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11. Contemporary Revolutions II: Reform and Resistance

11. Contemporary Revolutions II

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم

Title: 11. Contemporary Revolutions II: Reform and Resistance

Author: Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison

Publication date: 17/11/2012

Civilisation and Society I: Politics of Power

11. Contemporary Revolutions II - Reform and Resistance

Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to the Civilisation & Society Programme of the MFAS. This is the eleventh of 12 sessions which make up the Politics of Power module. The entire session will last approximately 1 hour and comprise a lecture of around 30 minutes, followed by a 10 minute interval, and ending with a short question & answer period. You are encouraged to make a written note of any questions that may occur to you for clarification after the lecture.

In Lecture number 9 (Contemporary Revolutions I - The Realities of Revolution Today) we explored the manipulated realities of political protest in today’s world by looking at various examples of recent and ongoing instances of popular ‘uprisings’, and attempts at regime change from ‘colour revolutions’ to the so called ‘Arab Spring’. Today we will be taking a slight step back in order to examine the major expressions of resistance or opposition which have sought to challenge the rise of liberal democracy to its current position of preeminence as the world’s most widespread form of representative government during the late modern period.

Over the course of this module so far, we have been able to observe how the powers of high finance have operated behind the façade of liberal democratic political processes in order to maintain complete hegemony over the world’s nation-states, through their control over the mechanisms of ex-nihilo money creation (i.e. the creation of paper and electronic currency out of nothing), the imposition of universal indebtedness of nations, companies and individuals alike through the banking system and through privileged access to an array of usurious interest-generating transactions and price-manipulating, non-stop, automatic, software-driven, high-volume deal-making algorithms. The banking elite has gained complete control over the ‘markets’, which in themselves are nothing less than the global agglomeration of computerised financial and trading networks via which the entirety of the gross planetary product is monetarily recycled and redistributed; this wealth includes national currencies, tax revenues, raw materials, precious metals, industrial manufacture, agricultural commodities, consumer goods and services, real estate and an exotic universe of trade in abstract, mathematically formulated derivative products, whose total volume dwarfs the ‘real’ economy (according to recent expert calculations by a multiple of no less than 20). 

We have seen that this realm and its operations are closed to the intervention of conventional political regulation, supervision or interference. In other words, the parliamentary and congressional apparatus of government has no real jurisdiction over or effective purchase on the global arena of economic power. On the contrary, as we have previously confirmed, it is the banking-market nexus which has the controlling hand over the stage across which our political leaders, elected or otherwise, and their entire administrative bureaucracies dance to the tune of the banks. We have also observed that hand-in-hand with the ascendancy of the money power, we bear witness to the advancement of a global technological dominion which has locked the world population and its essential functioning into an unprecedented ‘totality’ of political, financial and behavioural control; into a world view whose features and properties we explored in relation to Ernst Jünger’s identification of the gestalt of the ‘Worker’ and Martin Heidegger’s warnings against the “monstrousness” of the technological dispensation which now holds everything within its compass.

This reminder has been necessary because it is easy to forget (since the official histories are rarely, if ever, explicit on these matters) that the true effectiveness of any past political challenge to the dominant system has always come up against not only the overt structures of governmental control, but also against the underlying operations of the financial networks which have continuously and successfully managed to exercise autonomous and decisive power over government since the birth of the modern state. Of course, any future alternative will ultimately have to measure itself against this challenge when the time comes.

To proceed with today’s principal topic, in broad and simple terms, the triumph of the Western powers after the end of World War I in 1918 was somewhat tenuous. This was so because although victory may have brought what was left of the Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg) and Ottoman empires to a close, Germany was only temporarily ‘winded’ and Russia only momentarily held on the margins. The harsh regime of war reparations imposed by the peace treaty of Versailles not only increased German restiveness but also highlighted the general tensions in international finance. In addition to that, the confused attempts to contain Russia eventually unleashed the uncontrolled explosion of the Bolshevik coup d’état which provided the basis for the new Soviet empire (USSR).

The inter-war period, therefore, instead of being a stage set up and ready for the world to follow the liberal democratic model espoused by the victors, it was characterised by a continued state of flux and instability, as there was still a strong appetite for various brands of authoritarian alternatives such as the communists, fascists, militarists, monarchists and yet other radicals and reactionaries, whose only common belief was that Western style democracy was not their cup of tea. 

However, before pursuing this line further, I will ask you to be patient while we examine in some detail the Anglo-Saxon evolution of the concepts of ‘radicalism’ and ‘reform’, which have produced a dialectic of ideological opposition which has encompassed all manner of political movements and go to the heart of today’s topic as examples of key words with the power to influence or even determine the direction of political action. As Muslims, we need only reflect for an instant on the efficacy with which we have been caught within the imposed dialectic of ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘moderate’ Islam and the potential seriousness of its legal implications, in order to appreciate the realities of these linguistic dynamics. It is, therefore, instructive to gain an insight into some of the ways in which concepts and their meanings have been subject to modification and appropriation over time. 

‘Radicalism’ and ‘reform’ also intersect with that pervasive pair of linguistic mainstays used to indicate the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ wings of the political spectrum, and which have proved essential over many decades to maintaining the illusion of genuine ideological discourse between competing tendencies. Certainly, throughout the post-modern era (by which I mean the post-Soviet period from 1989 onwards) the shifting relativity of the Left/Right dialectic have replaced any last remnant of meaningful ideological rivalry between political parties, with pragmatic electoral strategies directed towards defining and occupying the all-important ‘centre ground’, which in itself is nothing other than that which the combination of mass schooling, advertising, and the news and entertainment media, has long in advance primed the great body of the disempowered, uninformed, unrepresented, indebted and defenceless public to accept and tolerate, in exchange for the ‘bread and circuses’ of sexual license, credit driven consumerism and the tenuous sense of entitlement and ‘belonging’ to be derived from citizenship and the ‘loan’ of a passport.

Radicalism and Reform

JCD Clark convincingly conducts us through a retrospective review of linguistic usage in order to demonstrate the dynamic power of language to determine the import of ideologies, political actions and perceptions of the society that gives rise to them. We meet with similar consequences to the process we have already examined in Lecture number 8 (The Idea of Revolution and the Illusion of Politics) and Lecture number 9 (Contemporary Revolutions I - The Realities of Revolution Today) with respect to changes in the concept of ‘revolution’ itself. As he carries out his analysis, which traces the shift in usage of the terms ‘radical’ and ‘radicalism’, it becomes possible to see how words with previously established meanings are serially commandeered for pragmatic advantage and applied in other directions to the point where the meaning is no longer settled and the word or expression in question becomes available as a vehicle for the ‘driver’ of the moment to claim a new ‘vintage’ for it. As a typical example of this practice he cites the title of a book written in 1946 The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin. He goes on to observe:

“The use of anachronistic categories merely creates a world of shadows and fictions in which no clear questions can be asked and no clear answers can be given. To ask whether the origins of English ‘radicalism’ can be traced to the 1640’s or 1760’s is to ask a question which is only not wrong because it is meaningless.” [Clark, JCD Our Shadowed Present p. 111]

Given that the emergence of ‘Radicalism’ as a ‘new’ ideology was to be attributed by consensus to the 1800’s, the concept became central to descriptive formulations specific to the nineteenth century. The strange result is that the various movements, conflicts and antagonisms which took place across the board in Britain (and North America) from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, whatever they may have stood for in reality, had simply taken place too early to be included:

“Yet, even after this diverse experience, ‘radicalism’ was something new. Its conceptualization was a distinct and special episode that must be correctly located in the early decades of the nineteenth century, part of that wider and momentous process in which a whole vocabulary of political terms was coined, terms which quickly became basic to a new conceptualization of politics and society.” [ibid. p. 112]

He goes on to illustrate how the old usages of ‘radical’ were applied in the fields of etymology, medicine and also in political discourse (meaning ‘fundamental’ before acquiring its later associations with the idea of societal upheavals), and when being called a radical did not automatically imply belonging to a group or movement. However, with the advent of universal male suffrage as a political objective in the late eighteenth century, the term ‘Radical Reform’ was introduced into political discourse and acquired capital letters along with a new usage specific to the context of parliamentary reform. By the 1820’s a clear distinction could be made between the Reformers (seeking moderate amendments through existing institutional channels) and the Radicals (of whom it was suspected that parliamentary reform was merely a doorway to revolutionary overthrow of the establishment along French Jacobin lines).

It is the philosopher, economist and political theorist Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) who can be credited with coming up with the term ‘radicalism’ at the key moment in which it was needed to express an identifiable new position. However, that position was not ‘revolutionary’ in the sense of 1789 but rather, a readjusted opposition between ‘moderate reform’ and ‘radical (or utilitarian) reform’; the latter calling for universal suffrage, annual parliaments and election by ballot. By the 1830’s the ‘Radicals’ had become regular participants in parliamentary elections, just in time for the emerging ideology of socialism to mount its own campaign to define itself in contradistinction to the limitations of institutionalised Radicalism. It is of passing interest to note that a central element in the Radical critique of the 1830’s pointed to the burden of interest payments on the National Debt as the primary moral and social injustice from which all others devolved. At the same time, the socialists pointed to the owners of capital as the oppressors of the working classes. 

Over time, after the elimination of any indigestible elements, these once vigorously competing alternatives have long since been assimilated into what used to be the parliamentary Liberal and Labour parties. It is arguable that certain strands of Anarchism emerged as standing in relation to socialism in the same way that socialism previously stood in contrast to radicalism. To pursue the established pattern a step further is to assume that Anarchism is also in line to be absorbed into the mainstream. Indeed, the process will already have begun. 

Apart from the revealing history and the crucial relationship of language to ideology and political action, the other point to capture here, as I am sure you will have gathered, is the endless capacity of the system of representative liberal democracy to modify, absorb, co-opt or neutralise all manner of political parties or programmes which may once have set out with the most ‘radical’ intentions. 

The Inter-War Period

We may now return to the inter-war period where we had previously noted that after the end of World War I, far from the immediate triumph of liberal democracy all over Europe, the most obvious political expression conditions gave rise to was ‘totalitarianism’ in the form of both communism in the USSR and fascism principally in Italy, Germany and Spain. These  alternatives appeared to present a dangerous challenge to the supremacy of the democratic model. The umbrella concept of totalitarianism (a term originally coined by the Italians to define their own political programme) was never accepted as such by the communists and fascists themselves, who were naturally keen to emphasise the distinctions between their politico-philosophical origins and identities. Neither has the concept achieved consensus amongst academics and political theorists as one that can be applied with complete consistency. 

However, Davies [pp. 945-48] produces a list of eighteen defining features common to both communism and fascism, which I will now summarise. Time does not allow us today to explore the many questions raised by this list. Nevertheless, from the point of view of the politics of power as we have understood it in the course of this module, it will make an interesting exercise, as we survey the following eighteen points, to remain mindful of how far these criteria also extend not only to the obvious, or even less obvious, characteristics of liberal democracies, but more deeply to the defining features of the modern technological world state; these two are certainly not one and the same thing. Therefore, even the final point will have to be properly taken into consideration! 

To continue:

1 Nationalist-Socialist ideology. Ideological strains of nationalism and socialism were significantly present in both movements though subject to variation; the earlier internationalism of the Bolsheviks once combined with the force of Russian nationalism emerged under Stalin as ‘National Bolshevism’. At the same time Nazism modified the socialist element of its early character.

2 Pseudo-science. Both movements made claims to a scientifically determined basis for their theories relating to evolution of society; ‘scientific socialism/Marxism’ or ‘historical/dialectical materialism’. The Nazis relied upon eugenics and theories of race.

3 Utopian goals. This consisted of the vision of an ideal New Order created by New Men: the ultimate classless society of the Marxist-Leninists; the superior Aryan ideal of the Nazis; or the restoration of an idealised Roman empire under Mussolini. These aims were held to justify the extreme sacrifices and ruthlessness of such regimes.

4 The dualist party-state. The term ‘one-party state’ does not convey the reality of the totalitarian dynamic whereby the Party was able to supervise the functioning of every aspect of the state apparatus by creating secondary Party organs specifically for the purpose.

5 The Führerprinzip or ‘Leader Principle’. The regimes operated strict hierarchical lines of authority stemming from the cult of an all-powerful Party Leader: the Führer, the Duce, the Caudillo, the ‘Great Helmsman’, etc.

6 Gangsterism. There are marked parallels between the operational modalities of totalitarian organisational enforcement and that of mafia type criminal fraternities: offering ‘protection’ from their own threat of violence; use of intimidation both within and outside the group; the elimination of competitors; control through blackmail and extortion; and maintaining a façade of respectability.

7 Bureaucracy. The duplication of Party organs noted in point 4 necessitated a massive bureaucratic machinery which inevitably developed its own internal politics of power; ambition, rivalry, patronage and opportunism.

8 Propaganda. This included the mass use of subliminal techniques, emotive figures and emblems, son et lumière events, majestic architecture and politicised art.

9 The Aesthetics of Power. This manifests as the glorification of the ruling Party through a monopoly over the arts which allows the creation of physical and cultural environment entirely given over to the projection of the ruling Party aesthetic.

10 The dialectical enemy. This, of course, takes us back to the pronouncements of Carl Schmitt which we encountered in Lecture number 6 (The French Revolution IV - The Political Legacy) which in the case of the totalitarian regimes meant that they were able to carry out their policies under the guise of legitimate response to the enemy threat, as the case may be; liberalism, Bolshevism, imperialism, fascism, colonialism… etc. 

11 The Psychology of hatred. This refers to the deliberate creation of emotive hate figures including, as the case may be: capitalist running dogs, Jews, ‘kulaks’, communists, saboteurs… etc.

12 Pre-emptive censorship. Not only were unwelcome and suspect opinions suppressed, but all sources of information in circulation had to be controlled.

13 Genocide and coercion.  Violent networks of political police and security agencies were given extensive powers to pursue and destroy all opponents of the ruling regime and all manner of elements deemed undesirable, real or fabricated. Mass murders, ‘disappearances’ and random victimisation were designed to produce a pervasive state of fear.

14 Collectivism. Totalitarian regimes imposed activities aimed at promoting the collective identity at the expense of individual or family attachments or allegiances; state nurseries, youth movements, group uniforms, party rituals, choreographed parades… etc.

15 Militarism. Armament industries received the foremost economic priority and the armed forces enjoyed high social prestige. The population was often held in constant readiness to defend the fatherland.

16 Universalism. Totalitarian ideologies and systems were predicated on the assumption that they would extend over the entire world. This was particularly the case where ‘scientific’ claims were being made.

17 Moral nihilism. This points to the fact that these regimes proceed on the basis that the ends justified whatever means they chose to apply to the pursuit of their political goals.

18 Contempt for liberal democracy. Totalitarian regimes despised liberal democracy for its promotion of peace and co-existence, for its commercialism and consumerism and its ‘proud’ legal traditions.

Looked at from the vantage point of the twenty-first century we now know the fate of these regimes and their complete failure not only to produce the much trumpeted ‘New Man’ or ‘New Order’, but also their failure to mount any kind of effective challenge to the supremacy of liberal democracy, let alone any convincing opposition to the international banking nexus that sits behind it. How, in fact, could it ever succeed when a close look at Marx’s core doctrine of surplus-value shows clear complicity with the usurious banking system itself. In order to grasp this it is necessary to realise that the term surplus-value is the literal translation of the Semitic terms which denote usury - in other words, they mean exactly the same thing! However, the marxist doctrine conceals a deliberate redefinition of usury which allows it to be equated with the acceptable gain from profit arising from healthy commerce. This meant that it could be condemned on moral grounds as being the transformation of money into capital, which Marx regarded as robbery. On the other hand, the returns arising from usurious trading transactions become acceptable since they can no longer be seen as surplus-value within the terms of the redefinition. In other words, the result of Marx’s extraordinary linguistic realignment is that surplus-value and usury, having started out with the same meaning, end up as opposites, blocking the way to just profit while leaving the way open to usurious increase. 

The final ignominy for a movement which had claims to embody the future evolution of universal human civilisation, is that the collapse of the Soviet Union is now widely taken as the standard marker in historical chronology to signal the beginning of the new post-modern era. As for China, in spite of her abortive experiment with Maoism, the Confucian inheritance of order in the state, long-sighted planning and gradualism, has enabled an adept transition, so far, into the full engagement of her rapidly growing economy with world trade and the international banking system with a strategic position that threatens the West, but of course it is in the nature of the system that it is in China’s best interests to play the expected part of keeping her major debtors and customers afloat, while gradually succumbing to the inevitable and accelerating advancement into ‘democratisation’ by one means or another. 

I leave the last word to Dr Ian Dallas who sums up marxism’s fatal deficiencies as follows:

“Marxism viewed from the ruins of the Soviet Union can now only attract the quixotic few. Nevertheless its distortion and obscuring of social processes reached into every sphere of intellectual activity during the twentieth century. Many theorists who would have been shocked at the name of marxist still approached the subject with, at the least, a background wash of communist colouring. The three doctrines of what Koestler named ‘The God that Failed’, marxism, have all proved unsustainable when tested against events.

Firstly, Marx’s sanctioning the procedures of usury under the blanket doctrine of surplus-value is no longer shocking now that his financial subsidies from the Rothchilds are common knowledge. Although ferociously anti-semitic, Marx became the protector of banking.

Secondly, the doctrine of dialectical materialism as a dynamic to deal with any social process, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, proved to have failed disastrously when the full extent of Stalin’s genocidal dictatorship was exposed. The Central Committee’s ‘explanation’ of having succumbed to ‘the Cult of Personality’ did not wash, since ‘personality’ was a Hegelian concept that could not be subsumed under materialist philosophy. Sartre saw this only to find that his attempt at rescue was haughtily dismissed.

Thirdly, and perhaps most remarkably, the system was purportedly based on tracing all historical events to social causes, yet marxism failed to construct a viable and critical phenomenology of power and the state. With the Marxist empire shattered, and that, not by nuclear weaponry but by the applied surplus-value technologies of the bankers, it cannot but be noted that in the mono-culture of capitalism today, these three ‘failures’ are still the common coin of what passes for political discourse. The new high-capitalism which is the hegemonic and logical unification of wealth systems, is still criticised from an antiquated ‘leftist’, in America ‘liberal’ position, using an arsenal of outdated slogans and arguments. This suits the new power élite, for it means anti-globalism can be deactivated by the same means that had been so successful against the massively structured Soviet State. [ToB pp. 207-9]

That brings us to the end of today’s lecture. Our next lecture we will be the final one of this module and insha’Allah, we will conclude it by summarising the ground we have covered so far and exploring the notion of a new nomos. For further reading I would recommend the article Egypt: Revolution 2.0 verus the Modern State by Parvez Asad Sheikh.

Thank you for your attention. 

Assalamu alaykum.

Bibliographical References

Clark, J.C.D. Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism and History. London: Atlantic Books, 2003

Dallas, Ian. The Time of the Bedouin: On the Politics of Power. 

Cape Town: Budgate Press, 2006.

Davies, Norman. Europe - A History. London: Pimlico, 1996


Sheikh, Parvez Asad. Egypt: Revolution 2.0 versus the Modern State. Globalia Magazine Issue no. 12, March 2012. (/globalia)