THEORIZING 21C


Maidan, Caliphate, and Code: Theorizing Power and Resistance in the 21st Century



Event-Scene 1: Dreams of Caliphate in the Theatre of Cruelty

No longer the cold war with its logic of cool deterrence, but now a random series of hot wars with all the intensity of heated provocations.

For example, consider those desolate, truly barbaric, scenes of Islamic State fighters (ISIS) methodically carrying out media-staged executions of bound, helpless captives, usually by beheading with knives, but also by the burning cruelty of flames. In this new theater of symbolic exchange, no carefully orchestrated design detail has been left to chance. Executioners are dressed in fierce black; their kneeling victims in orange jump suits.

With fast circulating media imagery as the skin of the planet, the symbolic parallel is as clear as it is absolute. In this society of the (ISIS) spectacle, we are intended to understand intimately and immediately that this is Guantanamo Bay in reverse image. Except this time, not those densely media-streamed images everywhere in the past dozen years of similarly helpless Muslim prisoners, certainly some defeated warriors, perhaps even actual terrorists, but others simply the randomly purchased bargaining chips provided by a supply chain of feeder states and clever clients to the global security apparatus, only now it's just the opposite--bodies from the many nations of the ruling, Western empire--journalists, travellers, aid workers, Christians--fed by a hitherto invisible supply chain of Islamic fighters to the newly formed apparatus of extremist Islamic terror. And this time too, it is no longer those cold media images of Muslims glimpsed by waiting cameras isolated behind the chain-link fences of Guantanamo strapped to gurneys or walking unsteadily assisted by muscled guards on their way to the rituals of hard interrogation and torture, but now specially chosen Western bodies--hostage bodies--from the empire of ruling powers as symbolic substitutes, perhaps for all of us, on the way to public execution. Like a grisly replay of the logic of sacrificial violence, heretofore usually exercised by the global security state against vulnerable outsiders, those selected to be publicly murdered are chosen from morally recognizable citizens of the global security state, all the better to position ISIS as the key challenger to the sovereignty of imperial power. Following the ineluctable logic of politics, attracting the predictable wrath of all players in the global security state is aimed at achieving the overall political objective of defining in advance the framework of this new theatre of war. In this case, ISIS as the representative spearhead of what, just as predictably, will follow the unleashed violence of the global security state--a highly motivated, persistently disenfranchised, moral community of interest among the domestic (Sunni) population, first in Iraq and Syria, and potentially in many countries.

Consequently, in this scenario of 21st-century cruelty and humiliation, is what is being drawn into visibility simply a new form of parallel nihilism--an equivalence, in this case, between what Camus once described as murderous instincts and demands for absolute justice, one in the name of heightened security, and the other, more transparently, in the language of Islamic revenge-seeking? Or is what is being rehearsed by these highly visible and deliberately twinned scenarios of individual injustice to the point of death a new and more banal twist in the contemporary rituals of cynical power?

In this case, following de Tocqueville's lucid observation that the prison system in the United States has always functioned as a silent, but powerful, form of communication--communicating, that is, to society as a whole the acceptable framework of normative intelligibility and, at the same time, the harsh, disciplinary penalties awaiting those who violated juridical boundaries, Guantanamo Bay has always been deliberately positioned as a cold beacon of hard truth to an always-feared and, at root, perhaps ungovernable world of remaindered populations. That this hard truth works only to confirm de Tocqueville's insight that disciplinary prisons such as Guantanamo are the material expression of how symbolic exchange--in the name of heightened security functions in the contemporary world--does not in the least minimize its cynicism. While the moral language of all the hidden, shadowy Guantanamos of the global security world may continue to display a moral equivalence between absolute murder and absolute justice, that's not really the essence of the cynicism on contemporary display. Perhaps at this point in the spreading wasteland of the 21st century, it is no longer possible to speak meaningfully of a necessary conjuncture between absolute murder and absolute justice. When murder is put on public display for global media circulation, and when the question of justice itself is reduced to a carefully staged communication, Camus's reflections on violence and justice are finally blasted away by the powers of the phantasmagoria. Here, murder and justice have no meaning in themselves, but become sign slides in the vertiginous flow of the media spectacle. What really counts in this game of endlessly reversible signs is certainly not a more primary ethical equivalence between otherwise warring absolutes than the question of affect. All those tortured prisoners, those kneeling victims of beheadings and burnings, those helpless individuals divested of their lives, of their indispensable singularity, by guns, by knives, by flames are, in the end, disposable, transient props in the greater games surrounding the simulation of affect. Sometimes a prolonged simulation of the affect of globalized fear that seems to be the desired effect of those Guantanamo torture runs; and, at other times, intense simulations of something even more complex, namely a doubled affect of fear and pleasure--panic anxiety and cathartic joy--that seems to be the precise splitting of the information blast of affect that is so carefully contrived by ISIS in all its specular public executions. Panic anxiety, that is, for the bunkered-down populations of the empire and their nervous governments which can only respond to this game of affect warfare by releasing conventional technologies of aerial combat--in effect, an increasingly surreal landscape of war in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon that features sophisticated, beyond-the-speed-of-sound fighter jets trying to bomb an affect, attempting, that is, to wipe out the spreading intensity of desires for revenge and dreams of the return of the Caliphate with terror from the air. In this scenario, there can only be a hyper-inflation of aerial weaponry on the part of the empire and its client states because we are probably witness to one of the first incidences in the contemporary century of a more metaphysical struggle between space and time, beyond strategies of territorial control of space premised on the total spectrum dominance of space by technologies of empire, precisely because the privileged horizon of ISIS is purely temporal--a time-biased strategy of warfare that links together religious passion, political calculations, and technological weaponry. Here, the space-bound hegemony of techno-corporatism with all its desires for absolute mastery of territory, finally confronts something new, namely the temporal power of cosmology. Absolutist in its religious beliefs, nihilistic in its will to exterminate its opponents, conversionary in its politics, and mobilized by a form of resistance affect that takes deep root in individual subjectivity, ISIS can be so menacing precisely because it is the first, and certainly the most fierce, of all the cosmological rebellions to come against the techno-corporatist idea of the West. This is probably why all the client states of the ruling idea of the (techno-corporatist) West have suddenly found common cause in a very public execution of their own, specifically destroying by all military means necessary the possible realization of an Islamic Caliphate. Our probable future, then, wagered on a contest between the panic warfare of technologized weaponry and the slow, contagious affect of Islamic dreams, sometimes expressed in public phantasms of revenge killings, at other times in the silent conversion for reasons both religious and political in the heartlands of empire itself, and, at other times, in political theologies of the Caliphate. In this hot war, with all its heated provocations, what stands in the balance is a fatal sign-slide between two fundamentally irreconcilable phantasms of power: one spatial, the other temporal; one techno-corporate, the other religious, one a warfare of generalized extension, the other a politics of religious intensity.

Or something else? Perhaps like a real-life version of Game of Thrones, what's at stake here may be simply a persistent struggle for market share in the cold-eyed business of global security. From the perspective of empire--effortlessly overcoming territorial boundaries, preparing sacrificial (Muslim) bodies for public display as subservient signs of the futility of resistance to the symbolic exchange of empire politics, and putting the mark of power on those remaindered bodies at its disposal. Not just abuse value for its own pleasure, but now abuse value for the collateral benefit of a greater circulation of power. Recircuiting this logic in the name of a greater market share of the pleasures of abuse value, ISIS may also be imitating empire politics in its technology of advanced cynicism. That its executions may be so transparently cruel, so humiliating in their bodily degradations, may also be motivated by a doubled strategy of cynicism. Certainly, a repetition in extremist Islamic form of the moral equivalence of the moral absolutes of death and justice, but also something equally banal, namely a deadly contest with Al-Qaeda for the larger global loyalty on the part of remaindered Muslim populations everywhere in resistance to the imperial empire. In this instance, the spectacle of executions as also about a multinational branding strategy in the games of Islamic terror, undermining lingering loyalties to Al-Qaeda and positioning ISIS as symbolic heir to dreams of Caliphate. Ironically, this is confirmed by President Obama's urgent request to the US Congress for an effectively open-ended authorization to wage continuous war against ISIS, against, that is, the global specter of terrorism. Here, the demand for a global security state is energized by palpable insecurities generated by the media spectacles of ISIS, just as much as the global franchising of the ISIS brand of murderous cruelty is invigorated by the equally palpable injustices of the search for perfect security. In this theater of symbolic exchange, what is actually the medium of exchange is perhaps only an apparent difference working to confirm the persistence of its opposite number. On the one hand, the new security state mobilized by the very real threat of terror; on the other hand, the reality of terror as a way of provoking global insecurity and all that follows--the politics of revenge in a world driven by the greater anxiety of phantasmagorical absolutes threatened or betrayed.

Whatever the ruling motivation in those brutal and highly mediated scenes of ISIS public executions of hostages and prisoners, one trajectory is clear. Here, we are first witnesses to all the intensity and violence of a fundamentalist version of suicidal nihilism quickly and deliberately going viral on social media, the new nervous system of planetary communication. With complex strings of meaning as its first results: anguished grief on the part of families and friends of the victims; political confusion on the part of the new security state; media hysteria over young people from the West leaving their homes to join ISIS; psychically driven acts of violent solidarity by lone "terrorists" in the domestic scene, whether France, Canada, Denmark, or the United States; the first palpable political sign that what is really being revealed in this challenge to the death by ISIS is something larger, more haunting, and complex, namely the beginning of a third Iraq war, which, while it may be politically expressed as a Sunni rebellion across Syria and Iraq, involves issues that are a matter of political theology--the sudden surfacing into of the long-repressed idea of the Caliphate and, with that, the inception of a new Sunni Crusade against the hegemony of the modern, putatively secular state.

Event-Scene 2: Technocorporate Code and ISIS's Narrative--space vs. time

I take out a photograph to put myself in another sector of present experience. A still from a video shot by Islamic State (so the attribution tells me), it shows from a distance, foregrounded by driftwood on the Libyan coast, a line of orange and black bodies, altogether depersonalized, almost like ants, advancing toward the spot where, we already know, orange will be executed by black in the name of a (moral) narrative. The procession appears to be stately, dignified. Sand, sky, and sea are unremittingly steely blue-gray. The driftwood forms a passageway to the sacrificial site. It is indisputably an excellent shot--you can feel that you are there, sensing the chill, anticipating what will happen next. Aestheticization is complete. A scenario with a Halloween color scheme, Coptic Christians in orange and Revolutionary Salafists in black--CARNIVAL. An addition to the grisly phantasmagoria. The Coptic "guest workers" are surplus bodies with abuse value in the great conflict between the technocorporate CODE and ISIS's NARRATIVE--space vs. time. In the age of "humanism," the master binary was NATURE-CULTURE, but the posthuman has arrived, and everything is culture--nature has become code(d), which is carried by the technocorporate (dis)order. It is no longer a matter of projecting narratives onto "nature," with the hope/expectation (?) that one of them might be "true," but a confrontation between algorithms, big data, and metrics--what the Quebec penseur Fernand Dumont called the SOCIETY OF OPERATIONS--and cosmological stories--fought out without referentiality or, better, with MUTUAL disrupted referentiality. ISIS surely would have preferred to slaughter some infidels from the technocorporate West (and it does so when it can), but it satisfied itself with Coptic artifacts of globalization to make its point that it had begun its campaign to conquer . . . Italy. The Coptic surrogate sacrifices are not the only weapons that ISIS has gathered up and mobilized in its move for an Italian takeover. The quintessential (post)human remainder, the hapless migrants from Africa clamoring to get into Europe to find "a better life" (their main talking point), who are clumped on the Libyan coast, had by February 20, 2015 begun flooding the Mediterranean isle of Lampedusa, Italy in unprecedented numbers, defying death in a panic escape from . . . ISIS (according to wire service reports). Not the normal "economic" or even "political"(-economic) migration, but a glut of war refugees from the CODE-NARRATIVE conflict ("innocent" victims caught in the (cyber-)crossfire) drafted by ISIS as inadvertent shock troops in the Italian campaign.

Meanwhile, ISIS has sent Valentines over the net to the Facebook accounts of U.S. Military Wives involved in "servicemens'" advocacy groups, having hacked their organization's website. The missives naturally promise death to the infidel wives and their tots. One of the targets noted that her tormenter had "friended" her. Maybe she can introduce him to contemporary country. The technocorporate code-bearers and the cosmological narratologists have become mirror images, the Salafist Cosmologists having penetrated the CODE and disrupted it by introducing the jihadist story directly into the digital skin, spreading panic in the enemies of the Caliphate (which now includes Italy). It used to be that the question--"Which side are you on?"--might have made sense, but now everyone is dragooned into one side or the other, or both, whether or not they even know they have been impressed. A drone strike here. A beheading there. Thousands of bombing raids met by executions on the ground. Inflamed twitterizing whirling into phantasmagoria. As Hegel noted, the grand historical conflicts, in which principles of organization/"meaning" contend on the "slaughter bench" of history, are all attended by "dust over the city" (now mixed with digital effluent, data trash). It is only that now, the adventitious detritus (surplus bodies, the remainder) is merging into a nearly impenetrable, though far from impervious, pall. That development is favorable to the cosmologists, since they can turn anything and everything into their story, and they have time (on their side). The technocorporate (dis)order has only operations--pure spatial manipulations--to fend off the story, having surrendered to code and thereby having eviscerated its story of "market democracy," which is irretrievably suffused with cynicism studded with "special ops." Human rights? It was never a credible story for the remainder. In the post-Hegelian/posthuman struggle, not between principles, but between a principle and THE CODE(S), the advantage goes to the principle, as long as there is still a preponderance of (relatively) old-fashioned (social) bodies that are not altogether pliable to the CODE(S) (they still have desires and fears to embroider the will to directionless control). The dust becomes turbulent. Egypt, from whence the hapless Coptic workers came, wants the UN (technocorporate states) to intervene in Libya against ISIS, the Libyan "government" in Tobruk (internationally recognized and opposed by a pro-Islamist rival in the putative capital Tripoli, both of them tribalized) wants the UN to lift its arms embargo on it, and the Italians want help from the UN (or anyone).

The technocorporate powers want nothing of it. They can hide behind Russia's probable veto of any Security Council resolution, which it would do on the grounds that the Western military ouster of Mohamar Qaddafi in 2011 caused the collapse of the Libyan state; but they have no taste for intervention anyway, because they have too many other "crises to manage" (Ukraine, ISIS-Iraq-Syria, not to mention Greece-eurozone). It is just too much to handle, so set it aside, also set Somalia aside, set Yemen aside, set northeastern Nigeria aside, set northwestern Pakistan aside, set Afghanistan aside. In preparation for its appeal to the Security Council, Egypt had launched a couple of symbolic bombing raids against ISIS's positions in Libya, notably the port of Derna, which is ISIS's strategic beachhead, the only city that it holds at this time. Cairo was not serious about starting a determined intervention; it was showing the Security Council that it (symbolically) meant business, as well as placating the "street," the remainder, which in the present tizzy-phantasmagoria is ready to jump into an irate mob mentality at the screech of a tweet. Cairo is simply another inadvertent contingent in ISIS's Italian campaign, doing its bidding by desperately reacting against it, thereby causing further instability and inflaming the "street" in its favor. ISIS couldn't resist sticking it back into Egypt and, on February 21, it set off bombs in the town of Qubba near Derna, killing forty people. Again ISIS settled for surrogate sacrifices. It is all surplus bodies--one is as good as another to make a digital point. Nothing would be better for ISIS than a military intervention against it; it would take pressure off it on the Iraq-Syria front, which is the strategic reason to open up a second front in Libya, and it would boost its support on the "street" and in rooms around the world where the remainder(ed) hunch over screens and dream of jihad. Not to mention the campaign to conquer Italy--the dreams of the Caliphate smothering the CODE and getting inside it. There is just too much remainder to CODE despite BIG DATA (trash). And it's going so fast that it's kicking up a dust storm. There is just too much unassimilable COSMOLOGY. THE CODE is in trouble--spasmodic operations; whereas virtuality and actuality were once separate trends (at least so it seemed), they are now locked in a death-dance,

Event-Scene 3: Maidan in Red Square: Cold War Supernova

MOSCOW (AP)--For the thousands of Russians gathered near Red Square on Saturday, Maidan--the square in Kiev synonymous with pro-European protests last year--is nothing to celebrate.

"Maidan is a festival of death . . . Maidan is the smile of the American ambassador who, sitting in his penthouse, is happy to see how brother is killing brother . . . Maidan is the concentration of everything anti-Russian . . . Maidan is the embryo of Goebbels," the organizers of Russia's new Anti-Maidan movement shouted from the stage.

Demonstrators vowed that last year's protests in Kiev--centered in the Maidan square which ultimately forced Ukraine's pro-Russian president to flee on Feb. 21--would never be repeated in Russia.

Laura Mills, "Moscow Protestors Strike Out Against Ukraine and the West" [1]

If the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci was correct that the real struggle over ideology is always a matter of soft power, that is, a struggle for ruling ideas, then Ukraine is already the victor in its conflict with Russia. Certainly not the visible Ukraine, with its conventional symbols of political sovereignty complete with crony capitalism, corrupt judiciary, and armed far-right Azov battalions, but the idea of a New Ukraine that is symbolized in all its democratic yearning and political potency by those tumultuous and globally inspiring events in Maidan Square. Like a classic rebellion from below, the social movement that was Maidan literally blew apart the governing structure of post-Soviet regimes, first in Ukraine and soon perhaps in Russia itself. Here, a social movement, with all its contradictions--as anarchistic as it was libertarian, as democratic socialist as it was national socialist, as youthful as it was elderly--took to the streets and decisively won not simply a country, but the release of a new idea into contemporary political history. That's the reason for the current political protest against Ukraine and the West in Red Square. That's also the reason for the crude caricaturing of Maidan in Russian mass media, why, in fact, that which was most dangerous about Maidan from the perspective of absolutist power, namely its courageous persistence through the cold of winter, through violence, through generalized indifference, through hopelessness itself, is what may ultimately release the much-repressed spirit of democratic populism in the Russian homeland. Ironically, Trotsky knew this best. In his History of the Russian Revolution, he identified the Russian mass as the truly volatile agent of insurrectionary political history--a Russian mass which may now as then slumber, but once mobilized by the passion of a new ruling idea, may well rise to realize the idea of Maidan in Red Square. Just as Stalin ordered the assassination of Trotsky for fear that his analysis of the revolutionary capacities of the Russian mass would be realized in the face of totalitarian socialism, so too Putin is now confronted with the long-feared specter of a Russian mass that finally breaks its vow of silence--a second 1917, except this time the storming of that combination of command state capitalism and Stalinist-era rule that is the Kremlin today. Utopian? Perhaps. But if that is so it would be wise to remember that utopia is also another name for "nowhere," and that which is not only nowhere now, but violently constrained by the psychic pressure of propaganda as much as by the politics of misdirected anger, often has a way of bubbling to the surface of life as the ruling idea linking past and future. Paradoxically, of course, the idea of Maidan is a born traitor to the world-vision of Trotsky, since it stakes its claim to the future not on the always manipulated idea of the mass, but on the enigmatic, and solitary, singularity of the individual.

In any event, like life itself, political history often follows a logic of reversal, with its fantastic constellations of power expanding outwards until, like the explosion of a galactic supernova, its brilliant luminosity in the darkness of space indicates that it is already in the process of a fatal contraction, instantaneously compressing into the infinite density of one of those otherwise invisible black holes populating the galactic spaces of recorded and unrecorded time.

Considered astronomically, that's the story of the contemporary conflict in Ukraine. With the heavily publicized fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the sudden collapse of Soviet political hegemony in Central and Eastern Europe, the until-then seeming invincible Soviet empire simply disappeared from political history. Breaking with the slow and predicable chronological, almost normative rhythms accompanying the rise and fall of other empires the end of which could be anticipated due to political exhaustion, civil war, and economic stagnation, the sudden, unexpected, and massive eclipse of the Soviet empire was more in the nature of an astronomical event. Here, like the brilliant blast of a star going supernova at the end of its life cycle, the Soviet empire literally imploded into the dark density of the still new, still unformulated national political formation that was Russia. Like a blast from the past, historical debris was everywhere with seventy-year-old socialist institutions--governing structures, centralized planning organs, the idea of Communism itself--as what McLuhan once described as "cosmic dust," accelerating shards of the dissolving remainder of society, economy, and politics the traces of which gets in your eyes, disturbing human vision. With a cry of joyous delight, the Western press instantly declared the end of the Cold War and the beginning of what was widely promoted as an irresistible movement to a capitalist-informed democracy in the newly market-based heartland of imperial Russia. While the British security establishment has recently spoken of this as a "catastrophic strategic mistake" in misreading Russian intentions, [2] the real error probably lies less in acceptable discussions of the varying strength of absolutism and democracy in Russian political subjectivity and its governing institutions than in forgetting the implacable natural laws of astronomy. In this case, overlooked in the massive implosion of Soviet empire was that curious scientific fact surrounding the violent death of mature stars when going supernova and their indefinite compression into the dark density of black holes. In the story of galactic astronomy, as in the history of contemporary politics, mature stars that suddenly terminate in the violent explosion of a supernova blast never totally disappear, but simply compress into dense concentrations of matter, densities so incalculable in their congealed energy that while never releasing any visually detectable sign of light, their presence can sometimes be detected in the form of violent event-horizons populating deep galactic space--always ready to consume the energy mass of any unsuspecting passing star. When what is known about the astronomical properties of deep-space is applied to earthly politics, perhaps it would be more appropriate to describe to theorize the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in terms of the politics of the event-horizon, that point in space and time in which the passing Ukrainian mass threatens to be consumed by the raw, unpredictable energies of Putin's Russia. Once drawn into the congealed density of Putin's Russia, a different narrative applies. Definitely not the dominant western narrative promoting the virtues of the technologically driven new universal state of capitalist democracy, but something strikingly different--the rise from the ruins of Soviet empire of a new Eurasian ideology--fully complicated in its strange alliance of nostalgia for Russian imperialism, mass psychological ressentiment over the loss of Soviet empire, hand-to-mouth direct-action fascism in the streets, reincarnated Czarism in its absolutist style of governance, and an increasingly phantasmatic state media feeding on populist energies to create ever more spurious borderlines based on the changing fiction of friend and enemy. In an insightful essay, "Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine," Timothy Snyder has noted:

The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist, Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Drugin's major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine. [3]

It has been reported that one of the strange scientific properties of event-horizons, those liquid, gaseous border lines between black holes and their surrounding space, is an abrupt time-differential--with time beneath the surface of the event-horizon, within, that is, the darkness of the black hole, radically different from measurements of time in neighboring space. Consequently, the politics of event-horizons, then, as always implicated by the question of abrupt shifts in the liquid flow of time between their interior kernel and exterior surface. A perfect way to visualize the conflict in Ukraine, with the European time of the exterior surface--the centrifugal pull of the ascendant market economy of the EU, the powerful spatial weaponry of NATO--contrasting sharply with the centripetal affective memory-time of Novorussia, with its viscous clustering of equally powerful memory fragments--tangible memories of fallen Czars, collapsed empires, lost lands of the Don Cossacks, brutal territorial battles of WW2 in the Donbas region, a series of nineteenth-century Russian wars in Crimea, and, most of all, that resurgent contemporary memory cluster that is represented in all its powerful psychological force by the twin ressentiment of Russian nationalism and Putin's frustrated will to political absolutism. Blocked from without by the twin threat of an always aggressive NATO taking up threatening positions in the former satellites of Soviet empire--from Poland and Lithuania to Georgia--and an expansionary American empire working skillfully behind the scenes to orchestrate seemingly spontaneous political events, and characterized from within by a Russian nationalist subjectivity constructed on the basis of a politics of anger and lost (empire) hopes, the time spectrum just beneath the surface of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is a doubled flow of wounded sensibilities and revenge-taking. Definitely not only a heavily media-promoted sense of wounded Russian nostalgia for its lost imperial past, but something more strikingly contemporary--something more definite, lucid, and strategic. In this eruption of the theatre of Russian politics, what is on full display in its unfolding logic is nothing less than a systematic attempt to historically materialize a new political narrative between Eurasian ideology and the "New World Order" of neo-liberal capitalism. Beginning with specific territorial objectives--reclaiming a larger territorial border zone with NATO, refusing the sea ports of Crimea to NATO warships and possibly linking the industrial center of Donbas together and its wealth of fossil fuels with Crimea, the new political narrative is driven by a powerful alliance between a superbly executed strategy of hybrid warfare and patriotic fury in the Russian homeland. From this perspective, there are always two Maidan insurgencies in political play. From the western perspective, the democratic social movement that marked the street rebellion in Kiev's Maidan Square was a spontaneous populist rebellion, as formless in its organization as it was utopian in its possibilities. From the perspective of the new Eurasian ideology, Maidan was precisely the opposite--a cleverly staged coup by the United States and Europe using the proxy of a democratic social movement to install an incipiently (Ukrainian) fascist power aimed directly at historically blocking the master narrative of Eurasian ideology.

Confronted by the truly unexpected, that is, by time-bound dreams of recovered territories and reasserted Russian power from the dying ashes of Soviet empire, the political confusion of Europe and the United States is dramatic. In a post-1989 world that was supposed to be frozen in the framework of the global projection of power that was the unipolar (American) new security state, this upsurge on the distant frontiers of empire--far from the contemporary Pacific realignment of American military forces and at odds with the flows of hegemonic German domination of market rationality in the EU--was a model of political opacity. Was the West suddenly in the presence of a replay of the Cold War with the sudden appearance of Russian nuclear-armed bombers straying across the English Channel and the Arctic regions of Canada? Was this the last, desperate gasp of a collapsed empire, as politically exhausted in its absolutisms as it was reckless in its military adventures? Here, the world may be moving towards planetary digital connectivity, the talk might be all about the wonders of the quantified self of social media, the goal of science may be the final machine/human interface that is synthetic biology, but the time horizon that is the Russian-Ukrainian conflict today is Cold War time--the reanimation of long-standing, smoldering resentment against the decisive disappearance of Soviet empire and, with it, the historical realization of the trajectory of Russian imperialism; and the resuscitation once again of the pure binaries of Cold War history. With a deadly mixture of confusion and uncertainty in the presence of the politically opaque, Europe and North America immediately combined to do what they do best--fight perceived military aggression with the weaponry of expanding (Ukrainian) armies and the ideological ferocity of known right-wing resistance battalions. In other words, a pure battle of space based on western intentions to block resurgent Russian nationalism with force of arms while deploying purely economic weapons--the dramatic write-down of the energy market with its reduction of Russian investments to junk status--as a way of shaping events in the long term. That this will probably be the first of many failed strategies in the Ukrainian conflict is predictable since it has little relevance with what is actually occurring, namely a new form of politics in which what really counts is a battle over the meaning and direction of time itself.

What is the future? Euro-time, with its bureaucratic normalization of traditionally bitterly contested nationalist sensibilities and positivist celebrations of advanced market capitalism, or what might be called the reanimation of Supernova time, with its powerful mixture of the politics of (nationalist) anger and hybrid warfare? How, in the end, is warfare really waged at the horizon of the liquid event-horizon that is the borderland between Russia and Ukraine? What happens when supposedly collapsed (political) supernovas like the Soviet empire congeal in the form of wounded subjectivity, economic corruption, disciplinary power, and an absolutist government that is contemporary Russia, suddenly having predatory designs on a Ukrainian regime that is trying desperately to accelerate in the direction of Euro-time? Perhaps in the midst of resurgent Russian nationalism and profound western confusion, what remains the most opaque is not possible military solutions, but something more complex and enigmatic, namely which vision of the flow of time will, in the end, take root in the subjectivity of contested domestic populations. In this case of the doubled sign, with its two only apparently opposite political narratives, what really counts may be the ability of the ultimately winning power to play the game of the sliding signifier, to be both victim and executioner in a political scenario wagered on pure phantasmagoria.

And what of the rebellious events in Maidan Square that so inflamed Putin's Russia? Could it be that what is really contested in this game of the doubled sign is not so much the newly reheated logic of the Cold War, but something very different: namely that what actually is the real objective of Russian intervention in Ukrainian sovereignty is the palpable fear of a future Maidan in Red Square. Not so much a contest, then, over the doubled sign of the New World Order versus Eurasian ideology, but the upsurge at the walls of the Kremlin itself of a fundamentally new idea in Russian history--a democratically inspired social movement based on an ethical vision of global citizenship. We can know for sure that the introduction of this missing third term to the game of the doubled sign, neither the New World Order or Eurasian ideology, but an upsurge of the missing element of humanity itself would quickly bring down on its (vulnerable) head the wrath of the New World Order as well as the angry backlash of Eurasian ideology. In this scenario, what really threatens is that which is fully indeterminate, so emblematic of courage, so full of promise, so deeply feared, namely Maidan as the once and probable future of Red Square. And all this ironically mobilized by the resurgence of a Cold War supernova.


Notes
----------------

[1] Laura Mills, "Moscow Protestors Strike Out Against Ukraine and the West," Yahoo News, http://news.yahoo.com/thousands-gather-moscow-protest-fascist-coup-kiev-125253591.html, accessed February 22, 2015.

[2] Authority of the House of Lords, "The EU and Russia: Before and Beyond the Crisis in Ukraine," European Union Committee, 6th report of Session 2014-15, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldselect/ldeucom/115/115.pdf, accessed February 22, 2015.

[3] Timothy Snyder, "Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine," New York Review of Books, March 20, 2014, http:''www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/fascism-ru…, accessed February 22, 2015.

----------------

Arthur Kroker is Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture, and Theory at the University of Victoria. He is the author most recently of Exits to the Posthuman Future (Polity, 2014) and Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

Michael A. Weinstein is Professor of Political Science at Purdue University. He is, with Deena Weinstein, author of Postmodern(ized) Simmel (Routledge, 1993) and, with Arthur Kroker, Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class (St. Martin's Press, 1994).

Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.


Copyright (c) 2015 CTheory