Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing Part 6 9-11 Calling
Introduction see Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing
From Part 5: America as "root cause". The answer to this question, according to many of those who accept the global immiserization thesis, came on 9-11. Noam Chomsky, perhaps America's most celebrated proponent of the Baran-Wallerstein thesis, expressed this idea in the immediate aftermath.
Here, for the first time, the world had witnessed the oppressed finally striking a blow against the oppressor - a politically immature blow, perhaps, comparable to the taking of the Bastille by the Parisian mob in its furious disregard of all laws of humanity, but still an act equally world-historical in its significance: the dawn of a new revolutionary era.
This judgment can make sense only in the context of the Baran-Wallerstein thesis. For if 9-11 was in fact a realistic blow against the advanced capitalist countries - or even just the most advanced - then here was an escape from the utopian deadlock of the global immiserization thesis. Here was a way that the overthrow of world capitalism could be made a viable historical outcome once again, and not merely the fantastic delusions of a sect.
This explains the otherwise baffling valorization of 9-11 on the part of the left - by which I mean the enormous world-historical significance that they have been prepared to attribute to al Qaeda's act of terror.
But was 9-11 truly world-historical in the precise sense required to sustain the Baran-Wallerstein revision? For 9-11 to be world-historical in this sense, it would have to contain within it the seeds of a gigantic shift in the order of things: something on the scale of the decline and collapse of capitalist America and with it the final realization of the socialist realm.
But this investment of world-historical significance to 9-11 is simply wishful thinking on the part of the left. It is an effort to transform the demented acts of a group of fantasists into the vanguard of the world revolution. Because if there is to be a world revolution at all there has to be a vanguard of that revolution, an agent whose actions are such as to represent a threat to the capacity of the capitalist system simply to survive.
This means that it is not enough to injure it; it is not enough to wound or madden it; it is not enough to rouse it to rage - the agent must kill it, too. He must be capable of overthrowing the hegemonic power at the center of the capitalist world system.
But this is absolutely implausible. Any realistic assessment of any possible scenario will inevitably conclude that nothing that al Qaeda can do can cause the collapse of America and the capitalist system. The worse eventuality in the long run would be that America would be forced to break its hallowed ideal of universal tolerance, in order to make an exception of those who fit the racial profiling of an al Qaeda terrorist.
It is ridiculous to think that if al Qaeda continued to attack us such measures would not be taken. They would be forced upon the government by the people (and anyone who thinks that the supposed cultural hegemony of the left might stop this populist fury is deluded).
In other words, the only effect on America of a continuation of September 11-style attacks would be an increasingly repressive state apparatus domestically and a populist home front demand for increasingly severe retaliation against those nations supporting or hiding terrorists.
But neither one of these reactions would seriously undermine the strength of the United States - indeed, it is quite evident that further attacks would continue to unite the overwhelming majority of the American population, creating an irresistible "general will" to eradicate terrorism by any means necessary, including the most brutal and ruthless.
But this condition, let us recall, is precisely the opposite of the objective political conditions that, according to Marx, must be present in order for capitalism to be overthrown. For classical Marxism demands, quite realistically, a state that is literally being torn apart by internal dissension.
Revolution, in short, requires a full-fledged civil war within the capitalist social order itself, since nothing short of this can possibly achieve the goal that the revolution is seeking. Hence, 9-11-style attacks that serve only to strengthen the already considerable solidarity between classes in the United States are, from the perspective of classical Marxism, fatally flawed.
For such attacks not only fail to further any revolutionary aims; they actually make the revolution less probable. A society of 300 million individuals whose bumper stickers say "United We Stand" is not a breeding ground for revolutionary activity. Nor is it a society that can be easily intimidated into mending its ways, even if we make the assumption that its ways need mending.
But if the result of 9-11 was to strengthen the political unity of the United States, then 9-11 was definitely not world-historical. The unspeakable human horror of 9-11 should not blind us to the ghastly triviality of the motive and the inevitable nullity of the aftermath.
Go to Part 7: The temptation of fantasy ideology.
- Introduction: The Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing
- The Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing
- Part 2: Marx's political realism
- Part 3: Immiserization
- Part 4: Immiserization goes global
- Part 5: America as "root cause"
- Part 6: 9-11 calling
- Part 7: The temptation of fantasy ideology
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