Friday, 20 April 2012

Contradictions of Christopher Hitchens.

In one of his last interviews Christopher Hitchens insisted that he remains a leftist, but that he sees no socialist theory of an alternative economy to replace global capitalism. What are we left with then? The export of the American Revolution is the best we can do, with Hitch putting emphasis on the radical current of Jeffersonian thought.  There is no third camp between liberal capitalism and nihilistic Islamism, just us or them. Only a bulwark to totalitarianism is preferable and the bloodshed is worth it. It's the lowering of expectations in another sense, we couldn't bring down capitalism so let's just knock out all the dictators and make sure it's democratic. In a world beyond the monotheisms of the desert we can only hope to build a secular, multicultural and democratic version of the mess we're already living with. Furthermore the only way to assert human rights is through kidnapping, torture and killing. The best we can do, as it turns out, isn't very much at all.

What are we left with then? Not much in principles and not much to defend. We're dealing with an array of contradictions. At first hand, there is the gap between what we do and what we say we do as well as the means by which we seek to meet our ultimate objective. It looks more like Hitch was embedded in that disjunctive synthesis of passive and radical nihilism, the politics of security and terrorism. And to think Christopher Hitchens was once a garden-variety creature of the leftist culture of the 20th Century. He was well-versed in the work of George Orwell and easily drifted from Trotskyism to democratic socialism in later years. What was his Kronstadt? At first, the reaction of the SWP to the Portuguese Revolution, then it was the leftist opposition to intervention in the Falklands, the Balkans and, most infamously, Iraq. For the likes of Ian McEwan he was a man of the democratic Left still, while Richard Dawkins saw him as beyond left and right.

If Christopher Hitchens stood as the post-Marxist spirit of the democratic Left then he likely demonstrated its poverty of principles. The position he took may have just been social democratic in trajectory, as socialism no longer provided an alternative to global capitalism in his thinking. He took from the fall of the Berlin Wall that human nature is incompatible with dictatorship and slavery. Hitch would point to the French role in the American Revolution to throw-off British rule and nurture democracy. So in his mind it remained possible to spread democracy by armed force. Democracy in India came as a by-product of British colonial rule, it was not an indigenous invention. The destruction of European Fascism is what led to the emergence of democracy in Germany and Italy. This still falls short of a justification for the criminal invasion of Iraq, as British rule in India was hardly about nurturing a democracy with a socialist constitution.

You might go with the line that the deaths were necessary to produce a democratic society. But that would assume it was the aim to churn out a democratic Iraq. When it was actually the Americans who sought to oppose elections for as long as possible. The aim was originally to reconstitute the old order in a new guise that was more acceptable in appearance. The best outcome for the Americans would have been a Sunni military junta aligned with them. The battle to do so was lost and it is a credit to the Iraqi people that they fought valiantly for elections and against the occupation. The transformation of Iraqi society was at its most radical and utopian at the level of economic reform, an attempt build a perfect market economy. It was "shock therapy" like nothing seen before, not even in Yeltsin's Russia. Ultimately, the elections were allowed only to legitimate a series of illegal economic reforms that the Americans rammed down the slit throats of Iraq.

How then could these contradictions be harmonised? You know, Chairman Mao had a few words for us on contradiction. The major point that Mao made was that the principle contradiction does not overlap with the contradiction which should be treated as dominant in a particular situation. It is in this particular contradiction that we find the universal dimension. In every situation the particular contradiction is predominant, in order to resolve the principal contradiction one should treat a particular contradiction as predominant. All other struggles should be subordinated to this predominant contradiction. So when the Chinese Communists encountered the Japanese Fascist occupiers, the only option was to take the side of the Chinese Nationalists in a display of 'patriotic unity' as a necessary means to victory. If the Communists opted to engage in the class struggle it would ultimately be fighting against class struggle itself.

It's clear that Hitch held the Ba'athist regime in Iraq to be totalitarian with all the fascistic connotations included. No doubt the same applied to Islamism in his mind. This is the crux of the matter. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a monster, the same can be said of Osama bin Laden. This is not to agree that the only means to deal with dictatorship and terrorism is to back the military doctrines of the Bush administration. If the economic sanctions against Iraq had been withdrawn, but the military sanctions left in place then it would've opened up the possibility for the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam. The US invaded Afghanistan after it refused to provide evidence to warrant the extradition of Osama bin Laden for trial. Instead, we've seen the deaths of Saddam and bin Laden but at a huge human cost which has yet to be fully counted. The possibility of greater nuclear threats in the region has been raised, with Pakistan destabilised and Iran surrounded by American proxies.

No comments: