December 16, 2002
Do you recall the bridge to the 21st century, the New Economy, the expansion without end, the opening era of peace and democracy, the DOW reaching the 30,000 mark? It seems like eons ago, right? Where have these grandiose pronouncements gone? In just two short years, everlasting confidence has been replaced by bleakness and pessimism, economic insecurity, a sense of vulnerability, drastic erosion of civil liberties, war without end... all characteristics that would at first glance best define the year 2002. Yet, looking deeper 2002 is also a year of extraordinary realization by masses of people that hope is a vital component of humanness and that the power to dream and invent the future will prevail.
2002 did not occur in a vacuum, and needs to be placed within an historical context.
It's the finale, or close to the culmination of over twenty years of harsh reaction following what French economist Jean Fourastier called "les Trente Glorieuses" (the Thirty Glorious [years] - 1945-1975) of reconstruction and economic growth in the West based on mass consumerism, social progress of the welfare state (which had found its origin in and was a response to the considerable social advances of the socialist experiment -- in spite of the remarkable odds against it), and the slow erosion of authority. Twenty long years during which took place the immiseration and pauperization of wider and wider swaths of humanity in the midst of a frantic race to appropriate raw materials and endless profit-making for the very few; an immiseration and pauperization that has now extended to the First World, the industrialized countries, through huge transfers of wealth hidden behind the veils of longer work hours, lower relative wages, diminished or trampled social services, decaying infrastructures, tax-cuts for the few, corporate scandals and other financial shenanigans.
Twenty long years indeed which have seen the intellectual failure of the pontificating punditry to offer an alternative to the present development paradigm based on production-consumption -- what has become hyper-consumerism, mass narcissism leading to atomization, isolation, solitude and disenfranchisement of the multitude, eradication of the collective welfare, and a culture of cynicism -- in spite of the increased awareness of the formidable environmental challenges that the world is facing and the diffuse if not confused recognition that the fossil fuels era is coming to an end without a replacement in sight.
2002 is also the culmination of the squandering of an immense outpour of good will toward America in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, renewed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, because of an increasingly aggressive and out of whack super- or hyper-power bound to impose its will through deception, provocation, coercion and ultimately force, even if in so doing it tears down the Comity of Nations through unilateral and repeated attacks against International Laws (might makes right). People all over the world are increasingly questioning, and wary of, the American agenda.
This growing questioning, at times emotionally expressed, is not directed against the American people though. The world fully understands what James P. Cannon, an American left-wing leader of yesteryear, once said: "There is the other America -- the America of the workers and farmers and the 'little people.' They constitute the great majority of the people. They do the work of the country. They revere its old democratic traditions -- its old record of friendship for the people of other lands, in their struggles against Kings and Despots -- its generous asylum once freely granted to the oppressed." The 'other America' is overwhelmingly cherished, not hated as the main media keep emphasizing in order to ratchet emotions that serve the goals of a tiny minority.
With an economic and social crisis of astounding proportion, worldwide in scope, with countless countries running away as fast as they can from the neo-liberal model, 2002 illustrates the desperate efforts of the ruling elites all over the world (not just in the USA) to preserve and at any cost, even through war and social ruin, add to their already obscene privileges -- a situation somewhat similar to that of the early part of the twentieth century, during the years that led to the Great Depression; and like that period, it would be naïve to wishfully think that their days are counted, for reactionary elites are never as militarily and politically powerful as when a social order is in the process of collapsing.
And that's what 2002 truly reveals: the disintegration of a global system and a failure of the imagination. It's symbolized by the violent nihilism behind the various brands of religious fundamentalism, the direct and concrete threats of the United States to the well-being of the entire world, the contempt for international laws leading to the breakdown of the United Nations, the recurring assaults on civil liberties, the spread of fear and intimidation by an increasingly authoritarian body politic, the refusal to constructively face the ecological disasters in the making, and the absence of comprehensive and nonviolent alternatives.
From this perspective 2002 looks very bleak indeed, but there is more to it that meets the eye. Gradually, voices began to be heard, rising beyond denial and pessimism or despair, from all walks of life, young and old, ever so slowly, ever so imperceptibly, till they became clearer and louder as their numbers grew over the year.
Out of the ashes of reaction a worldwide unorchestrated, unorganized, yet-to-be-fully-defined movement is taking shape. It has crystallized around the sentiments that change is in the offing, that perpetual war cannot manage the complexities the world is facing and that the masses of humanity are not passive actors.
These sentiments are bubbling under the surface out there, everywhere, all over the world. Neighbors talk to neighbors, coalitions are being formed locally, nationally, internationally, with the help of the Internet (which explains the increasing efforts to muzzle it through restrictive laws, censorship and rabid commercialization). People deeply reject the nihilist fundamentalists of all shapes and forms but they are also increasingly refusing the madness of our violent, devastating answers to such nihilism. There is a sense, however diffuse, however intuitive, that the present policies are dead-ended; that making war for oil will not solve the fossil-fuels dilemma; that the Western model of development with its abominable waste based on destructive creation must change, that it physically cannot and should not be replicated because it literally imperils life, the ecosystem, our planet; and that change begins with ourselves, especially in the First World which is both a substantial part of the problems and an inevitable part of the solutions.
This movement is global in nature (though not the kind of globalization the neo-liberal elites had in mind), non-denominational and spreading like a wildfire with a direct challenge to the power of hate and the dark, dualistic, reactionary message of "us versus them." The recent attempts to co-opt it, to somehow institutionalize it (the capacity of order to integrate disorder, to recuperate dissent) and to unleash the guard dogs of the so-called loyal opposition (The Nation, The New York Times, etc.) to discredit the more dedicated segments of this movement clearly indicate that it is taken seriously by the "authorities" and regarded as a real threat to the order of the day.
It may not make the news yet but it is there -- a movement based on humanism that counters pessimism with hope, hate with love, war with peace, violence with nonviolence. This too was a part of 2002.
Perhaps history will record 2002 as the pivotal year when the march for progress reawakened from its long somnolence.
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Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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