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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Mazzucato’s The entrepreneurial state

Mazzucato’s “The Entrepreneurial State,” in which Mazzucato questions the neoliberal orthodoxy on public spending–that the state must be cut back to make room for entrepreneurship and innovation, to prevent the public sector ‘crowding out’ the private sector. Mazzucato argues that the neoliberal policy program draws on a belief that the private sector is dynamic, innovative and competitive, in contrast to a presumably sluggish and bureaucratic public sector.

The Entrepreneurial State challenges the “minimalist view” of economic policy. It finds that successful economies result from government doing more than just creating the right conditions for growth.

Instead, government has a key role to play in developing new technologies whose potential is not yet understood by the business community. State-funded organisations can be nimble and innovative, transforming economies forever — the algorithm behind Google was funded by a public sector National Science Foundation grant.

 This pamphlet forces the debate to go beyond the role of the state in stimulating demand, or crudely ‘picking winners’ in industrial policy. Instead, it argues for a proactive, entrepreneurial state: a state that is able to take risks and harness the best of the private sector. It imagines the state as a catalyst, sparking the initial reaction that will cause innovation to spread.

–From the abstract

“The Entrepreneurial State” sounds super Peter Evans-derivative (Hello? “Embedded Autonomy” isn’t that old, people). It sounds a little dumber than Evans, actually, since it seems, from the abstract, not to include Evan’s key observation that when a state fosters innovation, capital, being capital, will turn around and try to destroy the conditions of innovation, the state.

I think the argument has to advance. The neoliberal myth about private innovation/public stagnation is designed not to promote minimalist economic policy. There’s no evidence for that. Rather, it’s designed to promote primitive accumulation.

Keynes: Manage Capitalists Like Domestic Animals

After a tepid political response (overly accommodating to US capital’s corrosive sense of entitlement) and an initial partial recovery from the early 20th century Depression, the US slumped back into economic crisis. In this 1938 letter, Keynes advised FDR on how to more emphatically direct social wealth to the working class in order to get the US out of economic collapse. (David Cay Johnston calls this the ‘circulatory’ understanding of money–If social wealth, like blood, is blocked from getting to the working class, money pools up and rots the system.)

In this advice, Keynes urged FDR to have the confidence to understand and manage capitalists as a species of domestic animals.

There is indication in FDR’s response to Keynes that the capitalist US President understood US prosperity simply as a good in service of outcompeting communism–or at least non-Anglo-centric economies–around the globe. Again this is evidence that, for capitalists (obviously with human lifespans and thereby very time-delimited strategic horizons), economic decline is not perceived as a direct threat to their self-interest–so long as they maintain ownership of a society’s accumulated wealth. That is, capitalists appear to be systematically incapable of understanding economics beyond their own relative advantage. I think that economic inequality (produced by the normal, alienating functioning of capitalism) regularly produces this solipsistic capitalist conceptual error, ensuring economic crisis.

(Thanks to Doug Henwood for posting this link.)

The US govt: Sold to the highest bidder

Edited from the following article:

November 1, 2005. Greenhouse, Steven. Labor Dept. Is Rebuked Over Pact With Wal-Mart. The New York Times.

In January the Department of Labor found 85 child labor violations at Wal-Mart stores in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Arkansas alone, involving workers under 18 who operated dangerous machinery, including cardboard balers and chain saws. Wal-Mart stopped the investigation by agreeing to pay a $135,540 fine. Then, without its own lawyers, the Bush-staffed Labor Department worked with Walmart Lawyers to find a way to prevent future regulation of the top American profit-maker and Republican Party contributor.

Yesterday, the Labor Department’s Inspector General strongly criticized department officials for “serious breakdowns” in procedures involving this agreement promising Wal-Mart Stores 15 days’ notice before labor investigators would inspect its stores for child labor violations.

The report by the inspector general faulted department officials for making “significant concessions” to Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, without obtaining anything to protect workers in return. The report also criticized department officials for letting Wal-Mart lawyers write substantial parts of the settlement and for leaving the department’s own legal division out of the settlement process. The pact between WalMart and the Labor Department was intended to be kept secret from the public. The Labor Department took the unusual action of announcing the agreement a month after it was signed, doing so only after some details were leaked to a newspaper.

The Inspector General’s report said that in granting Wal-Mart the 15-day notice, the Wage and Hour Division violated its own handbook. It added that agreeing to let Wal-Mart jointly develop news releases about the settlement with the department violated Labor Department policies.

In addition to allowing the 15-day notice, the agreement lets Wal-Mart avoid civil citations and fines if it brings a store into compliance within 10 days of when the department notifies it of a violation.

In exchange for these favors, the inspector general wrote, there was “little commitment from the employer beyond what it was already doing.”

“In our view,” the inspector general’s office wrote about the Wage and Hour Division, “the Wal-Mart agreement may adversely impact W.H.D.’s authority to conduct future investigations and issue citations or penalty assessments, and potentially restrict information to the public.”

Responding to its inspector general, the Labor Department said it “strongly disagrees with the report’s overall characterization of the effectiveness of the Wal-Mart child labor settlement agreement.” Even though department officials tried to claim that the agreement was much like the pacts other companies’ lawyers have drafted for the Labor Department to sign, Inspector General Heddell found that the agreement between Wal-Mart and the Wage and Hour Division “was significantly different from other agreements entered into by W.H.D.” and “had the most far-reaching restriction on W.H.D.’s authority to conduct investigations and assess” fines.

Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who asked the inspector general to investigate the settlement, said the report showed that the Bush administration was seeking to do favors for a powerful friend and a major Republican contributor in Wal-Mart. “The Bush Labor Department chose to do an unprecedented favor for Wal-Mart, despite the fact it is well known for violating labor laws, including child labor laws,” Mr. Miller said. “The sweetheart deal put Wal-Mart employees at risk, undermined government effectiveness, and further undermined public confidence that the government is acting on its behalf.”

Even though the sweetheart deal further decimates the Labor Department’s official function of protecting the public interest, Martin Heires, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said, “We think it’s important to note that the inspector general’s office found that the agreement is in compliance with federal law.”

The inspector general recommended that the Wage and Hour Division develop procedures for developing and approving agreements and require that all future settlements be developed in coordination with the Labor Department’s legal division.

The Labor Department said that the advance notification provisions applied only to child labor matters. But the inspector general voiced concern that “the plain language of the advance notification clause applies to any potential violations, not just child labor violations.”

The Inspector General’s report said: “The inspector general has specific concerns with the Wal-Mart agreement because it contained significant provisions that were principally authored by Wal-Mart attorneys and never challenged by W.H.D., and because it did not receive adequate W.H.D. review and approval.”

capitalist corruption: the NIH doesn’t work for the public

Original reporting by DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. “Review Finds Scientists With Ties to Companies.” Published in The New York Times: July 15, 2005.

Following disclosures that some government researchers were paid thousands of dollars by drug makers, in February NIH agency director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni banned all consulting deals between agency researchers and drug or biotechnology companies. For the agency’s top scientists, he also forbade owning shares in such companies, accepting gifts worth more than $200 and accepting many research prizes. The rules are not final because Dr. Zerhouni has been concerned that the NIH could lose scientists for not allowing them to profit by drug connections. House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders are urging him to make the rules final.

Since the ban, the government-paid scientists’ conduct has been investigated. Forty-four government scientists have violated ethics rules on collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, a preliminary review by the National Institutes of Health shows. The institutes’ review found that the 44 scientists had either failed to disclose income from outside work, had failed to get permission to consult or had done the work on government time rather than their own.

Nine of the scientists may have violated criminal laws, the report said. The review did not describe what criminal laws might have been violated in the nine cases that were turned over to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. No researchers were named.

The review was outlined in a July 8 letter Dr. Zerhouni sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating conflicts of interest by government researchers. Because the NIH is investigating 103 people who have been accused of ethics violations, Dr. Zerhouni had asked the committee to keep his letter confidential. But the Committee’s leaders – Representatives Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas and John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan – said in a statement yesterday that they were releasing it because of “the compelling public interest.”

“The ethical problems are more systemic and severe than previously known,” Mr. Barton said.