So I've had a week now for the outcome of last Tuesday's US election to sink in, and I've been doing some thinking and some research, and my conclusion is that either I'm wearing a tinfoil hat or things are much, much worse than most people imagine.
Nearly four years ago I wrote about the Beige Dictatorship, and predicted:
Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election. And in so doing, they have broken the "peaceful succession when enough people get pissed off" mechanism that prevents revolutions. If we're lucky, emergent radical parties will break the gridlock (here in the UK that would be the SNP in Scotland, possibly UKIP in England: in the USA it might be the new party that emerges if the rupture between the Republican realists like Karl Rove and the Tea Party radicals finally goes nuclear), but within a political generation (two election terms) it'll be back to oligarchy as usual.
Well, I was optimistic. The tea party radicals have gone nuclear, but I wasn't counting on a neo-Nazi running the White House, or on the Kremlin stepping in ...
Let me explain.
A few years ago, wandering around the net, I stumbled on a page titled "Why Japan lost the Second World War". (Sorry, I can't find the URL.) It held two photographs. The first was a map of the Pacific Theater used by the Japanese General Staff. It extended from Sakhalin in the north to Australia in the south, from what we now call Bangladesh in the west, to Hawaii in the east. The second photograph was the map of the war in the White House. A Mercator projection showing the entire planet. And the juxtaposition explained in one striking visual exactly why the Japanese military adventure against the United States was doomed from the outset: they weren't even aware of the true size of the battleground.
I'd like you to imagine what it must have been like to be a Japanese staff officer. Because that's where we're standing today. We think we're fighting local battles against Brexit or Trumpism. But in actuality, they're local fronts in a global war. And we're losing because we can barely understand how big the conflict is.
(NB: By "we", I mean folks who think that the Age of Enlightenment, the end of monarchism, and the evolution of Liberalism are good things. If you disagree with this, then kindly hold your breath until your head explodes. (And don't bother commenting below: I'll delete and ban you on sight.))
The logjam created by the Beige Dictatorship was global, throughout the western democracies; and now it has broken. But it didn't break by accident, and the consequences could be very bad indeed.
What happened last week is not just about America. It was one move—a very significant one, bishop-takes-queen maybe—in a long-drawn-out geopolitical chess game. It's being fought around the world: Brexit was one move, the election and massacres of Dutarte in the Philippines were another, the post-coup crackdown in Turkey is a third. The possible election of Marine Le Pen (a no-shit out-of-the-closet fascist) as President of France next year is more of this stuff. The eldritch knot of connections between Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Da'esh in the wreckage of Syria is icing on top. It's happening all over and I no longer think this is a coincidence.
Part of it is about the geopolitics of climate change (and mass migration and water wars). Part of it is about the jarring transition from an oil-based economy (opposed by the factions who sell oil and sponsor denial climate change, from Exxon-Mobil to the Kremlin) to a carbon-neutral one.
Part of it is the hellbrew of racism and resentment stirred up by loss of relative advantage, by the stagnation of wages in the west and the perception that other people somewhere else are stealing all the money—Chinese factories, Wall Street bankers, the faceless Other. (17M people in the UK have less than £100 in savings; by a weird coincidence, the number of people who voted for Brexit was around 17M. People who are impoverished become desperate and angry and have little investment in the status quo—a fancy way of saying they've got nothing to lose.)
But another big part of the picture I'm trying to draw is Russia's long-drawn out revenge for the wild ride of misrule the neoconservatives inflicted on the former USSR in the 1990s.
Stripped of communism, the old guard didn't take their asset-stripping by neoliberals during the Clinton years lying down; they no more morphed into whitebread Americans than the Iraqis did during the occupation. They developed a reactionary playbook; a fellow called Alexander Dugin wrote The Foundations of Geopolitics, and it's been a set text in the Russian staff college for the past two decades. A text that proposes a broad geopolitical program for slavic (Russian) dominance over Asia, which is to be won by waging a global ideological war against people like us. "In principle, Eurasia and our space, the heartland Russia, remain the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution. ... The new Eurasian empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us. This common civilizational impulse will be the basis of a political and strategic union."
I don't want to sound like a warmed-over cold warrior or a swivel-eyed conspiracy theorist. However, the authoritarian faction currently ascendent in Putin's Russia seem to be running their country by this book. Their leaders remember how the KGB (newly reformed last month) handled black propaganda and disinformation, and they have people who know how new media work and who are updating the old time Moscow rules for a new century. Trump's Russian connections aren't an accident—they may be the most important thing about him, and Russia's sponsorship of extreme right neo-fascist movements throughout Europe is an alarming part of the picture. China isn't helping, either: they're backing authoritarian regimes wherever they seem useful, for the same reason the US State Department under Henry Kissinger backed fascists throughout central and south America in the 1970s—it took a generation to fix the damage from Operation Condor, and that was local (at least, confined to a single continent).
Trying to defeat this kind of attack through grass-roots action at local level ... well, it's not useless, it's brave and it's good, but it's also Quixotic. With hindsight, the period from December 26th, 1991 to September 11th, 2001, wasn't the end of history; it was the Weimar Republic repeating itself, and now we're in the dirty thirties. It's going to take more than local action if we're to climb out of the mass grave the fascists have been digging for us these past decades. It's going to take international solidarity and a coherent global movement and policies and structures I can barely envisage if we're going to rebuild the framework of shared progressive values that have been so fatally undermined.
We haven't lost yet.
But if we focus too narrowly on the local context, we will lose, because there is a de facto global fascist international at work, they've got a game plan, they're quite capable of applying the methods of Operation Condor on a global scale, and if we don't work out how to push back globally fast there will be nobody to remember our graves.