Michael Froomkin at Discourse.net has an excellent summary of the new JD value study and takes on in the comments some typical but poorly thought through objections.
As the ordinary Egyptian population stood up and said it was no longer willing to follow Iran and other middle eastern countries into the abyss of authoritarian and fundamentalist Islamist politics, the mouthpiece of western arch-conservatism, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, was thrown into a panic. In an editorial published, sadly, on our Independence Day, the paper called for the installation of a Pinochet-like General in Egypt.
Either the Journal has been struck by some kind of severe cognitive disorder that allows it to paint over the history of one of the most brutal regimes to have ever ruled or they really mean it. If the former, they owe their readers and the Chilean and Egyptian people an apology and should retract the statement. If the latter, then they are in fact the leading edge of a new fascism emerging here in America. Since I am not a medical professional, I will simply comment on what it means to suggest that fascism is the right outcome in Egypt.
First, for any of my younger readers, if you want a taste of what it means to be for a Pinochet then go to iTunes and download this week’s Editors Choice – the film “NO” which recounts the very final stages of the Pinochet regime, after the blood had been washed off the streets. If you have a stronger stomach, then find a copy of the magnificent Battle of Chile, an important long documentary film that includes amazing and disturbing footage of the Allende era and the imposition of the U.S.-backed brutal Pinochet dictatorship, now viewed as a political model for the middle east by such august figures at the Journal as Paul Gigot, Daniel Henninger and the recent Pulitzer winner Bret Stephens. (Stephens, the recent recipient of a Pulitzer, we have encountered before on these pages – it seems he looks for his ideas all over the place and is not always willing to give proper credit.) The Battle is hard to find but you can also look at Missing the fictional account of an American, Charles Horman, who was kidnapped and tortured to death by Pinochet’s thugs.
Here is a capsule summary of the Pinochet period, though, just so we are all on the same page: 3,000 murdered; 30,000 tortured; political parties outlawed; trade unions smashed; nearly two decades of brutal repression and fear. Two of those killed were blown up by Pinochet’s secret DINA police force on the streets of Washington D.C. The regime was installed with the not very covert support of Henry Kissinger and the Nixon Administration. Pinochet was feted by “Lady” Margaret Thatcher and other right wing thugs in order to burnish their own domestic reactionary politics. Pinochet’s regime was advised by economists trained in the shock therapy politics developed by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.
For brevity’s sake I will spare readers an account of the book burnings carried out by the regime.
Now that we are all up to speed on what one is talking about when one invokes the name of Pinochet, what does it mean that the Journal would react to the unfolding events in Egypt like this? It means, most likely, that American conservatives are in a full blown panic over the popular uprising we have witnessed there in recent days but not only there. It signals broader panic among the Wall Street and D.C. elite over what is known as the Arab Spring, the region wide unfolding of a new democratic era in a part of the world that has for many decades found itself in the grip of what ever great power rivalries were taking hold in Europe, first, and later, in the cold war, between the great US and Russian blocs. For the first time, the region’s own populations are speaking up independently and saying, as the Chileans did to Pinochet, No.
This kind of democratic uprising is, inevitably, messy and volatile. There is, undeniably, also the presence of opportunistic forces that are not democratic, most clearly the Islamists. That makes the situation particularly complex but does not mean that the overall direction is one we should fear or condemn. Chile was able to make a more peaceful transition but only because a pre-existing political culture that had thrived in a long period of relative stability and democracy prior to the Pinochet period was able to survive underground and re-emerge when the regime finally was pushed aside. Egypt, Syria and Libya do not have that luxury, as they have been either under the direct colonial thumb of imperial powers such as Britain or held down by the local thugs representing post-imperial powers for generations.
Since the great powers have invested billions and many decades in creating the authoritarian regimes now being challenged, it appears to the mouthpieces of those same forces, like the Wall Street Journal, that all is chaos. Even “liberal intellectuals” like Harvard’s Noah Feldman are frightened by the disorderly nature of the popular effort to recreate these long repressed societies. He condemned the Egyptian millions as a “mob” as I explained here.
No doubt, when one is threatened with the loss of a significant investment panic is a reasonable enough reaction. But should they really be surprised that the “order” they imposed on the backs of the middle east is now under challenge?
It is a sign of how the world is turning on its axis now that the Journal would go this far. The Egyptian people are to be congratulated for being among the first to put their shoulder to the wheels of history and pushing.
Let’s hope the American people will find the courage to join them. Then the Journal’s editorial writers can join their fascist comrade in arms Pinochet in the ash can of history.
Commentators around the web today are in a great confusion. Is it a coup, is it a revolution? The fact is most of these people have no political experience or historical perspective and so cannot understand what they are witnessing.
Some, however, are desperate to rebuild some order that they can feel comfortable with. Noah Feldman at Harvard falls into the latter category. He dismisses this week’s events in Egypt as a “mob” action. He is unable, more likely unwilling, to acknowledge that this is the next stage in a long process that aims to establish democracy and genuine human freedom in the middle east. He wants social events there and elsewhere to fall into the categories he learned as a young law student. He seems to forget that law is a secondary institution, second to actual social and economic reality. It is important but it is a function of more important social forces.
Feldman suggests the imposition of Morsi – a compromise reached by those very social forces last year – was the result of a rule of law, a constitutional process. But there can be no stable rule of law in a country in the condition that Egypt finds itself until some fundamental social issues are resolved. That is the nature of the revolutionary process that began with the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. The process is far from finished. Wishful thinking by liberals like Feldman will not shorten or simplify that process.
The situation emerging now in Egypt and the middle east, and elsewhere, resembles the “triangle of forces” that characterized the Cold War era. This framework was first described by Hal Draper in his essay on the Czech coup in 1948 (link below). In the Cold War the three basic camps were the wider working class, the emerging new authoritarian bureaucrats led by the Stalinist movement, and a capitalist order that was still on its back in much of the world.
The glue that held the triangle together was the crisis-ridden nature of capitalism itself, a crisis-prone tendency that continues today. The Stalinist movement emerged as an authoritarian movement based on anti-capitalist rhetoric. It aimed to impose a new form of social and economic power that relied on (brutal) bureaucratic and authoritarian institutions to force countries through some form of economic development that could compete with the traditional market based capitalism. Its “success” was based on the its appeal to the victims of capitalist crisis. I used this framework to explain the development of Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolution in my recently published book, Rights and Revolution.
Today, the emerging social forces are somewhat more complex but there is without doubt a new diverse global working class (explored in my book “From ‘Che’ to China”), albeit one without nearly enough work, a new global capitalist elite with allies in new bureaucratic forces in the so-called “emerging market countries,” and an opportunistic authoritarianism taking several forms including and perhaps most significant right now, Islamic fundamentalism, but also found in the movements loosely allied with the fundamentalists like Chavez of Venezuela, the Chinese stalinists and others.
Feldman and those who want to condemn the ouster of Morsi as a “coup” are not, of course, allies of the authoritarian fundamentalist camp. They are, instead, more worried about what they call “chaos” represented by the global working class. Since that is a class they cannot control it sends them into a frenzy as this new social force emerges to exercise power, as workers are doing in so many parts of the world today, whether in the form of Occupy Wall Street or the movements for social equity, transparency and democracy in places like Syria, Turkey and Brazil.
One tactic of those who fear the events in Egypt or Syria is to suggest that they are nothing but tools of the fundamentalist camp. This view point is widely held on the far right. Others, typically among the far left, attempt to dismiss these new movements by saying they are nothing but tools of the CIA. Though emanating from the back benches of global politics these rhetorical interventions serve those front benchers, like Feldman, who want to quell the new movements. These amount to an attempt to flatten the triangular complexity of events into two dimensions and thus force their audience to pick a side, namely their side. Perhaps it is not a surprise that Feldman’s intervention appears on the media outlet of billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
But despite these attempts to dismiss the new movements, there is, in fact, a real and autonomous social and democratic movement emerging in these countries that is not under the thumb of either the CIA or al Qaeda. That is the new reality. It is an inevitable by product of the globalization process that has now replaced the Cold War. Feldman’s “mob,” is, in fact, the new face of humanity struggling to gain its footing in the new era. We in the west should applaud and support its efforts. And there is no better time for us to begin than on the 4th of July weekend.