16 January 2009
In 1848 a wave of rebellions swept across Europe. In the UK, every major city was occupied by protesters. The initial trigger? The ‘Irish Question’, that is to say, a failed uprising against the English colonial occupiers by the Young Irelanders who were inspired in particular by the 1848 revolution in France.
But in 1848 there was no radio, no Web, no photography, and most people never traveled more than a few kilometers from where they were born. Yet in their thousands they protested the length and breadth of the UK in support of people they had never even seen. The initial reason, Ireland, soon became a general demand for radical, that is to say, progressive change. They didn’t call ‘1848, Year of Revolutions’ for nothing.
It was also the year Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” The Manifesto was the programme of the Communist League and it was the first time that anybody anywhere had articulated the need for an international workers’ organization in order to overthrow the capitalists. This is also the period during which globalism as we know it today really started and not surprisingly, the two events are intimately connected.
“Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” — The Communist Manifesto
Clearly we are in the ‘common ruin’ stage judging not only by the mayhem loosed on the world by the Western barbarians but also by the failure of the capitalist economies after all their talk about the power of ‘free market’ to solve its problems. Problems that we are paying the price for.
But unlike 1848 there is no general insurrection. So what has happened to us in the intervening 160 years?
One thing is clear, that one hundred and sixty years later, in an age of instantaneous, mass communications, it takes an awful lot of slaughter to really move us to action. I’d like to explore this further, after all, when ‘natural’ disasters occur we contribute millions to whatever cause is being promoted by the mass media. Why aren’t we demanding, in our millions, that the slaughter stop and further, why are we not demanding the end of capitalism? It has brought the planet endless misery, death and privation and possibly brought us to the edge of extinction?
Are we just too comfortable or is it all down to propaganda and lies? It would be all too easy to blame the corporate/state media as clearly it plays a central role in suppressing dissent but I contend that it is not the whole picture.
What happened to our common humanity?
Let’s face it, we have lost something as human beings, here in the so-called developed world. Correction- something has been stolen from us. During the latter part of that 160 years, something central to our existence as human beings has been stolen from us by capitalism: our sense of belonging to one species; the human race.
Undoubtedly the ideology of racism which is central to the culture of capitalism, is a major contributory factor as it divides us into two kinds of people, the human and the less than human, and guess which half the Palestinians belong to?
But racism doesn’t explain it all, it’s just the most obvious manifestation of a deeper ailment, what Marx called alienation and the commensurate fetish of the commodity (and here was Marx using the word fetish long before Freud). Our lives are wrapped up with things, possessing things. It’s why the BBC opens up a news broadcast with a story about how many went shopping the week before Christmas. It’s why the opening of yet another shopping mall is considered ‘news-worthy’. If we don’t consume we’re finished as an economy, as a culture.
The connection between our loss of humanity and being in thrall of things might not be that obvious,
but the very nature of capitalist social relations fragments us, which is why in the early days workers formed unions, not merely as a means of fighting back through collective action, but because through them they shared a common culture, a common humanity.
Collectively, they formed a network, which is why the idea of revolution spread so rapidly across Europe, even though the only means of communication were the horse, sail, foot and carrier pidgeon. But the ‘neo-liberal’ counter-revolution has effectively destroyed our collective power, reducing us to fragmented and isolated actions (so-called single-issues) and aided and abetted by our so-called social democrats eg, New Labour or whatever name they go under elsewhere.
In the UK, the nearest thing we have to some kind of large-scale collective organization is the Stop The War Coalition, formed before the invasion of Iraq but frankly, where are its calls for stopping capitalism, for it’s only by getting rid of capitalism that we stand a chance of stopping its wars.
A step too far?
It is a terrible truth that in spite of the cold-blooded slaughter of hundreds of Palestinians, the Zionist state has failed in its objectives, assuming that is, that it actually had an objective aside from trying to bomb the Palestinian people into submission. And in spite of the collusion of the Western media in covering up this crime against Humanity, many of us have seen the reality of Israel’s ‘defence’, which is why so many of us have demonstrated.
What strikes me about this, the latest round of the slaughter of the innocents is the utter disregard of the Israeli state for what the rest of the world thinks about its actions. The parallels with Hitler’s Third Reich are too striking to be coincidental. Clearly, Israel, like the US and the UK are run by a pathologically deranged bunch of sociopaths, who should be locked up, they’re just too dangerous to be on the loose and I fear the condition is irreversible.
The Israeli war machine claims that this time, it was ready to do battle in mediaspace, blaming its failure in Lebanon in 2006 on its ‘unpreparedness’ for a media war. But of course, they failed to mention the fifth column they have in place in the West, the corporate and state-run media, who have proved only to willing to go to bat(tle) for them.
But there is a limit and the wholesale and indiscriminate slaughter of women and children, even with a corporate media blackout in place in the Gaza Strip, the sheer Nazi horror has nevertheless made it out here in the UK and across much of the world, except of course in the US.
It’s why over 100,000 people pitched up this past Saturday in the freezing cold to protest the Israeli Blitzkrieg of Gaza. I also hazard a guess that Israeli actions are a step too far and could trigger a series of momentous changes right across the Middle East. Far from being the death knell of the Palestinian struggle for their national rights, I contend that this may well spell the end of Zionism.
Not coincidentally, an excellent just-published essay by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya ‘The Israeli War on the Gaza Strip: “The Birth Pangs of a New Palestine/Middle East”’ addresses the geo-political context to the above contention, but I maintain that the real struggle is here. Why should the dispossessed of the world be forever fighting our battles?
“The Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip against the Palestinians are part of a larger geo-strategic project. They are part of the “birth pangs of a new Palestine and Middle East” in the eyes of the U.S. and Israel. but this project will not proceed as envisaged by the U.S. and Israel. There is a wind of change and revolt throughout the Middle East and the Arab World. This process is unleashing a new wave of popular resistance directed against the U.S. and Israel, both within and beyond the Arab World.”