Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Links & Notes. posted by Richard Seymour

Well, as I'm taking a quick break from Hobbes and the rest (if anyone has any good dirt on Hobbes, kindly let me know), I've got some interesting links and reading material for you.

First of all, go have a listen to Doug Ireland talk about the EU Constitution Treaty vote. There's a nice blend of analysis and background information on the key players. You need Real Player.

Secondly, the new site UK Watch has been drawn to my attention. It's a sort of ZNet for the United Kingdom, bringing together an assortment of radical left-wing commentary on a range of issues. It is clearly still in development, but there's already a wealth of invaluable material on there. I particularly like this .

Finally, I want to highlight Peter Mandelson's commitment to democracy :

Peter Mandelson, the trade commissioner in Brussels, said the French government could well ask the people to vote again in a second referendum in the hope of getting a different answer.

"No single member state has a veto over a constitutional treaty of this sort," he said.

"France will have to consider its position: whether it is going to maintain a No or whether it is going to revisit the question and possibly come forward with a different view."

Of course, all member states have a veto. You'd expect the EU's trade commissioner to know that. Pillock.

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Killer Fact. posted by Richard Seymour

Harry Hutton , known for his killer facts, points out that "Advertising on weblogs apparently yields 50 cents per thousand clicks." It's a paltry sum. It is at about the same level of dignity as panhandling for loose change. My guess is that there is a certain kind of esteem attached to it: if you can get ads on your blog, that must mean it is well-read.

But, you know, you can still be picky. For instance, this charming repository of ossified post-Stalinist liberalism advertises a book on The Politics of Faith, which, when clicked, will take you to a site by the author of the book, Peter Glover (I've linked to the Google cache). The site, called "Wires From the Bunker", is an illiterate, Christian fundamentalist kookie hole. (Even the ad, which is reproduced on his site, contains a glaring punctuation error). Blogads, the service used in this case, points out that "All ads are subject to publisher's approval" .

For 50 cents per thousands hits, you'd think they could have let that one pass. For Christ's sake, guys, I'll give you the fifty cents myself, have some dignity!

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There is nothing to fear but The Guardian itself. posted by Richard Seymour

The reduction of politics to a pseudo-psychoanalytic drama is not new. Zizek outlines the coordinates of this gesture in postcolonial studies: first, the reason we exploit and oppress others is because we don't tolerate their Otherness; second, the reason we don't tolerate their Otherness is because we haven't learned to tolerate the Otherness in ourselves. If only we learn to accept that we have that within which is radically Other, we will cease pushing migrants to the bottom of every available pile and then blaming them for being there.

A similar narrative is at work in The Guardian's slap-faced reaction to the French decision to reject the EU Constitution. "Fear eats the soul", it begins, which sort of takes the piss out of portentousness. The result is described, through citation, as a "masochistic masterpiece", and then:

It proves the old point that if you call a referendum on one question, voters will often answer on the basis of other, unrelated or tangentially related grievances. It is no exaggeration to say that the future direction of an EU of 25 countries and 455 million people has suffered grievous collateral damage in the battle for the soul of an agonised and unhappy France.

There you have it: Europe, once an enticing realm of social justice for the French, has now become a frightening Other; and the reason it is frightening is because the French people are internally divided, agonised, unhappy, shocked by the Otherness within. For the record, and just going by a vaguely detected linguistic tic, I think this particular leader was written by Michael White, The Guardian's timid political editor.

However, I wonder if there isn't a philosopher lurking there. Ask people one question, and they will frequently answer on the basis of another. True, but that's because they rightly suspect there is more to the original question than meets the eye. Suppose you approach one of my fellow Ulsterfolk and innocently ask "What's your religion?" Do you know, often as not you will get the reply, "who wants to know?" Similarly, go down South of the border and ask for directions to a particular destination, and the reply will begin, "Well, I wouldn't start from here. Go over there - it's nearer." It's che vuoi again - "yes, you are asking me this, but what do you really want?" Hence:

Q. Are you for or against Europe?
A. Why are you asking me that? I don't trust you. Get your hand off my wallet!

Or better:

Q. Are you with us or with the evil-doers?
A. No.

Charlotte Street summarises the perfectly excellent pragmatic reasoning behind such a response:

Deleuze, writing about Francis Bacon, suggests that the initial painterly canvas is not blank. Not for Bacon at least. It is already scribbled through with clichés and the dead weight of the history of painting. The painter must fend off this frozen scribble and win space and freedom for himself. Similarly, any piece of writing which enters the public sphere must presumably first budge and contend with the pre-existing encrusted ideas and the inertia of received opinion. It can therefore be thought to involve, where it does not simply confirm and slot into this pre-existing field, an act of low-level violence, a pre-emptive strike, or even just a sullen reproach.

'Fear' is a double-edged cynosure of political discourse. The Prime Minister, infamous for fatuously larding his prose with talk about "the fears of working families" in "a turbulent global economy" as if he were an intellectually stunted Anthony Giddens (which I suppose he is), also enjoys sharing his fears as the basis for legitimate political action.

The cheap recourse to accusations of nationalism (those bloody French with their tricolores and Gauloises) is also bifurcate, in tongue as well as effect. I'm not satisfied with A Gauche's suggestion that we treat nationalism as a form of economic self-interest wrapped up in the flag. Nor do I think Matt is right to hope for Europe to become a realpolitik counter-balance to the US. Actually, both arguments have something in common with the liberal shrieking that we're hearing at the moment, although I am accusing neither of that. In the first case, the assumption that nationalism expresses a very localised, fearful, unreflective, Hobbesian sort of self-interest against the more Kantian aspirations of European unity, is already inscribed in the liberal case for the EU. (Giscard D'Etaing, then, is our generation's Immanuel Kant?) In the second case, the notion that one super-imperialism should be replaced by two (with the attendant arms race and likely escalation of aggressive wars in each's 'sphere of influence') also forms part of the liberal-left case for the EU. Aside from that, it creates illusions of vertical solidarity, when what we need are new forms of horizontal solidarity, germinally represented in the World and European Social Forums. Anyone who has illusions that 'EU' is a more progressive and less imperial acronym than 'US' would do well to have a look at how the EU uses its present economic strength in the world . To butter, add guns, and you have US imperialism writ large.

No. What this cheap talk nationalism misses is that the liberal progressives have their own form of undeclared nationalism. While it is hard to imagine scores of them launching themselves at the barricades, star-spangled flags aloft, yelling "Long Live the European Union!", it is essentially a limp-wristed, drippish version of the appeal to an imagined community that activated the unifying forces in Italy and Germany in the 19th Century. It just happens to involve a more intellectually satisfying, multilingual, cosmopolitan community than most nationalisms do. In short, it is a form of nationalism that sits well with the liberal comportment: you know - open, inclusive, culturally experimental, bohemian. It is not 'open' to, or 'inclusive' of, Algeria, Egypt, Somalia or Pakistan, of course - 'they' may come in small numbers to work in our black markets while introducing new sumptuary and gustatory choices, but the liberal has no wish to share a polity with them. Imagine the bills we'd have to foot next time tsunami, or an earthquake, or a drought or a flood comes along!

No, down with European unity! Raise the red flag, not that pathetic, miserable blue thing with the circle-fucking stars on it. The liberal wet-dreams of an EU superstate are those of the rich and the white - well-heeled crackers pretending they're down with hip-hop. Down with the EU, down with capitalism and imperialism of every flag. For a Socialist Republic of Cairo, London, Baghdad, New York, Helsinki, Lahore, Belgrade and Caracas!

Well, you may say I'm a nutter. But I'm not the only one.

Update: I'm not the only one.

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Yes, it's no!! posted by Richard Seymour

France has strangled the EU Constitution at birth , which is, for some (and me), "un moment de joie" . Direland has some very useful analysis of the results.

The great joy of this is the number of noses which have been smacked hard, bloodied and flattened by this vote. The corrupt Mr Chirac whose popularity rating is now negative; the Tories, New Labour and the Lib Dems, who have all pledged to more or less abandon the fight given a no vote; and the unelected EU bureaucrats so desperate for "an internal market where competition is free and undistorted" (except when it comes to CAP).

It is remarkable that the market and competition should be raised to the status of constitutional precepts. Even more remarkable is that even modest boureois principles of democracy should be cast aside - the Council of Ministers is not elected, but it has the powers of the executive and legislative together, so that neither popular sovereignty not separation of powers is respected. The only elected body, the European Parliament, has only limited veto powers and no executive powers to speak of at all. It is remarkable that the parties of the Socialist International (née Second International) have even attempted to flog this undemocratic neoliberal drivel to the voters. Fuck 'em. Let these bruschetta eating, shiraz-quaffing mofos drown their sorrow in mange touts and the finest red. This is, as someone said in the comments boxes below, the best May the left has had since 1968.

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Capitalism, markets and the modern state. posted by Richard Seymour

Two birds slayed with one stone, the following essay embodies exam revision and a submission for Carnival of the Uncapitalists . It doesn't go into any particular depth about the class struggle that went into the formation of the modern state, instead attempting to critically engage with non-Marxists views of the state and solve some of the problems posed by the standard Weberian definition of it.

If the emergence of capitalism, often attended by vicious class struggle, provided sufficient conditions for the rise of the modern state to occur, it might be remarked that this did not rule out other sufficient conditions being available. But what I will say is that these conditions are not sufficient, but necessary. And I will argue that explanations revolving around politico-military pressures are inadequate.

Weber’s definition of the modern state is that it is “an administrative and legal order” which “claims binding authority … over the members of the state, the citizens … also to a very large extent over all action taking place in the area of its jurisdiction”, and with “the monopoly on the legitimate use of force”. It is characterized by bureaucracy, centralism and impersonal means of control which are supposed to safeguard the objectivity of decisions being made; although in practice the state is connected through various means to extraneous interests – political parties, NGOs, interest groups, businesses etc. Another feature characteristic of the modern state is that, although the nation-state does not usually coincide with a homogenous ethnic group, the state has often tried to legitimize itself through national identity, a suffusion of affect in the general population. (Max Weber, Essays in Sociology, H Gerth & C Wright Mills, ed.; Graham Gill, The Nature and Development of the Modern State, 2003; Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, 1991).

There were many competitors to the sovereign nation-state as capitalism was emerging. In particular, there had been Empire, the Church and feudal relations. Feudalism, emerging from the ruins of the Roman Empire, after it had finally been overrun by Germanic tribes, was a decentralized, fragmented mode of social organization. In it, families enjoyed personal rule over areas defined by manses and allods; land was generally inherited rather than sold; rank was gained by birth rather than earned by labour; and protection was sought – not from a centralized state, but from knights who had emerged from an earlier warrior elite and, being wealthy, could afford to buy horses. They were rewarded with land, which over time ceased to be a temporary reward and became part of the hereditary structure of rule. Serfs, tied to the land, owed obligations to the landlords, who also fulfilled juridical functions. According to Gill, the structure was “disarticulated, decentralized and cellular”. The power of the central monarch declined as feudal lords gained in power. (Guy Bois, The Transformation of the Year One Thousand: The village of Lournand from antiquity to feudalism, 1992; Gill, 2003).

The development of new technologies and a growing commercial economy saw payments in kind replaced by pay in money. The growth of towns, to paraphrase Fernand Braudel, both generated commercial expansion and was generated by it. (Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, 1981). Church power, often in the vanguard of the development of these new technologies (water mills, wind mills, new farming techniques) which allowed for a sufficient surplus to increase demand for new commodities, and therefore contributed to the rise of the towns and the merchants and artisans who worked in them, was one of the first institutions to suffer from this development. It was this social layer that was to lead the Reformation. In particular, the principle of ecclesiastical rule (Christendom) was to be supplanted by that of territorial rule (Europe) by the 18th Century. (Chris Harman, A People’s History of the World, 1999; F H Hinsley, Power and the Pursuit of Peace; David Held, Democracy and the Global Order, 1995). As society grew more complex, new forms of rule were required. The alternatives to the nation-state embodied in Church and Empire had entered a period of serious decline by 1300. According to Spruyt, this was the outcome of a process of ‘survival of the fittest’, in which states unfit to the new market-based societies adapted, died or were subsumed.

Other alternatives were the city-state and the city-league. For instance, the Hanseatic League combined a number of German towns in an arrangement that had arisen out of agreements between merchants but by the 14th Century had become a relationship between towns, governed by regular assemblies. This arrangement, however, was rather loose. Of all the towns involved, only 20 sent delegates, with smaller towns often giving proxies to Hamburg or Lubeck. Its effectiveness relied on the commercial strength of one or two very large towns, and the only sanction available for those who did not acquiesce in its rulings was expulsion – largely unenforceable against the larger urban centres. By the end of the 15th Century, the assemblies were increasingly rare. (Denys Hay, Europe in the 14th and 15th Centuries, 1966). Spruyt suggests that such leagues became dysfunctional because the towns involved had no congruity and it was unclear where real power lay. There was no central authority, and these forms were eventually crowded out by more powerful states. Absolutist rulers, by contrast, were able to standardize currency, weights and measures, which made trade much easier. Although the Italian city-states were more like autonomous units, they tended to be fractious and weak in competition with more centralized states. Justin Rosenberg notes that “the citizen militias gave way earliest to the mercenary armies that would later characterize European absolutism; and … a population given over increasingly to commerce and manufacture elaborated new forms of class conflict”. (Rosenberg, The Empire of Civil Society, 1994).

Politico-military pressures.
IR theorists of the ‘realist’ school, as well as certain Weberian theorists, often assert that the primary force that convoked the modern state was military competition. According to Otto Hintze, the state is a form of organization for war, while Charles Tilly argues (and Michael Mann agrees) that the capacity and character of the state was determined in its formation by the kind of revenue needed to meet geopolitical challenges. Mann argues that this dictated the character of the states which emerged – while wealthier states were able to meet the costs of war without absolutist rule (England, Holland, the Italian city-states), those whose primary advantage lay in population numbers required a centralized, rationalized bureaucracy to mobilize its subjects (Russia, Austria). There are some crucial differences here, however. While Mann disaggregates military and political power, Hintze avers that “all state constitution is originally military constitution”. I would argue that Hintze is on the right side of this argument, though not for the reasons he thinks. In brief, while Hintze thinks that the state’s organized violence is directed toward external enemies, I shall argue that this capacity for violence is largely directed internally and insofar as it is directed externally, it is related to the internal interests of the polity which utilizes such violence. (Gill, ch. 5, 2003; Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, volume 1, ch. 13 and ch. 16, 1986; Gianfranco Poggi, Forms of Power, ch. 10, 2001).

Gill outlines some of the problems with the Weberian approach. It is of course true that, in the absence of an overarching Empire embodying Christendom, European states were drawn into struggle over territorial and ideological/normative rule. This none could opt out of, and the growing costs of war compelled governments to seek greater extractive powers in order to pay off debts incurred by battles and facilitate further investments in war. However, heightened geopolitical competition would often frustrate the process of rationalization and structural reform – war often left states so exhausted that they had to seek ad hoc measures for immediate results rather than long term efficiency. Only when wars were less significant was there a discernible improvement in administrative structures, in the 1300s and early 1400s. At the same time, the intense and sustained geopolitical competition of the 11th and 12th Centuries subjected all forms of polity to the same pressures – yet, once it had subsided, the city-states persisted in Italy, Germany remained disunited and the Hansa continued as a league of trading cities. (Gill, ch. 5, 2003).

Justin Rosenberg goes deeper in his critique. While for Weber, the state to some extent subordinates other social and economic relations (see Anthony Giddens, The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies, 1981), the realists have saw fit to treat state power as something that can be understood as ‘autonomous’ from other social forms – the state is an entity to be understood as being the same, sui generis, trans-historically. One thing that stands out about feudal society, however, is that the exercise of political power is not separable from economic activity. In various ways, the social structure of feudal societies determined the goals and modalities of war in the High Middle Ages: the role assumed by dynastic diplomacy; the recognition of private rights of warfare; the absence of international law as such. In fact, the development of capitalist society and what Giddens calls “the extrusion of the means of violence from the principal axis of class exploitation” were coterminous. The replacement of the “traditional state” in “class-divided societies” with the modern ‘autonomous’ state could not have taken place without the dissolution of feudal relations in which power was largely parcelled out and dispersed. Hence, Marx’s remark that “the modern state … is based on freedom of labour”. (Giddens, Power, Property & the State: A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism, vol. 1, 1981; Giddens, The Nation-State and Violence, CCHM, vol. 2, 1985; Rosenberg, ch. 3, 1994).

Legality and rationality.
The Weberian definition of the modern state cited above is useful for designating what the modern state does, but it is less useful in designating what it is. Weber famously distinguished between the different modes of legitimacy of any state – traditional, legal and charismatic. In his own society, these three followed in close succession: Bismarck, Weimar, and then Nazism. However, the persistence of the legal form, the rationalism and impersonal forms of rule in capitalist society that Weber talks about demand explanation more than they explain. We can very well say what law does in a circular way – law is a system of rules governing conduct, enforced by the state with its monopoly of violence. But why law? Why not, for instance, religious injunction? If we can say why law is the universal mode of regulation in modern societies, we will come closer to an understanding of the modern state.

Gill notes that the law was important in that it enshrined the right of private property, and facilitated the use and mobilisation of those privately owned resources. (Gill, ch. 4, 2003). Yet, this just pushes the question back one more step. Law did do this, but why? According to the Marxist theorist, Evgeny Pashukanis, the legal form enters in precisely where isolation and opposition of interests begins to replace mutual obligation and fealty. He ties it conceptually to the commodity form, in which the very trade of various items as commodities involves the traders being bearers of rights rather than privilege. To make the distinction clear, while a feudal master ordering a peasant to go into town and buy some pepper is an expression of personal rule, the buying of the pepper involves him in an interface with a seller who is, in this exchange at least, no superior or inferior. In fact, for the commodity form to become the axis of economic activity, actors on the market must not behave in a manner so as not to appropriate the commodity of the other or alienate their own, without the consent of both parties. Law, backed up by a state with the monopoly of legitimate violence, pacifies and provides a kind of determinacy to an exchange that might otherwise be resolved with physical force or go on in endless haggling (more likely the former). Understanding law in this fashion helps to explain one way in which the nation-state as sovereign subject is constituted. The recognized unit of international law is the sovereign state, all of which are nominally equal. The sovereign state is a legal form, and law in this sense is a process of negotiation between these actors, albeit one without the determinacy provided at the level of the nation-state. As law is fundamentally a matter of coercion, or congealed violence, decisions reached are invariably coercive and stand or fall on the ability of those determining the decision to back it up. (China Mieville, Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law, ch. 3, 2005).

If this is correct, then the legalization and rationalization of the state can be accounted for in part by the development of capitalism and markets within feudalism. In particular, the precocious economic development of Italian Communes could partly explain the re-emergence of Roman Law, although – as Gill also notes – the precise form of law was less important than what it did. The rise of ‘law merchant’ since the 12th Century was a direct expression of the interests and sentiments of the merchants themselves, while maritime law emerged to serve the same interests. And it was mercantilism which first promoted a public economic policy on a national scale. States did create the merchant companies as legal entities, but in doing so they implicitly acknowledged the growing importance of commodity exchange, which itself had been facilitated by the extraordinary dynamism of feudalism. (Gill, ch. 4, 2003; Mieville, ch. 5, 2005; Harman, 1999).

Another problem thrown up by Weber is the territorially bounded nature of the modern state. The state claims legitimate rule over a geographically defined territory, and in that space citizens are subject to the state’s laws. But what explains the ‘nation-ness’ of the modern state? The answers offered by Spruyt, Hintze and others revolve around the ‘sovereign-ness’ of the state, which is moulded by military competition. The nation-state involved both the right scale, and the internal cohesiveness to survive intense geopolitical struggle. This certainly accounts for one aspect of appeals to nationhood, inasmuch as it was necessary to win support for domestic populations, and wars based on dynastic claims were often far, in all senses, from home. The emphasis of common ‘national’ characteristics evoked an imaginary community which people could identify themselves with (Gill, ch 5, 2003). But this is in itself inadequate. It explains part of the reason why states legitimized themselves in this way, but it does not completely explain it or the reason why it was successful.

Benedict Anderson argues that populations were receptive to nationalist ideas in part because of the way in which the invention of print and the penetration of markets into most walks of life had forged national languages with much more homogeneity than had previously persisted. At the same time, the ‘imagined community’ that preceded the nation-state, Christendom, was eroded from several quarters, not least the Reformation which in attacking the papacy and asserting the direct relationship between man and God undermined the idea that a polity could be based on a community of faith. (Anderson, 1983; Gill, ch. 3, 2003). There is also a sense in which nationhood is forged and reproduced through the standardisation of currency, weights, measures and education. These, as Anderson argues, have been partially state-driven, but have also arisen from the needs of the developing capitalist economy. But the ‘national’ character of the modern state is also overdetermined by its relationship to capitalism: the overthrow of feudalism, in Marx’s words “set free the political spirit, which had been, as it were, split up, partitioned and dispersed into the various blind alleys of feudal society … and established it as the sphere of the community, the general concern of the nation”. (Quoted, Rosenberg, 1994).

The modern state is a capitalist state; its key characteristics cannot be disarticulated from the social processes from which it emerged. In no way need this invite a view that reduces the state to being a mere 'instrument' of the bourgeoisie, but it is thoroughly constituted by social and economic relations that it supervises and reproduces.

References, quibbles, corrections and supplementary argument are all very welcome.

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Cohen's Fallaci. posted by Richard Seymour

Nick Cohen. You know he gives me those Sunday morning blues. If there is no sin except stupidity, there is no greater defiler of your holy day of rest than the one-time star cynic of the Observer's back-pages. I'm just interested in this paragraph from his latest :

In Italy, a journalist, Oriana Fallaci, faces trial for writing a book which is 'unequivocally offensive to Islam'. The alleged crime of The Rage and the Pride is to insist there is an unbridgeable divide between the Islamic world and the West. What she says may not be true, although it certainly is true of Islamism and the West, which have armies at war to prove it. It's also the case that even by the standards of Italian journalism, Fallaci is a raging prima donna. Still, since when has it been a criminal offence for prima donnas to sing, however tunelessly?

As a plea for freedom of religious (or irreligious) expression, this would not make Spinoza turn green with Dutch envy, but it is nice to know that Cohen doesn't want to see morons locked up for being morons.

However, it would be refreshing to see him get his facts right, just for once. The Rage and the Pride is a stupid polemic by a hysterical racist witch whose main prophylactic against such charges is to make her racist remark and then say "and now they will call me a racist!", and then follow it up with a contrived idiocy. In that book, she has the immigrant "sons of Allah" pissing on Rome's Catholic monuments, contributing to prostitution, drugs and crime. Her verdict: "Terrorists, thieves, rapists. Ex-convicts, prostitutes, beggars. Drug-dealers, contagiously ill". She has Muslims forming a fifth column, coming into Europe in waves with the express goal of conquering Europe and destroying Western civilisation. They're bringing diseases, shrieks Fallaci, straining those tendons in her throat. Syphillis and AIDS are just the start. (Some of the Egyptian fundamentalists say the same thing about the Jews, and about the tourists whom they blow up). They have "orders to multiply like rats". Aye, the House of Allah has many finely appointed wombs. In the service of this case, she fabricates evidence , time and time again . How could one not, making such a fantastical case? It is her Protocols of the Elders of Allah. And she bemoans the absence of a Richard the Lionheart to take the fight to these people.

Very well, Fallaci is who she is - a bitter, tired, whipped old shit-stirrer who has long since pissed her talent up against the wall. Gore Vidal once had cause to refer to her as the greatest political interviewer of all time, and she did have an admirable set of balls. Let's leave it at that and move on.

Cohen must know that this amounts to more than stipulating an incommensurability of values between Islam and the West (what categories! The categories, in fact, of an Orientalist). Why cover that flaccid fundament? It is one thing to say that Fallaci should not be on trial, but why make it appear as if the complaint is groundless? And why does Cohen imagine that Islamism is what the West is at war with? Because he doesn't know what he's talking about. If all Muslims aren't the same for him, all Islamisms are - a fairly obvious process of substitution to preserve Cohen's amour propre if you ask me.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Open Letter to SOAS Director posted by Richard Seymour

A reader has asked me to publish the following letter, which is addressed to the director of SOAS. It discusses the harrassment of a Muslim student who had written an analysis of the ethics of violence, and who rejected the blanket condemnation of Palestinian violence on the grounds that such a position was unreflective about the roots of the Israel/Palestine conflict. For having taken such a position, this student was subjected to a disciplinary investigation. Despite the fact that such questions are on the reading lists for courses at SOAS, this student was not allowed to have his thoughts without being subject to harrassment. At a time when SOAS is being maligned for 'anti-Semitism', it is important to note that the Director cited Noam Chomsky's Voltairean position on freedom of speech to defend the visit of a representative from the Israeli embassy - a principle that clearly doesn't apply when it comes to Muslim students. Here is the letter:

Dear Director,

I would like to respond to your message to the school regarding recent allegations of anti-Semitism, intolerance and intimidation at SOAS. Whilst I understand that you have been put in an almost impossible situation I believe it is very important to distinguish between two different issues. The first kind of issue relates to polarisation of students. It would be surprising if, given the diversity of students at SOAS, there was not polarisation of students around issues of principle and current global political controversies. Indeed it would be rather disappointing if students were not engaged with such controversies at an institution like SOAS. One reason why students are attracted to SOAS is precisely because this is what they expect. A number of students on both the courses that I teach said they came to SOAS because they wanted exposure to such controversies and, at the same time, to have the chance to explore them in greater depth then is possible outside of an academic environment. These students had various political and ideological attitudes to these controversies and conflicts. Obviously many students from various countries with various political traditions are often surprised (and sometimes a little shocked) to be exposed to views and opinions they are unfamiliar with. I think SOAS has always been about surprises and shocks of this kind and that this is part of the unique educational experience the institution offers.

The second kind of issue relates to questions about intimidation and racism. It is vitally important to understand that these questions are quite different and that there is no necessary relationship between them. I have yet to see any convincing evidence at all that there has been any issue of racism or intimidation at SOAS and have to admit that accusations of this kind seem to me mischievous and politically motivated emerging largely from the media and, apparently, the home office. I am therefore a little concerned about what kind of discussion will take place in the proposed ‘workshops’. If these discussions are to be concerned with issues of racial equality one might ask if they are being held for the benefit of students and staff or whether they are being held for the benefit of the Times and possibly the Home Office. If this is so I would suggest this is very unwise and a capitulation to political interference in the internal affairs of the college. If on the other hand there is the thought that political issues raised by the Israeli/Palestine conflict require some kind of special adjudication by the college might I raise a note of caution?

Aside from an impression of a kind of colonial snooping amongst Arab and Muslim students at SOAS, the AUT is about to debate issues connected with academic boycott of Israel (see today’s Education Guardian). Similar debates have been had inside of UNISON. Such debates have stirred up precisely the same controversies in the outside world as they have inside of SOAS. If there is to be some kind of ‘line’ about what position to take on the Israel/Palestine conflict that will satisfy politically both supporters and opponents of Israeli policy this would necessitate having a narrower range of discussion inside SOAS then takes place in the outside world. A large number of students and staff would feel that they were being politically censored and intimidated at the behest of the media and the home office through the agency of college authorities. I would suggest that this would be likely to inflame matters further. I do not think it a good idea to get into games of who is most intimidated by the current situation, however subjecting a student to investigation under the colleges disciplinary code for writing what struck me as a sensitive analysis of the ethics of violence, raises really serious questions about the duty of care this university owes to all its students irrespective of the media and the home office. It also raises substantial issues about academic freedom which I think should be the concern not only of students but also of academics, values which I believe our Director has a duty to represent and protect no matter how politically controversial or unpopular it is to do so. Understanding the difficulties you face I hesitate to add to them.

But for moral reasons I would like to put it on record that I do not believe that Israel as presently constituted is a legitimate state. I would also like to put it on record that I believe that the ethics of condemning violence in anti-colonial struggles are complex and worthy of debate. My views on this subject have been shaped by the years I have been at SOAS and the things that I have been taught here. If this student is to be disciplined for reflecting on what Richard Falk (a prominent academic theorist) has described as the ‘right to violence’ and what Ted Honderich (a prominent analytical philosopher) has described as the ‘right to terrorism’ one might ask why the institutions which these two prominent intellectuals belong to have not disciplined them. One might also ask whether we ought not proscribe books currently on recommended reading lists, and indeed articles sometimes written by academics who work here, which encourage similar reflection.

Most importantly however I believe that if this student is to be subjected to investigation and harassment then so should I and so should many full time academic members of staff at this institution. It is my hope that should this student be disciplined members of staff will similarly step forward and suggest that they be investigated and possibly disciplined. I find myself deeply worried that a student is being intimidated for writing an article, the substance of which is reflected in many published academic tomes, some of which I might even have over the years recommended that my students read (one thinks here in different ways of Fanon, of Falk, of Chomsky, of Said, of Eqbal Ahmad, a whole range of thinkers and writers on Post-Colonial and Colonial politics). Perhaps, indirectly, I am responsible for what this student has written, either because I have taught him personally (I cannot remember) or because he has been taught by colleagues that I know and talk with. I would like this taken into account both in terms of possible culpability on my part and in terms of the charges being faced by this student. Of course this student is in a defenceless position, he is a member of a faith much discriminated against (one suspects if the argument had not been couched in terms of Islamic theology the outcome would have been different: although the student in fact sensitively attempts to universalise the argument) and demonised in this part of the world, and it is quite convenient to off-load the problems of the institution onto his shoulders. But perhaps this is a little unfair, a little irresponsible, perhaps even a little ignoble. I find the silence surrounding the position of this student from staff, from students and from yourself perhaps the most sad and depressing thing about this entire affair, and the victimisation of this student a clear breach of everything SOAS is supposed to represent.

But perhaps members of staff need not worry. Most of them, after all, are not Muslims and as long as they keep their opinions to themselves and do not speak publicly about these matters nothing will happen to them. And perhaps if we sacrifice this student an embarrassing situation will go away, and with a few face saving exercises (workshops!) the press and the home office will get off our backs. A far cry from your recent remarks about Noam Chomsky I must say. And a terrible lesson for students about ethics, responsibility and the values a university is supposed to represent (I am concerned about the Students Union being encouraged down this path and the moral effect on them). Apologies for the tone of this letter but the issues which have been raised are far too important not to be confronted directly.

John Game
Teaching Assistant
Politics Department.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Get your tanks off our lawns. posted by Richard Seymour

Via Meaders . It seems that the police have suddenly come over all gorblimey about the Stop the War rally planned for the G8 protests, and are trying to ban it . What could it be now? Last time it was the fucking grass they were worried about, do they now think we're going to storm Edinburgh Castle and start firing the cannons at the G8 Summit?

There have been national and local StWC demonstrations all over the country, dozens and dozens of them. Not one has resulted in disorder or violence, despite my best efforts. So, what's the beef?

On a side note, anyone who wants to prevent London Fire Brigade taking a fire engine away from Bethnal Green where it is sorely needed, you can join this blockade in just under two weeks. Galloway, the FBU reps and a bunch of local residents will be there to try and stop them taking it.

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Realpolitik posted by Richard Seymour

Recent events prompt me to a bit of citation:

Roy: Unethical? Are you trying to embarrass me in front of my friend?

Joe: Well it is unethical, I can't...

Roy: Boy, you really are something, what the fuck do you think this is, Sunday School?

Joe: No, but Roy this is...

Roy: This is ... this is gastric juices churning, this is enzymes and acids, this is intestinal is what this is, bowel movement and blood-red meat - this stinks, this is politics, Joe, the game of being alive. And you think you're ... What? Above that? Above alive is what? Dead! In the clouds! You're on earth, goddamit! Plant a foot, stay a while.

And later:

Roy: Yes. Yes. You have heard of Ethel Rosenberg. Yes. Maybe you even read about her in the history books.
If it wasn't for me, Joe, Ethel Rosenberg would be alive today, writing some personal advice column for Ms. magazine. She isn't. Because during the trial, Joe, I was on the phone ever day, talking with the judge...

Joe: Roy...

Roy: Every day, doing what I do best, talking on the telephone, making sure that timid Yid nebbish on the bench did his duty to America, to history. That sweet unprepossessing woman, two kids, boo-hoo-hoo, reminded us all of our little Jewish mamas - she came this close to getting life; I pleaded till I wept to put her in the chair. Me. I did that. I would have fucking pulled the switch if they'd have let me. Why? Because I fucking hate traitors. Because I fucking hate communists. Was it legal? Fuck legal. Am I a nice man? Fuck nice. They say terrible things about me in The Nation. Fuck The Nation. You want to be Nice, or you want to be Effective? Make the law, or be subject to it. Choose.

That stuff's from Tony Kushner, Angels In America, Part One: Millenium Approaches. As you might have gathered, the Roy in that dialogue is Roy Cohn. And he has spawned a thousand and one little bastards, desperately trying to emulate him.

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Kill Bill posted by Richard Seymour

The screw is turning: depending which way you look at it, the US ruling class is beginning to take fright, or the Democrats are beginning to grow some chutzpah. The first ever bill to design a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq was introduced into the House of Representatives yesterday - and voted down by 300 votes to 128.

That 128 is far higher than it would have been eight months ago when Kerry was campaigning on a 'bigger, better occupation' policy. In the vote, two thirds of the Democrats present voted for the bill, in the form of an amendment to the near $500bn Pentagon budget, and five Republicans joined them. One of the Republicans who voted for it, and the only one who spoke for it on the floor, a Walter Jones of North Carolina (hick), had previously been behind the campaign to change the name of French fries to freedom fries. So, why has he gone all limp-wristed and Gallic?

Well, one reason could be that, despite delusions that the demonstration elections would result in the Iraqi resistance turning into a nerdish, cultish hobby for a few remaining stragglers, the fact is that there has been little sign of the battle abating - whether in terms of the civilian resistance or the armed resistance . The war is not, contrary to expectation and hype, winding down .

Despite the metaphors preferred by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz about Iraq being like a kid learning to ride a bike (the imperialist cliches never change), they seem curiously reluctant to allow the vehicle to slip out of their fingers and ride off into the desert sunset. The US is presently constructing four giant new bases in Iraq , which doesn't look like preparation for a slow withdrawal and a warm wave to a nation firmly on its bike. Indeed, reports describe how the US is seeking to "re-assert itself" in Iraqi affairs, as if it had been taking a back seat since the elections. In particular, America has its "red lines" that Iraqi officials dare not cross, because "we have 140,000 troops here, and they are getting shot at". Further, the US has been measuring up the Iraqi troops they've been training and, although we often hear nice round figures indicating that a total of 140,000 Iraqi troops and police have been trained, they have found that of the 81 Iraqi army battalions assessed, only 3 were able to conduct operations independently . The Iraqi troops either cannot or will not fight against the resistance.

But it will be very difficult to sustain the occupation at the present level, as recruitment problems abound . In fact, anti-recruitment campaigns are, as Yoshie pointed out some time ago, having a serious impact on the numbers of young people willing to be taken in by promises of college money and so on. Even in Britain, where there hasn't been an anti-recruitment campaign with any particular profile, there is a "recruitment crisis" , a state of affairs the army blames on the Stop the War Coalition. In the US, public opinion has turned against the war .

The war against the resistance is not being won, and the reintroduction of the death penalty by the puppet government is unlikely to do anything other than add legal corpses to illegal ones. In large part, this is because the occupation is much dirtier, much more oppressive, than we are given to understand by the great wall of silence on the television news, where only the latest explosion merits discussion, and then only for ten seconds before moving onto the latest scandal about hoodies and faulty NHS operations.

This excellent article on the "psychodynamics of occupation" provides some chilling glimpses at the inner state of many US soldiers, and how this affects the way they react to Iraqis. Hence: "The enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Falluja. And we're going to destroy him." The apocalyptic language easily matches anything bin Laden might come up with, and the civilian death toll from the November destruction of that city, is now estimated to be as high as 1,300 . Or, if you don't like that, try the anonymous note left on a mirror in one destroyed home: "Fuck Iraq and every Iraqi in it!" If only they could get them into Abu Ghraib, they might just succeed in doing that. Or, how about this message to the kids: "The one thing you learn over here is that there are no innocent civilians, except the kids. And even them -- the ones that are all, 'Hey mister, mister, chocolate?' -- I'll be killing them someday." Suge Knight has nothing on this guy. Or better still: "There are things I have to do out here that I can't explain to my chain of command, and that the American people would never understand." Read the article, and check those copious references to see what sort of things this US army Sergeant is talking about.

No wonder that, according to Dahr Jamail, most Iraqis refer to the resistance as "patriots" . The ungrateful Iraqis, unlike the ungrateful Bosnians , are causing enough havoc for the US that withdrawal is a mainstream proposition not only for most Americans, but for much of the governing class as well.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

CIA's advice to the Iraqi Resistance. posted by Richard Seymour

The CIA combines the sinister and the absurd, sometimes in equal measure. When they were trying to assassinate Fidel Castro, they decided to interfere with his cigars, either adding explosive materials that would blow his head off or poisonous materials that would cause his beard to fall out. Similarly, during the 1980s war on Nicaragua, directed from Honduras by then Ambassador John Negroponte, the CIA produced a 'Freedom Fighters' Manual', to help the people free themselves of "Marxist tyranny" (the Sandinista regime was, according to them, a Soviet puppet). Now that Negroponte has found alternative employment in Iraq, where local regime really is a puppet, I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting this classic manifesto of resistance to imperial oppression. Click on the pictures below - each is a frame from the Manual, which incites people to throw sickies, leave taps and lights on, make false hotel reservations, spread rumours, threaten the boss over the phone, make Molotov cocktails and so on. Sometimes I wonder if the CIA isn't being secretly run by Wile E. Coyote. (Of course, it doesn't mention the bit about killing 30,000 people in attacks on 'soft-targets': schools, medical clinics etc.)

Freedom Fighters’ Manual 1.

Freedom Fighters’ Manual 2.

Freedom Fighters’ Manual 3.

Freedom Fighters’ Manual 4.

Viva la resistance!!

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Scabs posted by Richard Seymour

Any anchorperson whose face you can see live on the BBC right now has crossed the picket line .

We know your faces, you greasy little lickspittles.

Incidentally, if you want to give the scabs working on the Online News service something to do, send your messages of support for the strikers here .

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Image/gaze/bomb them all. posted by Richard Seymour

Ideological interpellation, in Zizek's treatment (The Sublime Object of Ideology, 1989), involves the assumption of a 'mandate'. One is called upon to undertake a mission (lead the chosen people to Canaan, overthrow capitalism, establish an Islamic Emirate), and the hysterical subject is one who cannot fulfil this mandate. Take Jesus. In Martin Scorsese's film The Last Temptation of Christ, he is an ordinary man susceptible to the usual sins, lusts and tempers, yet who gradually discovers - horrified, fascinated - that he is the Son of God. He never totally accepts this role, and even on the cross is to be seen "looking for a loophole" (as WC Fields explained was his goal when found studying the Bible in his death-bed). Christ is hysterical precisely because he does not feel adequate to the task.

How is one interpellated? We know how people identify with a celebrity, a sports person, or a great political leader and try to emulate them - this is imaginary identification. One wants to be just like how that person seems, in order to be likeable to oneself. But for whom? Why should this identification make you likeable to yourself? Typically, one wants to fulfil a symbolic identification, in which one has wholly internalised the preferments of, say, the father. In other words, you are servicing the gaze of the father, seeking to make yourself acceptable to him, although you may be totally unaware of doing so. Zizek notes that, behind the feminine imaginary identification is an extremely masculine symbolic identification: a girl might emulate the comportment of a leading movie starlet in order to appease the paternal gaze, for some she wants to seem likeable.

This is the mechanism, which is by no means merely a psychological drama, by which one is integrated into a given socio-symbolic field. Of the Orwellistas on the pro-war Left, we might ask: for which gaze are they emulating the socialist who became a hero of the Cold War Right? Whence the imaginary identification with "The great Irshad Manji" ? I'll come back to this, but Barmecides , before he packed up his blog, had a suggestive answer.

However successful ideological interpellation is, there is always a hysterical remainder rendered as "che vuoi?" Which is to say, "you are asking this of me, but what is it you really want?" The mandate, it is suspected, comes with strings, clauses in small print that may be sinister or not. So, for instance, the Bolshevik demand for "Land, Bread and Peace" might have elicited the query: "but for what end? Isn't it really world domination you have in mind? Don't you want to bring about the return of the anti-Christ?" The usual way in which "che vuoi?" is manifested is through racism - when Jesse Jackson made some initial inroads in the 1988 Presidential elections, the press began to ask "what does Jesse Jackson really want?", which they hadn't asked of anyone else. And of course, the main target of such questioning has historically been Jews: "you say you only want emancipation, freedom from the ghettos, the right to free expression, but don't you actually want to control the world's financial system and...?" The end of such questioning, of course, was the near annihilation of Europe's Jews in gas chambers and Einsatzgruppen-style mass shootings.

Hence, "what do the Muslims really want?" According to Anthony Browne of The Times (who professes admiration for Irshad Manji), the Muslims want "to conquer the world". Daniel Pipes, (also a fan of Irshad Manji), thinks that what he calls Militant Islam wants to conquer the world, and remarks apropos of Muslim migrants that "West European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene". The BNP - well, we know what they think of Islam (a "wicked, vicious faith"), but it is interesting to note that they too call on "moderate Muslims" to make their religion "compatible with the modern world".

Well, why raise Irshad Manji? Manji styles herself as a "Muslim refusenik" and has written a book entitled The Trouble with Islam, which purports to be a progressive critique of Islam, but is larded with extraordinary phrases like "the Muslim Mind", apologetics for Israel (some examples of which here ) and an extraordinary naivete about US military power which, she asserts, "is the unrealized hope, not the lead criminal". Not susceptible to the obvious, then, Irshad Manji is the model 'moderate Muslim' whom Islamophobes can trust and admire. Locating the problems of the Muslim world within Islam (see some of her comments in this obsequious article ), Manji exculpates those who oppress Muslims and corroborates them in their slanders.

The gallery of figures from the racist right to the pro-war Left lining up to pay homage to Manji is unsurprising in that respect. But if the latter form an imaginary identification with her, what is the underlying symbolic identification? Back to Barmecides:

About any [political affiliation] one can ask: what is its defining project? That of [the pro-war Left] seems to be this: to endlessly plead before an imaginary tribunal, packed with neo-cons/ assorted members of the Right. This tribunal tirelessly, and with the immense ideological and economic resources at its disposal, accuses the Left of predictable crimes and complicities. [The pro-war Left]'s principle aim is to exonerate itself before this tribunal by placing before it endless examples of Left-wing venality. Secondly, it seeks to occupy and re-tread a terrain of argument mapped out for it in advance by the Right. It scuttles obediently back and forth before the points of this circumscribed territory, reiterating that this is indeed the correct and proper terrain.

To exhort on behalf of a 'Muslim refusenik' who covers for the West and prattles naive gibberish about the people she pretends to be appealing to (Manji's co-religionists) is to make oneself likeable to the bourgeois gaze. One becomes an alibi, unwitting to be sure, of the anti-Muslim racism that corroborates extraordinary imperial aggression and its apparatus of extra-legal prisons and torture chambers. The liberal gloss, known as 'whataboutery', is always-already available: Torture in Abu Ghraib and Bagram? Yes, but what about the elections? What about women no longer obliged to wear the burlap sack in Afghanistan? Mass murder that makes 9/11 look puny? Yes, but what about the 'Cedar Revolution'? Occupation of Palestine? Yes, but what about 'the new anti-Semitism'?

Addendum: for those outraged on behalf of secularism, here is an intelligent, humane, socialist critic of Islam and particularly of the corrupt leaders and regimes which use it to legitimise their reign, who manages to be irreligious without slandering Muslims or apologising for the criminals in Washington and Tel Aviv.

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

"Eurovision": a protest. posted by Richard Seymour

Okay, so let's get this straight. The songs deliberately suck. Terry Wogan is a machine designed to expostulate, titter and groan in his faux-Oirish fashion whenever the appropriate button is pushed. And the worst of these very very bad songs appears to be winning (when everyone knows Greece should be winning). All this I can understand - we are, after all, in Europe.

However, one place that isn't in Europe is Israel. Israel is definitely not in Europe. Israel is in Asia, just next to Africa. So why does it have a slot, when Palestine does not? Why not Egypt come to that? And why does it keep getting lots of votes when its song is shit?

Seriously, if the arbitrary continental restriction no longer applies, surely the name should be dropped. How about Whitevision? Or, given the quality of the songs, Whitetrashvision? No, better yet, Crackervision!

I've been to various spots in Europe. I know enough to say that the brown Thames is somehow more pleasant for me than the green Seine or the blue Danube. However, the extent to which casual racism is simply a part of European life had to be hammered home to me in Vienna, where Rachel Whitread's Holocaust Memorial sits in the Judenplatz. There you can find cake-shops selling delicacies like 'the little darkie', as well as racist graffiti more noxious than that on some very public walls. What was once known as 'Red Vienna' is now the youth suicide capital of Europe, and it wasn't hard to tell why. The best of Old Europe was eclipsed by the worst of New Europe; the worst of Old Europe eclipsed the best of New Europe. To put it like this, the Stephansdom (which is perhaps the most impressive building there) was covered in advertising; but at the same time, they have extreme restrictions on alterations you can make on buildings in the centre. That is, they can't update anything that needs updating, but they can construct billboards on whatever is worth preserving. Even the churches have ads plastered around them. Rooms once used by Freud and Mozart are eagerly rented out for tourists in a curiously empty experience, which is as good a metaphor as any for what has happened to Europe's cultural hegemony. Vienna isn't dying on its knees - it wishes it could die in such a dignified posture. It is dying flatly on its arse. Wien, je ne regrette Wien...

The European idea is over, terminal, tainted at source. Eurovision is a symptom of that.

Okay: Greece are winning now. About time.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Iraqi resistance: dossier. posted by Richard Seymour

You don't have to be a genius like me to figure out that much of the pro-war Left is both purblind and racist . However, crucial misunderstanding about the nature and structure of the resistance to the US occupation in Iraq extends well beyond those quarters, so that even perfectly mammalian types are deceived.

For instance, the resistance are "terrorists" for many, and merely "murderous" for others, not even meriting the term 'insurgency' without scare quotes. Already, I can see some of you reaching for various epithets of your own. A lot of this is related to unconscious fantasy life, with Iraq perhaps reduced in many minds to an imaginary menagerie, a hothouse full of savage, exotic animals leaking blood indiscriminately.

I hesitate to describe this as a 'rational kernel', but the actions of some groups described as part of the resistance provides ample material for these cranial productions. However, with that rather obvious stipulation in mind, it is important to keep the facts at the forefront. One salient fact is as follows: the resistance against the occupation of Iraq is legitimate, and by and large it does not target civilians.

And this shouldn't be controversial but, of course, it is. It is necessary to displace the media distillation by noting a few facts that even the 'Orwellian Left' with their window-pane-literalism can't dispute.

Extremist groups like Tawhid wal Jihad, hitherto taken to represent the bulk of the resistance, or at least a substantial strand within it, account for a tiny fraction of resistance attacks , assuming you accept their inclusion in that category. In particular, the most attacks that could be attributed to TwJ as of November was 29 out of 3000, although the most that could be attributed with any certainty was six out of 3000.

Similarly, the image of the resistance being a tandem force, uniting "Saddam loyalists" and Islamist groups, is a fiction . Such a picture involves a 'command and control' structure that does not obtain. The resistance is largely decentralised, localised and acephalous. According to the CIA, the average resistance fighter is a nationalist offended by the presence of coalition troops, and will generally have had direct or indirect experience of violence and maltreatment at the hands of US troops. Local cells operate largely independently of one another, although there are tacit agreements and there is often improvised cooperation.

The resistance generally does not target civilians . The overwhelming bulk of attacks are directed at coalition troops, as this graphic drawn from statistics in a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies shows. Similarly, this graph from the New York Times shows exactly the same thing: however attacks have fluctuated in their frequency and intensity, the overwhelming bulk of them are always directed at coalition forces. (Note: these graphics are difficult to see on the web, so it is best to copy and paste onto a word document, then enlarge - they become quite clear then).

Facts are often no competition for the PR machine , and as the old Russian proverb has it, repetition is the mother of learning. So, by repeating again and again that one has killed Al Qaeda fighters 'on the border with Syria' or some such thing that reinforces received opinion, the image becomes almost impregnable.

There is no doubt that Iraq is in a violent, chaotic and frightening state , but this is in large part because there is a US policy of supporting and funding death squads which are intended to crush the resistance. Some groups are killing off Sunni scholars , and it can't be a surprise that some Sunnis are drawing the conclusion that this is part of a state policy, given the brutality even of the official CIA-trained Iraqi security forces. It is hard to resist the conclusion that the US is trying to steer the country into a bitter civil war, which would both provide a rationale for their staying, and undermine the unity of the resistance, which is already weak.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What Iraqis Want. posted by Richard Seymour

Erica Jong has nothing on me. She purported to tell men what women want - now I, in my delphic way, can tell Westerners what Iraqis want. I can do so because, as an Orientalist, I know the natives, and my knowledge is an expression of my power over them.

Hence, when certain blogs of the pro-war Left mumble about what this or that Iraqi blog says, I simply tut and shake my head. I know what they want. They want freedom, democracy, truth, all that stuff. They wanted us to invade, they didn't want us to invade. They would have committed suicide if we didn't go in and kill them. They want the troops to go, but not quite yet, although now would be a good time if they were thinking about it.

Consequently, I know what this and this mean. I know, without having to assert openly (because you know I know) that these Iraqis are being silly, expecting too much too soon. They are not quite rational. Don't they understand that we want to interrogate ourselves more fully than they want to interrogate us? That we want to leave quicker than they would have us leave? We're doing this for their own good. We had to destroy Fallujah to save it. This is what Iraqis want. I can say this because I know Iraqis. Not one of them spoke out against it. And those who did, they were saps, or worse. President Bush can sleep safe in the knowledge that Iraqis are quite open to Jesus, if only Jesus will get rid of those godawful terrorists.

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The Question posted by Richard Seymour

Derrida. What's the big deal? It's just common sense.

I kid, of course. I am as befuddled as you are when I try to read that deliberately abstruse text. It's like trying to walk through mashed potato. And yet, there is a sense in which what Derrida is saying is perfect common sense, or at least common enough that anyone can understand it if they are receptive enough. Just a quick example.

On the philosophical question. In 'Violence and Metaphysics: an essay on the thought of Emmanuel Levinas' (you can find this in Writing and Difference), Derrida goes to the heart of what I think is his approach. He notes that the question is always enclosed, always-already determined by the answer. To ask a question, as any fule know, is already to know part of the answer. Hence: deconstruction. The anthropologists, the philosophers, the metaphysicians of presence - they already know the answer when they begin, and construct their observations accordingly. Derrida, in Of Grammatology and in Structure, Sign and Play in the History of the Human Sciences, carefully pulls apart Levi-Strauss' writings to show how he structures his narratives to create the myth of innocent speech interrupted and distorted by writing. The question has been scripted by the answer.

In part, what is to be preserved is the original question, the "initiative" question, the "eh?" that prompts all our other questioning. It isn't that there can be a question before or outside of text, (bear in mind that, for Derrida, there is nothing prior about speech - text is all in the mind, so to speak), but there is a moment in which the question is "not yet determined enough for the hypocrisy of an answer to have already initiated itself beneath the mask of the question".

Derrida, like Said, irrupted into Western philosophy from the repressed margin of the imperial West - in Derrida's case, Algeria. His questions were not aimed at destroying rationality as Johann Hari stupidly claimed (how would this be possible?); they were aimed at destroying the means of intellectual domination by which the West asserted its hegemony. The whole lineage from ancient Greece to structuralism had to be radically re-thought as if there really was some thinking to do.

In this, he represented a true return to philosophy, in which questions themselves had a lot to answer for. It is no coincidence, that those who are most impatient with Derrida today, and who used his grave as a urinary receptacle, are the most ardent believers in the meliorative capacities of rapacious imperialism.

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If your answer is Gordon Brown... posted by Richard Seymour

...then you're asking the wrong question.

Gordon Brown, having been frustrated in his bid to prevent the EU enforcing the Working Time Directive in Britain, which stipulates a maximum working week of 48 hours (come on, even France had 35 hours), has been telling off the trade unions , and warning them he'll fight them over the policy:

There Mr Brown warned against any relaxation of economic discipline and, despite striking an upbeat tone on UK economic prospects, insisted there could be no return to large public sector pay increases.

He warned bluntly that the Government will fight the unions over the 48-hour working week. They are campaigning to scrap Britain's opt-out from European Union restrictions on working hours.

Amicus was told by the Chancellor: "In the public sector, reform and wage discipline will at all times match our investment.

"And because 50 per cent of our trade is with Europe ... and because economic reform matters, I have to tell you that we will resist the opt-out being removed."
Incomes policy, anyone?

Meaders has more.

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Street-fighting man. posted by Richard Seymour

Well, you can watch Galloway's whole testimony here . From The Guardian this morning, I see Galloway had a few words for Christopher Hitchens:

Before the hearing began, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow even had some scorn left over to bestow generously upon the pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens. "You're a drink-soaked former-Trotskyist popinjay," Mr Galloway informed him. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink," he added later, ignoring Mr Hitchens's questions and staring intently ahead.

"And you're a drink-soaked..." Eventually Mr Hitchens gave up. "You're a real thug, aren't you?" he hissed, stalking away.

Hitchens is probably the only person in the world with a bigger ego than Galloway, so I can only imagine that the Hitch was indeed in some state simply to skulk off like that. But I've seen how Hitchens treats the public and those who disagree with him - he condescends to and humiliates them. So, he's not a thug? What's the old saying about physicians and healing? Hitchens himself gives Galloway credit , although his recounting of the incident rather makes himself out to be the passive recipient of Galloway's scorn rather than the provocateur.

Anyway, according to the Beeb papers hail fighting Galloway . I daresay this is largely fed by resentment about US politicians impugning an elected British politician. However, there is no question about this fact: yet another attempt to divide the antiwar Left has floundered. Galloway has been the lightning rod for these attacks, yet through his street-fighting skills, acquired on the streets and while climbing greasy pole in the Scottish Labour Party, he has ripped the floor out of every one of them. He has shown that they have nothing - no reliable evidence, no points that anyone could take seriously, and no moral basis to criticise someone who was trying to stop the sanctions and the war that followed.

BionOc has more.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Galloway documents forged. posted by Richard Seymour

Socialist Worker has this scoop:

The central document used against George Galloway this week by the senate committee in Washington is a forgery. Investigation by Socialist Worker shows that evidence crucial to the alleged case against the Respect MP is a fake, created after the fall of Baghdad in 2003.


Most of the accusations hurled against George Galloway by Norm Coleman’s senate committee on investigations this week were based on testimony which was supposedly freely given by former Saddam Hussein regime officials who are now held by US forces.

In many cases they are not even named.

But there is one piece of evidence that at first glance seems persuasive. It is in the findings of the Duelfer Report — the conclusions of the Iraq Survey Group headed by Charles Duelfer which last year admitted Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

The senate committee’s document says, “According to the evidence in the Duelfer Report, the Hussein regime granted Galloway six oil allocations totalling 20 million barrels of oil”.

In the section of the Duelfer Report on “Regime finance and procurement", there is an annex (Annex B) of “Known oil voucher recipients”.

According to Duelfer, “This annex contains the 13 secret lists maintained by Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan al-Jizrawi and the Minister for Oil, Amir Rashid Muhammad al-Ubaydi. A high-level Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) official provided the Iraq Survey Group with both English and Arabic versions of these lists on 16 June 2004. The lists reproduced here are the original SOMO translations in English."

The list has hundreds of names of individuals and corporations many of which, according to Duelfer, acted legally in dealing in Iraqi oil under the UN Oil for Food programme.

The first mention of George Galloway is contract M/09/23. This alleges that 1.014 million barrels of oil were allocated to “Mr Fawwaz Zurayqat - Mr George Galloway -Aredio Petroleum (French)”.

Look closely at the entry

The typeface (font) used for “Mr George Galloway” is different to the rest of the line. Indeed the only time the font is used in the entire document is for George Galloway entries.
"Mr George Galloway” does not line up with the rest of the words in the entry, it is at an angle to the other words.
The spacings between “Mr George Galloway” and the rest of the words are inconsistent.
The dash after the words “Mr George Galloway” touches the following word.
The words “Mr George Galloway” are at a different density (lighter) than the rest of the line.

The most likely explanation is that the words “Mr George Galloway” have been imported after the list was prepared, perhaps stuck on and then photocopied to produce the list in the Duelfer Report.

Elsewhere the Duelfer Report revisits this same contract note and, citing an internal Iraqi document, says the allocation was to “Fawaz Zuraiqat — Mariam’s Appeal”.

More: David Traynier has extracted this image of the Galloway reference from this page of the Duelfer report.

This is supposed to represent the entry on which Galloway was directly given money by Hussein's regime. If it doesn't look dodgy enough in itself, compare it to the rest of the entries. The format is different and the spacing is different.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Operation Muslim Vote. posted by Richard Seymour

Sometimes Channel Four does something brilliant that recalls its trouble-making days from the 1980s, and this documentary about a pair of activists from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee was such an occasion. MPAC, from all indications, is a youthful upstart, seeking to undercut the hegemony of the entrenched leadership in what I hesitate to call 'the Muslim community'. Its politics appear to be oriented around a progressive interpretation of Islam (see, for example, this article on the Islamic justification for the welfare state, which involves the usual references to the zakat, but more besides).

A number of things became glaringly apparent throughout: the two activists had a level of commitment, passion and clarity that I have rarely seen in mainstream politics; they never stood a chance against the unofficial Labourist hierarchy among Muslim leaders in places like Blackburn; and their strategy is totally inadequate.

The first point became obvious when they opened their mouths to speak, and when they stood up against some quite aggressive people outside Lord Patel's mosque, where they were intimidated and beaten. The second point was obvious when they emerged from the houses of some rich middle-class Muslims who wouldn't donate anything to help: "If you want to put a brilliant new chandelier in a mosque, these people will give you half a million quid. If you want to stop the man who's sending troops to kill and rape Iraqis, suddenly you're asking for too much! What kind of bullshit Islam are they following?" Well, the version that's compatible with being rich and reactionary, dummy! The last point was obvious from the start. Mobilising the Muslim vote is necessary, but insufficient. One thing that became apparent to me from my brief spell in the East End was that what is unctuously referred to as 'the Muslim community' is just as divided as 'the white community', 'the Jewish community' or any other imagined community you can think of. You have to expand your purview and your aim well beyond your particular ethnic group. Of course Muslims should oppose the massacres in Iraq and Palestine - but should not atheists, liberals, Christians, socialists and Jews also do the same? Can they not, and do they not? This weakness was crystallised when they allowed themselves to commend and distribute leaflets published by some local activists in Rochdale without checking the contents - the leaflet, they later discovered to their cost, contained the assertion that Lorna Fitzsimmons was Jewish, which was both wrong and totally irrelevant. Their response was to apologise profusely and reject the Islamophobic response that assumed that Muslims would vote against someone because of their race.

There was an awful lot of shit talked about the MPAC campaign by Jack Straw and others - this 'egregious' organisation that was so "well-funded". The camera showed how well-funded they were: toothbrush and towels for two activists with a bunch of leaflets. Yeah, they were flipping loaded. Straw also claimed that they had bussed in loads of people to campaign against him - again, not quite right. Two activists had come in their own vehicle, which isn't all that awe-inspiring when you think about it.

Anyway, I think the Respect strategy did a better job of mobilising Muslim and non-Muslim voters. I don't just think that - it's obvious. Where MPAC did contribute to getting a Lib Dem elected in Rochdale, they need to think seriously about what that amounts to. The Lib Dems were extremely unprincipled in their opposition to the war, temporising at times, suspending their opposition while the bloodshed was actually happening, and have hardly been principled or consistent opponents of Israeli aggression - it seems to me that we would be better off building a broad, progressive left-wing alliance, including Respect and the Greens, with electoral agreements, and using the marvellous election results as the basis for launching a sustained battery attack on Labour's biggest battalions.

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Irony. posted by Richard Seymour

Most of us know how to use irony, even if many confuse it with sarcasm. But I used to think only a certain kind of postmodernist knew how to use 'irony' in ever-expanding quotation marks. An irony that is reflexive, perpetuating itself in ever expanding circles of mockery. Now, news arrives that Jack Straw is a grey Kierkegaard, without the wit or moral seriousness. For lo, in today's Guardian , his comments on Uzbekistan are reported. Replying to a question about whether Britain would support an opposition movement in Uzbekistan (notice, not even invade or anything!), Straw said:

"It's for the people to decide on a change of regime, not outsiders."
I'm glad he finally got that straight.

Meanwhile, Craig Murray, who displays a sense of humour, outrage, political nous and moral seriousness that evades his former paymasters, writes in The Guardian this morning of the oppressive regime in Uzbekistan, of the support it gets from the US (both diplomatic and financial), and of the means of dismissal already being deployed - they're "Islamic terrorists" says Scott McLennan. Unto which: "I travelled to Andijan a year ago to meet the opposition leaders, and kept in touch. I can give you a direct assurance that they are - or in many cases were - in no sense Islamist militants. They died an unwanted embarrassment to US foreign policy. We will doubtless hear some pious hypocrisies from Jack Straw. But when I was seeking funding to support the proto-democrats, the Foreign Office turned me down flat."

Pious hypocrisies? From Jack Straw? See above.

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Carnival of the Uncapitalists. posted by Richard Seymour

It's that time of the week again: the unruly mob of uncapitalist nay-sayers are beseiging the blog-o-sphere. There will, as the ILWU president told Seattle protesters, be no business as usual today. Throw on a hoodie and keffiyeh, because this is Carnival of the Uncapitalists .

First, Bionic Octopus writes as an American Jew to demand that her 'right of return' to Israel be transferred to someone who actually wants it: a Palestinian. Then, Eli at Left I finds it curious that Cuba manages to look after its citizens' health better than the United States - not just that, it looks after the health of other nations with "more doctors serving abroad than the World Health Organisation". At Science and Politics , a Serbian Jewish atheist living in America demands bigger government, noting that conservatives have no problem with a big state, provided it is a guns-and-batons big state. Since we are all part of the government, Bora asks, hadn't we better start demanding better priorities from it?

Red Harvest gleans news of United Airlines cheating its 120,000 employees out of their pension entitlements, and the company is still trying to cut $75 million from wages and benefits. Meanwhile, Subversity has found corroborative evidence from an unlikely quarter that capitalists are evil. Political Calculations finds that modern cities in America are failing people, particularly families with children, by selling off public assets to the wealthiest buyers.

The socialist/situationist blog Fruits of our Labour remembers and celebrates the year 1871, "the fulcrum point of human history". The Paris Commune sent the bourgoisie scurrying into the arms of the reactionaries, and marked the point of cleavage between bourgeois democracy and working class democracy. Resist Oppression finds a curious aphasia strikes free-market economists when China intrudes on the scene: "where state control over capital allocation and rigid controls on currency exchange rates have produced a record rate of economic growth", thereby showing that the IMF-World Bank model of development is, mildly put, "a crock".

A free market anti-capitalist, The Mutualist objects to the government telling us we can't treat ourselves when we're sick. Come on, you know that's intriguing. Agitprop registers an impressive Swiftian disgust with the mainstream media, and urges leftists to "become the media", which is exactly what blogging should be about.

The man behind the uncapitalist curtain, Charles Norman Todd, has a nice piece at his regular blog Freiheit und Wissen about the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the infirmed Bush trade agenda. In particular, it seems that Cafta is meeting the opposition of the major farming industries as well as others, unlike Nafta whose primary opponent was labour, and is therefore likely to fail. Parenthetically, I would note that in a curious reversal of King Midas, everything Bush touches seems to turn to shit these days: social security, John Bolton, Iraq, Uzbekistan... He must be the most unlikely second-term President in history, returned only by the vacuity of the opposition.

Finally, in a late submission, To The Barricades records some extraordinary upheaval in Athens, with anarchists engaged in battle with armed police. Memories of November 17th are as vivid as ever. And, finally, my own contribution to this drunken riot is below . I'm not going to summarise it just to save you the effort of clicking on a link or scrolling down.

Next week, Carnival of the Uncapitalists is to be hosted by Agitprop . I have also been asked to remind carnival-goers that there is a new mailing list newsletter . If anyone wants to contribute to the Carnival in future, they should peruse the submission guidelines , and get in touch with Charles or Gretchen .

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Reforming the British State? posted by Richard Seymour

The bourgeoisie has charms, discreet and otherwise. Some of its allure can be accounted for in the unique dynamism that Marx imputed to it:

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.

The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his, real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.


The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour? (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848, chapter 1).

Such a heroic idealisation of that class was intended, of course, to allow Marx to bury it all the more comprehensively. In it, however, lies the seed of an error that underlies much present debate in my view. To summarise it, the error seems to me to consist of believing that Britain is unique among advanced capitalist states in the components of its polity, which are said to hold back political progress, guarantee conservative hegemony, and retard capitalist growth. This is a view of Britain that spans the whole terrain from academic Marxism to the Huttonite centre-left. It is as well not to forget the profound influence of Hutton on early 'new Labour' thinking. As David Coates points out in Prolonged Labour (2005), the 1990s had its 'Hutton moment', the time in the middle of the decade that saw Hutton's book The State We're In become a best-seller, and his ideas form a crucial intellectual back-drop to Blair's otherwise formless 'revolution' - that is, before Blair found a more malleable ally in Anthony Giddens, and a less demanding intellectual inspiration in Charles Leadbetter.

In his way, Hutton was answering to a crisis of capitalism that neoliberalism had not solved. During the 1980s, American economists like Robert Reich and William Lazonick had, respectively from social-democratic and Schumpeterian viewpoints, condemned what they described as an inflexible, short-termist, hierarchical Fordist model of production. One, they said, that did not invest nearly enough in research and development, tended to take skills of the shop-floor, and de-motivated the workforce. They ventilated most enthusiastically on the Japanese model of capitalism which had not yet experienced the kind of recessions and crises of profitability that the US and most Western European states. By creating 'vertical solidarity' in the workplace, privileging long-term market-share over short-term growth, and allowing a stable investment climate, Japan was said to have avoided the crises of the West. Much was ado about the 'yellow peril' when Nemesis arrived in the form of Japanese car and IT firms in the US. Such ideas were put cruelly to the test and found wanting when Japan's profit rates fell, financial crisis ensued, and the extraordinary 1980s splurge on capital began to yield negative returns.

A different fish of the same kettle, William Keegan wrote The Spectre of Capitalism as if the answer was to be found in social-democratic Europe and Rhineland capitalism. Some years later, as unemployment climbed and the Franco-German axis stagnated, this looked less convincing. Will Hutton wrote just as talk of a 'goldilocks economy' in the US hinted at the recrudescence and entrenchment of neoliberal orthodoxy. A 'new paradigm' was said to be emerging, one in which new technologies provided the means to improve productivity without allowing inflation to soar. Hutton, to his credit, was not bowled over, but still preferred the Rhineland and South Asian models of capitalism. His thesis triangulated three co-ordinates: constitutional reform, economic reconstruction and social renewal. In the first category, he proposed denuding the City of London of some of its powers, de-centralising the British state and reducing the powers of the Executive. These were intended, among other things, to free capitalism from the priorities of the City of London, whose origins were in mercantilism, feudalism and Empire. By reducing the obsession with short-term profits and keeping a high pound, one could produce a more balanced economy in which manufacturing could compete overseas and in which long-term investment was encouraged. The rest needn't detain us, although it bears remarking that his conception of the 40:30:30 society underpins much 'new Labour' talk about 'social exclusion' and 'insecurity' for the allegedly growing middle class.

The argument has its lineages in the more radical criticisms of Perry Anderson who, in The Origins of the Present Crisis (1964) argued that Britain was a backward state in which the ancien regime had yet to be completely disposed of. If, as he argued in Figures of Descent, the British pattern had universalised to some extent, he still maintained that Britain was unique. The theses were as follows: Britain had the first, but most mediated and least pure bourgeois revolution of any major European country; England had the first industrial revolution, and created a proletariat before the emergence of mature socialist theory, and the polarisation of industrial bourgeoisie and aristocracy was attenuated by the fear of this class, particularly in the wake of the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars; Britain had, by the end of the 19th Century, siezed the largest Empire in history, qualitatively distinct from other European powers, "which saturated and 'set' British society in a mould that it has retained to this day, with the consequence that most major figures of the British Left were vocal imperialists; among European nations, England alone emerged from the two world wars, unoccupied and without major exogenous shock or discontinuity to its social structure.

The consequence of all this was that Britain's culture, hegemonic ideology and leadership was unusually 'upper class', or aristocratic. The 'supine bourgeoisie' had formed a historic alliance with the aristocracy, particularly when the City pressed for the Restoration in the face of political anarchy. That legacy had produced the most profound conservatism, as the ideological rationale of the aristocracy was never fundamentally interfered with by a revolution with genuine egalitarian potencies. Similarly, parliament is a site of dominance for the old elite in which Conservative governance is 'natural', producing a continuous landscape of political power, whereas a Labour parliament becomes a "spotlit enclave, surrounded on almost every side by hostile territory". To properly expropriate the aristocracy of this hegemony was to fatally wound the bourgeoisie at the same time.

Gregory Elliot, largely accepting what has come to be known as the Nairn-Anderson thesis, wrote in a similar but more dyspeptic vein that to create even the preconditions for socialism, it was necessary to transform Britain into a more egalitarian Continental capitalist state (Labourism and the English Genius, 1993). He proposed a progressive coalition aimed at fundamentally reforming the British state, integrating it into a new European supranational entity with some power to tame, as Marx might have said, the powers of the nether world whom the bourgeoisie has called up by its spells. He supported Maastricht, particularly the Social Chapter, and the campaign by Charter 88 for electoral and constitutional reform.

Charter 88, consciously modelled in 1988 after Charter 77, embraced a then fashionable notion that Britain was somehow an unusually retrogressive or tyrannical state. ( Wikipedia has more here ). Many dinners were hosted and attended by well-known left-wingers (Harold Pinter, Billy Bragg etc), and the stage was set for the revival of Whiggery on the British political landscape. Blair's contumelious takeover of the Labour Party would have been that bit more difficult without that enabling ideology, which represented both a misconceived notion of the bourgeoisie and the state, and also a political retreat in the face of a successful New Right.

As I said from the outset, I think this whole conception is fundamentally in error. It misdiagnoses the failures of both socialism and capitalism, misconstrues the role of the monarchy, the City of London and the Executive, and mistakes the history of the bourgoisie. In The Pristine Culture of Capitalism, (1991), EM Wood provides a compelling analysis and critique of the Nairn-Anderson thesis which also equips us with some sound reasons for rejecting the more intellectually light-weight versions which persist today.

The facts of Britain's origins as a capitalist state are not in doubt: the priority of the English bourgeois revolution has fundamentally defined its subsequent trajectory and left it ill-equipped to undertake the restructuring of capital that would have enabled it to weather international competition more successfully. "But these facts are susceptible to more than one interpretation", says the voice of understatement. In particular, Wood argues, Britain is not less capitalist for its feudal trappings. And the bourgeoisie is not the uniquely privileged agent of capitalist development - it is a by now banal fact of history that it was the aristocracy that created the conditions for capitalism through its land enclosures, which forced the peasantry to rent its labour, and which in itself was aimed at cultivating cattle to produce wool for sale overseas. Many of those aspects of British capitalist society which Anderson would see as enfeebling capitalism, and resulting from its relative immaturity compared to European states, Wood suggests actually result from its relative advancement. And while Nairn correctly notes that the monarchy sits at the apex of an ideological structure in which pre-capitalist principles are perpetuated, thereby obfuscating genuine class-relations and mystically embodying the will of all, Wood notes that this has not in itself retarded the militancy of the British working class which, it is often forgotten, has historically outbid its Continental rivals in terms of combativity. The ideal-type of a 'pure' bourgeois revolution, in which the bourgeoisie assumes power and activates a period of capitalist expansion has nowhere obtained without significant mediation. British exceptionalism is therefore a penurious confection, incapable of explaining or solving either the crisis of British capitalism or the failure to date of the classical conception of socialism.

Europe is littered with ex-colonial powers, monarchies, and strange feudal-style contraptions fastened to the parliamentary chambers, so Britain is not unique in any of these respects. Those that have proportional representation do not necessarily reflect the will of the people any better than does the British system. Republics like the US do not seem to be less hierarchical or more democratic. For instance, the President's war-making powers have been more or less unofficially sequestered from Congress with little protest. The enduring power of the City of London may be worth taming or abolishing in itself, but it is not the cause of Britain's economic problems - the decline in manufacturing has much more to do with the determined onslaught of Thatcherism and the subsequent 'post-Fordist' consensus than with the undue influence of the City of London. There is nothing particularly progressive, as Dan Atkinson & Larry Elliot point out in The Age of Insecurity (1999), in a European Union in which the prerogatives of a brutal neoliberalism form the current vulgate. In fact, while most of the demands of groups like Charter 88 are valid, none of them resonate beyond their own diminishing borders.

There are moves afoot to challenge, in parliament, the royal prerogative which Blair, the Queen regnant of all our hearts, used to go to war. There is a campaign, being pushed by the Independent newspaper, for some form of proportional-representation. The current political landscape seems defined for many by stagnation, and an apparent imperviousness to registering the demands of electors. It is a mistake, however, to imagine that any but incidental or incremental differences would result from the abolition of the royal prerogative or any form of PR. The nation would still have gone to war if Blair had been obliged to get a vote, and a red-yellow coalition that would undoubtedly result from PR would be unlikely to be substantially more progressive or reflective of popular will. It is to the substance of political power, and in particular class power, that our critique and actions must cut. Through mobilising popular and working class radicalism for efforts inside and outside parliament, on the streets and in the trade unions, we stand a better chance not only of achieving the kinds of reforms that the Left should welcome, but also of developing the political capacity to terminate the system whose awesome global dominion, not immaturity or backwardness, is the compelling problem of our time.

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