Who’s Your Enemy II: A New and Tougher Empire, Composing, 11/05/2015

Continued from last post . . . I’ve been talking about George Galloway because he seems so much a relic of another time. Living proof that the old ways of doing dissident politics have just petered out. The orthodoxy is to support organizations that liberate people from colonial imperialism by any means. That’s how people can demonstrate for world peace and for Hamas in the same breath.

This is the new sound, just like the old sound
Just like the noose wound, over new ground
Western powers used to physically occupy foreign territory around the world all the time, treating those annexed powers as if they were legitimate parts of themselves. It was the convention, after all, to take over and administer (economically and culturally) the territory that was conquered in war. This is how territory transferred from France to Germany or Italy to Austria in wars between European states. It didn’t matter who started the fight. The land transfer from one sovereign power to another through war was determined only by the outcome of war. No other legitimation process was needed. 

And when the armies were ridiculously mismatched in their technological powers, like industrially advanced legions marching into largely agrarian societies all over Africa, well too bad for the Africans not being lucky enough to have developed large-scale industry. Then the slave trades and the attendant racialization kicked into seriously high gear.

It’s a very simplified version of the actual complex history of global colonization as the expansion of state military conquest to feed massively expanding industrial economies. But the point is simple: Imperialism was, in essence, the state military seizure of territory all over the globe. 

That’s why Antonio Negri distinguished imperialism from empire. Imperialism was a specific kind of domination where institutions of centralized military authority took administrative control of territory and populations by armed conquest. Empire is about economic domination without the need to be bogged down in control of territory as sovereign administrators. 

Disconnected from the state, the main vehicle of domination is now economic controls that move much more insidiously into people’s everyday lives everywhere. Authoritarianism is no longer concentrated in a single kind of institution which has direct control over its agents. Authoritarianism is no longer only intentional, but systematic.

An image of Imperialism, Charles Edwin Fripp's painting
of the Battle of Isandhlwana during the Anglo-Zulu Wars.
Now, I don’t mean to say that state military services have no power anymore. Any protester who has faced police violence in Ferguson, or who suffers under the cultural oppression of the Chinese government in Tibet, or who lives under military or monarchist dictators in the Middle East for just a few examples, knows that. 

But the centreless structures of systematic oppression that constitute Empire, those are harder to fight. You can’t just blame a single set of governments for all of the activities that oppress people. We’re now dealing, fundamentally, with systems that require a different kind of radicalism to change. 

This radicalism requires carving new communities and new kinds of relationships out of the spaces that are otherwise warped by economic and corporate interests. Such spaces can still be fraught and violent, as in indigenous resistance to foreign-owned mining interests in the Amazon. State militaries may well be involved as well, as in the suppression of protest movements in Ferguson and Baltimore. 

But overthrowing that military will not be enough, because the globe-spanning relationships that encourage whatever military oppression happens in a given place remain. The dynamic systems of empire are processes bigger than and distinct from the organizations that enact oppression. This is why the new boss always becomes the same as the old boss.

Galloway’s thinking embodies this fundamental mistake, taking Empire for Imperialism. Imperialism was a phenomenon driven by the intentional activities of a few state governments, their leaders, elite classes, and the mass populations who were manipulated into joining colonial armies through patriotic and racializing ideologies. Galloway, and all the other useful idiots of the contemporary left think that these processes are still the only engines of oppression that exist. 

I sometimes wonder if Galloway resembles François, the
protagonist of Michel Houellebecq's novel Soumission,
who thrives under the socially conservative, anti-
feminist rule of a Muslim Family Values government
in 2020s France.
They do still exist, but they are no longer the master processes of global oppression. Imperialism is now one articulation of Empire.

Presuming that the Imperialist era never ended, then the West is still the only malevolent force in the world, making all enemies of the West virtuous allies in the fight against Imperialism. 

This is why Galloway sees nothing oppressive about running the political machine of the Bradford West Respect Party as a system of patronage among the elite Kashmiri and Pakistani extended families who largely control the major local businesses there. The obvious corruption of such politics and the social illiberalism of their anti-Semitic politics aren’t evaluated for their material affects on the people of their community. They’re anti-Western, so they are good.

So it goes with loudmouths of the contemporary left, the useful idiots, the reactionary left. And I say this as a man of the left myself. I’ve been encouraged before to leave aside my support for liberation from unfair economic systems, to renounce environmentalism as a grab for state power, to believe that what’s good for Bay Street and Big Oil is what’s good for the people. I've been encouraged to do this because useful idiots of the right-wing have pointed to the useful idiots of the left and said that the left is essentially state authoritarianism, bureaucratic oppression, the suppression of women, and hatred of Jews.

But I won’t. Because I know who the real enemy is.

Am I the only one?

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