Friday, December 31, 2004
Tsunami notes. posted by Richard SeymourWhile people across the world charitably empty their pockets to contribute in some small way to ameliorating the horrendous situation facing survivors of the tsunami, the Indonesian army has resumed its war on Acehnese rebels. Bear in mind that:
The Indonesian death toll from the tsunami is nearly 80,000 people, with most of the fatalities in Aceh, and the government expects the figure to head towards 100,000 as rescue workers reach remote towns and villages.
Perhaps the Indonesian army thinks, with the Reverend Fred Phelps , that there is a message from God in all this, and are acting accordingly. Or perhaps they don't much care, just like every major Christian fundamentalist outfit in the United States .
Meanwhile, what of the 'global aid' situation? According to The Guardian, the best the whole world has managed - including governments and private donations - is £259m. When hurricanes hit the southeastern United States earlier this year, President Bush managed to find $13.6 billion without having to be cajoled, as the US appears to have been this time. Even the UK's comparatively generous donation (£50m from the government) was prompted by a massive flow of money from the British public - £32m, which rather made the government's initial pledge of £15m look mean. (Incidentally, the excellent Media Citizen calculates that the $35m pledge from the US government so fwould cover about 3.5 hours of their occupation of Iraq; although now that this pledge has mysteriously been increased ten-fold , it actually accounts for approximately a day and a half of occupation).
This isn't surprising. The response to the flooding in Mozambique in early 2000 was similarly pitiful , as was the mean-spirited, tetchy response to appeals for aid when the Montserat volcano erupted. Cynically, one might allow that this would all be fair enough if only the US and Britain did not seek so assiduously the mantle of the humanitarian. But, after all, the major economic powers all cost the developing world a fortune in 'debt repayments' each year, a situation which they have deliberately engineered . Indeed, the devastating imperialist subventions of the West rank right up there with tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and floods as the greatest disasters to be visited on humankind. So, while it might be a miserable hope, it is not an unreasonable demand to expect our leaders to live up to their self-revering phrases just once.
For those who need information or would like to help with the tsunami, I can recommend no better source than the The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog . Check out those sitemeter numbers, by the way - without any apparent mainstream media referrals, the traffic is enormous.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Missive. posted by Richard SeymourDear Reader,
The earthquake, the tsunamis, the dead. 60,000 of them at the latest count, ranging from Thailand to Somalia - and barely a word said about it that does not damn the dead with boredom, repetition and bad faith. What? You dare to doubt me? Have a random look at some of the punditry and leader columns on this issue if you can do so without vomiting. I'll come to some of that in a minute.
What is the solution? Well, call me a cynic if you like, but I prefer to have someone to blame. Thousands dead? Seen it before, and records are made to be broken - without someone to blame and with few avenues for making a difference (yes, donate your post-Christmas change by all means), there is little left to do but pontificate over the fucking obvious. So, an acquaintance of mine - who is not unfamiliar with seismology - helped me out by putting it all in perspective: "Oh yeah, see, but this is the hand of God. Those people, they're not going down to Thailand to see the beaches, they're going for dirty things with children which enraged God." Well, I answered through a mucus-soaked hanky (minor 'flu attack), He certainly put a stop to that, didn't He? And aside from taking His time, He seems to have taken a few thousand who didn't meddle with children. "How do you know?" Came the hopeless reply. I subsided into my chair and blew long and hard into my fetid rag.
Which is as good a metaphor as any for what columnists and pundits have been up to over the last couple of days. Take David Aaronovitch , for instance. Well, somebody has to. For a punctilious lack of wit (he prefers sarcasm) and a simultaneous devotion to moralism (as opposed to morality), few can match him. And by imputing a 'lack of wit', I mean to invoke Martin Amis' beautifully put footnote from his memoir, Experience:
"And by calling him humorless I mean to impugn his seriousness, categorically: such a man must rig up his probity ex nihilo."
Today's sermon from Aaronovitch sums up a few of the pertinent facts, airily dismisses what 'some people say' (we are never allowed to know who) and then proceeds to conjure up the apocalypse:
Dennis Smith used the occasion of the Indian Ocean disaster to argue that now was the time to reduce the La Palma mountain in size, "to lessen the impact should it ever slide into Atlantic." "But, who," Smith asked, "will pay for such a huge reduction of a landmass?" Hmm. What country is New York in?
Similarly one day we will be hit by a gigantic asteroid if we don't work out a way of intercepting them in space. Not soon, maybe (or maybe very soon), but it's going to happen. But when Dubya confided his pre-election desire to restart the US space programme, he was widely laughed at.
Mountains falling into oceans, gigantic asteroids, Dubya being laughed at? Never heard that before. The La Palma problem is a genuine one, although I leave it to scientists to judge whether chopping a volcano in half is not fraught with danger. The space programme has always been a matter of geopolitics. The original moon landing race was a bipolar affair, with America and Russia urgently scrabbling to make space a 'sphere of influence'. One could, and should, read the current babble about conquering Mars as an extention of the PNAC desire to take advantage of the 'window of opportunity' afforded by the absence of a serious superpower rival and entrench the US' dominion. It is well enough reported that the civilian and military space programmes are converging, and some of those reports suggest that it would cost up to $1 trillion. True enough, with that money, no region need do without warning systems, (or AIDS drugs, or adequate nutriments come to that). But with an enemy like a "gigantic asteroid", are you prepared to take that risk?
Aaronovitch proceeds with a few swipes against those alleged to be retreating into 'parochialism' and an 'idealised village life' because they don't believe what them there doctors and science folks tell 'em, then returns to his usual form:
This coming year, Gordon Brown told us this week, is "make or break" for development in poorer countries. The chancellor is calling on G8 countries to match Britain's commitment to reach the long-touted, never-achieved target of 0.7% of national income going on aid. He is also taking the initiative on debt reduction.
If past reactions are anything to go by we will react to the government's emphasis on world interdependence in one of two ways. We will either complain that what it is doing is not enough - and then do nothing ourselves. Or we will suggest that there are bigger and more immediate priorities here at home that preclude "gallivanting" around the globe.
There seems to be no way of condemning the government fairly. If we say Brown's actions are a drop in the ocean ranged against a mega-tsunami of debt which Western governments and banks are largely responsible for, then we are hypocrites for not doing enough ourselves. I don't personally own a bank, nor work for the government. One does attempt to make the government actually represent us by demonstrating and the like, but Aaronovitch seems to get piqued when people do that. This is, after all, a democracy and not a mobocracy. Still, it is an impressive journey - from the dead in Thailand to faith in our government via collapsing mountains and gigantic asteroids. The end was never in doubt, but the journey was spectacular.
There's more, but let's leave the journos to one side. Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary who has the looks, but not the charm, of Lembit Opik, has been doing the rounds over this. He insists that the government is doing a great deal, thanks, and would appreciate it if citizens devoted themselves to helping 'close the gap' between the rich and the poor in the world economy. This is like Osama bin Laden calling on Muslims to reduce the level of non-state violence in the world. The United States, on the other hand, merely wishes the world to know that it is "not stingy" after it was criticised by the UN for proffering a measly $15m in aid. They added another $20m, making it $35 million - which is about a third of Bush's advertising budget during the 2004 election. Britain, by the way, has given $29m or £15m, approximately 1% of what the Millenium Dome eventually cost. Disasters, social and natural, tend to reveal where real priorities lie. Well, consider:
The UN claims that the cost of the rescue operations alone will run into billions . Billions. And some would rather we spent it all on occupying Mars.
Monday, December 27, 2004
Democracy in action. posted by Richard SeymourI leave off the blogging for a couple of days, and the world becomes even more stupid. First of all, I note that the Tories have pledged to cut the number of MPs in Westminster by one fifth. Well, they've made a good start on their own over the last two elections.
Iraq has no such piffling concerns. With one party pulling out of the anxiously awaited elections, and Iraq's "Foreign Minister" announcing that these may have to be delayed in some areas after all, it seems unlikely that it will win anything better than a coalition of puppets, pinnochios and pushovers: Allawi, Chalabi and Sistani. Fallujah, of course, is in such a pitiful state that there can be no chance of its remaining live residents being able to recover the bricks in their houses never mind attend a polling booth. So far from the olive branch, they will be left with nothing but the gun and the same can be said for Mosul and many other areas.
And in Palestine, the first local elections for some years in the occupied West Bank have produced some bad news for Israel :
Hamas declared itself a significant political force after West Bank local election results were announced yesterday. It was the first time the Islamic movement, branded a terrorist organisation by Britain and other Western governments, had contested any local or national election.
Both Hamas and the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah party claimed victory. Hanan Yousef, a West Bank Hamas leader, said: "This election has proved that we have a strong presence here. This means the Hamas programme of resistance has many supporters."
The 'Hamas programme of resistance' amounts to precisely this: resisting. That's all they do that is different from Fatah. There is no social programme to speak of, and Hamas do not even have the 'virtue' of being able to impose religious strictures on the every day life of Palestine. Reactionary Islamism has never had a great deal of support in the occupied territories, contrary to what is sometimes reported. All Hamas have is the fact that they are not prepared to capitulate entirely to Israel; and this suggests that Marwan Barghouti would have fared well in the Presidential elections (which Hamas have boycotted). True, he's banged up in Israel right now, but so are approximately 8,000 Palestinian political leaders.
Finally, a belated link to a fine article about the emergence of a "Republican proletariat" in America. The US working class, it seems, have to swing right before anyone will acknowledge that they exist. In this, a lesson that the social-democratic centre-left will not - because they cannot - learn: the votes of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed are not to be taken for granted. It isn't the case that there is 'nowhere else for them to go'.
Friday, December 24, 2004
It's mind-boggling: Marsha Martin, the executive director of AIDS Action--the AIDS community's largest, most visible, and wealthiest Washington lobby, with a multi-million dollar budget--has jumped into bed with the Bush-Rove Republicans with both feet. In a perfectly scandalous act of betrayal of the AIDS community, Martin is one of a small committee sponsoring a pricey celebration of Bush's November victory, and that of the Republicans in Congress. And guess who gets the money from this orgy of felicitations to the GOP? A front group for Big Pharma that crusades against giving cheap, generic AIDS-fighting meds to the world's poorest victims of the AIDS pandemic.
Mind-boggling? They may as well have proffered their buttocks to the Republicans with a slab of butter melting in the crevice.
While I'm here, let me just choke on my bacon sarnie over this :
Special Branch link to Omagh atrocity
The six year long investigation into the Omagh bombing - the worst single atrocity of the Troubles - took an extraordinary turn yesterday when it was revealed that a Special Branch officer is to be questioned for allegedly telephoning through an anonymous warning.
The officer, who has not been identified, is now the chief suspect for making the call received by detectives in the County Tyrone town 11 days before the outrage.
The Guardian has been told the anonymous call, made at 10am on August 4 to a CID officer in Omagh, contained detailed information, including the names of five republican suspects. The information was never passed on to police on the ground.
The fact that the call was made has been known for some time but the source of the call has never been traced. The Special Branch officer is to be asked if he made the call, and if so, why.
We know, of course, that the British state has had a long history of involvement with terrorism (more below), particularly in association with the UDA. But that was Loyalist terrorism, aimed at prominent enemies of the British state (which is not to say that civilians were not frequent and intentional targets). This suggests that the British state was involved in a Republican terrorist campaign, which killed only civilians. Much worse, they knew 11 days before the attack occurred that it would happen, who would do it and how. And they knew because one of their own Special Branch operatives was able to tell them.
Special Branch's response to this info from one of their own was to say that there was nothing in it, while the police "ignored warnings, failed to act on crucial intelligence or question key suspects" and evidence was covered up. Now, the cover-up job wasn't particularly sophisticated. The information sheet on which the details of the call were recorded was simply never accounted for in the RUC investigation after the bombing - instead, some genius scribbled across it: "NOTHING TO DO WITH OMAGH".
Fantastic. For what its worth, my guess is that they allowed the attack to happen precisely because the effect was to finally break the back of militant Republicanism. The atrocious nature of the attack, the fact that it killed 29 civilians (even though there were warnings, the police didn't act on them), that put an end to any remote sympathy among Catholics with the insurgency strategy.
Note, by the way, that one man was put away for involvement in this attack, despite the fact that the police had inserted false notes into an interview given by the suspect, Colm Murphy. Why was he imprisoned? What level was his involvement? He allegedly lent two mobile phones to the guys who were going to carry out the attack. The prosecution acknowledged that their case rested on confessions allegedly beaten out of made by Mr Murphy, which he claimed were bogus.
A few quick notes on state terror, then...
The use of death squads is unsual in stable democracies, but two countervailing examples are those of Spain and Britain. In Spain, the GAL carried out terrorist attacks, killing 27 people between 1983 qand 1987. It was later discovered that the GAL was a combination of police officers and mercenaries, organised and funded by government ministers and leading Socialist Party politicians. The British state's involvement with the Ulster Defense Association, or UDA (which also operated as the Ulster Freedom Fighters, UFF) grew out of a tradition of loyalist paramilitarism. In particular, it drew on the legacy of the "B-Specials", a part-time police reserve notorious for its brutality and anti-Catholic bigotry. Membership of the Ulster Defense Regiment, a 'legitimate' army, overlapped significantly with the UDA. Many of the soldiers in the UDR moonlighted in the UDA; the UDR actually allowed dual membership, presumably because the activities of the loyalist group dove-tailed with the security goals of the state. In fact, the UDR was quite a remarkable institution - it was perhaps the only state institution in United Kingdom territory that had a recorded crime rate that was double that of the population as a whole.
The main axis of interaction between the British state and the UDA, however, was in the relationship between the Force Research Unit (FRU), and the Shankill Road based 'C' Company of the UDA (Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair's stomping ground). The FRU was a special body of British military intelligence, which recruited members of the UDA - notably Brian Nelson - and drip-fed information on people they wanted targetted. Pat Finucane, the civil rights lawyer, was their most prominent hit. The man who pleaded guilty to killing Finucane was Ken Barrett an intelligence agent. As investigations revealed , this was not an accidental alliance, but a systematic process of collusion that lasted for decades. One small irony of history is that the RUC is credited with having expended a great deal of effort in covering up these crimes, while its members were often themselves targets of the UDA. And that's just the information the government will allow us to have, since ten pages of the report have been blanked out. The collusion did not end, either, when the UDA was finally made illegal in 1992. Some writers like to claim that the loyalist spate of extreme violence in the early nineties was due to Special Branch being unable to direct their charges any more, but the Cory report noted that there was substantial evidence of collusion in the car-bomb murder of Rosemary Nelson in October 1997, but this time it was believed to have been carried out by a minute ultra-fanatic schism known as the Red Hand Defenders. This group, 20 members strong, has issued warnings against Catholic postal workers and staff working in Catholic schools. It has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks which were later discovered to be the actions of the UDA, and it is believed that the RHD is used as a cover name by elements within the UDA and the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).
All of which indicates that the British state has been prepared to work through any old bload-soaked hand in Ulster, planning, inciting and colluding in the killing of civilians. And some people claim to just know that the British government would never kill civilians to meet its own political objectives.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Solstice Greetings. posted by Richard SeymourOkay, lenin has his fricking Santa hat on, and all you kids are invited onto his lap. Jingle my balls while you're there, and whisper any gift requests into my ear without slipping the tongue in.
As a non-theist, I don't give much of a flying buggery fuck whether this festival of religion and commerce is called the Christmas, Xmas, the Holiday Season, Hannukah, post-Eid festivities (is Eid over yet?) or whatever you like. It's just another Winter Tale if you ask me. But, as the merrily atheist Doug Ireland points out for me, Christopher Hitchens has belched out a hearty Bah, Humbug on the matter while debating a religious fundie on Pat Buchanan's television show, and for the first time in ages I agree with him. Do check the link, if only to see Pat Buchanan get smacked around like a rogue elf who's just broken all the toys.
Doug Ireland, for his part, deserves a couple of Ho's for this and this . A third to Dead Men Left for consistently amusing, insightful bloggery over the year.
Charlotte Street has an excellent post on 'anti-Americanism', so drop down his chimney for some mince pies and milk. Marc Mulholland is back in Northern Ireland for the holidays. He doesn't, unfortunately, report on the sign that appears at Belfast City Airport: "WELCOME TO NORTHERN IRELAND. And by the way, you're fuckin' welcome to it." (What? You dare to suggest I would make this up?) But kindly go and warm his chestnuts, and remind him that civilisation does exist beyond the sticks.
Christmas morning: another unwanted hat.
Jews Sans Frontieres is simply one of the best blogs around, and is certainly the best anti-Zionist blog on the net. I strongly urge you to fill his stocking.
Finally, before I run out of seasonal puns, the jolly Anglo-German blogger Oliver Kampf tells me he will be writing yet another self-effacing, witty and incisive missive, this time on the matter of King Herod's often misunderstood policies designed to tackle the proliferation of under-twos. Go over and give the old bird a good stuffing. Turkey won't taste so good anywhere else.
Okay, that's me for now. I may post a little pic of myself yodelling into the toilet bowl on Christmas morning, but otherwise I'm shutting up about it for a couple of days. Ho ho ho.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Gary Webb, RIP. posted by Richard SeymourThe death of reporter Gary Webb is, aside from being another episode for conspiracy theorists to mull over, a tragedy for serious news reporting. Webb published a famously devastating series of articles on the connections between the CIA and cocaine trafficking . Further, as Doug Ireland reports:
A huge amount of what Webb wrote was later confirmed in a CIA Inspector General's report , and in the findings of investigators for the Senate committee that investigated the CIA-drug links (as the top investigator for the Senate Select Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, the admirable Jack Blum, testified in 1996).
Doug also notes that the LA Times, the most egregious of the many newspapers that took to viciously slandering Webb as he dropped his bombshells, has decided to issue a disgusting obituary on Webb. One thing I would dissent on is the idea that, as Doug quotes Marc Cooper saying, this is a case of "a major newspaper dropping the ball journalistically, and then extracting relentless revenge on an out-of-town reporter who embarrassed it". My guess is that the LA Times did not merely 'drop the ball' on this story; they, and the rest of the news industry, were simply uninterested in publishing the story. MediaLens offer an interesting account in this regard:
Gary Webb is a typical example of the kind of journalist who dismisses Media Lens-style analyses as so much extreme conspiracy theorising. Webb was an investigative reporter for nineteen years, focusing on government and private sector corruption, winning more than thirty awards for his journalism. He was one of six reporters at the San Jose Mercury News to win a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on California's 1989 earthquake. In 1994, he was awarded the H.L. Mencken Award by the Free Press Association, and in 1997 he received a Media Hero's Award. Webb describes his experience of mainstream journalism:
"In seventeen years of doing this, nothing bad had happened to me. I was never fired or threatened with dismissal if I kept looking under rocks. I didn't get any death threats that worried me. I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn't work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? Hell, the system worked just fine, as I could tell. It +encouraged+ enterprise. It +rewarded+ muckracking."
Alas, then, as Joseph Heller wrote, "Something Happened":
"And then I wrote some stories that made me realise how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I'd enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn't been, as I'd assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn't written anything important enough to suppress." (Webb, 'The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On', in Kristina Borjesson, ed., Into The Buzzsaw - Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Prometheus, 2002, pp.296-7)
In 1996, Webb wrote a series of stories entitled Dark Alliances. The series reported how a US-backed terrorist army, the Nicaraguan Contras, had financed their activities by selling crack cocaine in the ghettos of Los Angeles to the city's biggest crack dealer. The series documented direct contact between drug traffickers bringing drugs into Los Angeles and two Nicaraguan CIA agents who were administering the Contras in Central America. Moreover, it revealed how elements of the US government knew about this drug ring's activities at the time and did little, if anything, to stop it. The evidence included sworn testimony from one of the drug traffickers - a government informant - that a CIA agent specifically instructed them to raise money for the Contras in California.
The response to the first instalment of Dark Alliance was interesting - silence; the rest of the media did not respond. Normally this would have been the end of the story, but Mercury News had placed the report on its website, which was deluged with internet visitors from around the world - 1.3 million hits on one day alone. This attention generated massive public interest "despite a virtual news blackout from the major media", Webb writes. Protests were held outside the Los Angeles Times building by media watchdogs and citizens groups, who questioned how the Times could ignore a story of such obvious importance to the city's black neighbourhoods. In Washington, black media outlets attacked the Washington Post's silence on the story. It was at about this time, Webb writes, that "my reporting and I became the focus of scrutiny". (p.305)
The country's three biggest newspapers - The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times - focusing on Webb rather than on his story, all declared the story "flawed", empty, and not worth pursuing. Webb comments:
"Never before had the three biggest papers devoted such energy to kicking the hell out of a story by another newspaper." (p.306)
Webb's editors began to get nervous, 5,000 reprints of the series were burned, disclaimers were added to follow-up stories making it clear that the paper was not accusing the CIA of direct knowledge of what was going on, "even though the facts strongly suggested CIA complicity", Webb notes. Despite a lack of evidence or arguments, the story was quickly labelled "irresponsible" by the media. Ultimately, Mercury News backed away from the material, apologising for "shortcomings" in a story that had been "oversimplified" and contained "egregious errors". Webb quit Mercury News soon thereafter.
As additional information subsequently came to light, Webb recognised that he had indeed been in error:
"The CIA's knowledge and involvement had been far greater than I'd ever imagined. The drug ring was even bigger than I had portrayed. The involvement between the CIA agents running the Contras and drug traffickers was closer than I had written." (p.307)
Despite the press condemnation, Webb writes, the facts became more damning, not less - but they were never seriously explored. Instead the story was permanently tarred as "discredited".
So why did the press turn on the story and on Webb himself?
"Primarily because the series presented dangerous ideas. It suggested that crimes of state had been committed. If the story was true, it meant the federal government bore some responsibility, however indirect, for the flood of crack that coursed through black neighbourhoods in the 1980s... The scary thing about this collusion between the press and the powerful is that it works so well. In this case, the government's denials and promises to pursue the truth didn't work. The public didn't accept them, for obvious reasons, and the clamour for an independent investigation continued to grow. But after the government's supposed watchdogs weighed in, public opinion became divided and confused, the movement to force congressional hearings lost steam...". (p.309)
There is a very concise and accurate summary of Webb's career at Wikipedia . Wikipedia goes to great lengths to get its articles as accurate and 'neutral' as possible, so it is instructive to note that they credit Webb with having been proven right in most essentials by the findings of the CIA Inspector, Senator John Kerry (who?), the Justice Department, and by a letter published by Representative Maxine Waters. Not only was he proven right, moreover - without his reports, it is unlikely that these investigations would have been carried out.
How many journalists can claim as much?
Update: Just noticed this excellent article by Yoshie Furashi at Critical Montages . The quality and consistency of Yoshie's output has landed her a couple of articles in Counterpunch and Dissident Voices.
Monday, December 20, 2004
A few links. posted by Richard SeymourAfter insulting Ed 'the head' Staines in my comments box, the least I can do is repay his impatience with a plug for his excellent (if overwritten) essay on the historian G R Elton . He is a welcome addition to my blogroll, although one hopes he doesn't soil it too much.
With a fresh new cognomen , the author of Dead Men Left is back and swiping with both fists, and directs my attention to this excellent article by Apostate Windbag, whose tag-line alone deserves a Pulitzer.
Finally, Dorothy Parker is online . I particularly like to re-read this :
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
Oh, and a couple of Googlies. I have noticed over the past three days some odd hits coming to my sitemeter. First, I have been discovered by a reader looking to find evidence that Lenin's father was a Muslim . Even better, another browser believes that Lenin would have supported Bush . Is it possible that either of those statements could be true, let alone both at the same time? Another one! This time, some pervy readers would like to see pictures of Khmer Fucking . Tsch. Hobbies, eh?
Here's the deal.
We do a series of movies that spoof the new 'spoof' niche that has opened up in Hollywood. Here's a few title ideas:
"NOT ANOTHER TEEN SPOOF!"
"THE SPOOF WHO SHAGGED ME"
"SPOOFY MOVIE TWO"
"HOT SPOOFS: NUMERO DEUX"
"THE NAKED SPOOF: THE FINAL MONEYSPINNER"
You see, certain movie niches after a time become regarded as tired and cliched among more educated and urbane segments of
the audience. These are typically the best part of our audience, the ABC1 group. The spoof market has typically worked by
usurping the incredulity at those well-hoed niches and making fun of them. Cynical generation-Xers react well to films which appear to validate their disgust at the apparent phoniness of some of Hollywood's more repetitive and banal output.
I feel that this audience may well be growing tired and weary of the old "spoof" format. As recent shocking statistics indicate, even VHS sales of these movies are falling drastically low. Should we therefore give up trying to make cheap money by reselling already well-established formats by apparently subverting their content?
What we should do is reach out to those who are now totally turned off by spoof films and offer some biting criticism of the
spoof genre. In that way, we can multiple our returns on ...
So, what do you all think?
KILLER IDEA, THE SEQUEL/SPOOF/BBC REPEAT
I omitted to mention the great soundtrack albums we could have for all of these films. There are literally millions of cheap - I mean to say, tragically under-rated - songs out there, which we could buy the rights to and sell in a double-CD album.
Maybe some chart-bottoming nu-metal or Yank punk.
Friday, December 17, 2004
Before I get to the meat of his argument, there is one point I want to make. Taxloss comments that I 'weaken' my point by 'straying into different territory' at the end of my post. Possibly, by talking about two different issues in the same discussion, I run the risk of diluting the impact of one of them. But I think the two were united by the theme of how to fight the far right, so it was a justified risk in my assessment. I'll take the risk of extemporising on some confluent themes in this response too.
So, to the argument. Taxloss says that I miss two key words in my exposition of multiculturalist logic: 'integration' and 'inclusion'. He is right. I didn't mention these points at all, and it never occurred to me. Segregation (which is recommended by the BNP), taxloss says, was never discussed as part of the multiculturalist argument - which is also true, although I didn't say that it was. Integration, he adds, was not designed to preserve or fetishise difference, but rather to demonstrate sameness. Oh, quite! Underneath it all, aren't we the same? Isn't 'race' and so on skin-deep, and aren't we really all pursuing our own version of the same human story? Set aside my sarcasm, which I will explain later, and allow me to say that I agree with taxloss here - to some extent.
The trouble comes when my interlocuter suggests that this is the authentic, positive multiculturalism that we should heroically defend. Of course, I am for including Muslims, but isn't the language of 'integration' nowadays precisely the form that 'respectable racism' takes? When David Blunkett avers that Asians don't speak English enough, and should speak it even in their own homes, don't we hear the authentic voice of authoritarianism and British nationalism? How far a step is it to say that Asians or Muslims don't integrate because they won't or can't, because their culture is incompatible with ours? Wasn't this precisely the appeal of Pim Fortuyn? These Muslims will not integrate into Dutch liberal society, accept my homosexuality and so on... In short, isn't 'integration' now the language of exclusion?
And again, when I protest against the fetishisation of difference, it isn't because I wish to see difference obliterated. To that extent, I am not that bothered about whether people choose to 'integrate'. I simply find it irrelevant from a political point of view whether one prefers the pie 'n' mash shop or the curry house. In fact, the only point at which such a thing would become relevant would be if the universal rights that we all are entitled to as basic, fundamental trumps over-riding anything else, were infringed on for a particular group - say, if curry houses were firebombed by racists.
This is what I mean when I say that culturalism must be displaced by universalism. This isn't about us having different cultures and you respecting my culture and me respecting yours, it is about social justice, about rights that we are all entitled to. The universalist (socialist) attitude to the oppression of gays or Muslims is to say that these are common strategies of exclusion and marginalisation which say something more fundamental about the society as a whole. We all want good housing, decent jobs, safety from bullying and so on, and being an anti-racist is a logical corollary of that.
As soon as you accept culture as the horizon of political discourse, the focus is shifted onto the terrain of whether this or that culture can co-exist, adapt to one another's existence etc. This precisely allows racists to say that "we aren't racists, we just think that different cultures can co-exist peacefully". Further, "integration? I'm quite sound with my white English culture, thank you very much. I don't feel any overwhelming need to 'integrate' with Asians." Oh, better yet, "inclusion? Exclusion! Attempting to include people of different cultures not only dilutes my culture, which I wish to defend, it is also unsustainable, dangerous, will lead to rivers of blood etc".
To which you will raise the perfectly solid and decent response: "but that is nonsense, these cultural differences are irrelevant, and what you really want to do is create an artificially homogenous state ruled by fascists. The real issue is that everyone should be free to live and work unmolested. The arguments of 'racial difference' are so much superstitious hocus-pocus, and the arguments about 'cultural difference' are a sublimated version of the same."
And you will be right, even though your response is precisely not that of a multiculturalist but a universalist.
There are a couple of other things I didn't mention, which taxloss doesn't pick me up on. I did not mention the word 'tolerance'. It is a commonplace of multiculturalist discourse that we ought to be tolerant toward the Other. John Gray, in his The Two Faces of Liberalism ( reviewed here ) approvingly cites Voltaire's comment: "What is tolerance? It is the appurtenance of humanity. We are full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other for our follies."
As a stipulation about human interaction, I happen to think this is invaluable advice and beautifully put. As a guide to race relations, it sucks. Zizek is better:
Liberal "tolerance" condones the folklorist Other deprived of its substance (like the multitude of "ethnic cuisines" in a contemporary megalopolis) - any "real" Other is instantly denounced for its "fundamentalism", since the kernel of Otherness resides in the regulation of its jouissance, i.e. the "real Other" is by definition "patriarchal", "violent", never the Other of ethereal wisdom and charming customs.
Tolerance, per se, is not a virtue. It just means putting up with something. To promote it as a virtue suggests that somehow other people are a burden - Jamaicans, Asians (both Muslim and non-Muslim), gays etc. are to be 'tolerated'. This is as misanthropic a notion as I have ever heard. And then there is the matter of what we shall tolerate (here I explain my earlier impertinence). Difference, of course, is what is to be 'tolerated', but the story of multiculturalism glides gently over whether such differences are horizontal or vertical. Aren't we deep down all the same? Big people, small people, black, white, Jew, Gentile, capitalist, worker, victim, torturer... The reason why this series would never be pursued to its conclusion is because at a certain point, it becomes clear (once again) that what is relevant is oppression. Sometimes, the answer to Rodney King's question "Why can't we all just get along?" is that there are some people we shouldn't get along with. DW Griffiths' film 'Tolerance' was precisely an attempt to justify the racism of his film 'Birth of a Nation' on grounds of the specific experience of the Southern whites, while the anti-racists were seen as intolerant, elitist etc.
In short, I mean to say as clearly as I can that every conceptual operation by which multiculturalism establishes its anti-racism can be appropriated with frightening ease by the far right. As a discourse, its focus is wrong, its arguments are flawed, and its value in combatting racism is dubious.
AMERICAN marines and military intelligence analysts are studying the tactics of insurgents in Iraq — staging mock hostage takings, roadside bombings and suicide missions, as well as studying the Koran, praying to Allah and learning to think like jihadists.
For a touch of realism, newcomers are supplied with traditional Arab garments and ordered to take off their shoes indoors. “You need to think of yourselves as mujaheddin, holy warriors,” the group is told, “and you aspire to be a shahid, a martyr killed in battle.”
In Ali G accents, the trainees learn to call out Allahu Akbar (God is most great) and Alhamdu Lillah (praise be to God). They are given a Penguin Classics translation of the Koran and an Islamic prayer mat and are shown how to pray.
“One reason you are strong is that the infidels go to church only on Sunday, but you kneel and reflect your submission to God five times a day,” Purdy told them in character.
“We don’t have nuclear weapons, but we have you and you are more powerful than the weapons of the Jewish dogs and infidel crusaders.”
But what is of some more importance is what sort of lessons the troops are drawing from this adventure:
One marine had returned only six weeks ago from a seven-month posting in Iraq. He will be going back soon. “It’s what I do,” he said. Had the course taught him anything he had not learnt in the field? “It’s helped me to know how the enemy thinks and appreciate how sophisticated they are.”
If he were in charge, how would he deal with the Iraqis? “I’d kill them all,” he replied. “They don’t know what democracy is.”
I seem to recall a certain well-known former leftie slavering enthusiastically that the troops were learning "fantastic lessons" that would enable them to roll into Syria and Iran, the glories of 'liberation' in tow. How right he was.
Fallujah at the Movies. posted by Richard SeymourThe number one International story in The Guardian today is the stunning news that a film is to be made about Fallujah :
Universal Pictures announced yesterday that it is to make The Battle for Falluja. To prove it is serious, it has enlisted Indiana Jones himself, actor Harrison Ford, to help defeat the insurgency.
The film - Hollywood's first foray into the second Iraq conflict - is due to go into production next year and will be based on a yet-to-be-finished book, No True Glory: The Battle for Falluja by Bing West, a former marine, politician and now war correspondent.
Writing last week for the online journal Slate.com, West said: "If America needs a hard job done, the marines will do it, and they won't lose their humanity in the process or any sleep over pulling the trigger. Yes, they are 'the world's most lethal killing machine.' That's what America needs in battle."
So, this will be the third atrocity visited on Fallujah, then.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Globalisation and the State. posted by Richard Seymour‘The rise of the modern state over the past four centuries has been halted. In the twenty-first century we will witness only its decline.’ Discuss. There are notes attached below, but no bibliography. I can answer questions about that in the comments boxes if anyone has any.
Escaping the state?
The modern state is alleged to be experiencing a terminal crisis about which it can do little or nothing. Theorists of ‘globalisation’(1) (Harris, 1995; 2002), ‘postmodernity’ and ‘Empire’ (Hardt & Negri, 2000) argue that the nation-state is being outrun by changes in the world economy, which include: the drastic expansion in world trade since 1970; the increasing ability of capital to move operations off-shore; the freer movement of labour due to cheap air travel - in short, mobility. Capital, as Marx predicted(2) , has battered down all walls, Chinese walls included. According to Nigel Harris:
“Global integration is making the movement of commodities, of finance and of workers, greater and greater … movement increases faster than output. The world economy, it seems, has by now passed the point of no return, and we are set upon the road to a single integrated global economy, regardless of the wishes of governments and citizens. Indeed, any efforts to reverse the process, spell catastrophe.”(3)
Against this, I intend to argue that the changes in the world economy have been misunderstood; the capacity of capital for increased mobility has been over-stated; and the state’s relationship to capitalism has been misconstrued. I will also challenge the categories which I think have facilitated these errors. The modern state is not leaving us - it is merely changing its mode of operation.
What is the Modern State?
Discussion of this question has been defined by two poles of opinion: those who take a broadly Weberian view of the state, and those more inclined to a Marxian view. Max Weber defined the modern state in the following famous words:
“[A] state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”(4)
He adds that the state also needs legitimacy, which can take three basic forms: traditional, charismatic and legal, the latter reflecting the more rationalised form of rule typical in modern states. This definition reflects Weber’s commitment to methodological individualism. He specifically opposes it to functionalist(5) explanations in the following words:
“Sociologically, the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends … Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it.”(6)
Marx & Engels, by contrast, defined the state in terms of both its means and its ends. They took an ‘instrumentalist’(7) view of the state in which the “executive of the state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie”(8) , and a
“…public power which no longer directly coincides with the population organising itself as an armed force. This special public power is necessary because a self-acting armed organisation of the population has become impossible since the split into classes ... This public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men, but also of material adjuncts prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds….”(9)
In the former explanation, the state is a semi-autonomous body claiming authority over a specific territory; in the latter, it is a ‘public power’ that emerges as a result of class division. Both of these explanations have been refined and drawn out by adherents of the respective theories. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, for instance, argues that the state is not merely a separate public power operating on behalf of the bourgeoisie, but rather is governed at any one time by a ‘power bloc’ whose objective is to win ‘civil hegemony’ to legitimise their rule. (Gamble, Marsh & Kent, 1999). These power blocs allied fractions of different classes together, (a classic example of this would be the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which welded what Perry Anderson called “a supine bourgeoisie”(10) with the feudal aristocracy).(11) The Weberian literature on the state has been varied, but certain themes remain intact, especially the emphasis on politico-military power, which is seen as autonomous rather than an adjunct of class rule.(12)
If the modern territorial state is conceived of as a contingent answer to the needs of an emergent capitalist economy which requires rationalisation and the standardisation of weights, measures, currency and language, then it may well become irrelevant if the capitalist economy becomes so transformed as to require new structures.(13) If, on the other hand, the state is seen as the outcome of class division, it follows that the state will be relevant in some form as long as class divisions remain. In particular, if the modern state is conceived of as a capitalist state, it is unlikely to be superseded as long as the capitalist mode of production remains intact. In what follows, I will try to assess the claims for globalisation in light of this discussion.
The Claims for Globalisation
Before going any further, I want to outline some of the key processes which theorists of globalisation suggest are undermining the modern state, for good or ill. As I suggested before, they rotate around the notion of mobility. But not merely of labour, capital and goods – also of values, culture, gustatory choices, religion and sumptuary proclivities (albeit that these could be seen as a certain type of good). The increasing availability of cheap air transport, for instance, makes it easier for people to move across the planet and seek work opportunities. The management of this process is one which nation-states are finding increasingly difficult and politically contentious. The production and distribution of illicit drugs is so vast that national and even international police institutions have found it impossible to prevent.(14) Simultaneously, technological developments – especially the internet – have caused a ‘globalization’ of culture, in which a Baghdad blogger may communicate his thoughts with a Texan rancher.
There has been a dramatic increase in the level of global trade since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in the early 1970s, growing by an annual rate of 6% in the 1990s.(15) Between 1970 and 1997, world trade increased sevenfold to account for $400 billion. From 1973 to 1998, the daily turnover in foreign exchange markets rose from $15 billion to $1.5 trillion.(16) The collapse of the ‘tiger economies’ in South East Asia during the last quarter of 1997 is often cited as an example of what can happen with such vast and (it is argued) uncontrollable flows of financial capital, but Brenner (2002) points out that the same processes were at work in America during the same period.(17) Cross-border mergers and acquisitions increased from 42% of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 1992 to 59% in 1997.(18) This increasing global integration of capital has been seen by some as representing a fundamental break in capitalism, in which “both ‘industry’ and ‘finance’ have been internationalized but with separate and uncoordinated circuits. This has then massively weakened the individual nation-state” leaving it “unable to regulate or orchestrate its national currency”.(19)
With these underlying processes have come decisions by states to cede control over certain aspects of national economies. India reduced its tariffs from 82% in 1990 to 30% in 1997, while Brazil cut 25% to 12% in the same period.(20) The decision by Chancellor Gordon Brown to make the Bank of England independent was a precondition for joining the European single currency, while those that have already joined have been obliged to accept strict stipulations about public spending and stability in line with prescriptions associated with neoliberal economics.(21) There has been a tendency to reduce the state’s involvement in the economy through the privatisation of national industries.(22) Similarly, states have delegated power upwards to economic institutions like the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.(23) The UN is a global political body in which nation-states formally cede control of many issues which infringe on national sovereignty to its agencies.
From all of this, the argument appears to suggest itself: capital, finance, labour, culture and politics are increasingly global, to the extent that the nation-state can no longer properly contain them. Its territorial control is threatened by what Hardt and Negri call the “deterritorializing apparatus” of capital, and “information networks” which “release production from territorial constraints insofar as they tend to put the producer in direct contact with the consumer regardless of the distance between them”. Production is said to be increasingly decentralised and dispersed across the globe.(24) These processes, over the long term, are eroding the nation-state and will, at the very least, halt its long ascendancy.
Multinational capital and the nation state
In the lexicon of postmodernity(25), the term ‘decentred’ figures prominently. Not only the subject, but now also capital, is decentred. The global integration of capital and its increasing mobility means that a transnational like Nike may outsource production of its trainers to Vietnam and sell them across the world at inflated prices. At the same time, information networks(26), just-on-time delivery systems and low-cost transport allow for greater fluidity of capital and goods. The increasing mobility of capital and finance is a fact of life. But the internationalisation of capital is not a new process – it has been a feature of capitalism since its early mercantile phase (Braudel, 1981). It was particularly pronounced in the period before 1914. As sociologist Michael Mann points out:
“Domestic saving and investment still correlate about 75 percent among OECD countries, indicating that foreign capital is not all that internationally mobile... And the differences in real interest rates between countries are about the same as they were a century ago. Indeed, it is doubtful whether, in many respects, capital is more transnational than it was before 1914, except in the special case of the European Union.”(27)
Figures in Hirst & Thompson (1996) show that direct investment in the period 1992-3 specifically privileged ‘home’ nations.(28) And although it is true that between 1970 and 1997, the level of world trade rose to $400 billion, it is also true that 60% of this went to OECD states.(29) Hirst & Thompson (1999) similarly point out that profits to multinational companies (MNCs) are based largely in the ‘home’ regions, while sales and assets are overwhelmingly based in home countries.(30) Flows of FDI to developing countries are highly concentrated, as well, with the bulk of it going to the NICs in Asia and Latin America, while Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa are largely excluded. Gill (2003) notes that the US, EU and Japan each have 12% or less of their GDP composed of exports.(31) This surely suggests that a) globalisation is neither as truly global, nor as ‘decentred’ as some suggest and b) capital is not as mobile as is often suggested either.
There are reasons for this. Research by Ruigrok & Tulder shows that of the Fortune 100 top companies, at least twenty would not exist had it not been for their being saved by their respective ‘home’ states, while many had benefited enormously from “preferential defence contracts” and so on.(32) Further, as Wood (2003) points out, citing the research of Alan Rutger, “Scrutiny of corporate operations is likely to reveal that ‘multinational enterprises are not particularly good at managing their international operations’, and that profits tend to be lower, while costs are higher, than in domestic operations”. Similarly, it is true that states are submitting themselves to the growing authority of supraterritorial institutions like the WTO, but the state “still provides the indispensable conditions of accumulation for global capital”. One “can imagine capital continuing its daily operations if the WTO were destroyed” but “it is inconceivable that those operations would long survive the destruction of the local state”.(33) Examples are not hard to come by: Nike could not continue to profit from cheap labour operations in Vietnam were it not for the government proactively creating the conditions in which capital can thrive. Castells is right to suggest that states themselves “created the foundations for globalization”.(34)
But if capital has not been as omnicompetent and mobile as globalisation theorists sometimes maintain, neither has the state entirely lost its control over the movement of labour. Nigel Harris (2002) reports that the US and the EU in particular have moved to severely increase the costs and decrease the rewards of migration outside of legally managed channels – with some (often tragic) success. Cultural transmission is much easier now than ever before, but this does not necessarily lend itself to an undoing of the nation-state. As Gill (2003) points out, the fear of cultural homogeneity can prompt attachment to the nation-state or to a local culture.(35) Nation-states have ceded political as well as economic authority to supranational institutions, true, but all of these were founded at the behest of nation-states and are maintained by them. (In a touching irony, the United Nations was founded in San Francisco, its formation principally driven by the US).(36) NGOs have some clout but, as David Chandler points out, they have increasingly relied on states for funding and co-operation.(37)
I think it is useful to dispense with the term ‘globalization’. Given what has been said, it can be seen as an obfuscatory device with little real referent.(38) ‘Globalization’ is used to refer to different, incommensurable processes which run parallel to one another, but not strictly as part of the same movement. For instance, there is no obvious correlation between the freer movement of capital and that of labour. At the same time, it is often alleged that the state is finding its powers encroached on: but while many relinquish certain social welfare functions, most are accruing to themselves greater authority of governance over non-economic life, a process with only tenuous connections to the internationalisation of capital. ‘Globalization’, in falsely bundling together these different processes, is a fiction, an ideological construct. What Milanovic is complaining about is an economic orthodoxy, generally known as neoliberalism. If he said that globalization was making the poor worse off, while someone else said that it enabled one to communicate with many people of different faiths and backgrounds, they would not be disagreeing because they are speaking of different things.
The processes which are said to be undermining the nation-state have been exaggerated and misconstrued. And where there are tendencies which could potentially undermine the authority of the nation-state, demanding a more local or global polity, there are simultaneous processes which are reinforcing its hold from within and without. The relationship between state and capital, it seems to me, conforms more fully to the Marxist understanding of the state than the Weberian one. In that understanding, the modern state is a capitalist state which, given present indications, is likely to persist as the axis of political and economic activity for some time.
1. In fact, Harris prepared this thesis while still a revolutionary Marxist and long before such theories were in vogue. See Nigel Harris, The End of the Third World: Newly Industrialising Countries and the Decline of an Ideology, Penguin, 1986.
2. See the famous passage from The Communist Manifesto:
“The need for a constantly expanding market chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.
“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. All old established national industries have been destroyed or daily are being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries...that no longer work up indigenous raw materials, but raw materials drawn from the remotest zones, industries whose products are consumed not at home, but in every quarter in the globe... In place of the old local and national seclusion we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.”
3. Nigel Harris, The New Untouchables, 1995, (p 226).
4. Weber, Essays in Sociology, H H Gerth & C Wright Mills ed., (p 78).
5. For a functionalist explanation of the modern state, see Ellen Meiksins Wood’s account in Empire of Capital, London, 2003: “Capitalism is, by nature, an anarchic system, in which the laws of the market constantly threaten to disrupt the social order. Yet probably more than any other social form, capitalism needs stability and predictability in its social arrangements. The nation state has provided that stability and predictability by supplying an elaborate legal and institutional framework, backed up by coercive force, to sustain the property relations of capitalism, its complex contractual apparatus and its intricate financial transactions”. (pp16-7). And elsewhere: “On the one hand, the state must help to keep alive a propertyless population which has no other means of survival when work is unavailable, maintaining a ‘reserve army’ of workers through the inevitable cyclical declines in the demand for labour. On the other hand, the state must ensure that escape routes are closed and that means for survival other than wage labour for capital are not so readily available as to liberate the propertyless from the compulsion to sell their labour power when they are needed by capital.” (p. 18).
6. Ibid, pp 77-8.
7. Ralph Miliband’s The State in Capitalist Society (1969) is an account of the state which is faithful to this model; the personnel occupying administrative positions are considered to be drawn from, or the servants of, the capitalist class. The capitalist class does not itself govern, Miliband approvingly quotes Karl Kautsky as saying, “it contents itself with ruling the government” (p. 51).
8. Karl Marx & Friederich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, (p 82).
9. Friedrich Engels, The Origins of the Family, Private Property & The State, 1884, quoted in Colin Barker, ‘The State as Capital’, International Socialism 2:1, Summer 1978.
10. Perry Anderson, The Origins of the Present Crisis, 1965
11. Bertell Ollman tacitly acknowledges these refinements in summarising Marx’s position thus:
“In capitalism, the state is an instrument in the hands of the capitalists that is used to repress dangerous dissent and to help expand surplus value … Marx also views the state as a set of political structures interlocked with the economic structures of capitalism whose requirements … it must satisfy, if the whole system is not to go into a tailspin. And, finally, the state is an arena for class struggle where class and class contend for political advantage in an unfair fight that finds the capitalists holding all the most powerful weapons.” (Bertell Ollman, Theses on the Capitalist State, http://www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/docs/theses.php).
From being an ‘instrument in the hands of the capitalists’, the state moves to being ‘an arena for class struggle’ where class and class contend for hegemony, albeit in an unfair right.
12. For a Marxist discussion of this debate, see Alex Callinicos, Theories and Narratives: Reflections on the Philosophy of History, Cambridge, 1995, (pp 110-28). It should be noted that while their respective positions were often subsumed into a theoretical Cold War, the Marx-Weber debate involved a great deal of cross-fertilisation. The political scientist Christopher Brooke describes Perry Anderson’s Lineages of the Absolutist State, accurately I think, as “an exercise in Weberian comparative macrosociology”, albeit one that is carefully integrated into a Marxist heuristic (http://voiceoftheturtle.org/show_article.php?aid=131).
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14. According to the United Nations Drug Control Programme, “More than 300 tonnes of heroin are thought to have been produced annually in the 1990s, mostly for export”, while “In recent years, illicit drug consumption has increased throughout the world. Various indicators -emergency room visits, substance abuse related mortality cases, arrests of drug abusers, number of countries reporting rising consumption levels -make clear that consumption has become a truly global phenomenon.” They attribute this to the increase in global trade. "Despite the positive implications which the increase in world trade has for prosperity and efficiency, sustained growth in international trade can complicate efforts to control the illicit drug problem." See United Nations, World Drug Report, 1997, pages 17, 18 & 29. (http://www.un.org/ga/20special/wdr/wdr.htm).
15. Wayne Ellwood, The No Nonsense Guide to Globalization, London, 2001, (p. 16).
16. Fred Halliday, The World at 2000, New York, 2001, (p. 61).
17. Private purchases of US assets increased from $375.5 billion in 1996 to $669.15 billion in 2000. By the first half of 2000, gross US assets held by the rest of the world reached $6.7 trillion or 78% of US GDP. Robert Brenner, The Boom and the Bubble: The US in the World Economy, New York, 2002, (pp 208-9).
18. Ellwood, op cit, (p.58).
19. Scott Lash & John Urry, The End of Organised Capitalism, Cambridge, 1987, cited in Alex Callinicos, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique, 1989, (p. 136).
20. Ibid, (p. 33).
21. The fact that many European states have not themselves adhered to these restrictions is suggestive, but David Held avers in respect of the EU that “sovereignty is … clearly divided: any conception of sovereignty which assumes that it is an indivisible, illimitable, exclusive and perpetual form of public power – embodied within an individual state – is defunct”. Held, Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance, 1995, (p. 112).
22. The economist Edward Luttwak explains that each privatisation of an industry in one national economy pressure other state to follow suit, “forcing the pace of decontrol” internationally. Luttwak, Turbo Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy, Orion Business Books, London, 1998.
23. David Held notes that accepting the intervention of the IMF may not represent an immediate threat to sovereignty, but it “is often the result of recognition that there is minimal scope for independent national economic policies”, while conditions attached to assistance from the World Bank “have been insisted upon by the ‘dominant coalition’ of advanced industrial countries which effectively control World Bank policy”. Held, 1995, op cit., (pp. 110-1).
24. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard, 2000, (p xii, pp. 296-7).
25. This is another category that needs challenging, although I have not the space to do it here. See, in particular, Callinicos, 1989, op cit. and also Perry Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity, London, 1998. Callinicos accurately traces the overlapping economic, philosophical and political tropes which have been associated with postmodernism, debunking what he calls ‘the myths of postindustrialism’, critically engaging poststructuralism, and noting that those literary and artistic devices often associated with postmodernity are in fact distinctly modern. Anderson traces the genesis of the concept to a ‘conservative reflux’ within literature which met the challenge of modernism’s powerful lyricism with its own perfectionism of detail and the use of irony. Its development into a theory of epochal change is also noted for its inconsistency and inadequacy. My suggestion is that the notion of postmodernity is of little use in assessing the prospects for the modern state.
26. On this, see Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age, Volume I, Oxford, 2000. In particular, his analysis of ‘informational capitalism’ in which multinational corporations are increasingly decentralised into ‘interlocking networks’, in which power is exercised ‘randomly’ rather than dominatively in hierarchical structures. (pp. 208, 210).
27. Michael Mann, ‘As the twentieth century ages’, New Left Review 214, 1995
28. The following table, constructed from those figures, appears in Chris Harman, ‘Globalisation: A Critique of the New Orthodoxy’, International Socialism, 2:73:
PERCENTAGE OF BUSINESS FOR MULTINATIONALS IN HOME COUNTRY
manf'g service manf'g service
sales sales assets assets
US 64 75 70 74
Japan 75 77 97 92
Germany 48 65 n/a n/a
France 45 69 55 50
UK 36 61 39 61
29. Fred Halliday, op cit, (p. 66).
30. Paul Hirst & Grahame Thompson, Globalisation in Question, 2nd Edition, Cambridge, 1999, (pp. 82-3).
31. Graeme Gill, The Nature and Development of the Modern State, London, 2003 (p. 241).
32. Cited in Chris Harman, ‘Analysing Imperialism’, International Socialism, 2:99, Summer 2003 (p. 43).
33. Wood, op cit, (pp. 139-40). Gill also remarks that “The forces of globalization themselves rely directly upon the state for their ability to function. Markets, NGOs, media companies and all the other institutions that propel globalization need to have some guarantees that they will not be subject to criminal or terrorist attack”. (p. 248).
34. Castells, op cit, (p.147).
35. Gill, op cit, (pp. 239, 246). Slavoj Zizek deserves mention in connection with this, for suggesting that the preservation and encouragement of discrete local cultural nuances is always-already inscribed into the internationalisation of capital, not merely as a means of creating new market niches, but also of reducing difference to harmless cultural twists which can easily be absorbed by multinational capital. (One thinks of the HSBC campaigns in which it advertises itself as ‘the local bank’ because of its understanding of local cultural nuances etc).
36. Peter Gowan, ‘US:UN’, New Left Review 24, Second Series, November/December 2003. The recent war on Iraq certainly demonstrated that nation-states could, as always, simply ignore the UN, which is even weaker than the League of Nations (that at least had its own army). But this is because the UN is composed of nation states of varying strengths, in which none can match the power of the US. The UN should be understood as a means by which states regulate their dealings with other states; international law is a process and not a monument.
37. David Chandler, From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention, London, 2002.
38. Gill suggests that “globalization is dialectical, not unilinear, promoting opposing tendencies: integration and fragmentation, universalism and particularism, homogenisation and differentiation”. Gill, op cit, (p. 246). My assessment above is a malign twist on this.
At its most rational, opposition to protection for Muslims and other religious groups is based on the argument that whereas race is about biology, religion is a set of ideas which can be adopted or discarded at will. But in reality, just as ethnicity isn't mainly an issue of genetics, religion isn't only a question of beliefs: both are also about culture and identity. In Britain, religion has increasingly become a proxy for race. It hasn't escaped the attention of racists that many people in Britain who a generation ago would have regarded themselves as Pakistani or Bangladeshi now see themselves primarily as Muslims - nor that targeting Muslims is a way round existing race hate legislation, as well as drawing on the most poisonous prejudices and conflict of our era.
Precisely, and very aptly put. The issue about Islamophobia is that being a Muslim is just as much a part of one's identity as being a Jew. (Interesting that some 'free speech' advocates have defended Nick Griffin's right to describe Islam as 'evil'; how would they react to such a description of Judaism?)
By the same token, for the secular left - which is about social justice and solidarity if it is about anything - not to have stood with British Muslims over Islamophobia or the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq would have been the real betrayal. It is not, and has not been, in any way necessary to compromise with social conservatism over women's or gay rights, say, to have such an engagement; on the contrary, dialogue can change both sides in positive ways. But it is a chronic flaw of liberalism to fail to recognise power inequalities in social relations - and the attitude of some liberals to contemporary Islam reflects that blindness in spades.
Again, an excellent point put succinctly. A formal neutrality toward every specific religion, in which each is as bad as any other, misses the way in which certain religious groups may be targeted specifically and hatefully by racists (who then go on to add that any defense of Muslims/Jews/Buddhists etc. amounts to special privileges etc).
Outright opposition to religion was important in its time. But to fetishise traditional secularism in our time is to fail to understand its changing social meaning. Like nationalism, religion can face either way, playing a progressive or reactionary role. The crucial struggle is now within religion rather than against it.
That offers one hostage to fortune too many. True, the axis of struggle has been displaced to some extent, and it doesn't make any sense to expend the bulk of one's energies in Britain against the CoE, for instance. On the other hand, Iranian reformers and leftists might have a word or two to say about why opposition to religion can still be important. (Albeit that resistance against that regime can take a left-Islamist form). But Milne's last two sentences are precisely right. Islamism should properly be understood as a kind of nationalism, an 'imagined community' of believers, which may face left or right. Those brought up with a religious background will often radicalise first within their religion before they dispense with it. The crucial battles today are against racism, imperialism & capitalism. Religion only becomes an important enemy when it is contiguous with oppression.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Politically correct racism
Axiomatically, those who attack multiculturalism and free speech can be placed somewhere on the political Right, inevitably the far right. Yet, these two - dare I say it? - canards are becoming precisely useful fodder for the far right. Griffin notoriously appeared at the election count in Oldham wearing tape over his mouth and a t-shirt that read 'Gagged for telling the truth'. His new party slogan is "Freedom, Security, Identity, Democracy". Those last two signifiers could have come right out of a 1980s 'multiculturalism' seminar. The new party magazine, replacing John Tyndall's proscribed Spearhead magazine, is called Identity. Griffin once explained his liking for curries, which was not merely a gustatory triviality. He notoriously took Paxman apart on a Newsnight interview a couple of years back, using the same 'multiculturalist' logic that Paxman did ("yes, we all have our different cultures, and that's why there must be a wall in Oldham - so the Muslims can have their culture, we can have ours and, oh look, here's a Hindu who supports me").
Griffin is very good at playing this game, which suggests he understands something about ideological hegemony. For example, on the new party slogan, he explained to a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan that it was a carefully crafted new strategy. Speak in code, allude to what cannot be said openly. Define your agenda in terms of freedom, security, identity and democracy - "and no one can touch you for it". He is not the only contemporary leader of the far right to understand that political concepts are not fixed, but floating signifiers. They are fought over and 'captured'. Hence, Pim Fortuyn's complaint that the Muslims were 'intolerant' of his homosexuality. Fortuyn wasn't the classic right-wing populist: not satisfied with being gay, he was also a sociologist, and proclaimed loudly that some of his best lovers were immigrants. Politically correct racism, then.
Multiculturalism is not merely inadequate, it is positively beneficial to the far right. The strategy of the far right in Europe for some time has largely been to win electoral respectability, attain office and prove to the ruling class their ability to efficiently run and maintain a modern state. If they can present their racism in the lingua franca of the dominant discourse of the age, then they are half-way to winning seats. By positing the existence of a series of discrete, autonomous cultures, the discourse of multiculturalism allows Nick Griffin to say, as he did at his court hearing for incitement to racial hatred some six years ago - "I am a white separatist, not a white supremacist". (He received a 9-month sentence which was suspended for two years, on account of his publication of a racist magazine called The Rune which not-too-subtly looked forward to the hanging of black men and also described how Jews controlled the media).
What must displace multiculturalism is universalism; that is, we must replace a discourse which fetishises difference with one that prioritises the rights which we all have.
Freedom to say it...
I have never much cared for the Voltairean dictum on free speech. For one thing, I would never die for a fascist's right to say whatever dippy little thing entered his head. For another, the favour would certainly never be returned.
Stanley Fish tells us that there's no such thing as free speech, "and its a good thing too". I don't like him, but he has a point. All freedoms are, of course, in some sense relative. We relish our autonomy, but only insofar as this respects the autonomy of others. We leftists want the worker to be free from exploitation, which is obviously incommensurable with the capitalist freedom to exploit. We want women to be free to walk the streets at night which, even more obviously, is incompatible with the freedom to rape, rob or murder. And so it is, perhaps, that we have reached the stage where incitement to racial hatred is regarded as a crime under bourgeois law. The freedom of black people to live their lives without being harrassed and abused and their right to be free from fear and intimidation is of course impossible to square with the right of racists and fascists to bully and intimidate them.
So, freedoms are relative, and therefore determinate. At some point, we prioritise the rights of one group over another. The right to live is more important than the right to murder - so much so that killing is the single most prevalent taboo in all human societies. Circumfluent issues such as abortion and the right to die obviously constitute some pretty horrendous grey areas, particularly for those who are obsessed with "the beginning of life and the very end of life" as the fictitious child of Sidney Poitier in Six Degrees of Seperation has it. (He continues: "What about the eighty years we have to live between those two inexorable bookends?") Nevertheless, a sense of which freedoms to prioritise is easily intuited by most, presumably based on an understanding of our nature as aliens on this planet, the only creatures on it who are not only interactive, but also interdependent, not only changed by the world, but enforcing change on it.
The consequences of such reasoning are as follows: 1) Freedom of speech is relative, not an absolute, 2) When two freedoms appear to conflict, it is not always possible to reconcile them. 3) The standard prescriptions from postmodern liberals on freedom of speech are therefore inadequate for the purpose of making the necessary distinction to prioritise one freedom over another.
If it is obvious enough that some freedoms of speech could in principle be suspended for the sake of another's well-being, it isn't quite so clear where to draw the aclinic line. One might agree with the ACLU that it is permissible for someone to write revisionist accounts of the Nazi holocaust, but disagree with their defense of far right marches through black or Jewish areas. And this, perhaps, indicates some of the difficulty. Political speech is by its very nature conative. It is a call to action, or it is nothing. It says something about the world, and either calls for its defense or its overthrow, or its fundamental reform. To write a revisionist account of the Nazi holocaust might seem harmless enough, if disreputable and revolting. But I claim there is a limit to this logic. Would we, for instance, think it permissible for a television show to be openly racist in this day and age? We have not come so very far from the Seventies, where comedies depicted white people reacting with fear and loathing to the presence of a black person. The black and white minstrel show isn't so far back in our history. And Jim Davidson still gets stand-up jobs for the BBC even though he isn't really funny and can't do most of his obscene racist material because it would put the BBC in breach of the law. So, the question is by no means an academic one. Could we countenance an openly racist television show? Most of us find it contemptible enough that Hollywood produces torrents of subtly poisoned garbage for us to digest. Should the BBC transmit live broadcasts from Abu Hamza to counter-balance Songs on Sunday?
As I have noted before, those who rally to the defense of free speech for the likes of Griffin and, more commonly, Kilroy, are notably silent when any of the real PC cliches are challenged and confronted (cf Jenny Tonge's comments on becoming a suicice bomber). Freedom of speech is surely a precious thing, provided you use it to bolster any sad old prejudice about foreigners, gippos, pikeys and beggars.
Why is it that Le Pen felt the need to embrace an Algerian on a live platform in 1998, and tell the crowd that "he is no less French than I am", while berating "unpatriotic" multinationals who sell out French workers? Why is it that the BNP claim to be "the only non-Marxist socialist party" in the North, urging people to join the Amicus union, berating the government for selling out manufacturing workers? Why did they run on a platform of alleged anticapitalism, opposition to the World Bank and IMF, opposition to the Iraq War, environmentalism and so on? Isn't it obvious that by discarding the notion of systemic opposition, the Left allowed itself to become merely a reactive force, saying to governments "you mustn't do that!" while rallying only to stop the latest radical right excess? In this way, the far right has been able to take such swift advantage of the degeneration and racialisation of politics.
Fortunately recent trends, represented by the antiwar movement and the European Social Forum, suggest a renaissance of radical dissent. This is what is needed. One thing that is certainly not needed is for the left, whether radical or merely anti-fascist, to place itself at the disposal of the Labour Party as Searchlight insists we must . No anti-fascist activist will have any credibility if they appear to be simultaneously the puppets of a party which supplies much of the electoral base for the far right through its betrayals. The strategy of accomodation, and being intimidated by the liberal citation of the far right menace, is over. Real political intervention has begun.
A few links. posted by Richard SeymourSocialist Worker has a brief and excellent article on the growing movement for reform in, well, Saudi Arabia. Since SW's relaunch with the snazzy new Euro-left design (it's modelled on Liberacione), it has had much more unique and interesting material. The polemicising has been properly relegated to the back pages, while the news stories have become more incisive. Mike Rosen also has a nice review of new film starring Al Pacino as The Merchant of Venice, particularly useful after Jonathan Freedland's philistine denunciation of the play this week as 'anti-Semitic'.
The latest import into Iraqi politics from Latin America are Colombian military & police . The last one was the death-squad-sponsor John Negroponte. Now, they have gone a step further and acquired the services of the auxiliaries of death squads. Of course, there are tonnes of mercenaries operating in Iraq (or 'foreign fighters' as they are sometimes known).
And while I'm at it, the hat trick - Pinochet arrested; Griffin nicked; and now this . Can't be bad now, can it?
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
“Modernity can and will no longer borrow the criteria by which it takes its orientation from the models supplied by another epoch: it has to create its own normativity out of itself”. Jurgan Habermas.
So, I was having a chat with Napoleon the other night, and he says to me, he says:
Napoleon - So, lenin, my legacy is a blinding success compared to yours. Where did it all go wrong?
lenin - Ah, Nappy, I think it was the social anthropologists that did me in.
Napoleon - I don't follow.
lenin - I shall explain.
Napoleon - Pray do so.
lenin - I shall. You see, from the fall of Aristotle, many false Gods and even phonier magi emerged to fill the void. They recovered ancient texts, searched for clues, worked wonders with nature and sought the secrets of the universe. The ruling class in certain places - the princes of Italy, chiefly - was of such a mind as to give these guys sponsorship provided they could create pretty little objects which the Prince would keep, conserve and display to those who doubted his divine authority. They created academies (the Accadamei dei Linceii etc), worked on their spells, consulted the texts retrieved by the humanists, and carried out what would come to be known as experiments. Galileo, then Bacon, divined that truth was to be found in the Book of Nature rather than the Book of God (which came from second-hand sources of dubious repute). Men emerged in the school of natural philosophy who began to call themselves scientists. They determined that all things were matter and motion, configured in various ways. This goodly frame, the earth, was such a configuration, authored by God, and with wondrous messages for those who cared to examine the text.
The geocentric, geostatic cosmos of Aristotle having been quite exploded, all that remained was an infinite and intricate concatenation of causes and effects. Hence, Locke's "law of unintended consequences". Ferguson could write that history was "the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design". Smith, of course, made his unfortunate remark about the 'hidden hand', which I have always taken to be a cryptic reference to some indignity he suffered at the hands of his childhood captors.
The Enlightenment, then. Its geographical axis was Western Europe, particularly France and Scotland, although its intellectual horizons were framed by the Americas and the colonies from whence would emerge sugar, tea, silk and other commodities of empire. The Scottish philosophes had their highland clansmen to Lord it over from their comfort zones in the industrializing cities (Smith had a chair in Glasgow University, surrounded by a thriving industrial belt), while all were aware of the uncivilized brutes that seemed to be dropping like flies over the pond (the Scottish Enlightenment supported the repression of rebellious Highland clans in 1715 and 1745, who resembled the Native American “savages” somewhat). Smith wrote in his Theory of Moral Sentiments of the compelling differences in custom between the "civilised nations" on the one hand, and the "savages and barbarians" on the other. He took issue with Rousseau getting all moist about the natives (the Caribs of Venezuela), presenting only "the indolent side" of savage life to make it seem "the happiest of any". He had his own little theories about that, and they usually broke down into four stages.
"There are four distinct stages which mankind pass through," he said, as if satirising Marx in advance of his coming, "first, the age of the hunters; secondly, the age of the shepherds; thirdly, the age of agriculture; and fourthly, the age of commerce". Four stages. D'you suppose Marx threw in the Asiatic Mode of Production just to maintain the symmetry? (Yes, yes - Smith's model of 'four stages' is largely to do with technological development, while Marx is concerned with the 'mode of production'). At any rate, the idea of history as progress was born. And not merely among the Scots. The French philosophes were adamant that knowledge was not merely increasing, but would do so infinitely (Fontenelle). Turgot believed that not only knowledge moved progressively forward, so did human history. A patriot of the Second International before his time.
Anyway, the Enlightenment model of rationality was centred, as I say, on principles believed to be derived from the 17th Century foundation of modern physics. As these methods had yielded such splendid results from nature, they must have something to say about human societies. Voltaire attempted to import into France the new science and philosophy of Newton and Locke, while Hume subtitled his Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) “An Attempt to introduce the Experimental Method into Moral Subjects”.
Herein, the birth of social theory. This developed Montesquieu and “The Spirit of Laws”, in some ways continuing the classical concern with political institutions – republican, monarchic and despotic, although Montesquieu also took an interest in the weather. Yes, you see, Asia’s torrid climate naturalises despot, whereas the colder climate of the north prefers republican and monarchical governance. The cold also repels invaders, which is why you couldn't take Russia, Nappy dear.
Nappy - You didn't hold it for long either, fuckface.
lenin - But of course Montesquieu is reflecting his own concerns in his lurid portraits of 'Oriental despots', the latter standing as an oblique criticism of Bourbon absolutism. Comte, by contrast, was more positive than HIV (I do like these modern hip hop expressions). His 'positivist' theory of knowledge was also an attempt to apply scientific methods to as wide a variety of social phenomena as possible. The Comtist law of three stages (what is it about laws and stages) ran thus: 1) Theological, 2) Metaphysical, 3) Positivist, or scientific. Turgot had anticipated this new evolutionism: “All ages are linked by causes and effects which bind the present situation of the world to all those which have preceded”. Stages, of course, had been economic categories for the Scottish thinkers; for the French, they were intellectual categories.
And it was the Scots who sounded the first note of social evolutionism as a theory of history. “It is in their [the Indians’] present condition that we are to behold, as in a mirror, the features of our own progenitors”, Ferguson averred. This was the central precept of the 'comparative method', which held that by studying 'backward' societies overseas, we might understand the genesis of our own civilization. Hence MacLennan: “[T]he preface to general history may be compiled from the materials of barbarism”. Unto which it is only fair to say that we are fairly well stocked with the materials of barbarism ourselves.
Similarly, Tylor assured us that ‘backward’ elements within a society may speak of its past, just as ‘backward’ societies may speak of the past of civilisation. Lewis Henry Morgan wrote of the Iroquois and had a great deal of fun with three stages (savagery, barbarism, and civilization).
Marx read Morgan's Ancient Society, which had been published in 1877, between December 1880 and March 1881, taking at least ninety-eight pages of handwritten notes. Engels cited him approvingly in The Origins of the Family, Private Property & The State, and even subtitled his book In Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan. To Engels, Morgan's description of the Iroquois was important because "it gives us the opportunity of studying the organization of a society which, as yet, knows no state."
The 'four stages' of the history of class society - ancient; asiatic; feudal; capitalist - are partially elucidated by Engels in Socialism: Scientific and Utopian. The 'asiatic' business, with its Orientalist accretions, has been a boil on the Marxist backside ever since. Marx announces in his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy that "No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed". I'd like to say I proved him wrong...
No, Engels wasn't stupid about this; he was subtle, dialectical even, if you must. He and Marx both understood that history was both kind and unkind, that it had its stops, starts, and occassional reverses.
But all of this lent itself to the animating illusion that to be in the present was to be at some considerable advantage to the past: we are either closer to the fulfilment of history or already there. There are two ways to equate social progress and evolution: 1) Take an ethical attitude to evolutionary process for its contribution, 2) Take an ethical attitude to process in itself. I myself have been accused of determinism, and positivism (despite launching a spectular and bloody attack on some of its open devotees in 1908). But it was the dregs of Lamarckism, positivism, Spencer, Tylor, four stage this, three stage that, and the rest up to and including the renegade Kautsky; they were the iron balls attached to the feet of the revolution. They persuaded socialists that the new order would build itself, or through the actions of parliamentarians, while they slept. Progress was inevitable, the new society had merely to be midwived into existence by the loving care of reformists. Even the Great War was not enough to disabuse them of his appalling historical fallacy.
Napoleon - We'll be back after the break with news and sport.