New Year’s Omen

Once upon an anti-colonial time, Al-Akhbar, a weekly newspaper of the Lebanese Communist Party, celebrated almost every new year, until it ceased publication in 1972, with a front page dedicated to local, regional, and international gains of the anti-colonial Left. In the January 1, 1960 issue, Marxist intellectual Hussein Mroueh published “New Year’s Omen” to salute his forebears and assure them that the horizon of liberation was in sight, that the struggle they had waged with their blood would soon see the light. 

I wish our good ancestors could be among us today to see how the forces of good, the forces of liberation, progress and peace, have come together in our present world to snatch the smiling omen from the heart of past events, and turn it, in our new year, into a decisive power that seizes the right of peoples to freedom, peace, and progress, despite makers of war and slavery.

I briefly evoke this new-year ethos of optimism from 62 years ago not to reminisce about the past but to juxtapose what this day has come to mean today. In the wake of an explosive massacre on August 4 and the economic fallout of neoliberalism, time distinctly feels like it cannot be measured according to the Earth’s revolution. 

Ends and beginnings have been blown to smithereens, and all we have, it seems, is time tending toward the abyss, and the abyss is endless. Recent events and crises have dramatically altered ways of relating to this place and time. Ours is a place-time of impossible dreaming, a nightmarish place-time with an evolving cast of monsters and demons.

Our time is an aftermath, a time “post-” events we name by year: post- 48, 75, 90, 2003… To live in the post- is to experience time saturated, suspended, suffused with the extended temporality of unfinished events as they unfold in mutating historical processes. Could time be otherwise without closure, radical transformation, a dream of victory or vengeance?

Ours is a place-time of impossible dreaming, a nightmarish place-time with an evolving cast of monsters and demons.

To live in the post- is to be haunted – to attempt, time and again, to chase inescapable, recalcitrant, elusive ghosts; to re-story past ongoing events, while deflecting the hands of obfuscation and erasure. Only those with the ability and desire to distance can escape living in the post-. They move away from the ghosts and look ahead. Resilience is second  nature.

But resilience also lends itself to demons. Here, they harvest it to launch their monstrous experiments, pressing us to move on and let them build a new landfill to bury their guilts for value and a gentrified cemetery for the ghosts.

To live through the post- in its newest version in Lebanon is also to be managed — by the minute and hour. The state is bankrupt, but power governs us through power, through water, waste, internet access, movement – indeed, through every imaginable infrastructure conceived to fail and make room for its replacement, equally designed to fail. Accumulation is exponential. 

We move on the whims of cartels. We live according to electric clocks. Two days ago, I saw a man screaming in anger on television. “We get half an hour of power a day here… We will break your electric poles tomorrow; here in the Bekaa, we don’t want electricity.” Power controls through power in geographical increments. 

Historical events, then, structure our lives in time, and power manages our everyday existence through infrastructure. The only future we have is hours away; the only compass is oriented to the past. It feels like we lost the future. 

The only future imagined is dystopia. In the last year, a few voices from the Left have taken flight to that future. Seduced by Lebanese exceptionalism, an unusual borrowing from the Right, they proposed that Lebanon is the archetype of what is to come: the future awaiting everywhere when capitalism implodes spectacularly, leaving nothing but its legacy of securitization and slow death on a burning planet. 

The only future we have is hours away; the only compass is oriented to the past. It feels like we lost the future. 

Is this the only future left to us, resignation to an escapist defeatism? 

If we contend that our world in Lebanon is dying, it is certainly not the first to have died. We’re not exceptional. Indigenous descendents who survived the longest genocide in history have seen the most prolonged settler-colonial process sever their ties to the land. In no uncertain terms, they have articulated that their world has ended since 1492. Extending their hand to the world, they conferred that it has much to learn from their experience of living in a dying world. 

Even closer to home, worlds have ended on a much narrower time-scale in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. So, what use is Lebanese exceptionalism except as an obstacle to solidarity among the dispossessed? Wasn’t October 17 proof that we only conversed with ourselves, while others were also waging struggles against capitalism, not least in Chile, an early experimental lab of neoliberalism?

Another future is still possible. There is an omen in our post- time that we could claim for radical hope. 

Cash for lucrative contracts has dried up, at least temporarily, and we should make sure it stays that way. The demons are resuming IMF negotiations this January, which they present as the new year’s “gift” to the people.

The urgency now is to act together against these so-called urgent solutions before the deal is sealed. No gift drives the pandemic of dependency and dispossession like the old cycle of debt, privatization, and speculative ventures. 

The mechanisms of plunder that this cycle supported since the nineties have slowed down, and that’s the only good omen of the collapse. The time is ripe to organize and sustain the interruption of real-estate and engineering schemes that devastated our vital environments, and to revive instead agriculture, production, and fair labor of which we were stripped with the neoliberal takeover. These are the stakes for economic sovereignty. 

So, here’s a toast to new year’s omen — for committing to this place, staying close to the ghosts and heeding their hauntings.