Thursday, March 31, 2005
Where are we now? posted by Richard SeymourYou could class this among the posts I've written about the relationship between state and capital. (By the way, Galloway is kicking some puce arse on Question Time as a write, so it is as well to note it now before someone asks him about the Schiavo thing - at which point I'm going to turn the telly off).
The Left has always had a fairly simple way of gauging its prospects - beyond psephological concerns, they inquire as to the health of the labour movement. If the prognosis is good, prospects for success are good. If the labour movement is weak, anaemic, perhaps crippled, then failure is too close for comfort.
From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, the state was engaged in a war of attrition against organised labour on behalf of capital. This began with Barbara Castle's 'In Place of Strife' act, which was aborted almost on conception due to the hard resistance of the trade unions, in particular those who had previously been weak - bin workers, Leeds textile workers, the Ford women and others. The act proposed a cooling-off period before strikes could take place. Workers who ignored the cooling-off period and stayed out on strike were liable to prosecution, fines and imprisonment. The problem was that the first cracks in the comfortable post-war consensus were beginning to appear. Profitability showed its first weaknesses as the long post-war boom was coming to an end, and the system's ability to absorbe workers demands was narrowing. Hence, a Labour government was trying to impose laws that would seriously restrict the right to withdraw labour power, and thereby (they hoped) reduce the combativity of the labour movement.
When Labour lost the 1970 election to the eunuch Heath, the new Tory government tried to impose the Industrial Relations Act - if anything, more extreme than anything Thatcher managed. But the labour movement was particularly combative at this time, and as the government rode harder, became increasingly assertive in its demands. In particular, two massive NUM strikes in 1972 and 1974, with massive solidarity and flying pickets, broke the back of both that law and that despicable government (not only despicable, you understand, for putting Ricky Tomlinson in jail). Heath called an election, asking the nation - who runs the country: the government or the miners? They got their answer alright. Labour won two elections in 1974, the second time emerging with enough of a majority to govern properly. Among those opposed to Heath's election gambit was Margaret Thatcher, who believed that if only the miners were defeated, she would be leader of the Conservative Party shortly and therefore the Prime Minister.
Labour tried a different tack. As unemployment was rising higher, the OPEC crisis made its effects felt, and profits sank, employers lobbied the government to restore profitability to British industry. This they sought to do through the 'social contract' , which would restrict workers' wage rises to no more than 5% each year, in a time when inflation was on average about 20% a year. Effectively, wages were to be cut to make capitalism work. This was enacted through the connivance of left-wing trade union leaders. Because of this, the grass-roots resistance was often quite fractured and weak. However, the system did not last for long and, however weakened the unions were as their struggle entered a downturn, they still retained enormous purchase. In 1981, when Scargill won the presidency of the NUM, the young government of Margaret Thatcher was obliged to retreat on one of its offensives in the face of massive industrial pressure.
Yet, the Tories had a plan. The ruling class has its folk memories too, and, as one labour correspondent noted during the miners strike, "miners emerging from the bowels of the earth to demand their rights touch a raw nerve". The miner was a 'black avenging ghost' (as Zola put it) for the Tories, who had been twice humiliated by this cruel shade. Nicholas Ridley therefore proposed a plan in 1978 that would put an end to the NUM, which had been the cutting edge of working class militancy since the late sixties. They could, he said, defeat the miners if they started by establishing a trend. A series of heavy defeats inflicted on smaller unions would set the scene splendidly. Next, they needed to build up coal stocks and imports, encourage non-union road hauliers to transport the substance, develop dual coal-firing stations at plants, encourage other unions in the mineworks and develop a mobile police force capable of reacting to outbreaks of struggle where they occurred. This they did, and several northern cities were transformed into police occupations during the 1984-85 strike, as a Tory government deliberately set about destroying mines that were profitable and operative. Just as they had allowed unemployment to soar in earlier years in order to eviscerate the manufacturing unions, now they crippled huge sectors of the economy to pursue their class revenge against the miners. Scargill was prescient: this was an attempt to destroy the mining industry. The miners struck and were greeted with enormous solidarity. Even Sun printworkers struck in support of the miners in 1984.
While the miners were portrayed as an undemocratic entryist attempt on British democracy, the Tories delinquently ransacked British jobs - and, I might add, set the most extreme forces within MI5 to work targetting Scargill and his union, infiltrating it and fixing him up - a process which led to a series of bogus 'revelations' in 1990. Scargill's deputy at the time, Roger Windsor, now appears to have been an MI5 agent, as was the previous 'moderate' union leader, Mr Joe Gormley .
The defeat of that strike was far from inevitable, but it was decisive. After that, other unions were attacked and briskly defeated - including the printworkers. That trend was not so much bucked as rudely interrupted by the massive campaigns against the Poll Tax. It was not the first time the Tories were on the defensive but, again, it was decisive. Riots on Trafalgar Square finished Thatcher, and would have finished the Tories had it not been for the epic incompetence of Neil Kinnock and his last-minute PR election-grabber. The launch of anti-Poll Tax campaigns, and the later struggles against the Criminal Justice Bill, the environmental protests and Reclaim the Streets demos all captured something of a new radical spirit, and all would coalesce into the anticapitalist movement that erupted in the City of London in June 1999. Similarly, the Major government's attempts to undo the mining industry for good met stiff and bitter resistance as well as public defiance. While the media line on the 1984-5 strike had been that democracy was threatened by Marxist insurrectionists, even the Daily Mail found time to discover the 'honour' of the miners in 1992.
The victories of the signal-workers and airline workers during the 1990s represented a substantial recovery after the horrifying defeats of the 1980s. They in no way entered the scales in the same way that the defeats had, but they showed that capital would no longer have an easy ride, and the government would no longer be able to pursue its agenda with such roughshod force. While Thatcher had systematically and repeatedly tried to take out all the major unions, breaking the back of one after another, no government would risk this after the poll tax riots. The defeats continued, of course. The betrayal of the Liverpool Dockers is one of the most shameful episodes in British labour history.
Yet, however flawed, New Labour's trade union legislation and minimum wage laws gave new confidence to many workers. Not only have there been new unionisation drives (poorly exploited by the big unions), but there has also been a massive shift to the left within the unions, whose members are becoming more combative. RMT members in particular, however vilified, have won massively as a result of this strategy.
The firefighters struggles - thus far to no avail - and the postal workers more successful strikes have shifted the coordinates again. Even journos are getting in on the act, and the recent successful struggles by Telegraph journalists is testament to this. The most recent success - not yet an outright victory - has been the government climbdown on pensions for public sector workers. They were terrified, and so they should have been, of a massive spate of industrial action sweeping the country in the middle of a general election. When in 2001 the postal workers went on an unofficial walk-out during a general election campaign, they won more than they had even asked for, just as their later wild-cat strikes won solidly, hands down. The BA workers also demonstrated extraordinary militancy in the Summer of 2003, and made substantial gains with the threat of strike action in 2004.
I shouldn't downplay the significance of the defeat of the firefighters. Had the firefighters strike continued, and been fought successfully, the government would not have been able to go to war on Iraq. The army would have been too busy scabbing to go blow Iraqis' heads off. The defeat owes a great deal to the Labour loyalties of the leader, Andy Gilchrist. Inclined to be serenaded by ministers as he was, he called off crucial strike days just as the government was really feeling the heat. You know they were feeling the heat because Prescott felt the need to channel Thatcher and darkly intimate that we wouldn't go back to those days. When John Prescott is sent out to issue an intemperate, incomprehensible rant, you know the cabinet is falling apart at the seams. The fact that there was enough grass roots confidence to go for the strike is as significance as the fact that there wasn't enough confidence to defy the leadership.
A process of political re-alignment is taking place in the trade unions, of which the shift of support to Respect in some quarters is just an example. Clearly, continually being hooked to a devoid, neutered, parasitic organism like the Labour Party isn't a solution that offers any lasting appeal.
Where are we now, then? I would phrase it roughly as follows: The labour movement has recuperated somewhat from the locust years of the 1980s. But recovery is never an even process. Ideologically, the Left is enjoying a considerable resurgence. This has not yet filtered through into ubiquitous class struggle or unalloyed victories. While there is a clear anti-Blair mood in the country, and while most people want trade unions to be stronger, there desperately needs to be a new political direction for the labour movement, and the unprecedented scale of the antiwar campaigns offer the best chance of that. Respect seeks to support striking workers, oppose imperialism, defend civil liberties and oppose racism against Muslims and others. In this way, the unprecendented ideological upsurge is to be married to the as yet building potential of the new left in the trade unions.
That's why you should try to return a Respect MP at the next election. It will break through the dull triopoly of the main three parties, pressing a serious grass roots movement into halls of government. While a Liberal Democrat MP will vote to curb the right to strike (cf the resolutions passed at the recent conference), and while Blair will continue to grind every principled bone in the Labour party to dust (we needn't even speak of the Tories), Respect stands unwaveringly for repealing all anti-union laws, renationalising the railways, ending the disgraceful PFI projects, withdrawing troops from Iraq and opposing further warmongering. While other parties may play dangerous games with asylum seekers and gypsies, Respect won't stigmatise the most oppressed in our society.
One last thing. Vote Respect if you can. I don't care if you have some grudge you're nurturing against George Galloway. Get over it. If you can't vote Respect in your area, I leave it to your conscience. Vote Green, vote for an antiwar Labour MP, even vote Liberal or abstain... whatever you think will best help the radical Left where you are.
Fascism and third ways. posted by Richard SeymourChris Brooke has an excellent series of posts on the relationship, however you construe it, between the discursive practises of New Labour and those of the far right. Naturally, a great deal of inaccurate ultra-left shit has come my way about this topic (you know, the BNP are harmless compared to Blair's imperialist zeal, Hitler was no worse than Churchill etc).
I've nothing to add about the topic except that I think the only thing Blair and the far right have in common is that they will use the same pool of hot-button topics to buttress their unpopular ideological dispositions. And they both have need of the vagueness of such formulations as duty, hard work, patriotism, family etc. for the same reason.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Links. posted by Richard SeymourDead Men Left has a couple of blinding posts. First, a nice dissection of Johann Hari's idiotic recycling of anti-Respect nonsense here . Second, an interesting article on the recent poverty statistics from the Department of Work & Pensions here .
News for Respect supporters. The East region FBU has stumped up a grand for the election campaign:
FBU regional official Adrian Clarke said “We invited Respect to our meeting before Christmas and following that we had a request for a donation. That has now been voted through.
"Several of us are already members of Respect, but what has made this kind of formal link possible is the decision by the FBU conference last year to disaffiliate from the Labour Party.
“Delegates to the conference were very clear that we do not want to retreat into apolitical trade unionism. The wider political issue is that a great many people have taken a long, hard look at the Labour government and have concluded that we have to build a new left in this country.
“While many people are talking about it, Respect is getting on and doing it. It has come in for criticism from Labour politicians. They fear that they are going to be confronted by a credible, left wing alternative. The continued attack by New Labour on the issue of pensions is being felt across the whole of the working classes but it is being pursued with extreme vigour particularly against public service workers including firefighters and control staff.
According to the Independent , several Labour MPs are going to defy Blair and stand on an antiwar and anti-occupation platform. A very clear consensus has formed around punishing Blair at this election. Take Dan Plesch's recent article as a case in point. Or former Foreign Office advisor David Clark in The Guardian , in which Blair is convincingly portrayed as "a weak man who bends to power" (and therefore, if the Left flexes its muscles...). Even Mark Seddon , the wet fish of the Labour Left, raises the spirit to call for a reduced Labour majority, as "it may be the last chance to save the Labour party for social democracy and from remorseless internal collapse". Then there is the existence of sites like Backing Blair , So Now Who Do We Vote For? , Strategic Voter and so on. The fact that the Tories are looking so miserable, so very very weak, helps enormously. We can have the confidence to assail that phalanx of arse-lickers and nose-tanners on the Labour back-benches, especially those who backed the murderous war on Iraq, without risking a Tory victory.
Finally, Tariq Ramadan has an excellent article in today's Guardian, calling for a liberal interpretation of Islam.
Middle East: Bush Out. posted by Richard SeymourAccording to Adam Shatz in the Los Angeles Times , Bush's embrace can prove deadly for dissidents in Arab countries - driving the poor and oppressed into the arms of Hezbollah against the US which, having invaded Iraq and given carte blanche support to Israel, gets no props in the Middle East. Gary Younge makes a similar point in the South African Mail & Guardian.
Fortunately, the real resistance in the Middle East is taking off regardless. This report from this year's Cairo Conference sums up the mood:
The gathering mood for change meant there was a fascinating mixture of Islamic, nationalist, socialist, peasant and trade union activists from across Egypt. On the first evening over 1,000 people crammed into the opening rally, which was followed by three days of discussion.
The dominant theme of the conference was the urgent need to oppose the occupation of Iraq and how real reform could be achieved in Egypt.
The democracy hailed by George Bush and the Washington neo-cons is not the democracy people in the Arab world are fighting for. In Egypt a new campaign called Kifaya — “Enough” in Arabic — has been launched, calling for real democracy.
The campaign is demanding the end of Hosni Mubarak’s reign as president and opposes plans to nominate his son as the next president.
Yes, yes, I know that dirty ' I ' word was slipped into that report. Well, They can sometimes have as much interest in overthrowing dictatorship as anyone else. The report continues:
Dina is a member of the anti-globalisation movement in Egypt. “There is rising struggle in Egypt,” she says.
“The vast majority of Egyptians want an end to corruption that allows billions of dollars to be salted away by officials and their hangers on. We want an end to the emergency laws that have been used to keep people down. We want an end to laws that outlaw independent political organisations and trade unions, and ban public gatherings. In the last 24 years over 20,000 people have been killed by the state.
“Every day in Cairo the police sweep through the underground Metro or stop minibuses heading to the slums that ring Egypt’s capital. They seize young men on the pretext that they are cracking down on Islamic militants, or looking for drugs. They seize you if they find a piece of hashish on you, or if you have forgotten your ID papers.
“Every night they pack off hundreds of young men to police stations and state security centres. If you are lucky they might hold you for a couple of hours, or a couple of days. If your luck is rotten they will beat you, or torture you with electric shocks—a facility available in all of Egypt’s police stations.
“The police have to fill a daily quota of arrests, so they seize people at random. Torture under Mubarak’s regime is routine.”
The most severe repression under the present regime is often meted out to those who dare to oppose the government’s links with the US and Israel.
There are also interviews with two attendees of the Cairo conference, one a delegate supporter of Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, the other a Sunni intellectual.
Meanwhile, a memo shows that the US commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, authorised the use of torture . No wonder, then, that Sadr's follower calls for million strong anti-US demo .
Finally, why is the government blocking investigations into the murder of Iain Hook, a UNRWA official, by Israeli forces?
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Repression in the new Iraq. posted by Richard SeymourFrom Socialist Worker :
Iraq’s interior minister has told Iraqis not to demonstrate against the regime. Falah al-Naqib told journalists on Monday that protests were among “attempts to destabilise the situation” in Iraq.
Naqib’s comments came after government bodyguards opened fire on an unarmed and peaceful demonstration of workers, killing at least one.
The workers, employed by Iraq’s technology ministry, gathered last Sunday in Baghdad to demand higher wages. Naqib defended the bodyguards who shot at them, saying they were just doing their job.
The minister’s comments came a few days after a leading Shia cleric in Iraq called for a “million strong demonstration to demand a timetable for the end of the occupation”.
Sheik Nasser al-Saedi, a follower of radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, called on “all political forces to take part in this demonstration” during his sermon last Friday at the Grand Mosque in Kufa.
More here , and here .
'Moonbat Central'. posted by Richard SeymourThe salubrious Mr Kampf has found a new venue. Joining the host of bloggers at the conspiracy site, Discover the Network, he now writes for the gloriously named 'Moonbat Central' (http://www.discoverthenetwork.org/moonbatcentral/2005/03/chomsky-in-edinburgh.html).
If I were to use the methods Kamm does in the above article, I might note the following lunatic tics: standard citation of Cold War polemic against Noam Chomsky, in this case a letter by the grotesque Samuel Huntington* (although what is untypical is that Chomsky's rebuttal immediately follows, and casually annihilates Huntington's case); the habitual invocation of scholarly standards that, to date, have eluded Kamm; the usual uncharitable reading of every possible fact or circumstance surrounding the material he is discussing (The Gifford Lectures are intended to “contribute to the advancement of theological and philosophical thought”, but Chomsky is instead using the occasion to advance his political opinions...); the casual misreading of the text (Chomsky, Zelig-like, is said to select targets according to audience, which could be true, although the example Kamm offers doesn't offer much to support the claim, particularly once you've read the article he is parsing); the slovenly reference to a "historical record" which his opponent has failed to excavate, but over which he exerts excruciating mastery.
Etc. Much more interesting, though, is the fact that this 'Militant Liberal', this strenuous capitaliser of the abstract, this tabloid journalist, in attaching himself to the orbit of the Moonbats, has acquired a fan club - one neo-Nazi, it seems. (See link). Naturally, I'm shocked, outraged, dazed, bewildered etc. Whatever my reaction is, it certainly doesn't involve me pissing myself with laughter at the gauche ineptitude of an amateur bibliophile and polemicist so desperate for venues to pursue his Chomsky-stalking that he will even involve himself with nutter conspiracy theorists and discarded Cold War witchfinders.
One last thing. A suggestion for Mark Kaplan's "Notes on Rhetoric" :
Historical Record. Your opponent is invariably unfamiliar with it, while you master it with matchless facility. Allude to it wherever possible, encourage your opponent to acquaint himself with it. So much the better if you have a cache of slightly obscure references that you can dispense, especially if these bear only tangential relationship to what you are discussing. In particular, when called upon to explain the relevance of the reference, explain that you are not about to spoon-feed your opponent and advise him to get off his flaccid fundament and do some independent reading. It will, you can assure him, be its own reward.*Aside from his part in the imperial subventions in Vietnam, Huntington's political sympathies are peculiar. Apartheid South Africa, for Huntington, was a "satisfied society", in which "the people for some reason are not protesting".
Monday, March 28, 2005
Dead Babies. posted by Richard SeymourNicholas Kristoff recently wrote for the New York Times:
Here's a wrenching fact: If the U.S. had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, we would save an additional 2,212 American babies a year.
Yes, Cuba's. Babies are less likely to survive in America, with a health care system that we think is the best in the world, than in impoverished and autocratic Cuba. According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S.
Even more troubling, the rate in the U.S. has worsened recently.
In every year since 1958, America's infant mortality rate improved, or at least held steady. But in 2002, it got worse: 7 babies died for each thousand live births, while that rate was 6.8 deaths the year before.
This is why it is so important to spend legislative time and money trying to sustain a human vegetable in life.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
The truth is that the war was probably not legal under international law. Those who believe that is a fact of cardinal moral importance have not yet had the courage to admit the inevitable conclusion of their position. It is that there now needs to be a "coalition of the willing" to restore the legal government of Saddam Hussein to its rightful position as the sovereign authority in Iraq. Tony Blair must be arrested and tried by the ICC, and Saddam should be the primary witness against him. That is the inescapable logic of the champions of international law. It should make every-one realise how unreal is the world in which they live.
I don't want to keep beating the same drum all the time, but general ignorance of the case obliges me to have another bash. Law is a process, not simply a set of rules, or a structure. It is a negotiation process replete with loopholes and torsions. There are usually two or more sets of interpretations which are not reconciled. The spurious determinacy that is imposed on law at the level of the nation-state (by the judge, backed by the legitimate monopoly of violence) is absent in international law. Therefore, as Marx once had it, "between equal rights, force decides". International law is the precise form that modern imperialism takes, and the huge expenditure of time and energy making the legal case for imperial subventions demonstrates that this is the case. Need anyone remind themselves of the grotesque crimes perpetrated under the rubric of international law, with the backing of the UN? Or of the fact that the UN has now, ex post facto, legitimised the war on Iraq?
That said, there is no reason for anyone who maintains that the war was illegal to accept the Telegraph's stupid attempt at a reductio ad absurdum. Never mind the fact that the Telegraph is only taking one crime into account when one would prefer to reverse decades of criminal intervention in Iraq if that were possible. If it is true that the war on Iraq was illegal, there need be no coalition of the willing to restore Hussein to power. His sovereignty is not what has been violated. It is Iraq's sovereignty that has been violated, and there is a "coalition of the willing" currently acting to evict the occupiers. It is known as the Iraqi resistance. They are legally guaranteed as well, because the UN :
Affirms once again its recognition of the legitimacy of the struggle of the peoples under colonial and alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal. [Emphasis added].
That is, if the Telegraph now accepts that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, the legitimacy of the resistance follows.
Saturday, March 26, 2005
The CIA concludes:
The likely emergence of China and India ... as new major global players—similar to the advent of a united Germany in the 19th century and a powerful United States in the early 20th century—will transform the geopolitical landscape with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two centuries.
I say this conclusion corroborates neoconservative thinking, but they are no Cassandras. Robert Kagan of the Project for the New American Century argues that US legitimacy is diminishing with friends and "like-minded" peoples as a result of US unipolarity. Europe prefers the “constraining egalitarian quality of international law” while enjoying the security provided by the “behemoth with a conscience”. America, contrary to common wisdom, can “go it alone”, and does so. (Robert Kagan, “Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order”, London, 2003; also, Robert Kagan, “Looking for Legitimacy in all the Wrong Places”, Foreign Policy, July/August 2003). According to Professor of International Law Michael Glennon the UN's “irrelevance” is actually a product of US "unipolarity" in a post-Cold War world. France, Russia, Germany and China also believe the world is becoming "unipolar". France's former foreign minister Hubert Vedrine believes "a politically unipolar world" is unacceptable, and therefore France is "fighting for a multipolar world". Russia and China formalised an agreement in July 2001 affirming their commitment to a multipolar constellation of global powers. (Michael J. Glennon, “Why the Security Council Failed”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2003).
This is an argument accepted by much of the Left. Peter Gowan, in "The Global Gamble", outlines what the book's subtitle calls America's "Faustian bid for global dominance". America, according to Gowan, is the last remaining empire, a "Hegemon" dominating economically through the Dollar-Wall Street Regime, and politically through military incursions into the former Yugoslavia. ( In this, he represents a strand of thinking relatively popular on the left. Gregory Elliot suggests that Hubert Vedrine's term "hyperpower" most closely encapsulates the United States' "awesome dominion". (Peter Gowan, “The Global Gamble: America’s Faustian Bid for Global Dominance”, London, 1999; Gregory Elliot and John Rees, “The Balance of Global Forces”, Institute of Education, July 2001).
Underpinning these arguments is some conception of what the "bipolar world" represented, and how the collapse of one of those poles has affected the world. Most of those cited above would assent to the suggestion that the USSR was some form of post-capitalist state, that it was an ideological, as well as military and economic, competitor with the United States. During the Cold War, local powers were almost inevitably sucked up into the rubric of one of the two main competing powers. The over-arching framework of bipolarity seemed to render other struggles and rivalries nothing more than local manifestations of the Cold War. When the Russian Empire collapsed not only Stalinism, but also most forces and discourses of resistance appeared to collapse. The various communist parties in Europe disbanded, disintegrated or dissembled. The social-democratic left, far from benefiting from this state of affairs, was dragged into the void with their embarrassing militant cousins. There remained only one serious narrative for the future - the free market capitalist one whose vanguard was a victorious US.
This is an optical illusion. Instead of treating the USSR as a leader of the global revolution, we should treat it as any other polity. Instead of US unipolarity, we have multipolarity. The fall of the Russian Empire has rendered existing tensions, such as those between the US and the EU, more visible. Trade disputes have been supplemented by geopolitical disputes, as several European countries refused to support the occupation of Iraq, denying the US a vital source of legitimacy. Additionally, nuclear states have proliferated. Local conflicts between India and Pakistan, and between North and South Korea, resonate well beyond their own borders. China, too, is a rapidly growing power which, according to the American international relations analyst John Mearsheimer, could "be much wealthier than its Asian rivals", its huge population base enabling it to "build a far more powerful army than either Russia or Japan could". China "has the potential to be considerably more powerful than even the United States." (JJ Mearsheimer, “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics”, New York, 2001).
Another view is that the US has "crash landed". For Gore Vidal, America resembles nothing so much as "Rome before the fall", while for E.M. Wood present US strategy is “ultimately self-defeating”. (Gore Vidal, “United States: Collected Essays, 1952-92”, New York, 1992; Ellen Meiksins Wood, “Empire of Capital”, London, 2003). This thesis is most eloquently espoused by Immanuel Wallerstein, who asserts that American behaviour, far from providing surety of future strength, is indicative of present weakness. The US has not won a serious victory since losing Vietnam. Having abandoned interventions in Lebanon and Somalia, the US has only been able to defeat minor powers and even those victories are not as complete as they appear. The first Gulf War, for instance, resulted in the status quo being restored, with Hussein smashing the Shi'ites and Kurds, and the Kuwaiti monarch returned to his throne. (Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Eagle Has Crash Landed”, Foreign Policy, July/August 2002). Another apparent victory, this time in the Balkans, does not bear close scrutiny either. The war ended with a deal, negotiated by Ahtisaari and Chirnomyrdin, which was much closer to Milosevic's proposed terms as the war began than to Nato’s terms at Rambouillet. (See Noam Chomsky, “Nato and the New Military Humanism: Lessons from the bombing of Yugoslavia”, London, 1999; Wallerstein, op cit, argues that US bombing did little to alter the course of Balkans history, while Kagan, in “Paradise and Power…” op cit, suggests that the war was primarily fought to preserve the unity of the transatlantic alliance, although Americans had “compelling moral reasons” to be involved – as, no doubt, did Turkey). With barely a tank dented, Milosevic gained a “defeat” more flattering than he had any right to expect. Not US military power, but Serbian people power, put Milosevic in the dock. American power is therefore on the wane, and its present conduct may serve to hasten that decline rather than prolong its longevity.
That's putting the case too strongly if you ask me. It is true that the US is losing much of its purchase on Latin America, South East Asia and the Middle East - its traditional zones of dominance. But the fact that the world is already a multipolar one does not mean that the US cannot frustrate its rivals, as it is presently attempting to do - supporting dictators here, quietly coopting branded revolutions there, launching imperialist missions elsewhere.
But. Iraq has been a huge miscalculation for the present administration, and this was reflected in the distinct back-pedalling of many hawks several months back. However much momentum the neoconservatives get out of the discontent in Lebanon, however much they succeed in splitting off the majority Shias from the Sunnis in Iraq and shutting down the military resistance, the fact is that Iraq is now a major millstone round their necks. The elections in Iraq represent the success of Shi'ite resistance rather than the culmination of US strategy, while the acceptance that Iraq is to be run by anti-American, pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian parties represents the biggest failure of all. It is unlikely that Bremer's diktats on the economy will survive for very long if the Shi'ite groups get their way - even though they do not in fact govern at the moment, they represent a material power which America's best torture centres and tanks cannot quite break. And the big oil companies have already won a battle with neoconservative ideologues to keep Iraq's oil nationalised. The naked corruption of the process of reconstruction is making it unlikely that American taxpayers will be willing to subsidise future wars. Meanwhile, they are losing politically on the domestic front - the success of anti-recruitment campaigns makes it difficult for the US to sustain another intervention without drafting.
The "Iraq syndrome" will weigh down on future generations of policy-makers. The emergence of a superpower rival may be just the thing to help shake it off.
Ralph Nader on Terri Schiavo. posted by Richard SeymourVia Direland . Ralph Nader has decided to jump aboard the nutty pro-life bandwagon over the feeding and watering of Terri Schiavo. Doctors have confirmed that Terri is not capable of thinking or feeling, as her cerebral cortex has liquefied. So, Ralph Nader, once a fervent pugilist on behalf of the progressive Left, has teamed up with a rightwing 'bioethicist' to denounce decisions by several courts, backed up by ample medical expertise, to remove Terri's tube. According to her husband she had asked that in the event of her being reduced to such a state, she should not be forced to stay alive. Accordingly, he has been attempting to legally fulfil her wishes for some eight years. Before he did that, he had attempted every available form of therapy - to no avail.
Direland cites :
"When doctors determined that Terri had entered a persistent vegetative state, Michael flew Terri to California for experimental surgical treatments, sleeping on a cot in her hospital room.
"Even after doctors in California determined surgery would do nothing to help Terri, Michael continued to seek help. He admitted Terri to a Florida brain-injury center and hired an aide to take her out to parks and museums, in the hope it might stimulate her reawakening. It didn't."
When American lefties used Nader's alliance with a rather nutty group called the New Alliance Party as an excuse to vote for the repellent John Kerry, I thought they were missing the point (which was that such silliness was far less ominous than Kerry's support for mass murder in Iraq). I don't resile from that position. But with this idiotic intervention, Nader has eschewed fundamental left-wing principles - namely, the maximum freedom of the invididual that is commensurable with the freedoms of others. His joint statement displays remarkable ignorance of the case, and therefore illustrates a knee-jerk sympathy for 'pro-life' causes.
This is all the more bewildering in light of the fact that, on questions of abortion about which Nader was particularly vilified, he clearly stated that:
I don’t think government has the proper role in forcing a woman to have a child or forcing a woman not to have a child. And we’ve seen that around the world. This is something that should be privately decided with the family, woman, all the other private factors of it, but we should work toward preventing the necessity of abortion.
If the government has no business telling a woman what she must do with the child that is gestating inside her, it surely has no business intervening in a case against all available medical wisdom and against Terri's stated wish.
The radical Left will need better representation than Ralph Nader at the next election. And it won't emerge from within the Democratic Party.
Friday, March 25, 2005
Slavoj Zizek: Enjoy! posted by Richard SeymourVia Dead Men Left , I see Tim has a delicious scoop - namely some piccies of Slavoj Zizek's wedding. I can't be the only one to think that Zizek looks decidedly mobbish in his apparel and general demeanour.
A couple of other links while I'm at it. DML picks up a link to a new site called Islamophobia Watch . It certainly appears to be picking on all the right people, and has wound up some wierdo pro-war site run by obsessive-compulsive 'Stopper'-haters.
I received a note in my inbox telling me that protests were planned for the mass murderer Narendra Modi's visit to the UK this Saturday. The fear of that has caused Modi to call off his visit . Recently, Modi was unable to make a visit to the US after protests led to his visa being revoked . He was to visit America on the invitation of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, where he was to be "honoured".
Modi had connived in and encouraged a state-wide pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat, leaving about 2000 dead and 200,000 without homes. Sexual violence against its victims was also encouraged, and Modi along with his right-wing allies in the BJP and VHP have systematically blocked every effort to prosecute those responsible or investigate what happened.
A good article here discusses the prospects for the Latin American New Left in light of the 'revolution' in Venezuela.
Antiwar.blog knew it yesterday, and today the Washington Post reports on it. That story about 'Iraqi security forces' killing 84 insurgents was bullshit.
The hallowed reputation of UN peacekeepers is now in tatters after it emerges that they have been raping and molesting in Bosnia, Kosovo, the DRC - humanitarian intervention just ain't what it used to be.
And finally, a good analysis of the amazing uprising in Kyrgyzstan here . How long before the State Department says "we did it" and brands it the "Ash Revolution" or some stupid bloody thing?
Thursday, March 24, 2005
There are so many types of suffering and injustice in the world that any single person can only be active in protesting about and opposing a fraction of them. Given this, it can nearly always be said that you shouldn't be wasting time on this when what really matters is that. But everything that matters really matters. The fact that some things matter less is only an argument for ignoring them if you think that everybody should be constantly mobilizing over what matters most. Thus: unless you're protesting and active over (just for example) Darfur, you're not entitled to speak out about anything.
Norm on protesting against the occupation of Iraq :
Yes, they could be demonstrating for the people of Zimbabwe. They could be demonstrating for the people of Darfur. They could be demonstrating for those Iraqis struggling for democracy in their country and against a murderous 'insurgency'. But they prefer to keep the war going over the war they could not stop.
What silliness on his part.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Neoliberalism in Europe. posted by Richard SeymourThe Bolkestein directive, or the 'Services Directive' as it is otherwise known, is not likely to feature in the Sun's compendium of loony Euro measures. This is for the perfectly excellent reason that it was a measure designed to subvert the interests of workers and consumers.
Named after Frits Bolkestein, the former EU internal market commissioner who introduced the idea in January 2004, the law enables the company you work for to transfer its headquarters to a country in which legal protection for workers is particularly weak, and you would suddenly find that you no longer have the benefit of protections won by decades of trade union and social struggle in your own country. The right to strike, pay negotiations, pensions - forget all that. Bolkestein has suggested that the law is about harmonising rules in the EU. Effectively what it does is level down, so that the lowest common denominator in terms of regulation prevails. Unsurprisingly, our oleaginous Prime Minister, after striving to weaken protection for British workers on his last Euro-adventure, is in the vanguard of this movement. Peter Mandelson, that paragon of self-effacing asceticism, has accused opponents of the directing of wanting to lead "a cosy life" .
George Monbiot summarises :
Companies, it says, “are subject only to the national provisions of their Member State of origin.”(2) Roughly translated, this means that a company based in one European country but working in another is bound only by the rules of the country in which it is based. If a construction firm whose offices are in Lithuania, for example, has a contract in the United Kingdom, it need abide only by Lithuanian law while working over here. The obvious result is that every enterprising corporation in Europe will relocate its headquarters to the place in which the laws are weakest.
And then it gets really weird. The state responsible for enforcing the rules – health and safety laws for example – will be the one in which the company is based, not the one in which it is working.(3) If, for example, a Lithuanian construction company is forcing workers in the UK to use dodgy scaffolding, our own Health and Safety Executive won’t be able to do a damn thing about it. Instead, the Lithuanian equivalent must send its inspectors over here, and, without local knowledge, hampered by any number of translation problems, seek to defend the lives of British workers.
Given the way such markets work, the company they are monitoring will, more likely than not, be a British one flying a Lithuanian flag of convenience. But if that company is threatening your safety on a building site in Brixton, you will be able to seek protection only by protesting to the authorities in Vilnius.
Speak good Lithuanian, do you? Fancy an easyJet flight every time something goes wrong? It would certainly add new meaning to the term "flying picket". There has not been a move this contemptuous of public opinion since the highly secretive and abortive Multilateral Agreement on Investment which, among other things, sought to allow companies to sue governments who impose regulations which are deemed to have restricted its ability to make profit under the new regulations.
For now, lucky you, the move has failed. The French have scuppered it, much to the dismay of other governments in the Union.
Why did it fail? Certainly not because of the feeble protests of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). More likely, it is because Chirac as having a hard enough time at home, what with strikes and protests erupting on an almost weekly basis against his plans to scrap the 35 hour week . The Bolkestein directive, while barely known about or discussed in Britain, has been met with a gale of protest in Europe.
Naturally, the European leaders anxious to impose this law have not given up. Hence, "'Bolkestein directive' to stay, but will be watered down" . Bolkestein, for his part, isn't satisfied . For him, it's just another form of racism .
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Tour London With... posted by Richard Seymour... Christopher Hitchens, David Horowitz and Paul Johnson!
Oh, joy! Perusing my copy of Hitchens' For the Sake of Argument, I find the following report from a dinner party for neocons:
Marty (Hot Lips) Peretz tried a flailing attack on the 'loathsome' foreigner Hitchens. (Peretz is one of those tiresome, unctuous types who thinks he's a wit and is half-right.) At next days' session, Horowitz took up this cry and made it more extreme. It was obviously emotionally important for him not to be outdone by anybody.They will have much to talk about, I hope.
And on Johnson, so much better:
Long before he made his much-advertised stagger from left to right, Johnson had come to display all the lineaments of the snob, the racist and the bigot. 'The Portuguese are just wogs,' he yelled at me during a discussion of the Salazar dictatorship. Feeling himself slighted at the seating arrangements for a dinner one evening, he marched towards the door, thumping his walking stick and shouting, 'I won't have it. I'm going to my club!' His customary difficulty in fighting his way across a room was compounded on this occasion by his wife, who intervened to persuade him to stay and pointed out sweetly, 'Paul, dear, you don't belong to a club'. 'Fear of hellfire', he told me, kept him in the Roman Catholic Church. He added that all the same, he often broke the Church's commandments. I already knew that, or thought I did until he added wolfishly: 'You see, I quite often pray for people to die.' He has terrible trouble spelling and must carry a dictionary. I remember when he was caught out plagiarising a misquotation of Herbert Marcuse from Encounter - a sort of triple-crown howler. His knees, already weak, turn to a jelly of deference whenever a title or a country house is mentioned. Once at a cricket match he took out his displeasure at the arrangements on the family dog, Parker.Hitchens also mentions that "On a famous occasion in a Greek restaurant in Charlotte Street in 1973, he struck [his wife] across the face for disagreeing with him in public and, when rebuked for this by a colleague of mine, threatened to put him through a plate glass window."
I really could go on (as he knows).
This could be spectacular. For instance, Hitchens could greet Johnson and seriously ask "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" Naturally, and very sadly, we won't hear any of that kind of gossip again. Hitchens' remit is drily summed up as follows:
Christopher Hitchens will give lectures drawing on his expansive knowledge of Britain and America, talk about the two cultures, their world roles etc. and generally illuminate the relationship between these two nations and peoples.Oh, what are our "world roles", Christopher? Do tell.
Another High School shooting? posted by Richard SeymourI'm afraid so :
A high school student went on a shooting rampage on an Indian reservation, killing his grandparents at their home and then seven people at his school, grinning and waving as he fired, authorities and witnesses said. The suspect apparently killed himself after exchanging gunfire with police.
And check the resonance of this sentence:
It was the nation's worst school shooting since two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killed 12 students and a teacher in 1999.
How many school shootings has America experienced? The number seems to be well above average, and it is particularly worrying when you have a sufficient database of recent examples to start ranking them.
The suspect is said to have admired Hitler and posted messages on a neo-Nazi website, a fragment of information which, if true, is congruent with the story of those who carried out the Columbine massacre, who also admired Hitler. In Gus Van Sant's film Elephant, in which two alienated high school students decide to arrange a brutal cull of their classmates and teachers before offing themselves. One of their obsessions, it transpires, is watching footage about fascism and Hitler.
If I were to guess - and, okay I will - I would say that Hitler, fascism and the Nazi holocaust represent precisely the negative mirror to America's liberal, tolerant self-image. In a Channel Four documentary, The Battle for the Holocaust, several historians suggest that the memory of the Nazi judeocide has been appropriated as an ideological opposite to capitalism and liberal democracy, especially after the collapse of the Cold War. For those styling themselves as outcasts, or even the 'Angel of Death' as this particular suspect did, the Nazi contempt for humanity and its death-dealing, sadistic violence is an obvious pole of attraction.
Yet, the Moore thesis - that imperialist violence abroad, fear-mongering and alienation at home, and easy access to guns - create the conditions for such atrocities seems as powerful as ever. The background of mass murder in Iraq, the legitimisation of torture and rape (see in particular the reaction of right-wing shock-jocks to Abu Ghraib), and the disgusting intellectual apologetics for imperialism, does not seem to discourage the notion that callous murder is at some level a normal occurence, especially when married to fictitious zeal for justice. During the bombardment of Serbia, which is when the Columbine shooting occurred, Thomas Friedman wrote for the New York Times:
"Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (they certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."
Perform a quick mental experiment - replace the word 'Serbian' with 'American' and 'Kosovo' with 'Palestine' or, perhaps, 'Iraq'. Who would you think was talking?
The oldest hatred. posted by Richard SeymourOh, joy of joys! I now have nutters visiting me from the Jewish Tribal Review, an anti-Semitic website created by fundamentalist Christians and 'revisionists'. I won't link to it, but the reason for the link is that the blogger Robert Lindsay has written a post complaining about anti-Semitic comments of his being deleted from the Tomb. The JTR, which Lindsay links to (see under The Jewish Question), has republished his post on their site, although they may well have done this without his permission.
If any of their visitors take to depositing anti-Semitic filth in the comments boxes, they will be deleted and banned. Yeah, see, its because I'm part of the evil Zionist conspiracy that controls the world and... woo ha ha ha ha ha. Etc. The Tomb is commodious enough to handle most kind of kooks, but not these fucking fruitbats.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Her husband, Michael, having attempted every possible avenue of experimental therapy since 1990, when doctors handed down their diagnosis, believes the tube should remain disconnected. Terri's family, by contrast, are fighting for her to be kept alive. She, for her part, has expressed a wish not to be sustained on artificial life support. Naturally, I shall have little to say about this case except to note that it is obviously better matter for Republican politicians to be talking about than Social Security or "state-sponsored murder"* in Iraq. Fortunately, polls show that most Americans disapprove of Congressional and Senate intervention into this matter. The state may not impose a torturous life in a barely functioning body on any human being. In Direland's pithy formulation: "Every person his own Kevorkian" .
(*Placard seen at pro-life demonstration: "Save Terri From State-Sponsored Murder").
What is much more interesting is that, in between the bookends of life, all kinds of murder and mayhem will be mandated by God. In fact, isn't the irony of this that the cult of life is elevating its gloriole in a society whose cultural output makes a fetish of death? From Bonnie & Clyde to Natural Born Killers, the open secret of American (and by extension, global) fantasy life is that death is a beautiful and erotic thing. Teen horror flicks pitch an extreme negative fascination with the body and its inners with a sensuous devotion to its sensory surfaces - or to put it more bluntly, sex and violence.
Curtis White makes an apt point in his hilarious book about The Middle Mind, regarding the Spielberg schlock Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg's "conscience" movies are always suffused with platitudinous drivel, purporting to be idealism, or compassion or some other appropriately undemanding reaction to the world's evils. This one in particular makes use of the flag, which flaps majestically at the beginning and end of the film, wrapping its contours in a comforting Stars n Stripes diaper. One knows that it is not going to offend 'patriotic' sensibilities, just as the use of softie Tom Hanks to play the heroic Captain Miller deflects embarrassing memories of tough guy John Wayne posturing a la The Green Berets. Yet what is the central "lesson" of the movie? As White has it, it is to be found in the connected scenes in which the intellectual multi-lingual Upham persuades Captain Miller to issue a command not to kill a German prisoner. The German is pathetically attempting to recite the Star Spangled Banner. Here is a human life, a PoW with rights under international law. One does not simply kill one's prisoners, unless already among the savage, and that is downright unAmerican. What does the German do? He comes back, guns blazing, and takes out Captain Miller with obvious satisfaction. Upham learns his lesson and does what we all know he should have done in the first place: pops a bullet in the evil Kraut's head. The lesson, therefore, is:
[A]lways choose death, for if you do not, death will come anyway, later, multiplied.
These intellectuals with their Hamlet-like procrastination, their sensitivity and cowardice, will get us all killed. Back in the present day, the old soldier named Ryan weeps over Miller's grave and wonders once again if he has led a good life. The flag returns, translucent, radiant. But a resonance of death this time, the flag bears a slight similarity to the eery deathliness of Warhol's 'Diamond Dust Shoes' .
Of course, there are all sorts of cheap shit movies that do a lesser courtesy to the same job. I was watching Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it last night, for instance. (Plot: murderous ex-dictator of anonymous Latin American country, recently deposed by Arnie, wants him to assassinate the new 'nice guy' President the Americans have assisted to power. Stop laughing. To this end, they kidnap Arnie's sweet, doe-eyed little daughter in her dungarees and pink sweater, and threaten to kill her if he doesn't do what they say. Naturally, being evil, they're going to kill her anyway, hur hur hur. Arnie busts the fuck out of there, kidnaps, shoots, beats and conflagrates his way to that tropical nation, because "awl that mattas to me now is my dawta". But why fabulate? The videos taken by soldiers in Iraq of dead Ay-rab bodies, their hilarious titles ("Ramadi madness", "sneaky little bastards", "Another Day, Another Scumbag"), the slick professionalism and the overlaying of aggressive heavy metal music, easily match Tawhid wal-Jihad's sicker productions for morbidity and cruel fascination with humiliated flesh. The 'rape footage' from Guantanamo, if it is ever released, will doubtless provide similarly revolting scenes implicating the viewer in sadistic pleasure at the torture and humiliation of others. It isn't even necessary to go abroad for one's kicks, however. America is a violent society, more so than most other advanced capitalist states. The combustible fusion of imperialism abroad, fear-mongering at home, and ready access to firearms has ensured this.
From life's terminus, we have regressed to its middle, and now must proceed to the very beginning of life. I came out of my mother's tummy, but how no one will say. Apparently some bee stung a bird and she dropped an egg which was later transported by a stork to the hospital. And then... well, I didn't ask too many questions, so we shall avoid that particular excursus.
The main point I wish to make about the beginning of life is that it does not occur at some stage in the gestatory period, or in the moment of conception, however immaculate. Sperms and eggs live and die. They are living organisms with their own cycles. Why, sperm are so friendly, I've shaken hands with several billions of them. If you don't like that, consider this: they are all potential human beings and the murder of any of them deprives the world of a woulda coulda shoulda been human. This is true: everytime one of you two-egg carrying beings out there menstruates, you've just knocked off two. Typically, men are the biggest murderers, carelessly spilling entire galaxies into their P.E. socks each morning.
Oh sure, those things are still ours, merely excreted bodily substances. Sure. And what about the pregnant lady? Is she not the host to a particularly voracious and uncomfortable parasite? Does she not have an alien outgrowth filling out her womb, radically exteriorising her most secret cave? If not, then the fucking thing is part of her body, hence still hers. The state has no mandate over her particulars, even one that might one day become a dribbling, giggling, weeping, pissing Boletus like Governor Bush.
Homes, land & homeland. posted by Richard SeymourConal Urquart, a Guardian journalist much-derided at Jews Sans Frontieres , reported precisely one week ago that Israel was planning to demolish 25% of its settlements in the West Bank.
Today, Ha'aretz reports that:
Israel plans to build 3,500 new homes in the West Bank to cement its hold on Jerusalem, government sources said on Monday, drawing a Palestinian warning that peace efforts were at risk.
Having set about destroying homes in Gaze under spurious pretexts, Israel now reaffirms its strategy of loosening its grip here, tightening it there, in line with its demographic concerns and its expansionist dynamic. See here for more.
One thing I would remark upon, just by the by, is that 3,500 'homes' built on illegally occupied territory to buttress already existing settlements do themselves constitute settlements. This terminological inexactitude is unlikely to be accidental on the part of Ha'aretz. Or perhaps it results from linguistic constipation, an extreme retentive disorder that will simply not allow some of the roughage of discourse pass. You can take that metaphor as far as you like.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Why, why PFI? posted by Richard SeymourAccording to the BBC , these Private Finance Initiatve schemes are terribly good for business:
A Treasury budget report shows that the first £14bn of PFI deals signed will give the private sector a guaranteed £96bn return over 26 years but industry denies it is profiteering.
Business has tended to justify this in terms of the huge risks it is taking in embarking on such projects. This is creamier bullshit than the usual variety. Look at the number of crisis-ridden PFI projects, and see how many of the companies involved have been brought to heel: Pathway, the disastrous £800m project to automate post offices and provide a swipe-card system to pay welfare benefits; Nirs2 the national insurance system; the Child Support Agency IT contract with EDS; and the Passport Agency IT upgrade. Research by Standard & Poors, a credit ratings company, shows that PFI projects are usually low-risk for the companies concerned, while other research shows that returns are unusually high.
When companies like Jarvis do mess it up (their share value collapsed largely due to their involvement in the Potters Bar crash), they are bailed out by the banks. In fact, had the banks not thrown Jarvis a lifeline, the whole PFI system would have collapsed ignominiously, for Jarvis owns about 10% of the total value of PFI debt that the government has raised. The financial backers of the projects - like, for example, Abbey National - simply take their share of the cash and withdraw if something goes wrong. This is what happened to the Tower Hamlets' schools PFI project: the building firm involved, Ballast Plc, went under and so Abbey withdrew its backing for the project, and children are left with half-built schools. There is no law that compels companies involved to provide continuity of service, while the government backs a compensation scheme for profit loss in the event that the public sector cannot keep up its end. Further, the only inquiry into shareholder profits resulting from the scheme show that they have been 61% higher than those agreed in the PFI contract.
If the project goes well, then a local council can expect to be saddled with inflated debts for years to come. This is what happened with Coventry's two hospitals, the Walsgrave and Coventry and Warwick. Where there once was two hospitals, one on the outskirts and one in the centre, both have been demolished and now there is now one, rebuilt, on the outskirts - at an initial cost of £174 million. Where an initial refurbishment project would have cost approximately £30 million, it ended up costing £36 million per year over thirty years: that's over £900 million. This is perfectly typical - Allyson Pollock has shown that as soon as a private finance scheme is proposed, the price of hospital regeneration rises by an average of 72%, and from there the costs continue to soar. The only way to meet these costs is to cut provision - that is, to cut the number of beds and staff. This has also been replicated across the country.
Allyson Pollock et al have pointed out in the British Medical Journal that:
Cash can only be released by cutting services or by moving services to sectors where partial funding and user charges are practicable, or by redefining public services as private goods. Preventive, rehabilitation, mental health, disability, and long term care services continue to be withdrawn from the range of services available within the NHS, as does routine elective care.
David Taylor MP excoriated the government, noting that it did not raise any new money as the government claimed:
"Every penny raised for PFI schools, hospitals and prisons ... is paid for by the public purse, plus interest, plus profits."
Incidentally, once the hospital has been paid for by the public sector, the private consortium that built it will get to own it.
So, the question in the title is more than justified. This is a scheme that is neither cost-effective, nor does it reduce long-term borrowing requirements, nor does it produce reliable results. It also has the disadvantage of adding extraordinary costs and risks to any refurbishment or rebuilding programme that a local council might undertake. It reduces both the quantity and quality of the service provided. For a government that prides itself on pragmatism and prudence, this is a policy that astonishes in its fecklessness and recklessness.
The answer isn't easy to locate. The policy was designed by David Willetts MP, a very right-wing Conservative and head of policy coordination under Michael Howard. When Kenneth Clarke, then Tory Chancellor, first introduced the programme in 1993, he was assailed by Labour critics. Right up until 1996, the policy was savaged by frontbench and backbench Labour MPs as an unworkable sham. One of the reasons that so few PFI projects were issued by the Major government was precisely the opposition that it might provoke. Private sector firms were worried as well, since they would have to work with local councils which were increasingly falling into Labour hands. There were legal worries, too (don't worry, Labour sorted those out in its first year). Had Labour insisted on maintaining its opposition, the policy was dead in the water.
I would once have put it down to this government's extreme ideological disposition towards the private sector, but it appears that something more mundane was behind Labour's change of heart: Andersen Consulting. Paul Foot reported :
Andersen Consulting offered its services free to the Labour Party's Commission on Social Justice, set up by the Labour leader John Smith. The Commission was chaired by Sir Gordon Borrie, former Director General of Fair Trading, and a director of Mirror Group Newspapers, whose anti-trade union regime under David Montgomery was ushered in with the blessing of the Mirror's new accountants, Arthur Andersen.
On 12 May 1994, the day John Smith died, Andersen Consulting announced that its new director of research was to be Patricia Hewitt, Neil Kinnock's former press officer and deputy chair of the Party's Social Justice Commission.
In the summer of 1996, Andersen Consulting organised its biggest effort for the Labour Party. The entire team of prospective Labour ministers - about a hundred MPs - were ferried to Templeton College in Oxford, where they were treated to extended seminars by Andersen executives. The theme of the seminars was 'how to be an efficient minister'. No reference was made to efficient accountancy, nor did anyone explain why a group of unelected consultants whose partners had been banned from Government work by the Tory Administration were thought to be the best people to lecture Labour MPs on their responsibilities as elected ministers. Andersen Consulting have always insisted that these seminars were 'commercial': that is, that they were paid for - but no one has ever disclosed who paid, or how much.
Andersen went on to participate in and advise on those bountiful PFI projects, even after its Enron shenanigans were exposed.
No, it isn't strictly true that the entire Labour inner circle committed to PFI simply on account of its connections with Andersen Consulting, but it presumably didn't hurt either. Much more important was the background of importing SDP-style policies (along with a raft of former SDP stalwarts like Roger Liddle) and imposing them on the Parliamentary Labour Party, as well as on the country as a whole.
Party political broadcast: a Respect MP would strenuously oppose these stupid PFI schemes, argue for renationalising hospitals and schools concerned, as well as the imposition of a windfall tax on those companies who have profited from this crazy scheme. The money would be put into public services. Never mind the Tories - if you want to slash bureacracy and get value for money, vote Respect.
Looking cowed and frightened, a young man, identified by his full name and sitting directly in front of the camera, is being bullied and browbeaten by an interrogator who remains out of the picture.
"By what authority did you do these things?"
"Sir, they led us astray with their fatwas and offering us money."
"Do you realise that everything you did is perfidy?"
"This Mullah Mahdi who gave you fatwas is a dog. He is scum. I'll get him within 72 hours and put him on TV, God willing."
"God willing, sir."
Ibrahim confesses to involvement in a series of attacks, and abducting and killing Iraqi policemen, national guards and others.
He says he was paid $100 (£52) per operation by his commander, or emir, who, he says, is homosexual.
I have no idea why the dude's sexuality would be relevant, but note that the television station on which these staged confessions are taking place is al-Iraqiya, a part of the Iraq Media Network (IMN) which is not merely "government-run" as the BBC reports, but was founded, and is funded, by the United States. The Beeb goes on:
The televised confessions, on a programme called "Terror in the Hands of Justice", are shown at prime time every night, and are clearly aimed at shocking the Iraqi public.
They portray the insurgents as bloodthirsty, venal, morally deviant, and religiously bankrupt.
A naked psyops campaign, then, aimed at undermining support - passive or active - for the resistance. The Beeb goes on:
Human rights advocates may not be happy about it. But such practices are deeply rooted in Iraqi culture and tradition - and a very effective propaganda tool for the authorities in their battle with the insurgents. [Emphasis added]
In the sense that such practices did persist under Saddam Hussein, the BBC is right. But a lot of other practices are "deeply rooted in Iraqi culture and tradition" in that sense: torture , mass murder , gassing , rape and much more besides. How many more Iraqi 'traditions' will the occupiers be upholding? Ethnic cleansing , perhaps? Or maybe the assassination of one's political opponents ? Hey, human rights groups might not like it, but this is part of their fucking culture, alright?
Saturday, March 19, 2005
Protest report. posted by Richard SeymourDead Men Left is a fucking genius:
Very high turnout. Around 100-200,000, giving a police estimate of 20-50,000.
Derisory media coverage.
Here is the BBC :
Police say about 45,000 people joined a demonstration in London, while organisers put the figure at 100,000.
I have no idea how to count these things, although I will say that I nipped into Pizza Hut at Picadilly for some lunch and watched the demo go by. I was there for a full hour and the chain of people didn't stop until I was outside belching in the fresh London air. Westminster City Council had vans, rubbish collectors and street cleaners hovering behind the tail end of the demo.
What can I say? It looked enormous, and even if you accept the police figure for some obscure reason, 45,000 is hardly an insignificant number. I remember the days when I would have licked that many bumholes just to get half the number out on a demo. Aye lad, you don't you know you're born. I have also camcordered the event and the footage is notable for a number of things. First of all, my hands can't hold shit steady. The picture shakes like a Parkinson's victim. Second, it was young, mixed and vibrant. There were young Muslim girls wearing the hijab - those oppressed, submissive souls - jumping around, laughing and yelling "Fuck Bush". They even got a chant going on precisely that theme. Third, there were a large number of Respect placards in the crowd, with Leon Kuhn's excellent art-work on them.
Started off in Hyde Park, with a temperature in the early 20s celsius, bright sun and a mild breeze. It was already extremely noisy when I arrived, and the cops were standing about with that "Overtime, overtime" expression on their faces. Always nice to have their sympathy. Ranks of vans were situated about the place, especially up near the Marble Arch. The march stretched back to some distant end of Hyde Park that I didn't care to amble down to. The drummers were there - ba-dah dah dah dah dah, ba-dah dah dah dah dah etc - as were an inordinate number of whistleblowers. The wrong kind of whistleblowers.
Eventually, the police let us bugger off on our way and the march proceeded down to Park Lane before taking a detour up some bloody road that I had never been down before. Turned out we were going to hi-jack the American embassy and issue demands: "We want some helicopters and pizza, you capitalista fucks!" That didn't work out, the embasssy being surrounded by metal fences and policemen, but there was apparently some ceremony with a coffin and a letter. All I saw was a horde of co-demonstrators charging and dancing around the perimeter of Berkeley Square, where once a nightingale sang [correction: it's Grosvenor Square. Bollocks.]. A vast bronze eagle graced the top of the embassy, and a lonely American flag flapped gently in the breeze. My camcorder zoomed in for dramatic effect. Back out to Park Lane (it was actually an hour-long circuit through Mayfair, so I'm editing), and onto Picadilly. Picadilly ascends in front of you in a great hump, so the vast sprawl of protesters makes for dramatic pictures - not on my mobile phone, however, which is a myopic little bastard and can only clearly discern details from five yards away. The Royal Academy of Arts was advertising a Matisse exhibition, which at least sorts tomorrow out.
Like I say, I detoured into Pizza Hut, knackered and starving, and was apostrophised by an Italian family who didn't like the pizzas we have here. I don't blame them. Fed and watered, I scurried off to Trafalgar Square to hear Lindsey German's voice cutting the air like a sledgehammer hitting concrete. It's very distinctive. She's lovely in person, but her speeches are a bit boring if you ask me. Some geezer who sounded Carribean to me made a terrific speech about US imperialism in Venezuela. "The US are intervening in Venezuela because they say they want a democratic leader. Hugo Chavez has been elected nine times in six years! What more do they want?" Well, my guess is they want him to die in a plane crash, but we'll come back to that. I loitered, filmed some people while muttering "I'm a police spy and I'm gonna get you loony lefty bastards". No one stirred.
This demo showed two things in my view: first, the momentum has not dissipated; second, it just isn't enough. Brian MacWilliams, head of the ILWU, was able to address the anti-capitalist rally in Seattle in 1999 and say "There will be no business as usual today". Well, there was business as usual today. The antiwar movement has been far too staid and conservative, partly because the main bodies in it need to maintain a broad coalition, which means being inoffensive to mainstream opinion. The enterprising vigour of the anticapitalist movement would be a welcome addition to the antiwar movement here. I'm not talking about trashing McDonalds windows (and surreptitiously stealing the McMuffins), but a bit of ingenuity and militancy would not go amiss.
Anyway, I have some pictures which I'd like to post, but Bloggerbot is fucking me up right now.
Polls/fake news/march. posted by Richard SeymourInteresting poll results on some websites recently. John Harris runs a website named after his book So Now Who Do We Vote For? for dismayed Labour voters. It includes an excellent breakdown of local Labour constituencies, results from the last election, a very brief synopsis and a recommendation for tactical left-of-Labour voters. In its poll of visitors asking who they intend to vote for, Respect leads by a substantial margin, with the Greens in second place, Lib Dems third and Labour fourth. They also link to a fine new website called Make My Vote Count . The Muslim Public Affairs Committee asks visitors to choose a party for the next election which, again, Respect leads by a substantial margin. The Black Information Link has a poll asking whether visitors prefer Galloway or Oona King for Bow and Bethnal Green constituency. Galloway takes it with 94% of the vote.
The Bush administration has been in some trouble for manufacturing fake news broadcasts that glorify government policy, with the use of PR firms. Local news outlets have been broadcasting these as if they were real news. According to David Miller of Spinwatch , the BBC has fallen for the same old trick :
Spinwatch investigation has revealed that journalists working for the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) have been commissioned to provide news reports to the BBC. The BBC has been using these reports as if they were genuine news. In fact, the SSVC is entirely funded by the Ministry of Defence as a propaganda operation, which according to its own website makes a 'considerable contribution' to the 'morale' of the armed forces.
Spinwatch can reveal that we have our very own fake journalists operating in the UK. The government pays for their wages and they provide news as if they were normal journalists rather than paid propagandists. Normally they work in a little known outfit with the acronym BFBS, which stands for British Forces Broadcasting Service. BFBS exists to 'entertain and inform' British armed forces around the world and is entirely funded by the British Ministry of Defence. BFBS is run by the SSVC. But on this occasion no mention of Ministry of defence funding was made. She was introduced simply as a reporter 'from the British Forces Broadcasting Service' who 'has been embedded with the Scots Guards'. As one wag inside the BBC puts it, this suggests a process of 'double embedding', first working for the MoD and second embedding with a regiment. The report began:
'Route 6 is the main road North out of Basra. It runs through the badlands of Iraq's marsh Arabs They make a living from crime - carjackings, smuggling and murder are common place. It's also the scene of an age old feud between two warring tribes.' (Good Morning Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland, 25 November 2004 - see below for link to full transcript)
Naturally enough, we are told that the regiment in which the reporter is 'embedded' has resolved these tribal problems by negotiating 'a ceasefire' following which 'the two tribes had had their first nights sleep in several months'.
Finally, you'll want to congregate at the north end of Hyde Park for the demo today. It starts in about two hours time, although you will usually wait a while before the damn thing gets moving. If you want to save your feet, I recommend you prop yourself up by a tree with a copy of Socialist Worker while you wait. I'll be filming it and taking pictures on my mobile. If I can find a way to get the footage on the web, I shall do so. See you there.
Friday, March 18, 2005
Humanitarian intervention. posted by Richard SeymourHere is a list:
1) Colombia .
2) Iraq . More .
3) Afghanistan . More .
4) Kosovo .
5) Venezuela . More .
6) Lebanon/Syria .
7) And finally, "Struggle moves from Iraq to World Bank" .
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Trager-comedy. posted by Richard SeymourIn the Coen Brothers' rendition of The Ladykillers, it transpires that the lady is not for turning. The lady in this case being the black widow, Marva Munson, who lives alone and rents a room to some crooks who plan to rip off some money from a riverboat casino office. The criminals are led by a slick Professor G H Dorr (Tom Hanks), a pompous classicist who nevertheless has immense reserves of charm and civility to draw upon as the situation dictates. He succeeds in wetting a few drawers around the town with his citation of Edgar Allan Poe, and has almost every angle of his caper covered - except that contingency, or what appears at first sight to be contingency, makes a fool of him.
Part of what makes this film funny is just how predictable it is. The cues come along right on time, and one knows to expect that one member of the crew after another, having plotted to murder Ms Munson, will end up meeting an undignified death. The film could proceed just as well with another bunch of 'characters', since what matters is the role they perform in the unfolding sequence rather than their petty idiosyncrasies. In fact, fate seems to be sealed by the morphing portrait of Ms Munson's late husband; it is he who sternly directs his wife from beyond the grave, altering the expression on his portrait with a deftness lost to modern art. It is he who smiles cruelly as one crook after the next meets his punishment. Of course, the late Mr Munson is a stand-in for the authors of the script, they who really do pull the strings.
The function-of-a-Trager in their script is to be filled by whatever caricature they have recently been nurturing in their estimable comic minds. Tom Hanks' character, for instance, is a re-working of George Clooney's 'Everett' in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Marlon Wayans, meanwhile, is on typical - nay, stereotypical - form as he cusses, lusts after this women, identifies that women with his mama, and generally resembles something from Good Times ("dy-no-mite"). The caricatures fulfil their roles in the usual way, and the end of it all is that the confluence of circumstances allows Ms Munson to invest millions of stolen dollars on Bob Jones University, a bible-bashing outfit she is particularly keen on.
There is no cosmic scriptwriter, but there are scripts which we are locked into. Eric Berne, the founder of an odd cult called 'transactional analysis', noted in The Games People Play (1964) how much of one's life is scripted, not by a self-conscious author but by the model of elders and events, dear boy, events. One learns certain routines and models for dealing with problems as a youngster, and they become, or form part of, the script for adult life. In a less individualistic analytical model, one would note how scripted day to day life is. Take Alphonse's neighbour , for instance:
I have this insane neighbor. He gets up at 7 o'clock every single morning, Monday to Friday, like a machine. He showers, shaves, and - every day now, you understand - puts on a suit. Out the door he comes carrying the same breifcase. Then he takes the metro - same line, every day - and gets off at the same stop, goes up to the same building, to the same floor, sits at the same desk, and stares at a computer for hours.
What could possibly motivate him to perform this compulsive ritual, daily?
Alphonse is right. It's all scripted, darling. Someone has to do it, so why not you? (Leave aside that, for Althusser, ideology is what prepares you for the role). Basically, one takes the role because it rewards well enough.
The use of cluster bombs in civilian areas is illegal , according to the UK government . The point about cluster bombs is that they disperse about 670 bomblets about the size of tennis balls, themselves dispersing into about 200,000 sharp needles which can enter the body and move inside organs for days, causing immense pain, if the victim does not die.
Fallujah has largely been forgotten by the Western media, despite the fact that the offensive continues. No wonder that, according to Dahr Jamail , "Fallujah has come to symbolise Iraq under occupation". (See Tariq Ali's interview with Socialist Worker as well).
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Value and valuation. posted by Richard SeymourA Jane Austen-style title for a response to the impeccably classical Paul Craddick, who has raised a question about the Marxian version of the labour theory of value:
I'd be interested to know how anyone who still credits Marxian value, at least as a heuristic (or, better, as an apprehension of something basic and undeniable about economy and production), answers the basic "Austrian" contention:
"... a suit is not eight times as valuable as a hat because it requires eight times as much labor as a hat to produce. It is because a finished suit will be eight times as valuable [Ed. sc., desired-demanded] as a finished hat that society is willing to employ eight times as much labor for the suit as for the hat."
(Roepke, paraphrasing Wicksteed, in Economics of the Free Society, p. 20, n. 2)
Someone in the comments box adds that "the fatal flaw in Marxist economics is the inability to identify an autonomous realm of supply and demand -- the market, in other words -- which gets wholly subsumed to production."
Inasmuch as the circuit of market transactions are where value is seen to be realised, there is an element of truth in this. Value, for marxists, derives from production or, more specifically, from labour. But the answer to the commenter, which partially deals with Paul's point as well, is to be found in Marx's brief pamphlet, Value, Price and Profit, chapter I, part IV . Taking issue with a by now famous Citizen Weston over the determinants of wages Marx says:
You would be altogether mistaken in fancying that the value of labour or any other commodity whatever is ultimately fixed by supply and demand. Supply and demand regulate nothing but the temporary fluctuations of market prices. They will explain to you why the market price of a commodity rises above or sinks below its value, but they can never account for the value itself. Suppose supply and demand to equilibrate, or, as the economists call it, to cover each other. Why, the very moment these opposite forces become equal they paralyze each other, and cease to work in the one or other direction. At the moment when supply and demand equilibrate each other, and therefore cease to act, the market price of a commodity coincides with its real value, with the standard price round which its market prices oscillate. In inquiring into the nature of that VALUE, we have therefore nothing at all to do with the temporary effects on market prices of supply and demand. The same holds true of wages and of the prices of all other commodities.
As I say, this partly answers Paul Craddick's query. If marginal utility can be seen as a factor regulating demand, then it becomes a factor in the fluctuation of prices around the natural value of a commodity. The example provided by the 'Austrian' merely compounds this: if the coat requires eight times as much labour to make, that itself is significant. At the moment, it doesn't require any work at all to acquire air, although this could by no means be said to be a substance lacking in utility for most people. Yet, it costs nothing, and will cost nothing until our skies become so polluted that air worth breathing requires labour.
There endeth the lesson. Naturally, I will be relying on the trained Marxian economist who hosts Dead Men Left to shore up my case with genuine expertise.