Kulak (/ˈkuːlæk/; Russian: кула́к, tr. kulak, IPA: [kʊˈlak] (About this soundlisten), plural кулаки́, "fist", by extension "tight-fisted"; kurkuli in Ukraine, but also used in Russian texts in Ukrainian contexts), or golchomags (Azerbaijani: qolçomaq, plural qolçomaqlar) was the term describing peasants with over 8 acres (3.2 hectares) of land towards the end of the Russian Empire. In the early Soviet Union, particularly Soviet Russia and Azerbaijan, kulak became a vague reference to property ownership among peasants, who were considered "hesitating" allies of the revolution. The kulaks were decimated following orders by Joseph Stalin, to guarantee collectivisation in the 1930s.
The word kulak originally referred to former peasants in the Russian Empire who became wealthier during the Stolypin reform from 1906 to 1914. During the Russian Revolution, the label of kulak was used to chastise peasants who withheld grain from the Bolsheviks. According to political theories of Marxism–Leninism in the early 20th century, the kulaks were class enemies of the poorer peasants. Vladimir Lenin described them as "bloodsuckers, vampires, plunderers of the people and profiteers, who fatten on famine", declaring revolution against them to liberate poor peasants, farm laborers, and proletariat (the much smaller class of urban and industrial workers).
During the first five year plan, Stalin's all-out campaign to take ownership and organisation from the peasantry meant "peasants with a couple of cows or five or six acres [about 2 ha] more than their neighbors" were labeled kulaks. Under dekulakization, government officials violently seized farms and killed resisters, deported others to labor camps, and drove many to migrate to the cities following the loss of their property to the collective.
The reforms aimed to transform the traditional obshchina form of Russian agriculture, which bore some similarities to the open-field system of Britain. Serfs who had been liberated by the emancipation reform of 1861 lacked the financial ability to leave their new lands, as they owed money to the state for periods of up to 49 years. Perceived drawbacks of the obshchina system included collective ownership, scattered land allotments based on family size, and a significant level of control by the family elder. Stolypin, as a staunch conservative, also sought to eliminate the commune system — known as the mir — and to reduce radicalism among the peasants, thus preventing further political unrest such as that which occurred during the Revolution of 1905. Stolypin believed that tying the peasants to their own private land-holdings would produce profit-minded and politically conservative farmers like those living in parts of western Europe. Stolypin referred to his own programs as a "wager on the strong and sober".
The reforms began with and introduced the unconditional right of individual landownership (Ukase of November 9, 1906). Stolypin's reforms abolished the obshchina system and replaced it with a capitalist-oriented form highlighting private ownership and consolidated modern farmsteads designed to make peasants conservative instead of radical.
The multifaceted reforms introduced the following:
development of large-scale individual farming (khutors)
introduction of agricultural cooperatives
development of agricultural education
dissemination of new methods of land improvement
affordable lines of credit for peasants
The state implemented the Stolypin agrarian reforms in a comprehensive campaign from 1906 through 1914. This system was not a command economy like that found in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, but rather a continuation of the modified state capitalism program begun under Sergei Witte. Stolypin's program differed from Witte's reforms not in the rapid push — which was a characteristic also found in the Witte reforms — but in the fact that Stolypin's reforms were to the agricultural sector, including improvements to the rights of individuals on a broad level and had the backing of the police. These reforms laid the groundwork for a market-based agricultural system for Russian peasants.
The principal ministers involved in the implementation of the Stolypin agrarian reforms included Stolypin himself as Interior Minister and Prime Minister, Alexander Krivoshein as Agriculture and State Property Minister, and Vladimir Kokovtsov as Finance Minister and Stolypin's successor as Prime Minister.
The Soviet agrarian program in the 1920s reversed the Stolypin reforms. The state took over land owned by peasants and moved them to collective farms.
And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus
Friday, January 31, 2020
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
When, decades ago, ecology emerged as a crucial theoretical and practical issue, many Marxists (as well as critics of Marxism) noted that nature–more precisely, the exact ontological status of nature–is the one topic where even the crudest dialectical materialism has an advantage over Western Marxism. Namely, dialectical materialism allows us to think humanity as part of nature, while Western Marxism considers socio-historical dialectics as the ultimate horizon of reference and, ultimately, reduces nature to a background of the historical process, to nature as a historical category, as Lukacs put it. Kohei Saito’s Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism(1) is the latest most consistent attempt to redress the balance and think humanity’s embeddedness in nature without regressing to dialectical-materialist general ontology.
Since the main philosophical reference of Western Marxism is Hegel, no wonder that Saito aggressively rejects the Hegelian inheritance. His starting point is not nature as such, but human labor as the process of metabolism between humanity (as part of nature) and its natural environs, a process which is, of course, part of the universal metabolism (exchange of matter) within nature itself. At its most basic, labor is a material process of exchange which locates humanity in a much wider context of natural processes and, as such, cannot be reduced to any form of Hegelian self-mediation: the externality of nature is irreducible. This apparently abstract point has crucial consequences for how we deal with our ecological predicament. Saito sees the root of the ecological crisis in the rift between the material metabolism of our life-process and the autonomous logic of the reproduction of capital, which poses a threat to this metabolism. In the course of the book, Saito admits there are previous rifts:despite the appearance of long-term sustainable production in precapitalist societies there was always a certain tension between nature and humans. Capitalism alone does not create the problem of desertification ex nihilo, /…/ it transforms and deepens the transhistorical contradiction by radically reorganizing the universal metabolism of nature from the perspective of capital’s valorization.(250)(2)But the overall scheme remains one of linear progress in alienation. That’s why Marx was also in his late years more and more interested in an “unconscious socialist tendency” in the persisting remainders of pre-capitalist forms of communal life and speculated that these remainders could directly pass into a post-capitalist society. (For example, in his famous letter to Vera Zasulich, Marx plays with the idea that, maybe, Russian village communes could function as places of resistance against capital and establish socialism without going through capitalism.) Pre-capitalist forms maintain the more of intimate ties of the human with the earth. Along these lines, the title of the first chapter of Saito’s book–“Alienation of Nature as the Emergence of the Modern”(25)–clearly locates the “rift” in capitalist modernity: “After the historical dissolution of the original unity between humans and the earth, the production can only relate to the conditions of production as an alien property.”(26) And Marx’s Communist project is expected to heal that rift:Only if one comprehends the estrangement in capitalist society as a dissolution of humans’ original unity with the earth does it become evident that Marx’s communist project consistently aims at a conscious rehabilitation of the unity between humans and nature.(42)The ultimate ground of this rift is that, in capitalism, the labor process does not serve our needs; its goal is to expanded the reproduction of capital itself, irrespective of the damage it does to our environment. Products count only insofar as they are valorized, and consequences for the environment literally do not count. The actual metabolism of our life process is thus subordinated to the artificial “life” of the reproduction of capital. There is a rift between the two, and the ultimate goal of the Communist revolution is not so much to abolish exploitation, as to abolish this rift.
In capitalism, the rift under discussion here gets more radical not just in the sense that the metabolic process between humans and nature is subordinated to the valorization of capital itself. What made the rift explode was the intimate link between capitalism and modern science: capitalist technology, which triggered radical changes in rational environs, cannot be imagined without science, which is why some ecologists have already proposed to change the term for the new epoch we are entering from Anthropocene to Capitalocene. Apparatuses based on science enable humans not only to get to know the real, which is outside the scope of their experiential reality (like quantum waves); they also enable us to construct new “unnatural” (inhuman) objects which cannot but appear to our experience as freaks of nature (gadgets, genetically modified organisms, cyborgs, etc.). The power of human culture is not only to build an autonomous symbolic universe beyond what we experience as nature, but to produce new “unnatural” natural objects which materialize human knowledge. We not only “symbolize nature”; we, as it were, denaturalize it from within.
Should we not apply Marx’s description of how in capitalism “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned” also to nature itself? Today, with the latest biogenetic developments, we are entering a new phase, in which it is simply nature itself that melts into air: the main consequence of scientific breakthroughs in biogenetics is the end of nature. Once we know the rules of its construction, natural organisms are transformed into objects amenable to manipulation. Nature, human and inhuman, is thus “desubstantialized,” deprived of its impenetrable density, of what Heidegger called “earth.” This compels us to give a new twist to Freud’s title Unbehagen in der Kultur–discontent, uneasiness, in culture. With the latest developments, discontent shifts from culture to nature itself: nature is no longer “natural,” the reliable “dense” background of our lives; it now appears as a fragile mechanism which, at any point, can explode in a catastrophic direction.
The latest example of such “unnatural nature” was provided by the infamous DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency):Researchers in the U.S. have created the first living machines by assembling cells from African clawed frogs into tiny robots that move around under their own steam. ‘These are entirely new lifeforms. They have never before existed on Earth,’ said Michael Levin, the director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. ‘They are living, programmable organisms.’ Their unique features mean that future versions of the robots might be deployed to clean up microplastic pollution in the oceans, locate and digest toxic materials, deliver drugs in the body or remove plaque from artery walls, the scientists say. ‘It’s impossible to know what the applications will be for any new technology, so we can really only guess,’ said Joshua Bongard, a senior researcher on the team at the University of Vermont. Sam Kriegman, a PhD student on the team at the University of Vermont, acknowledged that the work raised ethical issues, particularly given that future variants could have nervous systems and be selected for cognitive capability, making them more active participants in the world. But the work aims to achieve more than just the creation of squidgy robots. ‘The aim is to understand the software of life,’ Levin said. ‘If you think about birth defects, cancer, age-related diseases, all of these things could be solved if we knew how to make biological structures, to have ultimate control over growth and form.’(3)
It’s the old story of an invention propagated for its benevolent uses (“to clean up microplastic pollution in the oceans,” etc.), with the fact that it is part of a defence (military) project left unsaid. But the crucial point is that an “entirely new lifeform” was created through this combination of a natural organism with a robot, something that exists nowhere in nature. The very expression “the software of life” tells it all: life itself loses its impenetrable density once it is considered to be something regulated by a “software” (a term from computer programming). In the combination of a natural organism with an artificial one, the artificial organism predominates, determining the medium of their encounter. It would be easy to engage here in the praise of cyborgs as the new post-human mode of existence that blurs the old “metaphysical” limits between animal life, human life, and artificial life–it’s more difficult to simply think out the consequences and basic coordinates of what is going on. What, exactly, is disappearing and what is emerging?
Biogenetics, with its reduction of the human psyche itself to an object of technological manipulation, is effectively a kind of empirical instantiation of what Heidegger perceived as the “danger” inherent to modern technology. Crucial here is the interdependence of the human and nature: by reducing the human to just another natural object whose properties can be manipulated, what we lose is not (only) humanity but nature itself. In this sense, Francis Fukuyama was right: humanity itself relies on some notion of “human nature,” as what we inherited as simply given to us, the impenetrable dimension in/of ourselves into which we are born/thrown. The paradox is, thus, that there are human beings only insofar as there is impenetrable inhuman nature (Heidegger’s “earth”). But, with the prospect of biogenetic interventions opened up by access to the genome, the species freely changes/redefines itself, its own coordinates. This prospect effectively emancipates humankind from the constraints of a finite species, from its enslavement to the “selfish gene.”
The mutual implication, complicity even, of science and capitalism is, of course, not seamless, seeing that it implies an immanent tension in each of the two terms. Science offers itself to capitalism insofar as it is in itself blind toward a key dimension of its existence signalled by Lacan in a couple of co-dependent formulations. Science forecloses the dimension of the subject; science operates at the level of knowledge and ignores truth; science has no memory. Let’s begin with this last feature:the fact is that science, if one looks at it closely, has no memory. Once constituted, it forgers the circuitous path by which it came into being; otherwise stated, it forgets a dimension of truth that psychoanalysis seriously puts to work. I must, however, be more precise. It is widely known that theoretical physics and mathematics–after every crisis that is resolved in a form for which the term “generalized theory” can in no way be taken to mean “a shift to generality”–often maintain what they generalize in its position in the preceding structure. That is not my point here. My concern is the toll [drame], the subjective toll that each of these crises takes on the learned. The tragedy [drame] has its victims, and nothing allows us to say that their destiny can be inscribed in the Oedipal myth. Let us say that the subject has not been studied to any great extent. J. R. Mayer, Cantor–well I am not going to furnish a list of first-rate tragedies, leading at times to the point of madness; the names of certain of our contemporaries, in whose cases I consider exemplary the tragedy of what is happening in psychoanalysis, would soon have to be added to the list.(4)What Lacan aims at here goes far beyond the psychic tragedies of great scientific inventors. (He mentions Cantor whose revolutionizing of the notion of infinity triggered inner turmoil which pushed him to the limit of madness and even led him to practice coprophagia.) From the scientific standpoint, such tragedies are irrelevant private life details which in no way affect the status of a scientific discovery. Such details HAVE to be ignored if we want to comprehend a scientific theory, and this ignorance is not a weakness of the scientific theory but its strength. A scientific theory is “objective”: it suspends its position of enunciation. It doesn’t matter who enounces it; all that matters is its content. In this sense, the discourse of science forecloses its subject. Lacan, however, tries to think the subject of modern science, bringing out such “psychological” details not in order to relativize the validity of scientific theories but to answer the question: what shifts have to happen in the subjectivity of a scientist so that such a theory can be formulated? A theory may be “objectively valid,” but its enunciation can nonetheless rely on traumatic subjective shifts: there is no pre-established harmony between subject and object.
What Lacan aims at also goes beyond the so-called “ethical responsibility” of scientists for the (mis)use of their scientific achievements. He mentions a couple of times J.R.Oppenheimer, the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory often credited with being the “father of the atomic bomb.” When the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated in July 16 1945, he remarked that it brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I became Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Beset by ethical qualms, he expressed his doubts publicly and, as a consequence, he suffered the revocation of his security clearance and was effectively stripped of direct political influence… Commendable as it is, such a critical stance is not enough: it remains at the level of “ethical committees” which proliferate today and try to constrain scientific progress into the straightjacket of predominant norms” (how far should we go in biogenetic manipulations, etc.). The reason as to why this is not enough is that it amounts to no more than secondary control over a machine which, if allowed to run its immanent course, would have engendered catastrophic results.
The trap to be avoided here is double. On the one hand, it is insufficient to locate danger in particular misuses of science due to corruption (like the scientists who support climate change denial) or something similar. The danger resides at a much more general level, concerning the very mode of functioning of science. On the other hand, we should also reject the over-hasty generalization of danger to what Adorno and Horkheimer called “instrumental reason”–the idea that modern science is in its very basic structure directed to dominate, manipulate and exploit nature, plus the concomitant idea that modern science is ultimately just a radicalization of a basic anthropological tendency. (For Adorno and Horkheimer in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, there is a straight line from the primitive use of magic to the influence modern technology wields over natural processes). The danger resides in the specific conjunction of science and capital.
To get the basic dimension of what Lacan is aiming at in the passage quoted above, we have to introduce the difference between knowledge and truth, wherein ”truth” acquires all its weight. To indicate this weight, let’s mention yet again Lacan’s paradox of jealousy. Lacan wrote that, even if what a jealous husband claims about his wife (that she sleeps around with other men) is all true, his jealousy is still pathological. The pathological elements is the husband’s need for jealousy as the only way to retain his dignity, identity even. Along the same lines, one could say that, even if most of the Nazi claims about the Jews were true (they exploit Germans, they seduce German girls…)–which they do not, of course -, their anti-Semitism would still be (and was) a pathological phenomenon because it repressed the true reason why the Nazis needed anti-Semitism in order to sustain their ideological position. In the Nazi vision, their society is an organic whole of harmonious collaboration, so an external intruder is needed to account for divisions and antagonisms.
The same holds for how, today, anti-immigrant populists deal with the “problem” of the refugees: they approach it in the atmosphere of fear, of the incoming struggle against the islamicization of Europe, and they get caught in a series of obvious absurdities. For them, the refugees who flee terror are equal to the terrorist they are escaping from, oblivious to the obvious fact that, while there are among the refugees also terrorists, rapists, criminals, etc., the large majority are desperate people looking for a better life. The cause of problems that are immanent to today’s global capitalism is projected onto an external intruder. We find here “fake news” which cannot be reduced to a simple inexactitude: if they (partially, at least) correctly render (some of) the facts, they are all the more dangerously a “fake.” Anti-immigrant racism and sexism are not dangerous because they lie; they are at their most dangerous when the lie is presented in the form of a (partial) factual truth.
It is this dimension of truth that eludes science: in the same way that my jealousy is “untrue” even if its suspicions are confirmed by objective knowledge, in the same way that our fear of refugees is false with regard to the subjective position of enunciation it implies even if some facts can confirm it, modern science is “untrue” insofar as it is blind to the way it is integrated into the circulation of capital, to its link to technology and its capitalist use, i.e., to what in old Marxist terms was called the “social mediation” of its activity. It is important to bear in mind that this “social mediation” is not an empirical fact external to the scientific procedure; it is, rather, a kind of transcendental a priori which structures the scientific procedure from within. So, it is not only that scientists “don’t care” about the eventual misuse of their work (if this were the case, more “socially conscious” scientists would be enough). Instead, this “not-caring” is inscribed into its structure, coloring the very “desire” that motivates scientific activity which is what Lacan aims at with his claim that science doesn’t have memory. How so?
In the conditions of developed capitalism, a strict division prevails between those who do the labor (the workers) and those who plan and coordinate it. The latter are on the side of capital: their job is to maximize capital’s valorization, and when science is used to enhance productivity, it is also constrained to the task of facilitating the process of capital’s valorization. Science is, thus, firmly entrenched on the side of the capital: it is the ultimate figure of knowledge, which is taken away from laborers and appropriated by capital and its executors. Scientists who work are also paid, but their work is not at the same level as laborers’ work: they, as it were, work for the other (opposite) side and are, in some sense, the strike-breakers of the production process… This, of course, doesn’t mean that modern natural science is inexorably on the side of the capital: today, science is needed more than ever in any resistance against capitalism. The point is just that science itself is not enough to do this job, since it “has no memory,” since it ignores the dimension of truth.
We should draw a distinction between two levels of what makes science problematic. First, there is, at a general level, the fact that science “has no memory,” which is a part of the strength, constitutive of science. Second, there is the specific conjunction of science and capitalism, where “having no memory” relates to the particular blindness to its own social mediation. However, Greta Thunberg is right when she claims that politicians should listen to science. Wagner’s “Die Wunde schliest der Speer nur, der Sie schlug” (“The wound can only be healed by the spear that made it”) thus acquires a new actuality.
Today’s threats are not primarily external (natural) but self-generated by human activity permeated by science (the ecological consequences of our industry, the psychic consequences of uncontrolled biogenetics, etc.). As a result, the sciences are simultaneously (one of) the source(s) of risks and the sole medium we have to grasp and define the threats. Even if we blame scientific-technological civilization for global warming, we need the same science not only to define the scope of the threat, but often even to perceive the threat. What we need is not science that re-discovers its grounding in pre-modern wisdom, given that traditional wisdom is, precisely, something that prevents us from perceiving the real threat of ecological catastrophes. After all, wisdom “intuitively” tells us to trust mother-nature which is the stable ground of our being, but it is this stable ground, which is undermined by modern science and technology. So, we need a science that is decoupled from both poles: from the autonomous circuit of capital as well as from traditional wisdom, a science that could finally stand on its own. What this means is that there is no return to an authentic feeling of our unity with nature: the only way to confront ecological challenges is to accept fully the radical denaturalization of nature.Notes:
1. Kohei Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism, New York: Monthly Review Press 2017. Numbers in brackets refer to the pages of this book.
2. An exemplary case of a rift in premodern societies is provided by Island: it was fully forested when Norwegians arrived there in 8th century, and soon afterwards it was totally deforested.
3. Quoted from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/jan/13/scientists-use-stem-cells-from-frogs-to-build-first-living-robots.
4. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, New York: Norton 2997, p. 738.
Friday, January 24, 2020
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Select Quotes from Adam Schiff's Impeachment Diaries
"Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime."
- Lavrentiy Beria
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Friday, January 17, 2020
Ridiculous as it may seem, the current conflict between Iran and the United States by now just resembles a joke. But for us Europeans there is still plenty to be afraid of.
One of my favorite kinds of jokes are the American medical jokes about "first the bad news, then the good news" – here is a slightly tasteless one. After his wife had undergone a long and risky operation, the husband approaches the doctor and inquires about the outcome. The doctor begins: "Your wife survived; she will probably live longer than you. But there are some complications: she will no longer be able to control her anal muscles, so shit will drift continuously out of her anus. There will also be a continuous flow of a bad-smelling yellow jelly from her vagina, so any sex is out. Plus her mouth will malfunction and food will be falling out of it…" Noticing the growing expression of panic on the husband’s face, the doctor taps him friendly on the shoulder and smiles: "Don’t worry, I was just joking! Everything is OK — she died during the operation."
My good friend from Iran Kamran Baradaran wrote me a couple of days ago, after Iran and the US avoided full war and the tension was (temporarily) defused, that this joke provides a very good description of the present situation. First there was a succession of bad news which qualified the successful operation (the killing of Suleimani): scepticism of the US allies about the act; furious crowds on anti-American protests; threat of the Iranian revenge which may trigger a large-scale war… Then a (fragile and temporary) balance was restored, but this balance sounds more like the final punchline of our joke: "Don’t worry, the crisis was just a joke! Everything is OK — nothing is resolved, we are back at the mortifying geopolitical games which cause a permanent crisis…"
It looked as if the killing of Suleimani served both sides: in Iran it led to a popular mobilization and a triumphant display of unity that momentarily obliterated internal struggles; for the US, it seemed to open the path towards a war that would eliminate the Iranian threat. Now we see that nobody really wanted a war.
First, Iran – where is it now? The shooting-down of the Ukrainian plane led to the return of popular unrest which now threatens the very foundations of the Khomeiny revolution – its basic legitimacy, not just the hard-liners’ predominance, is openly questioned. The use of the tension with the US as a means to mobilize the population in support of the regime thus backfired, the regime is more in peril than ever. The unforeseeable shooting-down of the Ukrainian plane thus made Trump’s strategy work: Trump doesn't have to start a war against Iran since it looks that Iran is drowning in its own problems…
However, Trump’s "successes" are part of his dangerous geopolitical game: whatever the final result of the Iranian crisis, the US are not only fast losing its grip on Iraq but are also gradually pushed out of much of the Middle East region. The fake "solution" of the crisis with Kurds in Syria - Turkey and Russia imposing peace so that each one controls its own side – is now repeated in Libya, and in both cases the US silently withdrew from playing an active role. Russia and Turkey are now in an ideal position to exert pressure on Europe: the two countries control the oil supply to Europe, as well as the flow of refugees, so that they can use both as a means to blackmail Europe.
But what if Trump wants this? There are ominous signs which point to a YES as the answer. Trump is now threatening to move the customs war from China to EU, and it is clear that the hatred of a strong EU is what unites Trump, Russia, and Turkey. So which Europe bothers Trump, Putin, Erdogan, as well as the European populists? It is the Europe of transnational unity, the Europe vaguely aware that, in order to cope with the challenges of our moment, we should move beyond the constraints of nation-states; the Europe which also desperately strives to somehow remain faithful to the old Enlightenment motto of solidarity with victims, the Europe aware of the fact that humanity is today One, that we are all on the same boat (or, as we say, on the same Spaceship Earth), so that other’s misery is also our problem. Europe lies in the great pincers between America on the one side and Russia on the other who both want to dismember it: both Trump and Putin support Brexit, they support euro-sceptics in every corner, from Poland to Italy.
The big loser of the ongoing Middle East crisis is thus Europe, much more than the US.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
- Phillip Larkin (1967)
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.
Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.
So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Friday, January 10, 2020
- Rainer Maria Rilke, "Blank Joy"
She who did not come, wasn't she determined
nonetheless to organize and decorate my heart?
If we had to exist to become the one we love,
what would the heart have to create?
Lovely joy left blank, perhaps you are
the center of all my labors and my loves.
If I've wept for you so much, it's because
I preferred you among so many outlined joys.
The ongoing protests in France lay bare the bankruptcy of the system Emmanuel Macron stands for. A radical change of the capitalist order, which the likes of Corbyn and Sanders advocate for, would be a solution.
With the strikes of French public transport workers dragging on, some commentators even began to speculate that France is approaching a kind of revolutionary moment.
While we are far from that, what is sure is that the conflict between the state (advocating new unified retirement legislation) and the trade unions (which refuse any change of what they consider their hardly-won rights) leaves no space for compromise.
For a Leftist, it is all too easy to sympathize with the striking workers: Emmanuel Macron wants to deprive them of their hard-won conditions of retirement. However, one should also note that railway and other public transport workers are among those who can still afford to strike. They are permanently employed by the state, and the domain of their work (public transport) gives them a strong position to negotiate, which is why they succeeded in getting such a good system of retirement – and their ongoing strike is precisely about retaining this privileged position.
There is, of course, nothing wrong about struggling to retain the hard-won elements of the welfare state that today’s global capitalism tends to dispense with. The problem is that, from the - no less justified - standpoint of those who do not enjoy this privileged position (precarious workers, young, unemployed, etc), these privileged workers who can afford to go on strike cannot but appear as their class enemy contributing to their desperate situation, as a new figure of what Lenin called “workers aristocracy” – and those in power can easily manipulate this despair, and act as if they are fighting unfair privileges on behalf of the truly-needy workers inclusive of immigrants.
Furthermore, one should not forget that they are addressing these demands at Macron’s government, and that Macron stands for the existing economic and political system at its best: he combines pragmatic economic realism with a clear vision of a united Europe, plus he firmly opposes anti-immigrant racism and sexism in all its guises.
The protests mark the end of the Macron dream. Recall the enthusiasm about Macron offering new hope not only of defeating the Rightist populist threat but of providing a new vision of progressive European identity, which brought philosophers as opposed as Jurgen Habermas and Peter Sloterdijk to support Macron.
Recall how every Leftist critique of Macron, every warning about the fatal limitations of his project, was dismissed as “objectively” supporting Marine Le Pen. Today, with the ongoing protests in France, we are brutally confronted with the sad truth of pro-Macron enthusiasm. Macron may be the best of the existing system, but his politics is located within the liberal-democratic coordinates of the enlightened technocracy.
What’s the solution?
So what political options are there beyond Macron? There are Leftist politicians like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders who advocate the necessity of going a decisive step further than Macron in the direction of changing the basic coordinates of the existing capitalist order, while nonetheless remaining within the basic confines of parliamentary democracy and capitalism.
They inevitably get caught into a deadlock: radical Leftists criticize them for not being really revolutionary, for still clinging to the illusion that a radical change is possible in a regular parliamentary way, while moderate centrists like Macron warn them that the measures they advocate are not well thought out and would trigger economic chaos – imagine Corbyn winning the last UK elections, and imagine the immediate reaction of financial and business circles (flight of capital, recession…).
In some sense, both critiques are right – the problem is just that both positions from which they are formulated also don’t work: the ongoing dissatisfaction clearly indicates the limits of Macron’s politics, while “radical” calls for a revolution are simply not strong enough to mobilize the population, plus they are not based on a clear vision of what new order to impose.
So paradoxically, the only solution is (for the time being, at least) to engage in the politics of Sanders and Corbyn: they are the only ones who have proven that they bring about an actual mass movement.
We have to work patiently, getting organized and ready to act when a new crisis will explode – with the growing popular dissatisfaction, with an unexpected ecological catastrophe, with a revolt against exploding digital control and manipulation.
Radical Left should not get involved in some dark plots and plan how to take power in a moment of crisis (as the Communists were doing in the XXth century). It should work precisely to prevent panic and confusion when the crisis will arrive. One axiom should lead us: the true utopia is not the prospect of radical change, the true utopia is that things can go on indefinitely the way they are going on now. The true “revolutionary” which undermines the foundations of our societies are not external terrorists and fundamentalists, but the dynamics of the global capitalism itself.
And the same goes for culture. One often hears that today’s cultural war is fought between traditionalists, who believe in a firm set of values, and postmodern relativists, who consider ethical rules, sexual identities, etc as a result of contingent power games. But is this really the case? The ultimate postmodernists are today conservatives themselves. Once traditional authority loses its substantial power, it is not possible to return to it – all such returns are today a post-modern fake.
Does Trump enact traditional values? No, his conservativism is a postmodern performance, a gigantic ego trip. Playing with “traditional values,” mixing references to them with open obscenities, Trump is the ultimate postmodern president, while Sanders is an old-fashioned moralist.
how did we get here and what does it mean
who said it must be and when can we dream
the world outside is cold and bright but when you take a breath
you’ll inhale the sunlight and exhale the rest
we give up ourselves until love leaves a bruise
invest in some chain mail to withstand abuse
but what if love is more than just the sum of what it cost
you yearn for the part of yourself you thought you'd lost
we're older than we used to be
and closer to the ground beneath
maybe we've got all the time to grow
maybe we've got all the time and maybe we just don't know
in spite of our failures the lines twist and curve
to regrow the branches the night has disturbed
when we wake we'll take the shape of something free and bold
and rest in the shade where the new greets the old