Thursday, 21 October 2010

Social Unrest and Historicism (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on October 21st, 2010 
Social unrest has now spread from the Continent to the UK, which is making the deepest cuts affecting labor and the middle class in the past half century. Good old England, the country of Edmund Burke, the man many consider the first counter-revolutionary propagandist of the modern Western World, the man whose work became popular in the US during the McCarthy era in the 1950s among extreme right-wingers, Burke, the man who was either naive enough or deliberately “clever” enough to argue that evolutionary process not revolution is how political and social progress takes place (conveniently forgetting the revolutions of the 17th century); good old England indeed does not appear immune from social unrest these days, and things may become much worse in the next few months as the UK is indeed in a much worse fiscal state than some of the periphery countries of the EU. Even so, are we witnessing precursor conditions of social revolution, are we witnessing mere protests by disparate social elements otherwise unworthy to call themselves responsible citizens, or is the whole thing nothing more than a mere social cloud in an otherwise bright sky of a solid political economy that is undermined by social misfits protesting in the streets of European capitals?
Just a point or two of clarification given that both Nigel Jones and John Heelan made some observations about my previous posting (20 October) on street protests in Paris. In my posting, I stated: “If the process of weakening labor and the middle class continues and socioeconomic polarization becomes more pronounced, eventually it could lead to the mobilization of the masses and an uprising.” Now that I have a second chance to examine that statement, it seems rather timid. Perhaps I would have made it stronger if I were writing under English foggy sky watching TV coverage of deep budgetary cuts that will weaken labor and the middle class, instead of this bright sunny sky here in Greece operating under the IMF-EU austerity “safety net” for finance capital. As I have written on numerous occasions, the middle class and labor have weakened considerably as a result of fiscal, economic, and social policies that governments have been adopting since Reagan-Thatcher, and especially since 2008, and they will suffer further erosion in this decade. If anyone disputes this statement, please prove it with statistics, and please no references to the rise of the middle class in China, India and Russia as exceptions to the rule in an otherwise contracting economy. On the points I made regarding social revolution, I explained that under current social, economic, and political conditions the masses are unlikely to mobilize and rise up to overthrow any government now, but they very well could in the future. I never stated, simply because I have no idea, the form that mobilization and/or uprising would take, so why does the reader make the assumption that it would another Revolution of 1848, or something like it? Is that the only model of revolution that can possibly exist? Did I not rhetorically ask what does it mean to be a Marxist these days, a comment I made recalling one of my Jesuit professors describing himself as “Marxist” and arguing that the roots of that ideology rest in Christianity. I use the terms “eventually,” “mobilization,” and “uprising,” obviously leaving open to interpretation all kinds of possibilities. Because most people have a monolithic view of Marxism and of revolution, they cannot envision social mobilization and uprising in any form other than what has taken place in the past–in short, falling into the Hegelian historicist trap without realizing it. But understanding social discontinuity is very complex–whether we examine the transition from the ancient Roman era to the Medieval, or from feudalism/manorialism to the modern market economy. As someone far more interested in trying to understand and analyze the dynamics of social discontinuity and less interested in Hegelian historicism that Karl Popper has very skillfully criticized, where exactly is it that I am predicting a Marxist revolution in my posting about the Paris street riots, and what do those riots or demonstrations in Spain, and other countries, now in UK, have to do with the larger issue of social discontinuity and its evolutionary course? I have written a few hundred WAIS postings in the last several years, and the consistent prediction I have made is that social discontinuity of the kind the West experienced during the transition from the ancient to Medieval world and from the Medieval to the modern is unlikely in our lifetime owing to systemic forces that appear to uphold the existing social order–and this indeed at the risk of committing (see Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism) the grave fallacy of historicism. The most I have ventured at offending Popper’s fans is a four-part essay I wrote some years ago on the Cyber-Eco-Bourgeoisie, where I make it clear where I believe the social order is headed during this century.

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