All posts by Yanis Iqbal

Why the Left has to Seize Power

Under bourgeois democracy, there prevails a specific kind of interrelationship between political society and civil society, between the moment of force and the moment of consent. Governmental apparatuses are tasked with penetrating the masses from without, in order to impose capitalist ideologies on them and organize people in the forced, artificial unity of intermediate bodies. The consent thus obtained is itself over-determined by coercion. As Antonio Gramsci writes in §47 of Notebook 1: “Government by consent of the governed, but an organized consent, not the vague and generic kind which is declared at the time of elections: the State has and demands consent, but it also “educates” this consent through political and trade-union associations which, however, are private organisms, left to the private initiative of the ruling class.”

While the ruling class does shape and maintain consent in civil society, the latter also possesses a relative autonomy from political society. This derives from the internal mechanisms of the bourgeoisie’s hegemonic project: to gain consent, the ruling class has to interact with the many demands arising from the class conflicts that are constitutive of capitalist society. In this process, the collective structures of civil society are given a bivalent character. On the one hand, they serve as the instruments through which the elite exercises consensual power. On the other hand, insofar that the bourgeoisie has to maintain a power equilibrium through the extension of concessions to subalterns, the organisms of civil society also function as the principal vehicle for the actions of these oppressed. The specific composition of this duality can change depending on the course of class struggle.

In the words of Michele Filippini, while the two-pronged function of civil society institutions remains invariant, “the prevalence of the one over the other in their everyday course of action, or rather, the political capacity to subordinate one interest to another through hegemonic action” is subject to the dynamics of resistance. That is why these structures can be “‘made to operate’ both as organic mechanisms rebalancing the power system and as an independent expression of subaltern, potentially revolutionary demands.”  However, the relative autonomy of civil society does not mean that socialist activism can be reduced to a gradual process of winning cultural influence in one sphere of society after another. Politics cannot be reduced to pedagogy. The differences between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks can help illustrate this point.

Alan Shandro writes: “[their] contrasting approaches to the struggle for hegemony yielded opposing readings of the soviets: both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks knew them as organizing committees for a general strike, but where the former conceived of them as the site of a kind of proletarian model parliament, Lenin attributed to them the potential of embodying an alliance of workers and peasants and assuming state power. Thus in 1905, where the Bolsheviks sought to organize insurrection through the soviets, the Mensheviks supposed that a focus on insurrection would undermine the process of working-class self-education”. In other words, Bolsheviks gave a concrete character to proletarian education by considering it as part of the contestations involved in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, which could either result in the destruction of Tsarism or a transition dominated by a landlord-bourgeois coalition.

The Russian experience explains that civil society is intimately tied with relations of force. It can’t be understood as a “battle of ideas” in which the working class has to merely present its own ideology to bring about a revolution. On the contrary, civil society has to be considered as an unequal terrain of ideological war, constituted by the ruling class with the help of various hegemonic apparatuses. Consent, in other words, in an effect of the materiality of state institutions. The structural presence of these material apparatuses is ignored by those socialists who vainly search for an external vantage point from which they can launch a struggle for the educational emancipation of the proletariat. In contrast, Lenin – to use Shandro’s words – “conceived the “self-knowledge of the working class” …as inherently bound up with a theoretical-practical understanding of every class and stratum in society; he situated the hegemonic political project, correspondingly, in the context of a strategic matrix of struggle around state power. The independent activity of the working class is expressed by impressing its interests upon the course of class struggles.”

Since civil society is an extension of the state – conditioned by the exigencies of the mode of production – it can’t be considered as an unproblematic area of socialist struggle. Instead, we need to comprehend how the private ensembles of civil society are internally linked to the politically confined system of the modern state; a viewpoint that overlooks these linkages will eventually come up against the limits of the bourgeois state. These limits are established by the many institutional complexes possessed by the state. In §83 of Notebook 7, Gramsci notes: “Public opinion is the political content of the public’s political will that can be dissentient; therefore, there is a struggle for the monopoly of the organs of public opinion – newspapers, political parties, parliament – so that only one force will mold public opinion and hence the political will of the nation, while reducing the dissenters to individual and disconnected specks of dust.”

A viable socialist perspective has to recognize the fact that unless the state is taken over by the proletariat, elements of resistance and mass movements in civil society will remain embryos, susceptible to fragmentation and dispersion. So, while the consciousness of the subaltern is contradictory, split by the diverse rhythms of the opposing class projects found in civil society, the coherence and submissiveness of the subject is ultimately guaranteed by the juridical-political practices of the state. The Left, instead of trying to escape from this reality of state power, has to sap it through a concrete movement of contradictions that identifies the vulnerabilities of the state. As Peter D. Thomas argues:

It is…not a question of subtracting the deformations of the existing political society in order to reveal a hard core of ‘politics’ in the Real, be it in social antagonism, civil society or an indeterminate place beyond it.  On the contrary, in so far as the hypostatized forms of the bourgeois political really do determine the conceptual space in which politics in this social formation can occur…it is much more a case of determining the particular forms of practice, even and especially in their conditions of subalternity to or interpellation by the existing political society, that are capable of rupturing its material constitution from within.

To sum up, if full-fledged consent is to be gained for the socialist project, the proletariat must occupy and transform the political society. In one of his articles for the Italian socialist weekly “The New Order”, Gramsci said that a revolution ceases being an “empty bladder of demagogic rhetoric…when it embodies itself in a type of State, when it becomes an organized system of power…the guarantee of permanence and of the success of every social activity”. But this focus on the seizure of power should not reach excessive proportions. Otherwise, the Left will lose sight of the need to engage in pedagogical work on the terrains of civic, social and cultural life. Therefore, the struggle for the control of political society has to be combined with the cultural struggle in civil society.

The post Why the Left has to Seize Power first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why the Left has to Seize Power

Under bourgeois democracy, there prevails a specific kind of interrelationship between political society and civil society, between the moment of force and the moment of consent. Governmental apparatuses are tasked with penetrating the masses from without, in order to impose capitalist ideologies on them and organize people in the forced, artificial unity of intermediate bodies. The consent thus obtained is itself over-determined by coercion. As Antonio Gramsci writes in §47 of Notebook 1: “Government by consent of the governed, but an organized consent, not the vague and generic kind which is declared at the time of elections: the State has and demands consent, but it also “educates” this consent through political and trade-union associations which, however, are private organisms, left to the private initiative of the ruling class.”

While the ruling class does shape and maintain consent in civil society, the latter also possesses a relative autonomy from political society. This derives from the internal mechanisms of the bourgeoisie’s hegemonic project: to gain consent, the ruling class has to interact with the many demands arising from the class conflicts that are constitutive of capitalist society. In this process, the collective structures of civil society are given a bivalent character. On the one hand, they serve as the instruments through which the elite exercises consensual power. On the other hand, insofar that the bourgeoisie has to maintain a power equilibrium through the extension of concessions to subalterns, the organisms of civil society also function as the principal vehicle for the actions of these oppressed. The specific composition of this duality can change depending on the course of class struggle.

In the words of Michele Filippini, while the two-pronged function of civil society institutions remains invariant, “the prevalence of the one over the other in their everyday course of action, or rather, the political capacity to subordinate one interest to another through hegemonic action” is subject to the dynamics of resistance. That is why these structures can be “‘made to operate’ both as organic mechanisms rebalancing the power system and as an independent expression of subaltern, potentially revolutionary demands.”” However, the relative autonomy of civil society does not mean that socialist activism can be reduced to a gradual process of winning cultural influence in one sphere of society after another. Politics cannot be reduced to pedagogy. The differences between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks can help illustrate this point.

Alan Shandro writes: “[their] contrasting approaches to the struggle for hegemony yielded opposing readings of the soviets: both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks knew them as organizing committees for a general strike, but where the former conceived of them as the site of a kind of proletarian model parliament, Lenin attributed to them the potential of embodying an alliance of workers and peasants and assuming state power. Thus in 1905, where the Bolsheviks sought to organize insurrection through the soviets, the Mensheviks supposed that a focus on insurrection would undermine the process of working-class self-education”. In other words, Bolsheviks gave a concrete character to proletarian education by considering it as part of the contestations involved in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, which could either result in the destruction of Tsarism or a transition dominated by a landlord-bourgeois coalition.

The Russian experience explains that civil society is intimately tied with relations of force. It can’t be understood as a “battle of ideas” in which the working class has to merely present its own ideology to bring about a revolution. On the contrary, civil society has to be considered as an unequal terrain of ideological war, constituted by the ruling class with the help of various hegemonic apparatuses. Consent, in other words, in an effect of the materiality of state institutions. The structural presence of these material apparatuses is ignored by those socialists who vainly search for an external vantage point from which they can launch a struggle for the educational emancipation of the proletariat. In contrast, Lenin – to use Shandro’s words – “conceived the ‘self-knowledge of the working class’ …as inherently bound up with a theoretical-practical understanding of every class and stratum in society; he situated the hegemonic political project, correspondingly, in the context of a strategic matrix of struggle around state power. The independent activity of the working class is expressed by impressing its interests upon the course of class struggles.”

Since civil society is an extension of the state – conditioned by the exigencies of the mode of production – it can’t be considered as an unproblematic area of socialist struggle. Instead, we need to comprehend how the private ensembles of civil society are internally linked to the politically confined system of the modern state; a viewpoint that overlooks these linkages will eventually come up against the limits of the bourgeois state. These limits are established by the many institutional complexes possessed by the state. In §83 of Notebook 7, Gramsci notes: “Public opinion is the political content of the public’s political will that can be dissentient; therefore, there is a struggle for the monopoly of the organs of public opinion – newspapers, political parties, parliament – so that only one force will mold public opinion and hence the political will of the nation, while reducing the dissenters to individual and disconnected specks of dust.”

A viable socialist perspective has to recognize the fact that unless the state is taken over by the proletariat, elements of resistance and mass movements in civil society will remain embryos, susceptible to fragmentation and dispersion. So, while the consciousness of the subaltern is contradictory, split by the diverse rhythms of the opposing class projects found in civil society, the coherence and submissiveness of the subject is ultimately guaranteed by the juridical-political practices of the state. The Left, instead of trying to escape from this reality of state power, has to sap it through a concrete movement of contradictions that identifies the vulnerabilities of the state. As Peter D. Thomas argues:

It is…not a question of subtracting the deformations of the existing political society in order to reveal a hard core of ‘politics’ in the Real, be it in social antagonism, civil society or an indeterminate place beyond it.  On the contrary, in so far as the hypostatized forms of the bourgeois political really do determine the conceptual space in which politics in this social formation can occur…it is much more a case of determining the particular forms of practice, even and especially in their conditions of subalternity to or interpellation by the existing political society, that are capable of rupturing its material constitution from within.

To sum up, if full-fledged consent is to be gained for the socialist project, the proletariat must occupy and transform the political society. In one of his articles for the Italian socialist weekly The New Order, Gramsci said that a revolution ceases being an “empty bladder of demagogic rhetoric…when it embodies itself in a type of State, when it becomes an organized system of power…the guarantee of permanence and of the success of every social activity”. But this focus on the seizure of power should not reach excessive proportions. Otherwise, the Left will lose sight of the need to engage in pedagogical work on the terrains of civic, social and cultural life. Therefore, the struggle for the control of political society has to be combined with the cultural struggle in civil society.

The post Why the Left has to Seize Power first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Short History of the US-Pakistan Relationship

On January 10, 2022, National Security Advisor (NSA) Moeed Yusuf said, “It [Pakistan] is still not [free from US influence] and I doubt that there is any country which is free from it.” He added that the country does not have any financial independence, being dependent on loans from International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other foreign organizations. “When we cannot [fulfill] the demands, we seek foreign loans. When you procure loans, your economic sovereignty is compromised.” These comments are not entirely stunning; they encapsulate the ambivalent essence of the US-Pakistan relationship. While the Pakistani elite greatly enjoys its self-imposed subservience to the American empire, it never just sits back and rest on its laurels. It continuously tries to exploit what little room for maneuver it has within the bond of servility to further more selfish, regional interests – ones which either demand too much from the patron or don’t neatly align with the US’ hegemonic ambitions.

Anticommunism

Unlike the many postcolonial nations of the time which exuded a great degree of interest in the development of an independent project, Pakistan was totally craven; its creators displayed a surprising lack of enthusiasm in the paraphernalia of sovereignty. They were only interested in somehow securing money, regardless of the consequences which the people would have to face later. Every option was on the table. In The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, Tariq Ali notes that “the new rulers of Pakistan developed an early communal awareness that to survive they had to rent their country.” Washington was approached as a possible buyer but it rejected the offer to buy Pakistan “as it was busy securing Western Europe and Japan, as well as keeping an eye on China, where the Eighth Route Army was beginning to threaten a Communist victory.” However, this did not stop Pakistan from trying to sell itself.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, continued to consistently market his country as an important ally against Soviet expansionism. Ali remarks that he hysterically “insisted that Soviet agents were present in Kalat and Gilgit in search of a base in Baluchistan.” These same sentiments were shared in a more sophisticated manner by then foreign minister Zafarullah Khan. “[H]e pleaded with the United States to shore up Pakistan, whose people were genetically anticommunist, since this was the best way to protect India against the Soviet Union, which would send its armies through the Khyber Pass.” Pakistan’s persistence in peddling threats about USSR paid off in May 1954 when it signed the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement, through which the US provided resources and training to the Pakistani army, with the general aim of turning the new nation into a pliant Third World state. In September 1954, Pakistan was officially anointed as a crusader against the godless Communists, joining the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization together with Thailand and the Philippines.

Exactly one year later, in September 1955, Pakistan joined another pro-Western organization known as the Baghdad Pact, which included King Faisal’s Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Britain. As Pakistan chummed up with its anti-Soviet friends, the inflows of money into the ruling class’ pockets increased. From 1953 to 1961, Pakistan received around $2 billion in assistance from the US. These wads of cash, however, did not signify a thoroughgoing bilateral camaraderie, one in which the imperialist benefactor would come to the help of its junior partner at all cost. Apart from acting as another chess piece in the anticommunist game, Pakistan served no other significant function for USA. Therefore, the latter felt no need for fulfilling all the demands of the former. In fact, what happened during the initial years of 1960s was the opposite. In United States and Pakistan in the 21st Century: Geostrategy and Geopolitics in South Asia, Syed Tahseen Raza writes:

The Sino-Indian Border struggle in 1962 paved the way for closer US-India ties because neutral India, desperate to have weapons in the immediate aftermath of Chinese aggression, made a frantic plea for US help. The US was pleased because this was an opportunity to wean India off the influence of the Soviet Union by offering help in a time of crisis. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s inching closer with China was not liked by the United States. When American finally decided to give arms aid to India in November 1962, Pakistan was not consulted before as was promised to them and this deeply offended the leaders of Pakistan. The [John F.] Kennedy administration, on the whole, tried to balance the American relationship with South Asia on equal footing and therefore did not view Pakistan as more important than India.

Feeling threatened by USA’s growing closeness with India, Pakistan extracted from the former, on November 5, 1962, a pledge “that it will come to Pakistan’s assistance in the event of aggression from India.” This pledge, nonetheless, did not help Pakistan during the Second Kashmir War (1965) when it undertook dangerous military adventures (Operation Gibraltar and Operation Grand Slam) against India. When the war started, the US cut aid to both Pakistan and India. A similar situation developed six years later. When New Delhi decisively intervened in East Pakistan’s civil war in late 1971, Washington was unwilling to directly support the Pakistani army’s Operation Searchlight against Bengali insurgents (though it did send part of its Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal). The country’s eastern wing seceded to form the state of Bangladesh, dismembering Pakistan in a humiliating way. Spurred by this defeat, Pakistan’s governing caste realized that the continued existence of the nation was dependent on nuclear parity with India.

The development of nuclear weapons was smoothed by conjunctural reasons. In neighboring Afghanistan, the communists, who had backed the 1973 military coup by Prince Daoud after which a republic was proclaimed, withdrew their support from him. In April 1978, the Shah of Iran convinced Daoud to turn against the communist factions in his army and administration. In response to increasingly harsh state repression, left-wing officers in the military stormed the Presidential Palace in Kabul. The government was turned over to Noor Mohammed Taraki, a communist professor who became the President of the Revolutionary Council of Afghanistan. These developments – which were extensively supported by the USSR – came to be known as the Saur (April) Revolution. The US was terrified. It crafted a subversive plan that made General Zia’s dictatorship in Pakistan a principal node for sending jihadists to Afghanistan. Singularly focused on destabilizing Afghanistan’s communist regime, and, by extension, Soviet Union, USA cared less about Pakistan developing its nuclear programme in the 1980s.

War on Terror

America’s benign attitude toward Pakistan changed with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the ultimate end of the Cold war. “[S]ans the American aim of defeating communism as their top priority,” comments Raza, “Pakistan was not given any extra consideration.” The “US Intelligence Report,” which had been indicting Pakistan for its nuclear quest, came to be invoked more frequently. When India conducted its Nuclear Test in March 1998, the Bill Clinton administration tried to prevent Pakistan from following suit, offering the resumption of the sale of F-16 aircraft (which had been frozen by George H.W. Bush when he did not certify Pakistan’s non-possession of nuclear devices) and economic and military aid. But Pakistan demanded more. Raza remarks: “Pakistan wanted tough punitive action against India. When the G-8 meeting on 17-18 May 1998 didn’t take very harsh measures against India in accordance with Pakistan’s expectations, bowing to public pressure, Pakistan decided to go for the Nuclear Test, which it ultimately carried out on 28 May, 1998.”

In response to Pakistan’s nuclear test, the US imposed sanctions, which included restriction of the provision of credits, military sales, economic assistance, and loans. These were, nevertheless, limited in scope and were not sustained. US-Pakistan relations exited this period of downturn in an explosive manner after 2001, thanks to the murky dynamics cultivated by imperialism in Afghanistan. After the USSR left in 1988, Pakistan maintained a strong footprint in Afghanistan to gain “strategic depth” against India, continuing to nurture the Islamist extremism that was earlier used to mobilize jihadist fighters from all over the world against USSR. These actions had severe repercussions. When hardhats of jihadism attacked New York in 2001 to express their disgruntlement with America’s bases in Saudi Arabia, the destruction of Iraq and support for Israel, Pakistan was caught in a dilemma. Networks of battle-hardened fighters that it had built along with the USA were now on the attack radar of its imperialist sponsor.

With limited options, Pakistan decided to join the US War on Terror, declaring support for the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul. “By providing the USA with help in the invasion of Afghanistan,” Justin Podur clarifies, “Pakistan was able to save its clients and its own personnel from destruction, as much of the Taliban and al-Qaeda crossed the border to Pakistan or went to ground and Afghanistan was taken over by US-friendly warlords.” This tactical move had its own disruptive consequences for Pakistan’s social osmosis. General Pervez Musharraf came to be accused of treason for supporting the USA against fellow Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This political effect complicated military operations. As the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) made the Pakistan army take action against insurgents operating in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, casualties increased, eroding the state’s legitimacy in the region. When Pakistan cooperated with the insurgents on the sly, it faced US threats.

Conflicts

The convoluted workings of the War on Terror have had a destructive impact on Pakistan’s economy. It has lost $150 billion – 41% or two-fifths of the country’s total economy size, more than the $13 billion that it received from the US between 1999 and 2013. Since the US invasion of Afghanistan, more than 80,000 Pakistani civilians, security forces personnel and women and children have been killed in gun, bomb and suicide attacks. On average, every year Pakistan suffered losses of $7.7 billion – more than the country’s total expenditures on education, health and other social safety schemes. With the growing advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, current Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in September 2021, saying: “Since 2001, I have repeatedly warned that the Afghan war was unwinnable. Given their history, Afghans would never accept a protracted foreign military presence, and no outsider, including Pakistan, could change this reality. Unfortunately, successive Pakistani governments after 9/11 sought to please the United States instead of pointing out the error of a military-dominated approach.”

Scarred by the War on Terror, Pakistan has been frustrated to see USA establish an alliance with India as part of an anti-China containment strategy. The US and Indian elites have found a common interest in countering China; India is embroiled in disputes on its land borders with China and the US and its allies are contesting China’s claim to maritime territories across shipping routes in the Indo-Pacific region. It is against this background that Pakistan has returned to China’s “all-weather friendship,” initiated in the 1960s by General Ayub Khan who felt betrayed by Washington’s overtures to India in the aftermath of the Sino-Indian border conflict. China has become Pakistan’s closest strategic ally, supplying it with modern defense equipment. Pakistan supports China’s stance on Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan, and China backs Pakistan on its Kashmir issue with India. Over the past five years, this cooperation has been further cemented by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its local cognate China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), entailing over $60 billion worth of Chinese investments in infrastructure consisting mostly of loans.

Despite the economic heft of China, Pakistan still needs Washington’s support, both to get disbursements of its $6 billion bailout package from the IMF and to be removed from the terror-financing and money-laundering watchdog Financial Action Task Force’s “grey list,” a designation that encumbers Islamabad’s global financial operations. War on Terror cooperation had converted Pakistan into a major non-NATO ally of the US in 2004, granting it various military and financial privileges. The designation had also eased Pakistan’s access to IMF facilities. With the deterioration of Pakistan’s relationship with USA, accessing funds has become difficult. In October-November 2021, IMF withheld the release of a $1 billion tranche under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) to Pakistan until the government agreed to close commercial bank accounts held by the armed forces and other state entities and remitted $17 billion worth of public funds into a single treasury account. It is believed that USA, the single largest financial contributor to the IMF, had a hand in the reform demands.

In a June 2021 interview on HBO’s documentary news series Axios, Khan had said, “Pakistan will “absolutely not” allow the CIA to use bases on its soil for cross-border counterterrorism missions after American forces withdraw from Afghanistan.” To change this policy decision, USA started using IMF monetary policy as a bargaining chip to force cash-strapped Islamabad to agree to Joe Biden administration’s counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. These events highlight the conflictual nature of the contemporary US-Pakistan relationship. And it seems that both the parties have failed to arrive at a proper resolution till now. Yusuf’s criticism is significant in this regard as he was the one chosen for mending ties with the US. He has spent a decade or more in the think tank and security policy circle in the US capital as associate vice president for Asia at the Institute of Peace, a US government-backed institution. The Pakistani government had recently elevated him from the position of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister to NSA to signal seriousness in creating a new rapport with the US. It seems that Pakistan will have to wait longer for such a reset in relationships.

The post A Short History of the US-Pakistan Relationship first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Left-wing Victory in Chile

The 2021 presidential election in Chile has resulted in the victory of the Left candidate Gabriel Boric. With nearly 56% of the vote, he has won by a margin of more than 10 percentage points – most presidents had hitherto secured only four or five point leads. In absolute terms, this is a record majority, with some 4.6 million votes cast for Boric, putting him almost 1 million votes ahead of the pro-Pinochet candidate, Juan Antonio Kast, who obtained 44%. These electoral outcomes were marked by political polarization.

Ideological Divisions

Coming from the Punta Arenas region, Boric is the son of parents of Croatian and Catalan heritage. While pursuing a law degree in Santiago, he threw himself into the “Chilean Winter” – the big student demonstrations of 2011 – becoming the leader of the University of Chile Student Federation (FECH). Initially a member of the Autonomous Left, he later joined the socialist formation called Social Convergence, which became a part of the coalition named Broad Front. The Broad Front is driven by a sincere commitment to social and environmental rights.

In the 2021 election campaign, Boric – now an experienced member of the Chamber of Deputies – stitched the Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity) platform, whose composition has changed with the different stages of the election. In the first round, the coalition included the Broad Front and the electoral pact Chile Digno, constituted by the Communist Party, ecologists, feminists and the Christian left. In the second round, however, Boric widened this coalition, incorporating the Socialists, the center-left Party for Democracy, the Christian Democrats, and a few other centrist organizations.

Boric presented the Chilean citizenry with a clear plan, detailed in a 227-page document drawn up after consultations with some 33,000 people from all over the country. Inter alia, the programme focuses on: 1) creation of a universal health system; 2) construction of a national public pension system; 3) revitalization of public education; 4) taxation of the rich; 5) an increase in the share of copper revenues against multinational corporations; 6) regulation of the real estate sector and the building of 260,000 homes; and 7) inclusive education which respects sexual diversity.

Kast has come to represent the antithesis of Boric. His father, Michael, was a Nazi soldier who fled to Chile, while his eldest brother, Miguel, was a Chicago Boy who worked for the dictator General Augusto Pinochet, serving as the head of ODEPLAN (National Planning Office) during the 1970s, then as the Minister for Labor in 1980, and finally as President of the Central Bank in 1982. Kast entered politics in 1996, first as a city council member in Buin, then as a representative to the Chamber of Deputies for four consecutive terms.

He was a prominent leader of Independent Democratic Union (UDI), founded in 1983 by the Pinochet adviser Jaime Guzman. In 2016, he left the party in search of greener pastures, working with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – an organization founded by the American lawyer Alan Sears – to bring together a global summit of the most reactionary, hardline right-wing politicians. In 2019, he launched the Republican Party – a party which has no program, only “guiding principles.” Most of these are absurd. Consider, for instance, the following: the party “believes in the Good and the Truth as objective realities.”

The lack of a coherent vision is filled by Kast’s unyielding fealty to Pinochetist arrangements and solutions. He has promised to lower corporate taxes; abolish the Women’s ministry; eliminate funding for the museum in memory of the victims of the dictatorship; withdraw Chile from the International Commission of Human Rights and close down the National Institute of Human Rights; exit the United Nations; erect barriers at the border with Bolivia and Peru to stop illegal immigration; stop the activities of the prestigious Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO); and establish an organization tasked with identifying and arresting “radicalized troublemakers”.

In the first round of the presidential elections, which drew 47% of the electorate to the polls, Kast won a majority with 1.96 million votes (28% of votes cast). Boric came close second, with 1.8 million votes. Cognizant of the low turnout in the first round, the Apruebo Dignidad campaign doubled down on its organizational efforts, pushing the national turnout to 55% and gaining a wide advantage in working class districts. While wealthy districts saw on average a 4 points-increase in votes, poor urban districts reached a 10-point increase. Overall, there were 1.25 million more votes cast in the second round.

Voter participation would have been greater had it not been for the actions of transport minister Gloria Hutt Hesse who – in the hope of undercutting Boric’s electoral base – prevented public transport services from reaching the poor barrios. On Election Day, people had to wait for two or even three hours for buses to polling centers. However, such efforts failed to destroy the determination and hope of the poor Chilean. In Santiago – where voter suppression tactics were most widely deployed – Kast won in only the three richest communes.

The Santiago pattern is symbolic of Kast’s general support base. Unable to turn the working class to the Right, he has used vitriolic rhetoric to grow in the north and center-south of the country – areas affected by rising migration and by the oppression of the Mapuche community. Kast’s ultraconservative rhetoric has also performed well in small cities, rural areas, and among certain segments of those over 50 years old – groups that tend to be hostile to the diffusion of progressive cultural ideas, such as feminism or the rights of sexual minorities.

Debates on the Future Path

For many on both sides of the political spectrum, Chile’s socialist triumph over an openly fascist figure is devoid of anti-imperialist radicalism. This an upshot of Boric’s unjustified criticism of the left-wing administrations in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. Jorge Castaneda Gutman, a former Mexican Foreign Minister, has rehearsed his old notion of “two distinct political ‘lefts’: a moderate, democratic, globalized, modern left, and an anachronistic, statist, nationalist, and authoritarian left.” While the former is exemplified by Michele Bachelet in Chile, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, and the center-left Broad Front government in Uruguay, the latter is exemplified by Hugo Chavez-Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and the Castros in Cuba.

According to Castaneda, “Boric might not govern like a typical Latin American left-wing populist. Instead, he might operate more like a European social democrat”. This good-bad binary is paradoxically reproduced by the anti-imperialist journalist Ben Norton: “The ‘Pink Tide is coming back in Latin America’ narrative is too simplistic. What we’re seeing is two poles: a revolutionary anti-imperialist left (Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia) and a social-democratic left (Argentina, Mexico, now Chile) that’s weak on US neocolonialism.” This type of dichotomous thinking hardens the variances within the Latin American Left, elevating them to a stark choice between “reform” or “revolution”, or a knee-jerk difference between “good” and “bad” leftism. In response to these framings, Tom Chodor argues that the two Lefts need to be “understood dialectically, in terms of the potentials for radical transformations that arise out of their interaction.”

In other words, while Chile may be more comfortable with the readjustment of relations with the US rather the rejection of imperial power, this process itself creates a range of potentials that might develop in ways suitable to the more radical politics on display in other countries. “One can only speak in terms of potentials in this regard”, adds Chodor, “because the current phase of the struggle over hegemonic rule is only just beginning in Latin America, and its final outcome cannot possibly be known. Nevertheless, the very existence of this struggle, and the consciousness of alternative futures it has raised among millions of previously excluded peoples…cannot be ignored in any comprehensive analysis of…the Latin American region”.

It is this kind of dialectical analysis which allows him to formulate “the pink tide” as “a contested phenomenon, an object of social struggles in a process Gramsci would recognize as a ‘war of position’. Within this war of position, different social forces put forward alternative political, economic and social projects – ‘historical blocs’ – that seek to respond to the organic crisis of neoliberalism”. Thus, we need to look at the inner spirals of Chile’s presidential elections, the evolving tensions of class sinews which impart an undecided character to the ultimate texture of the new government. No easy predictions can be made since Chile has entered a radically different era, one in which major decisions will be made not by a politically unhindered ruling elite presiding over a passive population but by multiple social forces who have just regained their agency. Thus, in the current conjuncture, we need to show solidarity with the Chilean project so that it can find its way through the open-ended dynamics of history.

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Understanding the Bourgeois State

In a lecture delivered at the Sverdlov University on July 11, 1919, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov remarked, “The state is a machine for maintaining the rule of one class over another.” In other words, the bourgeois state is a political product and institutional precipitate of the social dominance of capitalists. What does this dominance consists of? It comprises the successful management of the irreconcilable class antagonisms of a given social formation. Now, insofar that the state is a site historically occupied by the ruling class, it is an instrument deployed exclusively by it to maintain power, one which is constantly re-configured so as to be effective against the efforts of the subalterns to impose controls on its operations.

The fact that the state is a transformed form of social power – alienated from class society and so beyond its control – derives from the class domination of the bourgeoisie, which encompasses the whole set of economic, political and ideological forms of domination. Since the state arose in conjunction with the division of human societies into classes, it draws its sustenance from the hegemonic requirements of the dominant class, serving as the regulatory node where its economic rule is translated into political power; it is where it becomes centralized and condensed, reinforced with the power and authority of various state apparatuses.

As the state is the primary agency through which the ruling class gives appropriate socio-political forms to its economic clout, the basis for state apparatuses is defined by the constitutive violence of the wage labour-capital relation; i.e., the bourgeoisie’s claim to the juridical right to appropriate the surplus-value produced by the proletariat. The class character of the state, therefore, is linked to its status as a machine which recognizes only the force and violence of the bourgeoisie, which transforms the basic fact of economic exploitation into elaborate and dense networks of consent and coercion. G. M. Goshgarian’s introduction to Louis Althusser’s “Philosophy of the Encounter Later Writings, 1978-87” notes:

Because the state results from the transformation of an excess of class force, the differential between the class struggle of the dominant class and all the others (friend or foe), it is by definition the preserve of the victors in the struggle. And it is such whatever the ‘political form’ through which the dominant exercise state domination: the dominion of the landed nobility persists under absolutism, that of the capitalist class is not necessarily diminished – the contrary generally holds – with the advent of parliamentary democracy.

In short, the conflictual differential between the force of the dominant classes and that of the dominated classes – the dynamics of class struggle – gives structure to the state. However, as the state is based on this differential, class struggle is inscribed in a new framework within which only one force – the force of the bourgeoisie – is recognized, which is then transformed into hegemonic power. That is why Lenin said:

Every state in which private ownership of the land and means of production exists, in which capital dominates, however democratic it may be, is a capitalist state, a machine used by the capitalists to keep the working class and the poor peasants in subjection.

While the capitalist state is an instrument of the ruling class – functioning as an articulated whole and existing by virtue of specific hegemonic objectives – it is not structurally static. If we try to understand the state historically – as an instance of the combination of the singular elements that give rise to it, as ensemble of social relations in which real people move and act, as an ensemble of objective conditions – it becomes clear that the state is always-already embedded in a hegemonic matrix. Even though state apparatuses are in the service of the dominant class, the complex, uneven and contradictory logic of class struggle results in the continuous accrual of internal contradictions between different branches, the accentuation of the ideological role of a given apparatus, or the consolidation of violence.

However, the regular rhythms of class struggle never impact the fundamental structures of the state. While the proletariat can expand its influence in civil society and even gain parliamentary power, an elementary fact remains: since the derivative base of the state is class society and the violence upon which it rests, and its purpose is to transform the surplus of violence into legitimate force, what an electoral victory damages – through the creation of an alternative architecture of consent – is the transmission system of the state-machine. To comprehensively destroy the bourgeois state – and gain full-fledged hegemony – the proletariat has to not only open ruptures but confront the very materiality of the repressive apparatuses of the state. This process involves the construction of hegemonic apparatuses – the series of institutions, practices, and initiatives by means of which subalterns create popular organizations opposed to the logic of the bourgeois state.

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The Logic of Hegemony

On September 8, 2021, at least five media houses and six offices of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)) were vandalized in three of Tripura’s eight districts by the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). These instances of violence come after a growth in the intensity of the Left’s political activity.   While the center-right Congress Party is in a freefall and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is busy in the reconstruction of its state unit, CPI (M) has been consistently engaged in building a strong social base. Through sustained protest campaigns against neoliberal policies, it has been highlighting the basic grievances of Tripura’s population.

The attacks against CPI (M) – in a crucial conjuncture of political struggle – reveal the inherent contradictions of liberal democracy. In §48 of Notebook 1, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci proposed an important distinction between two modalities of modern-day governance. On the one hand, “the ‘normal’ exercise of hegemony on the now classic terrain of the parliamentary regime is characterized by a combination of force and consent which balance each other so that force does not overwhelm consent but rather appears to be backed by the consent of the majority, expressed by the so-called organs of public opinion”.

On the other hand, there are situations in which “the hegemonic apparatus cracks and the exercise of hegemony becomes ever more difficult. The phenomenon is presented and discussed in various terms and from different points of view. The most common are ‘crisis of the principle of authority’, ‘dissolution of the parliamentary regime’. Naturally, only the central manifestations of the phenomenon on the parliamentary or governmental level are described, and they are explained by the failure of the parliamentary ‘principle,’ of the democratic ‘principle,’ etc., but not the authority ‘principle’…Practically, this crisis manifests itself in…the ever greater instability of the governments”.

The interpenetrative interaction between force and consent corresponds to the texture of the distinction between political society and civil society respectively. In §38 of Notebook 4, Gramsci wrote that “[this] distinction is purely methodological and not organic” because it does not find actual confirmation “in concrete historical life”. As an example of this intertwined relationship, he speaks of “what is called ‘public opinion’” in § 83 of Notebook 7, noting that it “is tightly connected to political hegemony, in other words, it is the point of contact between ‘civil society’ and ‘political society’, between consent and force”.

Since hegemony is the specific linkage between civil society and political society, the moment of consent and the moment of force, civil society – far from being a sphere of freedom beyond the state, as is endlessly maintained by bourgeois commonsense – is an integral element of the hegemonic relations that structure the contemporary state. To establish and preserve the oppressed masses’ subalternity – their lack of historical personhood and political autonomy – the bourgeois state restricts mass activity in civil society to particular levels of passivity.

In §90 of Notebook 3, Gramsci argued: “The historical unification of the ruling classes is in the state and their history is essentially the history of states and of groups of states. This unity has to be concrete, and thus the result of relations between the state and civil society. For the subaltern classes unification does not occur: their history is intertwined with that of ‘civil society’, it is a disaggregated fraction of it”. In other words, the active production and reproduction of subalternity for some social groups is the structural foundation for any bourgeois ruling order, be it a liberal administration or a fascist dictatorship.

A system of political elites and passive citizenry is generated by the exigencies of legitimacy, which require that the dominant and leading class incorporate increasingly broader strata of its society in the national-popular framework – with the process of inclusion occurring in forms that definitively neutralize any threat of a graduated de-subalternization of the lower classes and their consequent transition to hegemonic politics. Thus, while subaltern social groups are present on the terrain of civil society, they occupy insignificant roles and positions, which led Gramsci to remark in §5 of Notebook 25 that “the subaltern classes, by definition, are not unified and cannot unify themselves until they become the ‘state’”.

Left parties are the social organisms that are responsible for the unification and historical subjectification of the subalterns – the process in which subaltern social groups stop being mere objects of contemplation for the discourses of the dominant classes and enact their self-representation through the formation of their own strata of organic intellectuals. This hegemonic project is the synthesis of political society and civil society, dedicated toward ending the unilateral determination of the latter by the former. When both the levels of society are unified in a political strategy, tactics are dialecticly dictated by the structural struggle for state control and the cultural-educational struggle for de-objectification.

The two aspects of the Left’s political strategy are a direct result of the objective mechanisms which determine consciousness – the material interests and articulated identities produced by social structures, arising through the practice and lived experience of subaltern agents. These agents are involved in relations, both with each other and with social structures and practices. The presence of structural determinations – primarily in the form of the restrictions imposed by civil society and political society – means that the Left’s political practices deploy a limited set of instruments upon certain kinds of raw material in a historically specific context against institutional resistance.

Hence, the Left’s hegemonic project is an articulated attempt to transform the existing structures and relations, to combine ethical-ideological goals of civil society with the strategic necessities of political society. Achieving dominance in political society crucially involves the objective elaboration of the independent position of the proletariat. In § 44 of Notebook 1, Gramsci said:

A class is dominant in two ways, namely it is ‘leading’ and ‘dominant’. It leads the allied classes, it dominates the opposing classes. Therefore, a class can (and must) ‘lead’ even before assuming power; when it is in power it becomes dominant, but it also continues to ‘lead’.

There can and there must be a ‘political hegemony’ even before assuming government power, and in order to exercise political leadership or hegemony one must not count solely on the power and material force that is given by government.

In other words, political dominance can only be grasped concretely in terms of the unity between state power (a relation of power, the domination of one social class over another), and the state apparatus (the institutional machinery in which the relation of state power is crystallized). The logic of the aggregation and disaggregation of class alliances – with the potential to determine the predominance of one form or the other in the course of the revolutionary transformation – should be directed by this ultimate objective; i.e., political leadership of the revolutionary movement of the people as a whole.

Considering the dialectic between force and consent, political society and civil society, it becomes clear that the CPI (M) in Tripura is engaged in a popular-democratic struggle aimed at the construction of the broad-based hegemony of progressive forces. The orientations of this dynamic are defined by a commitment to proletarian self-emancipation – the operation in which the antithesis of subalternity is forged and sustained not through a purely pedagogical and abstract assertion of working class independence but through political struggle embedded in determinate organizational forms. These movements are undergirded by the politically concrete formulations of relations of classes as constitutive components of a new historical bloc, as opposed to their perception as mere structural connections between sociological objects. How these developments will play out depends on the future amalgamation of forces in complex, uneven and contradictory conjunctures.

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Modern Monetary Theory and Anti-capitalist Strategies

The pandemic-induced disruption of the global economy of neoliberal capitalism has strengthened the appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The fundamental idea of this policy prescription is that state spending, a national budget deficit, can be used to combat recession. Raising overall demand in a given country will facilitate a recovery insofar as there is the disposable productive capacity (unemployed workers, stocks of raw materials, machines working below capacity). These unused resources are mobilized by the additional purchasing power created by the budget deficit.

While governments generally fund their deficit spending by selling interest-bearing bonds and owing their debts to bondholders, MMT suggest that the central bank buy up these bonds with money that it has the power to create. In this way, the central bank becomes the one to whom the government owes money. Since no central bank has any need to insist on a government ever paying off a debt created with money it simply printed, the government debt to the central bank is of no real significance. Central bank money creation does not actually involve “printing money”; it involves an expansion of the figures in the electronically-recorded central bank balance sheet, and a corresponding growth in the bank account balances of the government.

A number of criticisms can be made of MMT. First, it is inapplicable to the poorer countries. MMT does not convincingly address the constraints upon fiscal deficit imposed by the financial markets, current account imbalances and exchange rates, thus making it mostly inapplicable in the context of a financially globalized, open economy. As Neville Spencer writes: “Printing money in countries with less favored currencies risks those currencies being dumped in preference to what are seen as more reliable currencies. This can potentially put the local currency into a hyperinflationary spiral. There are also governments that don’t have their own currency, such as members of the Eurozone. For them, MMT simply isn’t an option.”

Monetarily non-sovereign countries have open capital markets which are subject to the inflows and outflows of globally mobile “hot money” — financial capital that travels freely and quickly around the world looking to earn the best rate of return or to exploit interest rate differentials. Surges in hot money are associated with increased liabilities on the balance sheets of local borrowers, instability in exchange rates, and difficulties managing liquidity conditions. Such inflows can often lead to overvalued exchange rates, current account deficits, and rapid capital outflows, leaving local financial institutions and businesses with increasing debts that are hard to service and repay.

Within the confines of capitalism, a strong assertion of monetary independence by poorer countries would alarm the financial oligarchy, leading to an economic crisis. Capitalists would either move their money out of the country or carry out a strike of capital; the currency would become worthless, leading to rampant inflation – heavily impacting the real wages of workers. To bring an end to this turmoil, the government would be forced to hike up interest rates in order to attract investors, leading to a strong restriction on investments of capital in the productive economy. Now, most of the money the state would collect through the bonds would be used to repay the interest rather than to fund social welfare programs or public infrastructure. While proving to be catastrophic for the working class, this profit scheme would enrich bankers.

Even in the limited context of the US, which enjoys a great amount of latitude to pursue fiscally expansionary policies, thanks to the special status enjoyed by the dollar (“as good as gold”), there are institutional constraints on monetization of fiscal deficits imposed through the autonomy granted to the Federal Reserve vis-à-vis the Treasury. Second, while a sovereign state can generate simple fiat money in the domestic economy, this power is structurally circumscribed by the realities of production and exchange. While the state can create money, it cannot guarantee that this money has any value. Without a productive economy behind it, money is meaningless. Money, as the universal equivalent of the values of the commodities, is the counter-value of quantities of socially necessary labour.

This means that real value is created in production, as a result of the application of labour-power. As Fred Paterson — a popular Australian communist — succinctly put it:

Some people think that all you have to do to solve the economic and money problem is to print money and keep on printing it, and everything will be satisfactory. I, for one, as a member of the Communist Party, suggest that is absurd…Everyone knows that no matter how much money you issue by the printing press you could not produce an extra gun or an extra tank, or an extra plane, or produce an extra bushel of wheat or maize, unless you have available resources of manpower and materials…On the basis of production we get the amount of goods and services at our disposal. Once we have the goods and services there is the question of the creation and issue of money: therefore, that is a secondary matter.

The money that a state creates, therefore, will only be of any worth in so far as it reflects the value that is in circulation in the economy, in the form of the production and exchange of commodities. Where this is not the case, destabilizing inflation will set in. In other words, money-financed deficit spending is at best a temporary free lunch. Once the economy reaches full employment, taxes become necessary to restrain aggregate demand and prevent inflation. Even MMT proponents acknowledge this. In the words of Stephanie Kelton: “Can we just print our way to prosperity? Absolutely not! MMT is not a free lunch. There are very real limits, and failing to identify – and respect – those limits could bring great harm. MMT is about distinguishing the real limits from the self-imposed constraints that we have the power to change.”

Insofar government programs ultimately have to be paid for via taxes, an appropriate form of class politics needs to be developed for taxation. Tax outcomes are ultimately shaped by class conflict and depend on power relations, which in turn are determined by the economic mechanics of capitalism. Instead of paying adequate attention to these issues, prominent representatives of MMT spend their time convincing the rich that they don’t need to pay taxes. In 2019, Kelton wrote:

My wealthy friend doesn’t want to pay for your child care. He doesn’t want to help pay off your student loans. And he sure as heck doesn’t want to shell out the big bucks for a multi-trillion-dollar Green New Deal…consider what happens if we simply invest in programs to benefit the non-rich…without treating the super-rich as our piggy bank.

Kelton’s pro-rich proclivity raises the following question: who must give up portions of their incomes so that we can meet collective needs? If income is expropriated from the working masses of taxpayers, the efficacy of deficit-financed government spending would decline as the propensity to consume is much higher for those with lower incomes. To avoid the negative effects of a pattern of distribution skewed toward top earners, the government can tax companies. Capitalists will primarily react to it by postponing investment. Furthermore, disposable wages can drop even if the government taxes firms, since firms can offload taxes onto prices, thus negatively affecting real wages. Hence, it is the state’s dependence on the private sector which erodes its economic power. As Costas Lapavistas and Nicolas Aguilla argue:

[T]he state does not produce output and value (nationalised industries aside) and merely claims those of others. It is true…that the state can boost aggregate demand through its own expenditures and thus support, and even expand, the overall production of output and value. Yet, the creation of output and value also follows its own internal logic summed up by the profits of private producers, which depend on far more than aggregate demand…capitalism is about accumulation through the extraction of surplus-value in production. The state can protect and support accumulation by boosting aggregate demand but cannot direct accumulation without radical supply reforms.

If the government increases the workers’ wages to counteract price increases, a cost-push inflationary spiral would be initiated, with money wages and prices chasing one another; this would inevitably happen because any increase in the “relative wage” – defined by Rosa Luxemburg as “the share that the worker’s wage makes up out of the total product of his labor” – cuts into the capitalist’s share of profits. If deficit-driven inflation is to be decelerated through the taxation of the bourgeoisie, then pricing of products cannot be left to capitalist enterprises (for that would cause a wage-price spiral). There must then be state intervention in the form of an incomes and prices policy. The state in such an economy must then not only carry out demand management; it must also engage in distribution management.

As is evident, the maintenance of monetary financing and an economy at near-full employment requires increasing intervention by the state which undermines the social legitimacy of the capitalist system and which therefore is impossible to sustain within the barriers of the capitalist system. When the unutilized capacity has been eliminated, governments wanting to sustain a people-centered economy have no other choice than to resolve such problems through radical measures, such as prices and incomes policies, nationalizations, workers’ management of factories etc. As Michal Kalecki said, if capitalism cannot maintain full employment, “it will show itself as an outmoded system which must be scrapped”.

It is important to note that the employment policies envisioned by MMT — employer of last resort (ELR) — are not up to the mark. According to the ELR scheme, the government should “buy up” any excess stock of workers by offering employment to “surplus” labour during downturns, so that the government effectively acts as an employer of last resort. Government-employed “stocks” of workers are then released to the private sector on demand, whenever the economy picks up. The buffer stock employment wage must be less that the private sector employment wage in order to avoid incentivizing buffer stock employment and thus effectively converting the public sector into an employer of first resort.

Through the decoupling of the hiring process from productivity and skill, ELR creates a population that is distinct from both public and private sector workers. Whereas public and private sector workers face a competitive job market and need to match their skills to a relevant job, ELR workers get hired on-the-spot to do work that is by its nature temporary and low-skill. The poor nature of these jobs means that the ELR population is ready and waiting to be hired by capitalists. In this way, a “reserve army of the employed” is created, which is made up of workers who, occupying a position in the working class separate from those who are employed in the private and public sector, constitute a threat to the traditionally employed.

As David Sligar states, “compared to the regular unemployed, participants in a job guarantee are more likely to be the sort of compliant job-ready eager beavers that are attractive to employers. Thus they pose a greater threat to those in employment than the unemployed when wage bargaining is underway.” In addition, the job guarantee pay rate is fixed – participants have no right to collectively bargain in the manner of conventional employees – so its effect on labour markets is same as an unemployment benefit. Summarizing these contradictions, Hugh Sturgess writes of an “impossible quadrilateral” which “expects the JG [job guarantee] to eliminate involuntary unemployment through jobs that are accessible to all regardless of skill, but are of social value, yet not currently done by the private or public sectors, and can be started and stopped at any time”.

To conclude, MMT remains hesitant to take the decision-making on investment and jobs out of the hands of the capitalist sector. As long as the bulk of investment and employment remains under the control of capitalism, government expenditure can’t be raised permanently since deficit-financed spending ultimately meets its limits in the contradictions at work in the sphere of private production. In the long run, the concentrated dominance of big business and private monopolies needs to be broken down if the effects of monetary financing are to be sustainably continued even after the exhaustion of unused resources. In short, MMT provides an anti-neoliberal opening but does not reach the socialist conclusion that a radical reconstitution of the system is not only desirable but necessary. As Sam Gindin says:

At bottom, how societies determine the allocation of their labour and resources – who is in charge, what the priorities are, who gets what – rests on considerations of social power and corresponding values/priorities. Transforming how this is done is conditional on developing and organizing popular support for challenging the private power of banks and corporations over our lives and with this, accepting the risks this entails. Controlling the money presses is certainly an element in this, but hardly the core challenge.

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The Crisis in Tunisia

On July 25, 2021, Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, froze the parliament, suspended the legal immunity of parliament members and took control of the general prosecutor’s office. He warned against any armed response to his actions: “Whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets.” In the hours after Saied’s announcement, huge crowds gathered in his support in Tunis and other cities, while the military blocked off the parliament and state television station.

The popularity of Saied’s decisions stems from the legitimate anger of Tunisians against their country’s parliament, which has become very unpopular. When the president sacked the health minister after a botched handling of vaccine walk-in centres and ordered the army to take control of the pandemic response, popular protests took place against the government, culminating in the present-day power shifts. These conjunctural changes are embedded in a structural framework which has permanently characterized Tunisia after 2011.

Neoliberalism

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi – a Tunisian street vendor – set himself on fire following yet another instance of harassment and humiliation at the hands of local police and municipal officials.  Within hours of his self-immolation, protests began erupting across the town, rapidly gathering pace and spreading outwards to other urban centres. Bouazizi’s death was long and agonizing; when he finally died on January 4, 2011, the conflagration sparked by his act roared into the national capital. In a matter of days, dictator Ben Ali was forced into exile.

Tunisia’s people did not only oppose the political authoritarianism of the Ali administration, but also the neoliberal policies under his rule which created massive inequality, unemployment and widespread misery. The ruling elites completely ignored the latter dimension, choosing to impose further neoliberalism in the aftermath of the revolution. Tunisia’s current ruling party, the Islamist Ennahda, garnered votes as it had been outlawed under the Ali regime. Many people perceived it as revolutionary.

However, governments led by Ennahda implemented free market reforms in return for loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Fuel subsidy cuts, price rises and the dismantlement of public sector hiring synchronized with the enrichment of the bourgeoisie. Now, 10 years after the revolution, the rate of unemployment in Tunisia is nearly 18%. Max Ajl, Bassam Haddad, and Zeinab Abul-Magd note:

The state has absorbed the political effects of mass immiseration, distributing subsidies to popular classes to absorb social unease. Its primary role has been to contain the discontent by the carrot of subsidies and the stick of state violence while serving as a mechanism for increasing integration of Tunisia into the international division of labor: by increasing subjugation to the global law of value through currency devaluation, deepening trade agreements with the EU [European Union], and opening agriculture for foreign investment…Unrest has intensified. The government has become almost entirely a mechanism for ever-continuing accumulation.

Caesarism

Tunisian society – like any other society – is a totality structured in dominance. Among the various structural instances, one instance will have the dominant role: contradictions at other levels will find themselves displaced to this instance (thereby averting a revolutionary rupture) or many contradictions may become condensed in this instance (producing the possibility of a revolutionary rupture). The dominant instance will vary according to the social formation, but in all cases its role is determined – in the last instance – by the economy. In other words, the economy often exercises its effects indirectly by determining the specific efficacy of other instances.

Saied’s victory in the October 2019 presidential election displaced the economic limits of Tunisia’s post-revolutionary system to the level of politics. Disillusioned with the dysfunctional rules of status quo, Tunisians elected someone who sought to portray himself as an anti-politician. Running as an independent and nicknamed “Robocop” for his stern, monotonous character, Saied promised to crack down on corruption among the political class. His anti-corruption discourse steadily morphed into a wide-ranging narrative of anti-systemic populism; a desire for greater power soon made itself felt.

In April 2021, Saied declared, “The president is the supreme commander of the military and civilian armed forces. Let this matter be clear to all Tunisians”. A month later, Middle East Eye revealed the existence of a secret document, in which the president’s advisers invited him to carry out a “constitutional coup”. Thus, from the beginning, Saied’s presidency had the character of what Antonio Gramsci called “Caesarism” – a phenomenon in which an individual breaks the stasis in a socio-economic system by operating as an equilibrating factor between classes, demagogically representing the interests of the subaltern masses. Gramsci elaborates:

[T]he content is the crisis of the ruling class’s hegemony, which occurs either because the ruling class has failed in some major political undertaking for which it has requested, or forcibly extracted, the consent of the broad masses (war, for example), or because huge masses (especially of peasants and petit-bourgeois intellectuals) have passed suddenly from a state of political passivity to a certain activity, and put forward demands which taken together, albeit not organically formulated, add up to a revolution…The traditional ruling class, which has numerous trained cadres, changes men and programmes and, with greater speed than is achieved by the subordinate classes, reabsorbs the control that was slipping from its grasp. Perhaps it may make sacrifices, and expose itself to an uncertain future by demagogic promises; but it retains power, reinforces it for the time being, and uses it to crush its adversary and disperse his leading cadres, who cannot be very numerous or highly trained … When the crisis does not find this organic solution, but that of the charismatic leader, it means that a static equilibrium exists (whose factors may be disparate, but in which the decisive one is the immaturity of the progressive forces); it means that no group, neither the conservatives nor the progressives, has the strength for victory, and that even the conservative group needs a master.

In Tunisia, the hegemonic capacities of the post-2011 historical bloc gradually weakened as a neoliberal orientation came to be eagerly embraced by both Islamist and secularist political forces. The sporadic and inorganic nature of popular movements proved incapable in radically superseding this moribund conjuncture. Hence, Tunisians were gifted with Saied, who overcame the impasse by unleashing the Caesarist logic of delegation to a strongman. His ideological project has ended up with the current events, wherein Tunisians have been demobilized through a reconfiguration of the political arena. What should be the attitude of progressive sectors toward these transformations?

The leftist Workers’ Party of Tunisia (PCT) released a statement on July 26, 2021, condemning Saied’s moves and calling them a violation of the constitution. While acknowledging that the government has led the country into a deep economic crisis, PCT stated that Saied’s actions are not a solution to the problems facing the people as they threaten the country’s young democracy and have “launched a path towards re-establishing the system of absolute autocracy again.” The party has asserted that the way out of the crisis is “the work of the Tunisian people to establish a popular democracy based on the civil state, the power in the hands of the people, with sovereignty over the country’s capacities, resources and independent political decisions, and social justice and equality among all men and women.”

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The Contemporary Importance of National Liberation

In today’s world, the principal contradiction is between imperialism and humanity. Giant multinational corporations are fleecing the globe for their own interests, forming international networks of monopoly capital through the geographic expansion of corporate power. This has involved transferring parts of production, commercial, and financial service to peripheral countries in search of cheap labor. Super-profits are being reaped through a production system based on the enormous wage differentials that persist between the Global North and the Global South. If these rules of exploitation are broken by any country, imperialist powers use a discourse of humanitarianism to justify: military buildups and threats of war; the carrying out of actual military interventions; economic sanctions and blockades; political interference in the elections of other countries; and the launching of “color revolutions”.

Taking into account the pervasiveness of imperialist power arrangements, national liberation in the Third World continues to be an indispensable process. As Anouar Abdel-Malek writes in Nation and Revolution: Volume 2 of Social Dialectics:

The central problem in social dialectics is the problem of the combination of scope, intensity and continuity, that is, the problem of finding the largest possible front of allied forces aiming at the most intensive possible action rallied around the issues most capable of achieving maximal intensity of action. And such is, specifically, the privileged role of national movements, throughout the various phases of their unfolding. Here, and here alone, do we witness the greatest possible concentration of different social groups, classes, forces, trends, united broadly to achieve the fundamental tasks of liberation and socio-economic transformation.

In contrast to the reactionary nationalism of the developed countries – which involves xenophobia and expansionist perspectives – national liberation is the struggle against dependency which has as its objective, beyond the clearing of the national territory, the independence and sovereignty of the state and the comprehensive eradication of the deeply entrenched social force of imperialism. In other words, national liberation is the reconquest of the power of decision in all domains of national life, a process of renaissance undertaken on the basis of fundamentally national demands, and a struggle for sovereignty. These ideas are crystallized in the concentrated concept of “self-reliance”. Abdel-Malek writes:

Self-reliance is…to be seen as the assertion of national independence within the interdependence of nations, regions and areas, with the emphasis always on the national position of the problem, and not vice versa.

The stress on the national element was similarly formulated by Antonio Gramsci in the following way:

The international situation should be considered in its national aspect…the line of development is towards internationalism, but the point of departure is ‘national’.

Thus, socialist thought must root itself in the concrete context in which it is situated; i.e., it should develop on the basis of a national position, not from any a priori cosmopolitan vision under the mask of internationalism. When the global Left confronts diverse national soils, it is bound to face the deep structures of national formations, the historical specificity of each society.

Hence, leftists need to respect the peculiarity which the revolutionary creativity of the peoples of the former colonies and semi-colonies tends to introduce into national liberation movements because of the specific conditions in the countries themselves and also in consequence of the specific features of the present-day international situation. The national movements’ struggle for independence, national liberation and social revolutions asserts itself as a struggle for the recovery of national identity, sovereignty and socio-economic clout against imperialist hegemony. It thus follows that national movements are bound to exhibit a potent density of explicit specificity-content – precisely in as much as this specificity lies at the very heart of their liberation struggles and revolutions. In effect, national liberation arrives at the proclamation of socialist goals not through the class-based negation of capitalism, but through anti-imperialist nationalism.

In this respect, they recapitulate to a definite extent the social logic of the revolutionary process. If national unity is now placed “above” class struggle, the “nation” and “national unity” at issue is as a rule understood in a new way – as excluding the “forces of reaction” (usually feudal landlords and the big bourgeoisie). If the nationalism puts national interest above all else, the class factor is already represented in this interest (in a specific, nationalist way, of course). The use of nationalism as a key political grammar for anti-systemic struggles is necessary because – in the words of Max Ajl:

The core uses its own states’ mechanisms to reshape, if not shatter, state mechanisms in the periphery to protect and expand the gap between such zones, either turning the state against the nation or ripping the state from the nation.

It would be odd to suggest that national and nationalist logics for organizing struggles for human emancipation and structures for human social reproduction and flourishing should be abandoned as imperialism seeks precisely that abandonment through the political shattering of states by the dismantling of institutions and dissolution of ideas of state and nation.

The core component of national liberation movements – the establishment of national productive forces under sovereign and national control – has proven to be a strong counter-balance to the influence of imperialism. As Ajl elaborates:

[National liberation was a successful attempt to] break the patterns of primitive accumulation, secured by colonial violence and manifest in ongoing colonial drain and unequal exchange, through which the core countries continued to extract wealth from the periphery. National liberation’s limited achievements were still achievements, something missed in chatter eager to assimilate one nationalism to the next, one set of capitalist contradictions to the next, and one passel of elites to their successors…Gains for human dignity occurred because decolonization was seldom just about hoisting a flag over an alabaster statehouse….decolonization…put a stop to colonial income deflation… Colonial famines ceased…Investment in enhancing agricultural productivity by national governments was one of the harvests of decolonization, and it arrested and reversed secular declines in food-grain availability, and stopped deindustrialization… Public health networks spread and per capita food-grain absorption gradually increased…This occurred by putting the “process of development of the productive forces under the control of petty bourgeois elements that tended to the basic needs of the formerly colonized population.

The Third World’s national elaboration of a general line – directly linked to the transformation of actual societies in the real world of our times – has involved the institution of repressive measures. Criticized by many as authoritarian, these actions are necessary to protect the gains made under their chosen development model; to protect against regime change operations being organized, sponsored, armed and financed by an imperialist world that will stop at nothing to dismantle sovereign nations and to assert hegemony. Abdel-Malek notes:

Autocratic power…which so often seems to be necessary during the first phase of nationalitarian construction…revolts those who restrict themselves to seeing it in itself, as a structure so to speak, instead of locating it within the framework of historical evolution – instead of conceiving liberty within the framework of necessity.

Moreover, the maintenance of a strong state means actively and substantively defending national sovereignty as the carapace within which to resolve internal contradictions.

The indispensability of national liberation processes in the current conjuncture can’t be emphasized enough. Intensified neo-colonial strangulation of the Global South necessitates the opening of socialist, anti-imperialist fronts which can effectively stanch the flows of value from the periphery and semi-periphery to the core and the uneven accumulation such flows forge and reinforce. In November 1919, after the establishment of the world’s first workers’ and peasants’ state, Vladimir Lenin said:

The socialist revolution will not be solely, or chiefly, a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their bourgeoisie – no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialist-oppressed colonies and countries, of all dependent countries, against international imperialism.

This clear statement serves as a forceful clarion call for the mobilization of the Third World people in a national liberation struggle against imperialism and capitalism.

The post The Contemporary Importance of National Liberation first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Long Crusades of Western Imperialism

In late April 2021, US President Joe Biden announced  a withdrawal from Afghanistan. In other words, the US has been trounced in Afghanistan by its very own jihadist Frankenstein, the Taliban. The defeat of USA is covered with the ugly debris of history. The dirty war on Afghanistan was part of a disastrous process of occupying and controlling large swathes of the world. On September 16, 2001, President George W. Bush vowed to “rid the world of evil-doers,” then cautioned: “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” The word “crusade” comes from the Latin for the cross, crux, and implies the warlike march of Christianity against the infidel, recalling one of the most shameful blots on the medieval maps of Western imperialism. The new Crusade by the American empire was waged in defense of a different professed faith, not Christianity but rather liberal democracy. But this belief also concealed less noble designs.

Like the original Crusaders, the US and its European partners have been concerned with geopolitical advantage in a strategically important area of the world. For the Crusaders, Jerusalem was an important site of pilgrimage but also a vital trade route. Today’s Crusaders have been more concerned about energy sources, whether the oil of Iraq or the natural gas pipelines that pass through Central Asia. To realize these more mundane goals, the West has made certain tactical alliances with actors in the Muslim world – the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, Sunni fighters in Iraq, and the illiberal governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen. Hard-headed strategies aimed at gaining imperialist dominance translated into the infliction of calculated barbarity upon the people of Muslim majority countries. Slowly and steadily, the Crusade against terrorism spawned the monstrous machine of Islamophobia as the warmongers of the West deployed racist narratives and tropes against Muslims. This ideological idiom of anti-Muslim hatred is historically rooted in the Crusades of the late 11th and 14th centuries.

Emergence of Islam

Islam emerged in the 7th century in the Hijaz region of Arabia, which includes the cities of Mecca and Medina. The area was a major hub for trade activity, and the Arabs who lived there were in constant contact with their Christian Byzantine and Persian Sassanid neighbors. These economic and cultural linkages formed the context in which Muhammad, a trader by profession, began to devote time to spiritual matters. Muhammad worked for his wife, whose caravans traded with Syria. It is believed that in the year 610, while Muhammad was in the hills near Mecca, the angel Gabriel appeared to him to deliver a message from God. Over the course of the next two decades (610-32 CE), Muhammad had several such revelations, and on that basis he propagated a new religion called Islam. In the beginning there were very few converts to Islam. The people of Mecca greeted Muhammad with hostility. This was partly due to the welfarist message he preached – God expects people to share their wealth with those needier than them.

In 622, Muhammad and his followers left Mecca to travel to Medina, a journey referred to as the Hijra. Here, Muhammad became a spiritual and a political leader, creating a strong and growing community of believers; by the time of his death in 632, Islam had spread beyond the Hijaz and into other parts of Arabia. Within twenty years of Muhammad’s death in 632, his followers had laid the foundations of the first Islamic empire in the Fertile Crescent. Arab armies not only defeated the Sassanid dynasty (which had ruled Persia and the neighboring regions for centuries) but also took over parts of the Byzantine Empire’s territories. These victories were no doubt possible only because the Persian and Byzantine Empires had been engaged for almost a 100 years in a war that had enfeebled both sides, alienated their populations and opened a possibility of new conquests. Syria and Egypt were part of the Byzantine Empire; Iraq was ruled by Sassanid Persia. All three now fell to the force and ardor of a unified tribal force.

Impressed by these successes, entire tribes adopted the new religion. Mosques began to appear in the desolate deserts, and the army was augmented. Islam’s swift triumphs were seen as a sign that Allah was both omnipotent and on the side of the Believers. The expansion of Islam continued under the Umayyad dynasty (661–750 CE) into North Africa, and then into Europe in the early eighth century. Their conquests began in Spain, continued through the entire Iberian Peninsula (Portugal, and parts of southern France), and reached into Italy. Numerical strength and military strategy only partly accounted for these victories. The ability of the Muslim generals to maneuver their camel cavalry and combine it with an effective guerrilla-style infantry confused an enemy used to small-scale nomadic raids. However, much more important was the active sympathy which a significant minority of the local people demonstrated for the Muslims. A majority remained passive, waiting to see which side would triumph, but they were no longer prepared to fight for or help the old empires.

As the rest of Europe endured a period of cultural stagnation known as the Dark Ages, al-Andalus – as the Iberian Peninsula came to be known under Muslim rule – saw the growth and development of human knowledge. The works of various great societies, from the Greeks to the Persians, were translated into Arabic in the many libraries created by Muslim rulers (not only in al-Andalus but also in Baghdad under the Abbasid dynasty). One great site of learning was Córdoba in Spain. Here, as elsewhere, tremendous advances were made in the fields of philosophy, medicine, astronomy, architecture, and even urban development. While Europe was socially paralyzed, the citizens of Córdoba enjoyed streetlights and running water. Europe finally began the process of moving out of the Dark Ages in the early 12th century, and intellectuals visited the diverse libraries of the Muslim empires to regain lost knowledge. This period saw the retranslation of various works from Arabic back into European languages. Through this process, European intellectuals came to absorb the profound contributions made by Eastern thinkers.

Translated Arabic writings on medicine, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences were for centuries used as textbooks in medieval Europe, while the writings of Muslim philosophers like Ibn Sina (980-1037, known in the West as Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (1126-98, known as Averroes), and Jewish philosophers who wrote mainly in Arabic like Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204), were eagerly read and discussed and influenced several generations of medieval Christian philosophers and theologians. The period of European intellectual growth in the 11th century was accompanied by growth in commerce and trade. Markets and towns began to spring up. At this point, Muslims were one of the major obstacles to European expansion; the pagan raiders (such as the Normans and Magyars) that had relentlessly invaded Christian Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries had been converted and assimilated. The only enemy that remained was the Muslims.

Christian Offensives

Islam became a convenient “other” to mobilize support for the territorial ambitions of different rulers. In Spain, Christian rulers in the north began a war to retake the Iberian Peninsula from the “Muslim enemy” in what came to be known as the Reconquista (reconquest). In the East, the Christian Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Rome) suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the Muslim Seljuq Turks. The emperor wrote to Pope Urban II to seek Europe’s help against the Turks. His call was heeded. On November 27, 1095, Urban launched a holy war (known as the Crusades) and called upon all Christians in Europe to unite and fight against the “enemies of God.” This charge wasn’t simply about religion. For the Pope, the call to the defense of the faith and Jerusalem provided an ideal opportunity to cement the papal authority’s role in legitimating temporal rulers, and to reunite the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) churches. Religion became the screen behind which social and economic conflicts were played out.

European rulers took up the clarion call of the Holy War for multiple reasons. Christian rulers, knights, and merchants were driven by the political, military, and economic advantages that would result from the establishment of a kingdom in the Middle East. Moreover, Europe consisted of a number of rival feudal regimes that constantly fought each other. The Crusades served as a means to reduce this intra-European conflict and to deflect attention onto an external enemy. Using religion to solidify identity and loyalty, the papacy sought to create a united Christian Europe over which it could hold spiritual authority. Those who responded to Urban’s declaration and joined the Crusader armies, however, were motivated by everything – from religious zeal to the rewards of plunder. A great feudal army entered Syria in 1097, captured Antioch in 1098, and then entered Jerusalem. In 1099, after a 40-day siege, the Crusaders took Jerusalem. The scale of the massacre traumatized the entire region.

The killing lasted two whole days at the end of which most of the Muslim population – men, women and children – had been killed. The Jews had fought side by side with the Muslims to defend the city but the entry of the Crusaders created a sense of panic. In remembrance of past ritual, the elders instructed the entire Jewish population to gather in the synagogue and in its surrounds to offer a collective prayer. The Crusaders surrounded the perimeter of the synagogue, set fire to the building and made sure that every single Jew was burnt to death. To maintain their dominance, the Crusaders needed to consolidate their military capabilities. This was accomplished through intensified accumulation. The result was: a) extreme exploitation of the Arab peasantry; and b) routine plundering of trade-caravans. Crusaders’ successes were primarily a result of internecine warfare within the Arab world. Sectarian schisms, notably a 30-year war between the Sunni and Shia factions, had weakened the Islamic camp.

Key rulers, politicians and military leaders on both sides had died in the years immediately preceding the First Crusade. “This year,” the historian Ibn Taghribirdi wrote in 1094, “is called the year of the death of caliphs and commanders.” The deaths sparked off wars of succession in both Sunni and Shia sects, further debilitating the Arab world. These sectarian divisions were exacerbated by the political disunity of the Islamic world. At first, the vast area the Arabs had conquered remained a single geopolitical entity under the Umayyad caliphs of Damascus. But the geography of the new Arab world contained several natural economic units in which separate ruling classes with interests of their own quickly developed. Distance limited the effectiveness of Umayyad rule. Nor was this the only problem. The Umayyads represented the Arab warrior aristocracy who had carried out the initial Islamic conquests and had settled in the ancient cities of Syria.

Their rule was increasingly resented by other sections of the population. The result was a revolution led by Abbasids – the cosmopolitan Persian faction within Islam. Rebels from Iran led by a descendant of the Prophet raised an army, overthrew the Umayyad caliphate, established a new dynasty, and laid down a wider and more secure base for continued Arab rule. However, the victory of the Abbasids disrupted the political cohesion of the Islamic world. During the 9th and 10th centuries, three centers of power emerged: the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, the Fatimid caliph in Cairo (belonging to the Shia tradition, which claimed descent from the fourth caliph, Ali, and his wife Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet) and the Umayyad caliph in Cordoba, established by the last remaining prince of the Umayyads, Abdel Rahman, who managed to escape to al-Andalus. Conflicts between and within these entities overstrained state power, drained national treasuries, and further weakened the rulers. During the 11th century the Abbasid caliphate effectively collapsed. The caliph’s Seljuk Turkish mercenaries seized power for themselves.

Islamic Resistance: Resurgence and Decline

As the Crusaders incurred the anger of large swathes of Muslim population, the Islamic states began regrouping. Northern Syria and Northern Iraq were united in 1128. Edessa was recaptured and added to the growing Islamic state in 1144. The Second Crusade of 1146-1148, organized in response to the Islamic resurgence, was an utter failure. Damascus and Southern Syria were added to the new state, and the Crusader Principality of Antioch shrank to a small coastal enclave. In 1183, Egypt was merged with the new Syrian super-state. The fusion of Egypt and Syria under the leadership of Saladin, a Kurdish warrior, greatly invigorated Muslim resistance. Saladin answered the Crusade with a call for popular jihad. On July 4, 1187, at the Battle of Hattin, Saladin, at the head of 30,000 men, destroyed the entire army of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The recapture of the holy city followed soon after. There was nothing to compare with the wholesale massacres at Antioch and Jerusalem during the First Crusade.

Of the prisoners taken at Hattin, only one was executed (by Saladin himself), along with the Templar and Hospitaller knights, barbaric warriors who had waged a war of bigotry and genocide. Despite further expeditions, the Crusaders never recovered. Though it took a century to complete the process, their castles were reduced one by one, their territory gradually stripped away. Saladin’s victories had temporarily halted the Crusades, but the internal structures of the caliphate were permanently damaged, and new invaders were on the way. A Mongol army from Central Asia led by Hulagu Khan laid siege to Baghdad in 1258, calling on the caliph to surrender and promising that if he did so, the city would be spared. The caliph refused. The Mongol armies carried out their threat, laid waste to the city and executed the last Abbasid caliph. An entire culture perished as libraries were put to the torch.

The inglorious exist of the caliphate segued into the destruction of the Iberian Peninsula. The Christian kingdoms in the north of Spain had already been engaged in a tug-of-war with the southern Moorish states; the religious frenzy of the First Crusade turned this belligerent peace into a full-blown Crusade. In 1085, the city of Toledo in central Spain was taken by the Catholic kings, and by 1250 the Moorish empire was reduced to the emirate of Granada on the coastal strip in the south of Spain. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, took control of Granada, thus completing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. It is important to note that during the period of Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula, Christians and Jews were tolerated as “people of the book” and were allowed to practice their religion if they paid a fee.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, as Europe began to come out of the Middle Ages and into the modern era, its relationship with Islam changed. There was a slow abatement in the discursive construction of Islam as an acute threat to the existence of the West. This shift was the result of a number of processes. First, the incomplete project of a united Christian Europe started to break down around this time due to the rise of nationalism. The emergence of proto-nationalist currents internally fragmented Europe and prevented any attempts aimed at forging a common front against Islam. Second, the renaissance of European culture further weakened the authority of the Church. The key source of anti-Muslim religious hatred, the Church, was no longer able to drum up holy wars; the Crusades came to an end. Third, the Mongols had now entered the picture and posed a threat to Europe. This recognition of lands beyond Europe, and of threats beyond the Muslims, put an end to the Manichean division of the world into Christianity and Islam.

The Crusader mentality continued in the 21st century as US Presidents used interventionist tactics in pursuit of the American empire’s economic interests. While Bush considered himself a noble Crusader, Osama bin Laden compared himself to Saladin. As Karl Marx noted, “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice…the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” The dualistic schema of Crusader-Saladin – and the Islamophobia it promotes – will not end soon. America’s morbid fixation with a perpetual 11th-century battle of “us” against “them” is a hideous way of motivating soldiers, ennobling the otherwise bloodthirsty and fattening the pockets of the rich. To put it in other words, the binarizing discourses of the contemporary world are materially engraved in imperial structures; we are witnessing a clash of civilizations not on the ground but only in the violent jihadist visions of warriors in the East and neo-colonial West. As long as the US believes that it has the absolute right to destroy and imperialistically intervene in the affairs of any country, this cycle of hatred and prejudice will go on in an excruciating and endless manner.

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