this Bergonia thing?
The Political Answer
"Be realistic and do the impossible"
because if we don't..., we face the unthinkable."
"The present is enough for common souls,
"Man without History is not Man."
My exercise in fantasy may be a waste-- there are some who dismiss all fantasy as wasteful, but if so then thank God for waste.
Beyond Bergonia being a self-indulgent very gratifying hobby, I obviously have a political agenda, which is to promote the Left, which is to say my version of it. But specifically I've intended Bergonia to (at least) pry around the edges of two questions.
The first question is the more trivial, a matter of helpless retrospection: How might have world history turned if Lenin, Stalin and their red-star totalitarian progeny had not hijacked and mutilated the leftist impulse that once reverberated heroically around the world?
The second question is spoken urgently: Now that red-star communism has either died (U.S.S.R. R.I.P.) or gone unabashedly capitalist (McDonalds on bloodstained Tienanmen), can men & women of goodwill reclaim the leftist vision and recast it anew? Or instead will corporate capitalism forever silence the democratic urge for equality? (See Authoritarian and Democratic Technics, by Lewis Mumford)
This second question has enormous historical implications, since it is almost certain now that corporate -capitalism will not try to avert environmental collapse. Indeed corporate-capitalism's frenetic appetites are causing the environmental collapse.
Both these questions ask us to revisit the original leftist impulse that produced radical republicanism, radical trade unionism, populism, socialism, syndicalism and anarchism.
The revolutionary left, over two hundred years old, has given expression to the best values of modern humanity ("liberty, equality, fraternity!"). Therefore, i am justified in seriously asking if the revolutionary left could have given the world something else, something better, than either the decadent materialism of mass-market capitalism or the sterile gulag of red-star communism. If the answer is yes, then I am justified in asking if the revolutionary left might still yet give the world something good.
Capitalism and Marxism are really only quarreling cousins, as both belong to the broad family of modern materialism. An honest appraisal of history shows that the left had deep roots in artesian trades and crafts movements, before the ascension of unions and other industrial proletariat movements. Thus, despite Marx, the left has deep roots in industrial pre-modern values. Many early espousals of "communism" were avowedly Christian, byproducts of militant Protestantism (e.g. Levelers). It should not be so surprising that communism prevailed in less industrial, non- or semi-Western countries like Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, or that it attracted so much interest in the Third World.
The red star has sputtered and dimmed, while the flames of capitalism burn out of control, consuming minds and resources: The corporations & banks run the world. Their pet politicians dance across the stages of charade democracies. The rich get richer, and become more isolated from the rest of us, while the poor still drink from the cup of misery. Money values dominate, in tandem with the new "anti-values" of commercialism (you have to be "cool;" you have to buy the newest image-enhancing product; nothing else matters). Religious and traditional values have no place in the world of glamorized sex & violence, both metaphors for consumer self-indulgence. Michael Jordan and Kathie Lee Gifford sell shoes and rags made with exploited labor, and President Clinton (a liberal?) drinks toasts with the Butchers of Tienanmen.
With every year the problems get worse-- shareholders value only the next quarterly dividend, CEO's tend only to their golden parachutes, and no one can see more than five years into the future. Economic predacity causes global warming and massive discharges of toxic waste. The forests and wild places of the earth, thousands of species and whole biomes, all disappear-- slaughtered on the alter of greed, a holocaust of life to a golden calf. To seal the future, humanity's reproductive frenzy continues, making water, fertile land and other vital resources more and more scarce. After several decades of optimism, informed opinion now sees a future point where demand for grains and other foodstuffs will exceed supply by a very consequential margin. Global oil production will likely peak by 2020, and then economic chaos will likely ensue. But citizens will not see any serious debate about these or other serious issues in our tightly controlled press, a press determined to addict the citizenry to trivia-- if not sensational celebrity murderers, then presidential sex scandals.
How depressing it is (at least to me) to think that "this" is all there is-- this corporate-controlled world where profit motive and marketing considerations override all other priorities, including those related to life and death. What a disappointment the history of our times have been: We were brought up on the idea of "progress," where every generation does better than the last, and where the society & culture continue along the road to enlightened civilization. Instead, we live in a time when (a) common people (esp. in the US) work more hours and earn less in real wages than the last generation, (b) low wage underemployment is rampant, and (c) neither health nor standards of living are increasing. I grew up in idealistic times (graduated from high school in 1970), with a very idealistic father, and became a thorough-going idealist, dosing myself with Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, Upton Sinclair and the like. Of course the idealists are the most thoroughly outraged, the most hugely disappointed, the most apt to turn on those who disappoint them.
When "the man behind the curtain" is revealed to us, we discover that we live under a dictatorship of the corporate oligarchy, and that the oligarchy has willed the desiccation of all culture. With saturation advertising, this dictatorship has engaged in mass mind control as deliberately as any communist regime, and has achieved a richer, subtler and more invidious method of mind control than anything of communist origin, and therefore far more successful. As a result, religious and spiritual values are rapidly eroding. As a result, we are losing consciousness of the whole body of Classical & Western art and literature. And as a result, we are massively developing bad mental habits well summarized as the great "dumbing down."
But it is vastly consoling to realize that humankind can be different than what capitalism & modernism have made of him. We have history and anthropology to thank for this insight, since they demonstrate for us the breadth of human possibilities. If man can be different from modern capitalist man, he can be better. At least once a day I find myself thinking that humankind is weak, selfish and dependably corrupt (original sin indeed). This sad habit of thought is somewhat customary to my day job/ profession (law), but I suspect that it does rather correctly reflect the truth of our present human condition. I believe that living in an evil culture (indeed, where mass-marketing and all other corporate-controlled media extols what religions list as sin) will make a person more evil than he might otherwise be. Moreover, a crazy culture can fracture sane people and drive them crazy. The stress alone will do this. Imagine how men and women can thrive when the stress and craziness all cease.
We may spend the next century (or two) sliding inexorably into a chaos of ecological disaster, economic & demographic dislocation and cultural perversion. Even as the foundations of McWorld crack and spring leaks, the capitalist cartels will continue manipulating our perceptions and our work to ensure their ever short-term interests. As the wreckage accumulates they will continue unabated feasting. And while they steer the bulk of humankind this way and that way along the downward path, they will never pull us up. Without a true change of values emanating from the side to rejuvenate the masses, the slide will continue.
The old leftists spun their cloth of dogma from the same wool that capitalists used to weave their economic assumptions. Marxists presumed that every social and political question had an economic explanation, and held that all religious, metaphysical, psychological and aesthetic considerations were secondary, mere phantasms through which economic forces played. In essence, capitalists shared the same essential function! They still do today. Both Marxists and capitalists see the world as a dead, worthless place suitable only for exploitation. The capitalist explicitly regards all men and women (other than himself) as worthless as the petroleum under the ground and the cows in the fields. The leftists doctrinally valued labor and proclaimed the masses full of worth, but in practice communists even exceeded the capitalists in the deadly game of exploitation. They see the world and humankind in the same way, the capitalist being the one in charge and benefiting from the sorry state, and the marxist giving voice to the masses the capitalists exploit.
A new left has to return unequivocally to the central core of socialism and the left: a capitalist class dominates the economy and society and exploits the mass of working men and women to their own benefit. The fact of exploitation of one class by another is something that today's leftists don't shout about.
A new left must give value to both humanity and the world in which humans live. While capitalists and communists have together practiced the cult of death, a new left must define itself by revering all life.
A new left will have to divorce itself from the materialist assumptions of modernism that has pervaded all thought for the past two centuries. This requires a vast transformation of thought. For this reason the Bergonian fantasy portrays an alternative left as a product of (or at least as an adaptation to) an alien, non-western culture. A truly radical break (unlike Marx's neo-Ricardianism and thorough modernism), will require exploration of realms which modernism has rejected or utterly ignored. Medieval monastic traditions, Sufi and Vedic hymns may even have worth here, but most certainly we will at the very least have to observe our culture and ourselves with new eyes. To help imagine what a non-materialist Left might look like, my Bergonian fantasy incorporates religion, metaphysics and environmentalism, while condemning parochialism and (hopefully) avoiding "New Age" softheadness.
Western modernism has not completely failed humanity. It has produced refined values, such as political liberty and respect for the rule of law. It has also produced public education, scientific inquiry, and useful mechanisms for decision-making (the ballot box) and communication (the Internet). Red Star socialism rejected or mutated these things, but a new left must embrace them, absorb them and improve on them. Socialism itself is a doctrine born of Western modernism, and like democracy it shows that modernism was capable of producing good ideas. But we all should now realize that the greed-infused materialism of Western modernism has reached absurd proportions in its present global-corporate mutation, and will succeed in destroying or trivializing the very good things that modernism produced over a hundred years ago. Modernism has got to go.
In Modernism's stead, a new culture is needed. It must be a culture more value-laden, optimistic, and serviceable to the common man than the soured milk that Post-Modernist cynicism offers. Perhaps I should say that I look forward to a "Post-Western" culture. The good things of Western modernism must survive the transition to a new culture, and find new life and fulfillment in the context of a new culture. For this reason my fantasy of Bergonian history includes injection of modern European values (as well as Christianity) into a non-western culture, as something of a metaphor for synthesis of western and non/post-western elements.
Taking a dialectical view, perhaps the best way to defeat western modernism is to work toward a synergistic reaction involving values antithetical to modernism, and know that a synthesis will come. Just as the Christian/Feudal age (with a manor/village-based agricultural & artesian mode of production) met its end with the rise of the Modern/Capitalist Age (with its militarized industrial mode of production), perhaps the latter will give way to a Green-Conscious/Socialist age ( with a democratic mode of production. That's my fantasy of a good world to come. And that's why the Bergonian Revolution involves first a Socialist phase (1930s) and then a Green phase (1980s).
Here I dream, but someday a new left must go beyond dreaming and pedantry. It must someday reclaim the heroic will that men and women displayed on the picket lines, the barricades and the battlefronts decades & centuries ago. In an age and country where narcissistic posturing masquerades as leadership (Ronnie, Bill and W the best of the lot), where self-indulgent whining substitutes for self-sacrifice, and where money-values have permeated and corrupted everything, the heroism of the old left seems hardly less alien than the heroism of the Christian martyrs of antiquity. For this reason, my Bergonian historical fantasy repeatedly tells the story of revolution-- where men and women fight and sacrifice and for their values.
My Bergonian fantasy is my way of asking some questions:
Is it too late for the left? Is it too late for a new left, a revolutionary movement suited for the times, capable of sense, vision and heart, as well as militant courage? Can we awaken the left from its Marxist atrophy?
Can there be a truly libertarian left?
And then can we all awaken from the Capitalist nightmare before it is too late.
Our real-life drama of history makes a sane person feel something like the doomed anti-heroes of 1984 and Brave New World. The protagonist in both our real time and the fantastic dystopias is a sane man, trapped in an insane world, able to see the reality for what it is, and living utterly helpless to escape the ubiquity and intensity of the propaganda thought-machine. For now there seems no answer to this stinking dilemma, and the sane person struggles in the gulf between hope and despair. Another century may pass before masses of men and women again act against destructive authority in hopes of something new and better. The next wave may not come in time, and most certainly will not come in my lifetime, but let good men and women today at least choose hope. Even Winston Smith had hope.
Rev. June 2005