|PETRAS ESSAYS IN ENGLISH|
May 16, 2001
To understand the present and future of revolutionary politics requires an historical analysis of the previous half century. An historical survey of the Left is a complex project, recognizing the uneven development of struggles in different continents, the contradictory tendencies, the achievements and limitations, the short and long term legacies, the relationship between economics and politics (the impact of growth or crisis on revolution), in a word, a nuanced analysis that defies intellectual fiats which pretend to define 'world processes' via economist and ethno-centric views.
Intellectuals, including academics, are sharply divided across generations between those who have in many ways embraced, however critically, 'neo-liberalism' or have prostrated themselves before "the most successful ideology in world history" and its "coherent and systematic vision" and those who have been actively writing, struggling and building alternatives, both socialist and others.(1) The role of intellectuals in the process of social transformation is complex and significant, but never decisive. They have more often reflected shifts in power between classes than defined 'independent' and 'realistic' positions as they sometimes, in a self-delusionary fashion, claim. Historically, the great mass of intellectuals have, at best, sided with democratic and nationalist movements, against colonial, dictatorial or fascist regimes. Their support for social revolutionary movements and events has been transitory, contradictory and limited. The bulk of the Russian intelligentsia was opposed to the Russian October Revolution, as was the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban as these revolutions turned toward egalitarian policies and confronted U.S. imperialist blockades, etc.
During periods of counter-revolutionary ascendancy, following temporary or historic defeats, many of the former radical intellectuals revert to their 'class origins', pursuing private advance, discovering the virtues of right-wing ideologies (spiritualism as in Russia between 1906-10) and converting their sense of private despair and isolation into a doctrine of the invincibility and irreversibility of the dominant Right. Concomitant with their prostration before the power, realism and eloquence of the Right is their denigration of the Left, its defeats, mistakes, failures, delusions, self-deceptions, etc.(2) From this 'repentant' posture emerges what C. Wright Mills called a crack-pot realism which is a kind of theorizing that reifies a particular one-dimensional configuration of contemporary power as the reality(3) and the historical defeat of the Left as the starting point for new political thinking.
This kind of pseudo theorizing of past, present and future developments of the Left lacks any historical depth. Through the lens of lost youthful enthusiasm and middle age intellectual impotence, emerges a contemporary view of a barren Left wing horizon devoid of any redeeming features, except the brave light emanating from the intellectual cronies of historical defeatism. This essay's purpose is to argue that the view of the Leftist past is much more complex and contradictory than the picture of 1950's conformity, 1960's-1970's revolutionary upsurge and 1980-2000 defeat and dissolution.(4) I will argue that the cultural and ideological forces in play in these periods had counterpoints and reflected contradictory political realities, which, in turn, played a role in defining the future direction of the Left. A critical re-evaluation of the past and its relation to the Left today sets the stage for a systematic understanding of the ascendancy and contradictions of Euro-American imperialism, its limitations and the radical and revolutionary challenges confronting it, both externally and internally.
An analysis of the contemporary context requires a principled analysis of the objective and subjective realities, one which resists the temptation to magnify the current configuration of power and minimize the Left in a kind of self-flagellation to expiate the excessive exuberance of the past (a kind of mea culpa). This is important in pre- empting any pretense for moving further right or toward a kind of apolitical or arcane self-indulgent intellectualism.(5)
Historical Survey: 1950's and 1960's
The uneven development of Left politics between North and South was never sharper than in the 1950's: in Africa, Asia and Latin America major leftist eruptions took place. In Algeria, Indo-China, Cuba, Korea (among other countries) world-historical struggles took place involving millions of revolutionary fighters, confronting Euro- American imperialism and their neo-colonial clients. In the U.S. and England this was a period of relative 'quiescence'. But it is a monstrous distortion to refer to the 1950's as a period of 'conformity'.(6) Even in Europe, in Italy, France, Greece (despite the defeat in the Civil War), and Yugoslavia, powerful mass Communist parties engaged in class politics (except in regard to the anti-colonial struggle). Even in East Europe, contradictory workers' revolts occurred in East Germany, Poland and Hungary and a critical underground cinema burst on the scene. Only blind Euro-centrism would understate the importance of the 1950's struggle to highlight the 1960's resurgence of the Left in the U.S. and England. The interconnectedness of these struggles (the extra parliamentary action against the Algerian War in the early 1960's) created the atmosphere for the uprisings in the late 1960's as did the early victories of the Vietnamese in the 1950's set the stage for the emergence of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the U.S.
Historical materialism describes the inter-connection of political processes across time and place; it has nothing to do with anecdotal accounts that pick and choose 'facts' to fit a conservative mood. The theoretical point is the uneven development of Left politics across space and time defies political fiats reflecting particular conjunctures in specific regions. Methodologically, the development of mass struggles without theoreticians (at least without Anglo-American name recognition) does not lessen their significance as history-defining movements, as Sartre and Sweezy(7) later recognized during their visits to Cuba in the early 1960's.
From the Marxist perspective, the fact that revolutionary struggles emerged in countries where the general level of the 'forces of production' was low, but the level of exploitative social relations was high strengthened theoretical perspectives which looked at human agency as central, discrediting the mechanistic 'forces of production' argument used by the European Social Democrats and Communists to justify their active or passive pro-colonialist policies (later theorized by Bill Warren in NLR/Verso and, much later, not surprisingly reaffirmed by Professor Anderson).(8) If the 1950's was not a period of world-wide conformity, neither was the 1960's, in all of its manifestations, an age of uniform revolutionary upheaval.
Though there was clearly an upsurge of mass struggles in North America, Europe and regions of the Third World, during the 1960's important reversals took place in important countries and there were severe contradictions and conflicting tendencies within the mass movements. Theoretically, the results were a positive re-evaluation and creative development of Marxist thought and its extension into new areas of intellectual work and new problem areas.
The robust activity of rural workers and peasant based guerrilla and social movements in Indo-China, Cuba and other countries led a few Marxists to reevaluate the role of the peasantry and rural struggle in their theories of revolution.(9) Likewise, the bloody Euro-American imperial interventions in Cuba, Indo-China, the Congo and elsewhere forced some Western Marxists to put imperialism back into their analysis. New non- Western theorists-activists like Fanon, Cabral, Guevara were read and influenced Euro- American militants and not an insignificant group of Western intellectuals. The negative side of this 'intellectual exchange' was the influence that some Western Marxists had on the struggles North and South. Regis Debray's book, "Revolution in the Revolution," with its ill-informed, distorted theorization of the Cuban Revolution and his militarist- elitist prescriptions took a heavy toll on the revolutionary Left in Latin America.(10) His later deluded and aborted attempt to join Che Guevara's guerrilla movement led to his capture, interrogation and subsequent informing on the location of the guerrillas and their subsequent decimation. Debray subsequently was freed and returned to later become an advisor to the neo-liberal Mitterrand regime, an apologist for France's nuclear bomb, and self-proclaimed French chauvinist. This did not prevent him from remaining a highly respected intellectual in some sectors of the Anglo-American Left, on the basis of some banal ruminations on the mass media and rather arrogant interview with sub-commander Marcos of the Zapatistas.(11) If Debray was emblematic of the negative influences of the European Left's influence on the Third World, Althussar and his followers elaborated a theoretical artifice devoid of any operational meaning, a set of abstract propositions of elegant deductive logic and irrelevant to any practical struggles or empirical reality.(12) E.P. Thompson, Poulantzas, Miliband engaged in theoretical debates which contributed to broadening understanding of the 'political' and 'cultural' spheres, while ignoring the problem of imperialism, particularly the imperial state. Thompson, in a fit of ethnocentric amnesia, denigrated the significance of the imperial-Third World struggles as the greatest source of threats of nuclear war. For Thompson, the threat of nuclear war resided in the Cold War between NATO and the U.S.S.R.(13) He maintained his Eurocentric views despite published accounts which revealed that the greatest threats of nuclear war occurred during the U.S. blockade of Cuba in 1962, Indo-China in 1954 during the early stages of the Korean War and in Vietnam during the late 1960's. When I published an essay for Spokesman (edited by Ken Coates) critiquing Thompson's thesis, he chose not to reply.(14) Reading the Miliband-Poulantzas debates on the capitalist state, one would never know that the major ideological/economic resources and institutions of the U.S. 'capitalist state' were engaged in a major imperialist war. The 1960's witnessed a great deal of intellectual creativity, with significant political and intellectual limitations.
The massive anti-war movements and urban black insurrections and civil rights movements in the U.S., and more significantly in France and Italy, the student-worker uprising raised fundamental political questions, and in the latter countries, the issues of state power. The resurgence of the Left put closure to the "end of ideology" ideologues like Daniel Bell, the pessimistic assessments of radical "power elite" theorists like C. Wright Mills and the proponents of "The American Century" like Time's Henry Luce. Likewise, the resurgent Left marginalized and discredited social democratic ideologues who had thrown in their lot with Western imperialism in the name of "democratic values".(15) Curiously enough, many of these discredited ideas, like the unprecedented and total dominance of the U.S., the absence of opposition and the demise of Leftist ideology were recently recycled in Perry Anderson's ironically titled article, "Renewals".
A new generation of Marxist and New Left writers and activists emerged who linked up with the best of the older generation of intellectual-activists: Lelio Basso, Ernest Mandel, J.P. Sartre, Herbert Marcuse, Bettleheim, Hal Draper, Sweezy, E.P. Thompson, to name a few. The 1960's Left was multi-faceted, even as publicists and later historians saw and described a single dimension: what was dubbed the "New Left", the ephemeral rock celebrities and the dope snorting apolitical mystics and poets.(16) In reality, the political and cultural sphere of 1960's Left was a rich mosaic of contradictory and conflicting movements. In the U.S., for example, a major anti-war mobilization committee was strongly influenced by Trotskyists, particularly in New York City; the anti-racist campaigns in the San Francisco Bay area were influenced by the Communist youth group, the W.E.B. DuBois Club. The subsequent attempt to equate the 1960's Left with the "New Left" and the latter with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was largely a self-serving exercise by former SDS'ers turned academic historians claiming insider knowledge over a movement, which deliberately marginalized itself from the major anti-war movements, was rejected as an equal ally by the most militant sectors of the "Black Power" movement, and was an insignificant factor in the Berkeley student movement.(17) Within the intellectual Left, several distinct intellectual styles were present: one tendency was actively engaged in linking the big issues of the property regime to the struggles and who were themselves directly involved. Another tendency included the high priests of abstract theory ("Structuralists") who set the stage for the 'post-structuralists' who spun theories and spawned endless and inconsequential debates on how many modes of production could be "articulated" in a social formation. A third tendency involved anti-intellectual 'populist' intellectuals who embraced and theorized the apolitical protesters and their rock entrepreneurs as the most significant 'new medium for politics'. Finally, there was the marginalized, professional, anti-Communist Social Democrats who published screeds in the pro-imperial media bemoaning the student Left's illusions about "Stalinism", namely, the Left's support for the liberation struggles of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front.
The programmatic Left, which combined its intellectual work with practical activity, engaged in a difficult two front struggle: on the one hand against the anti-intellectual celebrants of 'revolutionary rock music' and on the other with the abstruse and disengaged intellectual "apparatus" of the arm-chair "structuralist" theorists. The so- called counter-culture movement was in a very deliberate way a backward and inverted individualism, which later easily lent itself (and many of its practitioners) to being coopted by the ideologues of "market populism": dope snorting stock brokers, long haired IT hucksters and hip-hop slogan writers for public relations firms.
In the U.S. de facto laissez faire drug policy of the Federal Government led to a massive inflow and consumption of drugs in the ghettos and among the activist Left, driving many out of politics. Opium became the opium of the Left. Burroughs and Ginsberg and their acolytes, promoted a philosophy closer to the mystical reactionary ideas of Ayn Rand than Karl Marx. What passed for a "radical critique" of capitalism was a passing reflection on a life style which embraced ego-centered "individualism" and led directly into the self-styled "entrepreneurial right" of the 1990s.(18) The rock, sex and drugs Left made deep inroads into the political movement, its raucous sounds and evangelical fervor drew huge 'crowds'. But the nature of crowds is easy come and early go. Most counter-cultural academic writing was nothing more than populist pandering to adolescent hormones and middle aged retarded adolescents. What is significant is how quickly and decisively the rockers joined the capitalist class in outlook, income, stock holding and life style. Mick Jagger Incorporated, with his $250 million assets, still shakes his skinny ass before the crowds singing "Street-fighting Man", while hobnobbing with investment brokers in the suites. Jerry Garcia, the hip lead of the Grateful Dead, was a police informer for many years, turning on and turning in his friends and followers. The Beatles, the more sedate, Liverpool proles, clip coupons, in casual clothes, a role model for the new hip IT millionaires. Rock music, the musicians and the counter-culturalists ' did not 'create' the political movement, they lived off of it and later abandoned the occasional benefit concerts for the Left when the struggle ebbed, retaining their 'populist' costumes and rhetoric while touring for top dollar. The crucial analytical point is that the "evangelical" style of the rock culture profoundly de-politicized an emerging Left-youth constituency, undermined programmatic politics in the name of radical 'life styles' and physically and mentally destroyed many young people with its drug excesses and pseudo anti-work ethos. While the rockers had the money to bum around, enter a detox clinic, hire expensive lawyers to keep them out of jail, most of their followers wandered aimlessly, slept on grates, drifted into 'lumpen' day work or ended up doing long stretches in jail or in asylums.
The theoretical point is that there are links between some variants of intellectual and cultural life in the 1960's and 1970's and the right turn in the 1990's: the substantive differences in political activity in the two periods, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, are bridged by the pseudo-radical individualist cultural practices and values in both periods.
In England the 1990's inheritance from the rock culture of the 1960's was a millionaire knighted "street fighter". In the U.S. it was Jerry Rubin, the promoter of drugs and Left politics in the 1960's, who led the mass conversion of yippies to yuppies. The counter- cultural "rebellion" of the 1960's carried the seeds of the mass commercial youth consumer marketeering of the 1990's.
The significant political-cultural breakthroughs in the 1960's and early 1970's were found in the politicization of the military conscripts and the spread of anti-militarist ideology in the Armed Forces and in the general public, leading to the virtual paralyzation of the Army, which contributed to the ending of the Indo-China war. This political-cultural transformation led to the end of conscription and the biggest reduction of military budgets in the Cold War period. Equally, it contributed to the long-term weakening of the use of U.S. ground troops in overseas combat. In the sphere of music, anti-war folk singers like Baez and Phil Ochs were important influences. Malcolm X, Che Guevara and hundreds of activist-intellectuals made major contributions in shaping the anti-militarist culture.
Powerful social movements emerged among women, racial minorities, and environmentalists which broadened and deepened radical thought and practice. Within these movements important divisions emerged between liberals pressuring for a limited accommodation to capitalist power and those who challenged the property regime. These divisions continue throughout the latter half of the 20th century, with one wing adopting a pseudo radical post-modernist position emphasizing "identity" politics, while others hewed closer to a class analysis perspective. Two points need to be emphasized in this regard. The 'new social movements' even in the 1960s were politically divided between radicals and liberals. Secondly, the 1990s accommodation to power of some leaders merely reflected their historical origin and did not reflect the totality of the movements nor were they a particular novelty of the 1990s capitalist ascendancy, as Anderson claims.
In cinema the academic-apolitical political intellectuals looked toward the elite Cahiers du Cinema and the Nouvelle Vague to inform their avant garde posturing, while the activist intellectuals looked to Cuban film and documentaries, Gillio Portocarrero, Costa Garvis, Litten and films like the Battle of Algiers, Burn, Z, Missing, the Battle of Chile. These films and film-makers reached out to connect with tens of thousands of activists, catalyzing a new aesthetic breakthrough which linked art to politics.
Deep divisions appeared between Western Marxists and anti-imperialist writers. The former denied the significance of the massive revolutionary struggles in Indo-China, Latin America and Southern Africa. "Third Worldism" became a common deprecatory label among the WM who focused exclusively on developments in the 'advanced capitalist countries' and, more particularly, on their own nuclear campaigns, library research and polemical tiffs in their literary-political journals. The anti-imperialists contributed to theorizing, analyzing and debating the contradictions between imperialism and the Third World, the internal class structures and revolutionary perspectives. Some writers wrote from an abstract 'globalist' perspective,(19) others from a 'class analysis approach'. The former virtually wrote off class and political struggles in the imperial countries, mirror images of their 'Western Marxist' adversaries. The latter optimistically envisioned an eventual class linkage across the imperial divide, based on the French revolt of 1968 and Italy of 1969.
What it is important to note is that the intellectuals entered en masse on the political scene late, after the mass movements gained energy and national dimensions, and departed from active engagement early. For them the major breakthrough was the university administrators' forced acceptance of Left intellectuals as academics. On the other hand, many Left intellectuals turned academics 'institutionalized' Leftist thought into part of their professional life: they ceased to write from a political perspective. Academic Marxism, with its journals, conferences and debates, helped fill curriculum vitae, facilitated promotions and even led to state financed research centers and even distinguished chairs for the most entrepreneurial. The movements and struggles became 'objects' to write about, not to be engaged in. The institutional intellectuals in the West, particularly subsequent to the military coups in Latin America, introduced their exiled Third World counterparts to the world of foundation-funded academic Leftism, a world in which the 'material existence' of accommodation, and the norms of success would ensure an evolution toward and assimilation into apolitical literary-political Leftism.
The sixties was a complex period of intellectual political engagement. The opening of academic institutions became 'terrain for struggle' and vehicles for social mobility and access to the prestigious journals of the dominant culture.
Counter-revolution in the Revolution
Even at the height of the 1960's upsurge, ominous developments were occurring: U.S.-supported coups in Indonesia and Brazil decimated millions of activists in the former and undermined the Left in the latter, in two of the biggest and most promising countries in the Third World. China's Cultural Revolution, which began as an egalitarian challenge to bureaucratic power, was turned into a plaything of elite factional wars, alienating activists, emptying revolutionary slogans of their content and setting the stage for the ascendancy of capitalist restorationist forces in the late 1970's. Khrushchev's post-Stalin revelations loosened the Stalinist repressive apparatus, while also encouraging the emergence of a new generation of avaricious pro-Western professionals, functionaries and clandestine marketeers.
While 'Soviet Marxism' became a state ideology manipulated by a relatively privileged elite, living standards of the Soviet population rose significantly, with universal employment, free and accessible medical care, low cost housing, free education and month-long vacations in workers' resorts. Significant socio-economic and political improvements in the Soviet Union, however, went unnoticed by important sectors of the New Left, who continued to rely on the outmoded 'anti-Stalinist' rhetoric in place of a more nuanced analysis of the contradictory and complex Soviet reality. As one editor of New Left Review told me during the Trotskyist romance with the Vatican-CIA funded Solidarity movement in Poland, "Anything is better than Stalinism."(20) Thus, the ideological seeds for the Russian catastrophe of the 1990's were sown in the Stalinophobia of the 1960's and 1970's.
There were outstanding intellectuals who spoke and acted against the imperialist pressures and enticements: J.P. Sartre's rejection of the Nobel Prize and his collaboration with Bertrand Russell and Lelio Basso in the organization of the Russell Tribunals on Indo-China (and later on Latin America), provided a European platform for the victims and fighters against U.S. genocide.
Any worthwhile attempt to survey and compare the present period with the previous four decades is obligated to go beyond superficial dichotomous simplifications, which overlook the contradictions and counter-currents, the potentialities as well as the limitations in any upsurge or downturn in popular struggles. This is particularly true in looking at cultural and intellectual movements, where one must be careful to separate personal preferences for certain types of film or music with its real political impact and influence. What is intellectually dishonest is to overlook the counter-tendencies of the past, (particularly in the 1960's-70's) and in the present period in order to paint a black and white picture. This methodology defines struggles and movements by intellectual fiat dictating that the political environment of the 1960's was revolutionary and the 1990's was a period in which the Left, Marxism, and significant social struggles have no importance and in which U.S. hegemony reigns supreme and uncontested.(21) This is not only a thinly disguised reactionary politics, it is shoddy social and political analysis devoid of any historical-theoretical underpinnings. One dimension theorizing distorted by a pessimistic mood and an ill-informed infatuation with science leads to an anecdotal method more akin to a lawyer's brief, in which selective facts replace careful analysis of the complex and changing realities of the 1990's and the new millennium.
Restoration, Imperialism and Revolution in the 1990's
The 1990's cannot be understood simply by issuing a 'political manifesto' which proclaims that U.S. hegemony rules supreme, revolutionary struggles no longer exist,(22) the ideology of the Right is coherent and systematic,(23) Leftist ideas have been co-opted, are fragmentary and irrelevant.(24) Nor can we speak of the decade as a coherent 'whole' without taking account of the crises that opened the decade, the speculative bubble that burst at the end of the decade and the unstable volatility in between. Nor can we overlook the sharp and deep opposition to U.S. imperial intervention that preceded the Gulf War and the rising tide of resistance to Euro-U.S. economic domination at the end of the decade. It is the height of willful myopia to ignore the imperial defeats and the emergence of significant anti- imperialist movements in the Third World and the mass struggles that call into question the whole repertoire of imperial 'neo-liberal' policies, their international financial sponsors and their domestic political underpinnings.
No doubt there have been significant imperial victories, and severe reversals on the Left which need to be taken into account. But certainly only an ahistorical and hasty judgement can claim that the decade was a period of unprecedented historical defeats, which surpasses anything in prior history.(25) From the early 1930's to the early 1940's the Left was totally destroyed in most of Europe (Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Hungary, Japan, Poland, etc.) or reduced to a shell of its past influence (France, Norway) or isolated from the main centers of power (China, Indo-China, etc.) or coopted into imperialist regimes (United Kingdom, U.S.). Tens of millions of workers, peasants and others were killed; hundreds of millions were ruled by bloody tyrants who allowed not even elemental class organizations. There were theorists then, both on the Right and Left, who saw the new rising fascist or 'bureaucratic' power (Burnham)(26) as 'the wave of the future' (Lindbergh), impregnable and all-powerful. Some intellectuals turned toward philosophic and literary exercises in the occupied areas (Sartre, Camus). Fascism and imperialism surged from the capitalist economic crisis of the East and West and the passivity of the Left. Social Democrats in Germany and Austria offered to share power with the Nazis until they were physically driven from office, some jailed, others fled to exile, a few remained in Germany unmolested.
Nothing similar has occurred during the 1990's, despite the bloody repression and imperial bombings in Iraq (one million dead), Yugoslavia (thousands) and elsewhere. If anything, U.S. violent reaction was more severe in the 1960's-1970's and 1980's. During the 1965-76 decade four million were killed in Indo- China, 50,000 in the Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina, etc.). During the 1979-89 decade, the U.S., with its death squads and client terrorist regimes, killed close to 300,00 workers, peasants and others in Central America alone, not to speak of the millions killed in its proxy wars in Angola, Mozambique, Afghanistan and Cambodia. Any serious discussion of U.S. "hegemony" in the 1990s cannot avoid the bloody class and imperial wars that preceded the decade, nor can it evade examining the highly exploitative class relations and servile regimes which emerged to serve the imperial power.(27)
U.S. "hegemony", a rather vacuous concept that inflates the role of 'political persuasion', is totally inappropriate when one considers the scope and depth of violence in the recent past and its continuous use on a selective but demonstrable basis in the present.(28) The theoretical point is that imperial power has been cyclical, based on political and social relations and state violence and never 'totally dominant' (even with so-called 'totalitarian' regimes) and was certainly more destructive and dominant in other decades of this century. From this historical perspective we can dismiss some of the declamatory remarks emanating from Western Marxists, prostrate before the U.S. empire.(29)
But it is not only historical arguments that militate against the prostrators, there is a growing body of evidence that sharply challenges the thesis of unchallenged U.S. imperial power -- both in the socio-political, diplomatic and economic spheres.
Throughout the 1990's, and in most regions of the world, significant anti-imperialist, socialist and populist leftist movements have challenged the rule of imperial clients, the international financial institutions of imperial power and, more specifically, the neo-liberal policy agenda. Mass demonstrations of trade unionists, community organizations, environmentalists, peasant and farmer organizations, students, feminists and many others against the imperial ruling classes were evident in Seattle, Washington, Melbourne, Prague, Nice and many other Western cities. Hundreds of thousands of farmers in India organized to defeat the intrusion of U.S. and European based biotech, chemical and agro-business, multi-national corporations attempting to appropriate local varieties and impose 'monopoly' seed control (hardly "archaic movements" as some Western Marxists would have it). In every continent farmers and peasants, consumer groups and trade unionists (despite their leadership) have battled multi-nationals, blocked highways, taken over parliaments and provided a deeper understanding of the role of the IMF-World Bank than ever before in history. The scope, depth and consistency of these movements varies by region and historical moment. Some expressions are sustained and large-scale, others are massive and made up of diverse coalitions, but all share a common opposition to imperial domination. In some regions significant advances, political and economic victories, have occurred leading to the accumulation of forces and a radicalization of the struggle. In others, waves of massive social action are followed by an ebbing and re-groupment of forces.
These revolutionary and radical movements are different from the earlier period and have to be examined in the new context. Some of the 1990's movements draw from the earlier Marxist programs, others have introduced a more extensive and profound integration of a multiplicity of struggles into the vortex of anti-capitalist or at least anti-big business movements. In addition to the growing consumer movements (the opposition to GM food, Mad Cow disease and other corporate induced "innovations") a new wave of environmentalist-social justice advocates and feminists have emerged who question the property regime. Anderson's attempt to amalgamate the "Greens" with the German Green party bosses and the feminists with pro-Clintonite feminists is engaged in shoddy scholarship and unethical political polemics.(30) New international networks and organized international struggles surpass efforts of a similar kind in the 1960s.
Methodologically it is a false move to enumerate the demise of the 1960s Left institutions and type of activities and equate that with the absence of a Left in the 1990s. It is like counting oranges and forgetting the apples. Only someone completely divorced from the realities of the 1990's or in a 1960's time warp could perform such an act of unblinking incomprehension.
While the "Soviet bloc" disappeared, it was not even then part of a "Marxist culture" in its practice -- internally or externally. Its theories had ceased to exercise much influence, not only in Western Europe and North America but throughout the Third World. The importance of the Soviet bloc was as a counter-balance to U.S. imperial power, an alternative market, source of trade, investment, loans and arms -- strategically important in sustaining non-aligned countries, and some revolutionary regimes, even as it imposed blinders and in some cases destructive policies on those parties which followed it. In the 1990's, there is no claim to a revolutionary center or false oracles of revolutionary verities.
There are, however, powerful revolutionary guerrilla armies in the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) challenging for state power, recognized by Washington as a major challenger of U.S. imperial power, even as some Leftist intellectuals, more papist than the Pope, preach undisputed U.S. hegemony. Together the two guerrilla armies number 20,000 and have many times that number of peasant supporters, and urban militia units. In comparison to the 1960's, guerrilla challenges to U.S. empire, the Colombian guerrillas in the 1990's are far more formidable than anything earlier, both in territorial influence, military political strategic capacity, leadership and most important sustainability(31). Both in size, population, geo-political location and economic resources, the U.S.-Colombian confrontation is much more significant than the Cuban or Nicaraguan revolutions.
The same can be said for the mass revolutionary struggle of the Rural Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil. With over a half-million members and sympathizers, tens of thousands of politically conscious activists -- 12,000 delegates attended their last national Congress in July, 2000 -- the MST's banners of agrarian reform, national liberation and socialism have served as a pole of organization for a great part of the urban movements,, dissident left trade unionists, radical Catholics and Marxist intellectuals. No rural movement in the 1960's had the capacity for successful action that the MST demonstrated during the 1990's: occupying thousands of Latifundios, settling over 200,000 families (one million people) and growing despite hundreds of killings of rural activists. No 1960's extra-parliamentary movements were capable of building such broad, strategic and durable alliances with church, university, parliamentary, trade union, and human rights groups as the MST has constructed. Few, if any, mass based movements in the 1960's invested as much time and effort in political education for its activists, cadres, regional and national leaders as the MST.
The argument is not that the MST is in a position to challenge for state power today or in the near future; rather, the theoretical point is that in a large swathe of the biggest country in the Western hemisphere there is an avowed heterodox Marxist mass social movement successfully challenging U.S. imperial domination and its client Cardoso regime. The peculiarity of the Brazilian situation in the 1990's is the perverse position taken by one of Western Europe's leading Marxist theoreticians(32) who early on declared that "Cardoso could be Brazil's best President of this century," a judgement made by ignoring Cardoso's alliance with the most retrograde landlord forces in Brazil, and the staunch opposition of the MST and a whole continuum of the Left. Needless to say, Cardoso's craven sell-off of the most lucrative resources to foreign capital at a 'political price', makes him the unprecedented... entreguista of the century. It is not surprising that those European and U.S. Marxists or ex-Marxists who put their faith in the Cardosos of the Third World who failed to live up to their expectation are the same believers in the "unchallenged power of U.S. hegemony".
If Brazil and Colombia are two of the most powerful examples of challenges to U.S. imperial power, there are numerous other significant socio- movements which are at least worthy of note. Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay have witnessed massive peasant Indian-trade union coalitions organize massive general strikes which have toppled pro-U.S. regimes, paralyzed IMF dictated neo-liberal measures and politically polarized the country.(33)
Now, to be sure, the prostrators will argue that these struggles are 'episodic' (despite their repetitions), not 'party based' (extra-parliamentary movements don't count), and lack revolutionary "theory" (they do have detailed programmatic agendas, obviously distinct from the scholastic exercises on cultural exotica found in the politically irrelevant literary-political circles of certain Euro-American intellectuals). In the final analysis, the prostrators argue the demands of these mass movements can be 'assimilated' to capitalism, and their leaders "coopted" (according to their 'idealized' version of U.S. "hegemony").(34) These Western intellectuals babbling about "hegemony" forget the continual mass murders and assassinations of popular leaders, massive repressive apparatus and death squads organized by U.S. imperialism who trust more in the traditional violence of imperial power than in the persuasion associated with U.S. "hegemony". Some Western intellectuals might concede that some sort of challenge to U.S. hegemony occurs in the Third World (though they cringe to use that term anymore) but certainly not in the 'advanced capitalist countries', they would argue, where all the major decisions affecting world power are decided. As Debray once told some friends from Bolivia when he was a French functionary, "The Third World is like a drum: loud noises, inconsequential politics."
Once again, the prostrators overlook the significant growth of burgeoning social movements in the imperial countries whose scope and depth of opposition to corporate power exceeds comparable movements in the 1960's in terms of impact and partial victories. The obvious events emblematic of this new turn include the mass demonstrations against international capital in Seattle, Melbourne, Prague, Washington, London and elsewhere. With all of their contradictory elements (protectionists versus internationalists), these demos cut deeper into the core elements of capitalism than the vague 'out of Vietnam' slogans of the 1960's. Unlike the 1960's, there are significant working relations between trade unionists, farmers and students and intellectuals. Naturally there are sideline intellectuals who do not see the radical potential (and reality) of these struggles because they don't match their preconceived ideals of what a revolutionary movement should be, illustrating once again the total absence of realism and the prostrators' inability to situate themselves in the changing political realities of the 1960s.
This is clearly illustrated by the powerful world wide opposition to genetically manipulated food by the imperial chemical companies. From India to France and beyond, consumers, farmers, peasants, students, and workers have fought genetic modified foods and the states and regimes which promote them, with a virulent and informed passion that has successfully forced a major retreat by Monsanto and other multi-national corporations. The populace versus big business polarization, the anti- imperial content and anti-corporate ideology and the sustaining power of these movements, as they move from one issue area to another gives these struggles more than a symbolic, transitory and co-optable character. It is very odd indeed in this regard when a leading Western Marxist deprecates this movement and the empirical research informing it and embraces the pro-genetic press handouts put out by the most reactionary chemical corporations as the real revolutionary force, borrowing the market populist propaganda of the ideologists of the new economy.(35)
The new radical movements engaged in extra-parliamentary struggles, have seen their ranks expanded with the re-emergence of trade union activists and workers in challenging the existing consensus between the New Right, (ex-Social Democratic and Democratic Parties) and the Old Right. These struggles in France, Germany, Norway, and Denmark put a question mark over the neo-liberal agenda of free markets and the hollowing out of the welfare state. These movements are not revolutionary in theory but are certainly starting points for the reconstruction of class-based politics.
Most Marxists understand that reforms are the starting point for all revolutions in the 20th century; the question is how reforms are attained and how they are linked to broader struggles. To the intellectual prostrators, reforms are simply adaptations to capital, which, they argue, has the unlimited power and will to concede reforms, though no significant reforms have been accepted in the last quarter of a century.(36)
Even in the United States the degree of popular hostility to free market capitalism is evident in every survey over the last decade. A majority favors a national health plan, company paid pensions, social security, full employment policy, and state regulation of utilities. Substantial majorities oppose free trade, sending U.S. troops abroad to fight, existing levels of inequalities, corporate dominance of electoral campaigns and government policy. Significant social movements exist on many of these issues. These anti-neoliberal attitudes call into question the notion of U.S. ruling class "hegemony" (the ideas of the ruling class are not the ideas of the popular majority). The real question is not "hegemony" but the absence of representative democracy: the gap between popularly expressed interests (values) and the political class's policies defending ruling class interests.
Apart from the collective actions and majoritarian attitudes calling into question U.S. free market "hegemony", U.S. imperial dominance has suffered several blows in the diplomatic arena. In a region of the highest strategic significance (the Middle East) and among the oil producing states the State Department has suffered several setbacks. Iran and Iraq have effectively broken the U.S.-sponsored boycott and have jointly participated in international conferences with Saudi Arabia, the major U.S. oil supplier. In addition, Libya has broken out of the U.S. orchestrated boycott and has intensified its links with Europe, particularly Italy. Venezuela, under Chavez has revitalized OPEC and has developed commercial and political links with Washington's bete-noir Cuba. The latter has totally isolated the U.S. at the U.N., Ibero-American Summit and even at the OAS on the U.S. economic boycott, Helms-Burton and other regional issues.
In the meantime, sharp and escalating commercial rivalries between the EU and the U.S. are emerging, even as deepening inter-penetration of each other's multi-nationals occurs. Likewise, while NATO still remains dominant (and, of course, through it U.S. power) the EU countries are making efforts to create their own rapid deployment military forces to protect their imperial interests. The point is that while these European initiatives have nothing progressive about them, contrary to the eloquent lucubrications of French literary nationalist Regis Debray, they do reflect challenges to the notion of unassailable U.S. hegemony.
The regions most susceptible to misunderstanding by impressionist Western intellectual prostrators are the former Communist countries, particularly China, Indo-China and even Russia and Eastern Europe. While on the surface, China seems to be creeping under Western hegemony (dubious in itself as most investment comes from the overseas Chinese plutocrats and Japan) and certainly entrance into the WTO will greatly accelerate Euro-American takeovers of market shares, firms and local savings, the other side of the picture is the rising tide of mass protests by unemployed, unpaid and exploited factory workers, peasants and day workers. The growing inequalities, vast network of party-state-private corruption and the conspicuous Asian opulence in the face of increasing immiseration, grates against a population still imbued with and cognizant of Communist values of equality, rectitude and the iron pot - the full employment, free public health and educational policies of the Communist era. The blatant surrender of China's sovereignty, markets and strategic industries, the humiliations accompanying gross acts of deliberate military aggression like the bombing of the Chinese Embassy and the heightened missile encirclement of China (which Washington has predictably dubbed the missile shield) have aroused nationalist, popular sentiments even among the intellectuals and students, among the most notorious pro- Western, pro-capitalist groupings. The structural underpinnings for a new round of civil warfare are all present. Opposition to the no-liberal agenda, is widespread, dispersed, localized and despite being constantly heavily repressed, growing. Even Western gurus of China's market opening foresee serious social resistence and the possibility of reversion if (as is expected) massive unemployment occurs.
To simply count China as another counter in adding up the sum of countries under U.S. hegemony is too facile. It means ignoring the deep structural contradictions, the egalitarian thrust in the Cultural Revolution and even further back in history the cyclical swings between nationalism/socialism and liberalism since the middle of the 19th century. Moreover it ignores the fact that below the leadership level and the wealthy, private elites, there are hundreds of millions of Chinese who reject the restoration of Western dominance and the return of what Marx called "all the old crap": humiliation, unemployment, chronic diseases, opiates, regional fiefdoms, etc. Even within the Communist Party apparatus there is a sector of vacillating neo-statists and nationalists, who could opportunistically seize the chance if the current crop of neo-liberals falter.
In Eastern Europe and Russia, the most blatant servants of Euro-American hegemony have been frequently rejected at the ballot box. Walesa's party didn't break double digits in the last Presidential election. In Rumania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belarus, and elsewhere the most fanatical neo-liberals were toppled by ex-Communist demagogues who promised socialist measures (full employment, end of Western impositions-particularly IMF austerity measures) and then implemented liberal policies. While at one level the alternation between liberals and pseudo nationalists/ex-Communists have confirmed Euro-American hegemony, at the level of mass behavior the politics of rejection of imperialist dominance and free-market economics is palpable. Ending the welfare state and full employment, and the unprecedented catastrophic decline of living standards, production and health in Russia and the rest of the USSR has certainly undermined popular belief in the beneficence of U.S. hegemony among the mass of the people.
Any discussion of U.S. hegemony cannot rely on breezy tourist accounts of developments in Cuba.(37)
To read into the general public, the behavior and outlook of the client elites is an unwarranted assumption - both on methodological and empirical grounds. To assume that electoral processes aggregate the interests of the electorate and in some way reflect and represent majoritarian interests is to overlook the gross concentration of institutional power, especially in the mass media, the flagrant manipulation of campaign financing and the use of force, corruption and poverty to pervert and manipulate voting outcomes and elected officials' behavior.
U.S. World Hegemony and Domestic Decay
The key to understanding the relative strength of U.S. hegemony is to examine its structural foundations as well as the external constraints discussed above. To engage in general projections based on a misreading of structural fundamentals can lead to the kind of monumental nonsense that predicts an Asian century shortly before the Asian crash (Arrighi).(38) Underlying the claims of unprecedented and absolute U.S. global hegemony are the arguments of the New Economists' ideologues who describe an unprecedented period of U.S. economic expansion and its economic superiority based on its advanced information technology, and greater productivity (read: competitiveness). The convergence of views between the prostrate left intellectuals and the huckster ideologues of market populism is a result of the same method, grandiose generalizations and celebrations of U.S. global power based on the slender reed of a limited conjuncture and highly selective anecdotal data. In fact, the prostrators show an unmerited respect for the spin masters of globaloney and their rhetoric about the Third Scientific Technological Revolution. As one Western Marxist admirer describes it "...commanding the field of direct political constructions of the time, the Right has provided one fluent vision of where the world is going, or has stopped, after another...".(39) These right-wing ideologues, we are told, "unite a single powerful thesis with a fluent popular style."
Written a few weeks before the crash in the NASDAQ bubble, the year 2000 provided a vivid demonstration of the emptiness of the "powerful thesis" of U.S. economic supremacy, the "fluent popular style" notwithstanding.
Every assertion which the Old Right or the New Right (New Economy hipsters) affirmed about the U.S. economy (and taken up by the prostrate Left) was at best dubious, and at worst simply hot air devoid of any relation to the real economy (simply a huge Ponzi put-on comparable to the Albanian pyramid schemes of the mid-1990s).
First the claims of an IT revolution simply fail to explain the below average growth in productivity between 1975-94 in comparison to the previous 20 years before the so- called "Information Revolution". Secondly, the increase in productivity between 1995- 99 was comparable to the earlier period (1955-74) and was mainly concentrated in the computer field itself with little industry-wide effect. In other words computer makers became more efficient in making computers. Thirdly, studies showed that the claims of the gains from inter-active exchange of information were mainly bogus: over 60% of the information received or exchanged within firms had little to do with the projects at hand.(40)
More decisive the majority of IT companies never generated a product, a profit and some never produced any revenue. The rates of bankruptcy skyrocketed throughout the year 2000 as the speculative bubble burst. The NASDAQ fell 40% and the value of the most important and biggest companies declined precipitously into the new year. The most singular development - U.S. global superiority in the IT field - cited by Rightist ideologues, in their fluent populist style, as the mainspring of sustained 1990s growth collapsed. Millions of small investors attracted by the market populist ideologues lost their entire savings, pensions and even their ability to pay health insurance.
But the profound structural weakness of the U.S. was not confined to the speculative IT economy. U.S. overseas expansion and exports back to the U.S. exacerbated an unsustainable trade and current accounts deficit. The U.S. economy runs on consumption, accounting for 75% of the GNP. The growing trade deficit was covered by the inflow of $400 billion annually. With the economy heading into recession and the dollar weakening, it is highly improbable that foreign investors will continue to sustain the U.S. dollar. Despite record low unemployment at the end of the year 2000, it was also the period of the greatest growth of low paid workers, living off charity, without any medical coverage (close to 50 million) with skyrocketing educational costs, and with unsustainable household debts. The obscene growth of social inequalities under the Clinton regime (CEO to worker ratio increased 470 to 1) were largely the result of the close ties with millionaire labor officials who were more concerned with a tolerant Attorney General to avoid prosecution than a Labor Secretary supportive of workers demands. The possibility of reviving the economy through "pump priming" or demand side stimulation is outside the current political parameters.
The economic crises has already hit several sectors (autos, IT economy, telecommunications, etc.) of the economy and is spreading rapidly to the rest of the economy. Unemployment is growing. The "negative savings" and the lost paper economy offers no unused resources that can be mobilized to stimulate consumer spending. In trade, investment, finance and technology the U.S. economy is moving toward a "converging crises" that threatens the fragile neo-liberal edifice built around (and for) the U.S. throughout the world. All the Third World countries who bought into the export-led strategies, will suffer severely from a deep U.S. recession. The overproduction of consumer and transport (mainly autos) is leading to massive layoffs by Ford, GM and Chrysler-Daimler, which will have a multiplier effect on the suppliers and service sectors.
The military economy could be revved up but it falls short, given the channeling of the budget surplus into massive tax reductions for big business. The surplus itself is likely to disappear with the recession and a sharp decline in revenue.
What is striking about the weaknesses of the economic fundamentals of U.S. imperial power is the lack of any perceptive or coherent understanding by the Right. Neither Huntington, Brzezinski, Fukuyama, even less Yergin, Luttwick or Friedman had a clue about the impending speculative collapse, busy as they were propagating their delusional belief in the sustain ability of the U.S. empire.(41) Huntington was off in his own self- concocted world of "clashing civilizations" (Muslim versus Christian), at a time when Washington's staunchest allies were Muslim Turkey and Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean, Morocco in North Africa, Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, Pakistan in South Asia, etc. Fukuyama faced with the bankruptcy of his notion of the "end of history" backtracked on his celebration of liberal democracy and free markets, without developing any new theoretical gloss to embellish the power of Empire in the new period. Parenthetically it is ironic that Fukuyama has begun to question the solidity of U.S. hegemony when some of his supposedly apposite counterparts on the Left ( the prostrators) attempt to revive it.
Brzezinski without the Soviet Union spins strategic visions of new challenges and threats without substance, ignoring the internal economic rot a few blocks from his old stomping grounds at Columbia University. It is true that he can still provide an historical- theoretical rationale for covert operations in Chechnia and in other ex-Soviet republics to sustain Washington's mafia clients in power. For the rest Yergin and Friedman (the journalist) have little to say in the face of the collapse of their vision of high tech U.S. retaining world power. The visions of Main Street millionaires, of adolescent day traders and Wall Streeters sharing the growing wealth has gone down the tubes. As growing millions of U.S. pensioners lose their HMO private medical plans, and other millions of former welfare recipients can't make a go of it on minimum wage jobs, and as the paper incomes of tens of millions of Americans becomes a bitter memory, the arrogance of Yergen's and Friedman's claims of U.S. superiority over backward Europe (particularly France) for sustaining the social welfare, becomes a self delusional bad joke.
Left-wing advances and challenges to U.S. world dominance and the collapse of delusions of sustainable U.S. economic supremacy based on the IT "revolution" call for an end to the prostrate politics on the Left.
Today there are numerous activists and critical intellectuals from the 1960s to the 1990s who have been providing direct political critiques and constructions of where the world has been, where it is, as well as elaborating alternatives in a fluent popular style. In the United States, and Canada activist intellectuals like Jim O'Conner on the ecological- capitalist crises, Bob Fitch's brilliant de-mystification of globalization as globaloney, Maurice Zeitlin on the U.S. class structure, Chomsky and Petras on U.S. foreign policy, Magdoff on U.S. imperialism, Meiksin on class analysis, Howard Zinn, Leo Panitch, and Mike Parenti on history, politics and the media. Internationally there is the world class photographer of work, Sebastian Salgado, novelist Jose Saramago, literary-political critic Michel Lowy, and scores of other political intellectuals who provide comprehensive critiques and elaborate alternatives to U.S. imperial domination, while being deeply engaged in the popular struggles. The Left in the 1990s possesses some of the outstanding political strategists of the half century, including the brilliant military- political leader of FARC Manuel Marulanda probably the best in this area since the Vietnamese Commander Giap; the brilliant tactician of the militant French farmers movement Bove; the brilliant theorist of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, Joao Pedro Stedile, the principled American populist and anti-imperialist Ralph Nader (capable of garnering 3 million votes against all the odds).
Power is a relationship, not a static position in an organizational hierarchy. The U.S. empire is based on an unstable and changing relationship with a vast array of heterogeneous forces. The power of ideas including the ideas of the imperial ruling class are embedded in this conflictual class relationship. While it is true that the (contested) ascendancy of imperial power includes control over the mass media to project their ideas, (and seducing sectors of the ex-Left intelligentsia with the persuasion of power) the neo-liberal dogma has been under constant attack from all sides. This is so to such a degree that the ruling classes have sought to disguise their rule through the co-optation of the language of the Left what some pundits describe as "market populism."(42)
Perspectives for the Future
Into the next decade, the Left has to continue developing a systematic and specific focus, and avoid the romantic pessimism that engages in sweeping and diffuse generalizations devoid of substance. The Left intelligentsia must identify the class agents of the victories and defeats of neo-liberalism, the class relations and state violence behind the veil of persuasion that sustain Euro-U.S. imperialism. Above all, they must analyze the new intensifying contradictions and emerging crises both in the U.S. as well as the ongoing crises in Asia, Latin America and the former Communist countries and how these will impact on the EU.
The Left must reject the flaunting of novelty as an excuse for adapting to the neo-liberal ascendancy. The Third Way doctrine has its roots in early more reformist and failed versions earlier in the 20th century. Neither Bernstein nor later Kautsky understood, the relationship, between capitalism and imperialism and imperialist wars, nor the immanent tendencies to crises, class polarization, and fascist power. The current version of the "Third Way" has none of the apparent reformist platitudes of the earlier version and all of their reactionary vices: extending the neo-liberal agenda while undermining living standards and deepening inequalities. Few illusions exist today about the reactionary nature of Blair, Clinton et al "Third Way." It is hardly mentioned today as the stock markets dive and budget surpluses shrink. Likewise the right-wing course of European Social Democracy is readily understandable to any critical intellectuals except those suffering from chronic amnesia or who seek to bolster their thesis that there are no alternatives.(43) One needn't go back to the overtures that the leading German Social Democrats (Schneiderman, Noske, etc.) made to the Kaiser's General Staff in 1918. Closer in time was the role of the British, French and Belgian Social Democrats in violently defending their colonial empires in Algeria, Kenya, Cypress, Indo-China, the Congo and elsewhere. Their servile collaboration with the U.S. in building NATO, their unswerving Atlanticist postures provoked strong criticism even from the traditional right. To argue that the adoption by the Social Democrats of the American model is a "world historic" novelty is to overlook the historical legacy of Social Democracy, its pronounced and advanced toadyism particularly among British Labor. The whole edifice of the welfare state had less to do with programmatic Social Democracy and more to do with the challenges from the Communist bloc, the trade union militancy following the end of World War II and the presence of Communist Parties and the extra-parliamentary movements pressuring from the Left. With the disappearance of the Soviet bloc, the diminution of the extra-parliamentary Left and the transformation of the trade union leaders into state clients, European Social Democratic leaders, with a few notable exceptions are able to compete with the Right for the allegiance of the financial and industrial moguls. Jospin of France is a partial exception that proves the rule. Elected in the aftermath of a general strike by public employees, pressured by strong extra-parliamentary movements and the parliamentary Communist Party, he conceded the 35 hour work week in principle, combining it with aggressive privatization, liberalization and "flexible" labor legislation.
If the most significant fact of the 1980s was the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the Communist regimes, the most salient fact of the 1990s was the catastrophic socio-economic conditions, unprecedented levels of pillage and corruption and the repressive institutions that resulted from the transition to capitalism in Russia and the former countries of the Soviet Union. Russia alone is "missing" 10 million people who would otherwise inhabit the country according to demographic projections of 1987. Millions have died prematurely because of disease, stress, suicide and alcoholism resulting from job loss, poverty and the demise of the public health system. While tactically the pro-capitalist Putin regime remains firmly in control, the total failure of the capitalist transition under U.S. "hegemony" has certainly brought into sharp contrast, the positive features of the previous planned, collectivist economy.
Western pillage of the economies of the ex-Communist countries, the massive trade in white sex slavery and immigrants, the reign of a billionaire parasitic oligarchy which washes its illicit riches in Europe, the U.S. and Israel, has certainly given substance to the notions of Western imperialism and capitalist rapaciousness. More convincing than a ton of Communist era tracts, the experience of the people of the ex-USSR with real existing Euro-U.S. imperialism has undone years of disbelief in Soviet bureaucrats rhetoric, and credulous trust in Western propaganda. This world-historic shift in popular beliefs, has important strategic importance in the rebuilding of a socialist perspective in the East. Even in Eastern Europe, bastion of pro-Western client states, their incorporation and subordination to NATO and EU, has provoked opposition, demonstrations and in some cases the revival of Communist influence.In the Czech Republic, Grovel Havel is more a favorite of the London/New York literati than he is in Prague, where the Communist Party is fast becoming the major opposition party. The widespread rejection of liberalism and U.S. imperialism and the growth of programmatic socialism sans Stalinism is a world-historic event. The theoretical point is not to point with certainty to a time and place for a new revolutionary upsurge but to locate the direction of history and to reject the facile belief that every Left defeat is an irreversible world-historic defeat.
The purpose of this essay is not to engage in a tit for tat intellectual game of naming Left advances against the prostrate intellectuals laundry list of defeats. Given the superficiality of the latter it would prove to be an easy and not very significant contribution to clarifying the present in order to advance the struggle in the future. Least of all should we resort to the prostrators cheap psychobabble to justify their inaction and non-commitment to the on going struggles. In facing the future we must recognize there are numerous intellectual dead-ends. We must recognize the barbarities committed today in the name of Western victories, hegemony, democracy and free markets; the premature death of 10 million Russians, 20 million African AIDS victims denied medicine by Western pharmaceutical corporations backed by their governments; the killing of 1 million Iraqi children due to the Anglo-American War and blockade; the 300 million Latin Americans living in poverty, the tens of thousands of Colombians killed, thanks to U.S. military training and aid. One could add to the list but the point is clear: in the East and South, barbarism is an integral aspect of the U.S. empire.
In discussing what is to be done in the face of imperial barbarism it is useful to recall the last days of the Roman empire. A time like ours of tyrants, plunder, corruption, and the brazen flaunting of wealth in the face of misery. The similarities with contemporary barbarism are obvious and so are many of the responses by those who find the empire or aspects of it equally repugnant. There are many and varied intellectual responses to imperial barbarism, depending on the social conditions and political predispositions of each. The stoics among us are repulsed by the irrationality of the empire, its military brutality and the pervasive immorality. However, they feel politically impotent and declare that any political response is futile. They turn to small circles of friends or like-minded individuals to guard the flame of rationality. They retain their personal loyalties in the interstices of the system, with a modicum of comfort, distant form the imperial powers and distant from the degraded masses. Their debates about cultural studies and the relation of post-modernism and Marxism are tolerated and ignored by the elite and are incomprehensible and remote from the masses. In a word, they live by and for themselves.
The cynics do not deny the bloody barbarism , the cultural vulgarity and predatory pillage of the empire...only they amalgamate victims and executions. The condemn both the victims of empire and the imperial predators as equally avaricious (afflicted with “consumerism”). For the cynics the social solidarity of the exploited is an ideological subterfuge of the weak in order to seek advantage in order to reverse roles. For the cynics the difference between exploited and exploiters is only a question of opportunity and circumstances. The cynics point to the failed revolutions, the circulation of elites, the exploited who become exploiters, the victims of genocide who practice genocide to justify getting their sensitive snout in the trough of empire. More often than not, the cynics are repentant Leftists: their occupational specialization is providing testimonials on the perversions of liberation movements. This is a specialization which provides lucrative honorariums and not infrequently a scholarly chair in a prestigious Euro-American university.
Another familiar intellectual posture is the Leftist (or ex-Leftist) who bathes in historical defeats and finds in them a pretext for what they dub a new realist or pragmatic accommodation with the status quo. While overdramatizing political losses, as profound and irreversible historical defeats, they fail to recognize the new revolutionary struggles emerging in the Third World and in the West, the new social movements opposed to the WTO, the militant farmers and transport workers movements, the massive producers and consumer movements rejecting the corporate sponsors of genetically altered foods, seeds, etc. Pessimistic pathos becomes an alibi for inaction and disengagement or a one way ticket to liberal politics since it is perceived as the only show in town. The ideologists of empire are not adverse to providing an occasional platform for the pessimists, hoping that their critical posture can attract an audience among young rebels and that their pessimism can demoralize, disorient and disarm them.
Critical intellectuals with a bended knee have achieved a certain notoriety among the educated classes. These intellectuals are horrified by the flaunting of wealth in the midst of poverty. The horror of neo-liberalism evokes indignation at the barbaric practices of empire. This indignation however is accompanied by a whimper when it comes to articulating an alternative. After all the indignant cries they appeal to the elites to change their ways. The rhetorical flourishes, the expose of the lies of empire are replaced by new deceptions. The idea that someone, somewhere in the power structure will transform barbarism into a generous welfare state. This combination of violent indignation and appeal to the bad conscience of imperial power brokers, is nothing more than a bee in the bonnet of low level policymakers, an excellent formula for a best seller. It vents indignation that resonates with the educated classes without asking them to sacrifice anything.
In sharp contrast to the above mentioned intellectual postures, there is the irreverent intellectual, irreverent toward academic protocols and unimpressed by the prestigious titles and prizes. On the other hand they are respectful of the militants on the front lines of the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles. They are steady and productive in their intellectual work which is in large part motivated by the big questions facing movement struggles. They are self-ironic anti-heroes whose work is respected by the people who are actively working for a basic social transformation. They are objectively partisan, and partisanly objective. The irreverent intellectuals discuss and listen to the pessimists and other intellectuals, despite their titles and pretense, to see if they have anything worthwhile to say.
For the irreverent and committed intellectual, prestige and recognition comes from the activists and movement intellectuals who are involved in popular struggles. They work with those intellectuals and activists. They conduct research looking for original sources of data. They create their own indicators and concepts, for example, to identify the real depths of poverty, exploitation and exclusion. They recognize that there are a few intellectuals in prestigious institutions and award recipients who are clearly committed to popular struggles and they acknowledge that these exceptions should be noted, while recognizing the many others in climbing the academic ladder succumb to the blandishments of bourgeois certification. The irreverent intellectuals admire a Jean Paul Sartre who rejected a Nobel Prize in the midst of the Vietnam War. Most of all, the irreverent intellectuals fight against bourgeois hegemony within the Left by integrating their writing and teaching with practice, avoiding divided loyalties.
Euro-American imperialism combines violence and threats of violence against mass movements and regimes which oppose its world order and dissuasion and neutralization against Western Marxist intellectual grouplets. The latter typically universalize their condition, treating the Empire as one big debating society. As Perry Anderson stated, “the force of this (hegemonic) order is not in repression but in dissuasion and neutralization.”(44) Which should be news to the hundreds of dead Palestinians, several thousand dead Yugoslavs, tens of thousands of Colombians and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.(45)
Objectively U.S. imperial power is built on very fragile foundations: a bubble economy which is collapsing, a quasi tributary economy dependent on large scale external flows of speculative capital to compensate for unsustainable huge merchandise trade deficits, a consumer fueled domestic economy in which households are already over-indebted and with negative savings, an empire without public backing for overseas ground wars, and a Ponzi-like “New Economy” which is based on firms with no products, no profits and many without revenues. Equally important, the class polarization between the billionaire owners of the means of finance, production and speculation and the great majority of the population has widened; the ratio of income between CEOs/workers has widened from 80/1 to 470/1 in 3 decades; over 80% of the U.S. public do not believe their votes matter and that big business dominates the political sphere, what some political analysts might call a legitimacy crises. Social benefits across generations, skill levels and occupations have been savaged. Deregulation has led to unrestrained price gouging of consumers in public utilities.
Present day imperialism has not created a “workers' aristocracy”. A proletarianized middle class has been stripped of job security and rewarded with privileged but worthless benefits (stock options in NASDAQ are used to paper walls or for the most resourceful recycled as toilet paper). Old guard leaders of race, gender and ecology movements from the 1960s and 1970s and middle age prostrated intellectuals who have jumped on the bandwagon of the Third Way have been replaced by new leadership which is more militant, anti-corporate, anti-neo-liberal and by a growing number of extra-parliamentary anti-capitalist activists.
True there is no consensus on the alternatives which run the gamut from community based and controlled economies to consumer-worker based socialism, from changes in property regimes to a return of public regulation. It is sheer shortsightedness to argue that sectoral movements do not add up to some idealized collective movement made to order for the coffee sipping intellectuals of Soho. The emergence of workable coalitions and joint actions, the common forums and dialogues don't add up to a new version of Lenin or Keir Hardy's working class party but it is a beginning. The growing internationalism (without overseas oracles or revolutionary centers) evidenced in the North-South joint actions of peasants from the Third World and farmers from Europe is promising. There are enormous challenges in creating a new revolutionary socialist consciousness, generalizing it to reach the millions in motion, organizing and providing a new inclusive theory to provide diagnosis and strategic direction. One thing is very clear. Intellectual progress of this burgeoning Left will not depend on the intellectual fads and foibles of prostrate intellectuals who throw pebbles from the command pots of Left journals which have lost touch with reality. Struggle for reforms in this movement are linked to structural challenges to empire and in some cases to the property regime. Multiple collective agencies of greater or lesser strength have emerged to call into question, the New Imperial Order, in a few instances struggling for state power.
While the PR hucksters mount a propaganda campaign, even borrowing the language of the Left, to promote science linked to control and exploitation of genes, plant, etc., the Left has counter-attacked by exposing the manipulative and thoughtless nature of corporate genetic engineering. Against the mindless embrace by the corporate hucksters (and a handful of Leftists) of the development of the productive forces (or destructive forces) the Left has brought to the fore the centrality of the social relations of production as defining the meaning, content and consequences of scientific work and advance research. In this, the emerging left continues and deepens the intellectual work and practice of the last half century. A lot of work remains to be done particularly in the field of ideological clarification but much has already been accomplished in diagnosing the empire, discovering its fault lines and in creating the new radical movements.
1- Perry Anderson, one of the most influential Left intellectuals in the Anglo-American world has written the most succinct and polemical essay defining a new direction for his journal The New Left Review. In this essay he defends the thesis of the complete dominance of the U.S. empire (what he dubs “U.S. hegemony”) and the utter defeat and disintegration of the Left. His thesis however, is deeply flawed, in method, theory and analysis, leading him to an unwarranted retreat toward a kind of apolitical centrist politics. This essay is written, in part as a refutation of his arguments, but more importantly to define an alternative theoretical approach. See Perry Anderson “Renewals”, New Left Review, No. 1 (new series) Jan.-Feb. 2000, pp. 5-24.
2- See Anderson op. cit. pp. 9, 12, 15, 19, 24.
3- C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press 1956)
4- See Anderson op. cit. pp. 6-11. While Anderson's essay is largely concerned with defining a new direction for his journal (NLR) in the course of doing so he attempts to provide a historical-political context for its form and content over the last four decades.
5- Anderson's attack on theoretical or cultural writing which is committed to class struggle politics and defense of arcane and “art for arts sake” reactionary posturing comes out in the following “Attempts to conscript (sic) any theoretical or cultural field for instrumental purposes (sic) will always be futile or counter-productive...NLR will publish articles regardless of their immediate relationship, or lack of it, to familiar (sic) radical agendas”. Anderson's use of pejorative terms to caricature activist intellectuals and distort the issues in debate, is a constant throughout essay and suggests that what the essay lacks in substance it makes up in polemical zeal. See Anderson p. 23.
6- Anderson's attachment of the conformity label to the 1950s is found on page 7 op. cit.
7- Jean Paul Sartre, Sartre on Cuba (N.Y.: Ballatine 1961) Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman, Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution (N.Y.: Monthly Review 1960).
8- Bill Warren, Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism (London: NLB, 1990) Anderson, in one of his less than lucid forays into the world of science to bolster his passive ideological posture writes “no collective agency able to match the power of capital is yet on the horizon. We are in a time, as genetic engineering looms (sic), when the only revolutionary force at present capable of disturbing its equilibrium appears to be scientific progress itself - the forces of production, so unpopular with Marxists convinced of the primacy of relations of production when a socialist movement was still alive. But if the human energies for a change of system are ever released again, it will be from within the metabolism (sic) of capitalism itself.” Quoting these theoretical ruminations is worthwhile in highlighting Anderson's retreat toward the kind of sloganeering, General Electric made popular in the 1950s (science is our principle product) and his uninformed use of science metaphors to cover up the shortcomings of his attempt to devise a theory of social change.
9- Eric Wolfe, Peasant Wars in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1969).
10- Regis Debray, Revolution in the Revolution (New York: Monthly Review 1967). For a critical reading see Regis Debray and the Latin American Revolution (N.Y.: Monthly Review 1968).
11- See Anderson op. cit., p. 18. Throughout the essay Anderson has a tendency to ignore writers outside of his narrow circle of collaboraters who have greater competence and depth. For example, in the field of media studies, Schiller, Parenti, Chomsky and Herman have produced far more significant work in the mass media than Debray, yet only the latter is cited.
12- Louis Althusser, Reading Capital (London: NLB, 1970).
13- E. P. Thompson, The Nation, Feb. 26 and April 16, 1983.
14- James Petras and Morris Morley, “The Errors of Edward Thompson”, End Papers No. 6, Winter 1983-84, pp. 105-107.
15- Among the most virulent critics of the renewal of the Left in the 1960s, and opponent of the Indo-Chinese revolution was U.S. writer Irving Howe and his quarterly Dissent.
16- On the revolutionary significance of rock, Anderson writes “The two dominant markers of the period (1960s) was the emergence of rock music as a pervasive sound wave (sic) of youth revolt...a popular form laying claim to both aesthetic breakthrough and social upsurge” (p. 7). From pop rock in the 1960s to pop science in the 1990s, Anderson follows a well-worn path of the counter-cultural gurus of the earlier period to market populists of the 1990s.
17- Todd Gitlin, Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York: Bantam Books 1987).
18- See Thomas Frank One Market Under God (New York: Doubleday 2000). Particularly relevant is ch. 7 “The Brand and the Intellectuals”, pp. 252-276.
19- The writers in this genre include Samir Amin, Gunder Frank, and Wallerstein.
20- Bob Brenner, on the editorial board of New Left Review in a private conversation.
21- Perry Anderson in his usual hyperbolic style writes “American capitalism has resoundingly reasserted its primacy in all fields - economic, political, military, cultural - with an unprecedented eight year boom...there is little doubt that the underlying competitive position of U.S. business has been critically strengthened” Anderson op.cit., p. 10.
22- Anderson repeatedly affirms his categorical denials of significant Left opposition, as if to assure himself of their veracity. He asks and answers his own question “What is the principle aspect of the past decade? Put briefly, it can be defined as the virtually uncontested consolidation and universal diffusion of neo-liberalism” p. 10. A few pages later, he repeats “In general what is strong is not democratic aspiration from below but the asphyxiation of public debate and political difference by capital from above” p. 16. On the following page he makes even more exuberant claims in a fit akin to manic defeatism “For the first time since the Reformation, there are no longer any significant oppositions - that is systematic rival outlooks - within the thought-world of the West: and scarcely any on a world scale.” (Anderson, p. 17).
23- Anderson's attraction to Rightist ideologues and their writing, is evident in several of his sweeping generalizations. “By contrast (to the Left) commanding the field of direct political constructions of the time, the Right has provided one fluent vision of where the world is going, or has stopped, after another - Fukuijama, Brzezinski, Huntington, Yergin, Luttwak, Friedman. These are writers that unite a single powerful thesis with a fluent popular style. This confident genre...finds no equivalent on the Left” (p. 19). Carried away by his fervor for hard right ideologues, Anderson later finds “The most devastating criticism of the expansion of NATO and the war in the Balkans often came from the Right. The (NLR) review should welcome interventions like these” (p. 24). I doubt if Le Pen, Haidar, Buchanon have time or interest in writing for NLR. In any case, Anderson is clearly not referring to the respectable Right when he refers to their “devastating criticism” since the earlier mentioned writers all support NATO expansion, etc.
24- Anderson in the antiseptic language of academia writes about the Left “...most of the tension between deviant (sic) or insurgent impulses (sic) from below and the established order has been absorbed as the market has appropriated and institutionalized youth culture in much the same way it earlier encapsulated avant-garde practices: but...much more thoroughly”(p.20). Anderson's uninformed excursions into psycho-babble in discussing Left movements (“deviant and insurgent impulses”) his preposterous amalgamation of major trade union, peasant and student movements with “youth culture” to argue for general co-option belies a said decline in his analytical abilities.
25- Anderson provides a litany of defeats for the Left which strangely includes the economic stagnation of Japanese capitalism (p. 10-12).
26- James Burnham, Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World (New York: John Day 1941); Charles Lindbergh described fascism as “the wave of the future” in the 1930s.
27- Anderson grossly understates the role of violence in sustaining what he dubs “US hegemony”. “The force of this (US) order lies not in repression but dilution and neutralization; and so far it has handled its newer challenges with equanimity” (p. 16). One is struck again by Anderson's attempt to give profoundity to banality by adopting pseudo-scientific terminology.
28- Anderson's abuse of the term “hegemony” to cover all instances of imperial rule (he forgets to use the I-word once) is an egregious fault given the pervasiveness of violence, overt and covert that characterizes the past decade of U.S. world supremacy.v 29- Prostrators are not necessarily supporters of U.S. imperialist power; they include writers with an inability to recognize any reality other than imperial power, they are imbued with a sense of awe and impressionability before the scribes and publicists of this power and harbor a deep seated hostility to those “unbelievers” who are engaged in struggle against the empire.
30- A typical case of Anderson's polemical excesses in analyzing the deeply divided green and feminist movements is found in the following: “The performance of feminists in the United States and the Greens in Germany - where each movement is strongest - in the service of Clinton's regimen in the White House and NATO's war in the Balkans speaks for itself”(p. 16).
31- For a more detailed account of the new revolutionary tendencies in Latin America see my The Left Strikes Back: Class Conflict in the Age of Neoliberalism (Boulder:Westview 1999) pp. 11-57.
32- Perry Anderson's ill-advised prophecy presumably is based on his acquaintance with Cardoso 25 years earlier, or related to his belief in the superior intellectual capacity of Rightwing ideologues.v33- In January 19-21, 2000, a general strike and broad coalition of indians, peasants and middle level military officials actually seized parliament and established a popular regime of ver short duration. Similar displays of mass power which challenge U.S. client regimes occurred in Bolivia resulting in dozens of deaths and the reversal of neo-liberal policies. Likewise in Paraguay, student-peasant-trade union alliances have blocked the return of dictatorial rule. To say that this has no importance, that it doesn't measure up to a “real opposition” is to engage in real or unintended apologetics. Realism's first rule of order is to recognize power even if it comes from below and the Third World.
34- See Anderson litany of the pitfalls of the activist Left today, pp.13-14. What Anderson lacks in perception of the burgeoning social-political movements he makes up with psycho-babble, a version of old-fashioned ad hominum argumentation. Characterizing activist-left-intellectuals as engaging in a kind of politics of “consolation” he writes “...there is a natural human tendency to try and find silver linings in what would otherwise seem an overwhelmingly hostile environment. The need to have some message of hope induces a propensity to over-estimate the significance of contrary processes, to invest inappropriate agencies with disinterested potentials, to nourish illusions in imaginary forces. It is also true that no political movement can survive without offering some measure of emotional relief to its adherents, which in periods of defeat will inevitably involve elements of psychological compensation” (p. 13). If we can excuse the excess cynicism and manipulative machinations that Professor Anderson imputes to popular mass leaders, we are obligated to repudiate a posture which substitutes psycho-babble for honest debate and discussion of programs, theories and strategies with intellectual activists.
35- Professor Anderson, while cavalierly dismissing millions of protestors in India and thousands in France, attacking GM (“no collective agency able to match the power of capital is yet on the horizon”) joins hands with the publicists of Monsanto “We are at a time, as genetic engineering looms, when the only revolutionary force at present capable of disturbing its equilibrium appears to be scientific progress itself...” (p. 17). Anderson's belief in science divorced from class and state power which defines the tasks and uses of scientific research and discoveries and uncritical embrace of genetic engineering is too bizarre to warrant much comment.
36- Gains and reforms by mass feminist and environmentalist movements in struggle have, according to Professor Anderson, “proven compatible with the routines (sic) of accumulation”(p.16).
37- Robin Blackburn “Cuba on the Block”, New Left Review, No. 4, July-August 2000, pp.5-37. There is much of value in this article but it is very weak on Cuban challenges to U.S. hegemony.
38- Giovanni Arrighi, Long Twentieth Century (London: Verso 1994). Based on flawed historical-theoretical approach, Arrighi argued “But the displacement of an 'old' region (North America) by a 'new' region (East Asia) as the most dynamic center of the processes of capital accumulation on a world scale is already a reality (p. 322).
39- Anderson, p. 19.
40- Martin Wolf “Not So New Economy”, Financial Times, August 1, 1999, p. 10; Robert Gordon “Has the New Economy Rendered the Productivity Slowdown Obsolete”, June 1999, http://faculty-web.at.nwu.edu/education/gordon/researchhome.htm.
41- Perry Anderson describes these right-wing ideologues and their polemical publications as follows “The doctrines of the Right that have theorized capitalism as a systematic order retain their tough minded strength. Those who always believed in the overriding value of free markets and private ownership of the means of production include many figures of intellectual substance” (p. 16). In contrast, left-intellectual activists are described as “sterile” maximalists, full of “piety” and euphemisms, who “lend credence to illusions, sustaining conformist myths” and who “confuse the desirable from the feasible”, p. 14. Anthony Gittings beware, Blair may find a new speech writer.
42- Thomas Frank, One Market Under God, op.cit. particularly relevant is chapter 2 “A Great Time of What; Market Populism Explains Itself.”
43- As Anderson argues “One might say that by definition TINA (There is no alternative) only acquires full force once an alternative (Third Way Social Democratic) regime demonstrates that there are truly no alternative policies” (p. 11). To consider the Social Democrats an alternative and their right-wing policies a historical novelty is absurd.
44- Anderson op. cit., p.16. Robert Brenner puts into question some of Anderson's exhuberant enthusiasm for the U.S. economy see “The Boom and the Bubble”, NLR, No. 6, Nov.-Dec. 2000, pp.5-44.
45- Any account of the challenges to the U.S. empire and its clients and allies must include the Palestinians heroic struggle against the Israeli settler-colonial regime. Despite thousands of casualties, assassinations and a murderous blockade inflicted by the Israeli military juggernaut, the intifada continues with virtually no support of any sort from the brilliant circle of Anglo-American writers who publish in Western Marxist literary-political journals.