Category: Politics

 

Frankly, I had been sick and tired of friends of my generation (in their early and mid-sixties now), repeating over and over again that we should “retire” from left-wing/revolutionary politics and make room for the younger generation. There was even one who suggested collective (literal) suicide. It is true that with our old habits and convictions, our experiences that we have interpreted and digested one way (but not in other possible ways), with our grudges and petty comforts, we usually acted as plugs, corks or stoppers, in short, pains in the ass. There seemed, on the other hand, to be no overflowing fountain of youth to be stopped or hindered by our old and worn off (but persistent) existence, at least for the last three or four decades.

Well, this sequence in history seems to be coming to an end.

We are approaching the 50th (Golden!) anniversary of one of the most significant anti-systemic revolutions of our time: 1968 is fifty years old next year. Immanuel Wallerstein called it a “World Revolution”:

For 1968 shook the dominance of the liberal ideology in the geoculture of the world-system. It thereby reopened the questions that the triumph of liberalism in the nineteenth century had closed or relegated to the margins of public debate. […] Liberalism did not disappear in 1968; it did, however, lose its role as the defining ideology of the geoculture. (Immanueal Wallerstein, After Liberalism, p. 139)

1968 was usually described as a “youth movement”; so much so that the radical wing of the movement in the US called themselves “Yippies” (not to be confused with “Yuppies”), the Youth International Party. Throughout these five decades we have exhaustively argued about the problems of positing the main conflict as “Young/Old”. Shouldn’t race, gender, sexual orientation or (as I should have argued as a Marxist) class be the determining divide? Can “Youth” be defined as the bearer of the revolutionary aspirations of an era? Well, yes and no. Of course age is not, cannot be, the determining factor in social change. But gender, sexual orientation or race are not, either—by themselves. Class seems to be such a factor, especially to those of us of the Marxist convinction, but the fates of various revolutions since late 18th century have shown us over and over again that it is not exactly the case in practice. Class actually is the main divide, but little does this determination help us in resolving revolutionary moments (and their aftermaths) in actual history. Class, to use a very shaky metaphor, is the explosive matter; say, gunpowder or TNT. It needs, however, a fuse to become active. Depending on the specific circumstances of an era and culture, this fuse can be women, queer people, immigrants, “inferior” races (the “subaltern” in general, so to speak) and definitely Youth. Without the fuse, the explosive matter remains inert. Without the explosive matter, on the other hand, the fuse just fizzles. For a revolution, we need both (all these potential fuses are, in one way or another, included in the explosive matter anyway). And even this is not enough: we also need an inability on the part of the ruling classes to rule, an inability to juggle the intricacies of class, gender, sexual orientation, race and age, to play them one against the other in order to keep the status quo intact. 1968 was one such event. It exploded and shone brightly for a very significant historical moment. It did not just fizzle, it changed things, it changed the ways we perceived the world, the ways we perceived each other, it changed our language and our way(s) of life in such a way that it can never go back. Then it withered away, and the ruling classes, licking their wounds, re-established the status quo pro ante. But it was not exactly pro ante either. Because even in cases of total defeat, revolutions change things.

Politics

Yes, there is a very significant current of populist nationalism (or nationalist populism—your choice) in the world, not only in the “East” where the despotic state has historic roots (see Modi, Putin, Erdoğan, not to mention Kim Jong-Un), but also in the “West”, which is (supposedly) relatively grown free of these roots (see Trump, Johnson/Farage, Wilders, Le Pen). Yes, those so-called “leaders” think, act, and sometimes look alike. It is, however, too easy (and often misleading) to think of them as “racist guys with weird hair”:

This approach, of course, tends to forget Marine Le Pen who is not a “guy” and has her hair usually under control, and also neglects to mention that for these new-fangled petty would-be dictators, the hair is the easiest aspect to get under control. As a matter of fact, Putin and Erdoğan have no “hair trouble” to speak of, although they are no better in the racism and authoritarianism departments.

The real (and serious) question is, whether there is any lingering, profound truth behind these much talked-about and advertised similarities. That all these leaders are nationalists, populists, and most of the time racists, goes without saying. But what of it? There always have been, and probably will be in the foreseeable future, many of these so-called “politicians”. In what way are they significant at this precise juncture in history?

To start with, it is our reaction to them that is significantly different. And, unfortunately, this reaction is a carefully manipulated and tailored one: we are asked (even goaded) to believe that this new generation of “politicians” are replacing neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, which is supposed to be no different from liberalism, but only newer and shinier; a regime that guarantees our liberties (as long as such liberties do not threaten the perpetual survival of capitalism); a regime that guarantees our happiness (as long as such happiness is found in the unconditional submission to the free market). So, we are supposed to be threatened, because the system that guarantees our liberties and happiness is going to be replaced with something much nastier, isn’t it?

This is the kind of manipulation we are dealing with. So, we are expected to support neoliberals against the “populists”; Hillary Clinton against Trump, Macron against Le Pen, Rutte against Wilders. Nobody asks whether we like Hillary, Macron or Rutte—we are asked to decide not by what we prefer, but by what we want to avoid. Even the phrase “lesser of two evils” is not pronounced much—we are not supposed to think of these choices as “evil” at all, lesser or greater.

Politics Uncategorized

The Guardian published an article about the recent (mis)adventures of Donald Trump by John Daniel Davidson (February 5, 2017), supposedly offering an alternative approach, but only ending up in the same populist/Bonapartist narrative as Trump himself.

What is terribly wrong with this article is that it puts us in an either/or situation. Trump is not only a self-absorbed, narcissistic, racist bigot (maybe not exactly a fascist, but the difference is undetectable right now), but also a clever politico who can exploit the need for change in a considerable percentage of the US population. The fact that the American people was forced into an impossible and sad referendum between Trump and Hillary, was the problem itself. It seemed that in this impossible choice Trump stood for “change” and the “people” and Hillary for the status quo and the elite, but this is no more than an illusion. Nobody stood for real change and for the people: they both stood for the status quo and the elite, but only for different status quos and different elites. Both of them won by a small margin (one the popular vote, the other the Presidency) and Trump became President. If Hillary had won, we would have been a bit more comfortable (or rather, blissful in our own ignorance), because hers is the more familiar status quo (hence less “uncanny”) and the more “professional” elite.

But at this point in history, neither had the means or willingness to resolve the formidably complex issues facing US capitalism. Sanders did have the willingness (but probably not the means), so he was discarded by the Democratic establishment. By doing this, the Democratic Party conceded a possible Trump win, but they probably hoped that Trump couldn’t survive four years of untruth, bullying and ignorance, or, failing that, were sure that even if he did, he could only pave the way for a huge conservative-Democratic victory in 2020. Exactly like the situation in Turkey for the last 15 years. If the Democratic Party had studied the events in Turkey a bit better, however, they could have seen the possibility that Trump might be a keeper, and disrupt and dismantle the status quo in the US without even realising that he was doing so, and do this over and over again, always finding a way to keep popular support even if by the skin of his teeth.

By the way, this is not something we should be unconditionally cheering about (“Hooray, the US system is going down the drain!”) Not because we like the existing status quo, but we, too, are completely unprepared for what is to come next. Again, look at Turkey: there is no rational, defendible oppositon to what is happening, because the existing opposition (both from the left and the right) had already conceded to the status quo, offering no alternatives but the narrative of an abstract “change”, which the AKP and President Erdoğan had already hijacked. Even the far left who seemed to be exteremely critical of the status quo (both “old” and “new”), didn’t have a hope that it could be changed or a clue about how it could (and should) change. Now that it is being forcibly changed (for the worse) by the recent Constitutional Amendment, establishing a “Presidential System” without checks and balances or a functional parliament, everybody is trying to shake off the paralysis and only now trying to think of ways of offering an alternative other than a simple “No!”

Let us hope that the Americans are wiser (and luckier) than us.

Politics Uncategorized