Sketch of A Brief History of Modernity

The mainstream western liberal narrative today, the dominant narrative, is one of equal citizenry on a path of inevitable progress and liberation guided by a set of shared principles. We seem to believe we function under scientific truth and empirical fact, ideology is a thing of the barbaric past or of the ‘other.’ But as with any grand narrative, this one is also the stuff of ideology, with it’s attendant web of communal identity and power relations. But where does this ideology, this ethos come from and whom does it serve?

In the age of colonial empire the merchant banker class became rich on mercantilist trade and usurped power from the ancien régime in a series of revolutions starting with the Dutch, Glorious, American and French Revolutions. Besides a tendency toward quantification and commodification of all things, the new dominant class benefited from rationalized systems, the development of science, technology and bureaucracy, and the removal of all cultural, religious, moral or circumstantial impediments to capital accumulation. Meanwhile, having been considered a dangerous amoral class best kept on a tight leash by nearly every pre-modern civilizations, whether Christian, Buddhist, Indian or Chinese, they required a new way of cementing popular loyalty to their rule. The French revolution proved the effectiveness of the nation-state model, and nationalism therefore replaced dynastic or religious loyalty as the dominant centre of loyalty and identity. Intellectual elites, ‘national entrepreneurs’ got busy selecting or concocting myths and narratives, standardized languages and national poets around which to construct national identity. Then of course came the myriad forms of ethnic cleansing which imposed these collective fantasies upon reality and continue today.

Left to itself, liberalism thrived on pure slavery, wage slavery and mass resource exploitation- Dickensian conditions. It took movements from below to make it humane. Armed and organized labour was able to force concessions from the elite. Occasionally these concessions were awarded by conservatives like Bismarck in Germany and Baldwin in Britain. Until the Bolshevik revolution there was no moral argument against socialism; it was accepted as an inevitability at various ends of the political world. The Bolsheviks, however, were characterized first and foremost by a martial ethos- when it became clear that the collapse of capitalism in the most advanced countries and subsequent socialist revolution were not imminent, they kept the language of socialism, but turned their martial ethos from class war to perpetual war to maintain sovereignty over their empire. They faced of real threats from the more advanced countries to turn the former Russian empire into a resource extraction colony like South America, and from the masses, particularly the peasants. They responded to the latter with starvation; having just created the Ukraine and greatly expanding its territory through annexing New Russia to it, the Bolsheviks didn’t particularly target Ukraine, incidentally a largely peasant land, rather their intention was to brutally discipline the pan-Soviet peasantry and requisition agricultural output for export to fund military industrial development in time for the next, much expected war. When it came, they tried to form treaties with, for example, Britain and Finland, the latter to move the border out of artillery range of Leningrad in exchange for a much larger but less developed tract of land in the North. Western countries’ refusal to cooperate led the Soviet leadership to pursue the less desirable Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the Winter War. The western powers only agreed to a second front after their hoped-for annihilation of the USSR by Hitler’s troops failed to occur and a Soviet victory was inevitable.

The French Utopian Socialist Proudhon argued for an appeal to morality to build socialism in his book The Philosophy of Poverty. Marx tore this work to shreds in his book The Poverty of Philosophy, arguing that workers would find the abolition of private property to be in their rational self-interest. Nevertheless, after about 1922, although finding its support base in the working class, the Soviet authorities pursued state ownership and ‘socialism in one country,’ meaning defense of their sovereignty over their ’empire.’ The Soviet Union identified itself as socialist in order to lend an air of legitimacy to its permanent-war-cabinet style of administration. Meanwhile, the west also eagerly identified the Soviet Union as socialist in order to discredit the left at home. This was easy as the left itself muddled fantasies of emancipation with Soviet Power, and was indeed internationally largely bought out and co-opted by that power. Nevertheless, the constant threat of Bolshevik-style violent overthrow spreading to other countries left the western merchant/banker elite scared enough to build and maintain a social welfare state, a system of concessions to the masses to preempt any revolution. After the war, having targeted the German population rather than military industrial capability and defeating a mere fraction of the German military compared with the USSR, the US realized that the original plan of turning Germany into a weak agrarian country would be counter-productive. Instead, it was necessary to spend unheard of sums of money via Marshal Aid to revive the heart of the European economy, reinforce the western bulwark against the Soviet bloc, and create growth and competition for the global capitalist system to avoid a return to the great depression. Meanwhile, The US organized mass population transfers to turn the rich ethnic tapestry of Europe into a patchwork of liberal roughly homogenous nation-states, though economic necessity soon brought in migrant workers.

Meanwhile, FDR met King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia in 1945 and came to an agreement, protection for oil. Saudi Arabia’s response to western modernity, Wahhabism, incorrectly labeled a conservative interpretation of Islam, became a protectorate of the liberal west and an instrument of the cold war. While Saudi money and ideology helped in Afghanistan and other anti-communist struggles around the world, the west is hostage to their global sponsorship of Islamic terrorism.

The USSR was a product of such a strange and unlikely series of circumstances it’s amazing it existed at all, let alone lasted as long as it did. Nevertheless, it’s demise took the teeth out of the international left. The system of compromise between capital and labour began to unwind. Liberal ‘principles’ were proven to be largely instruments of anti-communist information warfare. Austerity, the dismantling of social welfare provisions became de rigeur. Terrorism became an excuse to remove civil liberties and privacy. Mass media is concentrated in few hands. Corporations, whose organizational model closely resembles that of the CPSU, gathered power. Under TTIP they have the right to sue governments for legislation which hinders their profits. Debt is used as a primary weapon of control, with IMF conditions dictating policy and forcing the sale of assets to the west at discount prices. An economic system which requires constant growth, constant input of resources and markets is prone to inevitable crises. These are staved off by quantitative easing, flushing the economy with freshly printed money, which creates inflation, stealing the value out of your money even while it safely sits in the bank. The most important policies, monetary and budgetary, are decided increasingly undemocratically. The elites are not stupid; they have a century of expertise in mass psychology, public relations and perception management to call on. They are masters of hidden ideology, as today myths only work when they are invisible. The passions of the masses are always exploited by some elite for their own ends, whether they be nationalistic, revolutionary, both, or whatever.


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