Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
There you go, the entire lyrics to John Lennon’s classic (except for the third stanza, a refrain). So simple in concept, so powerful in execution. Interestingly, Lennon’s message reverberated with far greater resonance among his contemporaries than it does today. Apart from the Vietnam fiasco and the age-old gripe against the Establishment, the two-prong thrust by the then-radical left, an ideology which has virtually defined, if not driven, Lennon’s political agenda and put the idea of counterculture on the map, America was still the land of opportunity, or so everyone thought, and there were no signs in the offing it would ever cease. The cultural revolution of the sixties was a unique byproduct of the American brand of idealism, fueled by higher than average education and upper middle class upbringing and comfort. The hippies, the flower children of the Haight-Ashbury, the free speech revolutionaries from Columbia to Berkeley, the faculties of major American universities, all shared in the same socioeconomic background and characteristics; all were children of privilege. Why not today, one may ask, when times are tough, the American middle class as good as nonexistent, and the American dream, the emblem of the New World and the beacon, all but shattered? Why not today when governments the world over and the respective nation-states, their proper charge, are under relentless pressure both from without and within: nearly-global economic crisis and embarrassing disclosures of their duplicitous dealings and machinations?
For starters, let’s just say the relationship between prosperity (or the lack thereof) and apathy, especially in the context of the American experience, is complex. We’ve seen that with the right conditions in place, some of us are given to the idealistic impulse. What’s perturbing is the complacency of our rapidly disappearing middle class. Instead of becoming enraged, it plays the patsy, the role of the working stiff: the harder the times, the more intent it seems on begging for scraps, a mere pittance, ever ready to sell its soul to the company store. But this, I contend, is the result of a false sense of confidence and a false sense of values. The American fat cat has been spoiled rotten; so spoiled in fact, the only thing he’s capable of is to dream of past glories and of recapturing the glorious past. There’s not an iota of sympathy in him, no sense of solidarity, no empathy or compassion, only a sense of the overinflated self. Even America’s poor, surely an oxymoron when you think of it, are all infected with the same sense of hollow values, always envious of their betters, always wishing to be like them. Whether the welfare state is to blame or the natural erosion of human dignity due to overexposure to toxic capitalism, American style (sugarcoated, to be sure), by the attendant set of lofty ideals espousing liberty and individual self-determination, the pride of liberal democracies, it’s the modern-day lumpenproletariat, to use Marx’s apt phrase, and hardly the stuff from which revolutions are made. The truly suffering people of Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen put us to bloody shame.
So don’t count on America’s disenfranchised masses to further the cause of the revolution aiming at overthrowing the increasingly burdensome and dysfunctional institution known as “the state” and bringing us closer to John Lennon’s dream of a stateless society, if not the world at large! The American fat cat may have to undergo an extreme starvation diet, coupled with massive deprivation, both physical and psychological, before the reality finally sinks in and hopefully reignites it with a spark of revolutionary consciousness.
Likewise with the oppressed peoples of the People’s Republic of China or those of India, which nation-states, under the pretense of a “ocialist market system (a cleverly coined phrase by the masters of Chinese doublespeak) or some other such guise, boast of their phenomenal successes amidst nearly global economic crisis as their socialist-run economies undergo a period of unprecedented boom. These are serious obstacles, I contend, to attaining the desirable state of affairs, let’s kid ourselves not. I alluded, however, to the already existing geopolitical configurations which, however infinitesimally, represent a movement in the general direction and serve, as it were, the first step. In fact, I take the EU, comprising what’s otherwise known as the Eurozone, as one such example and source of inspiration. Granted, it’s still in its experimental stages, not certain to survive the onslaught from both the internal and external global economic pressures, but it still stands, and for better or worse, aside from serving as a new paradigm, it offers interesting insights. Let’s therefore examine it more closely.
I suppose the first thing to notice is the instauration of an administrative body overseeing some of the operations and functions which, under normal circumstances, have always been regarded as the natural preserve of independent nation-states. Board of directors is as good a name as any, and the activities under its watchful eye include such diverse aspects of governance as administering a monetary policy, as well as the criminal justice system. Lest you pooh-pooh the example for insufficient scope of operations, think again. We’re already experiencing a (however slight) shift in the nature of (foreign?) relations between member states. The conditions imposed on Greece and Ireland, for example, as part of securing the EU-administered bailouts speak for themselves. Years ago, when the EU was but a figment of somebody’s imagination, an inkblot on the map, any such scenario would have been unthinkable.
Imagine one state dictating its terms to another and the disadvantaged party just buckling under the demands! In more cases than not, and that’s in spite of the no-nonsense principle of Realpolitik, we would have witnessed open hostilities, if not war, to resolve the conflict. Today, the spirit of cooperation and adherence to prior arrangements specified in the charter is less of an exception than the rule. Say what you will, but the member states no longer relate to one another as independent nation-states; they’re bound instead by an agreement, a precondition which calls for a measure of compliance. If that’s not shedding some of their sovereignty (and authority, I may well add), I don’t know what is.
Also notice that the main locus of the structural change, even though the sphere of activities affected thereby is mostly economic, is the political: it’s the political relations between member states that have undergone however slight alteration (though again, the theater of action has been restricted thus far to matters mostly economic). This is a significant insight, I daresay, especially in light of the fact that in the EU instance at least, it was mainly economic forces and conditions, not political, which paved the way for, and served as a stimulus to, the eventual formation of the European Union: the categorical imperative to become and remain competitive with the economic powerhouses of North America and Asia surely figures in as consideration of the first order and captures the underlying motivation, end of story! The rest: instituting a uniform currency, easing restrictions on travel in order to facilitate a fluid labor market, you name it, was but icing on the cake, all designed with the singular purpose in mind of making good on the original objective. Hence the inevitable conclusion: it’s in the political that any kind of social change is most likely to register and make itself known, regardless of what has led to it (and no, I’m not discounting here the primacy of the economic factors in spearheading the change).
There’s a perfect reason for this. The state, a political institution through and through, can’t be expected to dabble in what works. Quite the contrary, it’s only going to support the economic system in place, jumpstart it if and when need be, use whatever means necessary in order to preserve it against all opposition to the contrary and whatever injustices it may bring in its wake, regardless of what harm or evil may come as a result of it. Why? In the interest of its own survival, I say. Simply put, the economic order only reinforces the political order (you can’t have one without the other), so don’t be expecting the state to cut its own throat.
Couple this now with the fact that whatever internal contradictions may or may not exist within capitalism proper, the system, a moot point I should think, since they’re most likely to be glossed over if not perpetuated to no end by the instrumentality of the State! One is left with an inescapable conclusion that only the state is truly vulnerable to erosion both from without and within; and that, for the simple reason that whatever contradictions may plague this overarching political concept in theory and in practice (and I believe I made a compelling case to that effect), there’s nothing whatever to intervene on the state’s behalf, for the simple reason there is none above it. There is no substitute for retaliating against the Hydra monster and cutting its many heads, no other remedy except to strike at the source. Consequently, if the state must fall, it will fall of its own accord, case closed. If my thesis runs contrary to Marx’s, so be it. Marx hadn’t paid sufficient attention to the political, his greatest oversight, I’m convinced.
In closing, let me reiterate: the EU experiment is a far cry from the kind of world John Lennon envisaged. Still, it’s a pattern of things to come, the sign of the times, a step in the right direction, an experiment that is likely to be replicated over and over again until it meets with ever greater success. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine a myriad of semiautonomous, anarchistic communities; political, to be sure, but political only in the truest and most meaningful sense: locally; all coexisting under the umbrella of an essentially benign administrative body whose purpose is to insure a modicum of order within the empire. The catch is, unless you believe in aliens posing a threat from outer space, thus making necessary the striking of new alliances for the purpose of presenting a united front against the enemy, there is no enemy, no competition or conflict, no other empire to speak of, only humanity living in unison. I could think of far worse scenarios.
“No countries, no possessions, only a brotherhood of man” What’s so hard to understand? John Lennon was a prophet.