Keyword Search


The Resiude of Shock

The common refrain from the left in the post-9/11 era has been to link the emergence of radical Islam, terrorism, etc., as a result of the end of the emancipatory, universal project of socialism. The popular interpretation from liberals is to point to the “irrationality”, the “particularity”, “immoral” and even “evil” nature of their “ideological” convictions, which run counter to the universal agent, embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the logic of the ‘end of history’. However, contrary to the ‘popular religion’ in the West, communism was not destroyed via the mechanism of ideas; the defeat of the left in many parts of the world was a result of a coordinated effort by the United States and its allies to suppress communist movements throughout the world and install highly repressive, authoritarian regimes to create the conditions for capitalist accumulation and to undermine the ‘organic’ basis of anti-capitalist struggle—peasantry, unionization, intellectuals, etc. This repression, this destruction of emancipatory alternatives, has led to frustration and nihilism—a nihilism that can either be expressed with resignation; ‘fetishist disavowal’, like the belief that Sarah Palin is capable of enacting change, whilst knowing she can’t and won’t; or, in the case of many ‘terrorists’, suicide. This is has given rise to proto-fascistic forces of cynical, racist, disparate, intellectually inconsistent—if not blatantly and proudly dishonest—, right wing, reactionary populism and outrage worldwide. It suggests that Walter Benjamin’s famous argument that “Every fascism is an index of a failed revolution”, couldn’t be starker. 

Famous examples of this suppression include: the Red Scare, 1919; McCarthyism, 1950’s; Iran, 1953; Guatemala, 1954; Cuba, 1961; Brazil, 1964; Indonesia, 1965; Vietnam 1945-1975; Chile, 1973; Operation Condor, post-1976; the Contras, 1980s; Grenada, 1983; etc. If aggregated, the anti-communist struggle in the Cold War had victims, easily, in excess of 4 million. Throughout the world, the material and thus, intellectual basis for anti-capitalist struggle was undermined. For example, in Latin America, many of the states that had enacted ISI forms of industrialization, under the subsequent dictatorships, undermined industrial development, via liberalization, to undermine the organizational power of unions and the labour-force. Also, the countryside saw increasing forms of dispossession for peasants, who were among the most dangerous anti-capitalist forces, forcing them into the slums surrounding decaying cities. For many in Latin America, this experience of torture, death, totalitarianism and primitive accumulation ‘shocked’ alternatives out of the system. A good example is the future President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, who was a Tupamaro (communist revolutionary). He was tortured and locked in a hole for 12 years; he is now pleading with capital to invest in Uruguay and expressly defends private property as inviolable and sacred. It is no coincidence that the Latin American states that today have proto-revolutionary socialist governments, like Venezuela, or Bolivia, were largely immune from the ‘shocks’ of Operation Condor. 

However, the greatest err in the Cold War for the vantage point of the United States was to materially support the Islamic mujahedeen in the mountains of Afghanistan against the USSR in the 1980s. This support for Islamic fundamentalism created the basis for a truly transnational organization, with highly efficient and secretive means of money transfers, arms trade, and ideological proliferation—all of which was supported by billions of US aid. The support for these rebels, who expressly rejected the Enlightenment, served America’s anti-communist cause and with the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan both sides felt that they had won the war with the elan of God on their side. For the United States, the Islamic radicals were an after-thought, especially with the ‘end of history’ and the emergence of its hyperpower status. However, the battle for the radicals was just beginning, the real battle would be for the heart and soul of the entire Islamic world and that would put it in conflict with the other power, the United States.

The spread of this Islamic ideology of salafism—to go back to the ways and means of the first virtuous generations of Islam—and wahhabism—the extremely orthodox application of Hadith and Qu’ranic jurisprudence, emerging from the Hanafi school—was enabled by the United States and her allies to undermine progressive movements in the region, i.e., Israel funded Hamas to undermine the power of the P.A. In the zeal of the Western powers to undermine communism, they created a new enemy, one that the West finds it impossible to communicate with in a ‘deliberative’ manner. One reason is that the Islamic radicals reject the liberal notions of humanism and rationalism as the basis for social relations, but rather emphasize a pre-Enlightenment ideal of hierarchical relations—Allah→man→woman—and a cosmological order ordained by God, embodied in Shari’a. Equality only exists within Islam and under Shari’a, under the notion of Dar-al-Islam (House of Peace); whilst the rest of the world is characterized by its rebellion and ignorance of the universal laws, or Jahiliyyah—this part of the world is known as the Dar-al-Harb (the House of War), which is fundamentally inferior—albeit, not inalterably so, giving the ideology a sense of justice. The very notion of unconditional universal human rights is foreign and “evil”, because not all are equal in Islam and it undermines the divine authority and world-order as ordained by Allah. Therefore, the purpose of the radicals is to take back the Islamic world from the Jahiliyyah brought forth by European and American imperialism and the virus of the Enlightenment. Therefore, there is no basis for discussion, since the terms themselves are contested; there is no basis for a “rational” discourse, along the lines prescribed by the liberals to solve conflict, because there is a total lack of a hegemonic base from which one can start that discussion. 

This ideology spread, because within many of these countries, there were no convincing alternatives to counter American liberal-capitalist hegemony. The critiques that the radicals state are not that far-off from the critiques of the left, but they have been articulated in a reactionary manner. The physical elimination of many of the left’s prominent intellectuals, their censorship and marginalization has denied the ability of these frustrations to be articulated in a progressive manner. Therefore, with the left-option closed and with a total absence of liberal-democratic methods of representation, a residue of the anti-communist struggle of the Cold War, in the Middle East, we saw the emergence of modern terrorism. As Chantal Mouffe argues:

Terrorism has always existed, and it is due to a multiplicity of factors. But it undeniably tends to flourish in circumstances in which there are no legitimate political channels for the expression of grievances. It is therefore not a coincidence that since the end of the Cold War, with the untrammeled imposition of a neoliberal model of globalization under the dominance of the United States, we have witnessed a significant increase in terrorist attacks. Indeed, the possibilities of maintaining sociopolitical models different from the Western one have been drastically reduced...


Rand is a Marxist, and Hayek is a totalitarian

Before I engage in a  polemic against Hayek, I just want to do deal with his hypocrisy that is characteristic of many neoliberal theorists. I will start with Ayn Rand, the anti-altruist, the one who believes that doing things selfishly is the best thing for the individual and for society at large, especially within capitalism, which she termed “the unknown ideal”. I call it ‘Adam Smith on crack’. However, Rand did not live the life she claimed was optimal, she once went against her rational, objectivist mores. A glaring example comes from Anne C. Heller:
When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt’s speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls “a comment that became publishing legend”: “Would you cut the Bible?” One can imagine what Cerf thought — he had already told Rand plainly, “I find your political philosophy abhorrent” — but the strange thing is that Rand’s grandiosity turned out to be perfectly justified. In fact, any editor certainly would cut the Bible, if an agent submitted it as a new work of fiction. But Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt’s oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life.*
A sign of a true philosopher is one that isn’t hypocritical, one who would rather die than contradict their own message; that is what is supposed to separate those have “examined” life and those who haven’t. Socrates died, willingly, at the hands of the state for a law that he knew was unjust, but accepted the punishment of the polis because it was the law in which he lived under and accepted; Che died while fighting for the cause of communism in the mountains of Bolivia, fully knowing that he could be killed; and the list goes on.
All this begs the question for Rand, what was her excuse; it was not like the choice was between life and death. She was being totally unselfish—in this context, this is a bad thing—by accepting an ‘irrational’ choice. It was in her instrumental rational, material interest that she accepted the offer presented by Cerf, instead she chose what was in her irrational, emotional interest. Therefore, not only did she make her life worse, she made everyone’s life worse by not accepting more money.--according to Randian logics. Rather ironically, Rand’s ACT proves Marx right: unalienated labour is an expression of the self that becomes part of ones own identity and therefore, is defended more than anything else. It also proves that it is a priori wrong, indeed even if Rand didn’t accept this, to have someone determine—alienate—your labour from yourself, because they have some power that is denied to you, viz., capital. Whether one would like to admit it or not, Rand’s act is an authentically Marxist one.
The contradictions among neoliberal theorists do not end there. Another arch-neoliberal theorist, Fredrich von Hayek, the greatest defender of classical liberal values, actually materially supported the Pinochet regime in Chile. The significance of this cannot be understated. As Frank Cunningham wrote on neoliberal theorists complicity with the Pinochet regime:
Like Friedman and Hayek, they journeyed to Chile after the 1973 coup there to give economic advice to the military government. Indeed, General Pinochet held a personal meeting with Hayek, and Buchanan gave a talk at the headquarters of the Admiralty in Vena del Mar where the coup (proximately) originated. 
No one can deny that the Pinochet regime was totalitarian with a level of repression that surpassed that of any socialist state at the time. Hayek aruges in ‘The Road to Serfdom’ that in an economy characterized by economic planning, it is inevitable that dictatorship arises:
The cry for an economic dictator is a characteristic stage in the movement towards planning, not unfamiliar in this country...I think you would find this common feature - you would find them all agreeing to say: 'We are living i n economic chaos and we cannot get out of it except under some kind of dictatorial leadership'.
This is exactly what economic liberals, the infamous Chicago Boys, were demanding in Chile, and throughout Latin America, during the 1960s and 1970s. It was they who were calling for dictatorship to stop the form of planning they didn’t like. Indeed, it is a myth that the ‘free market’ capitalist system is not planned, as if it were some spontaneous system that is inherent in human relations. Polanyi’s famous rebuke to Hayek was proven in Chile, “[The] lassiez-faire economy was the product of deliberate State action...lassiez-faire was planned.” (147). In order to plan for the free market, they had to overthrow democracy, which had definitively moved against the free-market in that era. What occurred in Chile was an authentic 'counter-revolution' and like all revolutions it requires violence. Hayek's work warns about the inherent violence and terror embedded in socialism, but the reality is that in order to establish liberalism, 'democracy has to be liberalized', as C.B. Macpherson wrote, and that takes foundational violence, dispossession and the destruction of the alternative orders. The purpose of the regime was simple to Hayek, to re-establish liberal hegemony, and what does liberal hegemony mean? Hayek provides an answer:

...and it is the great merit of the liberal creed that it reduced the range of subjects on which agreement was necessary to one which it was likely to exist in a society of free men.

This is hegemony, and here Hayek is making clear that liberalism is a hegemonic order, meaning it is a contingent one. A hegemonic order also determines the limits of discourse, and Hayek argues that first liberalism must be established before democracy can function as a 'utilitarian' system of governmetn that is should be. The result, a ‘democratic’-neoliberal Chile where its government essentially became a rubber-stamp for the policies enacted by Pinochet and forced in the democratic era, via Pinochetismo. Which accords with Hayek’s criticism against planning:

Parliamentary discussion maybe retained as a useful safety valve, and even more as a convenient medium through which the official answers to complaints are disseminated. It may even prevent some flagrant abuses and successfully insist on particular shortcomings being remedied. But it cannot direct. It will at best be reduced to choosing t he persons who are to have practically absolute power.

Ironically, Hayek became the same sort of person he was warning against. This is the irony of history and the hypocrisy of liberal theory.


Welcome! Bienvenidos! Bonjour! Ni Hao!

Thank you for visiting Perspectivos, a blog that is dedicated to the exploration and elucidation of critical political theory and critical political economy. I would like to encourage you to write feedback to any of the my blogs and/or click on the "like", "don't like" or "unsure" buttons at the bottom of the blog posts. Lastly, if you like, you may subscribe to my blog at the bottom of the page. Once again, thank you and enjoy the blog.