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vendredi, 06 octobre 2017

George Orwell and the Cold War: A Reconsideration


George Orwell and the Cold War: A Reconsideration

[From Reflections on America, 1984: An Orwell Symposium. Ed. Robert Mulvihill. Athens and London, University of Georgia Press, 1986.]

In a recent and well-known article, Norman Podhoretz has attempted to conscript George Orwell into the ranks of neoconservative enthusiasts for the newly revitalized cold war with the Soviet Union.1If Orwell were alive today, this truly “Orwellian” distortion would afford him considerable wry amusement. It is my contention that the cold war, as pursued by the three superpowers of Nineteen Eighty-Four, was the key to their successful imposition of a totalitarian regime upon their subjects. We all know that Nineteen Eighty-Four was a brilliant and mordant attack on totalitarian trends in modern society, and it is also clear that Orwell was strongly opposed to communism and to the regime of the Soviet Union. But the crucial role of a perpetual cold war in the entrenchment of totalitarianism in Orwell’s “nightmare vision” of the world has been relatively neglected by writers and scholars.In Nineteen Eighty-Four there are three giant superstates or blocs of nations: Oceania (run by the United States, and including the British Empire and Latin America), Eurasia (the Eurasian continent), and Eastasia (China, southeast Asia, much of the Pacific).

The superpowers are always at war, in shifting coalitions and alignments against each other. The war is kept, by agreement between the superpowers, safely on the periphery of the blocs, since war in their heartlands might actually blow up the world and their own rule along with it. The perpetual but basically phony war is kept alive by unremitting campaigns of hatred and fear against the shadowy foreign Enemy. The perpetual war system is then used by the ruling elite in each country to fasten totalitarian collectivist rule upon their subjects. As Harry Elmer Barnes wrote, this system “could only work if the masses are always kept at a fever heat of fear and excitement and are effectively prevented from learning that the wars are actually phony. To bring about this indispensable deception of the people requires a tremendous development of propaganda, thought-policing, regimentation, and mental terrorism.” And finally, “when it becomes impossible to keep the people any longer at a white heat in their hatred of one enemy group of nations, the war is shifted against another bloc and new, violent hate campaigns are planned and set in motion.”2


From Orwell’s time to the present day, the United States has fulfilled his analysis or prophecy by engaging in campaigns of unremitting hatred and fear of the Soviets, including such widely trumpeted themes (later quietly admitted to be incorrect) as “missile gap” and “windows of vulnerability.” What Garet Garrett perceptively called “a complex of vaunting and fear” has been the hallmark of the American as well as of previous empires:3 the curious combination of vaunting and braggadocio that insists that a nation-state’s military might is second to none in any area, combined with repeated panic about the intentions and imminent actions of the “empire of evil” that is marked as the Enemy. It is the sort of fear and vaunting that makes Americans proud of their capacity to “overkill” the Russians many times and yet agree enthusiastically to virtually any and all increases in the military budget for mightier weapons of mass destruction. Senator Ralph Flanders (Republican, Vermont) pinpointed this process of rule through fear when he stated during the Korean War:

Fear is felt and spread by the Department of Defense in the Pentagon. In part, the spreading of it is purposeful. Faced with what seem to be enormous armed forces aimed against us, we can scarcely expect the Department of Defense to do other than keep the people in a state of fear so that they will be prepared without limit to furnish men and munitions.4 This applies not only to the Pentagon but to its civilian theoreticians, the men whom Marcus Raskin, once one of their number, has dubbed “the mega-death intellectuals.” Thus Raskin pointed out that their most important function is to justify and extend the existence of their employers. … In order to justify the continued large-scale production of these [thermonuclear] bombs and missiles, military and industrial leaders needed some kind of theory to rationalize their use. … This became particularly urgent during the late 1950s, when economy-minded members of the Eisenhower Administration began to wonder why so much money, thought, and resources, were being spent on weapons if their use could not be justified. And so began a series of rationalizations by the “defense intellectuals” in and out of the Universities. … Military procurement will continue to flourish, and they will continue to demonstrate why it must. In this respect they are no different from the great majority of modern specialists who accept the assumptions of the organizations which employ them because of the rewards in money and power and prestige. … They know enough not to question their employers’ right to exist.5

In addition to the manufacture of fear and hatred against the primary Enemy, there have been numerous Orwellian shifts between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. Our deadly enemies in World War II, Germany and Japan, are now considered prime Good Guys, the only problem being their unfortunate reluctance to take up arms against the former Good Guys, the Soviet Union. China, having been a much lauded Good Guy under Chiang Kai-shek when fighting Bad Guy Japan, became the worst of the Bad Guys under communism, and indeed the United States fought the Korean and Vietnamese wars largely for the sake of containing the expansionism of Communist China, which was supposed to be an even worse guy than the Soviet Union. But now all that is changed, and Communist China is now the virtual ally of the United States against the principal Enemy in the Kremlin.

Along with other institutions of the permanent cold war, Orwellian New-speak has developed richly. Every government, no matter how despotic, that is willing to join the anti-Soviet crusade is called a champion of the “free world.” Torture committed by “totalitarian” regimes is evil; torture undertaken by regimes that are merely “authoritarian” is almost benign. While the Department of War has not yet been transformed into the Department of Peace, it was changed early in the cold war to the Department of Defense, and President Reagan has almost completed the transformation by the neat Orwellian touch of calling the MX missile “the Peacemaker.”


As early as the 1950s, an English publicist observed that “Orwell’s main contention that ‘cold war’ is now an essential feature of normal life is being verified more and more from day to day. No one really believes in a ‘peace settlement’ with the Soviets, and many people in positions of power regard such a prospect with positive horror.” He added that “a war footing is the only basis of full employment.”6

And Harry Barnes noted that “the advantages of the cold war in bolstering the economy, avoiding a depression, and maintaining political tenure after 1945 were quickly recognized by both politicians and economists.”

The most recent analysis of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in terms of permanent cold war was in U.S. News and World Report, in its issue marking the beginning of the year 1984:

No nuclear holocaust has occurred but Orwell’s concept of perpetual local conflict is borne out. Wars have erupted every year since 1945, claiming more than 30 million lives. The Defense Department reports that there currently are 40 wars raging that involve one-fourth of all nations in the world — from El Salvador to Kampuchea to Lebanon and Afghanistan.

Like the constant war of 1984, these post-war conflicts occurred not within superpower borders but in far-off places such as Korea and Vietnam. Unlike Orwell’s fictitious superpowers, Washington and Moscow are not always able to control events and find themselves sucked into local wars such as the current conflict in the Middle East heightening the risk of a superpower confrontation and use of nuclear armaments.7

But most Orwell scholars have ignored the critical permanent-cold-war underpinning to the totalitarianism in the book. Thus, in a recently published collection of scholarly essays on Orwell, there is barely a mention of militarism or war. 8

In contrast, one of the few scholars who have recognized the importance of war in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Fourwas the Marxist critic Raymond Williams. While deploring the obvious anti-Soviet nature of Orwell’s thought, Williams noted that Orwell discovered the basic feature of the existing two- or three-superpower world, “oligarchical collectivism,” as depicted by James Burnham, in his Managerial Revolution (1940), a book that had a profound if ambivalent impact upon Orwell. As Williams put it:

Orwell’s vision of power politics is also close to convincing. The transformation of official “allies” to “enemies” has happened, almost openly, in the generation since he wrote. His idea of a world divided into three blocs — Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, of which two are always at war with the other though the alliances change — is again too close for comfort. And there are times when one can believe that what “had been called England or Britain” has become simply Airship One.9

A generation earlier, John Atkins had written that Orwell had “discovered this conception of the political future in James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution.” Specifically, “there is a state of permanent war but it is a contest of limited aims between combatants who cannot destroy each other. The war cannot be decisive. … As none of the states comes near conquering the others, however the war deteriorates into a series of skirmishes [although]. … The protagonists store atomic bombs.”10

To establish what we might call this “revisionist” interpretation of Nineteen Eighty-Four we must first point out that the book was not, as in the popular interpretation, a prophecy of the future so much as a realistic portrayal of existing political trends. Thus, Jeffrey Meyers points out that Nineteen Eighty-Four was less a “nightmare vision” (Irving Howe’s famous phrase) of the future than “a very concrete and naturalistic portrayal of the present and the past,” a “realistic synthesis and rearrangement of familiar materials.” And again, Orwell’s “statements about 1984 reveal that the novel, though set in a future time, is realistic rather than fantastic, and deliberately intensifies the actuality of the present.” Specifically, according to Meyers, Nineteen Eighty-Four was not “totalitarianism after its world triumph” as in the interpretation of Howe, but rather “the very real though unfamiliar political terrorism of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia transposed into the landscape of London in 1941–44.”11 And not only Burnham’s work but the reality of the 1943 Teheran Conference gave Orwell the idea of a world ruled by three totalitarian superstates.

Bernard Crick, Orwell’s major biographer, points out that the English reviewers of Nineteen Eighty-Four caught on immediately that the novel was supposed to be an intensification of present trends rather than a prophecy of the future. Crick notes that these reviewers realized that Orwell had “not written utopian or anti-utopian fantasy … but had simply extended certain discernible tendencies of 1948 forward into 1984.”12 Indeed, the very year 1984 was simply the transposition of the existing year, 1948. Orwell’s friend Julian Symons wrote that 1984 society was meant to be the “near future,” and that all the grim inventions of the rulers “were just extensions of ‘ordinary’ war and post-war things.” We might also point out that the terrifying Room 101 in Nineteen Eighty-Four was the same numbered room in which Orwell had worked in London during World War II as a British war propagandist.


But let Orwell speak for himself. Orwell was distressed at many American reviews of the book, especially in Timeand Life, which, in contrast to the British, saw Nineteen Eighty-Four as the author’s renunciation of his long-held devotion to democratic socialism. Even his own publisher, Frederic Warburg, interpreted the book in the same way. This response moved Orwell, terminally ill in a hospital, to issue a repudiation. He outlined a statement to Warburg, who, from detailed notes, issued a press release in Orwell’s name. First, Orwell noted that, contrary to many reviews, Nineteen Eighty-Four was not prophecy but an analysis of what could happen, based on present political trends. Orwell then added: “Specifically, the danger lies in the structure imposed on Socialist and on liberal capitalist communities by the necessity to prepare for total war with the USSR and the new weapons, of which of course the atomic bomb is the most powerful and the most publicized. But danger also lies in the acceptance of a totalitarian outlook by intellectuals of all colours.” After outlining his forecast of several world superstates, specifically the Anglo-American world (Oceania) and a Soviet-dominated Eurasia, Orwell went on:

If these two great blocs line up as mortal enemies it is obvious that the Anglo-Americans will not take the name of their opponents. … The name suggested in 1984 is of course Ingsoc, but in practice a wide range of choices is open. In the USA the phrase “American” or “hundred per cent American” is suitable and the qualifying adjective is as totalitarian as any could wish.13

We are about as far from the world of Norman Podhoretz as we can get. While Orwell is assuredly anti-Communist and anticollectivist his envisioned totalitarianism can and does come in many guises and forms, and the foundation for his nightmare totalitarian world is a perpetual cold war that keeps brandishing the horror of modern atomic weaponry.

Shortly after the atom bomb was dropped on Japan, George Orwell pre-figured his world of Nineteen Eighty-Four in an incisive and important analysis of the new phenomenon. In an essay entitled “You and the Atom Bomb,” he noted that when weapons are expensive (as the A-bomb is) politics tends to become despotic, with power concentrated into the hands of a few rulers. In contrast, in the day when weapons were simple and cheap (as was the musket or rifle, for instance) power tends to be decentralized. After noting that Russia was thought to be capable of producing the A-bomb within five years (that is, by 1950), Orwell writes of the “prospect,” at that time, “of two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds, dividing the world between them.” It is generally supposed, he noted, that the result will be another great war, a war which this time will put an end to civilization. But isn’t it more likely, he added, “that surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the bomb against one another? Suppose they only use it, or the threat of it, against people who are unable to retaliate?”

Returning to his favorite theme, in this period, of Burnham’s view of the world in The Managerial Revolution,Orwell declares that Burnham’s geographical picture of the new world has turned out to be correct. More and more obviously the surface of the earth is being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another by a self-elected oligarchy. The haggling as to where the frontiers are to be drawn is still going on, and will continue for some years.

Orwell then proceeds gloomily:

The atomic bomb may complete the process by robbing the exploited classes and peoples of all power to revolt, and at the same time putting the possessors of the bomb on a basis of equality. Unable to conquer one another they are likely to continue ruling the world between them, and it is difficult to see how the balance can be upset except by slow and unpredictable demographic changes.

In short, the atomic bomb is likely “to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging ‘a peace that is no peace.’” The drift of the world will not be toward anarchy, as envisioned by H.G. Wells, but toward “horribly stable … slave empires.14

Over a year later, Orwell returned to his pessimistic perpetual-cold-war analysis of the postwar world. Scoffing at optimistic press reports that the Americans “will agree to inspection of armaments,” Orwell notes that “on another page of the same paper are reports of events in Greece which amount to a state of war between two groups of powers who are being so chummy in New York.” There are two axioms, he added, governing international affairs. One is that “there can be no peace without a general surrender of sovereignty,” and another is that “no country capable of defending its sovereignty ever surrenders it.” The result will be no peace, a continuing arms race, but no all-out war.15


Orwell completes his repeated wrestling with the works of James Burnham in his review of The Struggle for the World (1947). Orwell notes that the advent of atomic weapons has led Burnham to abandon his three-identical-superpowers view of the world, and also to shuck off his tough pose of value-freedom. Instead, Burnham is virtually demanding an immediate preventive war against Russia,” which has become the collectivist enemy, a preemptive strike to be launched before Russia acquires the atomic bomb.

While Orwell is fleetingly tempted by Burnham’s apocalyptic approach, and asserts that domination of Britain by the United States is to be preferred to domination by Russia, he emerges from the discussion highly critical. After all, Orwell writes, the

Russian regime may become more liberal and less dangerous a generation hence. … Of course, this would not happen with the consent of the ruling clique, but it is thinkable that the mechanics of the situation may bring it about. The other possibility is that the great powers will be simply too frightened of the effects of atomic weapons ever to make use of them. But that would be much too dull for Burnham. Everything must happen suddenly and completely.16

George Orwell’s last important essay on world affairs was published in Partisan Review in the summer of 1947. He there reaffirmed his attachment to socialism but conceded that the chances were against its coming to pass. He added that there were three possibilities ahead for the world. One (which, as he had noted a few months before was the new Burnham solution) was that the United States would launch an atomic attack on Russia before Russia developed the bomb. Here Orwell was more firmly opposed to such a program than he had been before. For even if Russia were annihilated, a preemptive attack would only lead to the rise of new empires, rivalries, wars, and use of atomic weapons. At any rate, the first possibility was not likely. The second possibility, declared Orwell, was that the cold war would continue until Russia got the bomb, at which point world war and the destruction of civilization would take place. Again, Orwell did not consider this possibility very likely. The third, and most likely, possibility is the old vision of perpetual cold war between blocs of superpowers. In this world,

the fear inspired by the atomic bomb and other weapons yet to come will be so great that everyone will refrain from using them. … It would mean the division of the world among two or three vast super-states, unable to conquer one another and unable to be overthrown by any internal rebellion. In all probability their structure would be hierarchic, with a semi-divine caste at the top and outright slavery at the bottom, and the crushing out of liberty would exceed anything the world has yet seen. Within each state the necessary psychological atmosphere would be kept up by complete severance from the outer world, and by a continuous phony war against rival states. Civilization of this type might remain static for thousands of years.17

Orwell (perhaps, like Burnham, now fond of sudden and complete solutions) considers this last possibility the worst.

It should be clear that George Orwell was horrified at what he considered to be the dominant trend of the postwar world: totalitarianism based on perpetual but peripheral cold war between shifting alliances of several blocs of super states. His positive solutions to this problem were fitful and inconsistent; in Partisan Review he called wistfully for a Socialist United States of Western Europe as the only way out, but he clearly placed little hope in such a development. His major problem was one that affected all democratic socialists of that era: a tension between their anticommunism and their opposition to imperialist, or at least interstate, wars. And so at times Orwell was tempted by the apocalyptic preventive-atomic-war solution, as was even Bertrand Russell during the same period. In another, unpublished article, “In Defense of Comrade Zilliacus,” written at some time near the end of 1947, Orwell, bitterly opposed to what he considered the increasingly procommunist attitude of his own Labour magazine, the Tribune, came the closest to enlisting in the cold war by denouncing neutralism and asserting that his hoped-for Socialist United States of Europe should ground itself on the backing of the United States of America. But despite these aberrations, the dominant thrust of Orwell’s thinking during the postwar period, and certainly as reflected in Nineteen Eighty-Four, was horror at a trend toward perpetual cold war as the groundwork for a totalitarianism throughout the world. And his hope for eventual loosening of the Russian regime, if also fitful, still rested cheek by jowl with his more apocalyptic leanings.


1.Norman Podhoretz, “If Orwell Were Alive Today,” Harper’s, January 1983, pp. 30-37.

2.Harry Elmer Barnes, “How ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Trends Threaten American Peace, Freedom, and Prosperity,” in Revisionism: A Key to Peace and Other Es­says (San Francisco: Cato Institute, 1980), pp. 142-43. Also see Barnes, An Intel­lectual and Cultural History of the Western World, 3d rev. ed., 3 vols. (New York: Dover, 1965), 3: 1324-1332; and Murray N. Rothbard, “Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War,” in Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader, ed. A. Goddard (Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles, 1968). pp. 314-38. For a similar anal­ysis, see F.J.P. Veal[e] Advance to Barbarism(Appleton, Wis.: C.C. Nelson, 1953), pp. 266-84.

3.Garet Garrett, The People’s Pottage (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1953), pp. 154-57.

4.Quoted in Garrett, The People’s Pottage, p. 154.

5.Marcus Raskin, “The Megadeath Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books, November 14, 1963, pp. 6-7. Also see Martin Nicolaus, “The Professor, the Policeman and the Peasant,” Viet-Report, June-July 1966, pp. 15-19; and Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983). [6]Barnes, “‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Trends,” p. 176.

6.Barnes, “‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Trends,” p. 176.

7.U.S. News and World Report, December 26, 1983, pp. 86-87.

8.Irving Howe, ed., 1984 Revisited: Totalitarianism in Our Century (New York: Harper and Row, Perennial Library, 1983). There is a passing reference in Robert Nisbet’s essay and a few references in Luther Carpenter’s article on the reception given to Nineteen Eighty-Four by his students at a community college on Staten Island (pp. 180, 82).

9.Raymond Williams. George Orwell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), p. 76.

10.John Atkins, George Orwell (London: Caldor and Boyars, 1954), pp. 237-38.

11.Jeffrey Meyers, A Reader’s Guide to George Orwell (London: Thames and Hud­son, 1975), pp. 144-45. Also, “Far from being a picture of the totalitarianism or the future 1984 is, in countless details, a realistic picture of the totalitarianism of the present” (Richard J. Voorhees, The Paradox of George Orwell, Purdue Uni­versity Studies, 1961, pp. 85-87).

12.Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (London: Seeker and Warburg, 1981), p. 393. Also see p. 397.

13.George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, 4 vols. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 4:504 (hereafter cited as CEJL). Also see Crick, George Orwell, pp. 393-95.

14.George Orwell, “You and the Atom Bomb,” Tribune, October 19, 1945, re­printed in CEJL, 4:8-10.

15.George Orwell, “As I Please,” Tribune, December 13, 1946, reprinted in CEJL, 4:255.

16.George Orwell, “Burnham’s View of the Contemporary World Struggle,” New Leader (New York), March 29, 1947, reprinted in CEJL, 4:325.

17.George Orwell. “Toward European Unity,” Partisan Review July-August 1947, reprinted in CEJL, 4:370-75.

Jean-Claude Michéa: Between Capital & Archaic Socialism


Jean-Claude Michéa: Between Capital & Archaic Socialism


Audio version: To listen in a player, click here [2]. To download the mp3, right-click here [2] and choose “save link as” or “save target as.” To subscribe to the CC podcast RSS feed, click here [3].

michea-64655164-407e2.jpgJean-Claude Michéa
Notre Ennemi, le Capital
Paris: Climats, 2016

Following the election of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth President of the United States, there was a flood of YouTube clips of Clinton supporters, mostly female, throwing tantrums of biblical proportions (the reader will know the sort of thing: he rent his garments and covered himself with sackcloth, etc.) which afforded this writer both amusement and bewilderment. The tearful outbursts of grief were without insight or intelligence of any kind, with one exception.

The exception was a young lady who, after assuring her viewers that she had “stopped crying about it,” turned her wrath on Hillary Clinton. Hillary, it seemed, had enabled “a fascist” to become President, and thereafter unfolded an attack on Clinton from one of the disappointed YouTube amazons, the first of its kind which indicated that a functioning human mind was at work. “We told you,” the lady wailed, “we warned you” (who she meant by “we” was unclear – Bernie supporters, perhaps?) “but you would not listen. We told you: don’t ignore the working man. Don’t ignore the rust belt . . . Hillary Clinton, we overlooked a lot, we overlooked the corruption, we overlooked your links to Goldman Sachs. We warned you. Hilary Clinton, oh, we kept warning you and you wouldn’t listen. You were so sure, so damn arrogant. I’m through with you. You ignored the working man. You ignored the rust belt. Now we’ve got this and it’s your fault! It’s your fault!” Amidst the wailing and petulance, this Clinton voter had made a telling point. Donald Trump won because he had not ignored the rust belt, and his opponent had.

The two seismic upsets of 2016, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, confounding both polls and media expectations, would not have come about without the common man, the rust belt, the blue-collar worker, Joe Sixpack, slipping harness and voting with “the Right.” Those who had faithfully and reliably followed the Democrat/Labour parties through one election after another, as their parents had done, and in many cases their parents’ parents, voted in opposition to the way the urban professional class voted. These events highlighted the distance between the wealthy liberal elites deciding what constituted progressive and liberal politics, and the political priorities of the indigenous low-paid classes.

The gulf between wealthy urban liberals and an ignored, socially conservative working class is the focus of a new and impassioned political essay by the French sociologist Jean-Claude Michéa called Notre Ennemi, le Capital (Our Enemy: Capital). Jean-Claude Michéa is a socialist, but his analysis of recent events is far from that of the establishment Left-wing’s alarm at the “worrying rise of populism.” His critique of the Left – he does not call himself a Left-winger and indeed makes a critical distinction between Left-wing and socialist – is the hardest a socialist could make, namely that it has abandoned a realistic or meaningful critique of capitalism. “The modern Left,” Michéa claims, “has abandoned any kind of coherent critique of capital.”

The title of Michéa’s book might arguably be Our Enemy: Liberalism, since it is against the liberalism of the affluent that his ire is directed. The word liberal has slightly different connotations in France and the Anglophone world. In France, liberalism is primarily the ideology of faith in free markets with minimal state interference, “those who lose deserve to lose, those who win deserve to win”; and secondly, the expression of an ideology of individual freedom from social constraint. Michéa distinguishes two radically different trends at the heart of socialist/emancipatory movements in history. “In fact, socialism and the Left draw on, and have done from their very beginnings, two logically distinct narratives which only in part overlap.” (p. 47) Put simply, one is the doctrine which seeks the emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the de-alienation of all who work in society, a society organized from the bottom up and based in the organic community, while the other is the Left-wing notion of progress, the ongoing struggle to free individuals from social restraint or responsibility, for minority rights and abstract issues in the name of progress, a demand from the top down. This latter kind of progressive politics, according to Michéa, is not only not opposed to global capitalism, it undermines the very kind of social solidarity which should be expected to oppose global capitalist growth.

Michéa understands the liberal element of parties of progress as being fundamentally anti-democratic, echoing here the distinction made by the French thinker, Alain de Benoist, between democracy and liberalism. Liberalism, obsessed with minorities and what another socialist, George Galloway, famously mocked as “liberal hothouse” issues, is not in principle opposed to the centralization of economic power at all, according to Michéa. Quite the contrary. It is, however, opposed to democracy, that is to say to any entitlement giving a role in the allocation of power to the majority of the people and of any entitlement to a nation to decide its own destiny. In short, liberalism extends economic sovereignty at the expense of political sovereignty.

Michéa’s argument is given credence by the actions of the leaders of the European Union, who are as enthusiastic about deregulating trade as they are unenthusiastic about allowing popular democratic decisions to be made about trade. Liberalism, according to Michéa, is a belief system operating in the cause of capital which supports a minority to oppress a majority. He notes that the very authoritarian and viscerally anti-socialist General Pinochet in Chile pursued an extremely liberal economic policy based on the free market ideas of Friedrich Hayek, who did not much care about democratic liberties so long as rulers got the economy right and followed the economic precepts of Milton Friedman, whose pupils were advisers to the government. Michéa quotes Jean-Claude Juncker (from Le Figaro, January 29, 2015) as stating that “there could be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”

The stream of venom from the rich kids of Britain which erupted, and has not ceased, since June 23, 2016 (the day the EU referendum result was announced) is another casebook example of the liberal loathing of democracy. Liberal outrage is directed at the very notion that major political or economic decisions should be made by a majority of the people, instead of by a minority of wealthy experts, in the first place. A piece that is exemplary in its anti-democratic virulence was penned by the author Julian Barnes and published in the London Review of Books (“People Will Hate Us Again [4]“) in the aftermath of the referendum result in which he described how he and his affluent London dinner-party friends discussed whom they despised most among those who were responsible for the result. (Nearly all remainers were against having a referendum at all.) Barnes’ choice alighted on Nigel Farage. Here is a taste of Julian Barnes:

Farage . . . had been poisoning the well for years, with his fake man-in-pub chaff, his white paranoia and low-to-mid-level racism (isn’t it hard to hear English spoken on a train nowadays?). But of course Nigel can’t really be a racist, can he, because he’s got a German wife? (Except that she’s now chucked him out for the Usual Reasons.) Without Farage’s covert and overt endorsement, the smothered bonfire of xenophobia would not have burst into open flame on 23 June.

flparr2176.jpgHere is what can be understood as a socialist (in Michéa’s sense of the word) comment by the Filipino writer Karlo Mikhail, discussing Barnes’ novel Flaubert’s Parrot on his blog [5]:

That novels like this have sprouted everywhere like mushrooms in recent decades is expressive of a particular socio-political condition. The persistence of a world capitalist system that prioritizes individual profit over collective need goes side by side with the elevation of a hedonistic bourgeois writer to the pedestal as the bearer of individual creativity and artistic beauty.

Interestingly, Jean-Claude Michéa picks out the very same French writer, Gustave Flaubert, as an example of an early liberal’s obsession with minorities (in Flaubert’s case, with gypsies) – a love of minority rights accompanied by disdain for collective identities and aspirations as well as the working classes. Then and now, the liberal does not greatly care for your average Joe, at least not if Joe’s face is white. As Aymeric Patricot wrote in Les Petits Blancs (Little Whites), “They are too poor to interest the Right and too white to interest the Left.”

Michéa appeals to the notion highlighted by George Orwell (whom he greatly admires) of common decency, morality, and social responsibility. But liberalism, notes Michéa, has become the philosophy of skepticism and generalized deconstruction. There is all the difference in the world between a socialism of ordinary folk and a socialism of intellectuals, the latter being nothing more than a championing of causes by a deconstructivist elite. Liberalism is the philosophy of “indifferentiation anchored in the movement of the uniformity of the market” (p. 133). It is a central thesis of the book that liberalism creates individuation in human societies so that the individual is increasingly isolated and social cohesion declines, while paradoxically and running parallel to this development, the economic structures of the world become increasingly uniform, dominated by the power of capital and concentrated in the hands of an increasingly wealthy few.

Michéa stresses that liberalism then becomes obsessed by phobias. A “phobia,” once coined by the National Socialists in occupied Europe to describe the members of the French and Serb resistance movements, he notes wryly, has been recently reappropriated, presumably unknowingly, by opponents of Brexit to describe Brexiters, namely: “europhobe.” Michéa gives a sad but well-known example of the stultifying effects of the “phobia” label: the Rotherham scandal, which erupted in 2014 after the publication of the Jay Report. The report revealed that, from 1997 to 2013, over a thousand girls between ages 11 and 16 had been kidnapped or inveigled by Pakistani gangs to go with them, who were then abused, drugged, plied with alcohol, raped, and in some cases even tortured and forced into prostitution. The town council did nothing about it for over a decade, in spite of being informed about the situation, out of fear of being found guilty of one of the liberal phobias (in this case, “Islamophobia”). For Michéa, this is an example of “common decency” being sacrificed to a liberal prejudice. The protection of the young was seen as less important than risking the allegation of “Islamophobia.” Michéa then quotes Jean-Louis Harouel: the rights of man took precedence over the rights of people.

It is the often-concealed reality of the power of capital which constitutes the fraud of liberal progressive politics, for liberalism as an ideology is increasingly understood as an ideology of the well-to-do. The notion of social justice has shifted from the belief in fair pay and fair opportunities towards hothouse issues which serve to undermine social solidarity. So it is that feminists at the BBC are more concerned about equality of pay between high-earning male and female media executives than a fairer deal for the poor, whether male or female, in society as a whole. This feminist focus on highly-paid women was also evident in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The Democratic Party seemed more concerned that women in top jobs should receive the same pay as men in comparable jobs than in wishing in any way to close the gap between America’s wealthy and poor. For poor Democrat families living on $1,500 a month, the “glass ceiling’” debate and the “solidarity of sisters” must have seemed very remote from their daily concerns.

For Michéa, all this is no coincidence, since progressive politics, as he sees it, has become a contributory force to the intensification of the power of capital and a vehicle of social disintegration, serving to reinforce the ever-greater concentration of capital in the hands of the few. All prejudices are combated except one: the prejudice of fiscal power. That is to say, nobody should face any barrier other than the barrier of money; and nobody should be excluded from any club, from buying any house, from doing anything he or she wants to do, so long as they have the financial means to do it. If they do not have the financial means to join the club, then their entitlement is withdrawn. Money is everything.

michgau.jpgMichéa, like Marx, believes that development by internationalist capitalism acts as a centrifuge to separate the two extremes of those who possess capital from those who do not. Modern society offers increasingly fewer loyalties other than loyalty to the principle of individual competition in a free market. This is why all group adhesion and group loyalty, whether ethnic or geographic or of social class, is undermined or openly attacked by the proponents of progress. In the tradition of socialist conservatives going back to George Orwell, Michéa sees the simplification of language, the dumbing-down of society, and the failure of modern education as part of a pattern.

An example of this centrifugal tendency as practiced by the European Union is the new guidelines issued by the Central European Bank to national banks, which state that mortgage loans should only be granted to those who can prove that they will be able to service the debt in its entirety within the span of their working life. This astonishing provision, which has received little publicity, is purportedly a measure to prevent a repetition of the American mortgage crisis of 2008, but if Michéa is correct, it is more likely a measure aimed at depriving the working and middle classes of the opportunity to become property owners. It will effectively accelerate the widely-noted tendency in Europe to reduce the power of the middle class, which is being driven upwards or downwards towards the minority of haves or the majority of have-nots. It used to be a Marxist axiom that the middle classes would turn to fascism if deprived of their livelihoods by capitalism, as an alternative to joining the ranks of the dispossessed. Michéa does not directly reiterate this Marxist analysis but he certainly implies it; he has obviously read Marx, and if he is not a Marxist (he leans more toward the writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the anarchist/socialist critic of Marx), he certainly owes a debt to the social-psychological analyses of the author of Das Kapital.

The capitalist system, to which even the Right-wing critiques of immigration are wed, necessarily strives towards growth, profit, greater efficiency, and expanding markets. All this means an ever-increasing globalization of business. There is an underlying contradiction between on the one hand an appeal to a conservative electorate fearful of job losses and distrustful of immigration, and a pursuit of growth and free trade to maximize profits on the other. Michéa identifies, rightly I believe, mass immigration as a phenomenon backed by the capitalist ruling order to ensure that full employment is never achieved, for the fear of unemployment is the best way to keep wages down. In this respect, pro-immigration anti-fascists act as security guards for high finance, terrorizing any opposition to cheap labor immigration. The contradiction between an appeal to job security and internationalization of capital and free financial markets underlies the promise to impose trade barriers and build walls while at the same time vigorously pursuing and furthering the cause of global trade and financial interdependence.

The liberalization and privatization which became fashionable in the 1980s was a response by the state to the collapse of Soviet Communism and a reaction against Keynesian solutions to stagnation and economic inertia. Michéa favors neither big government of the traditional socialist kind nor a free-market system caught, as he sees it, in a contradiction between a conservative wish to halt the free flow of individuals and its encouragement of the free flow of finance. Instead, Michéa argues for a third kind of social and economic order, one which eschews the centralization and economic top-down principles of Fordism and Leninism on the one hand and the liberal atomization of society as envisaged by progressives on the other. For Michéa, both are alienating and both destroy human communities in service to growth and the concentration of power in a political and economic center. Such centralist notions of ordering society are characterized even in post-war architecture: Michéa cites here the example of the ill-famed Pruitt-Igoe apartment complex [6], demolished in 1976, which was a monument to collectivist folly and liberal “good intentions,” and which can be summed up in the expression of all experts, in this case architectural and engineering experts: “Trust us, we know what’s best for you.”


All abstract revolutionary doctrine, whether economic or political, warns Michéa, sacrifices the people to its power-seeking goals, whether Taylorist (revolutionizing the means of production to maximum efficiency) or Leninist (revolutionizing the control of the means of production to the point of absolute central control). Michéa finishes with a dire warning that what he calls “Silicon Valley liberalism” is the new face of an old ideology whose ideals are growth and progress in a world which cannot bear much more of either, and whose victims are the great mass of human beings, whose natural ethnic, geographical, and social attachments are being destroyed by humanity’s great enemy, capital. This is what Michéa has to say about the condescending pose of modern advanced and affluent liberal thinkers:

For a growing number of people of modest means, whose daily life is hell, the words “Left-wing” mean, if they mean anything at all, at best a defense of public sector workers (which they realize is a protected corral, albeit they may have an idealized view of public employees’ working conditions), and at worst, “Left-wing” means to them the self-justification of journalists, intellectuals, and show-business stars whose imperturbable and permanently patronizing tone has become literally intolerable. (p. 300) (Emphasis Michéa’s)

So now we are back where I started. Clinton ignored the rust belt and Donald Trump won the election. But now Donald Trump seems to be more interested in what he is most skilled at: accumulating capital. Brexit spokesmen seem to be more concerned with proving that Britain’s exit from the EU will open the way for more international trade than stressing that it provides the nation with the ability to close its borders and create a fairer society.

The liberal global model is one model of society, proposed to us today by the champions of globalism and growth; the society where, as John Rawls approvingly put it, individuals can exist side by side with each other while being mutually indifferent. Michéa asks, what is the second element within socialism, distinct from liberal notions of progress and growth, that is a model of society which is socialist but not global, not top-down? It is the socialism of the living indigenous community, of those who, as he puts it, “feel solidarity from the very beginning,” and socialism will be the rebirth, in superior form, of an archaic social type. The choice, in other words, is between a true community of kindred spirits and the barbarism of global centralized power, whose aim is to reduce human society to a mass of hapless individuals easily divided and oppressed.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/09/between-capital-archaic-socialism/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/9-27-17-4.jpg

[2] here: http://cdn.counter-currents.com/radio/NamingTheEnemy.mp3

[3] here: https://www.counter-currents.com/tag/podcasts/feed/

[4] People Will Hate Us Again: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n08/julian-barnes/diary

[5] discussing Barnes’ novel Flaubert’s Parrot on his blog: https://karlomongaya.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/an-undelightful-novel-on-a-hedonist-novelist/

[6] Pruitt-Igoe apartment complex: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pruitt%E2%80%93Igoe

L’énigme alawite


L’énigme alawite


Ex: http://www.europemaxima.com

Dans le monde arabo-musulman, le terme « alaouite » désigne l’actuelle dynastie royale marocaine en référence à son fondateur, descendant de Mahomet, venu sur la demande des tribus locales, d’où son titre de « Commandeur des croyants », ce qui lui permet de contenir les poussées islamistes.

alawites.jpgLe mot mentionne ensuite une communauté ethno-religieuse surtout présente en Syrie et au Liban. Abdallah Naaman étudie ce groupe peu connu pour lequel il remplace les lettres o et u par un w : Les Alawites. Histoire mouvementée d’une communauté mystérieuse (Éditions Érick Bonnier, coll. « Encre d’Orient », 359 p., 20 €). L’ouvrage se compose de deux parties inégales. L’une revient longuement sur le déclenchement de la guerre civile syrienne. Démocrate et laïque, l’auteur récuse les supposés rebelles et vrais terroristes islamistes sans pour autant soutenir le gouvernement légitime du président Bachar al-Assad. Très critique envers Israël et l’Arabie Saoudite, il n’hésite pas à qualifier Nicolas Sarkozy de « burlesque », Laurent Fabius de « mouche du coche (p. 200) » et à dénoncer le philosophe botulien Bernard-Henri Lévy qu’il considère comme un « affabulateur (p. 201) » et un « malhonnête homme à la chemise blanche immaculée que d’aucuns traitent d’imposteur intellectuel de la nouvelle philosophie (p. 201) ». Cependant, hors de ces quelques vérités très incorrectes, l’autre partie s’attache à découvrir un peuple mystérieux.

Dissidence religieuse qui mêlent rites animistes, musulmans, chrétiens et zoroastriens d’où la célébration des fêtes de Noël et du Nouvel An solaire perse, les Alawites vivent surtout confinés dans les montagnes abruptes du littoral méditerranéen. Toujours méprisée et en conflit permanent avec leurs voisins chiites ismaéliens qui croient en sept imams à la différence des Iraniens, imamites, qui en vénèrent douze, la communauté alawite « longtemps tenue dans une dépendance étroite, sut conserver une vie religieuse, discrète, sinon active. Face à tous les conquérants, les Alawites sont restés immuablement attachés à leur sol, labourant leurs champs, cultivant leur tabac, leurs vignes et leurs oliviers, et gardant au fond d’eux-mêmes l’empreinte et les souvenirs des vieux cultes (p. 330) ».

Après 1918, la France, devenue puissance mandataire au Levant, tente un éphémère État alawite avant de le fondre dans un État syrien à majorité sunnite, soit les oppresseurs habituels. Les jeunes Alawites s’engagent alors en nombre dès cette époque dans l’armée ainsi que dans deux partis politiques rivaux qui proposent un projet laïque intégrateur : le Parti nationaliste social syrien favorable à une Grande Syrie pré-arabe, et le Baas panarabe. Dans les années 1960, les militants baasistes s’emparent du pouvoir à Damas. Puis, après de féroces luttes intestines, en 1970, l’Alawite baasiste Hafez al-Assad devient l’homme fort de la Syrie. Ce baasiste qui a épousé une ancienne militante du Parti nationaliste social syrien donne aux Alawites la direction du pays tout en s’ouvrant aux autres minorités religieuses chrétiennes, druzes et chiites et en s’entendant avec une large partie de la population sunnite.


Drapeau des Alaouites sous le mandat français en Syrie

Les Alawites demeurent une énigme spirituelle, ethnologique et culturelle. Hostiles au prosélytisme, ils gardent secrète leur foi qui baigne dans un ésotérisme complexe mâtiné de croyances autour de la réincarnation de l’âme. Oscillant depuis des siècles entre certaines écoles sunnites modérées et des tendances chiites imamites, les Alawites souhaitent principalement se protéger des multiples menaces qui les entourent. Avec raison, car cette communauté très particulière incarne une part de cette diversité humaine que le monde ultra-moderne entend éradiquer. Voilà pourquoi il faut défendre les Alawites.

Georges Feltin-Tracol

• « Chronique hebdomadaire du Village planétaire », n° 46, diffusée sur Radio-Libertés, le 29 septembre 2017.