Tuesday, 19 June 2012

In Saddam's Shoes.

Some of you might've watched David Aaronovitch lock horns with George Galloway on Question Time back in April. It was a refreshing sight, George Galloway insisted that the unpopularity of New Labour comes down to the Party's responsibility for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq which caused the deaths of over 1 million people. He went further to denote the trilateral consensus on foreign policy as well as on domestic economic affairs. It was a welcome sight to see Yvette Cooper being put on the spot over Afghanistan and Iraq. That being said it was quite something to see Mr Galloway trying to outdo Aaronovitch in a bout of mudslinging over Abu Qatada. Gorgeous George even slagged off Aaronovitch for the years he spent as a Communist. This spectacle reminds one of Galloway's flaws. But I suppose it's too late to rise above the tide of sewerage flowing through the streets of Whitehall. Aaronovitch is one of a few journos to leap across the chasm between the anti-establishment Left and the Right over questions of humanitarian intervention.

We owe to Rousseau the republican notion of freedom as non-subjection, but freedom comes in three forms for Rousseau. Natural freedom is simply the absence of impediments that people experienced in the state of nature, the only possible restraint being the forces of individuals. Then there is civil freedom which comes out of the association that does away with natural freedom insofar as it introduces limits. Freedom guaranteed by unfreedom. The limits imposed safeguard the individual's freedom in a certain way, which is the reason that the civil state is formed. Out of this convenient arrangement comes moral freedom as a by-product of it. This is the freedom which ix experienced in the submission to laws prescribed to oneself. Rousseau seems to presuppose a democratic system in his conception of moral freedom. It isn't a teleology, the social contract is not forged in order to generate moral freedom but to secure civil freedom. The advent of moral freedom is really accidental, but it is only possible after the establishment of civil freedom. 

Imagine taking on the project of setting up moral freedom under conditions that had yet to see civil freedom. There is a similarity with the dilemma that the Russian revolutionaries were confronted with just before the October Revolution of 1917. The Mensheviks argued that the end of Tsarism in Russia would have to be followed by a period of bourgeois democratic capitalism in order for socialism to be attained later on. The Bolsheviks thought that an alliance of workers and peasants could hasten the development of capitalism in a democratic framework. It's easy to take a side here and even easier to forget that Karl Marx had been willing to support democratic nationalism. You can find this when Marx expressed support for Abraham Lincoln, the abolition of slavery and ultimately the bid to maintain the American union. Another instance of democratic nationalism was when Marx supported the reunification of Germany for the cause of opening the passage to socialism by strengthening the capitalist system. He later backed off of this position.

Perhaps in the hope that socialism was a historical inevitability Marx had held that there had to be a period of bourgeois rule before the working-class could triumph in Germany. The inevitability of capitalist decline would open up the space for political agency and revolution. This could be taken as though injustice now may be necessary for justice later. We should resist such a teleological reading, Marx was neither a cold determinist nor a teleological snake-charmer. He acknowledges that history could culminate in the "common ruination" of all classes and provides an excellent description of human freedom in the Brumaire. Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget Marx in the moments when he praises free-trade and the middle-class legacy of human rights and civil liberties. In his mind a democratic culture is a vital precondition for socialism. By contrast, in Aaronovitch's mind, to hold free-elections was the reason to bomb Afghanistan as well as the justification for and ultimately the function of the intervention - democracy by airstrike.

For Aaronovitch the interventionist promise of democratization opened up the possibility for social democratic achievements like universal health-care in Afghanistan. This is what Oliver Kamm calls 'liberal democratic internationalism'. It is a view that has more in common with the Chinese Communists who foster capitalism in China with the stated purpose of nurturing the proper conditions for socialism. As Marx saw it the end and the means are eschew, the process to attain communism requires misery and injustice for most members of the human race. This is because capitalism is the system which amasses the surplus to provide the material preconditions of communism. Freedom is the fruit of unfreedom. Socialism is inseparable from exploitation and violence insofar as it required the fruits of the accumulative processes of capitalism, which is in turn indebted to slavery and feudalism. There is no teleology here, not in the sense that class society can't provide the material precondition for emancipation but in that socialism is not inevitable.

Before his death Christopher Hitchens wrote that the fall of Saddam Hussein inspired elements within the pro-democracy movement that had swept the Middle East in 2011. He argued that the Arab Spring would not have come about if Saddam Hussein had remained in power. Apparently the crippled regime had the capability to hold down demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Not to mention the yet to be successful revolts all over North Africa and the Middle East. Saddam Hussein would have been a great threat to the people within Iraq's border and perhaps nearby neighbours. In the same way that the Assad regime is the principle threat to Syrian citizens. We shouldn't forget that Iraqi society had been almost destroyed by the economic sanctions that had been imposed and this had strengthened the isolated Hussein regime. Hitch is eager to mention that the fall of Saddam was an inspiration for the pro-democracy movement in the region, he neglects to mention that their enthusiasm for Saddam's departure was not an enthusiasm for occupation.

It could just as easily be claimed that Saddam would've been overthrown by the Iraqi people in the Arab Spring given the crippled state of the Iraqi military. That's not something Hitchens was ready to concede. It's interesting, Hitchens told his friend James Fenton that Iraq will become is an American protectorate - overtaking Saudi Arabia in this role in the Middle East - and the base for the export of democracy. This comes out of the Jeffersonian vision of an imperial America which promotes freedom and democracy at every turn. To export the American Revolution was reason enough to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the primary justification and function of the intervention (until the wars got under way at least). There is no third camp between Islamism and Americanism. Only a democratic strike against totalitarianism can be made to defeat the forces of nihilism and take the side of the victim against the oppressor. Notice, this is compatible with his view that Indian democracy was a necessary by-product from the period of British colonial rule.

It's not as easy to remember that the British had no intention of establishing a democratic India independent of the empire complete with a socialist constitution. The same goes for the instance of the demise of European Fascism and the emergence of democracy in Germany and Italy. The outcome slotted neatly into the imperial ambitions of the Allies, the British were looking to takeout the Continental rivals to secure India while the US was looking to wipe-out the European competition. The elections in Iraq were a by-product, not the creation of a benevolent strike to build democracy through "shock therapy". Rather the elections were a means to legitimize a series of illegal economic reforms imposed soon after the invasion. The best outcome, for the Americans, would have been a Sunni military junta but in the end Washington had to compromise. But that was not guaranteed from the outset. It was the horrors of the war that were easily foreseeable from that stance.

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