WWII & the twilight of Western Enlightenment

AT the turn of the 20th century, ruling classes mobilized nation states to struggle for territorial control and economic development, while working classes struggled for emancipation

From the 16th century, the Atlantic ruling class (the ruling class of Britain, the Netherlands, the US, France, and other North Atlantic territories) successfully ascended to world power through a potent combination of capitalist relations and primitive accumulation, including enclosures, global imperialism and colonialism, and slavery. By the turn of the 20th century, both German and Russian networks were left out of this power ascent, stagnant but still latently capacious and entitled. They had long-influential ruling classes managing and intervening in European territories. Where Russia had dwindled from Enlightenment and power influence to supplying mercenary militaries to the ultimately-losing European ruling class repressions of democratic revolts, German society had lost its influential long-time role supplying the educated, princely managerial staff to European monarchies.

Communists overthrew the dissolute Russian monarchy network, and mobilized massive and disruptive economic modernization campaigns across the Soviet Union’s vast Eurasian territory. German territories attempted to correct their over-investment in European aristocracy by reorganizing as a militarized nation-state mobilizing strong managerial and productive capacity. To carve out territory in an already-owned world required warfare. While the Atlantic ruling class has had enormous capacity to absorb other ruling elites, it has not accommodated them, with the exception of the semi-independence concession to Middle East absolutist tyrannies ruling keystone geopolitical and oil extraction territory. When upstart Germany lost WWI, the Atlantic ruling class sought to crush an independent Germany and the German sense of entitlement with the Treaty of Versailles. This vainglorious effort only produced more outraged re-organization in Germany, spawning the fascist campaign to put Germany on the global capitalist map.

Germany’s reactionary, anti-socialist fascism at first was thought to be compatible with the anti-communist Atlantic ruling class order. For seven years, from 1933 to the September 1939 invasion of Poland, the capitalist Atlantic ruling class had agreeable relations and multiple pacts with the pro-capitalist, anti-communist fascist regimes, including Nazi Germany. During this period, the young Soviet Union had been struggling with imperial, fascist Japan, which was invading China.

13 Nation-state Compacts with Fascist Germany

YEAR SIGNATORY COUNTRIES NAME OF PACT
1933 UK, FRANCE, ITALY THE FOUR POWERS PACT
1934 POLAND HITLER-PILSUDSKI PACT
1935 UK ANGLO-GERMAN NAVAL AGREEMENT
1936 JAPAN ANTI-COMINTERN PACT
1938 SEPTEMBER UK GERMAN-BRITISH NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1938 DECEMBER FRANCE GERMAN-FRENCH NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 MARCH ROMANIA GERMAN-ROMANIAN ECONOMIC TREATY
1939 MARCH LITHUANIA NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 MAY ITALY PACT OF STEEL (FRIENDSHIP & ALLIANCE)
1939 MAY DENMARK NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 JUNE ESTONIA NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 JULY LATVIA NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 AUGUST SOVIET UNION MOLOTOV-RIBBENTROP NON-AGGRESSION PACT

A side product of Britain’s imperial expansion and its opposition to Russia and that country’s power, Polish and other weaker-community nationalisms surged in the 16th century. Russia and Poland then struggled for territorial control, with Russia controlling the territory from the 18th century until Russia’s collapse after WWI. By contrast, the Atlantic ruling class gained further power after WWI, taking control over former Ottoman Empire territory and populations.

In August 1939 Germany made an opportunistic, temporary alliance with the Soviet Union and Slovakia to re-take Poland and divide it. Britain and France had a post-WWI pact that should Poland be invaded, they would regard the invasion as an act of war against the Atlantic ruling class. Polish gold was smuggled out to London and Ottawa. In reclaiming territory, the Soviet Union was again acting independently of the Atlantic ruling order, and so was a categorical enemy. But the geopolitical crisis was a fascist state acting independently of the Atlantic ruling order. In an already-owned world, German economic development intolerably forced both (temporary) capitalist-communist cooperation and a dis-identification between the Atlantic ruling order and capitalism.

While the Atlantic ruling class has remained in fairly-constant geopolitical opposition to Russia (regardless of its government), British sponsorship of Polish and Eastern European national ambitions has been rather more opportunistic than a primary goal. It is the Polish (among other Eastern European buffers) nationality’s perspective that the Western powers “betrayed” their sponsorship agreements in 1939 (inter alia), as the North Atlantic powers allied with the Soviet Union to fight WWII, to stop Germany’s further territorial invasions and expansions. The Soviets ground down the imperial German war machine; and the Soviet Union’s gambit to reduce the Atlantic ruling order’s combined anticommunist and geopolitical opposition was thus soon played out.

British war leader Winston Churchill hoped to simply redirect WWII against the Soviet Union upon Germany’s defeat in April 1945. But British analysts concluded that the Atlantic powers would not be able to defeat and control the Soviet Union’s territory via direct warfare. So, in another “betrayal,” Churchill and Stalin divided up the former Austro-Hungarian borderlands (the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in WWI), from 1945 until the modern Russian communist experiment was liquidated in 1989 under the co-optative idea, and a patently false and geopolitically-naive expectation, suggesting that simply by dissolving communism to the benefit of oligarchs, Russia would become included and supported as an autonomous capitalist country in the North Atlantic metropole archipelago, much as Germany, Italy, and Japan had been under the redistributive Marshall Plan. But in that North Atlantic, states had since largely been claimed by a financially-liberated, cosmopolitan ruling class, and that class already had a capitalist relationship with the great reserves of Chinese and Indian labor, resources, pollution sinks, and consumers. Nor was it possible for even-oligarchical Russia, with its broader social networks and infrastructure, to be integrated into the Middle East tyrants’ efficient, special relationship with the Atlantic ruling class.

Since then, the Atlantic ruling class has pursued an oppositional relationship with Russia, offering instead the City of London as an increasingly-posh haven for the Russian klepto-collaborators and their booty, the once-public wealth accrued with brains, blood, sweat and tears within the Soviet Union territories. A globally-networked, cosmopolitan ruling class with key bases in North Atlantic financial cities and countries currently enjoys the restoration of its undiluted, unrivaled power, as well as steep and immobile social hierarchy and all its effects. As billions of people are surveilled, policed, incarcerated, militarized, exploited, poisoned, dispossessed, violently disrupted, and dislocated into spectacular migrations, outside of continental Europe, aristocracy and servitude have been restored. Western Enlightenment ideas, culture, and institutions have fallen, but the extraction and slavery infrastructure remains and has been technologically enhanced.

Thus, while there are still states and of course market institutions managing cosmopolitan extractivism and the social reproduction of inegalitarianism, with the eradication of Enlightenment thought and institutions, nation-states have been reorganized as rigid, stagnant Night-watchman states. Nations are reserved for the industrializing countries.

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Building Alternatives

“To my mind, the so-called ‘socialist society’ is not anything immutable. Like all other social formations, it should be conceived in a state of constant flux and change. Its crucial difference from the present order consists naturally in production organized on the basis of common ownership by the nation… 

To begin this reorganization tomorrow, but performing it gradually, seems to me quite feasible. That our workers are capable of it is borne out by their many producer and consumer cooperatives which, whenever they’re not deliberately ruined by the police, are equally well and far more honestly run than the bourgeois stock companies”  

Engels, Letter to Otto Von Boenigk (1890).

Capital strike is a problem for working class strategy and strength, as Adam Smith, Kalecki & Sweezy keenly observed. It makes sense not just to disrupt or tear down (though certainly that, see Marx, Piven, Domhoff & Zizek), but also to build fortifications around that fundamental vulnerability, as well as to build an answer to conservatives’ play on the fear of loss. See Rudolf Meidner.

…  Jodi Dean cites Chomsky discussing the importance of working class organize-to-rule strategies, including sit down strikes, co-operative takeovers of languishing industries and economic sectors (think green technology), and a build-up of broad working class-conscicous support for such initiatives:

“In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, a multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.” 

Radicalizing Unions & Middle Classes is Absolutely Essential Socialist Work

How I stopped worrying about pride-based working class factionalism and learned to love the capitalist bomb:
First, the more inequality we have, the more we can segregate benefits and costs. More importantly, inequality is the capitalist mechanism for diversifying preferences and converting costs into ostensible benefits. Like the fly-ridden, rotting bone scraps left by the export fishing industry to Lake Victoria African working families, a rich man’s costs are benefits to surplus labor–thus, global happiness is maximized, and thanks to the magic of capitalist accounting (Cost column gone!), exploitation can continue to rampage on. Further, in capitalism–and here’s where union busting is important– failure to maximally *exploit* inequality diminishes welfare, we will recall from Dr. Summers’ 1991 advice on the international distribution of pollution. It’s all perfectly logical, and totally insane, as Jose Lutzenburger realized just before he was fired.
While surfacely it might kind of seem that working class factionalism is anti-inequality, unfortunately because the working class needs access to the surplus, society’s wealth, in order to successfully challenge the ruling capitalist class and overcome its logic (see above), prideful factionalism is really just hobbling yourself. Overthrowing a ruling class requires discipline. As well, healing class-faction injuries assists discipline.
Not destroying, but rather radicalizing unions and the middle class is absolutely essential, strategic radical work, even if it’s an unglamorous pain in the ass. Destroying the labor aristocracy doesn’t take any working class help. The capitalists will do it by themselves, and make themselves another managerial class. The point is not to abject, but to convince as much of the labor aristocracy as possible that they are really the working class’ potentially-heroic  fifth column. They don’t have to complete their contract with the capitalist devil by embracing the controlling ideology of  meritocracy, becoming addicted to commodity status baubles, and handing over their loyalty. They can use their advantages and strengths for progress.

Communism is the Father of Capitalist Culture

It is communism that elicits culture in capitalism. Britain’s Channel 4 and The Independent newspaper report the story “Modern Art Was CIA Weapon” of how the CIA in the mid-20th century promoted and used modern art–Abstract Expressionism–to flog the idea that capitalism can foster artistic freedom, where communism cannot. However, the extent to which the market fosters artistic freedom was greatly exaggerated–by the elite cadre of American secret police that temporarily, for propaganda purposes, fostered that freedom. And that little mid-century “long leash” blip of freedom depended on capitalists who believed that they had to compete with communism for world opinion.

Capitalist Artistic Freedom (2 AA Communist Batteries Required)

Without communism, do we have freedom in capitalism? For the working class, the post-communist evidence points to “not much” or “no.”

Interesting in the report are 2 subplots:

1) The mid-20th century division of labor/personnel between the CIA and other ruling institutions in the US, and
2) An early chapter in the long tradition of media manipulation:

“The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.”

The Capitalist Press

Communism is a Concrete Universality

“Therein resides the dialectic of the Old and the New: it is those who propose the constant creation of new terms (‘postmodern society,’ ‘risk society,’ ‘information society,’ ‘postindustrial society,’ etc.) in order to grasp what is going on today who miss the contours of what is actually New. The only way to grasp the true novelty of the New is to analyze the world through the lenses of what was ‘eternal’ in the Old. If communism really is an ‘eternal’ Idea, then it works as a Hegelian ‘concrete universality’: it is eternal not in the sense of a series of abstract-universal features that may be applied everywhere, but in the sense that it has to be re-invented in each new historical situation.” Slavoj Zizek. 2009. First as Tragedy Then as Farce.