Saturday, 25 August 2012

Wny Orwell is Relevant: Part Two

I have found myself reflecting on Orwell's relevance more when confronted with certain people who regard themselves as socialists and who thought Orwell somehow was not a "real" socialist. Such are the tedious "debates" some want on Orwell who is seen as, in some way, "reactionary" for having challenged the idea of Communist Revolution.

Whatever one actually thinks of socialism, no matter how various individuals insist on defining it as something other than that which Orwell did because of his opposition to the Soviet Union and scepticism towards the Russian Revolution from the outset, at least under the leadership of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Orwell remained a democratic socialist.

There are always those willing to rationalise away why the Revolution is perverted into what Orwell defined as Oligarchical Collectivism in 1984, that necessity had to trump freedom in the short term emergency situation created by the Revolution so as to create "genuine freedom" later.

One blogger stated,

'This may help you understand what Orwell failed to grasp, a society that is surrounded by hostile countries does not behave in a rational manner and is prone to dictate as a consequence of it's insecurity, rather than the explicit expression of genuine freedom'.

Orwell obviously did grasp that problem which is why in 1984 there are three power blocs-Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceania which prefer to use their societies resources in a total war drive in a way that benefits the Inner Party functionaries of each power bloc as opposed to the ordinary civilians who lead lives of privation.

That is why Oceania, and Airstrip One ( Britain ) is such a dreary run down place with constant shortages, leaking pipes, crumbling buildings and poor food ( the smell of cabbage boiling in the corridors of Winston Smith's Victory Mansions.
The present world crisis is being dictated by US gun boat diplomacy as has been seen with the Aircraft carriers being stationed off Iran, and numerous wars that have been fought in the name of democracy; only later to discover it was all about oil..

Likewise, in 1984 Oceania could in 2012 be relevant in explaining the US military-industrial complex. Even so, it is quite obvious that the US alone does not actually dictate world politics: it may well be an aspiration to control the resources of the Middle East and Central Asia but not a reality.

It should be remembered that Orwell was opposed to imperialism but saw how the Soviet Union-the supposed new shiny productive modernist Utopian global power-was in fact a vast Land based Empire ( a Red Empire )  stretching from Eastern Europe into Far East Asia.

...there are a few multi billionaires that use their wealth and power to create a system of disinformation in order to maintain and grow their riches beyond what normal people can comprehend

Whilst that is true of the global super rich in 2012, Orwell was writing in the 1930s and 1940s when he believed that capitalism and the old capitalist empires were crumbling and would in fact disintegrate. It is unfair to accuse Orwell of not having seen what would happen from the 1980s onwards. He was dead.

However, to pretend that the global super rich are wholly responsible for the present resource wars-a fact that is both routinely accepted by establishment "think tanks" and politicians and hence denied publicly as a rationale for war in accordance with doublethink-is a myth.

What has happened, arguably ,since the 1980s is that discontent with capitalism has been bought off by a regime of frantic consumerism which is now clearly running up against environmental constraints and diminishing supplies of oil and gas. This seems to be the new potential source of conflict creating a new "post modern" dystopia.

It is simply a fact that the energy intensive "Great Car Economy" that was pioneered by the USA necessarily means wars to secure oil and to control diverse supplies in various regions where the competition is fierce between the West ( NATO ) and Russia, China and India.

The majority of consumers in the West are promised ever higher living standards based on the continued high octane principles of consumerism as a way of staving off domestic discontent and reduced liberties: Orwell was less perceptive in that sense than Aldous Huxley in Brave New World ( 1932 ).

Far from being in solidarity with those suffering elsewhere, the majority of consumers only think of their immediate pleasures, the prolefeed of the X Factor, Talent Shows and showbiz gossip in the way criticised by Neil Postgate in Amusing Ourselves to Death, a work written in the year of Orwell's imagined dystopia 1984.

This is, of course, dangerous because when the people cannot be told their human right to consumerism could be curtailed by the failure to secure the oil supplies upon which perpetual economic growth and excessive consumerism is based ( apart from the underclass who do not matter ) they will revolt.

The Communist Party of China, for example, knows that only the promise of infinite consumerism and satisfying the hunger for material goods can stave off the challenge to The Party from the newly rich middle classes. Any revolt from those at the bottom is catered for with police measures.

What is depressing for those who regard themselves as socialist in the Western nations is that a substantial number of citizens regard themselves as only consumers: they have voluntarily surrendered many freedoms and not challenged power and a reduction of liberties if they get their consumer goods.

This is one reason the Soviet Union failed. The ideal was to reduce its citizens to pliant and obedient ones with an increase in consumerism and material goods only in so far as the power of The Party would retain its prestige, power and dominance. It failed due to the inadequacy of the command economy.

China, on the other hand, learnt the lesson that by introducing its own form of capitalism aligned directly to state power and nationalism could generate the economic power to spend more on asserting its global role through military expansion and imperialism in Africa to control oil and minerals.

In many ways although the Chinese model is denigrated by Western nations, it offers a blend of capitalism and authoritarianism that could prove attractive to the West. The erosion of freedoms and liberties, a frantic regime dedicated to The Corporation ( little Mini Inner Parties ) and consumerism seems effective.

The notion that the workers of the world have been repressed by 'capitalist state power' is merely simplistic: the New Economic Order in the West ( developed in the USA ) depends on a willing degree of compliance in its activities as opposed to the old crude repression of Soviet style state.

Orwell understood that people could be "motivated" not by their own "real interests" or realising their "genuine freedom" but by those who define what that "freedom" will mean in such a way as to benefit the New Power Elites.

One of the problems socialists have always had is the question of what happens if "the people" refuse to grasp what their true interests should be. One reason "New Labour" promised infinite consumerism and practiced mass manipulation was that its members had become cynical about the British electorate.

For years "the people" had rejected the Labour Party for a Conservative Party that promised and -key jargon term-"delivered" a higher standard of consumerism which had destroyed the old working class along with Thatcher's de-industrialisation policy and attack on trade union power.

In accordance with doublethink it had to reconcile gaining power and keeping it whilst effectively pursuing economic policies that would continue to enrich the vested interests of the new deregulated City and corporations whilst being inclusive to the new burgeoning lower middle class that had arisen.

As the old working class in Britain fractured into either a middle class of white collar workers or a permanent underclass, the carrot of debt fuelled consumerism was combined with the stick of a new workfare regime and an entertainment economy to keep the discontented mostly docile and pliant.

The US model imported by Tony Blair was successful on its own terms until 2008. The economic instability aside, it showed how to reduce politics to an obfuscating media driven agenda in which adversarial political debate was pointless and that "the people" only "really wanted" bread and circuses.

Orwell knew how the power hungry sought to flatter "the people" whilst having utter disregard for them ( as in the case of "New Labour" ) and dividing and ruling over a confused and disorientated population through the "war on terror" and using the spectre of terrorism to erode old liberties for the illusion of permanent "security".

The fact that many of these threats were connected to the blowback from having colluded with terrorists used as proxies from Afghanistan to Azerbaijan Bosnia, Kosovo could be spun away as a hideous threat that came from nowhere on 9/11. A consequence of shoddy realpolitik and messianic fantasies of global power.

Orwell's writing shows us how The Party can achieve that level of manipulation, indoctrination and control. We can see in 2012 exactly how sporting and showbiz spectacles, CCTV surveillance, easy money, and dumbing down society to elementary platitudes can make the assertion of free thought and action obsolete.

On the Doublethink of the New Power Elites.

Commenting on the Orwell discussion Fridah writes,

The closest we have to Orwell today in pointing to the contradiction between the language and postures of political ideologues and their actual conditions of existence is VS Naipaul, who is paritcularly acute on those who align themselves with third world causes, whose status derives from a security predicated on the very political histories and structures they otherwise condemn, i.e. their own.

Consider the "anti-capitalists" and so-called "anti-racists" who post here. What does it mean to be a revolutionary Marxist "anti-capitalist" while in the pay of Guardian Media Group or the University of Cambridge, for example? What could be more absurd? But they don't even recognise it and that is what constitutes their "unassailability", as Naipaul puts it

This is from a review of VS Naipaul's Guerillas by Paul Theroux:

    Jane, who uses the lingo of sympathy easily ("words that she might shed at any time, as easily as she had picked them up, and forget that she had ever spoken them") -- Naipaul describes her best: "She was without memory. . . She was without consistency or even without coherence. She knew only what she was and what she had been born to; to this knowledge she was tethered; it was her stability, enabling her to adventure in security. Adventuring, she was indifferent, perhaps blind, to the contradiction between what she said and what she was so secure of being; and this indifference or blindness, this absence of the sense of the absurd, was part of her unassailability."

This ties in with the legitimising ideology of the New Power Elites and their form of what the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci termed the power of "hegemony" through controlling and revolutionising the culture of a state away from the old "bourgeois" norms.

"Hegemonising" is a career open to talent. With the demise of the revolutionary left of 1968 a number of absurdities have abounded in what can be broadly called "the liberal-left". The "New Labour" project in Britain is an amalgamation of the "cultural left" and neoliberal capitalism.

For those comfortable with the hollowing out of the sovereign nation state and devoted to a global assertion of Western power through a "post imperial" ethos of a world of universalist liberal democracies, such absurdities as "humanitarian intervention" through war is the new form of Orwellian "war is peace".

Think of Daniel Cohn Bendit who, as a supposed "Green" politician, supports "humanitarian intervention" and is quite candid in his concern for the extension of military power to protect Western Europe's pipeline projects ( he wrote an article for the Guardian on this-I can't locate it at present ).

Ultimately, the 1968ers were about a Utopian project that dates back to the technocratic and consumerist dreams of the French writer Charles Fourier. By eradicating the old barriers to total consumer satisfaction and the assertion of the egotistic individual over all, they brought about the dystopia we now inhabit.

That can be seen in the so called "Colour Revolutions" which replace the older and authentic tradition of dissenting and telling truth to power in favour of staged multi media "People Power" uprisings that are designed to extend NATO's power eastwards and control energy routes.

This new form of hypocrisy is peddled by those who denigrated the old Western Civilisation as based on Imperialism and the consumer comforts enjoyed by the post war 1945 working classes as something that diverted them from challenging the hegemony of the elites.

In many ways, the hypocrisy of the new liberal left establishment is seldom recognised as such, though some recent writers such as Michel Houellebecq have begun to do just that which is why he is excoriated in his native France as some sort of mere "reactionary" or "bigot" and so on.

On the other hand, those "anti-imperialists" and "anti-racists" who are not reconciled to the new Establishment are equally as deluded in thinking that it is only the West that is to blame for the world's ills. Yet the ideological paradigm they inhabit is curiously similar even if their response is not.

Ironically, such ideologues as Tariq Ali seem intent on thinking "we" are wholly to blame for Islamist militancy or propping up dictatorships ignore the fact that the Western powers really do want to overthrow the legacy of the old imperialist realpolitik. ( supported by those such as Christopher Hitchens ).

In fact, the reality is a world of competing power blocs determined on buttressing their wasteful economic regimes based on the infinite growth Utopia. The difference with China, for example, is that it does not attempt to prate about creating liberal democracies and human rights.

The notion that there are severe limits to what can be achieved in world politics is derided as "cynical" when it is actually a form of realism that is far more ethical and not based on apocalyptic visions of bringing about a global revolution that still have something in common with Trotsky's ideas.

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