I am clicking “Publish” in a rush … I suspect I will come to regret this later.
The popular mobilisations in Tunisia, Egypt and a swath of authoritarian North African and Middle Eastern states are interesting and important for more reasons than can be named, let alone examined, here.
But the aspects that have fascinated me are the over excited “I told you so!” claims of pundits, politicians and much of the Twitterati.
And not just the assertion that they had this right all along, but that they somehow understand the clattering Nasserite dominoes better than anyone and would just like to point out that it’s coming to get you. Yes, you (insert name of political opponent here), the revolution is coming for you.
There are literally hundreds of “takes on the crisis” I would like to poke fun at and take to task over this absurd conceit, but there is one I will look at (only slightly) more seriously.
Blunt Blade’s Bollocks
Blade Nzimande takes George Galloway’s excellent communist tirade in his column in the Morning Star (read it, it is also bollocks and brutal and crass but has enough thought and truth in it to warrant a second look) and turns it into the obscure and rambling “Tunisia and Egypt: The deepening crisis of US imperialism and neo-liberalism“.
Where are the South African communists of yore who could always be relied upon to lift the veil, expose the skull beneath the skin and see the ape within the man? Oh yes, they are all dead or helping run the Department of Transport or become bloated and insecure plutocrats … hmm, is that everyone?
Blade has it that Tunisia and Egypt are manifestations of a series of crises in capitalism “and its contemporary neo-liberal ideology”.
In short (in as far as I can understand Nzimande) the USA as the global representative of the corporate/capitalist machine has fostered dictatorships in the Arab world because they have agreed to leave the USA’s good friend Israel in peace.
So far so good, but then things start to unravel. Political upheaval in these Arab and North African countries sets back the USA’s task to reproduce the conditions of capitalist accumulation – through an amazingly complex web of dialectical causality. Thusly, the selling of upsized McDonald’s meals to the American guest workers rebuilding (if they work for Haliburton) and de/restabilising (if they work for Blackwater USA) any countries the US has recently invaded is threatened, because democratic governments are more likely to take a hard line on Israel … eh … oh goodness, there goes the thread.
You cannot successfully characterise Tunisia and Egypt as “crises of capitalism” unless you take an amazingly complex and interlinked world and reduce it to a childish little model that even the crudest Marxists would reject as ‘reductive’ and ‘over-deterministic’.
If the term “capitalism” means the totality of international relations between states, global trade, the activities of local and international corporations and the shaping effects of culture, history and technology, then it is less than useless to characterise Tunisia and Egypt as “crises of capitalism”.
If the term “capitalism” refers (as I suspect it does, when used by Nzimande) to the secret set of rules in a secret club of greedy Americans who seek to control the world to protect and deepen their wealth, then I am sorry, but you can’t really be expected to be engaged with.
There are powerful and organised interests at play in North Africa and the Middle East and only a fool would not look to the USA for the sources of some of those forces. But there is also chaotic human activity and chance and rapidly unwinding and reforming complex systems that are part of what is happening and the blunt scalpel of Blade Nzimande’s theory takes us nowhere.
I would still recommend Galloway’s piece (as more insightful and the source of any interesting thoughts in Nzimande’s words on the subject) because part of what is happening in the Middle-East and North Africa is the unravelling of another mystifying US strategy to define, protect and advance its “national interests”.
What I wish the communists would give more attention to is not the greedy and rapacious aspects of US imperialism, but rather how it is often profoundly misconceived and poorly executed.
In my view human society should not be conceived of as “shaped” by particular forces or of being set on a certain “trajectory”. The totality of human existence is not an object (plastic and/or in motion). The totality of human existence – including the bits of it in Tunisia and Egypt – must be conceived of as a system so complex that making predictive statements is not hugely useful. Also, attempting to reduce the complexity to make it more understandable is a worthwhile endeavour only if undertaken with extreme caution and care. Cooking it up as proof that your side is winning adds no real value.
In as far as the statement: “what is happening in the Arab world is a failure of US imperialism” is true, I suspect the reason is that successive US administrations have misconceived both the nature of history (as has Nzimande) and the nature of their own interests – not an error Nzimande appears obviously to have made.