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Wanted: a leap in imagination

US born Muslim Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the army psychiatrist who turned his guns on his fellow soldiers at an army camp in Texas yesterday, was apparently unhappy about being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. So the horror of Kabul, Baghdad and other cities where terrorist attacks kill scores of people on a daily basis has hit back, in a Texas military stronghold, of all places.

But how is it, that 20 years after the dramatic end of the Cold War, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, such ferocious acts, and the conflicts that give rise to them, continue? Wars and military confrontations in today’s world are not simply the creation of “the West” as some would have us believe. Russia, China, Sri Lanka and Burma to name but a few are carrying out wars against subject peoples on a scale that equals the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan.

One can only conclude that it is the violent nature of the dominant system of capitalism, based on gross inequality and exploitation, enforced by political repression, that is the source.

Rewind the camera to the world of 1989. The collapse of Stalinist dictatorships throughout eastern Europe was soon followed by other dramatic changes, this time in Africa. In 1990, the apartheid rulers of South Africa released ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison. Mengistu Haile Mariam, until then supported by Moscow, was overthrown as dictator in Ethiopia.

Peace and democracy, it seemed back then, was breaking out. Yet, only a year later, the first Gulf War broke out after Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. And as the new millennium opened up, the continued occupation of Palestine led to a new intifada by an oppressed people.

The New World Disorder became swiftly identified not with democracy but with the take-over of the planet by giant corporations who drove globalisation forward at any cost, political and environmental. This led to the clear and present reality of the planet overheating due to the wanton over-consumption of oil and other resources, driven by capitalism’s need to extract profit from the production and sale of commodities.

Many have noted that euphoria of the 1989 period described by US philosopher Francis Fukuyama as “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” was never realised. The “end of communism” – more accurately, the collapse of Stalinist dictatorships – actually ushered in a long decline in the capitalist world which has matured into a full-scale global crisis.

The more astute commentators and analysts of post-1989 capitalist society are now taking time out to examine what went wrong after the supposed triumph of capitalist democracy, even talking about a “failure of imagination” in the political classes.

But the underlying issue is the nature of the economic system itself. The post-1989 unification of Germany and the other newly capitalist countries of eastern Europe demonstrate this vividly. One of the richest capitalist countries, West Germany, has been unable to resolve the problem posed by absorbing and reconstructing its other half, the former German Democratic Republic.

Unemployment in the east still outstrips the West and incomes are at least one third lower. Behind all the shiny new buildings is a country that – just like the US, Britain and the rest of the world – remains deeply divided, not only between former east and west but between rich and poor – who include unemployed immigrants, now often subject to racist attacks.

There is no point blaming the ruling classes and their spokespeople in the media for failing to resolve the crisis created by the system that they preside over. That truly would be a failure of imagination.

Today’s crisis requires a revolutionary political and economic vision which grasps that replacing capitalism with societies determined and controlled by people themselves, based on co-operation and diverse cultures, religions and outlooks, is a sustainable solution. A roundtable discussion we are hosting at the Whitechapel Art Gallery on December 2 on the meaning of 1989 for today is intended as a contribution to that challenge.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
6 November 2009

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