‘The Arab Spring in the autumn of capital’ (from Kosmoprolet #3) was written at the end of November 2011 by ‘Friends of the Classless Society’, based in Berlin. Originally in German and translated into English, the text was then updated at Aufheben’s request with the addition of a postscript that was written at the end of June 2012. This is Aufheben's introduction to that text.
We have published this text because we think that it provides an insightful and at times incisive analysis of what has become known as the Arab Spring. Certainly its analysis serves to puncture the enthusiastic accounts put forward by both mainstream liberals, who have seen the Arab Spring as a series of democratic bourgeois revolutions that will usher in parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and economic property, and the autonomists and left who see the uprisings in the Arab world as a manifestation of an emerging amorphous global anti-capitalist movement.
However, it perhaps goes without saying of course, that we have some quibbles. We will mention a few examples.
First, at the risk of ‘mentioning the war’, what is striking to a reader of the text outside Germany is the deference the authors pay to the ‘anti-German German left’. This seems to oblige them to take a pro-Israeli stance, presumably for fear of being denounced as being anti-Semitic. Thus, in passing, we are given the picture of a plucky little Israel repeatedly taking on and defeating goliath in the form of the mighty Arab states. Their attempt to distinguish a ‘communist critique’ of Zionism as simply a national liberation ideology from the ‘necessarily anti-Semitic’ critique put forward by the left seems to us to be too simple if not a little feeble. Yet the question of Israel and Zionism is rather tangential to the main argument of the text. It certainly does not serve to obscure the important point they make that – to the surprise and consternation of much of the left – the question of Palestine has not been much of an issue raised by the movements of the Arab Spring.
Second, their analysis of the class composition of the Arab world seems to us to gloss over the importance of the petit-bourgeoisie particularly as organised within the bazaar. We would suggest that the Middle Eastern petit-bourgeoisie, and in particular its relation to the proletarianised surplus population, has been vitally important in the history of the Middle East – for example in the triumph of Islamism in the Iranian revolution of 1979 and in the Baathist revolutions in the 1950s. It is also likely to be a major determinant in the development of the Arab Spring.
Third, and perhaps more importantly, is the notion of the decline of capitalism (or the capitalist relation as they would have it) that serves to frame the text. This is most evident in the very title ‘The Arab Spring in the autumn of capital’ and in the conclusion of the postscript, but it is a notion that is implicit throughout the text. This would seem to be based on the fact of the large scale proletarianisation, and the creation of a surplus-population, in both the Middle East and across the world. For the Friends of the Classless Society this, it would seem, has created the conditions for world communism. This is not the place for an extended argument over this issue - and we must admit that we are not familiar with the theory upon which they base this notion of decline – but we would point out that even if such proletarianisation, and the creation of a surplus-population, is a necessary condition for the end of the ‘capital relation’ it certainly is not a sufficient one.
Indeed it must be said we are not interested in scholastic ‘proofs’ concerning the existence of God or the abstract possibility of communism that has come to bedevil what now passes for the ultra-left - particularly at a time when a universal caliphate would seem a far more likely prospect than world communism. Indeed, what attracted us to this text is that despite any theoretical shortcomings it might or might not have, it is a serious attempt to analyse the concrete situation in the Middle East that has given rise to the phenomena of the Arab Spring. It is certainly a good starting point for debate.
Aufheben, Brighton, July 2012