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


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.


Who really supports the arc of Western civilization?

“All that is real in the universe is an infinity of void space, and an infinity of primary particles in random and everlasting motion. Such is the physics of Epicurus…The Epicurean idea of an infinite universe of matter and space, indifferent to human hopes and concerns but whose workings can be understood, is the predominant scientific idea with which we now live. We have fellow feeling with the importance Epicurus attaches to happiness in this life, with his desire to diminish pain and overcome irrational fears, and with his attempt to understand and come to terms with death, the frontier we shall all reach but not cross as the individuals we now are…

The one world realism of Epicurus is made sharper by the principles 1. No thing is ever created out of nothing by divine will; everything happens according to natural laws without the aid of gods. and 2. No thing is ever put out of existence: natural laws resolve each thing again into its primary parts.

…This would commonly be taken as a contradiction of the Genesis story which forms the foundation of Jewish, Christian and Islamic credos about God creating ex nihilo.

But there is an ambiguity. The first two verses of the Book of Genesis may mean either (a) ‘In the beginning God created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth and (when he had done this) the earth was without form and void…’ or (b) ‘In the beginning the earth was without form and void and (from the pre-existing condition) God created the heavens and the earth…’

The first time that meaning (a) appears unequivocally in the Hebrew canon is in Maccabees 7:28. Generally Christians have preferred (a) and Muslims (b)” (Gaskin, John. 1995. The Epicurean Philosophers: ix, xxiv, xxvii.).

Costs of War March 2012

Costs of current US imperial wars, courtesy Bill Moyers.

Lessons (Again, because we’re memoryless morons.) of military interventions, this time Libya: “Military interventions that topple repressive regimes invariably offer occasions to observe, though at others’ expense, the law of unintended consequences. Second, the constituencies that clamor for such campaigns move quickly to other matters once those malign consequences become manifest.”

Arabia & the West: Painful Lessons from Media History

In the solid “The Arab Spring and the West: Seven Lessons from History,” The Guardian‘s Seamus Milne reaches into the British Pathe News Video Archive to recall the oil-dependent fundamentals of West-Middle East Relations.

1) The West never gives up its drive to control the Middle East, whatever the setbacks.

2) Imperial powers can usually be relied on to delude themselves about what Arabs actually think.

3) The Big Powers are old hands at prettifying client regimes to keep the oil flowing.

4) People in the Middle East don’t forget their history – even when the US and Europe (conveniently) does.

5) The West has always presented Arabs who insist on running their own affairs as fanatics.

6) Foreign military intervention in the Middle East brings death, destruction, and divide and rule.

7) Western sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation is a permanent block on normal relations with the Arab world.

Garrison America

Bowles’ and Jayadev’s “Garrison America.”

Ever wonder why Americans can’t say no? 

Here’s your answer: 1 in 4 Americans participating in the “United States economy is now engaged in guard labor–providing security for people and property, and imposing work discipline.” And that doesn’t even count hegemonic policing.

On the Ultra Rich’s Surveillance State.

Remember right after Katrina, when we were told over and over, by people brimming with righteousness, how black people were running amok in New Orleans like fast zombies? (Like how white parents who murder their children claim a black man did it.) Meanwhile, our right-wing militarized police heroes are actually running around gunning people down, raping and pillaging. Then the political-economic elites turned New Orleans into a neoliberal fortress. It never fucking gets old for us, does it.

Pro Communist

Jodi Dean’s talk “The Communist Horizon” on the necessity of communism/socialism and of challenging bourgeois redirection efforts, wherein the author argues that if we want to oppose neoliberalism, we need to keep our eyes on the communist prize: identify and fight exploitation.

A strong point.

Dean argues, It’s not that “politics is dead.” It’s that “The Left” refuses to engage in the one kind of politics, communism, that can offer an alternative to what we have, which is exploitation. Communism is the opposite of exploitative neoliberalism. According to Dean’s philosophical view, communism is the sovereignty, the collective power of the people.

‎...And probably we refuse to engage communism because so many of us are cathected to capitalist relations. Then the Left “we” includes all the people who simply desire to be recognized as moral avatars, in compensation for our lack of solid access to power in extreme-inequality societies that many of us mostly accept.

Dean argues that pro-democracy politics in bourgeois societies are a distraction. Democracy cannot replace communism today; it is the “bent shape of communism’s loss.”

“Rather than recognizing that for the Left, democracy is the form that the loss of communism takes, the form of communism’s displacement, radical democrats treat democracy as itself replacing communism. And on this point, they share the neoliberal position regarding the victory of capitalism.

…The repercussion of the sublimation of communism in democratic preoccupations with process and participation is acquiescence to capitalism as the best system for the production an distribution of resources, labor and goods.

…The mistake Leftists make, when they turn into liberals and democrats, is thinking that we are beyond the communist horizon, that democracy replaced communism, rather than serves as the contemporary form of communism’s displacement.”

Dean continuously opposes Zizek’s vision of reinvigorating communism. She argues, I think inessentially, that Leftists should focus on extending the communist critique of exploitation, rather than use the concept of exclusion to critique capital, as Zizek does. “Capitalism doesn’t exclude. It exploits,” she insists. Sure, let’s not lose sight of the fact that capitalism exploits. I don’t think Zizek loses sight of this.

Zizek argues that exclusion creates surplus population that is essential to concentrated capitalist accumulation and use of power. I would say that Dean’s opposition to Zizek is unnecessary, and seems to be motivated by her desire to sell the society-as-“network” metaphor rather than Zizek’s Lacanian psychoanalytical capitalist-whole-constituted-by-the-lack metaphor. Meh. I don’t think this is much more than academic competitive posturing and salesmanship. I usually say that exclusion and inclusion are tools capitalism uses across space and social stratifications to ramp up exploitation, see neoliberal European efforts to improve immigrant “inclusion” via getting rid of labor laws that bolster labor’s capacity to work in solidarity and reduce exploitation. I think there’s a social movement point in surveying capitalism’s tactical repertoire; and it doesn’t require we forget about exploitation.

In a similar way, I think that if we understand socialism historically, as the embattled and so-far-lost effort to expand the Enlightenment, then there are both bourgeois (democracy as a modest, constrained assemblage of political substitutes for equal access to the social surplus, and for equal contribution to decisions about accumulation, distribution, and how we shall live) and socialist (eg. economic democracy, equal access to the social surplus, and equal contribution to decisions about accumulation, distribution, and how we shall live) pro-democracy (rule of the people) politics. Socialist pro-democracy movements are nothing less than the continuing, still-necessary fight for the people’s sovereignty, against the alienation and exploitation that both permit nonstop, concentrated accumulation and limit democracy. I would say that it is important at this historical juncture to distinguish socialist democracy from bourgeois stunted democracy.

…Easier said than done, given capitalist hegemony…Which brings up the importance of recognizing that capitalism always already entails class war…
On the importance of discipline and confidence in committing to change, Dean concludes:

“As Lukacs makes clear, for the Leninist party, the actuality of revolution requires discipline and preparation not because the party can accurately predict everything that will occur, because it cannot, and not because it has an infallible theory, which it does not. Discipline and preparation are necessary in order to adapt to the circumstances. The party has to be consistent and flexible because revolution is chaotic.

The actuality of revolution then is an enabling impediment. It’s a condition of constituitive non-knowledge for which the party can prepare. It’s a condition that demands response, if the party is to be accountable to the people, if the party is to function as a communist party.

The difference between actuality and futurity, the perpetual displacement of democracy into an impossible future, then is a difference in preparation, discipline, responsiveness and planning. The former requires it. The latter seems to eschew it or postpone it. For the Leninist party, to postpone is to fail now.

The actuality of revolution is one cannot postpone a decision or judgment. It means that one undertakes it fully exposed to one’s lack of coverage in history, or even the chaotic revolutionary moment. It means that one has to trust that the revolutionary process will bring about new constellations, arrangements, skills, convictions, that through it we will bring about something else, something we aren’t imagining now.”

The bourgeois cannot trust this creative process. The risk inherent in this process is too great for her, and faced with it, she will collapse communism into a fetishized account of the political sins of a Stalin, Pol Pot or Kim Jung Il.

“The communist horizon is what we must focus on and use as a guide if this redirection is compelled by the force of the common rather than by the speculation of the few.”

It’s interesting that that this need for discipline is not immediately apparent to many academics. Perhaps the absence of an understanding of the benefits of discipline from academic analysis of social movement and political change is the result of the rise of idealist elaboration and the Saramagian blindness to historical-material exploitation. Perhaps its absence belies academics’ unprocessed piles of regret at “succeeding” as disciplined academics in the neoliberal era.

What I think is interesting right now (December 2011) is that, given Occupy critical mass, democratic process appears to facilitate coalition bloc discipline. I still think, however, that Dean’s critique of the 1990s post-Marxist fetishized glorification of empty-signifier “democracy” as a substitute for anti-exploitation was looooong overdue.