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HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE AND OWS December 4, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Growth, Humankind/Planet Earth, Social Environment.
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History is a process but not one as Hegel suggested is not so much driven by reason but by an evolutionary purpose to light up our individual and collective neo-cortexts to inform our actions.

In this view other more primitive processes are in play that might metaphorically referred to as the reptilian brain. So we have in evidence, not just technology, but violence, domination and greed and the cynical manipulation of people.

Shopping in the supermarket while conscious of the music played and fed to the consumers to encourage buying of bargains, I apprehend living in bubble as perhaps the eco-system of the outside world collapses. This maudlin thought brings to mind how the aristocrats of Paris and St Petersburg danced on as the revolutions proceeded apace outside.

David Graeber reflects on what OWS might mean, or more generally the Occupy Movement. Firstly he observes:

Perhaps the greatest world historian alive today, Immanuel Wallerstein, has argued that since 1789 all major revolutions have really been world revolutions. The French revolution might have appeared to only take place in one country, but really it quickly transformed the entire North Atlantic world so profoundly that a mere 20 years later, ideas that had previously been considered lunatic fringe – that social change was good, that governments existed to manage social change, that governments drew their legitimacy from an entity known as the people – had been propelled so deeply into common sense that even the stodgiest conservative had to at least pay lip service to them.

Since Immanuel Wallestein came into the picture here is a recent address he gave:

Now to get back to David Graeber’s conclusions:

Could we be in the presence of a fundamental shift like 1789 – a shift not only in global power relations but in our elementary political common sense? It’s impossible to say, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

Let me end by listing three:

First, in no previous world revolution has the main center of mobilization been in the imperial center itself. Great Britain, the great imperial power of the 19th century, was barely affected by the uprisings of 1789 and 1848. In the same way, the US remained largely immune from the great revolutionary moments of the 20th century. The decisive street battles typically happen not in the imperial center, nor in the super-exploited margins, but in what might be termed the second tier: not London but Paris, not Berlin but St. Petersburg. The 2011 revolution started according to that familiar pattern, but it has actually spread to the imperial center itself. If this is sustained, it will be quite unprecedented.

Also, this time the power elite can’t start a war. They already tried that. They’re basically out of cards to play in this respect. This makes an enormous difference.

Lastly, the spread of feminist and anarchist sensibilities has opened up the possibility of a genuine cultural transformation. Here is the big question: Can we create a genuinely democratic culture? Can we change our fundamental conceptions of what politics must necessarily be like? For me, the image of middle-aged white guys in suits, in places like Denver or Minneapolis, patiently learning consensus process from pagan priestesses or members of groups like Anarchist People of Color so as to take part in their local General Assemblies (and there are … it’s true! I’ve heard reports) may well be the single most dramatic image to have come out of the Occupy movement so far.

Of course this could be the first moment in yet another round of recuperation and defeat. But if we are witnessing another 1789, a moment where our most basic assumptions about politics, economics, society, are about to be transformed – this is precisely how it would have to begin.

I would take exception to some of these statements to the extent that the developments within the imperial powers are ignored, and while perhaps they did not have global implications they nevertheless had impacts. For example, since I relate to this historical development on a family level if not a personal level, the development of steam-driven passenger ships and the related construction of the Suez Canal made it possible for the self-governing colonial governments in Australia and New Zealand to pay the boat people to set up occupation as families in these distant lands. The scheme was finished with the late nineteenth century depression. It was the Suez Canal and later oil, rather than Jerusalem, that animated the imperial vision. We think now our only connection with the Eastern Mediterranean is via the carnage of war.

History may be a process from which we cannot extract ourselves, and my apprehensions might we an example of “the optical illusion of consciousness”, but its’ understanding, albeit retrospective informs understanding of our situation.

Nonetheless as we continue to do the things that no longer work, we are drawn to consider what has. A case in point, labor unions borrow the rhetoric of the OWS but continue with the old methods:

The new method is not unproblematic and there are some issues related to homelessness, drug abuse and other ailments of the under class in full site, but much like the labor march out of sight of media consciousness, which subsumes consumer consciousness. The first segment of Truthdig Radio on KPFK deals with these problems as they related to LA. Globalization takes on a whole new reference by the comment made and endorsed in relation to the labor protest in NY:

It’s so amazingly sad that I need to watch a foreign news source to see what’s going on a few hour drive from me.

Some advise stepping outside to smell the eucalypts and observe the kookaburra on the power line while we turn off all our electronic gadgets. Perhaps we can be selective by junking the televison, or turning into a disconnected family altar, made like Roman houses had, while keeping the internet and work for “an emergent clarity”.

POSTSCRIPT:

I try to imagine what a critical reader might be thinking. One point that would come up would be the importance of the Raj, as the jewel of the Empire in the late nineteenth century. How did Britain make money out of India? I am guessing that it was important than other colonies, although rubber would in time assume greater importance than, for example, tea. How strategically important were Gandhi’s insight that lead to the Salt March and his encouragement of home spinning as distinct from buying Lancashire manufactured cloth?

Here is one account, but it does not give an assessment of the capital flows that favoured the British.

Britain, like the US, was a capitalist power:

British interests were of several kinds. At first the main purpose was to achieve a monopolistic trading position. Later it was felt that a regime of free trade would make India a major market for British goods and a source of raw materials, but British capitalists who invested in India,or who sold banking or shipping service there, continued effectively to enjoy monopolistic privileges. India also provided interesting and lucrative employment for a sizeable portion of the
British upper middle class, and the remittances they sent home made an appreciable contribution to Britain’s balance of payments and capacity to save. Finally, control of India was a key element in the world power structure, in terms of geography, logistics and military manpower. The British were not averse to Indian economic development if it increased their markets but refused to help in areas where they felt there was conflict with their own economic interests or political security.
Hence, they refused to give protection to the Indian textile industry until its main competitor became Japan rather than Manchester, and they did almost nothing to further technical education. They introduced some British concepts of property, but did not push them too far when they met vested interests

The difference now lies in the role of transnational corporations that may be nominally American or British or whatever, who might be assumed organize national governments to do their bidding.

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