Friday, May 11, 2018

"If This Is Marxism Then I Am Not A Marxist" - What Would Karl Think Of The PRC Claiming His 200th Birthday?

It kinda amuses me, kinda infuriates me how much of a big deal the People's Republic of China's been making in relation to Marx's birthday over the weekend.

I mean, even leaving aside Marx's own thoughts about how the "Asiatic Mode of Production" didn't really fit into his model of historical-economic-political progression ... and therefore was *extra* inapplicable for dialectical materialism leading to communism therein ....

the plain fact of the matter is that the PRC *consciously and deliberately* jettisoned Marxist dogma and Marx's own thought at a number of points in its relatively short history.

I forget the precise date, but at some point in the iirc mid-1950s, Marxism [admitedy in Soviet-esque inflection for official purposes] was pointedly replaced by "Mao-Thought" ... which, some might argue, bore about as much resemblance to the Marxist theory it claimed to be derived from as Nu Metal does to Black Sabbath.

The reasons for this movement are multifaceted, and do include "political" considerations related to the escalating Sino-Soviet Split ... but at their core, boil down to a combination of it being blatantly obvious just how inapplicable Marx's own thinking was to the ongoing "progress" of the Maoist "revolution" and presumably a certain helping of Mao's own overblown ego-ism.

Some decades later, it happened again as a part of the Deng-ist shift towards the entirely oxymoronical "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" - which, while it might very well have been Chinese, had and has precious little to do with "Socialism" .. and even *less* to do with Marx.

This all results in a modern state of affairs wherein the Chinese state somewhat breathlessly claiming in gifts of statuary etc. to be Marx's ideological heirs ... is instead operating its system as pretty much the *opposite* of what Marx would have approved of - a paradigm of pretty seriously repressive capitalism buttressed by constant outbursts of jingoism and militant imperialism that keeps inexorably arching towards #FullNeoliberalism #InOurTime.

I mean seriously. If you want to do the intellectual contortionisms required to try and say that the modern PRC is Marxist ... then you're basically left concluding that anything which intentionally presides over economic growth and development is "Marxist".

And, to be fair, that's kinda how *some* of the thinking behind the Great Leap Forward supposedly went. When it wasn't a shoddy-steel dick-measuring contest with Great Britain or carrying out mass-purges of Mao's despised natural enemy .. the sparrow.

But the trouble is that while you *can* argue that advancing economic conditions from feudalism through to capitalism [or, if we're disregarding the whole "Asiatic Mode of Production" thing ... from whatever to Capitalism], and from thence to *higher* capitalism, according to Marx's own schema *might* make the "inevitable" revolution more plausible coz advancing internal contradictions and suchlike driving the whole thing to breaking point ...

... the slight issue here is that if the authority [I hesitate to call it a "revolutionary body"] propelling the economic shifts is *also* brutally repressing any actual attempt to turn the popular harm and discontent of these economic "advancements" into an actual political movement to overturn them and seize the means of production etc. (which are handily now often in a number of wealthy groups and individuals' hands rather than being even "nationalized" much less "socialized" over there), then it is pretty difficult ot meaningfully claim that what you're doing is somehow "Marxist" rather than "Get-Rich-Quick-Ist" - or simply "Capitalism with Marxist MSG-ing" or something.

This is particularly the case given a) the huge over-emphasis upon Cults of Personality (and one in particular) that have characterized the Chinese political experience for a pretty big swathe of the past century; b) the aforementioned uber-strong emphasis upon regime security and political repression - things anathema to Marx's own life, as it happens, even notwithstanding the vital necessity of either an open space for dissension or an escalating ineffectiveness of repression for a Revolution to actually forment and occur; and c) the fact that the overarching 'outcome' of all of this appears very much to *not* be a universal uprising of Proletariat - but instead, a resurrection of the old Confucian concept of the "Mandate of Heaven", and the gradual expansion of this sphere (possibly a "co-prosperity" one) to encompass a pretty broad swathe of the globe under either direct Chinese suzerainty (c.f their territorial claims on India, for instance), or indirect economic neo-colonialism (c.f their relations with a number of less-well-off and less-independent countries including to a certain extent our own New Zealand). Something that is part and parcel bound up with d) a strenuous effort to manufacture what an older generation of Marxists would have rightfully termed "false class consciousness" in order to stave *off* any deposing of the capitalist-coercive regime in power in Beijing or elsewhere; which is e) itself not a "dictatorship of the proletariat", still less even a Lenninist "Vanguard Party" - but rather an establishment network of technocratic managerialist damn well mandarins ... that represent the *actual* salient force and engine in Chinese politics and political economy rather than the vague and impersonal "class struggle" - and that's without even getting into how f) the "class" dimension has moved from "let's build an industrial proletariat or something" through to "let's get a middle class and some seriously well off people happening" instead [there's another discursion somewhere about Marx's failure to properly predict "The Middle Class" as a thing .. but THAT IS ANOTHER STORY FOR ANOTHER TIME]

Now don't get me wrong - there's much to look at in China's last few decades of history and self-authored economic development which is ... pretty impressive. Particularly if you don't really care about any human costs that might have been borne in the process.

And from a certain perspective, it would be perhaps difficult to fault the PRC from acting in its own self-interest and managing to take China from the decaying post-Qing quasi-colonized ruins of the early half of the 20th century ... through to an emergent Great Power fully capable of carrying out many of the same antics which the (predominantly) European metropoles wrought upon the world at large (and China in particular, funnily enough) over the previous three hundred years or so.

Ironic, arguably, but that's the nature of history and international relations. A bitter joke from the perspective of the less-powerful and a richly rewarding punch-line for the Ascendent among the assembled chorus of states.

But whatever its relative merits or shortcomings as a system and a project, I do not believe that it is in any meaningful way "Marxist" - so much as almost the opposite, a "mirror image" say (hence why everything is *exactly the wrong way round* while still possessing similar shape to the passive observer).

In fact, it seems rather hard to escape the supposition that we know very well how Marx himself would have reacted and responded to the PRC attempting to claim his legacy as their own.

In 1883, not long before his death, Karl Marx penned a missive to two French socialists who claimed to be acting in his ideology's name ... first calling them out for "revolutionary phrase-mongering" in lieu of actual, meaningful pro-Worker activity (a charge which seems peculiarly relevant to the People's Republic of China whenever it chooses to LARP as a "revolutionary front" or whatever - although this aptness of a phrase is perhaps somewhat ironic given what Marx was actually critiquing Guesde and Lafargue on at the time was their opposition to "reformism" within a capitalist context), and then bluntly stating that if what these guys were doing was Marxism, then "what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist".

Good thing, too.

Because i'm *pretty sure* that being a dissident journalist slash philosopher publishing frequent and passionate exhortations to building a better and more just society ... is the sort of thing that gets you placed under indefinite house-arrest or in several peoples' bodies one organ at a time over in the PRC these days.

And it would be *quite* a shame to lose him!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Juchee Vs McWorld - On The Perhaps Surprising Twilight Of The Idols Commencing In North Korea

So North Korea might be getting a McDonalds. Gosh, the bonanza of boons as a result of this nuclear climb-down just keep proliferating!

But then I thought .. what if this is actually a shrewd move by Kim Jong-Un to take advantage of the "law" of liberal international relations - the so-called "Golden Arches Peace Theory" - whereby apparently, if you've got a McDonalds in your country, another nation with a McDonalds isn't supposed to attack you (like, normatively speaking, obviously).

[Depressingly [DPRK-ingly?], this is a more recent outgrowth of what's known as "democratic peace theory" - the idea that democracies apparently don't or shouldn't (theoretically speaking) go to war with one another; although as it turns out, this older formulation is arguably less reliable than the thing with the french fries ... make of that what you will]

The slight issue with the "theory", though, is that it's fairly blatantly not true. A rather common critique, to be sure, of much of Thomas Friedman's output.

You see - only a year or so after Friedman first propounded it, cresting the wave of the '90s "HOPE" "NEOLIBERALISM" "END OF HISTORY" zeitgeist-vibe ... NATO started bombing Serbia. A country which at the time had a few McDonalds outlets to its name.

I say "had". Shortly after the bombing started, Belgradians took it upon themselves to demolish them. (They were eventually rebuilt once NATO ceased combat operations - which, somewhat perplexingly, Friedman appeared to take as a vindication of his theory's practical value).

And there have, of course, been a few other rather prominent counter-examples since such as the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, or the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. All of which had McDonalds in operation within their borders at the time.

Although as some pundits noted with amusement, Russia appeared to be shutting down a number of prominent McDonalds restaurants in 2014, about the same time that the Donetsk seceded from Ukraine with Russian support.

Still, despite the obvious unreality of its core tenet - that it's engagement with the globalized capitalist economic system, rather than, say, cautious and careful diplomacy based upon mutual respect and understanding (insofar as such things are possible between states (operating) within a realist context/set of assumptions) which leads to enduring peace - it's worth revisiting Golden Arches Peace Theory in the present day.

Not least because I have absolutely no doubt that somewhere in Washington, policy-wonks and think-tankers will be gleefully propounding the idea that the setting up of fast-food chains and other 'soft power' proponderances of the "American Way Of Life" in the DPRK will first infiltrate and then assimilate North Korea into the Atlanticist-authored vision for geopolitical order under a certain unipolar hegemon.

And yeah, sure, in the *short term*, it's certainly possible to postulate that the 'novelty value' of being able to eat questionably nutritious food of an entirely different nature and all the other things that go alongside Amerika setting up (literal) shop in your neighbourhood *may* actually have an impact on some people.

I just don't see this offering any lasting nor serious guarantee of peace.

If the USA decides to make good on John Bolton's proffered proposal of doing to the DPRK what the Obama Administration did to Libya (i.e. suddenly turning on a dime and effectively ousting said country's leader whom they'd previously been getting on relatively reasonably with in a pointlessly destructive "intervention") - I really do somehow doubt whether the presence of a single 'underutilized' McDonalds in PyongYang is seriously going to stop them.

Meanwhile, there's also no guarantee that simply putting up some Golden Arches in a country in a manner not entirely unakin to a lower-key flag of conquest for a socio-economic system ... will actually lead to the "host" population in question all uniformly and unanimously electing to just casually become slightly-cosmetically-different Americans [or, i suppose, South Koreans] overnight.

In fact, there's - once again - quite some evidence and theoretical spade work to suggest that, if anything, the *opposite* can very readily be true.

This is detailed in another article (and subsequent book) which came out a few years before the publication of Friedman's original piece on the rather surprising alleged connection between having Hamburglar active in your nation's capital and being at peace - Benjamin Barber's "Jihad vs McWorld".

As you can probably guess from the title, it details the notion that "globalization" - and particularly the cultural elements of same - do not simply occur in a vacuum, imposed upon passive mannequins rather than men. But instead, invite skepticism, scrutiny, and somewhat more often than pro-Globalism forces care to admit .. outright opposition or even surprisingly successful push-back.

In its place, an exaltation of 'older' ways of doing things - traditional values and understandings - may grow up; militantly or gently-but-firmly re-asserting themselves against the mono-cultural and rather tacky .. flaccid, even? .. 'universalizing' paradigm of 'McWorld'.

At which point, no doubt, we'll get to see just how genuinely committed the various Atlanticist-consensus countries which presently exist 'neath the "Golden Arches" are to *not* attempting to impose their world-view by force upon the North Korean - or any other - population.

In some ways, it's interesting to directly compare and contrast the mindsets that went into both the Golden Arches Peace Theory and Jihad Vs Mcworld.

The latter was a the product of an 'age of uncertainty' - a period in between dominant zeitgeists if you like, wherein many reasonable people were refreshingly reluctant to take for granted the possibility of teleology or Eschaton-Immanentization in geopolitics. Where it wasn't just blithely assumed that because the Cold War was seemingly ending, that this meant the Nation-State pretty much would be (in its post-Westphalian nature and significance/salience, at any rate) too.

In short, where *actual thinking* was taking place about what might transpire in the future and how best to navigate continuously evolving circumstances in such a way as to *avoid* the potential fall-back into strife-riven paradigms of the past (whichever past and whenever we might be referring to with that).

The former, meanwhile, is huffed up on its own triumphalism - confident (even, going by later reprints and new editions, following subsequent events which ought surely to have disproven its core ethos) well beyond the point of arrogance that the End of History hadn't just come ... but that the author's views were both riding the wave of causality and powering it.

Even though Friedman didn't mean it in that sense, I always found it telling that he attempted to pooh-pooh his critics on the concept by referring to them as "realists" :P

Sitting here in the closing years of the 2010s, I feel it pretty uncontentious to state that we, too, are very much in "uncharted waters". We've witnessed the decay and if not outright collapse of a number of epochs and their accompanying meta-narratives over the span of the last quarter century or so. And out with them have, by necessity rather than choice (for a depressingly large number of foreign policy actors, at least), gone many of the comfortable assumptions-into-assertions which have governed what "should" happen in politics - whether local-/national- or of the "geo-" variety.

But as we seemingly see every time John Bolton, Nikki Haley, Hillary Clinton, Theresa May etc. etc. etc. open their mouths .. old habits die hard.

It's worth critically evaluating things like "Golden Arches Peace Theory" in the context of what's looking set to happen in North Korea over the next few years [the opening up to Western economic operations, I mean - not so much the "Libya-fication" .. hopefully] precisely because of that fact.

As otherwise ... who wants to be left stranded high and dry - "beached as, bro" - when the much-vaunted "tide of history" actually turns out to have been going the other way this whole time, regardless of what the "model" "thinks".