In memoriam

On this eighth anniversary, some of you may want to read my five-day journal, begun shortly after noon of that first day, of what it was like for us, so close to Ground Zero: Attack on New York.


Fighting for a new America

My Zeitgenosse Charles Degelman has just posted a comment on why Obama is having such a hard time pushing health reform: Footprints. I think his main point is right and important:
So I try not to be surprised or disappointed or to blame Obama alone. No! A waste of time. Obama receives no marching orders from The Oligarchy. He is not a pawn in a grand plan or conspiracy. No. He and Congress are – as they have been for a long, long time – part of a desperate attempt by the oligarchies – riddled with greed and stupidity – to save a system that is sliding -- very slowly, inexorably, albeit cruelly -- into oblivion.

I also believe he's right that if the reform fails, the inevitable collapse of our system will likely come sooner than it would otherwise. Though -- after Lehman Bros. and all the rest of it -- essential parts of the structures designed to enrich finance capitalists at the expense of everybody else have already collapsed. In the long run and on the macro scale, what happens to this reform may make little difference -- we are going to have to reconstruct our society on different principles, regardless. On the micro scale and in the shorter run, what happens to millions of American families, it's tremendously important. It's also a tremendously important battleground for deciding the shape of a new system.

But I'm not so sure about some of what Charlie says here. For example, "Capitalism in its imperialist stage (here since WWI), said Marx in 1848, will eventually lead to socialization." I don't find that in the Manifesto. I don't remember Marx talking about "imperialism." I don't think the term was even used as an analytic category in political economics until Hobson (1902), from whom Lenin picked it up 14 years later. Maybe it's in some other text of Marx that I've forgotten?

Also, his description of "blocs" is maybe OK but just as a starting point, rough approximation. The problem I have with that language is that "bloc" implies too much conscious intentionality, even a desire to conspire. It also implies too much internal harmony -- as though the people in each grouping didn't include cutthroat competitors and slavish minions.

As for Lenin's "Imperialism" -- it was useful politically then (1916) and maybe even up to World War II. Thereafter it becomes impossible to explain international conflicts without introducing another, wholly different set of variables, derived mainly from anthropology and psychology (Fanon, for example). Lenin was never particularly sensitive to ethnic issues (Stalin was, of course, perhaps partly because of his own minority origin, and long before either of them, Engels was acutely interested in the subject). Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, southeastern China, Bolivia, Ecuador, Sudan, ex-Yugoslavia and other places have surely been battered by the forces Lenin described, but their responses have been conditioned by ethnic and religious rituals and rage against humiliations that can only be understood within each culture.

Anyway, thanks, Charlie, for provoking these reflections. It's a worthwhile debate. It's about our future. And everybody else: Check out Charles Degelman's story in Above Ground, about how the life of one little boy in a working-class family is touched by the macro politics of the 1950s anti-Communist hysteria and the Rosenbergs' execution.

(On Zeitgenossen, see my earlier note, or better yet, the stories of Heinrich Böll.)