Thursday, November 27, 2003
Let's take a cursory look at the record:
Some of Kennedy's best fucks were doves
American power, Cold War counterinsurgency and CIA assassinations are the hallmarks of that corrupt and reactionary administration. It was Kennedy who, when not extemporising with some glamorous literary and artistic friends - nay, admirers - escalated attempts at restoring the old pro-US dictatorship in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Operation Mongoose. Overthrowing Castro was "the top priority of the United States Government, all else is secondary, no time, money, effort or manpower is to be spared". ( Evan Thomas, Robert Kennedy, His Life (Simon & Schuster, 2000) p. 149). Operation Mongoose involved several attacks on the Cuban land mass, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on top flight equipment, weaponry etc., all because Castro nationalised some American interests and gave the impression that he didn't take orders well. At the same time, there were several bizarre attempts on Castro's life - in a particularly Wile E. Coyote moment, they tried to smuggle in some cigars that would cause Castro's beard to fall off. It was the Kennedy administration which began the tradition of imposing economic sanctions on Cuba, encouraging its hemispheric allies to blockade Cuba.
The Cuban missile crisis was largely the manufacture of the Kennedy administration. The USSR had 20 ICBMs versus "180 American ICBMs, 12 Polaris submarines (each carrying 12 nuclear missiles) and 630 strategic bombers stationed in the US, Europe and Asia. Kennedy had announced that the US would, by 1964, triple its ICBMs" . The Kennedy administration deliberately escalated the growing confrontation over the division of Berlin, knowing the horrendous consequences: "We have the prospect, if the Soviet Union, as a reprisal, should grab Berlin in the morning, which they could do within a couple of hours. Our war plan at that point has been to fire our nuclear weapons at them. But these are all the matters which we have to think about." As Kennedy also acknowledged: "The object is not to stop offensive weapons, because the offensive weapons are already there, as much as it is to have a showdown with the Russians of one kind or another."
Kennedy started the bloodiest, most contemptible war America has ever engaged in. No, it wasn't just Nixon and that lousy Southern Democrat LBJ. The administration was elected with an enormous mess brewing for the US in Indochina. In Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and elsewhere, the popular opposition to US client dictatorships was becoming overwhelming. Kennedy chose to accept a settlement with Laos (temporarily), but escalated in Vietnam 'where he ordered the deployment of Air Force and Helicopter Units, along with napalm, defoliation, and crop destruction. US military personnel were sharply increased and deployed at battalion level, where they were "beginning to participate more directly in advising Vietnamese unit commanders in the planning and execution of military operations plans"' . The mission looked so successful initially that they thought they might be able to pull out having secured full victory in no time at all. The Joint Chiefs of Staff all concurred: the VC should be "eliminated as a significant force" about a year after the Vietnamese forces then being trained and equipped "became fully operational."
He's a good man, he don't mean no harm...
I know, I know. Kennedy was a dove who was going to pull all those boys out of Vietnam, just to save America from its homocidal and suicidally dangerous course. The plans for withdrawal were his way of avoiding what was going to be a devastating cataclysm of bloodshed across the whole of Indochina. Yes, even though he insisted that Diem get the boys together and focus on winning this thing, even though he authorised a drastic escalation of the war on the recommendations of Robert MacNamara, even though he specifically regarded the lack of public enthusiasm for the war as a problem. He was a good guy, trying to work things out, and he got shot for the privilege.
True, he bugged his own Oval Office, had Mafia connections, stole the election and pissed on black voters while later trying to claim credit for the Civil Rights marches which were a response to his inaction - what can one say? "Bad man, good president." Despite all of these known and contemptible crimes, "Kennedy called us to something larger than ourselves", apparently because he was good looking and said things like "ask not what your country can do for you" which was such a contrast to the fusty politico-speak of Fifties politicians. Oh, and also because he risked nuclear war: "From the failure of the Bay of Pigs came the triumph of the Cuban missile crisis. There was a cyclical pattern to such things. He kept getting better. And so did we, because of what he showed us about ourselves." Thanks to JFK, 'we' were able to smack the world around more effectively, because he "called us to something larger in ourselves". "Kennedyâ€™s truest legacy" was to have given America a "period of peace" , regardless of whether he was planning to take American troops out of the war that he'd started.
How well do Democrats fuck ass? Ask the American Left!
Let's take an exercise in advanced pattern recognition. Four slimy, corrupt, reactionary Presidents with a record of military aggression overseas, criminal neglect of the poor at home, extensive use of the most oppressive state powers, and crimes of the sort that would land any other American in jail. Two of them are Republicans, and two Democrats - (Nixon & Bush jnr, and Kennedy & Clinton respectively). Which two do your average American radical leftists still insist on harbouring some affection for, despite knowing the shit they pulled? Clue - it's not Nixon and Bush. Yes, yes, yes. Bill Clinton is "Bubba", and if Al Gore had been allowed that election victory, things would be sooooo different. JFK gave us a "period of peace", was just about to pull out of Vietnam, and was murdered because he wasn't anti-Cuban enough. Well, it's the abused wife scenario again - "he's a good man, you just don't know him like I do! I can change him!"
Of course you can. All you need is to change yourself enough, and he'll love you. Right, beeyatch?
Monday, November 24, 2003
England: a National Disgrace. posted by Richard SeymourA dissection of David Aaronovitch's England.
Here's the title:
It's about time that we stopped being afraid of celebrating our nationality. After all, we can be quite nice
Sunday November 23, 2003
Of course "we" can, David. You were just being "nice" when you slandered the left by association with anti-semitism , accused them of being liars and ... oh, what was it? Apologists for genocide? Something like that.
Aaronovitch's little dream sequence is apparently prompted by the victory over Australia in the rugby. Two points - a, noone watches Rugby and b, "we" couldn't possible have lost.
Mark this :
"The occasional great win becomes England even more than always losing - it's winning all the time that is alien to us. The period of Empire, when we - together with fellow Britons - ruled arrogantly over millions of foreigners in faraway lands, sometimes seems like a departure from national character, an unpleasant aberration - a bit like a staid aunt getting drunk and making fart jokes on New Year's Eve."
No, dear, taking a vast chunk of the planet by force and subjecting them to extreme oppression and slavery is not "like a staid aunt getting drunk and making fart jokes on New Year's Eve". And several hundred years is a very lengthy aberration indeed. Funny how it took a series of Marxist and nationalist rebellions to shake the drunk old slag to her senses, no?
"We will now see a resurgence of discussion about Englishness."
How good of you to make the first contribution, David, but do you think you could keep it in perspective a bit? "The coincidence of the World Cup victory with two new movies that are centred in notions of England and its history" may well form the occasion for a lengthy mastubatory fit of nationalism on your part, but I wonder how many of the 58 million residents of England are now hastily jotting down notes from Simon Schama, Roy Foster and Norman Davies, ready for the next pub discussion about "Englishness"?
"We have always known what Irishness is, of course".
Of course "we" have, David! The fact that "we" were in their country for a few hundred years might be considered a good reason to be thoroughly well acquainted with "what Irishness is". But I wonder if perhaps "our" understanding of "Irishness" isn't perhaps a kind of Orientalism - you know what I mean, the Irish are childish, suspicious, given to fantasy, good liars, lazy, untrustworthy, full of native good humour, illogical etc etc. Irishness, perhaps, is not much more than Oirishness in this context.
"But Englishness has had nothing to push against. It sometimes becomes easier to know what it isn't."
Yes? Go on...
"In August, on the hottest day of a hot summer, walking down the high street through a sea of heat, I did not feel as though I was in England. Somehow the sun had changed everything, in much the way that darkness or disaster do. London had become somewhere else."
Ah, so it's the weather that makes me peepers go squinty! Too roight, Meeery Popins. Nowt but a loada bleedin owld rain!
"Vomiting on the pavement is to England what circumcision is to many African tribes - a painful and messy rite of passage."
Well, dear, not everyone gets to read one of your articles, but I daresay there is something decidedly "English" about that yank of the guts as you realise you're consuming undiluted drivel.
"Our ambivalence about victory and defeat, our desire to see ourselves as part of the small battalions (even our pageantry has a Ruritanian quality, maintained in the face of modernity), are what gives World War II its particular value for us."
Not the defeat of Fascism, then? No, the English troops were charging into occupied France thinking "Ooh, does my battalion look big in this?"
"Despite the best attempt of our hooligans to prove him wrong, England remains as Orwell described it - characterised by a complacent gentleness in which fascists do not get elected to very much, and where populists are treated with suspicion."
Orwell's description of 'old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning'
might inspire a little scepticism in most, but as far as Aaronovitch is concerned, the Sixties never happened - and, God willing, they never will.
"We are fonder of under - rather than overstatement."
But not overly strong on our sense of irony, if the rhetorical bombast of this article is anything to go by.
"But the overwhelming characteristic of the English is the way in which tradition and modernity operate in a constant dialectic."
Now, now. We're entering dangerously New Labour territory here ... traditional values in a modern setting, hmmm?
"Take the rural idyll. Every few months an otherwise rational English writer or journalist announces that he or she has sold up and moved the family to some place that has two names, rather than just one."
Is this irony intentional, or unintentional? How far can David go before the editor realises he's taking the piss?
"There can be no other country where a complete genre of aspirational programmes consists of people getting out of cities and moving to the country (sometimes any country will do)."
I doubt if David watches a lot of Icelandic television, or even scans the German channels for the late night porn. But this, I suspect, is a delivery of instinct. England is SUCH a rural country, so it must be true. It's self-evident, is it not?
"Richard Curtis works both sides of this line. City singletons live interesting lives in semi-communes, before finding happiness in a castle. The pull of the country house is always there, but he acknowledges the vigour of the city. In this hugely urbanised country he is right to do so."
And this, my fellow outpatients, is where we're finally let in on the joke. Curtis obviously gave Aaronovitch a quick phone call and said "look, is it possible you could concoct some ridiculously bloated, pompous load of old cobblers for the Observer and make it an ad for my film? It's just that some people are having a go at me for not representing England realistically. It's almost as if they think I'm painting a caricature of Merrie Little Englande just to sell my movie to naive Americans."
Don't believe me? Read on!
"It struck me, after Love Actually, that one of the most distressingly authentic moments of Englishness was when a critic expressed the wish that the 10-year-old character's precocity be rewarded with 'a clip round the ear'. We are still a nation that likes to beat its kids."
That's appalling in any country, let alone a nearby one. But I wonder if David missed the even more startling and brutal reality that we like to bomb kids with some regularity too?
"I hope that Master and Commander will supersede Braveheart, Rob Roy and all those other movies where the English are seen as effete sadists who cannot pleasure their spouses. It contains a more essential truth about the English than do those travesties."
Quite. Showing the English engaging in a bit of derring-doo bravery is "essential truth" while showing them as colonial occupiers and sadistic is a travesty. Flawless logic. I'll let the next bit speak for itself:
"We can be a bloody good lot, and - just for today, accusations of smugness notwithstanding - we are going to make sure that everyone knows it."
Monday, November 17, 2003
Their Anti-Racism and Ours posted by Richard SeymourDavid Aaronovitch smears the Left by association with "anti-semitism". Tony Blair and his liberal supporters worry about our "anti-Americanism". Mark Strauss writes a devastatingly stupid article for Foreign Policy laying blame on "anti-globalisation" protesters for the surge in anti-semitic attacks - adding the outrageous charge that some protesters at Porto Allegre brandished the Swastika. (Notice that he considers the following anti-semitic: "Nazis, Yankees, and Jews: No More Chosen Peoples!" So, if we want to avoid anti-semitism, we really ought to be endorsing the idea of Jews as Chosen Peoples. If we object to the idea of a two-state solution, we may be providing a "snapshot of an unfolding phenomenon known as 'the new anti-Semitism'." Neat.)
It's not hard in all of this to see why we have become wary of this language. But we leftists should actually be a lot more aggressive on this - we are the ones who fight racism of all kinds, anti-semitism included. Was it the White Army or the Red Army who engaged in anti-semitic pogroms? Was it the left or the right in pre-war Germany which propagated a vicious climate of anti-semitic hatred? Was it the left or right in France which recently took to the streets in protest against the massive vote for Le Pen? Was it the left or right in Britain which led the Cable Street protests, blocking a Fascist march?
This is our terrain. We are the anti-racists, not those hypocritical masters of pomp, churning out sorry drivel for the mainstream press.
And we should know our terrain, and tread very carefully on it. Saying Israel is an apartheid state is not anti-semitic. On the other hand, if you find the Jews responsible for everything from the Russian Revolution to 9/11 and the Gulf War, you might be said to have a small fixation with Jews. The Medialens website was unfairly attacked by David Aaronovitch last year because a handful of posters on its message board had reduced the place to a loony bin of "Jewish plots" and all sorts. He rendered his message to "the Left", as if squadrons of young radicals were signing themselves up to conspiracy chic with a touch of anti-semitism thrown in. Well, that is inaccurate. But it is also true that some people who are by no means anti-semitic and who do consider themselves on the Left have defended the perpetuators of such conspiratorial gibberish. They have done so out of resentment at the denkverbotten that has surrounded discussion of Israel in Britain and America. They do not agree with such views, or at least would substantially modify them, but they agree with the right to express them. I myself do not agree that anyone has the inherent "right" to express racist or anti-semitic views - rights are not absolute, especially when one person's rights are incommensurable with another's. Moreover, we surrender a lot of valuable ground when we allow ourselves to defend the indefensible.
We cannot allow the neoconservative right or liberal Zionists a single straw to clutch at if they attempt to slander anti-Zionists as "Anti-semitic in their effect if not their intent". Or much, much worse, as we have come to expect. So, let's drop this stupid free-speech stipulation that prevents us from terminating the abuses of racists, and let's remember what our history and struggle has been. It is, and has always been, a fight against oppression and injustice everywhere - we were on the side of Jews in Europe just as much as we are on the side of Arabs in Palestine. It is a history far more distinguished and honourable than that of the right, who now have the cheek to appropriate our language and use it in the service of oppression.
Friday, November 14, 2003
"I'm so glad to be going to a country where people are free to express what's on their mind... freedom is a beautiful thing."
"Freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is God's gift to humanity."
(Add the cheap smirk for yourself.)
Well, Bush certainly isn't too subtle in playing that old routine about "if you lived in Iraq, you wouldn't be free to say what you're saying", although he does express it in an ironic way as if to disarm critics. Actually, you will notice that when people say that, what they want you to do is pretend that you DO live in Iraq. The only thing worthy of attention in this statement is Bush crooning "freedom is a beautiful thing" as if he were some clapped out soul singer speaking as part of a UN delegation to South Africa.
The second statement is a Bush classic, an old favourite of his . I want you to consider the complexity of that statement. Go back up and read it again. "Freedom is not America's gift to the world". Of course it isn't, dumbass! Do you think we imagine you fought all the anti-colonial wars, every democratic revolution and every protest movement? I suppose you thought we'd forgotten all about fifty years of US support for scummy little dictatorships, fostering an atmosphere of authoritarianism, barbarity and extreme corruption just because it created a favourable investment climate?
But at least that first part of the statement looks like humility. It looks like the American president saying "We don't really think we're the best thing since Toussaint L'ouverture". But mark the punchline: "Freedom is God's gift to humanity"!
Well, he took his fucking time getting round to that! I suppose God was just biding his time, waiting for us to get the massacring and torturing out of our systems before handing us our freedom. But of course, Bush didn't mean that God literally gives us our freedom - he meant that America does so on God's behalf. So, he makes a typical piece of Pax Americana arrogance sound like humility and self-deprecation. Cicero was very good at this. American letters to the Guardian are so hilariously eloquent on this point that they bear repeating:
"So this is how you Brits treat the president of the United States? The president of the nation that sent millions of its young men to defend the people of England during world war two? Now it would seem our president is not worthy of an official visit. This is treatment one would expect from the French..." Thomas Farnkoff Portland, Maine, USA
You can hear that obnoxious, abrasive voice now: 'America saved Europe in World War Two, held back Communism, and gave democracy to Germany and Japan. And you guys are just jealous cos we're rich and free and you're not.' If any of the many Americans living in London fancy debating me on this point, you'll see me prowling around in my black winter coat with the "Stop Bush" badge ineptly clasped onto the breast. Come and tell me all about the "Freedom fries" and those "Dixie Sluts" (or "Blixie Chicks" as Al Franken ineptly called them in one of his corporate gigs for Clear Channel). Tell me all about the bad Germans and the bad French. Tell me about freedom and democracy and how you just don't get why people hate America so much. Tell me about your Constitution and the flag and how your government is itching to "liberate" people from obscure countries whose names you can't easily pronounce. Let me hear you now,
#"freedom is a beautiful thaaaang, freedom is a beautiful thaaaang..."#
I won't mock a position for being "childish" - that put-down is a staple of conservatism, and, as Francis Bacon had it "antiquity was the youth of the world", and it gave us democracy. But the patent idiocy of the discourse is compounded by a very adult sophistication about how to work with unconscious phantasy life, press emotive buttons and hinder dissent. Part of the strategy involves getting us to waste our time on pointless inanities, but it also involves creating a climate of intimidation for arguments that do not resonate with the Flag-Freedom-God fantasy. Bush isn't just a childish dolt. He's also a big, pompous buffoon who has the cleverness to know good PR advice when Karl Rove gives it to him. Rove obviously thought it would be a neat idea to have Bush "drivin down the Mall with the Briddish queen". Time to make that fucker rue the day!
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Capitalism is a house of whores and pimps, and it’s never been cooler to say so. Only fifteen years ago, we’d have been obliged to meet the response that ‘really existing socialism’ was a house of torturers and trained assassins – which is true, so long as we reverse the meaning of that phrase, ‘really existing socialism’. Still, we are just escaping the crushing weight of Stalinism and at more or less the right moment – the anticapitalist purview is becoming a popular outlook across Europe, is sweeping governments in and out of power in Latin America, and is supplying the Palestinians with a hotbed of political support across the world. It arrived just as Indonesian workers and students had liberated themselves from Suharto (led by some unorthodox Marxists and trade unionists). It impacted upon the windows and shop-fronts of the City of London, that island of feudal capitalism on the banks of poverty-stricken East London, just a few months after NATO had liberated the Kosovans from their houses.
The accumulated energy of the anticapitalist movement seemed to break on the rock of 9/11, but that was as temporary as President Bush’s newfound leadership qualities. Gales of protest buffeted the US Enterprise as it interfered with the ancient civilisation of Babylon, assisted by the loyal Klingons in Downing Street. Trade union militancy has revived across the world, with the exception of the United States where the Bush administration took the opportunity afforded by 9/11 to smack the Longshoremen around. Elections in Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, South Korea and even Britain in some measure have registered the dual tendency toward radicalisation and disengagement from parliamentary democracy – not as mutually supportive as they may seem.
In short, we’re back, and we’ve got a brand new bag.
I have to risk a Michael Winner impersonation at this point and say “Calm down, dears!” All of the above may be accurate, yet we still face some profound strategic conundrums and some almighty roadblocks. The crucial problems facing the Left in Britain are:
1. The absence of a national, mass political force to the left of Labour.
2. The absence of principled dissent within Labour.
3. The success of the far right in pockets of Britain reflecting an increase in racism generally.
4. The continued financial attachment of trade unions to Labour.
5. The increasing cost of beer.
Opinion polls reveal with terrible consistency a hardening antipathy toward asylum seekers and immigrants. This is compounded by a more direct and obvious racism toward Asian residents of the industrial North and Islamophobia, which is not entirely restricted to the right. This is the one issue on which the far right have been able to win an audience. Everything else they say which catches any resonance is drawn directly from the far left. The BNP have virtually zero support for their programmatic racism and antisemitism, and have consequently been forced to abandon the hardcore Holocaust revisionism and ‘fists and boots’ white nationalism of the early nineties and favour a more media friendly, politically correct racism. Their magazine is called ‘Identity’, which might have been the name of a postmodern publication in the Eighties. Nick Griffin’s justification for racial cleansing is that distinct cultures cannot co-exist, which is an extreme variant of multicultural discourse. But this has afforded them a space for growth. Their members are so depressingly thick that they have managed to lose many of their seats because of violence, while the remainder have been unable to fulfill their duties as councillors. But there are enough depressingly thick voters out there who will still support anything wrapped in a Union Jack.
Insofar as the far right feed off racism, we must double our energies against it. Insofar as they articulate a bastardised anticapitalist dynamic, we should articulate the real Armani.
The latter presents us with the remaining dillemas to which I now turn.
A lion walks into a bar in Islington, calmly perches himself on a stool and asks the barman in a low growl for “a pint of Best Bitter, please”. The barman, determined not to be thrown, puts on his professional smile and pours the pint. “Two pound eighty”, he says. The lion grumbles a bit, fumbles around in his fur, then finally paws over some change. After the lion has downed a few gulps, the barman can’t contain his curiosity any more. “Errr, it’s funny, you know, ‘cos … well, we don’t get too many lions in here.”
“I’m not fucking surprised at two pound eighty!” The lion snaps.
This must be how local Labour activists feel when they arrive at their annual Party Condescension to be sneered at, prodded and studied with anthropological curiosity by a leadership whom they nevertheless adore. Would that they had the courage to ‘Rise like lions’ as Shelley urged, but they’re too busy consuming some of Tony’s Best Bitter. If Tony was a lion-tamer, he’d be thinking “oh, where’s the fucking challenge in this? All I have to do is emote and they start weeping like incontinent bumholes”.
Given that Labour has neither the desire nor the ability to attract the kind fof young Lions capable of making their circus that bit more appealing, we shall have to look elsewhere. There is an enormous space on the Left, not presently occupied. Liberal opportunists occassionally usurp it for short term political gain, but they have also done their absolute best to make sure noone in the Tory seats think they’re left-wing. Why should this be? We have built a great movement, whose social weight resonates well beyond the borders of the Left. We have led in strikes and disputes, we have seen our preferred candidates win in union elections, we have given New Labour more than one bloody nose. And for all this, we have emerged without the ability to challenge new Labour electorally. We have little sustained presence in the mainstream media, and no money.
The answer must be to occupy that empty space on the electoral terrain, while not vacating the space for activism, which sustains us in between each electoral date. We need a new coalition of the left to fight Blair in those elections, and the proposals by George Monbiot and Salma Yaqoob are a great step in that direction. Those sniffing sectarians who think that it ain't good enough if it ain't Marxist need to extricate themselves now. Weekly Worker and Worker's Liberty have both, to their infinite shame, reacted strongly against these proposals for left unity. They insist on 'class politics not electoralism'. As if opposition to war wasn't the most profound kind of class politics. As if elections were nothing, and class politics not somehow reflected in them. As if we were somehow ditching the notions of class, and the classical conception of socialism, by participating in elections. Didn't Lenin once lead the Bolsheviks into participation in elections to the Duma, or did I dream that?
The Greens, on the other hand, are shitting themselves. They had assumed they would take the antiwar vote with their winning combination of blandness and sanctimony. They have said immediately that they want nothing to do with such an alliance, because most of its policies would be like Green policies anyway. Well! Good reason for you to be involved, he? Treble your membership overnight! But they were not as central to the antiwar movement as they could have been, and their television representative, Dr Caroline Lucas, was about as convincing as the Liberal Democrats in her arguments against the war. Therefore, let them huddle in their glass houses and throw stones.
Finally, if anyone doubts that a strong performance of the Left in elections terrifies the ruling elite, take a cop of this from the Independent:
"France faces a year of turbulent and possibly explosive politics after a tactical alliance was formed at the weekend between two parties of a resurgent far left ... In an opinion poll published yesterday, after two leading Trotskyist parties agreed to fight regional and European elections together next spring, 31 per cent of French people said that they would "consider" voting for the far left.
One of the parties, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR), has doubled its membership in the past 18 months, as young French people, seduced by the anti-globalisation movement and cynical about conventional politics, flocked to the extremes.
So many new members have joined that the LCR has had to publish an A to Z of revolution, explaining, among other things, who Leon Trotsky was ...
The resurgence of the far left threatens to put the French political clock back to the 1950s and 1960s, when the strength of the Communist Party and other smaller left-wing formations prevented the emergence of a powerful movement of the centre-left. François Mitterrand, the former president, changed that by building the Parti Socialiste and persuading the Communists into a series ofalliances which ultimately withered their support among blue-collar workers...
Despite their success, the two principal Trotskyist parties do not even believe in democratic politics. They insist that change can only come through revolution.
Lutte Ouvrière is a secretive, sect-like organisation which appeals largely to disaffected blue-collar workers and revolutionary ideologues ..."
Like I told you, terrified!