|THE ARTS, ARTISTS, CRISIS AND
LOOKING BACK IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE PRESENT AND PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE
The year 2014 is yet another year of global economic crisis. A crisis that exploded with the crisis that hit the property market, home owners and lenders in the US around 2007/2008. And that turned into a persistent financial crisis and a crisis of what the media call the “real economy,” as if the other aspects of the global crisis did not concern the economy and weren't real. As we all in some way or other feel the sting of this deep recession, how many of us are still thinking of what happened one hundred years ago? And who cares to look closely at the political developments in Europe today that start to look like an impending replay of that half-forgotten catastrophe? A “replay”, only more catastrophic perhaps, if the worst case of what military planners (planners of war, mind you) call a scenario, becomes a reality.
In 1911, economic crisis struck Germany and other countries in Europe.(1)As for the realm of culture, the period is today considered as a period of deep crisis and profound aesthetic innovation and intellectual debate. Did anybody among the artists, writers, philosophers of that time foresee the war?
And if so, what did they do?
It is interesting to see the works August Macke created in 1913-1914 – works that had moved away from the almost pre-Cubist rigor and pale factual sobriety or matter-of-factness of “St. Mary's in the Snow” (1911) and the painterly, faintly expressionist somberness of “Sitting Nude with Cushions” (also 1911). His new works, on the eve of war, revealed his emotionally intense turn to light, luminous colors, a flow of released rhythm that was arrested in mid-motion on the canvas. I see a thoughtful visualization of emotionally intense moments, an approximation of memories of a recent past – interpersonal, private, full of what approaches perhaps bliss. I see the warmth of summer, and echoes of the Mediterranean and of Paris, even if the location painted by him should be a park or a pathway along a German river, somewhere at the Rhine or the Bavarian Isar.
Art historians tend to categorize his development in the well-known way, speaking of his turn from post-impressionism to a Fauve period. I'm more interested in what his all but “wild” fauvist paintings – paintings like “Promenade” and “Lady in Green Jacket” – revealed in 1913-1914. Or what other works from this period tell us, works that are recalling the North African trip (for instance “Saint Germain near Tunis”). Or his color experiments (“Colored Forms I, II, III” etc.). Looking at such works, do we not discover that none of these works herald the coming war? Or reflect, in an auspicious way, the internationally very tense situation of pre-war Europe that the populations of Europe were exposed to at this time?
Throughout the 1890s, the military
build-up, most prominently displayed by the expansion of the German fleet
– a reflection of ruling class desire to turn Germany into a colonialist
power – had antagonized the British elite. It was a costly arms race, for
it was British policy to build two warships for every new warship added
by the young German empire whose ruling class craved “a place at the sun.”
The conflict that was in the making had all the qualities of inter-imperialist
antagonism, something that not only Lenin would point out later on but
that became the standard view of most liberal historians, as well, as they
tried to see through the fog of jingoist propaganda.
The prehistory of the war reveals
a typical step-by-step path of mindless escalation:
One hundred years ago, it was the automatism connected with military alliances that let a minor conflict on the Balkans explode into the “Great War.”
In August 1914, with the outbreak of the war, Macke was drafted. Or did he perhaps join voluntarily – like so many at the time, in all the countries that became engulfed in the war? Macke died in the following month, in September 1914.
August Macke was not the only artist who had either not clearly anticipated the war or who had proved unable to oppose it, in the best way he could have had – theoretically – at his disposal: by warning others as a painter, in his art works.
Macke was not the only artist who died in this senseless, imperialist war. Franz Marc, known to so many today as the painter of tender paintings showing blue horses, enlisted voluntarily in 1914 and was killed in 1916. Similar things could be observed in France, Britain, and Italy. In the United States – a country that entered WWI as a belligerent participant in 1917 mainly because of its loans to Britain – , one could also see “many artists, writers, musicians, and actors who already were or who would later become quite well-known” enlist voluntarily.(2)
* * *
If the climate of patriotism fanned by the media and instilled all along by families, preachers, school books, juvenile literature and so on, thus had its intended effect, it is nevertheless true that warning voices were raised in the years leading up to August 1914. On the Left but also among religiously motivated pacifist, there were those who had opposed policies that were bound to lead to war. Some would continue to oppose war after its outbreak.(3)
Such opposition, though a minority affair, was not just a matter of a handful of persons. Insofar Margaret McMillan is correct when she notes that “[t]he cheering crowds [of people who welcomed the outbreak of the war] were only part of the picture. People also marched through the streets to demand their governments uphold the peace.”(4)
And yet, it is noteworthy how the pacifist efforts and the promises of internationalist solidarity that would keep the common people from fighting each other, foundered as war propaganda seduced the ones and pushed others in the direction of silent obedience.(5)Margaret McMillan deserves credit, however, when she notes that, facing documents from that time, we we do not only encounter jingoist phrases; we can also sense “gloom, fear or sometimes [...] despair about European civilization.”(6)
But as long as the masses could
be kept passive like obedient sheep, neither patriotic stupidity of the
ones nor feeling of gloom that haunted the others would influence the course
of events. Decisions were made at the top and remained unchallenged. When
the moment of fighting arrived, even those who would have preferred peace,
marched. Loyalty to the state, to the government that had chosen to go
to war, and subservience to the militarist bureaucratic apparatus were
the preponderant facts.
As so often, many people – including artists – had not only been blind to the personal dangers involved in policies chosen by their governments but also to the particularist interests of economic elites that drove antagonistic conflicts which culminated in war.
* * *
Today, the Arts Council in Britain, in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum, spends a significant amount of money on a number events that will look back to 1914 but not look to 2014 and presently looming dangers.(9) Its collaboration with the War Museum might let us fear that a dose of mild patriotism (because more is not feasible at the moment) and the exclusive – perhaps wistful – look backwards, not in anger, but sadness, will be privileged.
On the other hand, a young Australian art expert, Charlotte Hopson, more recently reacted to the centenary by exploring the “description of violence” and the “symbolism associated with the machine when depicted in art” that could be observed after the war. She is attached to formalist analysis of what she sees, and she discovers man in post-war paintings as an appendix of the machine (no matter whether it is the machine gun, or the airplane). In other words, the art works she has analyzed do not reveal to her man as the responsible human being who created and employed “the machines” that enabled the armies of the governments involved to wage what had become an “industrialized war.”(10)
This may reflect a real aspect in post-war art. But isn't her focus on the machine as symbolic object also symptomatic of a tendency to disregard human suffering and the question of human responsibility? And just as significantly, the search for underlying causes? It is a search that may have been missing in the works selected by this art critic. But it certainly haunted a number of post-war writers and visual artists.
If we focus our attention away from the historical failure of the generation that went to war in 1914, and choose instead to analyze the object world depicted in art and the formal devices underlying its depiction, is it not justified perhaps that others will ask us, “Don't you ever learn from past mistakes and the catastrophes of recent history?” In this endeavour, undoubtedly, the visual arts, theater, music and literature should support us, a number of thinkers have argued.
It was the German poet, playwright, and activist Bertolt Brecht who once recommended succinctly that we better look back. Why? His answers was, “Der Richtung wegen.” For the sake of a better sense of direction. In other words, in order to know where we are heading. It was clear to him that in order to move toward “the new,” you have to know what “the old” was like, and why you want to overcome it. If you don't know that, you might mistake a new version of the old that you are in fact heading to, for “the New.”
As artists and citizens, we might do well to heed his advice. Isn't it necessary to look back to those more than 9 million victims of the war that started in 1914? Shouldn't we analyze the years leading up to the great slaughter? And this not simply in order to remember and mourn those 9 million people who died in the war some call the “Great War,” but in order to ask ourselves where we are standing today, what we learned or did not learn, and where we are heading.
In doing so a question might turn up in our mind: If First World War killed 9 million people and the Second World War more than sixty million, what would another World War mean to humanity should it happen?
And another question needs to be posed. It is this simple yet inescapable question: Leaving aside, for a moment, all that is different today, from the situation that existed in the period just before 1914, what is perhaps strikingly similar? We all know that we came out – seeming unscathed, one might say – of what was called the Cold War. Have the missiles that are ready to be launched in almost no time at all, disappeared when that Cold War was declared to be over? Have the stockpiles of nuclear weapons been dissolved? The ideological confrontation has been declared over for good. It was this ideological confrontation between what was called the East Bloc in the West, and the West (which Western media called the Free World) that was said to be at the root of the Cold War. If the root cause of a Cold War is said to have vanished, has peace and understanding and cooperation between the formerly opposed “superpowers” replaced the dangerous confrontation that lead us to the brink of a “hot” war more than once?
If not, we should ask ourselves what has replaced the old paradigm. Is it a new confrontation that is in fact older than the antagonism between Left and Right that marked the Cold War period? If this is so, we may have overcome the conflictual opposition of so-called “real socialism” and a system described today, for whatever reason, as “democratic capitalism.” But we did so only to end up where we were before 1914: CONFRONTED, IT SEEMS, WITH THE WELL-KNOWN PARADIGM THAT PITS ONE BIG CAPITALIST POWER AGAINST ANOTHER, PERHAPS NOT QUITE AS BIG, YET BY ALL MEANS BIG CAPITALIST POWER.
The pattern is, of course, more complicated than that. And this because the only remaining Capitalist superpower, the U.S.A., together with its allies, is facing not only the newly Capitalist Russia, a weakened Big Power that is no longer a Superpower. There is also an emerging big power farther East: China – a twitter, in so far as the regime furthers Capitalist development of the country by relying, at least in part, on etatist (so-called state-socialist) means – such as planning and one-party rule.
Still, the basic traits of the constellation are apparent: the Cold War was declared over, and a new antagonism replaced it immediately or almost immediately. That of imperialist powers.
BIG POWERS, driven by competing national interests, tend to develop and finally pursue conflictual geopolitical strategies, and this usually leads to hidden or overt conflict that, in a pre-nuclear era, would sooner or later bring about war. At least this is how liberal historians have described the situation that existed between the 1890s and the First World War in hindsight. THERE CAN BE LITTLE DOUBT THAT THE OLD PARADIGM HAS RESURFACED. Instead of ideologically motivated conflict, linked to two fundamentally opposed historical goals, pure Macchiavellianism and material interests of big nation states fan covert conflicts that are aspects of the underlying basic antagonism. It is such a conflict that has been brought quite explicitly to our attention in recent days and weeks, as the media focus on what is going on in Ukraine. All of a sudden – the Western media want to tell us – a confrontation similar to the BLOC CONFRONTATION of the Cold War era is "reappearing." In their view, it justifies the existence of NATO and of its expansion. It justifies a hard line, and faithful cooperation of the military of all members of the US-led alliance.
Why?, we should ask. “Whose fault?” is the question “our” media prefer – and they have a ready answer.
Does that remind you of the past? In fact, in the years up to 1914, and during the war, and after the war, people on different sides of the conflict that was to explode had no difficulty finding fault with the “other side” – the “adversary” or “enemy.” This is typical of conflicts between imperialist powers. It is nothing new. We should not be surprised if that pattern “repeats itself” – or rather, is repeated, by the rhetoric of those in charge, and the media close to them or under their sway.
* * *
Thus I repeat my question: Do we not face perhaps a confrontation of “big powers” that has very little in common with the ideologically based confrontation of the Cold War era, and that resembles more and more, in many respect, the confrontation of imperialist powers which characterized the pre-World War I years?
Was the emergence of that situation inevitable? What went wrong? What can we do today, to avert an outcome that would not only be similar to 1914, namely, war – but much more terrible?(11)
The question “What went wrong?” is apparently a necessary question, and it must be linked to another question, I think. It is this question, “What can be done to correct the wrong course embarked on? What can we do to correct that which went wrong?”
Eleven years ago, discussing increasing tension on the Korean peninsula in January 2003, Johan Galtung (a noted researcher who looks into causes of war and peace and who attempts to advise governments that are prepared to pursue a peaceful course) had this advice for those involved, that is to say, for the governments of South Korea and North Korea, the US, Japan, and China: “What helped end the cold war in Europe was a gradual mutual opening to the flow of ideas, goods and people.”(12)
To a certain extent, this analysis is correct, I think. Increased trade and exchange of ideas on the scientific and cultural level did not only undermine the bureaucratic etatist (“real socialist”) USSR and its satellite countries ideologically (if that was still necessary) by furthering economic liberalization of the regime and fanning social-democratic thinking among its so-called elite (notably, Gorbachev). But it also, quite certainly, reduced the danger of war in Europe.
IF WE TURN NOW FROM THE KOREAN PENINSULA BACK TO THE PRESENT SITUATION IN EUROPE, THEN ONE QUESTION IMPOSES ITSELF MORE THAN ANY OTHER QUESTION: WHY DID THE DISENGAGEMENT, THE SENSE THAT CONFLICT WAS OVER AND THAT A PEACE DIVIDEND COULD BE REAPED, DISSOLVE SO QUICKLY IN THE BLUE OF A SKY THAT INCREASINGLY FEATURES VERY DARK CLOUDS?
Have citizens been dozing?
HAVE ARTISTS AND WRITERS LOOKED
THE OTHER WAY?
Just a few days ago, in late March 2014, people over in Germany could hear jet planes and bombers in the sky all day and night, for a few days. It was a military exercise of the sort they had not witnessed since the 1980s when the US decision to station medium range nuclear missiles in Central Europe and Italy brought all of us close to the brink of war.(13) This military exercise was not the only worrying thing we should note. Public radio reports let us know that the US had shifted a few squadrons of jet fighters to a Baltic country (Lithuania?) or perhaps all of the Baltic countries (thus to Estland and Latvia, as well): which means, they are stationed now practically in front of the doorsteps of Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg, and not too far from Moscow, for that matter.
At the same time, Ms. Hillary Clinton compared the Russian head of state, Mr. Putin, with Hitler.(14) And a member of the German government, Mr. Schaeuble, the secretary of finance and commerce, added to the ire of the Russians by repeating that statement – which is particularly insensitive, given the fact that the German army invaded Russia under Hitler's command and caused more suffering than in any other country, leading to the death of about twenty million people.(15)
As the West, under US leadership,
announced sanctions targeting companies and individuals in Russia, a high-ranking
member of the Russian government mocked “comrade Obama.”(16)
The confrontation is an undeniable fact. The media, and with them politicians like Ms. Hillary Clinton suggest that it is “Moscow's fault.” In an essay entitled “A Triumph of Free Citizens” that was published in the Munich based Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Johan Schloemann points out that the “narrative of the eternally good West and the eternally evil East” has been told in Europe since the confrontation at Marathon that pitted Persians against Athenians some two thousand five hundred years ago.(17) It is an old and propagandistically effective hetero-image, a Feindbild (image of the enemy) as the Germans say – and it lends itself to being misused even if a given society, like Russia's today, is not particularly democratic. If Russia fails the test of all those who yearn for something approaching real democracy (a vague goal), neither does the Ukraine pass it (no matter whether we think of the Yanukovych regime or the regime that is in place now ). And after all, we have come to learn about torture, “black prisons”, rendition, war crimes committed in Vietnam, in Iraq and Afghanistan, wholesale surveillance of American citizens (and of course, of all those who use the phone or internet around the world). We are aware of the fact that the NSA and GCHQ have been spying on Allied statesmen and “stateswomen” (most absurdly, a staunchly loyal US ally, the conservative German head of state, Angela Merkel). Thus, the US does not exactly look like a model democracy.(18) Liberal critics speak of a government subverting civil rights, some see the emergency of a surveillance state, some note the extent of militarization when the use of the army at home is more than just pondered, and when the present administration refuses to assure lawmakers and the public that it will not use drones to kill US citizens on US soil (a lawless act of "preventive" murder that bypasses courts). Thus, it is admittedly dishonest to frame the present US-Russian confrontation as a conflict between democracy and despotism. K.A. Wittvogel was already overdoing it when he constructed the myth of “Oriental despotism.” Clearly, despotism existed in the East, but it existed also in the West; despotism is possible everywhere. And human yearning for emancipation is something that manifested itself, in specific socio-cultural ways, in many parts of the globe, throughout modern history. It still does, very much to the chagrin of certain “elites.”
If we are therefore compelled to disregard the present tendency of the dominant discourse in “our” Western media that a valiant democratic West refuses appeasement policies and seeks to halt the infringement of authoritarian Russia on Ukrainian sovereignty, and that it does so out of pure altruism and in defense of sacred democratic principles, what other explanation for the conflict can be offered to those ready to weigh the pros and cons of each argument and prepared to come to their own, rational conclusion?
Perhaps a statement of Russia's foreign minister a few days ago helps to shed more light on a situation that sees Russia undoubtedly intervene massively in Ukrainian affairs.
What Russia's foreign minister told the press and Western governments was this: He said, more or less, that Russia was not happy about the fact that treaty obligations incurred by Germany and its NATO allies (thus, particularly, the US, Britain, and France) had not been honored. In the context of German unification, the withdrawal of the Red Army from East Germany and subsequently, from all Warsaw Pact countries, had been tied to assurances that NATO would not deploy troops (and such weapons as tanks, missiles) East of what was until then the so-called Iron Curtain. Russia's foreign minister demanded an explanation. The brusk utterance of a demand as such was a bit of a tit for tat, in response to Mr. Obama's demand, uttered very much in the way of a teacher addressing a naughty pupil, that Mr. Putin, within so many hours, provide him with a written explanation concerning the recent deployment of Russian troops at the Eastern border of the sovereign Ukraine and on the Krim peninsula.(19) The substance of the Russian foreign minister's utterance, however, touches the core of the matter.
The Russian point-of-view, in this regard, is confirmed by concerned citizens (among them respected scientists) in the West who do not fail to note “the aggressive eastward expansion of NATO, contrary to what Russian leaders were promised” and who also emphasize the continued deployment of US, NATO and Russian missiles with nuclear warheads that are “ready to be launched within minutes” – a fact that should dispel the false dream that the danger of accidental or wantonly risked nuclear holocaust is a thing of the past that vanished with the promised and officially proclaimed end of the Cold War.(20)
Any look at a map of Europe, read in combination with newspaper articles that highlight attempts to further expand NATO by including Georgia, Ukraine (and possible some Central Asian “republic”?) will tell us that indeed there is no indication that Gorbachev's attempt to end the Cold War and to integrate Russia in the democratic Capitalist camp has been honored by corresponding steps the West might have taken. Do we not remember the military exercises of NATO in the Baltic region, such as “Steadfast Jazz 13” and the photos that showed explosion of terrible aerosol bombs the smoke of which blackened the sky? Such weapons were used in Afghanistan as an ersatz of tactical nuclear weapons.
A cornered big power – and humiliated as well as weakened former superpower – like Russia is perhaps more dangerous than a relatively strong and self-confident Soviet Union was in the 1960s and 70s. It might opt for a first strike when assuming that the West was ready to attack, thus making the “best” possible use of a thereby attained strategic advantage. The Russian government and Russian military clearly does not believe that the anti-missile defense that the U,S. are installing in Europe is directed against Iran.(21) Just like anybody else they see that its intention is to make them unable to defend themselves, which would expose them to every diktat of the presently prevailing superpower.
Russia has declared that its short-range missiles in the Kaliningrad region are ready to be fired. This in turn poses a challenge to the West. Aren't Western military planners ready to overrun the small Kaliningrad enclave with the NATO troops at their disposal in Poland and Latvia?
IF IT IS NOTHING ACTUAL, it must at least be a part of the ongoing war planning – otherwise war scenarios would have been skipped and would be replaced by planning for peace, which is extremely unlikely.
In view of the situation that developed so quickly, it can hardly be denied that the tendency of Western media to demand sharp reactions to the Russian occupation of the Krim peninsula and certain statements by politicians contributed to a prewar atmosphere.
Analyzing the imminent danger, a statement released to the press by the IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) stated last month that “[a]ny war involves a terrible and lasting human toll, [it] risks spreading and harming people’s health in the region and beyond […].” According to Thalif Deen (IPS News Service), the IPPNW emphasized the supreme importance of refraining from the use of nuclear weapons, should an armed conflict erupt. But it was realistic to assume that “any armed conflict involving nuclear armed states or alliances [...] could escalate in uncontrollable, unintended and unforeseeable ways [...]” (22)
* * *
But regardless of what has been shown so far, you may well ask me this question: Isn't it true that Ukraine's sovereignty is violated by Russia? And that people in Ukraine are fighting to achieve democracy?
IS THERE, IN OTHER WORDS, A NECESSITY
TO INTERVENE – peacefully perhaps – JUST LIKE WESTERN DEMOCRACIES WERE
COMPELLED TO INTERVENE IN YUGOSLAVIA TO PUT A STOP TO ETHNIC CLEANSING
AND RENEWED GENOCIDE?
Of course there was a brutal civil war in former Yugoslavia. Of course there was something that the media called “ethnic cleansing.” People were driven from their homes, civilians were massacred. If I say that the truth is complicated, it is because stating these obvious facts can help to obscure other facts. Who had an interest in the break-up of Yugoslavia? Which stories of massacres were fabricated, for instance in the context of the conflict about Kosovo? When and where and why did armed NATO intervention make matters worse and where did it create the exodus that it pretended to avert – thus making supposed “ethnic cleansing” and the concomitant suffering a fact rather than a fiction? Was there ever something like a “horseshoe plan”?
The breakup of Yugoslavia tells us perhaps something about the beginning (but not final, and perhaps still avoidable) breakup of Ukraine.
Is it, in both cases, linked to big-power-games, to geostrategic interests?
IS THE READINESS TO FAN A CRISIS ALSO LINKED TO THE MATERIAL INTERESTS OF THE MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX?
When NATO intervention in Bosnia was under way, I was informed by a reliable source in Germany that a US general said on German public network television, “The downward spiral towards disarmament has been stopped.”(The network translated it as Die Abrüstungsspirale ist gestoppt, and my source retranslated that into English.) It was an honest, yet revealing assessment of the situation. It reflected their concern. They love to get new hardware all the time.(23) They are linked – some of them, the top echelons among all those brass-heads are linked – to arms-makers like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, etc. There is a revolving door between the military and corporations, too. And not just between Washington and big business. The generals don't return from corporations to the military, as politicians do, that's correct. But they retire and get a job with arms-makers, people and companies they were in touch with when they drew up lists of needed new weapons. It pays, quite often, to network.
The US “defense” budget is about 700 million US dollars annually. That's the official figure, without the stuff they are hiding. If you include that, it is about one billion dollars per year. It dwarfs any other defense budget. It sucks up money like a vast vacuum cleaner that otherwise might go to those 40 or so million Americans who are officially acknowledged as “food insecure” – which is to say, hungry, starving, suffering from malnutrition, some in mild, some in drastic ways. And a billion dollars per year would also help to do a lot to harness global poverty, global hunger, global ecological devastation. It might even help to tackle root causes of climate change.
Conflict that gets hot, as in former
Yugoslavia, in Iraq, and elsewhere, fans demand for weapons.
That the old situation was not desirable
and democratic, is no secret.
But is that also the goal of US
elites when they meddle in Ukrainian affairs?
Here are some key excerpts:
The conversation is revealing. Who
is deciding who will go into government? The people? Alex Lantier commented
the conversation from a Left-wing point of view on the Canadian website
Global Research. He wrote, “Nuland and Pyatt discuss installing a new,
pro-US government that will incorporate the fascistic opposition which
has been leading street protests against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Even though Washington’s campaign for regime-change has been coordinated
with the European Union (EU), and particularly with Berlin, in the phone
conversation with Pyatt, Nuland attacks the EU for being insufficiently
aggressive, saying at one point, “Fuck the EU.” Asked about the leaked
video, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “I didn’t say it
was inauthentic.” She added that Nuland was “in contact with her EU counterparts
and, of course, has apologized for these reported comments.” Psaki also
addressed Nuland’s and Pyatt’s discussion of which forces Washington would
allow to come to power in Kiev. In the telephone call, the two discuss
plans to install an oligarchic regime [...] They agree that boxer Vitali
Klitschko, who leads the German-backed UDAR party, should stay out of power
and “do his political homework and stuff.” They conclude that Arseniy Yatsenyuk
of jailed billionaire oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party should
rule, conferring regularly with Oleh Tyahnybok of the fascist Svoboda Party,
whose members and neo-Nazi allies provide most of the thugs fighting riot
police in Kiev.[...]” Lantier's reference to fascist demonstrators and
a fascist political movement may seem overdone, as the protesters did not
solely consist of fascist thugs. But liberal media in Germany confirmed
the existence of these fascists and later reported anti-semitic statements
(such as "Kill all the Jews and Russians") by a minister of the new government
that was formed after the elected president had been toppled.
The fact that the change of government replaced oligarchs close to corrupt Yanukovich by oligarchs close to equally corrupt Tymoshenko, was confirmed by French journalists who held a much more sympathic view of the Ukrainian democracy movement than Lantier.(25) They, too, doubted that democracy had been achieved and that the situation of ordinary people would improve. The consensus of critical observes is that, in view of the actual “conditions of deep economic crisis” (Lantier) the common people will be faced with Greece-style austerity measures, imposed by the IMF. Lantier, who accentuates the role played by “fascist thugs” in the regime change engineered with outside help and outside planning, also acknowledges the “widespread popular opposition to the bankrupt and corrupt Yanukovych regime [...]”(26)
It is apparent that the main interest of the West is to move the Ukraine out of a pro-Russian or an undecided, neutral position and into the Western camp, if possible as a member of NATO and associated member of the EU. This can only further antagonize Russia as it sees its vulnerability increased.
The media in the West tend to put the blame for the increase in tension entirely on Russia. Similarly, imperialist powers were blaming their adversaries, never themselves, for an increase in tension in the period leading up to WWI.
On February 27, 2014, an article placed prominently on the frontpage of Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung carried the headline: Putin practices for the worst case [Putin probt den Ernstfall] – a reference to possible war (the “worst case”), as the second line of the headline made unmistakably clear: “In the wake of regime change [euphemistically called Umbruch] in Ukraine, Russia's President checks the combat readiness of his troops.”
If relations with Russia have soured almost beyond a point of no return, as the American government openly declares that Russia is now an adversary (which amounts to making explicit how they saw Russia all along), we should not forget that it would be Europe, which in case of conflict, would probably suffer the most. It is strange to see American allies in Europe toe the US line nonetheless, something that is also at odds with their economic interests. (Especially Germany is confronted with the fact that Siemens and Volkswagen will see their investments in Russia voided if relations continue to deteriorate.)
But US readiness to intensify political conflict with Russia is not the only threat to world peace. Quite obviously, the US elites have embarked on a long-range project of encircling China, an emerging economic and perhaps, sooner or later, also military superpower. Eric Hobsbawm has been outspoken in this respect, voicing his pessimism concerning the future of our planet and seeing, quite clearly, the danger of a US-Chinese war. As for Noam Chomsky, he alerted us, too, to what is “going on with China right now. It’s been a kind of a hassle, also hasn’t been discussed much in the United States—but is discussed quite a lot in China, about control of the seas in China’s vicinity. Their navy is expanding, and that’s discussed here and described as a major threat. What they’re trying to do is to be able to control the waters nearby China—the South China Sea, Yellow Sea, and so on—and that’s described here as aggressive intent. The Pentagon just released a report on the dangers of China. Their military budget is increasing; it’s now one-fifth what the US spends in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is of course a fraction of the [US] military budget. Not long ago, the US was conducting naval exercises in the waters off China. China was protesting particularly over the plans to send an advanced nuclear- powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, into those waters, which, according to China, has the capacity to hit Beijing with nuclear weapons—and they didn’t like it. And the US formally responded by saying that China is being aggressive because they’re interfering with freedom of the seas. Then, if you look at the strategic analysis literature, they describe it as a classic security dilemma where two sides are in a confrontation. Each regards what it’s doing as essential to its security and regards the other side as threatening its security, and we’re supposed to take the threat seriously. So if China is trying to control waters off its coast, that’s aggression and it’s harming our security. That’s a classic security dilemma. You could just imagine if China were carrying out naval exercises in the Caribbean—in fact, in the mid-Pacific—it would be considered intolerable. That’s very much like Iran. The basic assumption is "We own the world," and any exercise of sovereignty within our domains, which is most of the world, is aggression.” (27)
Strange that all of this does not interest that many of us. Most people are stressed, tired, involved in the problems they cannot solve in their lives. They fear job loss. They may not be able to heat their home properly anymore. They save on food. They worry about the school record of their children. Politics, heightened international tension – they hear about it briefly, get worked up emotionally perhaps, about these “damned Russians” THEY HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO DISTRUST, and then they sink back again into their political apathy and their small personal “struggle for (economic) survival.”
Do artists, writers, philosophers have a special responsibility? If so, why? I think they are, in a way, privileged – no matter whether they are materially well off or, more often, barely make ends meet. But they are freed of the kind of routine that goes with many ordinary jobs, and they are freed of real, sordid drudgery. Their luxury consists in the time they have – time to imagine, to create, to think, to paint, to photograph or film, to write. It is because society leaves them free to do these things that they are in a potentially better position to reflect also on the dangers that confront humanity. As citizens and creative individuals, as artists or writers, if they don't sense and understand what is happening, if they don't issue a warning call, who will?
In 1905, conflict was brewing and the German emperor, William II, arrived in Tangier, offering so-called “protection” (in fact, a protectorate) to the Morrocan ruler. The crisis was defused, Tangier became neither a German nor a French or British stronghold; it was made an international zone. The compromise staved off the war for just a few years because the underlying antagonism wasn't dissolved. Distrust continued. The arms race continued.
I say, 1914 must not recur – brought about recklessly by geopolitical planners and adventurists ready to risk a lot in order to defend and perpetuate the superiority of a superpower that, despite all, has begun already to decline.
- Anthony Howard
(1) In fact it was a global recession. John W. Boyer refers to "the commercial recession of 1911-12" that struck Austria-Hungary. (John W. Boyer, Culture and Political Crisis in Vienna: Christian Socialism in Power, 1897-1918. Chicago (University of Chicago Press) 1995, p.82. Regarding the US, Russell Carl Engberg mentions "the business recession of 1911" (Russell Carl Engberg, Industrial Prosperity and the Farmer, London (Macmillan) 1927, p. 126. Discussing economic aspects of immigration into the US, Lukasz Albanski notes a sequences of crises that struck the United States (and in fact the global economy): "the economic crisis ... in 1893 to 1898 [a protracted crisis] and in 1908 as well as the industrial recession of 1911" (Lukasz Albanski, "Remittances," in: Patrick J. Hayes (ed.), The Making of Modern Immigration, An Enyclopedia of People and Ideas. Santa Barbara CA (ABC-CLIO, LLC.) 2012, p.622). James Reardon refers to the "recession of 1911" in China. The rhythm in which crises occurred prior to 1914 was accelerating, not unlike what we have seen since the protracted Mexican debt crisis of 1982 (that was tackled with the 1989 Mexican Debt Reduction Agreement), the US property crisis and concomitant savings and loans crisis (1986-1995), the British property and financial crisis of the late 1980s that fused with the global crisis of 1991, the East Asian Financial Crisis (1997ff.), the Latin American debt crisis that struck Argentine particularly hard, leading to a great depression in 1998-2002, the dot-com bubble that burst in 2000, contributing to the global recession of 2001, and "the economic downturn (2006-2009)" (Thomas F. Flynn, Developing a Firecasting Model to Predict the Downturn and Upturn of A Real Estate Market in the Inland Empire, 2011. Boca Raton FL (Dissertation.com) 2011, p.60) in the US that triggered a global economic crisis which is not yet over in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and many other countries, particularly in the so-called Third World.
(2) N.N., “WWI - Arts and Culture”, in: http://iarchives.nysed.gov/Gallery/gallery.jsp?id=227&ss=WWI
(3) In France, the considerable influence that Jean Jaurès – a socialist internationalist, pacifist and member of parliament – had on many politically conscious workers, was feared. This led to his assassination on July 31, 1914. In Germany, Rosa Luxemburg had to defend herself in court in February 1914, accused of “agitation against war and militarism.”(See: Rosa Luxemburg, “Verteidigungsrede vor der Frankfurter Strafkammer”, in: Vorwärts (Berlin), No. 52, February 22, 1914. https://www.marxists.org/deutsch/archiv/luxemburg/1914/02/verteidigung.htm) She was incarcerated, and shortly after the war, murdered by army officers. In the US, an anti-war speech in Ohio by Eugene W. Debs (who had run for President on the Socialist ticket and had been enormously successful in working-class neighborhoods) - and more generally the socialist opposition to the war – compelled the political “elites” to pass the infamous yet still valid Espionage Act which made pacifist agitation a crime and purposefully confounded “seditious and antiwar statements.” (see “Opposition to World War I”, in: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_World_War_I.)
(4) Margaret McMillan, “Did Artists Foresee the First World War?”, in:
The Guardian, March 27, 2014.
(5) “[O]nce the war was declared, the vast majority of the socialist and trade union bodies decided to back the government of their country and support the war.” Thus it must be noted that “on 25 July 1914, the executive of the Social Democratic Party of Germany [...] [had] issued an appeal to its membership to demonstrate against the coming war, only to vote on 4 August for the war credits the German government wanted” – which was strongly opposed by only two leading German Social Democrats, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The French Socialist leadership acted in similar fashion. “[E]specially after the assassination of […] Jean Jaurès” they had “organized mass rallies and protests until the outbreak of war, but once the war began they argued that in wartime socialists should support their nations against the aggression of other nations and also voted for war credits [….]” The effects that nationalist ideology had on these leaders, but also on large parts of the rank-and-file, were thus obvious. (See: “Opposition to World War I”, in: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_World_War_I.)
(6) Margaret McMillan, ibidem.
(7) Margaret McMillan, ibidem.
(8) Margaret McMillan, ibidem.
(9) See the First World War commemorations by the Arts Council. The “Arts Council England” is “working in partnership with the Imperial War Museum and the Heritage Lottery Fund to ensure a joined-up cultural approach to the First World War centenary […] Arts Council England has set aside a sum of arts lottery money specifically to promote, enhance and commission arts activity related to the centenary. This sits within the Government's plans to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War through a programme of arts, culture and education. More information can be found on 1914.org.” http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/supporting-museums/first-world-war-commemorations/
(10) Charlotte Hopson, “Responding to War: British Artist and WWII,”
(11) Putting it in sheer numbers, we see that the human “cost” of World War II was more than six times as big as that of World War I. Another war, between big powers – say, the US as the biggest and in fact only superpower on earth that has the support and monopolizes the factual command of a large military alliance (NATO), and a decisively weakened power that has still a considerably nuclear capacity (Russia) or between the US and an emerging big power (China) – would demand a considerably higher toll. If it would not spell the end of human civilization, that is. Or even the end of the human race.
(12) Johan Galtung (with Friedrich Fischer), “The Korean Peninsula: A Transcend Perspective,” in: IPS New Service, Jan. 1, 2003. (http://www.ipsnews.net/2003/01/the-korean-peninsula-a-transcend-perspective/ .)
(13) See the book by Uwe Markus and Ralph Rudolf on war scenarios of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact in those years: Uwe Markus, Ralf Rudolph, Schlachtfeld Deutschland: die Kriegseinsatzplanung der sowjetischen Streitkräfte in der DDR. Berlin (Militaerverlag) 2011.
(14) Philip Rucker, “Hillary Clinton says Putin’s actions are like ‘what
Hitler did back in the ’30s’,” in: Washington Post, March 5, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/03/05/hillary-
(15) See: “German Finance Minister compares Putin to Hitler;” in: http://www.euractiv.com/sections/europes-east/german-finance-minister-compares-putin-hitler-301257
(16) In reply to threatened sanctions that would target certain companies as well as the Russian 'classe politique' or at least those close to Mr. Putin, “Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin [...] wrote, “Comrade Obama, what should those who have neither accounts nor property abroad do? Have you not thought about it? I think the decree of the President of the United States was written by some joker.” Quoted in: Ms. Conservative, http://www.mrconservative.com/2014/03/36482-russian-deputy-prime-minister-laughs-off-comrade-obamas-sanctions/. The Conservative US blogger commented that this was “[m]aking Obama look [like] a fool, and in doing so the United States […].” Indeed, it is not conducive to peaceful solutions when top representatives of feuding big powers insult each other or make jokes at each other's expense.
(17) Johan Schloemann, “Ein Triumph freier Bürger,” in: Sueddeutsche Zeitung, No.198. August 28-29, 2010, p.V2/6.
(18) The American news agency UPI featured a report
on April 16, 2014 which summarizes a recent "study from Princeton and Northwestern
Universities" which throws doubt on the democratic character of today's
US political system. See: JC Sevcik, “The US is not a democracy
but an oligarchy, study concludes / The central point that emerges [...]
is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests
have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based
interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,”
in: UPI, April 16, 2014 http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2014/04/16/The-US-is-not-a-democracy-but-an-oligarchy-
(19) It is perhaps interesting to note that the Crimean peninsula was a part of the Russian Federation until 1954 when it was added to the Ukraine, in the context of administrative reform. The majority of its population is Russian.
(20) The independent journalist Thalif Deen (who works for the IPS news service) reported recently that “Dr Tilman A. Ruff, co-chair, International Steering Group and Australian Board member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told IPS the current agreements (e.g. START, New START and INF) are probably most important in that they demonstrate that verified reductions and elimination of whole classes of nuclear weapons are feasible, and hopefully reduce the risk of nuclear war between Russia and the United States. However, continuing massive nuclear arsenals on both sides; the retention of almost 1,800 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert missiles, ready to be launched within minutes; the aggressive eastward expansion of NATO, contrary to what Russian leaders were promised; and the rapid escalation of tension over recent events in Ukraine demonstrate the Cold War has not been firmly laid to rest.” (Thalif Deen, “U.S.-Russia Bickering May Trigger Nuclear Fallout”, in: IPS News Service, March 14, 2014 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/u-s-russia-bickering-may-trigger-nuclear-fallout/.)
(21) More than two years ago, David Krieger and Steven Starr emphasized
(22) Thalif Deen, ibidem.
(23) See for instance a recent report that “[t]his July, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will begin its formal study of the two potential warheads to be paired with new nuclear cruise missiles. The Air Force is currently working alongside the NNSA to determine if the W80 warhead, which is currently used in Air-Launched Cruise Missiles, or the W84 warhead, which was formerly used in Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles, is the best warhead for the new Long-Range Standoff Missile (LRSO). Either warhead would require a life-extension and improvement program to achieve the design and capability sought by the Pentagon. The Air Force and NNSA are expected to conclude the study by the summer of 2015, after which the LRSO program would award one or several technology development contracts to a prominent defense company, such as Lockheed Martin or Boeing. The goal of the formal study is to determine which warhead would undergo a life-extension program to modify and maintain the warheads for the new LRSO. This is to fulfill the desire that the new LRSOs are operational by the mid 2020s” (N.N., "Air Force and NNSA To Select Nuclear Cruise Missile Warhead in Mid-2015," in: Inside the Air Force, February 28, 2014.)
(24) “Ukraine crisis: Transcript of leaked Nuland-Pyatt call,” in: BBC, Feb. 7, 2014 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26079957
(25) In the Ukraine, just as in Russia, privatization of public property has been conducted in the typically crooked way in which privatization is normally conducted. The public loses, and some individuals enrich themselves. It meant the emergence of a stratum of super-rich capitalists, much like the Koch brothers or the Waltons, or the Carnegies of an earlier period. It is against this injustice that people in Ukraine wished to revolt, while they fell again into the trap of oligarchic demagogues (or that of the cronies of such oligarchs). “A revolution? No, it’s just a different deal of the cards,” said sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko, deputy director of the Centre for Society Research in Kiev. A few weeks after Yanukovych’s removal, his frustration was clear: “This government defends the same values as the previous one: economic liberalism and getting rich. Not all rebellions are revolutions. It’s unlikely that the Maidan movement will lead to profound changes that will justify calling it a revolution. The most serious candidate in the presidential election on 25 May is Petro Poroshenko, the ‘chocolate king’ [because of the fortune he made in that industry], one of the richest men in the country.” Even as demonstrators were being shot in the Maidan (Independence Square), the centre of popular anger since 22 November, a bizarre handover of power was being brokered behind closed doors with the powerful businessmen who have now taken control of Ukraine. Over the past 20 years, Ukraine has experienced a form of development referred to as oligarchic pluralism. Many businessmen who amassed huge fortunes buying up mines and factories privatised cheaply after the fall of the Soviet Union have gone into politics. Oil and gas traders have become ministers or heads of major institutions. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a leading figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution who was held up in the West as a martyr when she was imprisoned in 2011, made a fortune in the gas industry. A revolving door has developed between business and politics. Some powerful businessmen have played a more discreet role by financing the campaigns of politicians whom they expect to represent their interests. This system, which became the accepted way of doing things under President Leonid Kuchma (1994-2005), assumes constant reconfiguration shaped by the competing interests of the powerful, and their alliances and feuds.(Jean-Arnault Deren and Laurent Geslin, “Why the Corruption Won't End / Ukraine: New Leaders, Same Oligarchs,” in: CounterPunch, Weekend edition, March 28-30,2014 http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/28/ukraine-new-leaders-same-oligarchs/.)
(26) Alex Lantier, “Washington’s Response to Leaked Victoria Nuland Call Confirms US-EU Regime-Change Plot in Ukraine,” in: Global Research , Feb. 8, 2014 http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-response-to-leaked-call-confirms-useu-regime-change-plot-in-ukraine/5367968.
(27) “Noam Chomsky: On Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe” (Noam
Chomsky in conversation with Laray Polk), in: http://www.dianuke.org/noam-chomsky-on-nuclear-war-and-environmental-catastrophe/.
[This is an excerpt from the new book Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe,
by Noam Chomsky and Laray Polk, which takes the form of a series of interviews
with MIT Professor Noam Chomsky (Seven Stories, 2013).]