A difficult century

Friends just forwarded me this, from Dan Plesch of The Guardian: The end of the beginning. "US forces are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in the Middle East in a few hours. US readiness for more war is just one indicator that the present war is likely to spread and intensify in the coming months," it begins.

Very scary.

It looks like this is going to be a difficult century, worse in at least some ways than the last one. The next several wars will all be asymmetrical, most likely. No more Red Army vs. the Wehrmacht or Axis vs. the Allied armies, but one side with all the air power and enormous bombs, the other with an inventive variety of cheaper, mobile weapons such as the bombs that, according to Scotland Yard this morning, 21 or more British-born persons were planning to carry aboard planes as hand luggage.

Actually, the dismal prospects are pretty similar to what they were 100 years ago. The messy, bloody Boer War had just ended, the Japanese had just defeated Russia, and those two empires (the British and the Japanese), the Belgians and the French were just barely maintaining order by their regimes of violence. The U.S. was meanwhile murdering Filipinos. And the British launched the battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought, with ten 12-inch guns -- the first battleship whose guns were all so large, says The People's Chronology. Then, one unanticipated outcome of all this tension among the great powers -- besides the Great European War, which should have been anticipated -- was the Russian revolution as a kind of (imperfect) counterforce to imperialism (before it devolved into something itself resembling empire, after yet another world war).

The problem now is what sort of counterforce we can be building, and even how to define the force we oppose. Back then, Lenin plausibly argued that the enemy was "imperialism," which he described as the latest stage of capitalism. I don't think that's as useful a description as it was then. If this is "imperialism," it is of a different kind, having evolved beyond its original meaning, the projection of one national state's power over other peoples. And the Leninist response of a conspiratorial, proletariat-based party assumed a different kind of proletariat than what we see now. Rational (that is, not faith-driven), secular, humanitarian revolutionaries are going to have to create some new model.

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