Saturday, February 28, 2004
War Myths... posted by Richard Seymour
Myths About the 'War on Terror'
The most prevalent myth about the ‘war on terror’ is that there is any such thing. An earnest glance at the world will demonstrate that the term is an abuse of the English language, and not merely because it involves (as Terry Jones put it) “the bombing of an abstract noun”. It is because the phrase suggests we are at war with a tactic, a specific kind of political action – that which uses violence, discriminate or otherwise, to yield political rewards, sow confusion, provide frightful object lessons in history or divert the enemy’s precious resources. In fact, the most obvious sense in which the United States, as the main actor in this war, is fighting against this tactic is also the sense in which it makes a mockery of its own rhetoric. By fighting two wars of aggression in almost as many years, the United States has repeatedly used violence, discriminate or otherwise, to yield political rewards…
At the same time, however, the US government has been channelling funds to Colombian far right militias and to Venezuelan putschists via the National Endowment for Democracy, (a CIA front whose many esteemed luminaries include Condoleeza Rice). It has been assisting the state terror of the Indonesians against Acehnese villagers. It has been lending vocal support to the vile coup-merchants in Haiti, who just happen to America’s former allies. It has maintained good relations with the worst state terrorists, especially one Islam Karimov, a particularly disgusting despot who likes to boil his opponents to death when they get mouthy.
And why ought any of this be surprising? Has not the United States been the world’s leading terror state for over fifty years? Do we really need to go through the record? Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iran, Brazil, Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Lebanon, Greece, South Korea etc? Need we recall that the awesome slaughter across Central America involved not only the Contra terrorists, Iranian weapons, neo-Nazi Argentinean Generals and so on – it also involved some of those in high places in the Bush administration. Decades of mass murder ought to enjoin a certain scepticism about US power and its use, especially when it is described as “humanitarian”...
The ‘Benign Intentions’ Myth.
It hasn’t escaped notice that Tony Blair and George W. Bush used the ideology of humanitarian intervention developed over some thirty years or so and deployed in its completeness during the war on Serbia as a fall-back when the WMD argument appeared to disappear in its own mushroom cloud. It would be worthwhile examining, cursorily, the roots of this ideology before dispensing with it for good. During the Biafran war of the late 1960s, non-governmental organisations for the first time began to drop their associations as semi-official bodies with information-gathering and charitable intentions, and to adopt a more politicised approach. In the early 1970s, a group called Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) was formed by Bernard Kouchner , a former member of the French Communist Party (PCF) , in alliance with a number of former leftists and Maoists. Its doctrine, subsequently immortalised as the "Kouchner Doctrine", was that doctors had a right to cross international boundaries to administer humanitarian aid to suffering victims. This right superseded that of the state, in their view, so that no appeal to national sovereignty could reasonably prevent them from carrying out their work. All of the leading participants in this movement were among the wave of former leftists who took a sharp turn to the right when the detumescent revolutionary fervour of post-1968 produced general disillusionment and resigned scepticism.
But with this came a general trend in NGOs, at first toward politicisation, and then in the 1980s toward depoliticised campaigning. The vicissitudes of raising finances pitted charities against one another in often fierce competition. One major source of funds was the government, because foreign aid was increasingly privatised, and this was an important dynamic in forcing charities to abandon political critique. Another factor was state repression. Famously, Oxfam was taken to task by the UK Charity Commission in the early 1990s for "prosecuting with too much vigour" its campaign to prevent Western administrations from allowing the Khmer Rouge to return to Cambodia as part of a deal with Vietnam. But something else came into play – besides demanding the right to cross international borders in defence of victims of human rights abuses, some NGOs began asserting the right to be protected by the military while doing so. The first such instance was in Somalia , where the notion was appropriated by the US government to allow it to intervene in a disastrous way in the civil war taking place. The resulting debacle saw anything up to 10,000 Somalis killed and some US soldiers knocked off for their efforts.
Kouchner himself turned to the Socialist Party and was a minister in the Mitterand governments of the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the Jospin ‘plural left’ administration of the late Nineties. He supported the bombing of the Balkans, and became the UN Special Representative to Kosovo after the war was over. A movement, then, from doctors without frontiers to bombers without frontiers.
Now, this isn’t merely a historicist critique of the ideology of humanitarian intervention. I actually think there is something suspicious in the idea from the start. To reduce, for instance, a dense mesh of national, political and geo-political interests to a straightforward, stark humanitarian crisis, has unpleasantly racist connotations. Coming from Northern Ireland, I’m familiar with the gesture – those poor children who died today had no idea what this crazy war was about and didn’t care … the ‘divided communities of Northern Ireland’ must come together, overcome their ‘bitter hatreds’ and so forth. As if there weren’t obvious rational motivations behind the war, as if there weren’t serious material gains and losses to play for, as if it were merely a matter of irrational hatreds and atavisms. This gesture bears a close family resemblance to that deployed during the Balkans wars of the mid-Nineties and subsequently during the NATO assault of Spring 1999. In fact, the ultimate voice of the victim during that war was the Kosovar woman interviewed by the New York Times who insisted she had no political views, felt sorry for the Serbs, and just wished for her family to return to their homes in safety. She was the ideological stand-in for the US government, for NATO, for George Robertson (the pudgy, red-faced Defence Secretary who later became the head of NATO). She could ventriloquise what Bill Clinton would have loved to say. We should read the interview not as an honest account of the average oppressed Kosovar (whose views are likely to be a good deal more intemperate) but as the voice of those waging war. Imagine NATO saying “we have no political views, we sympathise with the Serbs, we just want to return safely to our homes …”
Suspicion should always be aroused, therefore, when a situation is reduced to a pure humanitarian crisis, of villains and victims whom a disinterested superpower (Superman?) may try to save.
Okay, how does this apply in the concrete situation of Afghanistan? Christopher Hitchens once mockingly remarked that “the progressives” were “silent” on the issue of whether the West should intervene to relieve the people of Afghanistan of the terrible burden of their oppressive tyranny, even preferring to talk about the environment over such pressing issues. Evidently he lives in a parallel universe where a spate of best-selling books, packed meetings, vast demonstrations and intense debate and scrutiny count as ‘silence’. Nevertheless, the ideological gesture is instantly identifiable. Abstract from the concrete prior situation of overwhelming US power in a multipolar world and ask the audience to reflect purely on the pressing need of this or that oppressed people for the emancipation the West promises to bring. We need not delay ourselves either with the motives of those pretending to be freedom fighters, nor with the fact that they seem singularly discriminating as to who they choose to free. The US, for instance, did not place its vast military and economic apparatus at the disposal of Uzbeks living under the tyranny of Karimov. But what really matters is that ‘we’ will act on behalf of the oppressed. Unsurprisingly, this argument has great purchase on the minds of Johann Hari, Nick Cohen and others.
Suppose you were then to suggest that there has been no emancipation, that the country is scarcely more free, more fair, more democratic or more stable than before? The answer would be ready that, after all, the solution of those who opposed war would have left the Taliban in power, terrorists in their caves, and women under the veil. In other words, the ideology is self-confirming – even if the venture fails, it was ultimately benign, from the best of motives. Of course, this is specifically not the case. There were home-grown forces in Afghanistan dedicated to the overthrow of the Taliban who decried the US assault on their country, and urged the killing to stop. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is one such force. The other was represented by the approximately 1,000 Afghan leaders who gathered in Peshawar during October 2001 to call for both the end of the bombing and a national movement to dislodge the weakened Taliban regime, in what the New York Times described as "a rare display of unity". Even the former US ally, Abdul Haq, called for the bombing to cease and criticised America for punishing Afghanistan when it was they who had brought the "Arab fundamentalists" to Afghanistan in the first place. In short, the forces most hostile to the Taliban were also those most hostile to US aggression. But we cite these facts to no avail. They can always be played down, ridiculed, countervailed if necessary, so long as the central point that ignoring these calls involved the deaths of thousands is ommitted. I suggest that even the most exhaustive rendering of the salient facts about US terror, about the past of some participants in the Bush administration, about the ongoing terror campaigns in Latin America etc, would not yield a single solitary dent into the idea of benign intent.
The Myth of ‘Benign Outcome’
The question of moral judgment seems to be suspended between Aristotle and Mill. Mill famously advanced a nuanced utilitarianism, in which the principle of greatest happiness included the caveat that there were qualitatively distinct kinds of happiness. Ultimately, a dilemma could be resolved by the outcome – regardless of the agency behind the action, or the intent, consequences were all. If a greater happiness for a greater number of people was obtained, one could determine that the correct course of action had been followed. The trouble with this view has always been that ‘outcome’ is a rather indistinct quality – how far down the line are we allowed to proceed before we decide that this is the ultimate consequence? Human lives are finite, after all. Will we be reduced to Mao’s ridiculous aphorism on the outcome of the French revolution (“It’s too soon to tell”).
The Aristotelian view included the consequentialist concern, but also had something to say about character, and intent. An action had to be judged, in part, by the attitude and intent of the actor. If someone deliberately electrocutes you in order to cause permanent harm, if not death, we do not cover the action in glory just because the outcome is that your subsequent epileptic fit relieves you of an enormous weight of anger, fury and resentment at the world. We tend to think that, regardless of the outcome, the intent was dangerous especially if replicable. Unsurprisingly, Marx drew his morality (which he thought he didn’t believe in) from Aristotle, and augmented it. To the charge that Marxism contained a vulgar utilitarian ethic that the end justified the means, however horrid, Trotsky responded (in “Their Morals and Ours” ) that only certain ends could achieve certain means. He referred to the manner in which a revolutionary party should interact with the class it sought to galvanise, to the fact that a party which routinely lied to the working class could not depend on its prolonged support. But the applicability of the logic to the current situation is obvious – if the end is supposed to be emancipation, the means cannot be coercive. Some nations are born democratic, some achieve democracy, but none can have it thrust upon them.
And if the means are coercive, this suggests that the ends are not exactly as advertised. Aside from the simple matter of record, US governmental declarations and the ideological projections of the neoconservatives in it are evidence enough, if anyone cares to examine it. I’ve said enough about the National Security Strategy and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) before, but let’s recall the brute, cynical way in which Donald Rumsfeld sought to exploit the tragedy still unfolding not more than metres from him in the Pentagon:
“Judge whether good enough to hit SH at the same time. Not only UBL. Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related, and not.” (Randeep Ramesh, “The War We Could Not Stop: The real story of the battle for Iraq”, 2003, page 18).
"Good enough"! Rumsfeld was in similar form the following day, when he asked President Bush and his senior advisors:
"Why shouldn’t we go against Iraq, not just Al Qaeda?" (Washington Post, 28th January, 2002).
The project which was announced by the PNAC was re-launched with a vengeance while bodies were still being recovered from the rubble. Supposing therefore that the outcome of this vile mission had been much happier than it is today. No suicide bombings, no Resistance, no Shi’ite demonstrations demanding direct elections, no mass unemployment, no massive casualties. Certainly, this would have been much more propitious for the New American Century and its ideologues, but would it therefore make the mission just? Or would it not instead make it more dangerous by inviting the illusion that the US has both the desire and the capacity to remake the world for the better?
One of the least morally appealing aspects of the warnik’s case has been the suggestion that, at least if the US government is cynical, it is no worse than other states and probably a good deal better, and at any rate we should be happy that the outcome was not as disastrous as it might have been. If the war was fought for US hegemony, then hundreds of thousands of lives have been placed at the mercy of ideological fanaticism – not a desirable situation, whatever the outcome.
The Myth of ‘Confluence’
At least if a war is fought on less than creditable grounds, the interests of the aggressive party may coincide with those of the oppressed – pace Kosovo, pace Sierra Leone. Yes, the British government wanted to retain a pro-British administration in Sierra Leone. Yes, it was concerned about the diamond trade. But after all, it did curtail the extreme violence of the RUF with its limb-chopping proclivities. And therefore, the interests of the people of Sierra Leone and those of the UK government overlapped. Indeed, NATO was concerned to expand its field of operations, yes it wanted to demonstrate its "credibility" as Clinton inelegantly put it. But it did put the Kosovars back in their houses, and may have contributed to the weakening of the Milosevic regime, ensuring it finally gave way to a popular uprising. Therefore, the interests of NATO were confluent with those of both the Serbs and the Kosovars. You may not like the intentions of the imperialists, but you would have to be foolhardy or hard-hearted to decry the outcome.
This argument is fraudulent in many ways, but mainly in the way that it speaks for the Sierra Leonians and the Kosovars, as if there weren't many different 'interests' in those countries. One cannot derive the morality or legitemacy of an action by the fact that a number of the alleged beneficiaries may accept the action. In the case of Kosovo, the argument is even more fraudulent since it suggests that the war waged by Clinton and the centre-left powers of Europe actually solved the problem it claimed to be solving. In fact, the immediate effect was to aggravate a grievous situation into a disaster zone. The rate of expulsion and murder of Kosovo Albanians dramatically increased. At the same time, barely a tank in Milosevic's arsenal was dented, and the war ended with a deal negotiated by Martin Ahtisaari of Finland and Victor Chyrnomirdin of Russia which was remarkably similar to that proposed by Milosevic at the beginning of the war. Naturally, this constitutes a victory for Nato as far as mainstream liberal commentators are concerned, because to call it a negotiated settlement would be to call into question the necessity of using military force in the first place.
Problematising the Prior Situation
Let me end by applying Perry Anderson's useful Marxist method of questioning "the entire prior structure" of global geo-politics . In specific, let's make Sierra Leone our test case. The standard liberal apologist will rehearse the movements I have described above - depoliticise the situation, turn it into a humanitarian crisis, neutralise questions of agency and power, and at the very last resort, plead for attention to be directed at the 'good' outcomes of the intervention and adopt it as a test case for future wars. If we reverse that gesture, inspect the situation in its political and economic totality, some interesting illusions begin to dissolve.
When Britain sent troops to Sierra Leone in 2000, it dispatched 800 of the most cruel, vicious bastards created in the laboratory of Britain's deprivation. The Parachute Regiment, whose members consider the SAS pussies, are notoriously brutal - these were the men who shot dead 13 unarmed civilians in the Bogside, Derry, Ireland, near the Rossville flats on January 30th, 1972. It was initially described as non-combatant intervention purely to excavate British citizens from a growing crisis. It then became "military diplomacy". In fact, the underlying reality was that the SAS were being deployed to crush anti-government units in a fantastically bloody way . The civil war between the corrupt and brutal former government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, and a corrupt and brutal 'rebel' force is crucially over control of the country's rich diamond resources, the bulk of which are controlled by the RUF and which were until recently sent to the world's dealers through Liberia. The government, elected in 1996 in a stage-managed affair, was ousted in an RUF coup in May 1997 (apparently inspired by New Labour's sweep to power). The Nigerian junta along with a number of surrounding countries sent in a "peacekeeping force" while the British employed the mercenary outfit, Sandline International , to protect the diamong mines and try to wrest them back into the control of Kabbah. Kabbah returned to power in 1998 Economic Community of West African States, but when the British government's involvement with mercenaries was publicly exposed, Sandline International had to pull out and the West African intervention force became a joke. It was left to Jesse Jackson, of all people, to negotiate a peace deal with the 'rebels' again in 1999, a deal known as the Lome Agreement. However, Foday Sankoh of the RUF had been made Minister of Mines, and was unwilling to relinquish his control of these. Atrocities, murders and rapes continued.
In 2000, Britain dispatched a number of troops to Sierra Leone to curtail the power of the 'rebels', working with the former coup-plotter and brutalist, Johnny Paul Koroma. Sankoh was captured, and imprisoned, while RUF activity was dramatically curtailed. As Mark Tran wrote in the Guardian, "It needed a bit of British steel".
The trouble is, of course, that the civil war was itself the legacy of British imperialism's continuation through the post-colonial era. The British government has acted constantly through proxies to destabilise successive governments in Sierra Leone since it first won its indepdence in 1961. And when the civil war raged from 1991 onward, causing famine and enormous casualties, the British government proceeded to flood the country with military aid - more than was given to any other African country in that decade. British guns flooded the country under the Labour government (violating the Conakry peace deal of 1997), and often ended up in the hands of small children.
In fact, most of the large-scale civil wars in Africa (Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia) revolve around the diamond trade, and the Western desire to control them. The head of the DeBeers diamond company was one of the highest profile backers of the UNITA forces in Angola, besides the United States government. They have also not been averse to employing mercenary companies like Sandline International to protect their interests in these countries. "During the 1970s and 80s the old-guard politicians systematically looted the country’s resources—in partnership with Lebanese, British and other foreign businessmen" according to the BBC.
Sankoh himself had been trained by the British colonial army. He had formed the RUF as an instrument of national liberation, attracting "a wide range of frustrated intellectuals and youths, whose first demand was the education the incompetent state denied them, and a social justice that Sierra Leone had never known." One of the crucial problems the state had in fighting the RUF was that its army recruits were abused, low-paid and often shared the same outlook and circumstances as those who joined the RUF. As the civil war became a strategic battle over diamonds, and as the RUF turned to more and more brutal methods, becoming allied with elements of the Sierra Leonian ruling class, the Western powers became concerned enough to have Bill Clinton give Sankoh a phone call, send Madeleine Albright over to meet him, and even have Jesse Jackson dot the 'i's and cross the 't's on a peace deal.
And when the intervention was deemed complete, and a peace accord reached, the British re-equipped the brutal army, incorporating such despicable elements as the afore-mentioned Koroma. The corrupt Kabbah has been touted as the peace candidate and has won national elections. Unsurprisingly, fully 70 percent of the police and army voted for Johnny Paul Koroma in the parliamentary elections. The civil war may not yet be over, and yet another element has been added to the fray - the collapse of Charles Taylor's pro-RUF regime in Liberia resulted in violence between the government and scattered rebels which threatened to spill over the border. The British government last year sent 300 ghurkas into Sierra Leone to manage the situation. In fact, according to the International Crisis Group (IGC) the break-out of the civil war in Liberia is partially to be explained by the British intervention in Sierra Leone, displacing the boundaries of an altogether larger war. "...As the situation in Sierra Leone has improved, it has become painfully evident that the war is not its own, but rather part of a larger conflict that began in Liberia, engulfed Sierra Leone and Guinea, and is now back inside Liberia."
The civil war is over for now. But the history of the country, of countless interventions (mainly clandestine), of mercenary forces and coups and counter-coups suggests that the war was an expression of endemic crisis. Kabbah is no more likely to deliver peace, security and prosperity under the IMF regime than Robert Mugabe did (oh, you know, before he became a bad guy?). His regime is already earning a reputation for viciousness , especially in his deployment of the British-trained police force. The British interventions have at various times exacerbated the civil war and attenuated it. The West African forces have at various times acted as proxies for the US and Britain, and will presumably continue to do so. Companies which supply mercenary outfits will undoubtedly find new business there as the diamond trade re-opens and mining corporations seek security. In relation to diamonds, a British "anti-corruption" boss is to be appointed to supervise the police and army patrols of mining areas and allow only the "legal" mining of diamonds on land parceled out by the government and subject to taxation. Africa Confidential reports, "Britain will lend the president an official for a year to give advice [on diamond mining] and take the blame for unpopular decisions." (The Lord works in mysterious ways). There are indications that a new civil unrest may break out. The people of Sierra Leone are, of course, not merely inert victims. They have at times struck against their regimes, taken action against the civil war, and fought together for an improvement in their miserable conditions - doubly unjust since their country is so rich in mineral resources. In other words, the former colonial powers and their superpower ally are far from being the saviour of degenerating African states - they are, in fact, among their worst tormentors.
There is no progressive case for imperialism, and no capitalist war which is fought for ideals. That this much is self-evident to even liberal apologists for imperialism accounts for all the delaying tactics and procrastination. Yes, of course, they didn't fight out of humanitarian impulses, but then neither was World War Two fought for such ideals. And after all, the situation is now better than it was before, and even if it is all as you say it is, I prefer imperialism to fascism. Well, brothers and sisters, take a look into your hearts and heads and ask yourself - whoever said you would have to choose?
Friday, February 27, 2004
Central London 9 - 16 July
"Speakers confirmed already this year include:
Michael Albert of Znet, author of Parecon: Life After Capitalism; Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South, Sue Bond, vice-president of PCS; Mark Curtis, director of the World Development Movement and author of Web of Deceit; George Galloway, the anti-war MP; Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition; Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU; Kate Hudson, chair of CND; Ghada Karmi, Palestinian activist and author of In Search of Fatima; Phillip Knightley, author of The First Casualty and The Second Oldest Professionl; Hannah Kuchler, convenor of School Students Against the War; Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe; David Miller, author of Tell Me Lies and The Lying Game; Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition and author of A New Labour Nightmare; Professor Steven Rose from the Open University; Michael Rosen, the poet whose most recent book is This Is Not My Nose; Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS; Salma Yaqoob, chair of Birmingham Stop the War Coalition ..."
Of course, in the past they have included John Pilger, Slavoj Zizek, Nick Cohen (boo hiss!), Harriet Harman (booooo hisssss!), and even my esteemed opponent Ken McLeod.
Book up now. If you want to listen to mp3 recordings of previous Marxism events, click here To book now, click here .
And if you're coming, I'll see you there!
Thursday, February 26, 2004
Lenin vs McLeod: Round Two... posted by Richard SeymourOkay, Ken, you can't expect me to take a kicking like that lying down. Let''s begin.
"There was rather more than one MP, a couple of trade union leaders, a film director, a liberal journalist, a Muslim antiwar activist and a few socialist sects behind the Labour Representation Committee."
A slight elision, Ken, since you know that the groups behind the LRC (ILP, SDF, Fabians etc) were in fact years in the making. Everyone has to start somewhere.
"In the second place - as the very name of the LRC reminds us - it was based on the painful discovery that the wage-earning class had independent interests of its own, interests which weren't to be subsumed, and couldn't be satisfied, within a coalition of progressive forces."
This point would be more persuasive if we were trying to make the Labour Party Mark II. We are not. We are uniting, or trying to unite, the forces of the antiwar left into an electoral coalition for the sole purpose of delivering a serious body-blow to the New Labour project. The allusion to Labour's formation was, obviously, an acknowledgment of the fact that we are compelled sometimes to take risks and make leaps. None of the parties in the coalition intend to dissolve. If anything, their unwillingness to be subsumed into the ever-feared "SWP-front" will doubtless reinforce party consciousness and loyalty. This is an electoral coalition, open-ended because we don't know where it can lead and how it will have to adapt.
"What does Respect represent, politically? A step back to the very 'unity coalition' that the LRC stepped away from: back to radical liberalism with trade union support, and away from the independent representation of labour."
No, it doesn't. Please be patient. I haven't eaten well, so perhaps I have somehow failed to make the point adequately enough - THE RESPECT COALITION IS NOT A NEW PARTY, AND IS NOT SEEKING TO RECREATE THE LABOUR PARTY. It is a coalition whose sole purpose is to give voice to the antiwar feeling - can we really afford to sacrafice that genuine anger to the Liberal Democrats and Chucky-Egg Kennedy? Can we afford to allow the Tories to cash in on Labour's crisis? Or shall we remain fixed like limpets to Good Ship Blair?
The latter it seems:
"Given the conduct and performance of the Labour Party for its entire existence, a reasonable case could be made for a new alternative at any point in the past hundred years. The question is how that can be done, and whether it can be done by posing as a mass electoral alternative to Labour."
Fair enough, but then Labour is at something of an historical nadir. It has leaked away its working class base, it is deliberately breaking its own links with the despised trade union movement, and eroding its own support with the most pointless policy stands. There is something to be said for the idea that, well, this moment is historically unique, that we have an opportunity to break New Labour from without.
"The SSP has achieved much, though not as much as it thinks. But Respect is doing something different. The SSP, whatever else may be said about it, stands openly and proudly for a democratic socialist transformation of society. Respect doesn't. That's why it could get the support of the honestly non-socialist liberal George Monbiot ..."
The SSP has achieved much that the Socialist Alliance could not. It was decided that the forces behind it were too narrow, that the immediate aim should be to force some electoral representation of the radical left, that this could be done by uniting socialists with other forces of the radical left. This seems eminently sensible to me. If Marxism can enjoin for some an undying commitment to support for the Labour Party, it can surely extend itself to left-unity in an electoral coalition.
"If you're going to stand against Labour, for heaven's sake at least stand on your own programme and measure the support for it, popularise it, get into arguments, try to change minds and stir things up a bit. That's what the SSP does. Don't trim your programme - don't argue against what you believe in - for the sake of imagined temporary popularity."
Stronger here. I wouldn't dream of arguing against what I believe in. Instead, I intend to argue for what I believe in. The point about the coalition is that it agrees a programme which all elements in it can argue for without disbelieving the words coming out of their own mouths. The programme is a perfectly good one, which no socialist could disagree with. It will be more radical than anything Labour have to offer at the next election. And we are emphatically not looking for "imagined temporary popularity". We are looking for a result. A victory. That's all. To break through the stultifying atmosphere of Blairite Britain in which only the BNP ever succeed in making successful politicising interventions. The Respect Coalition can do that. The Socialist Alliance could not.
"On your own account, a third or a quarter of even the heavily filtered Party conference votes against the leadership on key questions. And, to take up an aspect that you miss, the present Labour government has had more and bigger rebellions in its own ranks than any government for the past century and a half:
This government has seen the biggest MPs’ revolts since the mid-19th century. Two Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, are far more rebellious than any others, but by September 2003 thirty MPs had voted against the government on over half the contentious issues in parliament.
To compare: the 1964-66 Labour government had no parliamentary revolts at all in its first session. The 1945 government had only ten. The 1997 Blair government had 16. This 2001 Blair government had 76 in its first session, and had had 141 by the end of 2003.
And all this tells us that Labour will never again move to the left?"
My point was first of all that there is no indication from the membership that it intends to do anything to move Labour to the Left and secondly that even if it did, it would not result in substantive changes.
1) You note that "a third or a quarter of even the heavily filtered Party conference votes against the leadership on key questions"! A third or a quarter! There shouldn't even be that many voting with the government given its current state!
2) You note the number of parliamentary rebellions. But you don't note how pathetically, feebly tiny they have been. It took the largest mass movement in the history of this country to get Labour MPs to make a sizable rebellion against the government, and it still wasn't enough to get the job done!
3) Blair may go, but who will replace him? Is there a force within the Labour Party capable of challenging New Labour from the Left? Not likely. The solution proposed by most of the Labour membership is to replace Blair with Brown - from the man who waged the war to the man who paid for it.
"But even if it did move to the left, you 'remind' us, that would only help the right - the shift to the left in the 70s 'resulted in' the victory of the right in the Labour Party, and then by the Tories!"
In fact, that is a patent misrepresentation. I remind you that the Labour Party's turn to the Left resulted in a Labour government being elected which subsequently imposed the Social Contract. That contract cut huge swathes into wages for the first time since the war. It did so with the complicity of left trade union leaders. That government sent the army out to break a strike. That government slashed public spending and introduced monetarism. It produced the social decay and mass disappointment from which fascists were able to breed. And it gave in to racism, right down the line. Where the bloody hell is this magnificent left-wing Labour Party?
"The rest of the post deals with Bob Pitt's weary argument that we've seen it all before, and deals with it by saying that this time it's different.
That's what they say, every fucking time. "
That's a good point, as long as you omit the substance of my argument, which fortunately enough you do. The argument is that the circumstances today are different to what they were a few years ago, when the SLP and later the Socialist Alliance was founded. Qualitatively different. There is no longer any doubt about Blair, and certainly no doubt about the need for an alternative. That is what we are trying to provide. The essence of your argument is, "Don't try, ever, because it will never work". A little fatalistic, don't you think?
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
"Lenin brings up the old chess nut that the Taliban wanted to handover Bin Laden to a third country. But he surely must know that Mullah Omar was the guy who was in charge - not the tribal elders who apparently made the delaying tactic - er sorry, "offer" - and Mullar Omar made it clear that he had absolutely no intention of handing over anybody, Al Qaeda being so closely intertwined with his regime."
The most interesting thing about this is that it has any purchase with Johann whatsoever. In my initial e-mail to Johann , the article I cited only gave a brief indication of what was involved, so let me flesh it out. The negotiations were conducted by Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, not "tribal elders". The final stage of the negotiations was in Kandahar, on Mon. 1 Oct., when Qazi, and Maaulana Fazlur Rahman, head of the Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam, met Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar:
"The proposal, which had bin Laden's approval, was that within the framework of Islamic shar'ia law evidence of his alleged involvement in the New York and Washington attacks would be placed before an international tribunal. The court would decide whether to try him on the spot or hand him over to America." (Telegraph, 4 Oct., p. 9)
Nevertheless, it is suggested that even if this offer is taken as read, there are a number of problems with this solution: "It would not have dealt with the tens of thousands of Arabs who were training in Islamo fascism in that country; would have left the Taliban in power; and would have ensured the continuation of the civil war. And the millions of Afghan refugees on the border and around the world would not have been able to return home."
On the question of refugees, suffice to say that the crisis was hardly helped by the bombing campaign itself. Refugees may be returning to Afghanistan, but hundreds of thousands in fact did so under the Taliban. In 1998 alone, UNHCR was responsible for providing assistance to 107,000 refugees seeking to return to Afghanistan. Add to this the fact that there has been a policy since the war of forcible return of refugees by Britain and Afghanistan's neighbours (despite their reluctance to do so), and the picture is not quite as rosy for the occupation as one may think.
And what are they now returning to? According to Kate Allen of Amnesty International :
"With two thirds of the country unstable and covered in up to ten million unexploded bombs and landmines, and with no effective police force, Afghanistan is clearly not a safe country to which asylum seekers can be returned."
To turn to the issue of those training in "Islamo fascism", I wonder if our correspondent thinks they've suddenly disappeared from the planet? The Taliban regime vacated power, but largely because it did not fight. Their allies in Pakistan told them not to. At any rate, many others were easily bought, which suggests to me that the continuation of civil war would have led to its collapse at some point. At any rate, the civil war has continued if only one cares to look. But the warlords remain and the Taliban are returning . Numerous terrorist attacks since the bombing of Afghanistan in Bali, Turkey and Kenya ought to have told us that the diffuse and decentralised terrorist networks operating under the rubric of Al Qaeda did not rely upon a few rather moldy training camps in Afghanistan.
In other words, most of the evils imputed to my solution in fact continue under the occupation. Moreover, there is the small matter of several thousand deaths - several multiplications of 9/11 to be exact. Who shall avenge the misery of those families?
"Lenin decides to bring up the 'Saddam wanted to have an election' thing, which surprises me, as even the most ardent anti war critics tend not to talk about this one anymore, so lacking in credibility as it is. All you have to do is take 30 seconds to think about how this 'proposal' was made, and the implications of how it would be implemented, or just try saying it out loud with a straight face, to realise the ridiculousness of it. Would Richard Perle really be the guy to go see about this? Or would the floor of the UN be the right place?"
The proposals, of course, contained much more than the possibility of an election under Western supervision within two years. Since the proposals were to be made in secret, and not in full glare of the Arab world, the UN floor would seem a highly inapposite point of discussion. But since the proposal was apparently made, and emphatically conveyed to the CIA and presumably thence to senior officials in the government, it is curious that not even a finger was raised to use the opportunity to save thousands of Iraqi lives. Especially since everyone from Scott Ritter to Hans Blix will tell you that Saddam was cooperating with inspectors and apparently anxious to avoid war.
"From everything that we have learnt since the end of the conflict - the 300,000 mass graves that were created the last time somebody thought it was time for a change of leader; or the torture chambers that were used to deal with anyone who had the slightest problem with Saddam - does any of this do anything to back up the claim that the despot Saddam was about to have an election?"
If anyone was in any doubt that the US-backed crushing of rebels in post-Gulf War Iraq left hundreds of thousands dead, then I was not among them. Nevertheless, we obviously aren't talking about Saddam acting in circumstances of his choosing. We are talking about a nasty regime which had been isolated and weakened and was under international pressure.
Still, since we're talking about the possibility of Saddam Hussein remaining in power, recall that this was the position of the British government before war began - that Saddam may retain power if he 'gave up his weapons' which he didn't have. That, in fact, was exactly what Tony Blair told Charles Kennedy.
"Saddam flunked all his chances. There was no 'cold hearted' decison to proceed no matter what. As well has not complying with the inspectors after they first went back to Iraq, leaving Blix with no option but to tell the security council at his first meeting that 'even today Iraq has not faced up to it's responsibilities to meet it's disarmament obligations', Saddam then waited until just days before the invasion before finally handing over a list of the people who took part in the destruction of his weapons in the 1990s. By which time, of course, it was already too late."
Well, let us recall how the inspections-sanctions regime worked. Throughout the Clinton years it was repeatedly made clear that the inspections-sanctions system would stay in place until Saddam Hussein was removed. This eliminated any incentive for Saddam to cooperate with inspections, and it also showed that the inspections system was a cover for a quasi-hidden U.S. agenda. It has also been acknowledged by U.S. and high UNSCOM officials that the United States used UNSCOM to spy on Iraq in preparation for military attack. So, the notion that this was a regime intended to neutralise WMDs is perfectly laughable.
The point also assumes that Saddam was an actual, material threat:
"[I]n spite of well-known difficult circumstances, UNSCOM and IAEA have been effective in uncovering and destroying many elements of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes in accordance with the mandate provided by the Security Council. It is the panel's understanding that IAEA has been able to devise a technically coherent picture of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme. UNSCOM has achieved considerable progress in establishing material balances of Iraq's proscribed weapons. Although important elements still have to be resolved, the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated." ( http://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/documents/Amorim%20Report.htm)
Former chief UNSCOM weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, has described how Iraq was "fundamentally disarmed", with 90-95% of its weapons of mass destruction eliminated between 1991-98. (Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile Books, 2002)
"And lenin finishes with a typically moral relativist line that all states should have the same moral authority....I suppose that depends on your view of the world, doesn't it. Personally I don't believe that the US only has the same moral authority as a country like North Korea."
Well, naturally, North Korea could not begin to achieve the level of death and destruction that the US has inflicted upon the world, so I gladly concede that point. Moral relativism is as alien to me as good taste is to the Guardian film critic.
"You only have to look at the way Russia's invasion of Afghanistan is forgotten while we hear never ending commendation of the US's folly in Vietnam. Or how Russia's crimes in Chechnya are barely ever mentioned by the anti war movement."
This point would make a great deal more sense if the antiwar movement were in Russia and could therefore influence that situation. And it is quite remarkable that our correspondent has nothing to say about the fact that Russian aggression against the Chechens is being conducted with the tacit approval of Putin's allies in the Whitehouse and Downing Street. Even more remarkable is the mention of the invasion of Afghanistan, almost universally condemned by every mainstream media outlet as imperialist aggression by a rapacious power, while the war in Vietnam (killing many, many more people) was described routinely as simply a mistake, a one-off. Current Senator John Kerry is a prominent example of this historical whitewashing.
At any rate, this particular correspondent has not started from the same assumptions as Johann. He has insisted on clinging to the WMD, Saddam-was-a-threat rhetoric, whereas Johann is purely concerned with the alleged humanitarianism of the mission. I look forward to his response when it comes.
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Open Letter to Ken McLeod. posted by Richard Seymour
Ken McLeod Reinvents Political Fantasy Literature
I fired this one off to Ken McLeod after reading an indecently underdressed argument against the Respect Coalition on his blog. Ordinarily, I only duel with the political Right, but this drivel really got my hackles up.
I know you're a major SF author, so I was quite pleased to discover you had a blog. I've never read any of your books, unfortunately, although I did catch your contribution to the debate at Marxism with Mieville and Roberts. Fascinating stuff, although I've never got my literary tastes round to secondary-worlds and so forth. Lean more toward Christopher Fowler's urban settings, etc etc.
Right, the thing I'm writing to you about.
I can't really account in my mind for your attack on the Respect Coalition, and since the only reasons you give in your blog are those of other authors, I suppose I'll have to deal with those.
"All the attempts to build a new alternative to the Labour Party, as history has shown, will come to nothing. Various attempts, of an ultra-left or opportunist variety (they are head and tail of the same coin), all ended in shipwreck. The different sectarian groups on the fringes of the labour movement have been attempting to build the revolutionary alternative to Labour for decades and achieved nothing." (Rob Sewell).
I suppose 'history' shows us a lot of things, but I wonder if Sewell is serious in suggesting that the Labour Party could never be supplanted by another political force. Is 'history' that unyeilding? Have sweeping changes much more radical than this never occurred? Did not the foundation of the Labour Party itself involve precisely a split with the political giant of the 19th Century?
And by the same token, if 'sectarian groups on the fringes of the labour movement' have so far achieved nothing, isn't it perhaps time to start achieving something? Isn't that what the SSP has been doing? Isn't that the idea behind trying to unite the radical, Green, reformist and revolutionary left? If Sewell will insist that George Galloway is an opportunist or ultra-leftist, will he honestly say the same of Salma Yaqoob or George Monbiot? And why is it essential at every point for him to imply that noone could ever wish to form an alternative to the Labour Party for any but the most mercenary or fanatical reasons? Given the present conduct and performance of the Labour Party, could not a reasonable case be made for a new alternative?
The Labour Party as presently constituted neither has the desire nor the ability to attract the kind of membership capable of pushing it in a different direction. And the direction it is headed in at the moment is so transparent, it requires wilfull blindness to miss it. At the last Labour conference, the membership backed the leadership on every key question, never failing to back it by less than two to one, usually by three to one. They clapped and cheered as every vile shibboleth of the right was paraded in New Labour clothing (well, naked then).
So, why the need to forever cling to this party? Well, Sewell would answer:
"On the contrary, forces are already gathering within the trade unions to take back the Labour Party for the working class. In the coming period, the edifice of Blairism will come crashing down. The Labour Party will take a sharp turn to the left as in the 1970s (after decades of rightwing domination) as the unions press for working class policies."
Such self-delusion is hard to digest, let alone reckon with. The Labour Party would rather lose a key union sponsor than move to the left! They would rather see the RMT take their money and support to the SSP and the Respect Coalition! They would rather force unpopular policies through parliament and cut huge swathes off their vote than move to the left! (Recall also, comrades, that Labour's "left turn" during the 1970s resulted in the 'social contract', monetarism, public spending cuts, the rise of fascism, and the election of Margaret Thatcher. All hail Labour's "left turn"!)
Bob Pitt's adumbrations hardly entitle him to a respectful response, but let me excise a few key points and deal with them ordinally:
1) "We had seen it all before, having sat through almost identical rallies organised first by the Socialist Labour Party and then by the Socialist Alliance."
Those organisations did not have the background of 2-million strong street demonstrations , the democratisation of the political fund in the trade unions , and the revival of industrial militancy to kick-start their campaigns. They didn't have too many Muslims in their either, which can prove a potent electoral force.
2) "There we had heard the same emotional denunciations of Blairism, at the expense of any objective assessment of the relationship of forces within the labour movement or the level of political consciousness among working people, and the same confident but baseless predictions that the new political formation would attract widespread popular support."
The level of political consciousness among working people undoubtedly invites inspection. Who can say if the labour movement has more AWL members or CPGB members? But the recent spate of elections successes for union leaders of the left indicates something less than satisfaction with the present state of things. The reappearance of trade union militancy as a force to be reckoned with might also indicate something more than dissatisfaction.
3) "But instead of facing reality and drawing the necessary political conclusions, the anti-Labour left seems intent on going through the same pointless exercise over and over again".
So, we should draw the conclusion that no matter how much circumstances change, no matter how infuriated, cynical and dismayed working people become, no matter how much money we raise, no matter how many new members we attract, no matter how many people hit the streets and no matter what the indications from the trade union grass-roots, we can never ever challenge the hegemony of the Labour Party. I'd call that fatalistic if it weren't so generous a term...
Well, that's it Ken. You don't add any of your own arguments beside a few standard insults, and you impute opinions to SWP members whom you know and have known, and who remember what Marxism is. Well, I know what Marxism is. It isn't reformism. It isn't fatalism. It isn't fear of trying something risky and getting it wrong. It isn't stoic acceptance of "reality" (as in the mind of Bob Pitt). It is precisely the attempt to use every available means to change reality, to break the deadlock of depoliticisation, and to grasp the opportunities afforded by the antiwar movement.
At least, Ken, please, if you must diss the Respect Coalition , I plead with you not to invoke the thoughts of these tired wordsmiths whose arguments aren't worth the paper they're wiped on.
Judging from his website, Ken McLeod enjoys a fight as much as I do. I look forward to his response.
Sunday, February 22, 2004
Lenin vs Johann Hari. posted by Richard SeymourI've recently corresponded with Johann Hari regarding his recent article for The Independent, and he has agreed in principle to a debate on the matter. I understand he'll be sending flocks of young social-democrats from Harry's Place over here to nibble at my ankles, so I'll just quickly cut, paste and edit the argument here:
I suppose I must be in a peculiar mood, because I
read your article "We
Should Build on Our Successes in Iraq and
Afghanistan, Not Decry Them"
several times and was still left ranting "what the
hell does he mean by 'we'
But I want to take up one or two things about your
article if I may. And
then if you respond, I'll probably plaster the
correspondence all over my
you're up for it:
"[T]he grotesque, racist idea that Iraqis cannot be
democrats because they
are primitive tribal people has already been proved
In fact, I agree that this idea is racist, but
aren't there other good
reasons for believing that we are not about to see a
democracy emerge in
Iraq? One of the most reputed writers on Islam and
the West, Sami Zubaida,
(who happens to be my lecturer), has given me
reasons for doubting this
(purely from a pragmatic, Weberian point of view on his part).
The first is that when elections are held, the
"combination of social and
ideological forces now contending for mastery in the
coming Iraqi state"
include some serious nutballs, a fact attested to
not just by the
ultra-violence of Muqtadr's boys, but also by the
proposition by the IGC to
place Iraqi family law under the Shari'a. The
proposal came from Bremer's
chosen mouthpiece, Muhsin Abdul Hamid, the leader of
the Iraqi Islamic Party
(i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood). Hamid is President
of the IGC throughout
Now, you correctly point out that this isn't because
Iraqis are inclined
toward fanaticism. No, it is precisely because any
administration left in
charge of such a divided nation will require a
comfort zone for
authoritarian control. Isn't this also the reason
why the CIA are
recreating the Iraqi Secret Police?
"The presence of a powerful secret police ... will
mean that the new Iraqi
political regime will not stray outside the
parameters that the US wants to
set," said John Pike, an expert on classified
military budgets at the Global
Security organisation. "To begin with, the new Iraqi
government will reign
but not rule."
( http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/01/04/1073151210964.html )
But, as Sami points out, those currently touting
authoritarian and religious
solutions to Iraq's enormous problems are "the same
formations are best
placed to mobilise votes and intimidate dissidents,
while political parties
and civil associations have not had the chance to
build up constituencies."
( http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-2-95-1737.jsp )
Incidentally, not all polling evidence tallies with
your findings as you
must be aware:
"Only 2 out of 5 believe democracy can work in
Iraq." - Zogby Poll.
(NBC25, November 19th, 2003)
Of 553 polled, only 129 agreed that Iraq should be
run as a US-style
democracy, most preferring a regime like Syria,
Saudi Arabia, Iran or Egypt.
- Zogby Poll.
( http://www.taemag.com/docLib/20030905_IraqpollFrequencies.pdf )
I suggest that you have rendered the situation
"clearer than true" (in Dean
Acheson's phrase) by presenting matters as you have.
Breaking into the e-mail at this point, I want to stipulate that I don't disagree with Johann that Iraqis should have direct elections. This is, after all, supposed to be the only real benefit from this war - Iraqis are supposed to be freed from a brutal despot and given some chance to control their own affairs. I don't believe that this would legitemise the war, but it would absolutely be worthwhile if somewhat inadequate. Elections, however, will not always produce results congruent with America's interest in the country - isn't this why Karbala is being denied its provincial elections, causing four of its members to resign in disgust? Isn't it also the explanation for the constant procrastination on elections, since Paul Bremer has indicated to al-Arabiya that direct elections may not be workable for at least 15 months? Purely pragmatic reasons, of course ... yes, I'm sure their motives are pure.
As for Afghanistan, relying on evidence from those
who have managed to
secure themselves in the "safe zones" is such an
obvious debasement of
journalistic standards that I'm surprised it doesn't
happen more often.
And once again, let me break in and supplement this with a few additional points. First and foremost, Johann acknowledges the multiplicity of horrors and atrocities currently assailing Afghanistan, and I won't add to what he has said on this. What I think he hasn't acknowledged is that there was an alternative to bombing Afghanistan which would have provided America with an enormous early boost in a campaign against terrorism that was worth its name, and which would have avoided the demonstrably baleful effects of dropping bombs on human beings and blockading food to a starving country. It has been obvious for some time, although rarely acknowledge by pro-war commentators, that Afghanistan was prepared to extradite bin Laden . Why was this not pursued and amplified - if only to save countless thousands from airborne death? A US official has been quoted as saying that 'casting the objectives too narrowly would risk a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr bin Laden were captured'. (FT, 20 September, p. 7)
Back to the e-mail:
"[T]he goal of the left has always been to side with
Johann, I don't know when you decided that the
United States Government had
become the voice of the oppressed, but let's just
knock this idea on the
head once and for all.
Your thesis is, I think, that the priorities of the
US have changed, as a
result of September 11th, that they have woken up to
the reality that
supporting Middle Eastern despots will eventually
blowback on them. I
think, however, that what is more likely is that
intellectuals and blowhards (whom you despise) have
gained more influence.
Interestingly, those calling loudest in the Bush
administration for the
democratisation of the Middle East are hardcore
neoconservatives such as
Michael Ledeen, and former LaRouche backers like
Laurent Muriawec. But I
hope it's transparently obvious that their notion of
democracy is probably
at variance with that of the vast majority of the
human race. On the other
hand, I don't think strategic considerations changed
that much after 9/11.
Donald Rumsfeld, we now know, took the opportunity
afforded by the collapse
of the twin towers to demand that his underlings
find a way to pin this on
Iraq - pursuing a policy that he and his
intellectual colleagues (if I may
speak loosely) had been dreaming up for years. ( http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/09/04/september11/main520830.shtml )
Project for the New
American Century is absolutely eloquent on this
point, and also quite
specific in its aims and intentions ("to fight, and
decisively win, a series
of major theatre wars").
( www.newamericancentury.org )
According to Harvard Middle East historian Roger
Owen, the Iraq invasion
ought to be regarded as the "exemplary" war of the
Strategy. It was conducted as a test-case of the
new doctrine, and such a
doctrine will necessarily generate more
"Demonstration by example will have to go on for
some long time. And, as is
the way with such things, each American success will
be contested, each new
venture accompanied by a reliance as much on
America's political and
economic power aided by fierce diplomatic arm
twisting, as on its military
If it were really down to the United States to
determine who gets democracy,
where and when, and if we could trust them with the
disposal of such an
important task, we now know they could have had
everything they allegedly
wanted without war. The New York Times has now told
us, with characteristic
bravery after the event, that Saddam's negotiators
had actively sought the
attention of leading US neoconservatives urging the
administration into war
(Richard Perle among them), offering everything they
could have asked for.
Namely, a cut of the oil, cooperation in the "war on
terror", and end to
support for the families of Palestinian suicide
bombers, a US search team to
enter Iraq and look themselves for weapons of mass
destruction, and finally,
elections within two years (which the US would have
been in a perfect
position to oversee). The US negotiators took this
seriously, as did Perle
himself. The CIA said "tell them we'll see them in
( http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.htmlres=FB0617F63C5D0C758CDDA80994DB404482 )
In short, for their unwillingness to pursue
alternatives, their cold-hearted
and determined decision to pursue a policy they had
decided on some years
ago, Iraqis have just paid a terrible human cost at
the hands of a team whom
you, rightly, despise. 20-30,000 dead, I think, is
the latest tally.
Recall the horror of 9/11 and multiply it
accordingly (I don't think that's
really possible, but you get the idea). None of
those deaths need have
occurred, nor need any of the consequent killings of
US & British soldiers,
UN employees, International Red Cross workers etc.
"Iraqis and Afghans know that these wars were not
fought primarily for their
rights. They are nonetheless telling us that, for
them, vast improvements
and real hope have been born in the past two years.
I side with them. The
achievements since 2001 need to be built on, not
Based on a selective presentation of evidence you
are alleging the Iraqis
and Afghans are grateful for the effects on their
lives. As you know
perfectly well, Iraqis and Afghanis are telling a
considerably more complicated story than you aver. Even if what you
were suggesting was true,
you would merely be confirming an old moral truism
that evil actions can
have good consequences. If you are not prepared to
consider the evil
effects of the war alongside the putative
advantages, then you will be
unlikely to reach a reliable evaluation of the
evidence. And, as ever, your
charge against Noam Chomsky and John Pilger that
they have given the benefit
of the doubt to "anti-American" regimes rebounds to
your disfavour - in
everything you have so far written about this war,
you have conferred on the
US-UK axis a greater moral authority than you would
any other nation-state.
End of e-mail.
If anyone has any doubt as to the latter point, imagine someone writing in the New York Times circa 1979 that there was "great anxiety" about whether the Soviet Union was serious about its concern for workers' democracy in Afghanistan. It seems to me that Chomsky's USP has always been to point out that the kind of credulity afforded by perfectly intelligent reporters toward their own states, while not vindicating the enemy-of-the-month, certainly suggested a strong propaganda bias in the mainstream media. I don't think we could have asked for a more elegant example than the above.
Your move, Johann. By the way, I won't bother responding to any trolls making use of the comments feature unless I can think up a reasonable witticism. I am, however, interested in a civilised, level-headed discussion, and I will take an active interest in what you all write. That's just the kind of dead mixture of bone and skin I am. Cheers.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Howard's Myth posted by Richard Seymour
"The Way to Deal With Racism is to Clamp Down on its Victims."
Michael Howard blasted the BNP today in a devastating speech to Burnley residents, who were no doubt sitting in rapt attention. He announced:
"The BNP preaches a message of racism, intolerance and brutality that flies in the face of this country's history and heritage."
"And what's more, they're a bunch of fucking foreigners!"
Okay, he didn't say that, but his speech was pretty boring you know. I'm trying to make it more interesting for you. The trouble is that the BNP message does not "fly in the face" of Britain's heritage, it amplifies and distorts and exaggerates the worst elements of it. What, we never kicked out our Jews? We never tried to burn them, stone them, convert them? We never locked the Jews up in camps?
Howard attacks the BNP only to steal some of their clothing:
"He reiterated his call for a two-year moratorium on the freedom of workers to come to the UK from the 10 EU accession countries without a work permit, and repeated his insistence that all asylum seekers should have their claims assessed before they reach Britain."
Unsurprisingly, Nick Griffin was able to retort that Howard was stealing the rhetoric but not the substance. In other words, racist voters would go for the real Armani, not some pale, wishy-washy impersonation. Which is exactly why Howard's argument that the answer is "managing migration and asylum to stop extremists making capital out of the issues" is such unmitigated crap.
It is even more inappropriate a reaction given that the scene of the BNP's most conspicuous success was also the scene of riots not about asylum seekers, but about non-white British people living in the industrial north. In other words, it is about race and not about the Home Office working the asylum system more effectively. And what is the likely effect, one wonders, of a major national political figure travelling to one of the most racist areas of the country to deliver a speech which in substance tells the locals that the problem is too many asylum seekers and immigrants? Apart from letting voters know that they can trust the Tories to implement a more respectable racism, it can only contribute to the sense of validation for arrogant little bigots storming the streets with knuckledusters and illiterate tattoos on their foreheads.
There is a perfectly sound psephological analysis behind Howard's move. The top political issues among Britons for the next election, according to Mori, are:
"[T]he NHS (mentioned by 40%), race relations/immigration (34%), education (26%) and crime (25%). Europe is mentioned by only one in seven people." In other words, since they cannot possibly beat Labour on health (they may just get equal figures if Labour continues its Foundation Hospitals and PFI), the Tories are going to beat the dead horse of immigration. It will certainly scatter a few flies, but if the next election is to be determined by the racialisation of the political agenda, it will also unleash the stench of a rotten body politic. Labour competing with the Tories on this issue is disgusting enough - what is more amazing is that Blair should have dragged the debate so far to the right that Michael Howard can bring himself to condemn the illiberalism of New Labour:
"Children of asylum seekers are to be taken into care in order to force their parents to leave the country.
The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary should be ashamed of themselves.
We shall oppose any legislative provision that seeks to give effect to this despicable provision." (From Michael Howard's reaction to the Queen's Speech.)
Naturally, New Labour's spinmeisters are eager to point out Howard's hypocrisy on this:
"When Michael Howard was Home Secretary, he passed a law withdrawing benefits from all asylum seekers, not just those whose claims had failed. This was successfully challenged in the courts but if carried out, would have left thousands of children destitute, some of them from families who had escaped from death and torture and were waiting to be given refugee status in the UK. David Davis voted for this law too."
All very true, but it doesn't stop New Labour's current policy being a bag of shit. Mark their own self-serving justification for removing the children of Asylum Seekers (from the page linked above):
"The Government has three choices when faced with these families.
Choice One is to let everyone stay and tear up our immigration laws altogether. This is a non-starter.
Choice Two is to detain more families in secure removal centres to ensure they can be removed quickly. But these centres are not a happy environment for children and we try to keep their presence in them to a minimum.
Choice three is to do everything we can to encourage people to take a paid-for flight home. Why? Because enforced removals - where immigration officers have to take families from their homes in the middle of the night – are traumatic for the children involved. We want to avoid this wherever possible but despite the fact we pay for flights and offer generous resettlement grants, many of these failed claimants still refuse to leave. That is why we are planning on removing state benefits when people refuse to take our offer to leave. However, we will continue to protect children from destitution, whatever the selfish actions of their parents who are trying to frustrate the immigration laws of the UK."
Just those three?
Well, how about another choice - FOLLOW THE LAW. If your concern is the well-being of asylum seekers, that is. Abide by the Geneva Convention, and stop attempting to deport 30,000 people a year on the basis of a purely arbitrary set standard . Instead, consider each case on its merits. Then you won't have as many crying babies and broken families to deal with. Stop denying asylum seekers who sleep rough the right to food and shelter. That'll cover you for the European Convention of Human Rights. If the well-being of asylum seekers is actually your concern, that is. Stop bombing the hell out of other countries. See, it turns out that people don't like being bombed and they try to flee abroad - a meagre 0.05% of whom come here. And finally, for those 0.05% who do come here?
Fuck it, let 'em stay! Option number one, your "non-starter" would be a perfectly humane and rational gesture. "Ah, but then the racists will..." Yes? They'll what, exactly? Quit the government? Drop out of the police force? Refuse to appear on Kilroy? The only winners of the race game are the racists - they play it best. If you stop playing the race card, and attack racists not their victims then we might have a solid basis for tackling the far right. And anyway, if you stop immigration, who will Lord Irvine get to clean his bog for £4.10 an hour?
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
The preposterous image of a benign West showering its goods on a grateful Africa/India/Indochina/wherever would surely have no purchase in a society where informed debate was the daily order. As it happens, little but the most rudimentary and banal facts are ever reported by the media, even that section of the press which advertises itself as having a liberal conscience. Bono urges his equally stale colleagues like Bob Geldof to dramatise global poverty just like back in the day. He calls people to the streets to ask "why these promises are not being met". Frankly, if it means being bored to death by a whining old former talent at a rally, I’d give it a miss. But just to answer his question, perhaps he might entertain the possibility that the reason Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are not delivering mountains of cash to needy villages is that they are part of the problem?
Naturally, much has been made of the US government’s refusal to involve itself in these soppy gestures. But this is treated as lack of charity rather than the refusal to countenance lifting poor countries even minutely out of the shitpile that rich countries have buried them under via the World Bank and the IMF. Consider:
Research clearly indicates that even the minimal poverty reduction targets set by world leaders cannot be met unless massive amounts of debt are 'relieved'. The response of the World Bank and the IMF is to refuse to complete the debt relief promised and are blocking further loans to Ethiopia. So it is paying an extra $35m a year in debt service. Ethiopia is being left to rot . Sudan is a nation in conflict, and in desperate need of debt relief - but there is no sign of them receiving any . In fact, you can find a similar siuation across Africa and some of Latin America.
Even the minute promises so far made have not been adhered to.
The reality is, of course, that the Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed on countries as a condition of loan provision is responsible in large measure for Third World economic collapse. The opening up of markets has allowed companies to swoop in, buy up the juiciest sections of the national economy, satiate themselves, rapatriate the profits, then withdraw their investment as soon as things look tough because there aren't any tarrifs or currency controls. This, in fact, is the principal reason why Western administrations have been so eager to make bad loans to countries unlikely to be able to repay:
"Debt is an efficient tool. It ensures access to other peoples' raw materials and infrastructure on the cheapest possible terms. Dozens of countries must compete for shrinking export markets and can export only a limited range of products because of Northern protectionism and their lack of cash to invest in diversification. Market saturation ensues, reducing exporters' income to a bare minimum while the North enjoys huge savings. The IMF cannot seem to understand that investing in ... [a] healthy, well-fed, literate population ... is the most intelligent economic choice a country can make."
-Susan George, A Fate Worse Than Debt, (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990), pp.
If you like this band, you are a moron. There, I said it. I feel better having said it. Fuck you.
Monday, February 16, 2004
And, will Iraq be a secular democracy or a religious federation?
Sunday, February 15, 2004
From Evil to Absurdity posted by Richard Seymour
The Evil of Banality
Hannah Arendt, according to Spike Magazine , "was, after Husserl, another Jew fucked by Heidegger." As the collected correspondence between the two most over-rated intellectuals of the 20th Century emerges, we learn just how banal two people can be when they know and love one another. You just don't write to your lover as if you're going to live forever in the public imagination and be accountable for what you write. On the other hand, if you're Abelard and Heloise , you have God breathing down your neck so you at least get the Latin right.
Telegraph Choking on its own Horseshit
Andrew Neil informs Evening Standard readers that the Daily Telegraph is likely to lose its libel case against George Galloway if it is forced to admit, as looks increasingly likely, that the documents it based its story on were possibly fake. They are likely to mount the defense that it was in the public interest to retail a bogus story since the source looked kind of credible at the time. Their stance over the Gilligan affair would tend to militate against such naked plea-bargaining:
"In fact, the BBC was in a slightly stronger position than the Telegraph since a respected source is clearly preferable to a dodgy document. But it was not good enough for the Telegraph, which took the BBC to task for broadcasting a story it could not prove to be true."
They might, however, have had a half-way decent defense if the article had been written by Con Coughlin , since wary readers know that everything he writes is some MI6 leaked confection of half-truths and fabrications. His latest revelation is that members of Iraq's "coalition government" claim to have found documentary evidence that proves Mohammed Atta was trained by Saddam Hussein in June 2001.
"[A] top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service ... reports that Atta "displayed extraordinary effort" and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be "responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy"."
Not to be faulted for ambition, the documents also rehash the Niger-Uranium connection which Bush has just admitted was horseshit:
"The second part of the memo, which is headed "Niger Shipment", contains a report about an unspecified shipment - believed to be uranium - that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria."
The source of the story appears to be Dr Ayad Allawai a stooge of US and British intelligence and member of the right-wing Iraqi National Accord, which was responsible for pushing fraudulent stories about Saddam's capacities on credulous media hacks like Judith Miller of the New York Times. He assures us that the story is accurate:
"We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam's involvement with al-Qaeda," he said. "But this is the most compelling piece of evidence that we have found so far. It shows that not only did Saddam have contacts with al-Qaeda, he had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks."
"We are making stuff up all the time, but this time we've gone to the bother of forging another document so that idiots like you will take us seriously..."
The Dark Prince of Comedy
Not Richard Perle, but Bill Hicks has been very much in the news and reviews of late, on account of a new book coming out which posthumously collects his letters, lyrics and routines in one paperback volume this February 29th. It's called "Love All the People", a travesty of a title for a comedian whose finest moments were pure, refined, crystalline nuggets of loathing and rage. Nevertheless, you may now read about him courtesy of John Lahr , Bill Bailey & Spike Magazine . If you haven't witnessed the man's comedy, there's no way I can render it for you. Denis Leary does a good job of bastardising it, though.
"There ain't no one out there who’s a fuckin' threat to us, okay? They don't exist.
I'm talking now only of countries we don't arm first."
- Bill Hicks, Rant in E-Minor, ©1993.
How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered Francis Wheen
Francis Wheen has a new book out, and naturally enough, the effort itself makes a mockery of the author. I always think you're taking your reputation in your hands if you decide to make other people out to be nitwits, and Wheen doesn't disappoint. As per usual, he bangs on about the Kosovo intervention and how much more humane the liberal left was for supporting such a venture than the radical Left of John Pilger, Noam Chomsky et al. He has a few digs at market fundamentalists, New Age morons and Blairite bromides. But he subjects us to a blimpism or two of his own.
Namely, he smears Chomsky by rehashing some long discredited charges over Cambodia, stating that Chomsky "ridiculed" claims of mass atrocities by the Khmer Rouge, and "refused to believe" what was taking place. He cites as his two sources, Chomsky & Herman's Nation column "Distortions at 4th Hand" and their book, "After the Cataclysm" (1980). I've read both of these, incidentally, and it's not hard to see in what ways Wheen is falsifying.
I drew these passages of the book to Chomsky's attention, and he responded:
"It's intriguing that people who call themselves "liberals" are so infuriated when asked to tell the truth instead of to lie in support of the Holy State they worship, both by fabricating what they know to be false charges against official enemies, and denying what they know to be true charges about the blood on their own hands -- about which, I'm sure without reading, there is total silence in the book, despite his knowledge that we were comparing Cambodian crimes and US-UK-backed ongoing crimes then approaching genocide in East Timor that could easily have been stopped had people like him not been so utterly servile and cowardly, and in the article were making similar comparisons."
Additionally, just for fun, Wheen throws in a hallucinatory quote from Christopher Hitchens claiming that "progressives" were silent, or even would rather talk about the o-zone layer, when confronted with the question of whether the US should overthrow the Taliban. Apparently a plethora of best-selling books, packed debates, mass demonstrations and lengthy petitions counts as "silence".
Wheen is not as rambling and incoherent as Hitchens is these days, but his logic resonates with the standard liberal credulousness toward the state and toward power. The Kosovo war was humanitarian - how do we know this? Because those who waged the war say so. The attack on Afghanistan was about helping the people of Afghanistan - how do we know? Because those who launched the attack said so. Noam Chomsky 'ridiculed' claims of genocide coming out of Cambodia - how do we know? Because that has been the standard line from the New York Times to the Washington Post for the last twenty-five years. If Wheen had even bothered to read his cited sources completely, he would have seen how ridiculous those charges are. Christopher Hitchens, in a more lucid phase, summed these up quite adequately.
Finally, Conor Gearty has a few questions about the Hutton Report :
"If Gilligan's broadcast was so terrible, if the Blairs were having sleepless nights as a result of being accused of deceit, if the prime minister was shunned at home and abroad as a liar" then why didn't the PM just "sue for libel"?
Well! Sort of thing George Galloway would do, isn't it?
Friday, February 13, 2004
But if the Republicans are now going to rely on teasing Kerry's cock as a nice distraction from the real issues, I think it a good idea to take a soujourn from the grey porn of American politics and get back to the juicy stuff. Like, check this out:
The UN has decided that elections aren't likely to happen in Iraq until 2005, because the country isn't ready for it. That's nice of them. It turns out the procedures would take too long and yada yada yada, you don't to get into the technical stuff. And also, "Coalition authorities are also concerned that the security situation in Iraq - where two suicide bombings in the last week killed more than 100 people - is too unstable for election until next year."
Yeah, you see, they think if Iraqis remain deprived of their autonomy for another year or so that'll calm them down a bit. And of course, in the excitable mood they're in now they might vote for any old lunatic. They might vote for a pro-Iranian government and try to nationalise their industries again. Which of course would make some hard work for the CIA and necessitate another few decades of US-sponsored dictatorship just to smack some sense into them. No, no. Elections can wait until we say so.
Elections may have to wait in America too if the voters keep acting so crazy. Turns out support for the war in America has dropped from 65% to 49% in the last two months, on account of everything the Bush administration said turning out to be horseshit.
The British government aren't too happy about the way the Iraqi pie is being sliced up either. Recall what I told you about our Iraq envoy Brian Wilson dragging mercenary companies and others to a Kuwait 2004 conference ? It turns out that Tony Blair is sending him along with Mike O'Brien to Washington next week to see if we can even get one bid:
'"Despite extensive lobbying by ministers and officials for significant UK content in these projects, none of the UK bids (from AMEC, Foster Wheeler and the Wood Group) were successful," says a note attached to other documents from Gregor Lusty, head of the Iraq unit at UK Trade & Investment, an arm of the Department of Trade and Industry.'
Oh, for fuck's sake! And we spent all that money and political capital? Come on, Amreeekans, give us some a yer blood money !
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Baghdad Blast. posted by Richard SeymourThe daily postcard pictures of progress and reconstruction in Iraq that the Coalition Provisional Authority sees fit to produce for the world are belied constantly by reports from the reality on the ground. Thus it is that a Bishop visiting Iraq describes the CPA headquarters as the "Dream Zone".
"Inside the Dream Zone, they don't know what is going on in the city... They don't know the deprivations the people are putting up with. They don't have jobs. Right now, people are getting the same amount of basic food as they have been getting through the oil-for-food program, but there is the fear that could be running out. The city is just very depressing."
(‘Iraqis still suffering, says Bishop Gumbleton after visiting Iraq’, Robert Delaney, Catholic News Service, January 29, 2004)
While the UN reports on the increase in encephalitis as a result of malnutrition in Iraq, citing the despairing views of one doctor, Rada, at the Children's Teaching Hospital:
"You can see the children here. There is much suffering among them. No one seems to be helping them. We have been to the ministry of heath for assistance and to the Americans. We have received nothing so far."
(‘IRAQ: Encephalitis affecting children’, IRIN, January 26, 2004, www.reliefweb.int)
Beneath the skein of constant misdirection and sleight of hand coming from the CPA are cries of despair which it would not take long to discover if one was, say, a journalist. As it happens, the task falls to a couple of Chomskyan critics at Medialens . The only time at which this virtual reality is ruptured is when some horrendously violent spectacle literally explodes onto Iraqi streets. Today, it looks like a car bomb blast has ripped into a Baghdad police station and claimed fifty lives. I'm not going to bore you with condemnations of the means of the Iraqi Resistance. It would be pointless hypocrisy since I support the ends of the Resistance 100%. Within those bounds, I accept the right and responsibility to be critical, but not to moralise. At any rate, those most likely to sanctimoniously decry the loss of innocent life are those most responsible for encouraging it and participating in it - the US government and its media cheer-leaders. Christopher Hitchens decries the Resistance for having "murdered female members of the provisional democratic government" , but was presumably not so outraged at the murder of females taking place every day while the US waged its bitter assault on Iraq. So, you will understand if I withdraw myself from such disgusting platitudinising.
Not more than a few months ago, the US army was claiming that the capture of Saddam Hussein had resulted in a dramatic decline in the incidences of attacks on coalition troops. As I noted at the time, this was horseshit. The thought, however, was that it would be nice if people would only believe that all the trouble was being caused by "Saddam loyalists". The story has changed. The Guardian, in it's report of the incident , subliminally introduced the theme:
"The bombing came after US officials said an Islamic militant with links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network was plotting to ignite a civil war in Iraq to undermine efforts to hand over power to Iraqis."
The BBC followed suit in an almost identical quote:
"It comes a day after US officials warned against what they described as an al-Qaeda plot to ignite violence between the majority Shia Muslims and the Sunni Muslims who held power under the former Iraqi regime."
Well, there you are. If it isn't Saddam Hussein, it must be Abu Musab Zarqawi, an Islamist terrorist whom Washington claims has links with Ansar al-Islam, the Kurdish group. Ridiculously enough, Washington once tried to pin an Al Qaeda connection on Saddam Hussein because Zarqawi had been seen in Iraq - despite the fact that they were actually linking him with an anti-Saddam Kurdish army. Now, they hold him responsible for planning to destabilise the country. Somehow, I am not bowled over by their evidence, Exhibit A of which is a computer disc with a letter on it allegedly written by Zarqawi outlining his plans to destabilise Iraq. Because, if you're terrorist, you do that sort of thing don't you? You explain your plans in detailed letters and leave them lying around for coalition troops to find. Makes perfect sense to me.
Anyway, the American forces have once more demonstrated their rather loose grasp of irony, or indeed reality:
"There is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come into this country and spark civil war, breed sectarian violence and try to expose fissures in the society," said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the top US military spokesman in Iraq.
Yeah, that'll be the US government, you prat! CNN quotes CPA spokesman Dan Senor:
"We have a lot of good days; unfortunately we also have a lot of bad days like today," Senor said. "The good news is that we have more good days than bad days."
Senor seems to think he's talking to his marriage counsellor. At any rate, CNN are careful to drop the same hints as The Guardian:
"Coalition and Iraqi forces are bracing for more violence from anti-U.S. guerrillas as the country heads toward independence July 1."
Naturally, the claim that Iraq is heading toward independence come July 1st is absolutely bogus, and the corrolary implication that the violence is being wrought to destroy a nice, peaceful handover of power by a benevolent and blushing US government is absurd. Still, a bank of available lies and cover-ups is carefully preserved in Downing Street and the Whitehouse, and it churns out faxes and press packs each day to keep those inquiring bods in the media occupied. I understand the Sun's press packs now come with crayons. I would therefore expect a sustained, and partially successful, campaign over the next few months to locate an Al Qaeda conspiracy, possibly buttressed by some new 'finds'. Every limb is worth lying for.
ps: And what's this? Howard Dean posing as a Ralph Nader, on the "democratic wing of the Democrat party"? Surely not!