By Kumar David –
Several months ago when things were coming to a boil I argued that despite Trump’s autocratic intentions expectations of a collapse of democracy in America were unduly gloomy. It was my view that society and polity was more robust than many gave credit for and that at rock bottom fascism was impossible though appalling events were likely – and did occur after 3 November 2020. My case for the sturdiness of American polity was (Quoting):
a) The people are unusually robust and independent. It is very difficult for some Mussolini mob to cow down 100s of millions of over-‘testosteroned’ Americans.
b) Constitutional processes are very strong. If DJT loses the election, as seems likely, he will be escorted out. His riff-raff won’t be able to stop that.
c) Except for the Trump loonies (maybe 25% of the electorate) even the GOP won’t be able to stomach an unconstitutional grab for power. Nor will the Supreme Court, even with the new nominee in place, sanction it.
d) The military will not move grossly unconstitutionally.
In comparison, SL is a banana republic since it does not have (a) to (d), nor does it have deep 200 year old constitutional traditions, nor virile public opinion. (END QUOTE).
I have been proved more correct than I imagined possible but time has moved on and we will, post 20 January, have to give thought to America’s future after its brush with disaster. It will not, within foreseeable historical times, become a dictatorship; that is impossible. What is possible is unrest, skirmishes and political instability, mediated by livelihood issues, equity concerns and racial tension. And don’t forget that what transpires in America will be influenced by, and will determine what happens in the rest of the world. My concern for the protection of American democracy – socialism is not imminent – brought a sharp rebuke from a reader, a Mr or Ms Ajay, who cautioned “Sometimes one wonders if (KD’s Marxism) has gone too far in the opposite direction and defected to the West; it appears he is looking at the world through American eyes”. A brief diversion to explore modern Marxism is therefore warranted.
The theoretical and philosophical crux of classical Marxism consists of two concepts; dialectics and the materialist outlook. To keep it simple let’s say dialectics is the same as how science comprehends change, development and evolution. Forget the mumbo-jumbo of interpretation-of-opposites, quantity transforming into quality etc. inherited from Hegel and reflect on how science thinks of change. The classic example of dialectics in science is not Marx, it is Darwinian evolution. Darwin’s observations of species change, followed by Mendel’s population genetics, leading all the way to twenty-first century genetics (some call it genomics) is dialectical. How and why do things change? What dynamic drives mutations, metamorphoses, transformations and revolutions in the physical, biological and the social world; how do we employ concepts to generalise and abstract processes of change? That is dialectics at work in nature and its comprehension in thought. If you are practical scientist who is not philosophically inclined, forget all this and get on with your real-world science.
The materialist conception of society and history, however, affects us all, especially if you have an interest in sociology or politics. Marx’s materialism argues that the way humans and societies “produce and reproduce” their material lives is crucially important. Work, skills even in primitive times, production and technology, and even war to grab more resources, are the raw material of what is called historical materialism. On this foundation, societies organise, appropriate the usufruct as per their social organisation – class structure – and therefrom issue unavoidable class struggles leading at times to revolutionary makeovers of the state. Ideology, that is what people think of themselves and others, (great Imperial Civilisation, Tamil is the oldest living language, God’s command to subdue the heathen, our glorious Mahavamsa culture) are not garbage, Marx never said that. But he did think that ideas are a product, to a prodigious extent, of the aforesaid social premises. Of course ideas reflects back as any good dialectician will grant. For example, the rise of Islam cannot be grasped without knowledge of Arabian society; but in turn the impact Islam has had on the world is driven by its belief systems. My plea to Mr/Ms Ajay is that I try to be loyal to these essential premises while I think through day to day issues which is the job of this column. Depicting personages and structures of day to day events needs to be consonant with the rhythm of the underlying analytical framework.
What about modern Marxism? True, Marx did not pay enough attention to race and ethnicity and focussed on class. Second, great advances in science and technology, and their intrusion into production and society – just think communications, electricity, IT, aviation, space travel, and the impact of social media – are a new world (Marx would call then advances productive powers) to be assimilated. Third, Marx left his life’s project incomplete. He did not complete Kapital (just the first volume and 75% of the second; the third was a trunk-load of scrawls and scribbles). The work on the State, Finance and Internationalism, once projected by young Marx, would have needed a few life times to complete! Legions of latter day Marxists have devoted themselves, sometimes reaching contradictory conclusions, to these tasks. It is totalising and assimilating all this that makes modern Marxism. It blends seamlessly with the values of the Enlightenment – liberty, reason and justice. This is certainly not the same as ‘Liberalism’ so pejoratively spoken of today.
That was an expensive in word-count digression. Enough lofty abstractions, back to my topic. I spoke confidently of political stability in the US but the scene these last two months is distressing. Following the Trump incited storming of the Capitol by extremist mobs fed on lies and conspiracy theories, it has come to light that members of the Capitol Police Force were involved in opening gates and the invasion; officers have been suspended, more than a dozen are under investigation; hundreds of rioters have been arrested; staff are being probed for sedition and conspiracy. The FBI says armed militias are organising in all 50 State capitals on 20 January to coincide with the Biden-Harris swearing-in and a 4000 person armed neo-Nazi rally is planned for Washington DC. The Mayor of DC, a Democrat has called on people not to attend the inauguration to avoid confrontation. Twitter, Facebook and Amazon have banned Trump; the House impeached him for a second time (another first in US history) a week before he leaves office; the Trump mob is enraged; death threats have been made against Bidden, Harris and Pelosi. What a month!
The Transport Secretary and Education Secretary (Cabinet Ministers) and the Attorney General (Minister of Justice), the National Security Advisor, the White House Chief of Staff and a gamut of officials have resigned in recent days and been replaced by nondescript persons or people of questionable repute. A TV commentator asked “Who is the government? There is no government now”. Two state-powers are running the country in parallel. To resort to a Leninist imagery, it is ‘Dual Power’ but of an unusual form. (Lenin used the term for the September to December 1917 period when two ‘governments’ ran separate structures of state and military command – the Provincial Government and the Petrograd Soviet). Geographically separated dual power existed in Lanka at the time the LTTE governed the Vanni. I don’t want to overdo it, but the allegiances of sections of US State apparatus these weeks is suspect. I have known America from 44 years ago when I spent a year in New York as a visiting professor, but have never seen anything like this; these ugly shouting matches in public places. I am truly afraid that the US is headed for deep and protracted conflict.
As I write these lines, a suicidal attempt at a Trumpist putsch, with or without his personal involvement, but incited by him, is not impossible. Spokesmen on American TV fear that a desperate lunatic in the White House with his finger on the nuclear button bent on creating turmoil in whose fog he can prolong his tenure is perilous. I have to modifying these passages very day as the situation changes. Trump visited Alamo town last Tuesday in a last ditch effort to fire up the faithful. The symbolism is rich; “The Alamo” a fortress nearby, was the site of a battle between Texas and Mexico in 1836 in which every American soldier was killed.
I have asserted in this column on previous occasions that the way forward in America depends primarily on addressing the livelihood concerns of the poorest miserable half of society; this is the way to castrate the Trump Base – cutting the existential ground under its feet. However this is premised on the new Administration restoring normalcy in the sense that it can govern at all in the face of millions who believe that the election was stolen. The rioting mobs invoked by Trump are determined to prevent just that; the ultra-right and the fascist are dead set on preventing Team-Biden from getting started on the task of governance. This is dangerous since there may be no option but to meet it head on with force; crush or capitulate. The great undefined then is not confrontation per se but the use of state power. Lanka has had the dreadful experience of what happens when a Sinhala State and a Tamil Insurrection collide violently. No one wins; no one has won yet; the country still lies in economic shambles and the state is turning increasingly authoritarian.
Nevertheless I do not envisage a fatal blow to American democracy within the next four years though the unfolding rebellion is ugly and putting it down by force may be the least desirable but only feasible option. I wonder what my former HK colleagues and Western liberal media and commentators, who encouraged nine months of non-stop rioting and destruction of public property in Hong Kong, now have to say! I hold Hong Kong’s Pan-Democrats, student mobs and their foreign cheer-leaders entirely responsible for the repressive laws enacted by Beijing and for denting the One-Country-Two-Systems programme which was chugging along tolerably, though not without hiccups and burps.
China will become the world’s largest economy and a diplomatic and military power on par with the US soon, but as a global exemplar and a moral influence the American legacy will last. The PRC’s economic model will be the preferred strategy for developing countries, but China’s moral influence will be crippled unless the Communist Party learns to live with other mass inspirations such as Islam in Xinjiang Province.