Learn from the cockroaches

Marcelo Guimarães Lima, L´âme des choses, 2022


History today, as in the past, shows itself as a spectacle of the great ironies of life.

“In a letter to his team, McDonald's President and CEO Chris Kempckinski justified that the closure of restaurants [in Russia] is a correct measure because the company cannot ignore the unnecessary suffering that is being caused to the Ukrainian population”. According to recent news by Vanesa Rodriguez (The Journal) on the page of Current Brazil Network (1)

The world is really becoming unrecognizable for those who have some life experience. Who would have thought that we would see North American businessmen concerned with moral issues and socio-political values, beyond the generic and commodified socio-environmental values ​​of recent practice, placing the well-being of a distant population in a peripheral country of European territory above their pecuniary interests?

The image of the heartless and unscrupulous capitalist, sung in prose and verse since Charles Dickens, apparently no longer corresponds, if it ever did, to the facts. Certainly not in the matrix of contemporary neoliberalism, the United States, and its branch in the European Union.

Big companies with commercial and industrial interests and investments suddenly, and as if coordinated, refuse to continue making money in Russia! Our categories formed in at least two centuries of critical studies, testimonies, historical documentation, etc., are bewildering. on the foundations and processes of capital, on the role of business in the capitalist dynamics, with the enormous costs of this dynamic in human lives and, today we know, in inauspicious transformations of the natural environment, that is, the growing risks of the socioeconomic system of the modern industrial and commercial capitalism for life in general on planet Earth.

"bleeding-heart liberal” is an expression that conservatives or reactionaries in general in the United States used to insult, in the times of Ronald Reagan and the rise of the Republican Party, all those “leftists” (all those who did not pray for the conservative booklet) who dared to oppose, even timidly , interests of minorities, of groups excluded from the “American dream”, of the poor and the destitute, of workers in general, to the proud, harshly competitive, meritocratic vision of American society considered as an accomplished ideal of prosperity and free enterprise on Earth. Anyone who does not prosper in such a model society, according to the conformist view, is due to sheer incompetence and does not deserve any support, only the contempt of the “winners”, the white, religious and conservative majority.

The "bleeding-heart liberal” (in the literal translation: “heart bleeding” for the suffering of others, in the free translation to our popular vernacular: “liberal ass-soft”) by worrying about the defeated and fallen of the popularly called “rat races” (racing or dispute of the rats) of daily survival, only demonstrated its own moral weakness, its inadaptation to the values ​​and practices of the evident and unquestionable North American meritocracy, where only determined, strong people, the good, the brave could and should prosper and the patriots. The declared values ​​of empathy and solidarity are reserved for equals, the charity of Christian people is exercised formally and publicly on Sundays of worship. And that's enough.

History today, as in the past, shows itself as a spectacle of the great ironies of life. The gesture against Russia, of refusal of commercial relations by the American business community, is presented, not as an affectation of the weak by the luck of others (of the Ukrainians), something of soft-hearted and unrealistic misfits, but as an elevated gesture of great patriotic virtue and humanitarian! Rich without greed! People with a democratic heart and values, even if these are demonstrated selectively, depending on the circumstances, etc.

In current circumstances, what Guy Debord in the late 1980s presented as one of the outstanding characteristics of contemporary society comes to mind, the period that begins after the generalized protest of May 1968, and the struggles of the working classes in Europe in crisis in the 1970s of the so-called post-war “welfare society”. Crisis that prepared the capitalist offensive with neoliberalism and the reorganization of the world of work, economy and society as we know it today. Guy Debord observed a phenomenon that he called the “de facto fusion of the economy and the State” under the ideological mask of what was called the “minimal State”. (two)

The hegemonic neoliberal state shows itself today as an oversized state in spending and military capacity, maximally dependent on military force as an instrument of “persuasion” and a last resort guarantee of “I lebensraum” (vital space – to use the well-known expression of the war ideology of the Nazi Reich) for economic supremacy, that is, for the continuous expansion of businesses “at the end of the cannon” as a fundamental condition for the survival of the system.

The economy and war in the current crisis demonstrate their mutual dependency in a paradoxical way, as the risk of total war in principle is something that should not be in the interest of businessmen. Sanctions against Russia are additional weapons in the conflict and aggravate the already weakened situation of the world economy. And the large profits made by the industry and commerce of war, by the very nature of the high-risk enterprise, cannot of themselves guarantee continued profits in the future.

Or am I mistaken here, and this is precisely the bet of the efficient neoliberal business community and its representatives in the political life of countries. Total war, considered with the optimism of entrepreneurs, could be the occasion for new opportunities for a future “industry and commerce” of raw survival, in the model of cockroaches and other millenary organisms that past catastrophes in the natural history of the planet did not destroyed.

The speed with which the professional journalism of the great corporations of the so-called public information and their associates united in a single and strident voice around the world in a Manichaean fiction of the struggle between “good” and “absolute evil”, “democracy” versus “tyranny”. ”, “West” versus “East”, and similar nonsense, and, as a result, the regimentation of various sectors of world public opinion in the fast pace of global networks, makes us see that we live in a time in which the deep crisis of the world economy is reflected in political structures and established sociability.

Ukraine, an internally divided country, in a latent process of prolonged civil war before the Russian offensive, where armed Nazis now defend the homeland as effective members of the military apparatus of the State, is presented as a bulwark of democracy, a “natural” ally of the so-called Western world . The current crisis leads to the repetition and deepening of local and international control mechanisms and confrontation mechanisms, at the very moment when these prove to be increasingly inadequate or unproductive, that is, with increasing costs and increasingly uncertain results, given the structural imbalances of the world system.

At the end of the Cold War with the “self-extinction” of the Soviet regime in Russia, the first draft in 1992 of the document known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine (3), by Paul Wolfowitz, US Undersecretary of Defense at the time, transparently established how goal of the country's foreign policy to maintain global hegemony, the newly conquered place of “single power”, stopping the advance of any possible competitors in the international order, including Russia itself. Criticisms and subsequent rewrites of the document softened the expressly imperialist wording, characterized negatively by Senator Edward Kennedy as “XNUMXst century American imperialism plan, unacceptable to nations”, but did not change the content, that is, the goals and directives proclaimed at the time and which, in their fundamental aspects, never lost their validity, together with their ideological foundations. These, more than evident in the current crisis, pervade the ruling class, the various business, state and even cultural elites, and the entire present structure of American society with all its manifest contradictions.

A world split in opinion and positions is presented in the face of the invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war, in which geography seems to command the perspectives: the North+West fueling the conflict in words and deeds, the South+East trying to avoid the pressures for positioning against Russia's actions. On the one hand, it is possible to say that we witnessed the end of an apparent global ideological consensus, where the majority of national powers expressed themselves in neoliberal language but perhaps understood common jargon in an individualized way, at the same time that, in different contexts, incompatible languages ​​covered up common practices. The crisis of the world system commanded by the USA appears today in almost all its infra and superstructural amplitude. We say almost because surely more, not better, is yet to come.

In such a context, the leadership crisis is more than obvious. Whether in the North, South, East or West, representatives of the regional, national and global power ruling classes, for the most part, present an inauspicious spectacle of patent ignorance, political careerism and extreme irresponsibility, where elements are mixed that we would normally say are incompatible with each other. self-deception and bad faith. Here, the reader can remember his favorite current political characters from the most diverse latitudes, ideologies, parties, etc, etc. But these leaders are not born out of a vacuum, they are the result of power structures rooted in complex and contradictory ways in their respective societies, which they currently mirror and are mirrored in.

The constant direct and indirect presence of the USA in the conflicts of our time, among others in Iraq, Afghanistan, in the unequal conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people, in the ongoing devastation war in Yemen, in the bloody coup in Ukraine itself in 2014, the coups in Brazil and Latin America, among other examples, shows that the war in Ukraine is part of a global process.

As characterized by a recent editorial in the magazine Monthly Review (4), the current conflict is the intensification of an ongoing “low intensity” war that has been going on in Ukraine for eight years. It is, according to the editorial, a dramatic turning point of the “New Cold War” initiated by Washington shortly after the end of the first Cold War with the fall of the Soviet regime and whose targets included, in addition to the penetration of Eurasia with the related containment and control of Russia and China, the intensification of military subordination and control of the European Union.

The same editorial claims, as a condition for effective peace, the return of Russia and Ukraine to socialism. On the one hand, the proposal sounds like a kind of “return of those who never were”, on the other hand, it is true that, as the magazine states, war and capitalism are necessarily complementary, as demonstrated, for example, by the recent historical past of the European nations themselves.

In the general cacophony about the war, the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, from his authority as a progressive thinker and dissident in his country's past communist experience, warns generic leftists about Vladimir Putin, in an article on the Spanish website The Confidential with the suggestive title "'Goodbye Lenin' in Ukraine: accepted, leftists, Putin is a conservative nationalist” (5), as if his characterization of Putin were: (i) unknown to most progressives, (ii) sufficient to clarify the complexities of the war in Ukraine and Putin's actions that should, according to the philosopher, be summarily condemned.

Russia is today a recent market economy with characteristics typical of a late capitalist formation, led by a bourgeoisie without historical ballast, a national business community whose origin was the Soviet bureaucracy itself, the same one that sponsored the rapid dismantling of the productive structure and the so-called socialist society and the national catastrophe arising from the savage integration process into global neoliberal capitalism, a catastrophe documented by the social and economic indicators of the period and which violently hit the majority of the population.

From the perspective of this historical experience, the country's internal and external contradictions and the limits of integration subordinated to the economic order of global capitalism are manifested, in which the promises of universal prosperity hide the harsh hierarchy of wealth for the few at the price of growing misery for the few. the others. The Russian economy, experts observe, is generally smaller than Brazil's. The territorial extension and military power far surpass Brazil. As well as Russia's historic weight on the world stage.

If for the Brazilian ruling class, subordination and the role of minor partners of external powers does not keep them awake for a minute, does not embarrass them or raise doubts, but represents a condition for maintaining its power and the structures of Brazilian social apartheid, this option, given recent historical experience, does not present itself to the Russian ruling class as it is.

That Vladimir Putin is a “neoliberal” in his own way or in his own context, a conservative in morals, a reactionary close to present and past right-wing ideologues in Russia, a nationalist who also invokes religion as an identity mark, etc., is a Polichinelo's secret about which Zizek's warnings appear, in general, as “patronizing”, that is, paternalistic, condescending, somewhat arrogant, redundant, unnecessary. Thus, someone could respond to the philosopher: it is not about who Putin “is” or believes he is, what he thinks or thinks he thinks, the values ​​and interests he believes he defends, etc., but what is being and will be compelled to do in the given and inherited circumstances of today's Russia.

Capitulation or conflict are the choices that the Empire reserves for its “subjects” on the periphery. For the well-intentioned and the well-thinking, whose intentions vary, the mention of facts and processes of this order sound like mere justifications for the invasion of Ukraine, as if the country's tragic situation owes nothing to the plans, initiatives and geopolitical interests of the Empire . As if the sudden and passionate sympathy of the USA and the EU for the fate of Ukrainian citizens demonstrates the good heart, the capacity for empathy, even if selective, of North Americans and Europeans and not the fact that the Ukrainian population, severely affected by the war , plays the role of pawn of the hour, one among many, but with the differential of its close location, in the chess of the project of global hegemony and resistance to it.

On the other hand, in the present crisis, the hubris imperialism of the “indispensable power”, hastens changes in the world order, reactions that complicate the goal and processes of hegemony. The world we knew yesterday is no longer the same, what it is now and what it will be in the near future is today a great unknown.

When we see the images of destruction and death in war zones, Ukrainian civilians fleeing the places where until recently they lived their everyday lives, it is clear that the current vertical structures of power everywhere condemn the majority to passivity, acquiescence, false choices, at most a purely symbolic participation in public life, actual impotence and suffering without alternatives.

Those who decide on wars are not the participants and victims of combat. In addition to understanding the meanings of current conflicts, or rather, within this problem itself, the issue of existing power structures, the power of the few who decide over others, is a crucial issue for a perspective of overcoming the capitalist barbarism of the our time and, with it, the historical overcoming of the “prehistory of humanity”.

*Marcelo Guimaraes Lima is an artist, researcher, writer and teacher.



(1) https://www.redebrasilatual.com.br/mundo/2022/03/russia-mcdonalds-tio-vania-food-trucks-matrioska/

(2) Debord, Guy. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988)


(3) https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrina_Wolfowitz

(4) https://monthlyreview.org/2022/03/07/mr-073-11-2022-04_0/

(5) https://blogs.elconfidencial.com/cultura/tribuna/2022-02-24/slavoj-zizek-lenin-donbas-ucrania_3380578/

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