It was a strange semester. Looking back, prematurely, I remember getting overwrought about politics. This is still the case. But what really interests me is the possibility that very few people born after the end of the Cold War fully appreciate just how pitched that battle was. Not only in terms of real violence but ideologically.
Some of the best anti-communists have been Liberals, historically. The same is true today. Ask a friend how many people were killed in (formerly) Indochina during the American War. Ask them how many people have died thus far in Iraq. Yet mainline Cold War Democrats at least offered a social-democratic/ Keynesian settlement to sweeten the pills of proxy wars, dirty tricks, and outright imperialism.
These issues matter greatly given America’s destructive power. Everyday the US military and its NATO subordinates pull the trigger on somebody. Every day. It’s important to focus on structure here– system– rather than individual morality. There is a difference between critical opposition and sanctimony (which is, incidentally, the reason “privilege-checking” is a political dead end). Among other things, Liberalism as an ideology is Individualist: it privileges personal responsibility and self-invention over structural analysis.
I spent part of my boyhood as a military dependent. My earliest memories are impressionistic but not entirely unlikely. I remember a friend of my father’s, a UDT frogman, who told me he blew up bridges for a living. He could also suck spaghetti through his nose. When we met, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The diplomat of a nation being actively bombarded by B-52s, Le refused that empty gesture. Barry Obama was 14.
The New Cold War that is emerging lacks a coherent Left. Or put another way, the great conflict that neoconservatives and neoliberals seem dedicated to resurrecting in altered form does not address the core contradiction that structures our social lives: the class war between capital and labor, between 99% of us and the rest. In this precise sense the widening divisions between Russia and “the West” represents a willful deflection of the most pressing of all questions: how will we supersede capitalism in order to actively support human development and save the planet?
I do not think that political and economic liberalism is adequate to the present crisis.
It’s time to put down the phone and pick up the book. Time to gather knowledge rather than skim headlines. It’s time to talk to each other about what we think we believe. Granted, such efforts are demanding because thinking is always work.