May 10, 2005

The Dialectics of the Neo-Liberal Firmament (Oil and Vichy Too!)

Poseur alert:

This is the proper frame for understanding what has happened in Iraq. It is only as part of this neo-liberal firmament, in which a dominant capitalist core has begun to find it harder and harder to benefit from ‘consensual’ market expansion or corporate mergers and asset transfers, that the preference for the military option makes sense.

Marx had no illusions about the role of force in his own time. But he did seem to believe that the age of violent expropriation was at an end. It was capitalism’s strength that it had internalised coercion, so to speak, and that henceforward the ‘silent compulsions of economic relations’ would be enough to compel the worker to ‘sell the whole of his active life’. We are not the first to think Marx too sanguine in this prognosis. In fact it has turned out that primitive accumulation is an incomplete and recurring process, essential to capitalism’s continuing life. Dispossession is crucial to this, and its forms recur and reconstitute themselves endlessly. Hence the periodic movement of capitalism outwards, to geographies and polities it can plunder almost unopposed. (Or so it hoped, in the case of Iraq.)

Will military neo-liberalism endure? With the US deficit rolling along at $600 billion annually, and the national debt rising to $2.5 trillion, the cost-benefit balance of the strategy looks dubious. And, two years after the tanks rolled across the Euphrates floodplain, the occupation and its Vichy surrogate barely have control of Baghdad.

Vichy surrogate! Nice touch. (And note the barely concealed glee of the "or so it hoped" in the parenthetical above). The neo-Marxist jargon continues to come fast and furious, and the high-brow Mooreians tell you why it's all about oil here. The LRB should open up to a wider range of views a bit more often, no? It's becoming something of a ragsheet for the tired bromides of hyper-incestuous, rather disconsolate left academia. But I guess it moves the requisite paper in Islington and Clerkenwell. Everyone needs to stoop to the crudities of neo-liberalism now and again, alas. More seriously, why are these self-described "writers and activists" comparing a fledgling government made up of moderates seeking a pluralistic society--and involved in a bloody struggle against fanatical radicals indiscrimately killing thousands via the scourge of terror tactics--to cowards who collaborated with Nazi Germany? What have I missed, apart from their dark relativism and deep ignorance?

Posted by Gregory at May 10, 2005 05:39 AM | TrackBack (19)
Comments

You've missed their blatant intellectual dishonesty, their vileness, and yes, their evil.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 10, 2005 07:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hmm... Might pay to back off the Caffeine there Barry.

By and large the biggest problem socialists/marxists make is that the fail to understand probably one if the few highly consistent human behaviours which underpins ecnomics at all levels. Most human beings (with all but a few exceptions - bhuddists and the like) want more tomorrow than they have today and the want that at the least possible cost or effort. When combined with hopefully ethical behaviour you have the fundamental driver of a capitalist society.

Given that highly pervasive of human desire its relatively easy to understand why socialism and maxism are poor systems for managing ecnomies, and when combined with totalitarian political regimes are an abject failure. Which is why democracy and capitalism go so well together. But capitalism has its flaws to - the concept of ethical behaviour which unfortunately is too rare in our society, and the failure to integrate power (political and economic) into Politco-ecnomic models.

But the number or people prepared to sacrifice that basic desire to have more is never ever going to come anywhere near the number of people prepared to act ethically in search of fulfilling that desire... and so its a zero sum game.

I beleive that there is a need to rationalise social spending into relative concepts of Social Investments and Costs... but thats an argument for another time.

So in a very long winded way what I am trying to say is that socialists/marxist live in a fantasy world because they are unable to or unprepared to accept basic human nature.

Posted by: Aran Brown at May 10, 2005 08:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Alas, if it were only the caffeine....

Anyway, the tolerant rationalizations in this case escape me. Though I suppose everything is connected....

But then to understand, or to think one does, is all too often to forgive. (The strength---and weakness---of the humanist?)

(Back on topic, I forgot to mention malevolent ahistoricity and unrepentant perversity)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 10, 2005 09:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

More seriously, why are these self-described "writers and activists" comparing a fledgling government made up of moderates seeking a pluralistic society--and involved in a bloody struggle against fanatical radicals indiscrimately killing thousands via the scourge of terror tactics--to cowards who collaborated with Nazi Germany? What have I missed, apart from their dark relativism and deep ignorance?

perhaps you missed the fact that the collaborationists in Vichy France were "moderates" who had accepted a fait accompli, and that the resistance in France were nationalists who (with the help of foreigners) engaged in terrorist tactics to throw out the occupying army in what appeared to be, two years after the invasion of France, pretty much of a hopeless cause.

In other words, if you eliminate your Ameri-centrist biases, the parallels are obvious. The fact that no two situtations are exactly the same does not mean they cannot be compared.

The neo-Marxist jargon continues to come fast and furious, and the high-brow Mooreians tell you why it's all about oil here.

actually, the "capitalist expansion" explanation comes as close as anything to explain why the US invaded Iraq. But it only comes close, because there really is no reason why we invaded other than the fact that Bush wanted to invade. There were lots of "rationalizations" for the invasion of course --- but there are enough facts out there to make it obvious that there was no compelling reason for the invasion, and 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy'.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 10, 2005 12:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Most human beings (with all but a few exceptions - bhuddists and the like) want more tomorrow than they have today and the want that at the least possible cost or effort.

the assumption that human beings are innately insatiable, and that their hunger can only be accomodated through the accumulation of material goods, is neither historically nor anthropologically sound.

there is little to back up the contention that most individuals are innately greedy --- an infant whose hunger is sated seldom demands more. Human's, like just about all other animals, have historically struggled for enough to survive, and humans have done so in a tribal setting. "More" is needed only when conditions are favorable for population growth within a tribe.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 10, 2005 01:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For Mr. Lukasiak's parallels between Iraq and Vichy France to stand up, you have to liken the Resistance to Al-Qaida. One fought for freedom and human dignity, the other fights for a dark form of tyranny not seen since, well, Nazi Germany. He merely confirms what others have said better than I ever could, that liberal thought has gotten lost in the wood of relativism and moral equivalence and can't seem to find its way out. If judging that freedom is a good thing and tyranny a bad thing makes me Ameri-centrist, then I plead guilty.

Posted by: Jeff at May 10, 2005 03:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For Mr. Lukasiak's parallels between Iraq and Vichy France to stand up, you have to liken the Resistance to Al-Qaida.

not in the least, insofar as most observers believe that the bulk of the Iraqi insurgency is composed of Iraqis themselves. (in this parallel, the US & GB would play the "al Qaeda" role as an outside source that is helping and working toward the same goals as the "resistance".)

He merely confirms what others have said better than I ever could, that liberal thought has gotten lost in the wood of relativism and moral equivalence and can't seem to find its way out.

and you confirm what everyone knows about right-wingers --- that they are so convinced of their own moral superiority (regardless of how many people they kill in pursuit of their 'morality') that they confuse observations about the dynamic and strategies of international relations with their own biases --- they accuse liberals of "moral relativism" at the same time they accept actions taken on behalf of their "moral" cause that, when those actions are taken by the other side, are considered outrages against humanity.

The problem here is that the insurgents in Iraq feel just as morally justified as American right-wingers do, and understanding that is necessary to coming up with an effective strategy for dealing with the insurgency.

Right-wingers should first ask themselves what they would consider to be an effective strategy against them, if the situation was reversed, and an Islamic fundamentalist government had invaded and occupied the United States, and was attempting to impose its will on the American people --- and these same right-winger were part of the resistance to the occupation of the USA. (while, of course, us liberals were trying to work WITH our conquerors :) )

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 10, 2005 03:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, the dominant elements in the French resistance were Communists eager to replace rule from Berlin with rule from Moscow. The strongest part of the non-Communist resistance arrived with the Allied armies in the summer of 1944.

There had been lots and lots of ardent, non-Communist French nationalists in France at one time. Most of them, including most of their leaders, were killed or crippled in World War I. This goes far to explain both the French collapse in 1940 and the passivity with which most of the country accepted Nazi rule during the next four years.

You can tie yourself in knots arguing by historical analogy. The effort required to ignore differences between the situations of different countries at different times -- and to ignore the possibility of similarities between them being products of coincidence -- is usually too great to make it worthwhile except, as here, when the object is to score undergraduate debating points.

Posted by: JEB at May 10, 2005 04:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was truly struck by Gregory's comment that ethical acts are rare. Surely, the unethical headline grabs your attention, but I have found Americans to be highly ethical. I witness small daily
ethical acts all the time; and even if it went against the financial interests of the actor. Sorry Gregory,
but perhaps you should widen your social circle.

A few years ago one of my teenagers asked me
"What is communisim?" I realized that to her...
communisim was history and had no bearing on her
life like it had to us older folks. You know what?
It is history. Communist society was rife with corruption from day one. You talk about your right
winger killers....I think the left wing killers did more
killing with their left wing moral superiority.

The bottom line is that people love to be little capitalists...I see it everyday. Even if it just
purchasing a two family house for an investment,
people love to do these things. Our goal should be to always provide a social safety net for those for whatever reason need help.

The French resistance vs. Iraqi....come on, let's
compare oranges with oranges and apples with
apples. Iraq is obviously more than something President Bush wanted to do....there are many long
term geopolitical goals involved...so look past your
noses. However, it has proved much more costly than anyone probably considered.

Posted by: Norm204 at May 10, 2005 04:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. there is obviously no surplus of capital for investment in the US now, so there is NO reason for capital to attempt to find more outlets.
2. Seizing assets is a different approach, I suppose. But there has been no seizing of assets by the US in Iraq, nor does it appear there ever were plans to.
3. The current Iraqi government is not moderates accepting a fait accompli - they are people were brutally oppressed by the prior regime, and who are attempting to establish a democratic regime in its stead. The new regime has more opportunities for trade union activism, for feminism, and for true democratic socialism than the Baathist regime had. Even the Communist Party of Iraq recognizes this. It is in this context that the comparison to Vichy is vile.


Posted by: liberalhawk at May 10, 2005 06:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There had been lots and lots of ardent, non-Communist French nationalists in France at one time. Most of them, including most of their leaders, were killed or crippled in World War I. This goes far to explain both the French collapse in 1940 and the passivity with which most of the country accepted Nazi rule during the next four years.

this is pure nonsense. The French government prior to WWII was run by right-wingers.... the reason that France and Britain allowed Germany to rearm, annex Czechoslovakia, etc. was not "appeasement" --- it was because France and Britain feared the possibility of Soviet agression, and a strong Germany could help prevent that.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 10, 2005 09:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yea - Greg's back

Nicely put, DJ. Especially "dark relativism and deep ignorance"

You know, that'd make a great blog title. [FRANCHISE ALERT]

Posted by: Tommy G at May 11, 2005 12:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Much of the Left really hasn't adjusted to the end of the Cold War. A large portion of it identified with Stalin and his terror, hoping that they could at last be the hand holding the whip. Others more charitably yelled "Stop" when various US Presidents, mostly Kennedy and Reagan, acted provocatively wrt Nuclear Armament. This latter action was at least honorable and may have proved decisive in avoiding global nuclear war.

However, the Left today really only stands for PC run amok. To call the jihadis, a Saudi (bin Laden) and a Jordanian (Zarqawi) in Iraq "the Resistance" is absurd and immoral. Deliberately and sadistically murdering non-combatants by abducting them, raping them, and beheading them (Margaret Hassan), deliberately blowing up children, is the work of Nazi-type individuals whom the Left openly celebrates.

NONE of the jihadis has any goal but violence and terror. When faced with the choice of free elections and the hope to restore another brutal bloody strongman like Saddam, the jihadis choose Saddam 2.0, and so do the Leftists.

Really, the Left is beset by a fantasy ideology. That nothing anti-Western terrorists do is wrong (we see constant justifications of brutal beheadings of ordinary people, 9/11, everything else including Dafur). That Western powers can make everything right by not killing anyone, at any time, anywhere. That Superman and the Superfriends exist to set all things right. The Left simply put does not dwell in reality, instead of concentrating on military affairs, technology, and economics, they construct Chomsky-ite jargon to conceal the moral bankruptcy.

The most interesting thing about the Communists during WWII is their NAZI bent after the Stalin-Hitler pact. During 1939, 1940, and 1941 prior to the June invasion of the Soviet Union, Communists throughout Europe and the US enthusiastically promoted pacifism or open collaboration with Hitler. At least De Gaulle from the start tried to fight Hitler, as did Churchill. Their actions are due respect. Communists?

Mere puppets of Stalin.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at May 11, 2005 12:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Paul,

I fundamentally disagree with your sysnopsis of human nature. I'm not talking about greed - which could best be characterised in the context as irrational desire for more, to the degree where it encourages unethical behaviour. Which is quite different to having the desire for more (food, or whatever) as it makes life easier and more comfortable.

If as you assert that the dsire to accumulate more is not a fundamental aspect of human behaviour then how can you explain the development and evolution of human beings to this point. Every single civilasation and culutre had always within their cultural and moral norms embraced new technologies and methods that provide more. Its an inescapable fact of history. Contract to your assertion.

This is not insatiable desire. That some individuals in society will end up at this point however I'm not disputing. However I will suggest that these individuals would outnumber the true altrurists in most societies anyway, andwhethr you like ti or not capitalism provides are far better mechanism than socialism or communism.

The largess at the top of the Soviet Communist party and others bears testament to this, which combined with unfettered power led to as we know mass murder and all sorts of unpleasantness. Comtract this with the immoral behaviour of those at the top end of the capitalist system (business men only of course - as politics and business are still separate if not intertwined systems) - it hardly compares...

Posted by: Aran Brown at May 11, 2005 01:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PS Sorry for my crap typing today

Posted by: Aran Brown at May 11, 2005 01:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Lukasiak said:

"this is pure nonsense. The French government prior to WWII was run by right-wingers.... the reason that France and Britain allowed Germany to rearm, annex Czechoslovakia, etc. was not "appeasement" --- it was because France and Britain feared the possibility of Soviet agression, and a strong Germany could help prevent that."

Please.

British and French governments in the '20's and '30's reflected the horror of war that their populations felt after WWI. It was that deep and honorable desire to avoid another war (misguided though it was) that led them to unilateral disarmament, "peace with honor", appeasement (yes, it was most certainly appeasement) and ultimately into WWII. If the Soviet threat had dominated their policy decisions they would never have disarmed.

As for the French government being run by "right-wingers" during the years between the wars, the briefest research shows that France was run by coalitions that varied from generally center-left to generally center-right over those years. Daladier of Munich fame was a Radical who at times served in coalition governments with Socialists and Conservatives.

Jeff

Posted by: Jeff at May 11, 2005 02:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If as you assert that the dsire to accumulate more is not a fundamental aspect of human behaviour then how can you explain the development and evolution of human beings to this point. Every single civilasation and culutre had always within their cultural and moral norms embraced new technologies and methods that provide more. Its an inescapable fact of history. Contract to your assertion.

I used the words "greed" and "insatiable" in response to the premise Most human beings (with all but a few exceptions - bhuddists [sic] and the like) want more tomorrow than they have today... which implied that "wanting more" was an innate trait of "most humans" as individuals.

Your discussion of "cultures and civilizations" is of a whole different order --- how humans organized as tribes/packs/groups. As the "pack" grew, the collective need for "more" for the pack was established---thus the cultural norm for "embracing new technologies." etc. (of course, this "embrace of new technologies" was far from a cultural norm in many cases, including western civilization, where scientists were often prosecuted for heresy.")

(It should also be noted that "packs" also organize themselves around "alphas" --- the individuals who do innately "want more", but a pack that was full of nothing but "alphas" would self destruct.)

I would suggest that the tendency of most individuals in some cultures (certainly not "most" cultures) to want "more" is not innate, but is culturally determined. Among other things, the culture defines what is "sufficient" --- and in a consumer/advertising driven culture "enough" is virtually defined out of existence.

The whole point here is that the post to which I was referring posited "capitalism" as desirable based on innate traits of humans as individuals. But "wanting more" is "innate" to humans only as "pack" animals, in the same way that a pride of lions will "want more" territory as it grows, and has more mouths to feed. If one wants to discuss economic systems as a function of innate human traits, "socialism" is far more appropriate a system, because it is more consistent with the "tribal" impulse to expand.

(This is not to say that "socialism" is the best system, only that if one wishes to based an economic system on "human nature" in its purest form, a socialist system makes far more sense.)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 11, 2005 12:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

British and French governments in the '20's and '30's reflected the horror of war that their populations felt after WWI. It was that deep and honorable desire to avoid another war (misguided though it was) that led them to unilateral disarmament, "peace with honor", appeasement (yes, it was most certainly appeasement) and ultimately into WWII. If the Soviet threat had dominated their policy decisions they would never have disarmed.

disarmament occurred well before the Soviet Union was perceived as a threat --- indeed, the "Soviet Union" existed more as a concept than as a reality at the end of WWI, and the Communists did not fully consolicate their power until after the civil war which ended in 1920, and Stalin did not come to power until 1924.

In other words, your view of history assumes that nothing changed between the end of WWI and the Munich pact. This, of course, is nonsense --- Russia was a mess at the end of WWI, and did not represent an expansionist threat to anyone at that time. By the beginning of the 1930's, however, Stalin had consolidated his personal power, and the USSR began to emerge as a threat to Western Europe.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 11, 2005 01:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

how is one supposed to engage in intelligent discussion with someone who says something like

NONE of the jihadis has any goal but violence and terror.

One needn't endorse all the methods employed by jihadis to recognise that their goal is the establishment of Islamic states under a "fundamentalist" version of Sharia law. Nor does it make any sense to suggest that all jihadis are engaged in/support all the methods employed by others involved in the insurgency.

How is it that right-wingers can ascribe the abuses perpetrated by Americans to a "few bad eggs" despite the fact that the US military is extremely hierarchal and organized, but believe that the worst offenses of those involved in the insurgency are characteristic of everyone involved in the insurgency----despite the fact that the insurgency is neither extremely hierarchal nor especially organized?

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 11, 2005 01:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Lukasiak says:

"If one wants to discuss economic systems as a function of innate human traits, "socialism" is far more appropriate a system, because it is more consistent with the "tribal" impulse to expand.

(This is not to say that "socialism" is the best system, only that if one wishes to based an economic system on "human nature" in its purest form, a socialist system makes far more sense.)"

I guess that is why socialism has been a stunning success wherever it has taken root on the planet, and capitalism has failed everywhere it has been tried.


Jeff

Posted by: Jeff at May 11, 2005 03:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I guess that is why socialism has been a stunning success wherever it has taken root on the planet, and capitalism has failed everywhere it has been tried.

would you like a list of socialist successes, and capitalism's failures?

Would you like to start with the USA, where "capitalism" lead to the Great Depression, and only "socialist" programs like Social Security, the WPA, et.al. were successful in relieving the suffering of tens of millions of Americans?

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 12, 2005 12:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's be clear on our terms here. If support for any social welfare program whatsoever makes one a socialist, then by your definition we are all socialists--no serious politician in this country favors terminating all of our social welfare programs. But it is the fact that ours are more modest, generally, than elsewhere that's a big reason why our economy far outstrips the strength of socialist heavens like Sweden and other European countries. When I talk about socialism versus capitalism I mean whether fundamental economic decisions are made by government or left to the private sector. History has made clear that socialism, defined that way, has been a dismal failure.

Yours is an idealized view of human beings that is inconsistent with reality. As one noted philosopher and loyal Democrat once sang, "Poor men want to be rich, rich men want to be king." That's a much more realistic view of human nature.

Jeff

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