In an imperial system there is, by definition, no freedom. There cannot be. The peace maintained not for the proletariat but for those exploiting their needs and aspirations is the Pax Mercatus, the peace of the market. This peace of course is a false concept as it is in any imperially imposed idyll. Participate in the system or else allow it to drain you of life. But there then is the contradiction of freedom, the false choice; choosing to participate will just as surely drain you. So the peace, the inevitable, is the realization that life is as it is and there is no use in fighting that fact. At least you have some time and enjoyment while you are being drained! At least you get to ride the train. The freedom beloved by the people is the freedom to choose the method of their own exploitation, and of course even this is a false choice. Where do you hide in an all-pervasive system? How do you survive in a world of capital and greed by being poor and unselfish? You either consume or are consumed and of course the former is just a roundabout way of coming to the latter. So what is the moral order of the reactionary capitalist supporters? Inertia.
In his Discourses Machiavelli said
“Prudent men always and in all their actions make a favour of doing things even though they would of necessity be constrained to do them anyhow.”1
This is a delightfully pragmatic proposal that nonetheless exposes an insidious though essential aspect of the imperial capitalist system. The favour in this case is capitalist governmental structure’s maintaining the right to a stable and humane living through the fruits of one’s own labor. This labor is of course appropriated by the corporate system and the government whose main interest is in maintaining the capitalist power structure and divvied up the way this power structure sees fit. The tax structure in the USA maintains a token all but subsistence level “social safety net” and finances a full blown welfare system for corporate interests. This illusion of “prosperity” is the basis of the claim that the American system is the most successful and free in the world. The proletariat is given just enough to survive the work needed to maintain the system that keeps them in thrall to the corporate controlled government structure and just enough hope to motivate them into working beyond what is healthy or sane in order to grasp at an all but impossible future in the upper echelon of the class structure. Belief in this fantasy is inculcated in the population by an educational system, funded by the arbitrary tax value of property, that is increasingly maintained as a factory for creating minds ready and willing to participate in the capitalist market. Art, social studies, physical education or anything else that would lead to a rational mind and healthy body is eliminated in favor of class-biased standardized testing and even market based programs like “Sales”, “Business”, and “finance” classes. So in the end the “American Dream” is the appropriation of labor from the proletariat so that it may be given back to them in smaller and pre-determined allotments, minus the “surplus” needed to maintain th capitalist corporate welfare system that enforces the unending toil and exploitation required to make the proletariat create the wealth that can then be appropriated. No one ever said the capitalist system was not thorough.
This of course leads to the sublimation of any sort of proletarian activism or economic consciousness. “Hard work” is what leads to “success” but of course both concepts are arbitrary standards composed and maintained by a corporate business class that has a vested interest in cheap and overworked service workers. The American mind is not closing, as Levin argues, but is already sealed shut. For the majority of workers alienated from the means of production, the creation of capital, or the mechanisms of control there is no conceivable escape from this system. In fact any attempt by the leftist class conscious forces within society, where the in fact exist at all, is shunned and attacked by the working and middle classes as a dangerous affront against the system that gives them the chance to keep themselves “comfortable” and advancing towards the goal of entering the capitalist class of entrepreneurs and managers. As John Steinbeck said, Americans are not able to move beyond this vicious and exploitative cycle because in their own minds they are but “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” There is no better way to ensure servitude then to promise freedom.
National security is a key term to recognize and understand within the context of a global capitalist system. The national security state took hold as a seeming means unto itself around the time that the collapse of state communism left the capitalist authorities bereft of a raison d’etre relating to their increased militarization. The retardation of Communism was abandoned in favor of the expansion of the global free market. These concepts of course have essentially the same meaning; the maintenance of forces, systems, and circumstances that are friendly to exploitation of the local proletariat. The Pax Americana ended out of necessity so that the Pax Mercatus could rise, the latter being the post-national synthesis of multinational corporate capitalism with nationalistic imperialism. There is no locus of power beyond the financial centers and boardrooms of the corporate and managerial class. The entire world is feudalized and each human being owes a life-term of “hard work” to contribute to the capitalist system and its expansion.
Peace is needed for this sort of system to work, a certain sort of peace that preserves the prerogative of the market forces, which are of course merely the whims and wishes of the robber barons and multinationals. The multinational uses resources collected from the proletariat of the various industrialized nations in order to expand and maintain the status quo in regions of the world where democracy has not yet softened the desire of the proletariat to fight for a feature less assured but more humane in potential. The people of the industrial democracies do not dispute, for the most part, the choice of intervening in the affairs of “less developed” nations. This is because the potent mix of nationalism and xenophobia cultivated and stoked by the government and its reactionary tools in the media and cultural institutions. In this effort religion is less an opiate than a stimulant pushing society towards a violent hatred for and confrontation by proxy with the proletariat of another state. War is exported abroad in order to spread peace and prosperity at home. We are even told that through war will come peace, peace in the sort of way that only an un-wittingly exploited and placated democratic populace can comprehend. War is preferable to peace because peace would mean the inertia required to maintain the order would have more of a chance to be disturbed. Idle hands and idle minds tend to stray towards innovation or at least contemplation. Besides, as Lenin said
“a certain period of acute economic dislocation and chaos, which accompany all wars, and civil war in particular, is inevitable, before the resistance of the bourgeoisie is crushed”2
And the proletariat does not want war, it does not want upheaval and chaos and change. At least it does not think it wants it. Not yet at least. In this regard Levin is correct, but only by mistake. The American mind is closed, but that does not mean it cannot be opened.
- The Discourses, Machiavelli, Niccolo, trans. Walker, Leslie J, and Richardson, Brian, Penguin Classics Ed.
- 2. On The History Of The Question Of The Unfortunate Peace, Lenin, V.I., http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/jan/07.htm
[Analysis of the Moyers and Company interview of Dr. Richard Wolff airing 22/2/13
All quotes from the show are in italics]
Things just get more and more interesting. Today I had the pleasure of watching the show Moyers and Company on PBS during one of my many late night working sprees. I was surprised to find the doyen of left-wing media interviewing an economist from the ideological wilderness, at least when compared to most economists who are blessed with the status if media talking head. Richard Wolff is a graduate of Harvard, Stanford and Yale and currently teaches at the New School University in New York and at the Sorbonne in Paris. This is the sort of pedigree that produces your Larry Summers or your Alan Greenspan’s; loyal officers in the command of capitalist industry and the powers that be in their thrall. Not so Dr. Wolff. He is a proud critic of the capitalist institutions that the people of the US, or rather the proletariat, have come to depend on and all but worship. He made it known to Mr. Moyers that he makes special effort to go beyond his classical economics education, the realm of Smith and Keynes et al, and into the much maligned and feared realm of Marxist critiques of the traditional economic theories of capitalist orthodoxy.
He describes himself as a Marxian economist in the tradition of Etienne Balibar and other continental Marxist philosopher/theorists. He is a proponent of what he refers to as “worker self-directed enterprises”, a form of democratic economic worker organization that aims to defuse the authority from within a business or place of work back to the workers so that they may have a real and empowering stake in the mode of production and the allocation of excess capital. Dr. Wolff sees such a pursuit as a step in the direction of larger scale socio-economic reform that can in time facilitate “democratiz[ing] education”.1
Moyers knew he was dealing with a figure of immense energy and expressiveness and he kept his questions simple but to the point. The focus was mainly on the assumptions made about the American capitalist system and the benefits and drawbacks inherent to the system. Dr. Wolff discussed the impact of the Roosevelt New Deal policies on the modern perception of government action in the market system. Roosevelt struck what was then a grand bargain with a segment of the corporate class and capitalist barons of industry that allowed for the creation of the modern welfare state that preserved a semblance of order and comfort in a market that had gone haywire mostly on account of capitalist abuse (or I suppose proper use) of market mechanisms. Dr. Wolff made clear his belief that the robust minority of socialist, anarchist and communist parties and movements in the early 20th century pushed the greater civil society towards demanding just such a bargain that Roosevelt ended up making. This collaboration ended with the end of the boom caused by war spending during the global conflict of 1939-1945 as the newly coalescing middle classes separated from the proletariat roots of reform and gained a foothold in the rising market state bolstered by the funding of the welfare state. Dr. Wolff said “After the war the history of the US was the history of the dismantling of the communist and socialist parties and the unions.” This process, according to the good Doctor, continues to this day and has reached full expression in the populist hatred of organized labor and the welfare state itself. Such antagonism appears as a reactionary fear of losing the promise of “The American Dream”.
Moyers pressed the issue and asked some pointed questions probing this thesis. Would the American proletariat be perpetually stuck in this mode of reinforcing through belief and coerced participation their own exploitation by the forces behind market mechanisms? The story so far was verging close to fatalism. But Dr. Wolff was far from fatalistic. He confirmed that indeed “[Americans] thought that the American dream got better and better and got more available[and] They can’t quite believe it’s not there anymore”, but this was not to be taken as an excuse for perpetual pessimism. Just because the American proletariat had a longer way to fall did not mean that they would never reach rock bottom, a point where even the placated American worker would find his situation unbearable. Dr. Wolff says that what is needed to achieve the American Dream i.e. credit, debt, grueling work and an education that most people will not be able to pay-off until they have their first grandchild, is becoming ever more and more impossible. Dr. Wolff explains that this realization that the American dream that the proletariat was promised in exchange for their fealty to the capitalist system no longer really exists anymore and this realization
“[…] produces a kind of stasis, a kind of shock […] and then a boiling over.”
It is this “boiling over” that Dr. Wolff sees as the true reason for optimism in the face of a nihilistic capitalist system. Perhaps then the American proletariat can begin to see their future beyond this dream that has become a nightmare for so many and forge a new promise that can be sustained and passed from one generation to the next.
Moyers ended the interview on this positive note and I could not help but feeling a bit disappointed. The interview had lasted the better part of an hour but I really did want to hear more from a classically trained economist who nonetheless subscribed to Marxist theory and social democratic principles. It is rare enough to find such a point of view expressed in public media discourse. Marxism is still taboo in the capitalist wonderland (or rather dystopia) that is the United States and to see it talked about in an unbiased manner by a man who is both a critic and a proponent of the theories involved was refreshing indeed. Dr. Wolff explained that within the realm of business (a discipline he insists is entirely separate than the pursuit of pure economics)
“if you criticize capitalism then you do not understand it.” 2
Wolff puts the lie to this notion with this interview and I do hope that he will have chance to make this clear to a wider audience in the future.
- Democracy Realized, Wolff, Richard, retrieved from http://rdwolff.com/content/democracy-realized
- All quotes in italics from Interview with Dr. Richard Wolff,