NATO in Chicago: Is the Whole World Watching?

NATO meets in Chicago at a time when its foundations are being profoundly undermined by the ongoing economic crisis. While the heads of state and defense ministers in attendance may hope that discussions of economic matters are left to the near-concurrent G8 meeting (six G8 members are signatories to the NATO agreement), there is no way to ignore the crisis griping Europe and the U.S. To speak quite bluntly, at least one of its members is confronting the specter of national collapse. NATO’s house is in disorder. Is the whole world watching?

While NATO was conceived as mutual self-defense organization in the Stalin period of the Cold War, it has attempted to assume (not without difficulties) a larger political role as the divide between the two poles of world capital—east and west—disintegrated. The NATO powers maintained a “management” approach to the Serbian and Croatian attempts to destroy independent Bosnia in the mid-1990s (as if genocide can be “managed”) and then delivered an encore performance as Slobodan Milosevic undertook the violent expulsion of the long-oppressed Albanian majority of Kosovo/Kosova. NATO’s belated interventions at the time were prompted by the Atlantic alliance’s bad conscience over its cynical indifference to the “principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law” cataloged in the Treaty’s preamble rather than the “materialist” motives ascribed to it at time (and since then) by the vulgar Left. [1] Socialist Yugoslavia was integrated into the world capitalist economy long before the death of Marshall Tito, and no one was more aware of the fact than the international banker Milosevic.

Today NATO ranges farther afield and functions as the minority partner in the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. [2] The war there (more accurately described as a large-scale counter-insurgency effort) has for some time taken a increasingly nihilistic tenor, with murder and the mutilation of corpses becoming integrated into the American conduct of the hostilities. As the essentially unwinnable nature of the conflict becomes more and more apparent—the central government is weak, the regional warlords are strong, and the Taliban (and their patrons in the intelligence services of Pakistan) have time on their side—the partners of the U.S. are becoming less willing and able to shoulder the political and economic costs of their domestically unpopular commitments. The liberal Obama administration is in effect the ultimate guarantor of the Karzai government and its misogyny, gross corruption and indifference to the basic needs of the diverse population of Afghanistan.

Rosa Luxemburg reminds us that, “From the purely economic point of view, [militarization] is a pre-eminent means for the realization of surplus value; it is in itself a province of accumulation.” [3] The Chicago protests against NATO, however, must admit the reality that there is no direct economic relation between the war in Afghanistan and the current economic crisis. That is, the cost of the war—paid for out of the enormous amounts of money loaned to the U.S. by other countries through the purchase of Treasury bills—is not the cause of the drive for austerity at home. The cause of the crisis lies elsewhere, in capitalism’s intrinsic profitability difficulties stemming from the drive to decrease the ratio of variable capital (the human being) to constant capital (the machine) in the production process. Capitalism’s curse is that the human being is the source of surplus value in the equation.

The protests in Chicago are in effect a general denunciation of the current political and economic direction of the U.S. Chicago’s newly-elected mayor and his administration have expended every effort—with more than a little success—to estrange the city’s residents from the protesters by portraying them as a horde of dangerous interlopers intent on running amok in the city (he has a number factors in his favor, not the least of which is the distorting field of gravity of the ongoing presidential campaign). Additionally, the anti-war movement is burdened by its failure to gain traction with the U.S. population because of its inability to overcome the objective challenges presented by the Iraq and Afghan wars, chiefly the fact that the relatively low number of soldiers from the all-volunteer armed forces deployed to the new high-technology war zones means that the conflicts have called for little sacrifice (or attention, for that matter) from the vast majority with no connection to those in uniform. At the height of the Johnson administration’s commitment to the Vietnam War, the U.S. had half a million conscripted soldiers in the country. In contrast, there are less than 100,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Afghanistan.

Is the whole world watching Chicago? And if so, what will it see? The participants in the NATO conference no doubt hope that it is not too blatantly obvious that they are collectively heading for the Afghan coat-check counter. The protesters, for their part, are severely limited by the political realities of the U.S. at this moment. Many of the demands of the Occupy movement can be safely integrated into capitalism. President Obama is quite aware of this and has to do nothing more than wait for November to draw near to see large segments of the movement join his camp. After all, what alternative is there? A movement that in 2012 focuses solely on the excesses of finance capital—especially a movement that defines itself as the undifferentiated majority of society mobilized against the tiny percentage that constitutes the super-rich—limits itself to merely calling for capitalism to regulate itself, a demand regularly made by leading sections of the bourgeoisie itself. In a world which has long since been remade in the image of the bourgeoisie (which—historically speaking—is the middle class), it would be foolish to forget that the middle class can march in defense of its own material interests.

The material productivity of capitalist society, which has reached a level that previous eras would have described as of supernatural or divine origin, tends to conceal the true nature of society more strongly than at any time in human history. To the empiricist, this level of productivity, based as it is on the necessity for only a relatively small number of people involved in the direct production of commodities (see comment on variable labor above) has superseded the class conflict of earlier stages. To the empiricist, societal conflict now is limited to debates over the distribution of wealth created by the occult system of capitalist production (the total social capital). Oppositional movements are trapped in demands that the existing system perfect itself by curbing its excesses. The system—or rather the belief that there is no alternative to the system—is affirmed instead of negated.

This state of affairs calls for us to not mourn, but to criticize by bringing the power of negativity to the situation.

[1] Among the most cretinous “materialist” analysts of the Bosnian war was the Canadian academic Michel Chossudovsky. This statement, in his article titled “Dismantling Former Yugoslavia, Recolonizing Bosnia” in the journal Capital and Class (Summer 1997) ranks as one of the most ludicrous psuedo-journalistic scoops from the conflict: “Documents in the hands of Croatia and the Bosnian Serbs indicate that coal and oil deposits have been identified on the eastern slope of the Dinarides Thrust, a region retaken from rebel Bosnian Krajina Serbs by the Croatian army in the final offensives before the Dayton Peace accords.” See also the document “NATO & G8: An Overview” by Bob Bossie, issued by CANG8, one of the groups coordinating the protests in Chicago. Bossie, a Catholic priest, cites in passing “interethnic conflict in Yugoslavia” and then goes on to favorably quote Diana Johnstone (misspelling her name in the process), one of the worst of the English-language Red-Brown apologists for Milosevic. So much for Christian mercy.

[2] NATO’s Libyan adventure and its “materialist” critics barely warrant mention. Europe and the U.S. already had access to Libya’s oil through the world market. The Libyan adventure exposed NATO’s objective and subjective weakness.

[3] Chapter 32: “Militarism as a Province of Accumulation” in The Accumulation of Capital, originally published in 1913.

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