Most of my friends are liberals who do not share the political outlook I’ve come to, these past few years. Since I don’t choose friends on that basis, and nor in the main do they, this does not usually pose any great problem. My posts, even on matters as serious as Syria and Putin, are tacitly set to one side as we speak of other things over coffee, a walk or a pint.
The quandary the Left faces is twofold: how to oppose Trumpians, and other neo-nationalist insurgencies, without serving the interests of neoliberalism; and how to oppose neoliberalism without serving the interests of the neo-nationalists. CounterPunch, 30/1/17
To cut to the chase, Jackie gave me an ear-bending last week. Truth is, she was a tad sharp. She may have thought so too because next day she brought me coffee with a chocolate. Why, she asked, didn’t I write down my fundamental premises so she could see where I was coming from with all of this? Chocolate or no, I thought the idea daft and said so. (Drawing, I hasten to add, on every last nuance afforded by spoken English and my deep wells of emotional intelligence.) HTF could I do that? Surely the onus was on her to acquaint herself with my writing and let me know where she disagreed or sought clarification?
But I too softened my stance. Was this not an opportunity, not only for enriching our state of domestic bliss but honing my own axioms and assumptions?
So here we go.
Situations arise on the world stage, filtered and packaged for us by corporate media. Those we do not simply ignore – itself an ideological act – we make sense of within belief frameworks whose ontologies lie beyond the scope of this post. (They also vary person to person, though less perhaps than we in the individualist west like to believe.) My analyses of world events and situations are shaped by and give focus to more general conclusions drawn as my blog content shifted, with no a-priori intent on my part, from film reviews .. through travel .. higher education casualisation .. higher education marketisation .. privatisation UK .. privatisation global .. to a reappraisal of what drives the west’s wars on Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America; and what informs its rising tensions with Russia and China.
It’s been a movement of emphasis rather than strict linear progression. I write few film reviews these days but do as much travel writing as ever. As a proportion of my (increased) total output, however, politics now dominate – witness the newly updated search-by-category menu (right sidebar). My understandings of such as Brexit, Corbyn, Putin, Syria, Ukraine and the 2016 US election are, again, informed by core conclusions reached or rediscovered in the course of that progression in my writing. These are that:
Capitalism, which freed humanity from slavery and feudalism, has long ceased to play any useful role in human development. Its benefits are in absolute if not relative terms solely to the narrow interests of a ruling class defined by its monopoly ownership of the means of wealth creation. This monopoly ownership ensures that wealth is produced only when and where profitable, not when and where needed.
Too few grasp capitalism’s most basic reality; an overriding imperative of chasing the highest return on capitals which must take priority over any other factor: peace, human welfare, social justice, democracy, rule of law and ultimately the ability of the planet to sustain human life. See Privatise the world! Monetise it all!
Capitalism reached the stage of imperialism (as distinct from colonialism) more than a century ago, as transnational companies and states in the North extract super-profits by way of an arms-length exploitation of abundant cheap labour – with wages held down by a mix of factors, not least fear and state coercion – in the global South. Boycotting Primark may help us feel good about ourselves but, since the exploitation is an important source of tax revenues in the North, the issue is too generalised, too systemic and too entrenched to be affected by such gestures.
(I’m in a readers’ group studying John Smith’s invaluable though empirically dense work, Imperialism. Expect an essay-length post on the relevance of Marx’s labour theory of value to the cruel deception, encapsulated in the term ‘developing world’, that the global South can ever ‘catch up’ with the North. It can’t, and the reason is painfully simple. The North is ahead of the South because it is cheating the South.)
Imperialism drives almost all modern conflict: either in the form of inter-imperial rivalry or of imperialism, usually America led, disciplining non-compliant imperialised nations.
The discourse on any given war, on climate change, on stupendous inequality, on the 2008 crisis and much more is framed by overarching narratives woven by the fourth estate: not just billionaire media, but also liberal organs like Guardian, Huffington Post and the BBC; these latter performing a vital role in spinning a pluralist chimera. On secondary issues like which party wins office, and important but tertiary issues like abortion or gay marriage, the centrist media will – in business-as-usual times that preclude the rise of a Corbyn or Trump – host vigorous debate. But on matters of existential import to Capital, debate narrows to questions of style and presentation or arcane geekspeak. None of the mainstream media would or – given their patterns of ownership and revenue streams – could challenge in any real and sustained way the axiom, unstated and non negotiable, that the profit motive mediated by market forces is the best conceivable way to match wealth creation to human need. So the fact, for example, that the planet’s eight richest men own the same wealth as its poorest three and a half billion is to be deplored and alleviated by ‘overseas aid’, but may not be spoken of consistently as the product of an inexorable systemic logic.
(The rise of social media, and of online access to alternative media sources – be these anti capitalist, conspiracist or simply presenting the viewpoints of demonised states – poses a challenge for corporate media and ruling class as a whole. It’s too early to tell how serious a challenge it will prove, and how that ruling class will respond, but for now there is no disputing that it does pose a challenge, as seen in the current moral panic on ‘fake news’.)
The west is experiencing dislocation as a social contract premised on cold war with the USSR, postwar boom and Keynesian economics unravels. This has sharpened tensions between on the one hand a liberal elite of professionals part-shielded from the effects, including immigration, of neoliberalism; on the other, blue collar workers more exposed. These tensions came to the fore, albeit in ways flawed by narrow understandings on both sides of such trigger issues as race and gender, in two of last year’s key events: Brexit and the election of rightwing populist, Donald Trump.
(Narrow understanding of race and gender leaves socially conservative blue collar workers insufficiently aware of how inequalities on those fronts reinforce their own exploitation. It also leaves liberals, too often lacking the most elementary grasp of class, imperialism and even ‘foreign policy’, denouncing Trump’s racism and sexism while failing to see that the victims of America’s ceaseless violence overseas, and more generally the North’s super-exploitation of the global South, have been disproportionately brown and, only slightly less obviously, female.)
Alongside that conflict within the post-1991/post-2008 global North, we are seeing rising tensions between a USA on the wane but still by far the world’s most dangerous power, and an increasingly assertive China and Russia. See Perilous Days.
That pretty much covers it. If we disagree on Brexit or Trump – or on what they signify – you’ll likely find the underlying causes above. As far as I’m concerned we can still remain or become friends, for reasons given in my first paragraph, but now you at least know where I stand on two of 2016’s most toxic divides. You also know, in outline, what informs my still evolving views on Russia, Syria and Ukraine, and why they are so far removed from the conventional wisdom. Or as I see it, from ruling class narratives.
As for the dilemma posed in the CounterPunch extract, paragraph two above, I pick my faltering way through a moral and political maze of the kind times of polarisation always throw up. I’ve made clear in other posts my views on the muddled thinking – I don’t call it hypocrisy – driving liberal outpourings of grief and childish incandescence over Trump’s victory. But this isn’t a one-way street. I’ve also seen, in others’ writings and my own internal processes, a tendency to overreact; to defend the indefensible when a great deal about Donald Trump is precisely that.
My point of anchorage here, a principle I strive to keep in view, is that I’m not in the business of declaring Trump ‘better’ than Clinton. My argument is that neither offer any solution to, since both have only self-serving understandings of, the grave problems confronting the human race. They and the interests they represent have nothing to trade but further nightmares.