Analyses, big and small

‘Big-picture’ analysis is always a dicey proposition especially when it seems that there are always emergencies to try and respond to. Responding to the raiding of yet another mosque, shooting and killing 4 people at prayer, with analysis, seems inappropriate. Especially when, by the time you hear about the mosque massacre, there are already bombings and attacks in response, and then more violence in response to the response…

And there’s that feeling that these things are going on and we seem unable to do anything effective to stop them.

That’s not much of an intro to the analyses I’ve been reading. First the little analyst, then the big analysts.

Pranjal Tiwari, a writer for ZNet, Left Turn, and a few other outlets, is based in Hong Kong and provides a smart, uncompromising perspective on East Asian movements and the way things look from East Asia in his blog In the Water. It’s one of the few blogs I’ve linked, so check it if you haven’t already.

Now for the heavy stuff. I got the Monthly Review in the mail, an article by Samir Amin. Amin is an interesting old Marxist figure, who thinks mostly about imperialism. Unlike a lot of North American-based analysts though, he doesn’t hold much hope out for the power of popular movements in North America. In his discussion of the role of Israel/Palestine in the world order, Amin emphasizes that he is not among those “who naively believe that public opinion in the democratic countries, such as it is, imposes its views on these Powers. We know that opinion also is manufactured.”

That analysis leads Amin to pitch his ideas more at regimes – regimes of 3rd world countries in much of his work and, in the article I’m quoting, at European countries. After explaining some of the elements of the global economy – the US as increasingly just a consumer and a military, with Asia and Europe doing most of the manufacturing and the periphery supplying raw materials and energy which the US guarantees with the threat of military force – and the ways in which it might all unravel, he gives some advice to, I assume, European elites:

“The major political conclusion that I draw from this analysis is that Europe cannot pass beyond Atlanticism as long as political alliances defining the blocs in power remain centered on dominant transnational capital. It is only if social and political struggles manage to modify the content of these blocs, and to impose new historical compromises between capital and labor, that Europe would be able to distance itself from Washington, permitting the eventual revival of a European project. Under these conditions Europe also could—even ought to—become engaged at the international level in its relationships with the East and the South, on a path other than that traced by the exclusive requirements of collective imperialism. Such a course would begin its participation in the long march beyond capitalism. In other words, Europe will be of the left (the term left being taken seriously) or will not be at all.”

Samir Amin is certainly not alone in doubting the status of the “second superpower” – public opinion – but his own analysis suggests good reasons why Europe’s elites are unlikely to take his advice. Aside from sheer genocidal violence, all empires always stand on collaboration. The amount of collaboration throughout the world, even in such extreme times as these, when the US is offering almost nothing in return and acting with incredible arrogance, is amazing, as Amin himself argues in his article.

Walden Bello is another one of those analysts who presents the big picture. If Amin offers strategies to European regimes, Bello offers them to the “antiwar movement”.

Bello doesn’t have illusions about the meaning of the US elections:

The terrible truth, however, is that the Republican victory, while not lopsided, was solid. Another phase of the political revolution begun by Ronald Reagan in 1980, the 2004 elections confirmed that the center of gravity of US politics lies not o­n the center-right but o­n the extreme right. Now, it remains true that the country is divided almost evenly, and bitterly so. But it is the Republican Right that has managed to provide a compelling vision for its base and to fashion and implement a strategy to win power at all levels of the electoral arena, in civil society, and in the media. While liberals and progressives have floundered, the Radical Right has united under an utterly simple vision the different components of its base: the South and Southwest, the majority of white males, the upper and middle classes that have benefited from the neoliberal economic revolution, Corporate America, and Christian fundamentalists. This vision is essentially a subliminal o­ne, and it is that of a country weakened from within by an alliance of pro-big government liberals, promiscuous gays and lesbians, and illegal immigrants, and besieged from without by hateful Third World hordes and effete Europeans jealous of America’s prosperity and power.

There are, indeed, two Americas, but o­ne is confused and disorganized while the other exudes a confidence and arrogance that o­nly superior strategy and organization can bestow. The Radical Right has managed, with its vision of a return to an imagined community—a pristine white Christian small-town America circa 1950–to construct what the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci called a “hegemonic bloc.” And this bloc is poised to continue its reign for the next 25 years.

One thing you have to love about these guys is the confidence of their predictions. The US is right-wing, Bello says, but “Latin America’s move to the left will accelerate.” His predictions about Fallujah suggest he doesn’t think of it as a major loss for the resistance:

Fallujah, however, is not an operational center but a symbolic center that has already played its role, and its “fall’ is not going to stop the spread and deepening of a decentralized resistance movement throughout Iraq. Moreover, the Fallujah insurgents are likely to retreat after giving battle, trading, as in Samara, a conventional defense of a city for a guerrilla presence that harasses and pins down the US army and its Iraqi mercenaries.

So what will Washington do? Without 500,000 troops, it can’t control Iraq. So it will “withdraw to and dig in behind superfortified bases and sally forth periodically to show the flag. While this would mean de facto defeat for the US, it will also mean that the Iraqi people’s resistance will not have de jure territorial control from which to declare sovereignty and begin the process of coming up with a truly national government.”

Bello’s advice to the antiwar movement? He wants “a rolling wave of global protests similar to that which marked the anti-Vietnam war mobilizations from 1968 to 1972–one that puts millions of people in a constant state of activism. Coordination, moreover, will mean coordinating not o­nly mass demonstrations but also civil disobedience, work o­n the global media, day-to-day lobbying of officials, and political education.” He wants “Sanctions and boycotts are methods that must be brought into play…not o­nly with respect to US firms but also with Israeli firms and products.” More militancy is needed: “more and more civil disobedience and non-violent disruptions of business as usual encouraged…At no other time than today, when the electoral option is gone, is it more necessary to resist the imperial writ nonviolently by invoking a higher law. ”

I do like this kind of stuff, even though in moments of demoralization I also wonder if activists who write this kind of strategy ever feel like a general staff without an army. Still I’m glad they’re doing it. There’s no way we’re going to learn or grow unless people throw stuff out and see if it goes anywhere or anything comes of it.

One “big analyst” who is annoying though is Juan Cole, who was completely appalled first that al-Hayat compared the US Marines to the murderers of Margaret Hassan, and then appalled that others found his defense of the Marines to be repugnant:

“the Marines at Fallujah are operating in accordance with a UNSC Resolution and have all the legitimacy in international law that flows from that. The Allawi government asked them to undertake this Fallujah mission.
To compare them to the murderous thugs who kidnapped CARE worker Margaret Hassan, held her hostage, terrified her, and then killed her is frankly monstrous. The multinational forces are soldiers fighting a war in which they are targetting combatants and sometimes accidentally killing innocents. The hostage-takers are terrorists deliberately killing innocents. It is simply not the same thing.”

“Soldiers fighting a war in which they are targeting combatants and sometimes accidentally killing innocents”? Backed by an UNSC resolution with legitimacy in international law? Apparently, Cole doesn’t seem to understand the Geneva Conventions or the Nuremberg criteria for war crimes (look up “international aggression”). And Cole is, apparently, a liberal.

Does that mean that if there really are, as Bello says, “two Americas”, that means that Juan Cole is part of the America that opposes Bush?

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

2 thoughts on “Analyses, big and small”

  1. There are at least three,
    There are at least three, maybe four Americas. The (relatively) active right wingers and liberals, each taking about 30%, the apathetic and distracted, which are probably about 40%. I’m not convinced that more than a third of the active liberals are even *aware* of viable non-imperialist models of existence.

    Cole might be aware, but he’s obviously not a supporter. The main battle (the only real battle within the US, perhaps) is between the neocons and the neoliberals. Between global perpetual war and what Stan Goff calls the “multilateral feeding frenzy”.

    The liberals I’ve spoken to here just don’t have ending empire as a goal. (Why would they, unless they wanted to give up their standard of living?)

    This is based on observation of polls, and a lot of travelling and talking inside the US. Others’ mileage may vary, and no doubt does.

    Any kind of left-wing revolution in the us would be a source of confusion and contradictions. How can the US economy exist without imperialism? It would have to collapse (preceded by much of the world) in order to “start over”. The delicacy involved in averting disaster in any such situation is unimaginable.

  2. “Any kind of left-wing
    “Any kind of left-wing revolution in the us would be a source of confusion and contradictions. How can the US economy exist without imperialism? It would have to collapse (preceded by much of the world) in order to “start over”. The delicacy involved in averting disaster in any such situation is unimaginable.”

    The US economy would do much better without imperialism – as measured by what it did for most US citizens. The same for the rest of the world. Even a shift twords the policies of the fisrt few decades after WWII (far short of a left wing revolutioni) would be immensely beneficial to people everywhere.

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