Vendetta Culture

Annihilating War

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

In the United States the situation between Ukraine and Russia is understood as a mini world war between Russia and United States with diversified participation by NATO. In the old days, from the sixties to the eighties, the ideological language in the United States translated such confrontations as the Free World versus the Communists; now, since communism, such as it was, has imploded, what is an open vendetta system is recoded as democracy versus autocracy in the interest of re-establishing US exceptionalism. The situation is made darker by the leverage of a nuclear threat around the breach of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear reactor in Europe, located in Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine stands for “European” exceptionalism. Between these two exceptionalisms, we in the United States don't seem to care much about Israel’s relationship to Palestine, about the Rohingyas we care not at all, not much about the entire collection of West Asian fronts, including Syria; and we forget that the confrontation in Kashmir has been going on for so long and is replicated in many areas of the world such as East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

My source of instruction for Russian imperialist culture and varieties of Ukrainian identitarianism was my dear friend, now deceased, Professor Mark von Hagen. He pointed out that the identitarianism of this region went from a primordial version of manifest destiny—Ukraine is better than all local areas, to an enlightened multiculturalism. Academically, the discipline of Cultural Studies should locate this conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the largest unit in the Russian Federation, as part of a long narrative of a Ukrainian sense of identity, sometimes supported by progressive Ukrainian thinkers as multicultural—linking unity in diversity, different and the same with a cultural Russia. A later, but no less nuanced source for me was the late Professor Hari Vasudevan, who also emphasised the multiplicity of “Russian” identities, held together by an increasingly fungible imperial ideology. The temporary cradle-to-grave material sustenance of a population sustained by the descendant of a serf (close to a chattel slave) imperfectly conscien-tised by bourgeois ideologues; and the results of what we would today call a STEM education where the humanities were reduced to what we would today call a toolkit version of “Marx” crumbled with Mikhail Gorbachev’s light knucklerap. In fact, whatever abstract words are used, what we are witnessing today is the vendetta culture which has been the major format of most history forever. (In the US, where a very large number of people think that fetuses have personhood and should not be destroyed under any circumstances, it is ironic that tremendous amounts of advanced weaponry can be supplied to kill adults.) The distinction between soldiers and civilians, just and unjust war is ultimately spurious for those of us pacifists who would say, with W E B Du Bois, the greatest historian and sociologist of the 20th century, that "war is worse than hell, and it seldom or never forwards the advance of the world”.

Under the current circumstances, peace comes to mean three things: stopping war because one side has killed by much the largest number of people; stopping war because the side that is killing the largest number of people and has destroyed the largest elements of infrastructure has been persuaded to be diplomatic—it should be mentioned that this version of peace is generally and immediately uncertain; and the third version, as the Scottish-German philosopher Kant said so long ago in Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), is a peace that is possible when commercial connections are established between states. India cannot support the sanctions because it buys the majority of its arms from Russia; as also its oil. We now know that this last is also an instrument of the withdrawal of peace through an imposition of commercial sanctions.

It is clear that even as this exchange of violence goes on until these sorts of peace are restored for a time, the only long-term goal is to bring in a more lasting peace, creating a collective mindset that would think of peace as the necessary absence of war—to quote Ambedkar differently—if there is an annihilation of war. Descriptive journalism and human rights activism must be sustained by the kind of education that slowly changes mindsets at all levels and prepares for the correct use of the digital—not just for destruction and corruption. This writer remains convinced that sustaining all material change is that training in mind-changing education, ceaselessly and seriously threatened by the seduction of unregulated, unsecured informal global capitalism with the theft of surplus value hidden in forced labour.

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Vol 55, No. 12, Sep 18 - 24, 2022