Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Juan Cole on Al-Qaeda and the 9/11: Mostly right about US domestic situation, mostly wrong about the Middle East


Juan Cole is notoriously sensitive about opposing views in the comments section of his blog. It was much less noticeable to me during the presidency of George W. Bush, whom Cole opposed than it is during the presidency of Barack Obama whom Cole supports. With Obama president, Cole is not far from just another jingoistic American, and not even the most fair. Other jingoistic Americans - Americans who are willing to bend any logical or moral principle in favor of their support for country - are usually more willing than Cole to expose their ideas to public scrutiny than Cole has been recently. At least on his own site.

Oh well. Other people have blogs. I have a blog. Over at RaceForIran.com , Flynt and Hillary Leverett have an unmoderated comments section. I'm told that Scott Lucas' Enduring America site has a comments section to which opposing views can easily be presented without alteration.

But if you read Cole's 9/11 article about the impact of Al-Qaeda in the Middle East and the US, you'll see that it's wrong in somewhat interesting ways. Cole presents the idea that Al-Qaeda's goal is to create a caliphate that, I guess, Bin Laden would rule. This is a very popular idea in the United States. I've only seen this idea presented by American supposed experts on Al-Qaeda. None of Bin Laden's interviews or statements, no statement of any kind from any member of Al-Qaeda, in fact no Muslim at all, as far as I've ever heard, has advocated creating the caliphate Cole talks about.

Now if someone digs up a statement that mentions a caliphate made by a Muslim in an aspirational tone, I'll stand corrected, but still, that is not a primary motivating factor or we'd read it a lot more than we have, which for me is never.

What motivated 9/11? A long term plan to build a caliphate, or the idea that the United States, from a long distance away, was killing Muslims and should suffer some consequence for that? The second seems a more obvious explanation, and is supported by Bin Laden's actual statements rather than what might be a fantasy in the minds of US-based researchers into Al-Qaeda.

(As a quick aside, here's a statement by Cole: "Had [the US] lifted the blockade on medicine and chlorine in Iraq, it would have forestalled charges of being implicated in the deaths of half a million children." Well, probably. Had the US not taken actions to kill hundreds of thousands of children and elderly in Iraq, then charges that the US took actions to kill hundred of thousands of children and elderly probably would have been "forestalled".)

The main error that pervades Cole's essay is this supposed caliphate motivation on the part of Al-Qaeda.

The second major error is that Cole speaks as if Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or any former pro-US dictatorship has been replaced by an accountable government. None have. I vigorously hope that they all will, but so far they have not. The efficacy of the Arab spring model for political change has not been demonstrated yet, and will not have been demonstrated until a government takes power that has defeated its opposition by getting more votes.

Every statement Cole makes about what the Arab spring has proven is so far false. I hope his statements become true as soon as possible. I hoped in February that they would have been proven true by now. But for now they are not true.

After that, he makes a lot of mistakes about the Middle East, but comparatively minor. He claims the student groups have been more important in the protest movements than the Islamists. None of the movements so far could have extracted promises of reform without both. Both were necessary, neither was sufficient. To say one was more important is inaccurate, but in a minor way.

He makes a weird claim that the Arab Spring proves that most Middle East publics have expressed a preference for parliamentary democracy instead of direct democracy. First, most Middle East publics, numerically, are still ruled by pro-US colonial dictators. Second, there is a consensus among political scientists, especially but not only in the West, that parliamentary systems are in many ways superior to the US' older model of government. This expert consensus has resulted in no public recently ever being given a choice between parliamentary and direct democracy. Third, even if Cole was right about this, which he isn't, this is the type of detail that still would hardly merit mention in any overview essay such as Cole's. I can't figure out what that's all about.

Cole also claims that there were no major Al-Qaeda attacks on the US post 9/11 because the first attacks were bait that accomplished their goal of causing the US reaction that occurred. That's just wrong. There were no later attacks because the US acted much more vigilantly to discover and break up potential attacks. Clearly Bin Laden did not have the ability to launch further major attacks on the US and refrained because the US had already invaded Iraq.

But where Cole is closer to right is the impact of 9/11 on the US. 9/11 unleashed forces in the United States that want the US itself to be a more tightly controlled and less politically free state. Barack Obama claimed, now obviously falsely, to oppose that tendency. Cole manages to criticize the actions of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to push the US in that direction without noting that Obama has expanded far more of their programs than he reduced.

Americans very rarely understand that freedom is a luxury and a by-product of wealth. Make Iran or Cuba two or three orders of magnitude more wealthy than their potential adversaries and either of them would likely be more politically free than the United States is. Both Iran and Cuba are ideologically inspired nations the way the US was in the late 1700s when its constitution was written and is far less today.

The personal freedoms afforded by the United States to its citizens come from its relative wealth and relative security from foreign intervention and not much more than that. Put either George Bush or Barack Obama where Cuba is, with a rich, hostile enemy to the north, and either will build far more ruthless dictatorships than Castro has, because neither, unlike Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Fidel Castro and Ruholluh Khomeini is motivated by a revolutionary vision of how good a state can be.

Related to the idea of the cost of the luxury of personal freedom, is the price to the US of Israel - the price of maintaining the string of colonial dictatorships necessary to fulfill the US' commitment that Israel will militarily dominate neighbors with far greater populations and economic resources. This cost was far higher on 9/12/01 than it was on 9/10/01. And continues to be much higher to this day.

Barack Obama, very disappointingly, in May claimed the US is still willing to pay any price. As the price goes up, we'll see where the US' commitment breaks. So far, Al-Qaeda has done far more than any other group or organization to raise the direct cost to the US of its commitment to Israel's ability to dominate its region. Iran comes second and the Arab Spring, so far, has not had any impact at all.

After Egyptian elections and a transfer of power that I vigorously hope to see, and that Obama (and Cole because of Cole's essentially blind loyalty to Obama) is much less enthusiastic about, possibly (hopefully for me) the relative impacts of the groups may change. So far it has not, and in a fundamental way Cole seems not to understand that.

29 comments:

lidia said...

Cole is just one of countless USA liberals to whom "liberal" means Dem. Dem prez could do ANYTHING and they would eat it up and beg for more. Maximum they would blame Reps for not letting Dem prez to do all good things he wills.

And, of course, Cole is a Zionist and it is enough to me do not trust him as far as I could throw him. Not mentioning his support for NATO crimes, provided they are under Dem prez - or under some fig leaf from SC of UN.

George Carty said...

Aren't some Muslim groups explicitly based on unifying the Islamic world under a caliphate though? Hizb ut-Tahrir is the most prominent of these groups.

Hizb ut-Tahrir could be described as "Islamo-Leninist" as they have the same vanguard-party model as the Bolsheviks. It's probably no surprise that their greatest following is in ex-Soviet Central Asia, even though the group's founder was Palestinian.

Anonymous said...

LOL. I rarely get past Juan in his comments section when it relates to ME affairs.

I agree with him on domestic issues, though.

-Pirouz

lidia said...

By the way, Arnold, I see that you got your post through about MB in Egypt. While I do not agree with you about them being a true face of the revolution (I relay on Angry Arab here), you are dead right about knee-jerk colonialism of the average American, including Cole. His poster boy Joe from L simply CANNOT see how Obama is the same or even worse colonialist as Bush :( Joe cites Egypt as an example of Obama's goodness, poor soul!

One more time I am buffed how YOU are able to see what Americans mostly cannot

Lysander said...

Have to agree with Lidia and angry Arab about the MBs in Egypt. Perhaps the rank and file, not so much, but the MB leadership is willing to be bought, and cheaply at that. Clearly, Saudi Arabia demonstrates that Islamic rule does not always mean principled opposition to Zionism.

lidia said...

Now, I feel ashamed, I wronged Cole! I said he would not argue against Obama. Cole DOES say it: "It was Saudi Arabia, France and Britain who decided that Muammar Qaddafi would have to go. Obama reluctantly went along." http://www.juancole.com/2011/09/palestine-bahrain-and-us-hyprocrisy.html

You see, SA is the best defender of freedom and democracy! How stupid I was. My ONLY worry - next Cole says something about Obama not supporting Bahrain people against repressive rulers. What about SA helping Bahrain rulers to suppress their own people?

So, Obama was write or wrong to team with SA? Could somebody enlighten me, please, NOW!

pirouz said...

Several times, in Raceforiran, I talked about the central importance of the "wealth" as Arnold puts it, or "a middle-class majority" as I would put it, in giving the illusion of "freedom" in liberal democracies (which in my humble opinion include Iran). In fact in my opinion this wealth based characteristic of the so-called western freedoms is the main evidence of their farce nature. But I must say that the following two paragraphs quoted from Arnold's post explains far more eloquently what I tried to say than any of my own attempts.
"Americans very rarely understand that freedom is a luxury and a by-product of wealth. Make Iran or Cuba two or three orders of magnitude more wealthy than their potential adversaries and either of them would likely be more politically free than the United States is. Both Iran and Cuba are ideologically inspired nations the way the US was in the late 1700s when its constitution was written and is far less today.

The personal freedoms afforded by the United States to its citizens come from its relative wealth and relative security from foreign intervention and not much more than that. Put either George Bush or Barack Obama where Cuba is, with a rich, hostile enemy to the north, and either will build far more ruthless dictatorships than Castro has, because neither, unlike Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Fidel Castro and Ruholluh Khomeini is motivated by a revolutionary vision of how good a state can be."

Although I must disagree with Arnold in putting Mr. Khomeini and Castro in the same catheogory.
Nontheless I would like to applaud Arnold for these two EXTREMELY BRILLIANT paragraphs.
I just wish I could read Arnold's messages in Raceforiran more often.
His absence is sorely felt.

George Carty said...

Pirouz, while it is debatable whether or not the Islamic Republic of Iran is a democracy, it is certainly NOT a "liberal democracy".

lidia said...

George, what does a democracy? Or a liberal one?

In Russia, after all bitter experience with West-selled "democracy" there is a joke - "What democracy means? It means a rule of "democrats"". To get the joke one should know that "democrat" in Russia is self-stilled lackey of Western imperialism, no more no less, and could be admirer of Pinochet and such.

Regarding "wealth" of "democratic" West - it is NOT just the wealth, it is a colonial spoils. Only when West got enough non-Westerners to rob and exploit, Westerners got their "democracy". Just look into history.

George Carty said...

Enough of the anti-Western bullshit lidia. While Europeans did of course benefit from colonialism, it wasn't the sole (or even the principal) source of their prosperity.

Countries become rich not by conquering sources of raw materials (that's the mercantilist fallacy), but by being good at turning raw materials into useful products. Imperial Spain looted mountains of gold and silver from the conquered Americas, but all it did was cause a collapse in the price of these metals, which were after all of little use and were valued purely because of their scarcity.

The biggest source of Western prosperity was the Industrial Revolution, which allowed it to break free of the limitations of muscle power by developing heat engines (first steam engines, then internal combustion engines) capable of harnessing orders of magnitude more energy.

The Industrial Revolution happened in western Europe where there were abundant reserves of coal and iron ore. The only other place with the combination of easy resources to make this possible was northern China, but Chinese development had concentrated more on the south of the country, as it was less vulnerable to horse barbarians such as the Mongols.

Arnold Evans said...

George, first that language is not acceptable here. You owe Lidia an apology. We'll come back to that.

Second, the idea that colonial domination was coincidental to what is currently called "the West"'s increase in wealth relative to the rest of the world doesn't really merit a serious response. It's the type of thing one can believe only if one really wants to believe it.

But you use the word bullshit. I'm pretty sure that's the first time you've used language like that here. It's a defensive emotional response, which explains how you can believe, for example, that the flood of plundered silver into Europe is unrelated to the industrial revolution that happened, historically speaking, immediately after. You believe it because emotionally you really want to believe it.

Far more people in the world, without that emotional response, don't need much explanation of how silly that proposition is.

We're outside of the main focus of this blog for now and except for your cursing at Lidia, I wouldn't be inclined to address these issues here and now even as much as I have.

But for what it's worth, it was an interesting exchange.

George Carty said...

First of all, apologies to Lidia for my use of profanity.

I'm talking about the absolute wealth of the West, not its relative wealth. Colonialism is a negative-sum game and increased the West's relative wealth mostly by damaging the non-West rather than benefiting the West.

Back to my earlier point on Iran, Lidia's comment did make me think about what I meant by "liberal". My view is that a country cannot be called "liberal" if there is a very high degree of government control over the economy (ie more than the "mixed economies" of post-war Europe), or if it intertwines religion with government to the extent that Iran does.

lidia said...

First, thanks, Arnold, but I am really undisturbed - I was called much worse names by Zionists and such.

Second, I am not going to quarrel with GC about ABC of imperialism here - after all, you are right - this place is mostly about different, even though related, matters.

Third, Arnold's answer is more than enough, and if GC still disagrees, it only shows that such matters is not a question of words and logic, but of what Marx explained thusly

"It is not consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness."

By GC definition Venezuela is NOT a liberal democracy. Why am I NOT pitying them? :)

Pirouz said...

George;
I would say that Iran can not be considered as a democracy at all (and neiter can USA). However, I stand by what I said earlier that it is de facto a “liberal democracy”.
The main point for you and I here is to gain a common understanding of what liberal democracy actually means. Or perhaps to put it in a better wording, what liberal democracy –irrespective of the extent of the various “bills of rights” that a system may have in its constituton- will inevitably come to mean?
My argument is that with the social relations required for and dictated by the capitalist mode of production, the political system (ie. Liberal democracy) inevitably becomes the rule of an elite group which consists of two or more competing sects (in USA for example: Republicans and Democrats, in Iran: various sects of reformists, conservatives and principlists etc.). These sects –all of which belong to the ruling elite- have some common interests which are protected by the system and some conflicting interests over which they compete. When it comes to the matters related to their common interests the decisions are made on a dictatorial basis without any necessity for gaining the consent of the public (eg. The fact that ~80% of the Greek society are against the austerity measures approved by their parliament), but when it comes to the matters related to the conflicting interests of the various sects of the ruling elite, they go to TRULY COMPETITIVE elections where people make the decision on which sect will prevail (for the next 4-5 years).
If you look at the concept of liberal democracy in this light, you will see what I mean when I say that Iran is a “liberal democracy”.

lidia said...

Pirouz, I suppose your's a good explanation of the working of what I was taught to call "a bourgeois democracy" back then :)

We also called them "ruling classes", not elites, but the matter is not the wording.

So, of course, in Iran they do have "a bourgeois democracy". More than that, I would argue that the elections in Iran are more interesting than in USA :) After all, no one could reasonably expect that vote for elephant or ass in office would bring something different in any important matter. In Iran it is still somehow more "real".

Pirouz said...

By the way my apologies to everyone if I contributed to the diversion of the main focus of the blog.

George Carty said...

Lidia probably subscribes to the Leninist strategem of "revolutionary defeatism". I suspect everyone (or at least every Westerner) who doesn't, has an inner imperialist lurking somewhere.

For many Americans, Muslim anti-Zionism brings out the inner imperialist. It doesn't for Juan Cole, but his distaste for the Iranian system of government does.

Neither of those does for me (if the Iranians want Shari'ah law the West has no right to say no). For me, it's those who argue that the West (or any other region of the world) cannot possibly be materially prosperous except by robbing the peoples of other parts of the world. Doesn't this viewpoint though owe more to Hobbes and Malthus than to Marx though? IIRC Marx was a vicious critic of Malthusianism.

lidia said...

if Cole does not like Iran only because of "distaste for the Iranian system of government", why he is NO eager to distaste Saudis or Bahrain king? Of course, we all know that they are "our" (USA) sons of a bitch.

And regarding West robbing the others it is NOT about "possibility" but about FACTS. West was and is robbing, and one has to be blind not to see it. Lenin was of the same opinion and wrote a book to support it, so, I suppose, he was a Malthusian.

What some people are ready to invert and pervert instead of admitting not nice things about the basis of their way of life. Cole does it all the time now. Look at his post about murder of Qaddafi - it is pure fantasy fiction - from Qaddafi's fighters (and not NATO)ruining Sirte to Qaddafi being not deliberately murdered, but killed as a "possible" result of his trying to escape and so on. Before Cole just repeated official NATO line, but now he, I suppose, does his own propaganda.

George Carty said...

Perhaps Juan Cole believes the fall of the Islamic regime in Iran would lead to a more secular government, while the fall of the Saudi or Bahraini monarchies would lead to a more radically Islamist alternative (an Iranian client state in the latter case, or an al-Qaeda client state a la Taliban Afghanistan in the former case).

OK, so you weren't after all saying that imperialism is a necessary condition for prosperity (but only that the West did engage in it on a huge scale). OK, my bad -- I misunderstood your position. I thought that you were taking the Malthusian position of a zero-sum economy, where one nation can ONLY profit at another's direct expense.

By the way, I shed no tears for Qaddafi -- not when he was responsible for the murder of Yvonne Fletcher on British soil, the blowing up of UTA 772 (why the French were so eager to help bring him down, and unlike Pan Am 103 unquestionably linked to Qaddafi), and the supplying of explosives to the IRA.

lidia said...

1) I do not know whether Cole could use the nonsense about "al-Qaeda client state" as a result of Saudis being brought down by revolution. I suppose YOU are NOT aware that Al-Qaida was actually a bastard child of CIA and Saudis, and both are still supporting the most fanatical Islamists when it suits them
2) Malthus was an apologist for class inequality, so no one from left is going to support his propaganda. But it is not worth it to ask questions like great Russian writer Gogol made his "wise" character ask "what if an elephant was born in an egg"? The West is an imperialist robber and it is a fact, could it be prosperous otherwise is a question without merit. It is like asking -could capitalist be wealthy without exploiting labor? Capitalism means exploitation, and Western capitalism means exploitation of the whole world.
Period.

3) Pan am 103 "trial" was a sham and proved NOTHING about Libya guilt. But USA prezes ARE guilty of many mass murderers, torture, toppling democratic governments and so on. So, I suppose I should be happy with them all being tortured to death by the foreign-supported forces, right?

4) Anyway, I was not talking about crying for Gaddafi, but about Cole telling lies about his murder. I suppose that destruction of Sirte and the murder are not the feats of NATO and local lackeys to be proud of even for Cole. Or maybe I am too generous and he simply lies by habit now.

Pirouz said...

@George Carty;
George, you say: "For me, it's those who argue that the West (or any other region of the world) cannot possibly be materially prosperous except by robbing the peoples of other parts of the world. Doesn't this viewpoint though owe more to Hobbes and Malthus than to Marx though? IIRC Marx was a vicious critic of Malthusianism."

I think you are wrong. First and foremost Marxian approach to economy is exactly a zero sum approach. It starts from the contradiction between the labour and capital and the division of the working day between the necessary labour time and the surplus labour-time. This inevitablly leads to the general law of capitalist accumulation which dictates the greater and greater accumulation of capital in the hands of a few at the expense of the misery and the inability of the great masses (the active and the reserve army of labourers) to meet their most basic needs.
HOWEVER, as Marx himself puts it: "Like all other laws [this law too] is modified in its working by many circumstances, the analysis of which does not concern us here." (chapter 25, section 4 of Capital volume I). Later on in the very same section as a further illustration of his own point he quotes "The Venetian monk Ortes" and "Townsend" as:
"the abundance of wealth with some people, is always equal to the want of it with others...the great riches of a small number are always accompanied by the absolute privation of the first necessaries of life for many others. The poor and idle are a necessary consequence of the rich and active".
So as I said before Marx himself also mentions that this general law is subject to modification as with ALL other laws. This modification comes in the sense that as the capitalist mode of production becomes the globally dominant mode of production, and as we move closer and closer to a global circuit of capital, for the sake of stability the core capitalist countries shift the brunt of the misery (which is absolutely indispensible for the growth of wealth for a few) on the peripheral countries' working classes. But the general law remains intact: it is a zero-sum game, for every one person to be as wealthy as the western middle class you must have many many people to live in absolute misery.

pirouz said...

By the way Lidia;
You mentioned in one of your earlier comments the fact that I use a different terminology. There is a reason for it. Through personal experience I have often come to realize that if you give the essence of an idea without using a terminology which is the hallmark of a specific thinker who happens to have been "demonized" by the rulling elite in the heads of the common public, you have a much better chance of circumventing the stigmas which are associated with that thinker (especially in the middle east but also in the west in general)
The audience is very likely to agree to the validity of those ideas once they don't know whose ideas they are.

lidia said...

pirouz, sure, and the opposite is also true. I have read about Americans who had been given leaflets with extracts from the Bill of rights not knowing the origin and they had called the text "red propaganda" :)

By the way "zero sum" and other such clever sounding words are usually used to divert the attention from the root of the matter - i.e. - it is not about two abstract persons having some "game" but about the system based on exploitation. Like Marx himself brilliantly put it

"On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding."

lidia said...

Now Cole got some "Green" Iranian to give advise to OWS. The adviser forgot N 1 - get help from CIA.

So, it seems Cole understands NOTHING about the USA domestic politics as well :(

As they say in Latin America - there could not be a coup in the USA, because there is not a USA embassy in USA :)

George Carty said...

Firstly, I don't find it too surprising that some ignorant Americans mistook extracts from the Bill of Rights to be "Red propaganda". The Cold War against Communism certainly had some noxious effects on American political culture.

On my use of "zero sum" -- it's another way of saying "growth is not possible". And while it was true in the pre-industrial world it certainly isn't today, which was my original point. The Socialist Worker article Spartacus and slaves in revolt explicitly makes the point that the ancient world's economy was a zero-sum game -- I don't think they would have included this if it was also true of the modern world.

I am not a Marxist, but my understanding is that Marx praised the economic growth unleashed by capitalism (compared the stagnation under pre-capitalist systems), but argued that the rich would eventually choke off this growth in order to maintain their power over the rest of the population (in other words, they'd forgo some amount absolute power for the sake of increasing their relative power).

This is different from the Malthusian notion of physical limits to economic growth. If Marx had also held to this (while not being an apologist for privilege, as most Malthusians were of course), then Marxism would be a purely Third-Worldist ideology, with nothing to offer the working classes in the imperialist countries.

Pirouz said...

George;
"On my use of "zero sum" -- it's another way of saying "growth is not possible". And while it was true in the pre-industrial world it certainly isn't today, which was my original point."
This is definitely against the Marxist argument. I understand that you are not a Marxist, and no one has an obligation to agree with Marx. But not agreeing with Marx is not the same as misunderstanding what Marx says.
"Growth" (or in other words economic growth) under capitalism is dependent on compounded rate of profit and accumulation of capital. And that is precisely what Marx believed not to be possible in the long run. The whole argument of "falling rates of profit" (be it because of the rising organic composition of capital or for the lack of effective demand or a combination of both) is about that.
You may disagree with Marx, many people do (although more and more people even in the business community facing the reality of the major crisis of capitalism, and its continuous falling growth rates since 60's, start admitting that "Marx was right"), but if we are to talk about what Marx says then we have to understand and state what he says.
"The Socialist Worker article Spartacus and slaves in revolt explicitly makes the point that the ancient world's economy was a zero-sum game -- I don't think they would have included this if it was also true of the modern world."
I read the article for which you have provided a link, and that is not what I understood, in fact my understanding of that article was its relevance to todays world . But, what is much more important than what that article says is the exact verbatim of Marx himself (which I quoted previously). After all Socialist Workers cannot be more Marxist than Marx himself!

"I am not a Marxist, but my understanding is that Marx praised the economic growth unleashed by capitalism (compared the stagnation under pre-capitalist systems), but argued that the rich would eventually choke off this growth in order to maintain their power over the rest of the population (in other words, they'd forgo some amount absolute power for the sake of increasing their relative power)."
To the best of my knowledge, Marx's argument was that capitalism unleashed the productive powers initially, but that the internal contradictions existing inside the capitalism makes the compound groth rate unsustainable. And this will lead to capitalisms eventual demise.

"then Marxism would be a purely Third-Worldist ideology, with nothing to offer the working classes in the imperialist countries."
This blog is not about Marxism, and I really dont want to hijack Arnold's thread which is about Juan Cole to a debate on Marxism. Which is why once again I apologize to everyone for having done so up until now. I prefer not to talk any more about this subject, I will only say that in Marxist view the interests of the working classes are the same all around the world. For a while by shifting the brunt of misery to the working classes of the peripheral countries it may be possible increase the wages in the core countries even to above the value of the labour-power but this is not sustainable in the long run and eventually the "general law of capitalist accumulation" will prevail every where.

Pirouz said...

I tried several times to post a message, but I was unsuccessful. Is there something wrong with the site or am I making a mistake?

Pirouz said...

Ok it seems to be working now, so here we go.
This thread is not about Marxism, and I really dont want to hijack Arnold's thread which is about Juan Cole to a debate on Marxism. Which is why once again I apologize to everyone for having done so up until now. I will try to cut my message as short as possible:

George;
"On my use of "zero sum" -- it's another way of saying "growth is not possible". And while it was true in the pre-industrial world it certainly isn't today, which was my original point."

This is definitely against the Marxist argument. I understand that you are not a Marxist, and no one has an obligation to agree with Marx. But not agreeing with Marx is not the same as misunderstanding what Marx says.
"Growth" (or in other words economic growth) under capitalism is dependent on compounded rate of profit and accumulation of capital. And that is precisely what Marx believed not to be possible in the long run. The whole argument of "falling rates of profit" (be it because of the rising organic composition of capital or for the lack of effective demand or a combination of both) is about that.
You may disagree with Marx, many people do (although more and more people even in the business community facing the reality of the major crisis of capitalism, and its continuous falling growth rates since 60's, start admitting that "Marx was right"), but if we are to talk about what Marx says then we have to understand and state what he says.

Pirouz said...

"The Socialist Worker article Spartacus and slaves in revolt explicitly makes the point that the ancient world's economy was a zero-sum game -- I don't think they would have included this if it was also true of the modern world."
I read the article for which you have provided a link, and that is not what I understood, in fact my understanding of that article was its relevance to todays world . But, what is much more important than what that article says is the exact verbatim of Marx himself (which I quoted previously). After all Socialist Workers cannot be more Marxist than Marx himself!

"I am not a Marxist, but my understanding is that Marx praised the economic growth unleashed by capitalism (compared the stagnation under pre-capitalist systems), but argued that the rich would eventually choke off this growth in order to maintain their power over the rest of the population (in other words, they'd forgo some amount absolute power for the sake of increasing their relative power)."
To the best of my knowledge, Marx's argument was that capitalism unleashed the productive powers initially, but that the internal contradictions existing inside the capitalism makes the compound groth rate unsustainable. And this will lead to capitalisms eventual demise.

"then Marxism would be a purely Third-Worldist ideology, with nothing to offer the working classes in the imperialist countries."
I am not 100% sure as to what you mean here. Are you trying to say that with the current standards of living of the workers in the imperialist countries, Marxism has nothing to offer them? Assuming that this is indeed your point, I will do my best to give you my point of view.
BY FAR the most important aspect of Marx's work is his analysis of the dynamics of capitalism. There are two major points in his work which exactly relate to the point that you just made (assuming that I understood you correctly). 1) The general law of capitalist accumulation (ie. the more capital accumulates the more it concentrates in the fewer and fewer hands and the more misery of the working class [ie. the vast majority of the society] increases. Now you may think that given the high standards of living of the working classes in the developed countries, then this law is not that much of a law. In answer I would say perhaps you should have a look at the real wage contraction (and even depression) of the working classes all over the developed countries SINCE 1970s and see the general law of capitalist accumulation at work in here. It is true, from WWII to the 70s the real wages of the working classes in the western countries increased (at the cost of shifting the brunt of the missery to the working classes of the peripheral countries) BUT the 2nd important point in Marx's work (ie. his theory of crisis in the capitalist societies and the falling rates of profit) implies that with the shrinking of the rate of profit, it will not be possible to keep the wages in the core capitalist countries high. Inevitablly those wages will have to be reduced significantly in order to protect the rate of profit of the capitalists. In the end the interests of the working classes end up being the same all around the world. For a while by shifting the brunt of misery to the working classes of the peripheral countries it may be possible increase the wages in the core countries even to above the value of the labour-power but this is not sustainable in the long run and eventually the "general law of capitalist accumulation" will be felt every where to similar degrees.