Sunday, 30 September 2012

Hideous Idols.

Democracy by Airstrike.

We might, in synoptic terms, see the invasion of Iraq as leading ultimately to the elections of an Iraqi government. This is not to take a teleological view of the invasion as undertaken in order to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq. It was a teleological calculation that led a great many Iraqi leftists to support the intervention. Similarly, David Aaronovitch argued that the prospect of free elections is good reason to bomb Afghanistan as well as the justification for, and ultimately the function of the intervention. It's democracy by airstrike. It can be said that this is not only highly mistaken, it is almost a bastardisation of historical materialism. Karl Marx would remind us that history progresses by its bad side. If we take this too literally then we might come to the conclusion that injustice now is necessary for justice later. The point is actually more subtle: The advent of democracy in Iraq is inseparable from the violence of the invasion and occupation, but it is not a justification of the aforementioned horrors. In this sense Iraq is not unique.

The evils of the war were not perpetrated for the good of Iraqis. But it is the case that the Iraqi people should make the best of their country now that they are free of Saddam. It is precisely because the war was not fought to free Iraq that another intervention was necessary. This time it came from the Iraqi people, including from those who had supported the invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power. We shouldn't sneer at the Iraqis who supported the intervention, in their minds the invasion didn't have to lead to an occupation. In his writing on India Karl Marx likened progress to "that hideous, pagan idol," who drinks the nectar "from the skulls of the slain." He did so not to claim that there is no progress, but to emphasise the horrifying price that has to be paid for it. In the same line Marx writes that it's only when "a great social revolution shall have mastered the results of the bourgeois epoch, the market of the world and the modern powers of production," and subjected them to the control of the people will we have broken with progress as a monstrous god.

It's worth noting that Marx was writing about British colonial rule in India, particularly with regard to the economic composition there. So it should be stressed that the ultimate emancipation of Iraq will come out of the economic conditions. As Terry Eagleton comes out with it, the moral and the material dance hand-in-hand, while at the same time the moral and the material are at daggers drawn. Material development equates to moral development insofar as the advance of productive forces promotes the unfolding of creative power and capacities in man. Yet every advance in civilisation is an advance in barbarism, as Walter Benjamin would remind us, if it brings in its wake new possibilities of emancipation it also arrives coated head to foot in blood. Once again in synoptic terms, we can see the processes of productive advance as a general movement onwards and upwards as generations amass the material preconditions for the new world, as Marx put it, through miserable toil. Capitalism was born indebted to feudalism and slavery in this way.

Defeating an Empire.

The US wanted to avoid any concessions as the resistance in Iraq wanted to end the occupation, in an attempt to hold-off the inevitable Washington managed to prevent elections for the first couple of years. In the meantime a series of market reforms were imposed to destroy Iraq's civil society, opening the country to multinational corporations and privatising everything in sight - the only law of Saddam's left in place was to prevent unionisation. These reforms were illegal until they could be ratified by an Iraqi government of some kind. The first moves towards a new government for Iraq were made for this reason. This included a new constitution, which was quickly typed up by unelected officials. As the Iraq war went on the US had to back down from its war aims, to the extent of trying to block free elections in Iraq. The grass-roots movement for democracy could not be suppressed because it had mass support in the country. It was Iraq's intervention in the US occupation.

Eventually the elections could not be avoided given the strength of the support for democracy in Iraq. So the US first tried to manipulate the elections and when that failed the US came out with its war aims explicitly in 2007. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the conditions were that the US have privileged access to Iraqi oil and that the US can continue its combat operations in Iraq indefinitely. The Bushites were determined to maintain these conditions in January of 2008, but the US government had to back down within a couple of months in the face of Iraqi nationalism. It was in 2009 that the US government finally conceded defeat and began to move to withdraw troops from the country. The privileged access of American corporations to Iraqi oil has been lost, that's not to say that the US has not plundered Iraq - but it does say that Iraq may finally be making the first steps towards independence. By 2010 the Obama administration had to give in to Iraqi "obstructionism" and initiated military withdrawal from Iraq.

It's true that Obama has attempted to maintain and expand the bloated US embassy in Iraq, there have been signs that the US have given up on the diplomatic presence in Iraq. In Febuary 2012 the Obama administration opted to initiate a reduction of funding and staff for the US embassy, which has over 16,000 people in staff and runs on an annual subsidy of $6 billion. More so the embassy will find itself hiring Iraqi staff and source goods and services from the Iraqi economy. Even still this event signifies the ongoing decline of American influence in Iraq. The war has been a disaster for the US overall, specifically in terms of its strategic goals for the region. The invasion had failed to reverse the increasing isolation of Israel on the world stage while Iranian influence in Iraq has only been increased. Elections have empowered Shi'ite conservatives and nationalists in Baghdad, the new Iraq will have peaceful relations with Iran. Washington can continue to dream of an isolated Iran that can be readily cowed.

At History's End.

In defence of the suggestion that it is preferable to export democracy by military intervention, Christopher Hitchens would point to the French role in the American Revolution to throw-off the British rule. 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 defeat 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. At the same time, we may safely say that the defeat of Hitlerism in Germany only came about once 'appeasement' had failed and German expansionism came to threaten British interests abroad. Churchill's real concern was that the Fascists would seize the Suez Canal before moving on to India. In the end the British empire was lost in the war and frankly it was the best way to lose it.

The official line of the Communist Party in China is that the accumulative processes of capitalism are necessary in order to create the preconditions for historical change. So the capitalist revolution under Deng Xiaoping required such an ideological justification, the idea is that the Communist Party can push Chinese society through capitalist development to socialism and then to communism. Mao had tried to bridge the chasm between partially post-feudal China and socialism without giving ground to the burgeoning forces of capitalism; whereas Deng sought to "cross the river by feeling the stones". The teleology rears it's head once again in the guise of capitalism with Asian values, where capitalism can and must be drawn upon to construct socialism it is in place for that purpose. It is almost theodicy - vindication through the existence of evil. This really represents the victory of the capitalist roaders, the ultimate revenge of the anti-Maoists after the Cultural Revolution - that was made crystal clear in Tienanmen Square!

At the same time, it's worth acknowledging that, the historical materialist conception of history could be used to justify a non-interventionist stance. The US was not in favour of overthrowing Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War and even after it US policy remained supportive of Hussein's regime. So it shouldn't be forgotten that it isn't necessarily the case that history tends towards liberation. The US allowed Saddam Hussein to crush the massive uprising against him in 1991, specifically providing the authorisation for Hussein to use airstrikes against the Iraqi people. It's also not consistently non-interventionist to suggest that the US should've allowed Saddam to be overthrown by his own people. The economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US strengthened Saddam and devastated the population, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead in the end. This devastation prevented an uprising which would have removed Saddam Hussein from power. A ruination of all is not out of the question at history's end.

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