Could the ever deepening financial crisis lead the US or other powerful nations into civil war or some other type of major internal conflict? Clearly large sections of the population feel a strong disillusionment if not outright disgust with capitalism as a system. Even my mother says “Now maybe we need some socialism” because what we have now clearly doesn’t work.
But left social movements which would have the potential to respond in a meaningful way to the crisis, which largely exist in small and scattered pockets in the US, have yet to garner the strength to have a national level impact. The only exceptions are probably the UE sit-down strike at Republic Doors and Windows, perhaps the Sacramento tent city encampment of homeless and potentially the immigrant rights protests this coming May 1st. Each though are largely spontaneous events or one day mobilizations, rather than longer term movements (though May Day protests though could be seen as a mobilization by both smaller grassroots as well as larger institutional forces of larger bases) . The right though seems to have already begun their mobilization and response with the April 15 Tea Party Protests, which seek to channel discontent with the economy and the bailouts into hatred for Obama (and of course the fact he’s Black is no doubt a strong part of it), as well as fears of “socialism” and immigrants. Whether their efforts will be a flash in the pan or something with more longevity is yet to be seen.
The below article by Immanuel Wallerstein asks this question and explores the growing uneasiness of the world economic elites. While some like Pepe Escobar of The Real News take Wallerstein’s piece (watch his video segment here) as further confirmation that an eruption of rebellion and class conflict is right around the corner, I think that’s a little premature. The elites are afraid not because something will happen, but because they believe that it could happen. With the Texas Governor’s recent bombastic comment in support of succession while speaking at a Tea Party protest, we need to keep in mind that conflict may not be initiated from below, but perhaps by above as well. -AW
Civil War in the United States?
By Immanuel Wallerstein, March 15, 2009
We are getting accustomed to all sorts of breakdowns of taboos. The world press is full of discussion about whether it would be a good idea to “nationalize” banks. None other than Alan Greenspan, disciple of the superlibertarian prophet of pure market capitalism, Ayn Rand, has recently said that we have to nationalize banks once every hundred years, and this may be that moment. Conservative Republican Senator Lindsay Graham agreed with him. Left Keynesian Alan Blinder discussed the pros and cons of this idea. And while he thinks the cons are a bit bigger than the pros, he was willing to spend public intellectual energy writing about this in the New York Times.
Well, after hearing nationalization proposals by arch-conservative notables, we are now hearing serious discussions about the possibilities of civil war in the United States. Zbigniew Brzezinski, apostle of anti-Communist ideology and President Carter’s National Security Advisor, appeared on a morning television talk show on February 17, and was asked to discuss his previous mention of the possibility of class conflict in the United States in the wake of the worldwide economic collapse.
Brzezinski said he was worried about it because of the prospect of “millions and millions of unemployed people facing dire straits,” people who have become aware “of this extraordinary wealth that was transferred to a few individuals without historical precedent in America.”
He reminded the listeners that, when there was a massive banking crisis in 1907, the great financier, J.P. Morgan, invited a group of wealthy financiers to his home, locked them in his library, and wouldn’t let them out until they all kicked in money for a fund to stabilize the banks. Brzezinski said: “Where is the monied class today? Why aren’t they doing something: the people who made billions?”
In the absence of their doing something on a voluntary basis, Brzezinski said, “there’s going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could even be riots!”
Almost simultaneously, a European agency called LEAP/Europe that issues monthly confidential Global Europe Anticipation Bulletins for its clients — politicians, public servants, businessmen, and investors — devoted its February issue to global geopolitical dislocation. The report did not paint a pretty picture. It discussed the possibility of civil war in Europe, in the United States, and Japan. It foresaw a “generalized stampede” that will lead to clashes, semi-civil wars.
The experts have some advice: “If your country or region is a zone in which there is a massive availability of guns, the best thing you can do…is to leave the region, if that’s possible.” The only one of these countries which meets the description of massively available guns is the United States. The head of LEAP/Europe, Franck Biancheri, noted that “there are 200 million guns in circulation in the United States, and social violence is already manifest via gangs.” The experts who wrote the report asserted that there is already an ongoing emigration of Americans
to Europe, because that is “where physical danger will remain marginal.”
If Brzezinski hopes for the emergence of another J.P. Morgan in the United States to force sense upon the “monied” class, the LEAP/Europe report sees a “last chance” in the April 2 London meeting of the G20, provided the participants come forward with a “convincing and audacious” plan.
These analyses are not coming from left intellectuals or radical social movements. They are the openly expressed fears of serious analysts who are part of the existing Establishment in the United States and Europe. Verbal taboos are broken only when such people are truly fearful. The point of breaking the taboos is to try to bring about major rapid action — the equivalent of J.P. Morgan locking the financiers in his home in 1907.
It was easier in 1907.
Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press).