[Marxism] The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 24 06:51:17 MDT 2011


(Got this on my Columbia email out of the blue and damned glad 
that I did. Garcia was a physicist at Livermore Labs who has 
debunked 9/11 on Counterpunch and written as well about other 
matters there requiring a knowledge of science. After reading this 
article, you will understand why he didn't bother submitting it to 
Counterpunch. Or maybe he did and it went into the vertical file.)

The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals

Manuel Garcia, Jr.
22 August 2011

"You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at 
peace unless he has his freedom." -- Malcolm X

The Libyan revolution is victorious. The Libyan people are having 
their days of jubilation. Yet, the hard work and conflicts of the 
"post war" period are starting even now. No doubt, there will be 
some negative events and rough spots in Libyan society as it 
arranges itself in its "Second Republic." And, no doubt there will 
be some friction with some foreign constituencies and their public 
voices (i.e., the blabocrats). I think Juan Cole summarizes this 
point in Libyan history (and Libya's relations with Europe and the 
U.S.) very well in his column of August 22, cited below. I am 
happy for Libya today; this was what I hoped for when I wrote my 
own articles (in February and March of 2011, but I couldn't get 
them accepted for internet publication till April and May, and 
then only grudgingly).

Like any other person, I am sometimes right and often wrong in my 
estimations of situations, especially political situations. This 
time I was right. I rarely make such a statement (it can rub the 
wrong way, to no advantage), but I choose to make it in this case 
because I received a lot of guff (illogical and/or insulting) over 
of my estimation about the Libyan situation, in early 2011. Some 
"left wing" "activists" even booted me out of their (virtual) 
networks, for blasphemy basically.

The experience forced me to think more carefully about my 
political writing: was it doing anybody any good?, why bother? 
I've learned what to say -- and what not to say -- in order for my 
articles to have a good chance of being published: every publisher 
promotes a "party line." This is why there are 126 million blogs 
on the internet, and even in science thousands of publications in 
any single field of research. Too many simple-minded leftists 
simply don't think, they parrot received orthodoxy, or worse yet 
babble conspiracy fantasies. There seems to be very little taste 
or courage for actual discussion and debate. I always tried to 
think out my written arguments, present them as clearly as 
possible (and with some effort to engage, even entertain), and to 
be open to discussion and criticism by authors writing articles in 
response, or readers conveying e-mail comments. But, I find this 
is a lot of wasted effort, when faced with omniscient or 
closed-minded audiences.

So, I have retreated to a more relaxed life of just not writing. I 
already know what I think, I don't need to write to find that out. 
And I don't really feel like fitting in tightly into a party line, 
just to be published in the blabocracy. Those commentators who are 
capable of looking back on past "bad guesses" of theirs, and being 
forthright about their misjudgments, win my respect and faith in 
their future judgements, because they show themselves capable of 
learning (of thinking) -- of adjusting their ideas to fit new 
facts. I am not swayed by those who hold a fixed ideology, which 
they try to bend reality around, but by those of unswerving 
principles, which motivate their efforts to inform and improve 
society, and who acknowledge facts instead of combatting them.

As I mentioned in my articles on Libya, the first priority was 
gaining the political freedom of the Libyan people, and preventing 
them from being massacred by their vengeful dictator. The blunt 
and inelegant instrument of a NATO intervention was the only means 
at hand capable of preventing a detestable outcome; capable of 
saving the lives of people who did not deserve to die. Whether or 
not the European and American governments, and corporations, were 
gaining economic and political advantages (the "humanitarian 
intervention" complex of modern left orthodoxy, for example this 
article only recently, 
http://www.counterpunch.org/bricmont08162011.html) were 
unimportant considerations in comparison. Now that Libya is 
entering its liberated postwar period of political reconstruction, 
these consideration can be addressed, and by those who would be 
most affected by them, the Libyans themselves. It is so sad that 
so many leftists are so wrapped up in their politicized heads that 
they could obsess about "saving Libya from its Western saviors" to 
the complete disregard of the life-and-death struggle for 
political freedom by the Libyan people, the defeat of 
dictatorship. These political theorists must be relieved that the 
Syrian government has been untrammeled by Western interference in 
its rejection of its people's rejection.

What I learned from all my readings of Carl G. Jung was that no 
configuration of ideas, however well thought out, however 
politically correct or historically necessary, should ever be 
taken as an abstraction that overrides the living and breathing 
reality of any individual. I and the other are one in humanity, I 
want for him (or her) what I would want were I in his place. After 
these basics are met, then we can refine our preferences for each 
other's politics and national societies. When one is a member of 
the comfortable classes in the developed nations, basically a 
spoiled brat in comparison to the world average, it can be easy to 
forget this most basic connection -- and obligation -- to the rest 
of humanity. I am a member of a comfortable class in the United 
States, not one of the highly comfortable classes, but better than 
most, and I know it. I have always known it, and I realized it 
first most vividly when, as a child of 8, I was confronted by 
poverty in Cuba during the last year of the Batista regime. I do 
not pretend to be "a man of the people," but I never forget that 
"the people" exist, that many work excruciatingly hard for meager 
rewards, and too many are vulnerable to cruel forces and 
circumstances.

During this quiet time in my amateur writing career, I have been 
reading books by very keen political-philosophical and 
artistic-literary intellectuals. I have found Raymond Aron, a 
French liberal anti-communist intellectual, and J. P. Sartre's 
sharpest critic, to be very educational about concepts such as 
"the left," "the proletariate," "revolt," and "the revolution." 
Aron was one of the great thinkers of the postwar (post WW2) 
European scene, he was a social democrat, that is to say in favor 
of the social programs that flourished in postwar Europe (both 
east and west) from after 1945 till the 1980s, when they began to 
decline (Thatcherism); and against the obviously undemocratic 
regimes of eastern Europe and their imperial overseer, the USSR; 
this opposition to the lack of popular political freedom being 
labelled "anti-communism" at that time. Aron was a prolific writer 
and journalist, two works I am finding rich in 
political-sociological insights are "Politics and History" (a 1978 
collection of essays) and his famous 1955 polemic "The Opium of 
the Intellectuals." I quoted from this latter book in my last and 
best article on Libya. Aron's place in the history of political 
thought is nicely described in Tony Judt's majestic book 
"Postwar," a history of Europe (and the idea of Europe) from 1945 
to essentially the end of the 20th century. After reading Judt's 
history (including the stories of the fall of communism in eastern 
Europe) it is much easier to see why Aron, a French Jew who was a 
young socialist and sociology scholar in Germany in the 1930s, 
thought as he did about politics.

Because Aron was critical of the western European intellectuals 
who claimed a preference for Moscow over "Atlanticism" (American 
involvement in Europe), critical of the lack of political freedom 
in the communist bloc ("behind the iron curtain"), and critical of 
destructive (unstructured, undirected revolts) "revolutionary" 
mass movements (e.g., France 1968), he was often cast as a 
"conservative," which he was not. He had seen undisciplined 
destructive mass movements spinning out of control in Germany in 
the 1930s, and he feared for any possible repetition of the prior 
catastrophe after 1945, such as in 1968. He advocated real (versus 
show) and inclusive (versus racist or oligarchic) parliamentary 
democratic political structures that allowed its society to 
progress steadily through its desired (consensus) evolution: "In 
politics, the choice is never between good and evil, but between 
the preferable and the detestable."

Aron's work, translated to English (perhaps by him as he was a 
polyglot), is being reprinted by the press of Rutgers University 
(the university of the state of New Jersey). Unfortunately, from 
my perspective, the Aron publications are being fronted by 
right-wing editors and intellectuals, who are drawn to Aron's 
erudite high academic style of exposition, and his withering 
logical positivist criticisms of "communism" (Stalinism and 1950s 
Eastern Bloc communism) and the strident communisant ("fellow 
traveller") stance of French anti-Atlanticists, whose most 
prominent representative was Jean Paul Sartre. I say unfortunate 
because prospective American readers might imagine that Aron is 
some earlier avatar of the current "neo-con" brand of American 
"conservatism" (the corporatist neo-liberalism of today's 
America). Aron was a classical socially conscious liberal, I think 
of his socialist inclinations as being "mature" rather than 
"childish." He preferred to give society political and economic 
freedom (hence, traditional capitalism would occur, a typical 
bourgeoisie would exist), but to regulate the economics 
democratically, and implement socialized programs to ameliorate 
inequities (i.e., for health, education). He feared violent 
political radicalism, both because of its many consequent personal 
tragedies, and because it could take decades for a society to 
return to a reasonable state of peace and prosperity.

I recommend anyone interested in politics read Aron, but skip the 
forwards, introductions, and afterwards by the modern American 
"conservatives," or read them only after first reading Aron's 
text, so you are instructed by Aron's insight in deconstructing 
the agenda of these commentators, rather than being primed by them 
to interpret Aron as they might wish. Where Aron exposes a 
weakness in the left canon, as you understood it, take it as an 
opportunity to refine your political views and make them more 
realistic -- more effective. Our aim should be to gain clearer 
insight, not to defend a received doctrine against inconvenient 
facts. I am sure Aron's aim was not to "destroy the left" (which 
can be that of the commentators now encrusted onto his books in 
English), but to improve people's understanding of their society 
so they can improve it consensually through their shared 
democratic institutions.

So today for the Libyans: liberation and joy, a dictator is 
overthrown; for us comfortable spoiled brats of the world: live 
and learn, an chance to recast our political ideas more humanely 
and realistically.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Manuel Garcia, Jr., a resident of Planet Earth, too old to be 
productive, but still learning.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is Juan Cole's commentary for August 22, 2011 on the Libyan 
Revolution, from his web site,

http://www.juancole.com/




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