Regarding Race, Nation, and Our Future

Written Work by Graham T. Baden

The Coldest War: The Fall of Imperialism and the Rise of Neo-Liberalism

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History remembers the Cold War as one divided by right and wrong. While it is easier to say that the “West” and the “East” drew a line in the sand based on a fundamental difference of ethos, neither they nor the global “South” decided this boundary by anything but material acquisition and political expedience. The world’s Coldest War was neither cold, nor was it decided by ideology or culture. It was a hot war, it was not without violence, and its divisions were constructed by post-colonial independence and neo-liberal economics.

On to Empire

While the world’s dominant governing system for thousands of years has been the Empire, the nineteenth century witnessed a new form of political expression and representation. The first “nations,” born in the late eighteenth century, came to bloom in the nineteenth. These Communities, imagined through culture and writing, built of shared currencies and languages, and remembered through myth and legend, were projected forward into the future, where they could become the masters of Empire. The nations of Europe extended their imperial control to the ends of the earth, seeking to colonize new peoples, yet remain nations sui generis.

The twentieth century, however, saw the outgrowth of dozens of nation-states, all believing in their own shared identity and sovereignty. It has been argued that the nation-state is the culmination of the natural, teleological progression of political organization. Having moved steadily from loosely knit free-associations to large, multi-national empires, it is suggested, the ultimate end of political evolution is the nation. Further, it has even been argued that the “end of history” has already occurred. (see Fukuyama, The End of History, 1992) The final move in the global game of political representation is the acceptance of democracy, built of a myth of freedom and the neo-liberal insistence of a free and open market. Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” would guide these nations not only to political “freedom,” but to a steadily rising quality of life. However, when placed within a global context of alliance and interdependence, political affiliation and responsible governance is often skewed by multi-national cultural and economic ties.

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Foer, Soccer, and The World Cup

Franklin Foer, in his 2004 How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, offers an– well– an “unlikely” theory of the methods of Cold-War cultural expression. He finds, in his in-depth analysis of nearly a century of worldwide “football,” that the wins and losses of the FIFA World Cup are an excellent indicator of the political divisions of the Cold War. He finds, through soccer, the same nationalistic self-identification and differentiation one might discover through the analysis of any other cultural analogue. While his thesis is limited, extending only to the outermost edges of the game, it is a fascinating allegory for the political and social estrangement during the period. Using soccer instead of bullets, Foer finds another representation of the Cold-War and the globalization of the post-colonial world.

Do those wins represent good governance and a satisfied population, though? Foer has realized a convenient framework for the cultural ethos of each political system through the World Cup’s scoreboards. He finds that the individuality and creativity of democracy wins out over cold, communist empiricism, and the ethos of perfection representative of fascism seems to dominate, except when a nation is embroiled in the culturally “taxing” process of genocide. He finds that nations ruled by a moderate, social democracy perform excellently, at least in the Cup, and that the moral of his story, at least within the framework of the world’s favorite sport, is that collectivism and pluralism win out every time. Foer’s work is a fun, entertaining new perspective of globalism and international cultural exchange, but it remains “unlikely” at best. Political ethos and cultural identity can be aptly applied to the soccer field, but not as well to the development of the political world. Soccer wins occur post facto. They can neither predict, nor explain, the evolution of the divided world of the Cold War. They can only exhibit the conflict of cultures through the pacified warfare that is Sport.

Today, I wonder how Foer would be rooting for the 2014 World Cup. The bitter wealth-gap, though only briefly represented in the narrative of popular media (newspapers call it income inequality), highlights social and material divisions even within the host country, and the global allegiances to country and capitalism are tested.

One thing for which soccer is a good analog, however, is the expression of the cultural and national “Other.” Hegel, Derrida, and most notably Edward Said have exposed the underlying theoretical necessities and fallacies inherent in the creation of an Other. They have suggested that, inasmuch as one imagines an identity for himself, he also creates the identity of someone else. In most cases even, it does not even matter who is “otherized,” only that by differentiation, one is himself identified. Soccer (and, really any sport) is an exceptional, globally accepted form of pacified warfare. Instead of killing each other, we can hate each other from across the soccer field; glaring at the “other” as they sit dumbly and root for the bad guys. But this is how the cultural world was divided, not why. It cannot be true that humanity chooses to establish arbitrary borders and divisions simply in jest. There must be some tangible, appreciable reason behind it.

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Culture Clash?

Though it works more effectively for propaganda and gross over-generalizations, the Cold War was not an ideological, political, or cultural clash. It was fundamentally a question of American versus Soviet economic presence. This term “presence,” often coupled with the familiar “sphere of influence,” refers to a national friendship; one of military alliance and protection. For the new nations of of the ex-colonial world, the cost of this friendship seemed a bargain. It asked nothing more than the allowance of external industrial and economic investment. All that was required was to choose a side. Within each chosen sphere of political influence, the developing world was protected and supported by their friendship with the metropole, from whom they received aid, advice, and military support. This support was not free, however, for where it appears that the political “First World” offered their might as an aid to the new nations of the “Developing World,” to the Yankees and the Soviets, the acquisition of alliances meant the acquisition of resources. Those oft-referenced “spheres of influence” were not drawn by cultural or political preference, but by the economic superstructures of two self-interested metropoles.

It has been suggested that the divisions of the world, causing strife for centuries, has been ultimately an ideological and civilizational one. (see Huntington, “Culture Clash?”) I, and many other scholars, find this to be foolish, and feel a broader scope is required to see the true causes of social, ideological, and cultural conflict. Edward Said, historian, author, and philosopher said it beautifully:

“The real question is whether in the end we want to work for civilizations that are separate, or whether we should be taking the more integrative, but perhaps more difficult path, which is to see them as making one vast whole, whose exact contours are impossible for any person to grasp, but whose certain existence we can intuit and feel and study.”

In as much as cultural history makes for intriguing papers and books, it falls short of any real explanation of why things really happen. There can be only one non-reducible factor, and, like it or not, it is material wealth. One need only look at the political evolution of the African continent during the middle-twentieth century to gain a better grasp of this process.

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A Southern Theatre

The new nations of the “Developing World,” born in the ashes of Empire, were thrust into a world bifurcated by polarized political systems. These systems were so diametrically opposed– at least their leaders insisted so– that their armies lined up across borders and erected the walls that divided the world. They paired off, aiming their bombs and their rockets; their military dominance matched in a dance of mutually assured destruction. The only thing that saved the world, it seems, was the assurance that, after a political war of nuclear scale, there would be no world left over to govern. The Eurasian Cold War was one of rumors and threats, not of bullets. It was not merely cold, it was frozen in stalemate.

With the independent factors introduced by the new nations of the post-colonial world, however, the balance of power within the United Nations was tested. Africa, Asia,  and South America’s Cold War was not just hot, it was muggy. There were few political options for these new nations. They could accept external influence and enter into a Neo-Colonial alliance with Americans or the Soviets, or, as a growing number of Pan-Africanists and Afro-Asian leaders suggested, they could remain “non-aligned.”

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Taking No Side

As the colonized world grew to political independence in the first post-war years, many nations, following especially the example of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s non-violent revolution in India, achieved sovereignty through a smooth political process. Beginning with the ouster of France from Indochina (now Vietnam) in 1954, though, a series of violent revolts rocked through the colonies. The “Mau Mau Rebellion” of Kenya, intermittent guerrilla wars in Zimbabwe, and decades of racial turmoil in South Africa tinged the rising tide of global political consciousness with their isolated occurrences of struggle.

Beginning with intellectuals like Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois, just after the turn of the century, Pan-Africanists fought for solidarity, cultural consciousness, and the return of power to the peoples of Africa. As Gamal Abdel Nasser rose to leadership in Egypt during Britain’s post-war withdrawal, Kwame Nkruma of Ghana and Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea led their nations to independence and rallied behind the Pan-African flag. Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who would later lead Cote d’Ivoire to a moderate and lasting independence in 1959, founded the Rassemblement Democratique Africaine (RDA) at Bamako, Mali in 1946. The RDA was a strong advocate of Pan-African alliance within Francafrique and soon joined with the French Communist Party (PCF), a staunch supporter of anti-imperialism and decolonization. Though the war in Europe remained cold, other post-colonial communities joined the non-aligned movement worldwide and, as Afro-Asian leaders met at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia during the spring of 1955, the political climate of the Southern Front came to a boil.

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If It Doesn’t Make Dollars, It Doesn’t Make Sense

It seems, then, that this war was not quite as cold as the historical narrative likes to remember. While the West prefers to recall the Cold War as one without bullets, in the developing world, it was simply not. Neither were its wheels turned by politics or culture, but by self-interested material aims. If the Hegelian-Marxist dialectic can be applied to a worldwide realm, the superstructure extends far beyond the singular economic interests of the Nation. In the years after the Second World War, the centralization of wealth and power was projected upon the world on a global scale. These self-interests were not applied to the new nations of the world, however, only to the metropolitan cores. The centralization of power and wealth was not contained solely within national spheres even, but within the increasingly isolated number of individuals of an ever-increasingly limited class.

Modern democracy, as well as Communism, represent two sides of the same coin. The 1%, the 2%, or the bourgeoisie; call it what you will. A tiny portion of the global population holds the overwhelming majority of the world’s wealth, and it has little national interest save the further centralization of industrial and economic power. These economic, quasi-political divisions are disguised as nationalism– even imperialism– but are constructed of greed and avarice, not the imagined ideological, political, or cultural conceptualizations of god, country, or soccer. Further, they are not representative of the populations of the nations involved, but of their rapacious and power-hungry leaders; leaders who neither represent their nations, nor its best interests, but the interests of a select few cronies and capitalists at the very top of the economic ladder. The arc of political and social development is not driven by ideas, religions, or even governments, it is driven by personal ambition and the lust for material wealth.

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