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The “Arab Spring” and the Seduction of the Western Left
26 August 26, 2013
by Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill
Hosni Mubarak has been released from prison, the Egyptian Army is back in charge – this time with the support of most Egyptians, who could no longer endure the chaos their elected Muslim Brotherhood government had inflicted on them. In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies are in full military retreat – the government of Bashar al-Assad having convincingly won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Syrian people. William Hague and his fellow rogues have been left trashing around for some pretext to “go in” and save their sectarian terrorists. As I write, a suspiciously convenient incident, possibly involving chemical weapons, may do the trick. In Tunisia the Brotherhood regime faces popular revolt, and Libya has descended into utter chaos. Protests in Bahrain continue to be violently crushed by the U.S. puppet dictatorship. In short, the lives of ordinary people are immeasurably worse today than at the opening of the so called “Arab Spring,” in December 2010. All the talk of “revolution” has been exposed as the nonsense it always was.
Nowhere is this more the case than in Libya, where the Working Class has been stripped of all power and protection, and power put back in the hands of the Benghazi comprador class, which had held it during the reign of King Idris. This was no Revolution, but a Restoration – with a counter-revolutionary monarchical flag and the fire-power of Western imperialist armies to make the point clear to even the most wilfully obtuse.
The failure of anti-war movements to stop war is nothing new. There has never been a case of protest movements stopping a war. Even the Vietnam War, which eventually generated massive protests in the U.S., was not halted by these protests, but by the actual defeat of the U.S. war machine in the field. In 1912, the Socialist parties met in Basle, Switzerland, to promise that they would not support their governments if war were to begin. But, once the patriotic drums of WW1 began to beat, these promises were forgotten, and most Socialist leaders shamefully encouraged the Working Class youth of Europe out to the slaughter. For all this catalogue of failure, there has been a consistent and active anti-war movement, funded by the Left, in Europe and the U.S., all down the decades. In 2003, half a million people marched in Washington against the Iraq War. Almost a million people marched in London. In many ways, a dramatic success. Of course, the war was not stopped, but, it can be claimed that the imperialist propaganda machine was severely weakened by such massive display of public rejection. Next time, the imperialists were going to have to be a lot smarter, a lot more seductive – and they were.
Of course, once the attack on Libya had begun, the Western media did what was always expected from it, and it generated and propagated the most wild propaganda against the Libyan government and its leader that they could concoct. We had the laughable stories about Al Gaddafi giving Viagra to the Libyan Army, so that Libyan soldiers could go about raping peaceful protestors – a story picked up and repeated by Amnesty International. This story was straight out of the German soldiers eating Belgian babies catalogue – or the Iraqi soldiers throwing babies out of 500 Kuwaiti incubators, even though there were only about 50 incubators in all of Kuwait at the time (again, a story picked up and repeated by Amnesty International.) Laughable as these stories are in hindsight, during the media frenzy for enemy blood, they are taken seriously by huge sections of the population, and they serve to weaken any attempt to criticise or oppose the war. From the very first days of the so called uprising in Benghazi, stories began to leak into the better Western newspapers, such as the Guardian, of the rounding up of black people and their torture, lynching and burning to death. However, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, began to refer to the black people being slaughtered as “Sub-Saharan mercenaries.” So, that was all right then. The media had its fig leaf for supporting racist genocide. For all that, there were constant reports, in the better newspapers, of the fact that most of those being slaughtered were not in the military. They were, in fact, black civilians – many of them migrant workers.
So, what was the reaction of the Western Left to all of this? The reaction was even more shameful than in 1914. At least the various Socialist leaderships, in 1914, could claim that their nations were under attack. The Western Left had no such excuse in 2011, when Libya was being attacked. Here we had a small nation, of only six million people, under attack from the most devastating military power ever put together. 120 Cruise missiles fired in the first few days, and then over 26,000 sorties by NATO military aircraft, over an eight month period. To put that into perspective, its adds up to 150 bombing raids per day on a population the size of Ireland’s – every single day – for eight months. And all through, the Western Left cheered on the smashing of the Socialist state infrastructure and cheered on the racist lynch mobs. Even the noted thinker, Noam Chomsky, downplayed the role of the Salafist gangs. The Irish Anti-War Movement called for the freezing of Libyan state assets – used to pay for schools, hospitals, etc. – and for the using of these vital social funds to arm the so-called National Transitional Council (NTC), a tiny group of unknowns, many of whom had spent the previous two decades in the U.S., being groomed by the CIA to take power in Libya, and turn Libya into a U.S. puppet state, with a privatization agenda. How could such a thing happen? How could the moral compass of the Western Left have collapsed, so disastrously, since 2003, when massive demonstrations had been organized to oppose war against Iraq – a state with an infinitely worse human rights record than Libya (which was about to receive an award for Human Rights from the UN, only a few months before the invasion.) In the case of the Iraq War, all the usual media propaganda ploys had been used. Saddam was a brutal dictator. Certainly true. Saddam was a danger to his own people. Very often true. And then, to cap it all, Saddam was going to attack the West with Weapons of Mass Destruction. Complete bullshit, but effective enough on the minds of those who actually watch Fox News or CNN, which is, tragically, the majority of people. But for all that, the Left held its nerve, and organized massive protests against the war.
So, how could one imagine that by 2011, this same Left would have become the cheerleaders for a genocidal, racist, campaign against a Socialist state, with one of the highest standards of living in the Developing World, and with a human rights record that was gaining widespread praise in the UN? Not to mention an advanced system of Direct Democracy.
At this point, we must discuss the art of seduction. Seduction is a play on fantasy. It is a promise, a false promise, to give the seduced his or her deepest wish, to make the fantasy come true. Usually, as Freud makes clear, we are dealing with primal fantasies, i.e. the fantasy of seeing and being part of that scene which we were, as children, so cruelly excluded from, i.e. the lovemaking of our parents. And what is the primal scene of the Western Left? What is that scene of joy and release that we are forever excluded from? None other than the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917. We are forever under the spell of Sergei Eisenstein’s great Soviet film, October 1917. The marching Workers in their tens of thousands, the police and soldiers disobeying their orders, and joining the Workers, as they valiantly march on the Tsar’s palace of power. It doesn’t matter that very little of all this actually happened, and that Eisenstein created a vision of the Storming of the Winter Palace that was a tribute to his own genius, rather than the facts of that night. None of that matters. For the last 90 odd years, we have been trying to recreate that primal scene, with our pathetic pickets and marches – where the organizers don’t even dare to mention overthrowing the bourgeois state, not to mind actually doing it. But then, all of a sudden, the Western Left was given everything it had ever fantasized about. Hundreds of thousands of people in Tunisia and Egypt, taking to the streets – just like in the movie – seeming to topple the dictators. What joy! For years we had been told that this sort of thing had died with Lenin. But, here it was, right before our eyes. And if the Arab countries could do it – so could we. Occupy Wall Street. Sure, didn’t it work in Tahrir Square?
And then Benghazi came on our TV screens. The people, rising up against a dictator! This was all too good to be true – but why look such a wonderful gift horse in the mouth? We need it to work, so we can show our own people, here in Europe and the U.S., that it really can be done.
Seduction is not rape. It needs the complicity of its victim. It needs the victim to want to be seduced. Indeed, it is the victim that dictates the terms on which the seduction will take place. The Arab Spring appeared on our corporate TV screens as it did, because this was how the Western Left wanted to be seduced.
Jean Baudrillard noted that TV News only became popular after colour TV came into being. The Vietnam War was for many a black and white war. People could not bear to look at it. Black and white seduces. Black and white is always something less than reality. Seduction is always something less than reality. It leaves something to be desired. You cannot see the picture, unless you fill in the gaps, unless you become complicit in the creation of the picture. Black and white draws you into the middle of the horror. Black and white is always horrific, always seductive. Colour is not like that. It is too real. It is more than reality. It leaves nothing to the imagination. It leaves nothing to be desired. One can sit quite happily in front of a colour TV, watching the mutilated bodies of children, while you eat your TV dinner. Because you are not implicated, you are not seduced, you are excluded from the horror – pushed away from it, by the excess of information.
Baudrillard’s 1991 essays, collected as “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place,” analyse the way that the extreme media overdose of information leaves the TV viewer with a total sense of unreality. This is war reduced to the level of a computer game. For the Western viewer, no real person is being killed or hurt. All that is happening is that images are being created. Even the US soldiers in Iraq rarely saw the murderous result of their actions. They too saw the war through their video equipment.
While the Gulf War was a colour TV war, it could be said that the “Arab Spring” was in seductive black and white. When the violence broke out in Benghazi, in February 2011, the Libyan government invited international observers and media to travel to Benghazi to see what was happening. Very few took up the offer. That was not the plan. Tunisia and Egypt had nicely set the scene, and the imperialist powers had no intention of disturbing that scene with the truth of violent, racist, Salafist gangs in collaboration with the CIA and the Gulf dictatorships, murdering ordinary police officers and soldiers and any black person they could get their hands on.
Seduction always takes something away from the scene – the scene of pleasure. The “Arab Spring” was masterful work, worthy of any Don Juan. Without having any real idea of who or what these “rebels” were, the Western Left became complicit. They were sucked in. Joyfully sucked in. They filled out the missing spaces with their fantasies of democratic protestors, valiantly standing up to the Viagra drugged soldiers of a hated dictator. That a million Libyans came out and filled Green Square, under the threat of NATO bombing, to show their support for Muammar al-Gaddafi was easily overlooked. A seduced person, a person who is loving the thrill of being seduced, no longer has any use for truth or facts.
And so, even after the brutal murder of Muammar al-Gaddafi, by drone and fighter jet attack, and then by a crazed mob, the madness of the Western Left continued. They continued to dream of Tahrir Square spontaneously breaking our all over Europe and the U.S. – even as the Fascist Muslim Brotherhood put their claws on the strings of power in Egypt, and began to serve U.S. and Israeli interests to an even more servile degree than Mubarak had done.
Even today, after the total failure of the Occupy Movements to achieve anything, there are still some deluded, ever seduced, idiots in the Western Left, who are supporting the CIA / Mossad sectarian gangs in Syria, and are wringing their hands over the removal of the Morsi government in Egypt.
So, where does that leave us now? In 1873, the Western capitalist system was crushed by a massive financial collapse. Nothing within that system could supply the vast amounts of real wealth that would serve to restore the system. The answer was very simple. In 1873, relatively little of Africa, Asia or North America was under imperialist rule. The next ten years saw the most genocidal imperialist expansion ever known. All of North America was conquered, and the naive population exterminated. The Scramble for Africa included the unspeakable horror of the Belgian rape of the Congo, where 13 million people murdered, and also included the genocidal conquest of southern Africa by Cecil Rhodes, funded by the Rothschild family, and carried out in the bloody name of the British empire. By the 1890s, the collapse of Western capitalism had been turned into an unprecedented boom, and the stage was set for WW1, as the burgeoning empires greedily eyed up each others conquests. In the 1930s, Germany and Japan tried to lift themselves out of crippling economic depression by embarking on colonial conquests. WW2 was the result. And we remember that the Great Depression did not end in the U.S. until the opening of WW2, and the transfer of the entire gold reserve of the British empire to the U.S., as payment for arms, etc. Today, Western capitalism faces an even more catastrophic collapse than in 1873. Once again, it has embarked on the conquest of Africa as the answer to its crisis. The first step was the murder of the man, who above all others, stood for African unity in the face of imperialist domination – Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi.
Though Syria has managed to push back the attack on its integrity and sovereignty, it remains under attack by Western imperialism and its native allies. As mentioned above, the war rhetoric of the Anglo-Saxon and French imperial powers has become more rabid in proportion to the scale of the defeat the Al Qaeda / Al Nusra gangs face in Syria. Iran remains under criminal sanctions, as does the DPRK and Cuba. Russia and China are under constant Western media attack, and face military encirclement by imperialist forces. In effect, we are facing the beginning of WW3, to be fought for exactly the same reason that the first two World Wars were fought, i.e. as an attempt to escape a financial collapse in the Capitalist system.
Can we look to the leaders of the Western Left with confidence? Or will we simply repeat the betrayal of 1914? It seems obvious that we need leaderships that are capable of overcoming their catastrophic seduction in 2011. We need to openly admit that the Left was utterly wrong in its analysis, and was outflanked by an enemy with hugely greater skills than the Left now generally possesses. We must begin to weed out the rotten from the good. We need people who are not moved by the hysteria of the majority. We need people who openly admit that the majority are often, if not usually, completely wrong. This will not be easy. Westerners, of all social classes, have a strong belief that if Western domination of the Third World were to end, their already threatened lifestyles would suffer – if not entirely collapse. In effect, there is an unspoken consensus that these imperial wars are the best bet the West has for economic recovery. Not only has the Left failed to challenge this consensus, but, by its words and actions has actually become part of it. It may well be that Western culture no longer has the vitality to produce an active and worthwhile Left. This is a possibility we must consider.
The Arabs themselves didn’t call what happened in 2011 an “Arab Spring.” Just like they didn’t call what happened in 1919 an “Arab Spring.” This was always an image that belonged to Western imperialism, and employed to seduce Western populations with the romantic, Laurence of Arabia style, notions the term evokes. The Arab Spring never happened in the Arab world. It happened only in our Western imaginary world.
[Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill was born in Mayo, in the West of Ireland, in 1964, and he has also lived in Berlin and London. He has a degree in Early and Modern Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a Higher Diploma in Psychoanalysis. He usually writes in Irish, and has written three plays in Irish, one of which won an award two years ago. With other families he established the Sóivéid James Connolly, which among other things runs Irish classes, bagpipe classes, a weekly comedy club, home brewing and a community garden, as well as the website Soviet.ie . They have also set up the Pairtí Cummanach na Poblachta (Communist Party of the Irish Republic) referring to the all-Ireland Republic declared in 1916. One of the main reasons for establishing the party was to develop contacts with anti-imperialists around the world, and give Irish people the chance to be part of a Marxist and anti-imperialist organisation.]