The Resumption of the American Civil War

‘All of the post-war agreements and compromises are being torn up’, he said.

In reply to my puzzled look, he added: ‘Post-American Civil War’.

With that observation, a whole new angle opened up on what is happening in the ‘United’ States of America. Forget using a certain Mr Donald Trump as a scapegoat, for he is a symptom of a far deeper malaise. Forget the idea that things were going relatively well until the current anomaly in the system appeared.

Instead, the ‘United’ States has always been based on a compromise. The organs of governance, the institutions of society, the structure of the ‘sacred’ constitution,  if not the infamous American version of liberal democracy, all witness to the compromises and efforts to ameliorate a fundamental contradiction.

Let me put it in more philosophical terms: the much-vaunted ‘freedom’ championed by US ideologues is based on a structural unfreedom. As Losurdo has shown so well, the freedom in question is based on slavery.  The early liberals of the United States argued that a basic right of a ‘free man’ was to own slaves. The ‘all men are created equal’ of the Declaration of Independence restricts the meaning of ‘all’, for it excluded slaves, let alone women and indigenous people. You cannot have an idea of freedom within this framework without unfreedom. In some respects, American liberal democracy expresses the ultimate truth of ancient Greek democracy: the first European development of a robust category of freedom was enabled by a structural slavery, so much so that the Greeks could simply not imagine a world without slaves.

How does all this bear on the civil war? It is the obvious manifestation of this contradiction. We may distinguish between the ‘hot’ war of 1861-1865 and the ‘cold’ war since 1865. As with ‘cold’ wars, actual skirmishes are frequent. Think of the lynch mobs after 1865 (which can be seen as the ultimate expression of the self-governance of civil society), the prison system with its millions of inmates, the almost daily massacres in one part or another, the incredibly high death toll from handguns, if not the sea of poverty and lack that surrounds islands of obscene wealth and power … One can easily argue that the civil war has never really abated.

If you care to look at what passes for ‘news outlets’ in the United States, you will find quite a bit of discussion about a new civil war. It is nearly always framed as a war to come (soonish). Obviously, this misses the whole point I have been proposing.

What form might a resumption of the ‘hot’ civil war take? Perhaps it would once again be a move to secession, as happened in the 1860s. Wait a moment: are there not already multiple secession movements, challenging directly the constitution’s efforts to rule out precisely this possibility? Indeed, a 2017 poll found that ‘nearly four in ten (39%) agree that each state has the ultimate say over their destiny and that secession is a right’. Region by region, the poll found ‘high support for secession within the South, Northeast, and out West (48%, 43%, and 43% respectively)’.

Or perhaps it is the comment from a forlorn liberal: ‘they hate us’.

Or the Rhode Island’s resident’s wish that all the ‘deplorables’ in the central west and south would be moved to cities to learn how to work, die off or be killed by a foreign power.

Or the observation from an ex-pat: ‘This is just like Pakistan, so I am used to it’. But this is somewhat unfair to Pakistan, is it not?

Advertisements

The aggression and provocation of NATO

A comrade at the University of Newcastle, Roger Markwick, has written a great piece on the ‘new cold war.’ A specialist in Soviet and Russian history, he tracks the way NATO’s blatant provocations and aggressive stances are aimed at threatening Russia and how Russia’s responses should be seen in that light. In other words, invade Russia at your own risk. NATO – ‘a lethal instrument of the world’s most powerful military machine, harnessed to a predatory, highly developed capitalist system that brooks no challenges to its hegemony’ – risks following in the steps of Napoleon and Hitler. It did not end well for them.

I would add to Roger’s analysis the growing alliance and cooperation between Russia and China, which embodies the bulk of the Eurasian landmass, huge resources, economic power and military sophistication.

The inanities of the Cold War: Doctor Zhivago

More than 100 newly declassified documents in the US have revealed how the CIA printed Russian-language copies of Boris Pasternak’s classic novel Doctor Zhivago during the cold war in an attempt to sow unrest among Soviet citizens.

So reports The Guardian, as some of the more inane dimensions of the Cold War slowly come to light. The story goes on:

John Maury, head of the Soviet-Russia division, in July 1958, states that “Pasternak’s humanistic message – that every person is entitled to a private life and deserves respect as a human being, irrespective of the extent of his political loyalty or contribution to the state – poses a fundamental challenge to the Soviet ethic of sacrifice of the individual to the Communist system”.

The problem is that the novel is pretty bad, boring even, as the pretentious Pasternak was

trying to position himself as the inheritor to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. He was trying to write the great Russian novel, and the question of whether or not he succeeded is still very heavily contested. Many would argue it’s actually a very boring novel – lots of people don’t get to the end.

(ht cp)

A blast from the Cold War past

As I opened the second volume of Stalin’s Collected Works, which I bought from a second hand bookshop in Kansas (!), a slip of paper fell out with the following notice:

This material is filed with the Department of Justice where the required statement, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, of Four Continent Book Corporation, 156 Fifth Avenue, New York 10, N.Y., as an agent of Mezhdunarodnaja Kniga, Moscow, USSR, is available for public inspection. Registration does not indicate approval or disapproval of this material by the United States Government.

What a lovely piece of Cold War doublespeak, from somewhere in the 1950s. Nice to know that they checked the collection.

And SBS outdoes Fox: Cold War remix

The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) is doing a fantastic job, even outdoing Fox in the reactionary, neo-Cold War stakes. Once upon a time, SBS was a unique operation, established by the Australian government to broadcast multi-lingual programs for Australia’s 200 or so language groups. It still does some of that, but now it is trying to muscle in on the venerable territory of rabid red-baiting carried out with exemplary skill by Fox News. It is the sort of work that makes the Fairfax’s China reporter, the wimpy liberal John Garnaut, look like a limp lettuce leaf. Take, for instance, the recent report on China’s Olympic efforts:

China’s massive medal haul at the London Games has once again showcased the country’s ability to produce champions through its rigid Soviet-style sports regime …

While the fall of Communism in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s put paid to the command-and-control systems that turned the Soviet Union and East Germany into sporting superpowers, China’s “juguo tizhi” – literally ‘whole nation system’ – remains as entrenched as ever …

… systematic physical abuse … kowtow and apologise …

It wouldn’t be legal in Britain to train as hard as the Chinese …

Hmmm … my Chinese friends have a different criticism: the government is too concerned with international Olympic glory and fails to support grass-roots sports adequately. Strangely, that sounds pretty much like the Australian government, for whom each medal at the 2012 Olympics (of whatever colour) cost over $10 million, or the English government, or the American government, or …

The Cold War as a self-fulfilling prophecy

After the Second World War, Stalin’s over-riding aims were peace and a buffer. Peace was to be attained by continuing the Grand Alliance with the UK and the USA, which would contain Germany from future aggression. The buffer against a potentially resurgent Germany was to be developed by encouraging the new democracies in eastern Europe that would be friendly to the Soviet Union. He calculated that the UK and USA would be quite amenable, given the social-democratic turns in those places and his urging of West-European communist parties to take it easy and assist with postwar reconstruction. He assumed that everyone would see the logic of having a buffer, just as they did in Western Europe.

The problem was that the other members of the Grand Alliance did not share Stalin’s assumptions and calculations. They saw the Soviet Union as a threat and with undue haste enlisted what would become West Germany as an ally (along with a goodly number of genuine Nazis). And that threat was regarded as immediate – if the Soviet Union didn’t collapse as a result of the massive war strain. They also assumed that Stalin was a conniving communist setting out the establish puppet states as a basis for world domination. It was, as Roberts points out, ‘a classic case of the self-fulfilling prophecy: the west’s overly defensive actions and reactions in response to a perceived threat provoked a counter-reaction in the form of a tightly controlled Soviet-communist bloc in Eastern Europe and a militant communist challenge in Western Europe – the very thing London and Washington had feared all along’ (Stalin’s Wars, p. 253).

Stalin was no fool, though. Already in late 1945 he observed:

Do not believe in divergences between the English and Americans. They are closely connected to each another. Their intelligence conducts lively operations against us in all countries … everywhere their agents spread information that the war with us will break out any day now. I am completely assured that there will be no war, it is rubbish … Whether in thirty years or so they want to have another war is another issue. This would bring them great profit, particularly in the case of America, which is beyond the oceans and couldn’t care less about the effects of war. Their policy of sparing Germany testifies to that. He who spares the aggressor wants another war (Roberts, p. 302).