Sunday, April 30, 2006

Marxism, the bourgeoisie and capitalist imperialism. posted by Richard Seymour

The bourgeois fairy-tale is much as follows: capitalism is simply the fullest augmentation, the completest development of commercial society. The human tendency to truck, trade and barter developed slowly out of communal societies with their increasingly complex divisions of labour; reached a peak in Greco-Roman civilisation (even with all its flaws); was suppressed by hordes of Barbarians who introduced irrationalist, status-oriented, communalist, aristocratic societies based on direct coercion; was liberated by the development of towns and cities, in which commerce and trade thrived, thus moulding the kinds of individualist, democratic and liberal ideologies that galvanised the masses into throwing off feudal shackles. Since then, the constant revolutionising of the means of production, an explosion in science and culture, the rationalisation of increasingly meritocratic hierarchies, the development of law, both domestic and international, and the general embetterment of humanity. Oh sure, a few mistakes, a few Great Tragedies, a few rotten apples spoiling an otherwise lush barrel - but then you don't want to return to the Middle Ages do you? No? Then get you to the clapped out bordello of Once Upon A Time and Happily Ever After! And don't forget to clap and cheer when we bomb those intransigent Arabs and Mussies who have refused Progress (an offer no one may refuse, no matter what Progress is taken to mean in any conjuncture).

It can't have escaped your notice that such a narrative is implicit in one form or another in certain radical or even, dare I say it, soi-disant Marxist narratives? There is not a shortage of Whiggish liberals who appear to think that Marx would have been On Their Side, usually against 'feudal theocrats' and their putative apologists/supporters. Perhaps they've had a read of Francis Wheen's elegant if sometimes misleading biography of Marx and, having seen him suitably domesticated, suitably humanised with his piles and flaws and rumbustiousness, have decided that he was an alright sort of cove, who merely Took Things Too Far. He was right about the bourgeoisie's revolutionary zeal, prophetic about capitalism's expansion, surely just in his wrath about the bad things in capitalism - to take it any further than that, to take his strange prophecies about capitalism's downfall and his advocacy of revolution seriously, would be to labour over the froth of what is only small beer.

It isn't that there is nothing in Marx's writing that might contribute to such perceptions. There is his advocacy of Free Trade; his heroic idealisation of the bourgeoisie's role in the Manifesto; the support for Abraham Lincoln; and his very complex writings on British imperialism in India. About these, nothing may be added that isn't spectacularly evident in the texts: Marx praised Free Trade only inasmuch as it would increase the prospects of revolution; his praise of Lincoln and the constitutionalist North was short-lived - Marx later criticised the timidity of the North, arguing that the war to end slavery was best fought as a revolutionary war, and had specifically praised Lincoln to the extent that his ending of slavery as a source of super-exploited labour for the bourgeoisie would also be a leap forward for the working class as a whole; the puffing of the bourgeoisie was an expression of the wish that it, weak in Marx's time, might destroy the old feudal forms of rule which persisted, as well as a rhetorical agitation for the real fulfilment of the bourgeoisie's promises; the writings on India were certainly not free of the Orientalist accretions of his time (neither is his Asiatic Mode of Production thesis for that matter), he did acknowledge that "The Indian will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the new ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindus themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether." And then: "The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked." Utterly relevant though this may be, unalloyed progressivism it is not.

Still, the narrative in the Manifesto does ascribe to the bourgeoisie a fundamentally progressive role, particularly in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, in the pitiless destruction of old social forms, the tearing asunder of all walls, the profaning of all that is holy, the drowning of heavenly ecstasies in the icy water of egoistic calculation etc. Importantly, the bourgeoisie rescues "a considerable part of the population from the idiocies of rural life". (My old boss used to love that quote). In that Marx, so EM Wood argues (in both The Pristine Culture of Capitalism from 1991 and The Origin of Capitalism, from 2002), we do not yet have a version of capitalism as a distinct break with the past: instead, capitalism is released from its primitive forms in the interstices of feudalism, liberated from the parcellisation and disarticulation of political power, and carried forward by the bourgeoisie, a descendant of the town-dwelling bhurgers, themselves descendants of oppressed serfs. For Marx's truly Marxist take, we need to Grundrisse and Capital. In his account of "the so-called primitive accumulation" of capital, Marx moves from a conception of capital as wealth and trade to an understanding of capital as embodying a specific social relation. Accumulation, whether from imperial theft or commerce, is not sufficient to create capitalism - it is not merely an augmentation of commerce. For capitalism to come about, social and property relations must be revolutionised. The specific laws of capitalism are not those that animate the small town trader to sell his wares: they are the imperatives of competition and profit-maximisation, the compulsion to reinvest surplus and the systemic need to constantly improve productivity.

And here Wood notes a curious paradox: the first country in which capitalism developed was England, and yet this was not brought about by the bourgoisie in urban settings. Rather, it was driven by large landowners in agrarian settings, often enclosing land - thereby depriving it of customary communal use so that it may be put to profitable uses as pasture (a practise defended in Locke's theory of property). The enclosures created masterless vagabonds, who might have created social anarchy and faced extinction were it not for state intervention, which ensured that instead they were convoked as a labour market. This, Wood suggests, might give us the right to deconstruct the binary oppositions of bourgeois theology: rural v urban; bourgeois v aristocrat; status v contract; coercion v liberty; etc.

As Wood is to a large extent distilling Brenner, it is worth revisiting what he has to say in his enormous and brilliant tome, Merchants and Revolution. If you happen to have this book, and have been desperately flipping through pages of detail about the development of commerce, the rise of the merchant opposition, the East India company, the colonies and so on in search of the heuristic, here's a tip: it's in the postscript. Brenner goes to great labours to show that the merchant class was not a revolutionary class devoted to the overthrow of feudalism. The majority were Royalists, whose wealth and power owed much to aristocratic privilege and favour. The parliamentarians tended to be middling traders and colonial entrepreneurs, those who would commit capital to the expansion of the tobacco trade in Virginia (while the traditional mercantile elite would not), and from whose ranks a new elite was created that led the shift from free white to enslaved black labour, and from small-scale tobacco production to large-scale sugar plantation (particularly after 1640). It was this new elite that formed the backbone of the parliamentarian movement. They were overwhelmingly from the 'middling sort', shopkeepers, artisans, a few sons of minor gentry and so on - people largely cut off from traditional sources of commercial, political and ecclesiastical power. The fact that the merchant class had worked with the state to exclude the middling sort from involvement in overseas commerce was a source of considerable political anger, and contributed substantially to the dynamism of that layer in the Civil War.

However, the transition from feudalism to capitalism had been effected and was being effected by a new capitalist aristocracy who, having relied on political-coercive claims on peasant production from the land (a means of production which the peasants owned), were so weakened by peasant resistance that they sought instead to place a claim on the land and turn it over to profitable use, entering into contractual agreements with free, market-dependent tenants who often employed wage labour. The bulk of the ruling class, according to Brenner, had become capitalist in this sense before the Civil War, which in the traditional narrative would have represented the emancipation of capital from the feudal shackles. I simply raise this argument, knowing it to be controversial, as an illustration of how Whiggish histories apparently operating within the historical materialist framework might be challenged. The criticisms of this thesis are often well above my head and well without my province (for instance, I have no way of judging the validity of Brenner's claim that most of England's ruling class was capitalist prior to 1640, which is heavily contested in some quarters - in connection with this, it isn't true, as Perry Anderson claimed, that Brenner concedes a transitional role to the revolutionary bourgeoisie. The equation of bourgois with capitalist is precisely what Brenner sets out to challenge on the one hand, and on the other, he attributes a substantial role in the parliamentarian side of the Civil War to the landowning class, who were certainly not against absolutism or aristocracy).

What is worth saying is that Brenner's case is consistent with Marx's treatment of "the so-called primitive accumulation", inasmuch as the decisive movement is not the freeing of capital (supposedly in a 'bourgeois revolution') as much as the creation of the new social relation known as capital. Anyway, even if you will argue that it has historically been the case, it isn't necessarily the case that the bourgeoisie must defeat a feudal class to create the conditions in which capital may operate. If the paradigm of the 'bourgeois revolution' rests on the conflation of 'bourgeois' with 'capitalist', it also relies on some obfuscation. If the French revolution was bourgeois, it is by no means clear that it was capitalist. And if a section of the bourgeoisie in England was both revolutionary and capitalist, this could only be because capitalism had already been established as a unique social relation (rather than simply having evolved out of commerce). Aside from this, as Brenner and Wood point out, this narrative is heavily dependent on the standard bourgeois commercialization thesis, and is therefore deterministic and 'stageist'.

Final point on Wood's version of capitalist imperialism, described through the instance of Ireland but more widely applicable. Since many left accounts of the rise of capitalism tend to accentuate the role of colonial exploitation in the 'primitive accumulation of capital', Wood points out that a) this is to confuse capital as social relation with capital as wealth and b) Spain was an early colonial power which exploited South America's mines to the hilt, yet tended to expend this 'capital' on feudal pursuits. Colonial wealth would certainly have contributed to the development of capitalism once established, but it would not have been a sufficient or even necessary cause of capitalism. What capitalism did do, however, was alter the nature of imperialism. Colonialism, slavery and the plantation took new forms, and were usually intensified. Precapitalist imperialism tended to find labour attached to land more valuable than land own its own, while capitalist imperialism with its imperative to improve productivity under competitive pressure had plenty of incentive to disposess direct producers. Extra-economic coercion was still now an alibi to economic transformation, rather than simply a means to obtaining a surplus. Capitalism in England had also produced a disposessed 'surplus population' that was also a potential wave of colonists (if you haven't already, see Rediker & Linebaugh's The Many-Headed Hydra on this process). And just as the expropriated of England and Ireland would often go on to collaborate in the expropriation of the New World, so the legal arguments used to justify the expropriation of the New World would be used to justify enclosures in England. But it is the economic imperatives imposed on the colonised that is new, and these usually involve disaster, going quite as far as genocide in North America. This isn't a progressivist view of capitalism - but then, Marx is not a progressivist either. In the earlier cited articles on India, I think what is worth noting, what is particularly Marxist about the approach is not this Jamesonian attitude of perfectly balancing the benefits (revolutionising) and drawbacks (greatest disaster ever) of capitalism in one's mind, without attenuating the force of either. Nor is it obviously a celebration of the progressive role of the bourgeoisie. It is the attempt to locate the opportunities for revolutionary change in the disasters and crimes wrought by the bourgeoisie. It is never a choice between the bourgeoisie and 'theocracy' or 'fascism' or whatever the case may supposedly be - where the former are not to be found in direct collusion with the latter, they remain opponents of the working class, and their imperialism has nothing to do with emancipation.

Update: Thanks to Louis Proyect for these links. Listen to Chris Harman debate Robert Brenner here; read a separate article by Harman here; read Louis' account here; and read Neil Davidson here. There's also an excellent couple of pieces from Neil Davidson in recent issues of Historical Materialism, but the articles are not yet available online as far as I know.

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300,000 March Against War in NYC posted by Richard Seymour

While some evangelical nutters have been organising for a war on Sudan, the antiwar movement has pulled its shit together to demand the end of the occupation of Iraq and oppose war with Iran:

Tens of thousands of protesters marched Saturday through lower Manhattan to demand an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, just hours after this month's death toll reached 70.

Cindy Sheehan, a vociferous critic of the war whose soldier son also died in Iraq, joined in the march, as did actress Susan Sarandon and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"End this war, bring the troops home," read one sign lifted by marchers on the sunny afternoon, three years after the war in Iraq began. The mother of a Marine killed two years ago in Iraq held a picture of her son, born in 1984 and killed 20 years later.


The demonstrators stretched for about 10 blocks as they headed down Broadway. Organizers said 300,000 people marched, though a police spokesman declined to give an estimate. There were no reports of arrests.

"We are here today because the war is illegal, immoral and unethical," said the Rev. Al Sharpton. "We must bring the troops home."

Organizers said the march was also meant to oppose any military action against Iran, which is facing international criticism over its nuclear program. The event was organized by the group United for Peace and Justice.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Paras in Iraq. posted by Richard Seymour

I missed this from a couple of days ago:

British paratroopers secretly operating in support of the SAS in Iraq are using American uniforms, weapons and vehicles as part of their cover, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

Although John Reid, the Defence Secretary, only announced this week that the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) had become operational, a company of more than 100 paratroopers has been working for six months in Baghdad. They have reportedly become so successful that American special forces have called on their help.

The SFSG was formed mainly because it was found that small groups of highly trained SAS troopers did not have enough firepower to take on large groups of Iraqi and Afghan terrorists. The unit has already seen a substantial amount of action in Baghdad.

Whenever the SAS goes on raids to apprehend terrorists in highly dangerous areas of Baghdad, the Paras are used to provide perimeter security.

Arriving in US Humvees, dressed in American army fatigues and armed with C7 Diemaco guns - a Canadian made version of the M16, the men have fought several battles with insurgents while protecting SAS colleagues.

"The SAS are doing the smash and grab but all the contacts are happening on the perimeter and there are a serious amount of rounds going down the range," a Parachute Regiment source said.

"They are making a really good name for themselves with the Hereford blokes and the Americans. If the shit hits the fan and the SAS need them, the boys are there as a quick reaction force."

The paras have a curious record in the archives of British counterinsurgency. Initially formed during World War II to be dropped behind enemy lines and "set Europe ablaze", as Winston Churchill had it, they became a straightforward hardcore commando unit used in imperial operations, in Malaya, Borneo, Aden and the Suez. They have a reputation for swift, brutal and direct aggression that is not to be expected from other units, and appear to regard themselves as vastly superior to the much-hyped SAS. Despite their record of brutality, their record isn't one of unalloyed success. John Newsinger describes in his British Counterinsurgency: From Palestine to Northern Ireland how their deployment in Aden led to a serious defeat and to their retreat under a hail of attacks from the NLF. Similarly, their atrocities in Ireland, particularly the shooting of 42 unarmed demonstrators on 30 January 1972, killing 13 on the spot, actually led to a military and political catastrophe, fuelling recruitment to the Provisional IRA and leading to decades of attacks on security forces and the mainland. (One of the curious myths about the Provos is that they uniquely and particularly targetted civilians - in fact, in Death Squad, edited by Jeffrey Sluka, the figures show that of deaths in N/Ireland during the troubles, two main groups of victims can be found - Security forces and Catholic civilians, the former killed by IRA operations, the latter by loyalist death squads operating as an auxiliary to British intelligence. IRA activities were overwhelmingly military activities against the occupying army). Of course, the very idea of having a parachute regiment was swiftly rendered eloquently ridiculous - men parachuting themselves to the ground are easily caught and rounded up, because they tend not to travel too fast. They also make easy targets against a bright blue sky. So, it's a bit of a laugh to read the Telegraph's masturbatory regurgitation of myths about the paras heroism and derring-do.

The brutality of the regiment is not in doubt. Eamon McCann, who was among those present on Bloody Sunday, has a fascinating talk about the political psychology of the parachute regiment here and here. Citing a range of sources, from books by paras to testimony at the Saville enquiry, McCann paints a baroque portrait of disturbed young men drawn from backgrounds of what is euphemistically referred to as 'care', given a structure of rules and an identity as part of the regiment ("you should have seen twenty of us marching down the street on Friday night, in our boots and maroon jackets" etc). The men pride themselves on doing things that others would find disgusting - initiation rites involving swallowing a pint of vomit, for instance. They nurture extreme racism toward Catholics, and knowingly (and with officers' knowledge) contrive to break every rule of peace and war, including firing on protesters with rubber bullets loaded with razor-blades, smashing skulls with lead-filled truncheons, firing indiscriminately on men, women and children (with the excuse that some obscure figure had fired on them first).

Well, that's the regiment that was sent into Derry on Bloody Sunday, and it is the regiment that was sent in to massacre West Side Boys in Sierra Leone, and it is the regiment that is operating in Iraq. Knowing what we know about them, it would stretch credulity to breaking point to swallow the Telegraph's portrait of valorous commandos holding back waves of insurgents. More likely is that they simply shoot whatever moves, riddle houses with bullets, shoot up vehicles and take pictures of the bodies.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Tower Hamlets Vote Fraud posted by Richard Seymour

Just on BBC News this lunchtime was a story about thousands of voters being denied their postal voting ballots in Tower Hamlets - that is, thousands of voters have applied for them and not received them, and the suspicion is obviously that someone is using them to bump up their party's support, mainly the Liberal Democrats. What appears to have happened is that voters were persuaded to sign forms which they were not told would actually lead to their postal ballots being diverted to a third-party address. This was brought to the attention of electoral officials by Respect, and Special Branch are now investigating.

Another area where vote-rigging appears to have been going on is Birmingham, where Labour councillors have a history of this kind of corruption. But again, it may be the Yellow Tories behind it. A fifty year old woman was arrested and released on bail after having been found with a stash of postal ballots. Entirely coincidentally, she is the wife of a Liberal Democrat candidate.

We've seen this before: in the general election last year, two Birmingham council officials were found to have stuffed 1000 postal ballots into a sealed box; Oona King encouraged constituents to send postal ballots to - where else? - her constituency office; and it was discovered that there were many 'ghost voters' in Bethnal Green & Bow, not least in premises owned by a Mr Salique, a restauranteur who had a large, glowing portrait of Oona King on the wall of his Hanbury Street outlet, as well as a framed letter from the Prime Minister promising to read a book he had written. It became so bad that international observers were brought in to oversee the elections in Birmingham and Bethnal Green & Bow.

Also worth posting here is the news that Respect candidates in Wapping have just won a victory in court against the Tower Hamlets returning officer, who had excluded them from the ballot on a technicality - which the judge said was an abuse of power. The vote in that ward has been suspended and a bye-election will be held some time after May 4th, which is very bad news for Labour.

Update: More details here. Turns out there's also a whole tower block in the Limehouse ward full of people who have been registered for postal votes despite the fact that most of them did not request one.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Where have Labour gone? posted by Meaders

It's been making me suspicious. Canvassing over the last few weeks has dug out stacks and stacks of Respect voters, right through Tower Hamlets: in just under an hour yesterday evening, I reckon two of us canvassing picked up more than 30 pledges to vote Respect across one of our weaker patches in Whitechapel.

But where are all the Labour voters? I'm assuming the election is going to be a close-run thing; there is a century's worth of Labour support out there that will not disappear overnight. Thousands of people will vote for Labour candidates. I'm stuffed, however, if I can find anyone prepared to admit they're going to vote Labour. They'd state their support in the general election - often rather emphatically. Not this time. It's getting like the Tories in 1997.

Nor have I seen any Labour Party canvassers. A couple of local councillors have been glimpsed, occasionally, skittering between houses with leaflets. Michael Keith, council leader, has appeared at Saturday morning markets with a posse of some sort. But of ordinary members, doing the leg-work - not a glimpse, despite the Party's stirring call for support last Saturday. (I'm told the constituency office, abuzz with apparatchiks at this point in the general election, remained deserted throughout the day.)

It doesn't look good, either here, or nationally:

Labour support has dropped to the lowest point since the party's heavy defeat in the 1987 general election, according to an ICM opinion poll for the Guardian. Its share of the vote has dropped by five points since March, putting it on 32%, two points behind the Conservatives.

Amusingly, the Tories' support is "flatlining... despite the massive - and largely positive - publicity Mr Cameron has enjoyed." They've increased their support by a colossal 1% since the 2001 general election, but will no doubt pick up quite a few local council seats.

The real story here, and it's something that's been coming through since at least the 2004 Euro elections, is the breakdown of the two-party system. The neoliberal consensus - or, better, the neoliberal-plus-Iraq consensus - in the political centre is an increasingly decrepit way to sustain national party organisation. At present, the Lib Dems stand to gain most from this, almost by default: however, as bitter experience in Tower Hamlets has shown, they've demonstrated themselves to be no better locally (and in many circumstances significantly worse) than New Labour. That the Lib Dem's weak political leadership has set itself the monumental task of propping up the crumbling centre hardly augurs well for the organisation.

An aside: the fact that Respect can talk with a great deal of credibility about international issues is a major strength locally, in a way I had't anticipated. Although Canary Wharf is the focus, a creeping gentrification has taken place elsewhere in the borough. These are people who haven't lived here long and don't necessarily notice the same local concerns - but do know that Respect has a record in opposing the war on Iraq, opposing Islamophobia, and supporting Palestinian rights. We immediately have something to say to them where the other parties do not.


The discussion about Respect here turned up this useful report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the BNP's support. A few points have been commented on already, most noticeably the maintenance of fascism's classic petit bourgeois social base - something that disappears behind the BNP's own rhetoric, aped by the mainstream press, of appealing to the disaffected white working class. Similarly, the correlation with income is pronounced, but not in the way we've been led to believe:

...where the income of the wards increases, so the BNP vote increases, with a correlation of 0.248 for the net weekly household income and 0.183 when housing costs are taken into account... Overall, it seems, the poorer the ward the less likely the BNP are to do well.

Something else that struck me was this:

...seems that up to a certain percentage (around 7 per cent), electoral support for the BNP increases with the percentage of Asians in the local population. Above that level, however, the level of BNP support actually goes down, particularly for Leicester and Birmingham which have very high proportions of Asian residents, but lower levels of BNP support than, say, Burnley.

This runs rather against the, er, "thesis" advanced by Trevor Phillips that British society is being pushed to the brink by non-integrated ethnic minorities. It ties in well, however, with the slightly more credible opinion of the government's voluminous State of the Cities report (PDF, 3Mb). Using the best available measure of segregation, the researchers find that (p.148):

Segregation between Whites and Non-Whites, measured at ward level, has fallen in the vast majority of cities between 1991 and 2001... There are only eight cities... where segregation has increased in the last decade. In only two cases was it by a significant amount, Blackburn +0.08 and Norwich +0.06...

Segregation by income, wealth and employment is greater than segregation by ethnicity.

What's been disturbing of late is how much conventional liberal discourse has mirrored that of far Right. Confronted with deliberate racist provocation, too many liberals started bleating with Nick Griffin about their "right" to be racist. Confronted with a fascist rhetoric of "ghetto towns" and "no-go areas", too many liberals have addressed themselves to alleged "segregation" - this at the same time as actual segregation has been declining. What emerges most clearly in the Joseph Rowntree report is the crying need for an alternative to both political tropes.

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Hewitt Feels Your Pain posted by bat020

It takes a particular kind of genius to get heckled by the Royal College of Nursing – hardly an organisation known for its strident militancy - but health secretary Patricia Hewitt has gone and done it:

Hewitt heckled by furious nurses

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has been heckled for the second time in three days by health workers. Ms Hewitt was jeered and slow hand-clapped by nurses at a conference in Bournemouth as she tried to address their fears about NHS deficits.

Nurses were angered by her suggestion they had had big pay rises and debts were confined to a minority of trusts. Her speech ended in confusion as the audience erupted in jeers. It came after she addressed Unison on Monday.

Incidentally check this line from Hewitt for Nu Labour Touchy Feely Managerialism at its most pukeworthy:

"I know that you're angry about the possibility of redundancies among some hospital staff. Anybody facing the prospect of redundancy is entitled to feel that."

Background reading: report on the Unison health conference here + check out the Keep Our NHS Public campaign.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

BNP myths help Nazis. posted by Richard Seymour

About time someone dealt with Margaret Hodge's drivel:

When employment minister Margaret Hodge said eight out of ten white voters might vote BNP in Barking, it was linked by many in the media to a new report called The BNP: The Roots of its Appeal

This report is produced by Democratic Audit, an academic research unit based at the University of Essex, and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

In fact the report is far more sober and nuanced in its assessment of the BNP threat than the media spin would suggest.

It mentions polls in London in 2004 that found 23 percent of respondents said they “might vote” for the BNP, as opposed to those who “could never vote” for them.

But it also cites poll data that 64 percent of people across Britain expressed a strong dislike for the BNP.

This “seems to confirm the existence of a large majority of voters for whom extremist parties advocating racist ideas are an anathema”, the report’s authors write.

The report cites these figures to argue against complacency over the potential for the BNP to grow in Britain.

Many mainstream commentators assume that there is something special about the “British character” that ensures fascism will always remain politically marginal.

But this is not the case. In a climate of racism and disillusion with all the mainstream political parties, it is quite possible for the BNP to grow significantly – as the “penumbra” of people who say they “might vote” for the party demonstrates.

However, the general potential for fascism to rise in times of crisis should not be confused with an actual rise in fascist support.

The real story recently is not the remorseless rise of the BNP, but its sharp decline in much of east London and, in general, its inability to hold on to seats where it has fooled people into voting for it once.

Labour knows that many of its supporters are angry about the government’s policies, but might be coaxed into campaigning for Labour if the fascists pose a threat.

Talking up the BNP is dangerous – but viewed as useful for Labour. This does not mean the report which was trailed in the media last week is itself warped or useless.

The authors explain how important it is for the BNP to be able to repackage racism in terms of defences of “free speech” or attacks on Islam. “It is this stance that allows them to campaign viciously on race and especially against Muslims while retaining an outward air of respectability,” they write.

Perhaps the most interesting section of the report analyses recent electoral results to determine who exactly is voting for the fascists.

The authors note that the empirical evidence is at odds with much of the “conventional wisdom” about those attracted to the BNP.

It cites evidence that “it is the lower middle classes rather than the poorest social classes which are drawn to the far right” and that in council wards where the BNP stood candidates, “where the income of the ward increases, so the BNP vote increases”.

The report also notes that while the BNP tends to focus on traditional Labour strongholds, it “gains its electoral support from all three of the largest parties, and not just Labour.

“In fact the BNP gains most from the Conservatives and least from Labour.”

Naturally, the BNP hysteria surrounding New Labour's claims, the 'Rowntree Report' and the New East End, has led to a spate of stories and polls asking people if they like the BNP, think they're decent guys, support their avowed policies etc. Sky News did a job for the BNP by claiming that poll results showed support for the far right. In fact, what they did show was support for a number of racist policies (to do with curbing immigration) but that this support was diminished by association with the BNP. No one wants to be seen as a Nazi scumbag, no matter how racist they are. One would surmise from all of this that the UAF campaign in the short term needs to amplify the fascist, criminal background of the BNP while over the longer term tackling head-on the root causes of racism itself. One way to go about this is to look at the class background of what are supposedly issues of 'race'...

Photograph by Angela Stapleford.

By the way, you can download a PDF of the Rowntree report here.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Nepal: Gyanendra is begging now. posted by Richard Seymour

King Gyanendra will give back parliament. Honest, he will. And he's ever so sorry about all the deaths. He's cried and everything. He even refers to the "people's movement". Gosh, anyone would think he was doing anything to hang on to power, however humiliating.

Yeah, not good enough. We demand real self-effacement. Pull your bags down. Yup. Now, bend over and spread your cheeks apart. Mmmm hmmm. Hell, King, let's see you talk through that thing. No difference, eh? Whyn't you go ahead and dance, honey?

Something tells me the revolution is not quite through with this guy yet.

Update: A postmodernist relativist like John Game writes...

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Egypt explosion. posted by Richard Seymour

30 dead, 100 injured.

Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya have just this month had 900 of their prisoners released from prison, so one hesitates to pin this on them, unless of course they were asked to do this by the Egyptian regime as a trade off - freed prisoners in exchange for something to scare an insurgent public into complicity. The Egyptian state has a history of using the right-wing of Islamism against the Left.

However. There are plenty of groups in Egypt which claim an association with 'Al Qaeda' (they claim a local franchise on the brand name, in other words). The series of explosions in Sharm el-Sheikh back in July last year was claimed by three, count 'em, three, groups, including the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a reference to an Islamist ideologue, Palestinian from Jenin, devotee of Sayyid Qutb, fighter in Afghanistan, and teacher (a lot of these guys are teachers for some reason) who was killed along with his two sons in 1989 in Peshawar. One of the suspects in the killing was the faction around bin Laden - others included the CIA, ISI and Mossad. The other two groups claiming responsibility were the Tawhid wal Jihad group in Egypt and Holy Warriors of Egypt. No one had ever heard of these latter groups before, but the Abdullah Azzam Brigades do seem to have been active in the Levant and Egypt before.

The strategy of targeting tourist resorts is very familiar (these attacks took place in Dahab, a resort town in the Sinai peninsula) and they are presumably much as explicated by al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya's former deputy chief Tal'at Fu'ad Qasim: 1) it costs the state a great deal, since tourism constitutes a huge amount of state revenues in Egypt, approximately $6bn in 2004 alone; 2) ideologically, tourists are designated AIDS-carriers, drug-takers, spies, Jews and what have you. (See 'What does Gama'a al-Islamiyya Want?' in Political Islam, Joel Beinin and Joe Stork eds, 1997). This, incidentally, would probably go toward explaining the targeting of tourist destinations in Indonesia, such as Bali.

Just as Gama'a al-Islamiyya was one of the groups that broke from the Muslim Brotherhood when it renounced violent means in the 1970s, so one assumes there are others operating now that the Gama'a has publicly renounced its use of violence after the attack in Luxor.

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Walks straight into the propellors... posted by Richard Seymour

...and is distributed into many fine particles. The last time I recall seeing Hewitt get such a hostile reception was during her speech to the TUC in 2001, and even then she didn't get heckled as far as I remember. The result of that bruising encounter was that the press was filled with speculation that Blair's speech the next day would meet a similarly unhappy fate. However, just as Blair was about to make his speech, a news ticker alerted viewers to a plane crash in New York.

There are threats of strike action, which is a surprise given Prentis's recent involvement in the capitulation on pensions. Prentis is reflecting grassroots anger, undoubtedly the compounded result of chronic, simmering fury about the PFI scams which have now proven so costly, so burdensome, so irrational, that thousands of staff are being sacrificed as a result. Everywhere this disastrous scheme has been tried, it has been a total mess. The Queen Elizabeth II hospital outside Woolwich, where I used to live, was in a mire of debt within months of its opening. It was shortly thereafter technically bankrupt. This has been replicated up and down the country, wherever this crackpot scheme has been tried. The government is so insane with its neoliberal pseudo-millenarianism that it is prepared to experiment with NHS patients and still tries to ride out these signs of burgeoning crisis with a shit-eating grin and glib assurances that this is the best year ever for the NHS. I would hope for the Prime Minister to find his heart in need of surgical attention, but predictably he uses only the finest private medical services, such as might once have been on friendly terms with the Queen Mother and her ugly, ugly family.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Campaigning in Tower Hamlets. posted by Richard Seymour

"Cocking hell, where the Nigel Christ are they? Where in the name of fuck...?" I repeatedly muttered this mantra to myself as I stalked up and down Brick Lane looking for my co-canvassers. I eventually found them back at the Respect office, which was teeming with activity. It's a war office, folks, dispatching legions of valorous young recruits to the front lines, armed to the teeth with pamphlets, tabloid materials, maps, clipboards, rosettes, badges and other paraphernalia. A radio crackled with messages from the front line: "There's three men down in Spital Street, Colonel - they say their legs are fucking killing them!" The response was swift and urgent: "Send replacements immediately! Dem those Jerries! I want every publican in the vicinity to be on standby!"

There's possibly some exaggeration going on there. In my occasional bouts of electoral work, I always develop a profound sympathy for the postman. Everyone says that, but might I also add that my sympathies extend to the humble plumber and window cleaner and salesperson and pizza delivery man, and anyone so employed that they must find an address rapidly and without trouble. The chaotic torsions of addresses in London - and the East End in particular - are legion, and legendary. Enclaves of cramped and immiserated existence are secreted behind the most curious facades, particularly on commercial streets. To even get to the doors of one set of houses, we had to charm a builder or someone to let us through his garage and so out a side door and into a back yard. Don't ask about the nature of that charm, by the way. Suffice to say, I will bend over backwards, forwards and sideways to get Respect elected.

On which periphrastic note, I might add my endorsement of another cliche - the extremes of wealth and poverty are so dramatically evident to the eye in this part of the country as to be shocking. They exist, as it were, cheek by perineum. I must have said this a few times before, but this time I have pictorial evidence. Those few sad Doubting Thomas's who dared arouse themselves in skepticism about what was quite literally an observation will now have to whimper and recant. For instance, here's a street not very far from Liverpool Street station, with the infamous dildo-shaped building protruding in the background:

Here are some luxury flats just around the corner:

There are three thousand people in the City of London alone who earn more than a million pounds. Beneath them, a few strata of higher earners who get to have balconies and palm trees. I console myself with the thought that one day they will make fine street sweepers.

Here is a view from one of the blocks of flats I canvassed:

No more distance between council housing and city monuments to wealth and power than might be covered by your average rocket launcher, I should say. Here, for no reason other than interest, is the bottom of Brick lane:

I sense a question forming on your lips, like sweat agglomerating on an eager athlete's labial cavity: "What did you learn from your experience?" Well. First of all, I expect the turnout to be rather low. Just a hunch. Secondly, Labour are kidding themselves if they think all of the anti-Galloway invective they've been trying out is actually making the impact they would like. Aside from the Respect posters all over the place, (one or two shop owners had both Labour and Respect posters, it has to be said - spreading their bets in the hope that planning permission will not be denied whatever the majority in town hall), there was barely a whiff of hostility to Galloway or Respect on the doorsteps. This is not to say it doesn't exist - the borough is very polarised, with a great number of Respect votes in some areas and hardly any in others. It's just that they don't appear to have made any real inroads to our support. Like Marmite, we're either loved or loathed, and like Millwall, we don't care. Worth adding that some artistic scamps have designed posters which seem to be ubiquitous around the trendier areas featuring pictures of George Galloway "Wanted: For Refusing to Take Bribes" and "Wanted: For Crimes Against Inhumanity". Thirdly, if the goal is to take Tower Hamlets council, and it surely is, then this is a much more difficult fight than unseating Oona King. Local Labour councillors are, as far as I can tell, doing their best to back-track from support for the Crossrail project. This issue is not a strong point for them, however. They will also have some difficulty explaining their support for the privatisation of council housing, an issue on which Respect has been very strong. But they are perhaps not as compromised by support for the war as Oona King was, and it will simply not be the same kind of issue that it was in a national election campaign. So, it's a harder fight. But our organisation is strong locally, and I might add that our support is enthusiastic whereas I expect much of the support for Labour will be grudging and sullen. I seriously doubt that Labour candidates get supportive calls from passing drivers and young guys on the streets as we did. And our posters and banners are much more evident than theirs.

One last thing. My feet are fucking killing me. Why can't addresses make sense? Why can't the council make tower block lifts work? Why can't letter box manufacturers refuse to supply those fuzzy things that tickle your hand as you insert a leaflet? Why can't everything simply be handed to me on a fucking silver platter, dammit! Why can't the world accomodate itself to what I want, and what I deserve? Damn and blast it all. Vote Respect.

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Nepal - the king is going down. posted by Richard Seymour

The fact that the King has offered to return executive power "to the people" (presumably hoping to remain as a constitutional monarch and bide his time for a renewed putsch), and that this has been rejected suggests that this revolt is going all the way:

In an address broadcast on state television the monarch thanked the army for its "discipline and valour" but conspicuously did not refer to the dead or injured protesters. His concession was that "executive power ... shall, from this day, be returned to the people". Groups gathered around Kathmandu after the speech, with some marchers chanting "Hail democracy! Gyanendra leave the country!"

Within minutes the largest political party, the Nepali Congress, dismissed the king's gambit, saying the monarch had "not clearly addressed the road map of the protest movement". The demonstrations, which the party helped to orchestrate, would continue, the spokesman added.

Since last November the seven largest parties and the Maoist guerrillas have come to an understanding that would see the rebels give up the gun in return for elections to an assembly that would rewrite the constitution, making the crown powerless or obsolete. Sujata Koirala, of the Nepali Congress, told the Guardian that the king was not making "a major concession at all. We have asked to reactivate the parliament so that a new constitutional settlement can be worked out. He has not listened."

It reminds one of the Iranian revolution, during which the Shah first tried to murder the rebels, then placate them, then finally was forced to flee "on holiday". The Guardian reports that the Maoist guerillas have been in Kathmandu, negotiating with the other parties and participating in the demonstrations. The opposition parties, it seems, are intent on a deal including the Maoists in a future government. One assumes that a democratic republic with multi-party competition will emerge, but whether a new government will be able to break the nepotistic power of the landowning and capitalist classes remains to be seen.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Nepal addendum posted by bat020

This has just popped into my inbox - feel free to distribute.

Dear friend,

Nepal stands at the brink. A mass movement for democracy has thrown down a gauntlet to the King who usurped power from an elected assembly fourteen months ago.

A general strike for democracy has entered its third week and, so far, at least nine protesters have been killed and many thousands have been injured. On the King's orders, the army and police have fired both plastic bullets and live rounds at protesters. Everyday there are indiscriminate beatings and tear gassing. Leaders of the political parties opposed to the King have been rounded up and imprisoned. Journalists who have dared to challenge restrictions to their right to report the truth have been told that they will be interned for up to three months.

While the army and police are heavily equipped and dressed in armoured riot gear, the people they brutalise are dressed in T-shirts and sandals. Those who so bravely put their lives on the line as part of a fight for democratic rights expect and deserve the support of trade unionists, human rights activists and anti-globalisation protesters in the West. In the last week there have been solidarity protests around the world, and these are reported by some of the news outlets that reach the Nepalese people.

Therefore, we call for an emergency protest in solidarity with the Nepalese movement for democracy. This protest will be both a condemnation of the violence used against the democracy movement and a celebration of the resistance of the Nepali people. Therefore, it will continue even if the King grants concessions in the meantime.

We will picket the Royal Nepalese Embassy, 12a Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 on Saturday 29 April, 2006 at 1pm. It would mean a lot if you could join us and spread the word.

Please bring banners and placards with you.

In solidarity,

Dr Arjun Karki
President of the NGO Federation of Nepal and co-author of The People's War in Nepal
David Seddon
Professor of Development Studies, University of East Anglia and co author of The People's War in Nepal, Nepal in Crisis, Peasants and Workers in Nepal
Jonathan Neale
author of Tigers of the Snow
Yuri Prasad
editor Socialist Review
South Asia Solidarity Group

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Maoists: Take Kathmandu, Take Nepal! posted by Richard Seymour

Disdaining fortune, with their brandished steel which smoked with bloody revolution...

What are they waiting for? A popular revolution has broken out against the absolute monarch in Nepal, a general strike has been in force for weeks, there are daily street protests ... and neighbouring states (and the US) are terrified and desperately calling for the reinstatement of the 'official' democratic government. To hell with that. Death to that. That's rearranging furniture on the Titanic. Maoists: Take Nepal. The Nepalese Communist Party have already liberated much of the countryside. They have, if anything, been excessively reasonable - everyone knows they could have won Nepal some time ago, but have been wary of an intervention by the US. Despite remarkable military successes over their now ten year long campaign, they offered ceasefire after ceasefire, which the Royal Nepalese Army has refused to honour. King Gyanendra, having taken power in a 2002 coup, has hoped that his autocratic rule would crush the insurgency and that this would be indulged internationally - in the post-9/11 climate, he had used the lingua franca of counter-terrorism to justify his putsch. The US supplied the Royal Nepalese Army with $12 million for military training and 5,000 M-16 rifles that year, and subsequently carried out military exercises with them in 2003. The Maoists have publicly supported moves by opposition parties to create a more inclusive multiparty democracy, even though they have already created viable alternative government structures in their autonomous zones. Nothing doing.

The Nepalese police have been fighting with protesters and have committed several massacres. The UN has been typically even-handed, blaming both protesters (who threw some stones) and police (who killed unarmed protesters). The protesters for their part, have refused to obey a curfew imposed by the absolutist monarch, and on C4 footage they could be seen trying to drive police out of their neighbourhoods with some handy bricks, some waving red flags with the old hammer and sickle.


Political parties had been banned in Nepal from 1962 until 1990, when a popular movement forced the state to allow multiparty elections. Elections had been quoshed after the success of the Nepalese Congress Party, a moderate socialist outfit. King Mahendra declared the parliamentary system a failure, and restored semi-feudal political structures that matched the feudal structure of land ownership. The Maoists were sceptical of the 1990 settlement, however: the King was still in power, social and economic inequalities would perpetuate themselves. The promised Land Reforms were in the end not delivered, social injustice persisted and the government viciously repressed movements to enact grassroots land reform. Hence, the guerilla campaign that began in February 1996, and which has led to the Maoists controlling approximately 70% of the country.

The movement that has now hit the streets is much bigger than that which led to the 1990 settlement, and much more militant. The state has long since losts its hegemony, and is rapidly losing its ability to function as a state. This revolution is not, of course, the exclusive property of the Nepalese Communist Party, but their role is undoubtedly central. Their decision to take or abandon the capital, their resolve or compromise, is probably make or break. The last thing Nepal needs is a repeat of the 1990 settlement with the same false promises and sell-outs. Maoists: Take Nepal!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The war against Islam continues. posted by Richard Seymour

Kill 100 million of them says syndicated US radio host Michael Savage.

Meanwhile, a Newsweek columnist complains that you're not allowed to criticise Islam.

Oliver North of all people says there is no such thing as an Islamic moderate.

Right-wing radio host Neal Boortz says believe in Islam with conviction and "the next thing you know, you're strapping on a suicide bomb".

Perhaps relatedly, Sid Rosenberg tells MSNBC viewers that the Palestinians are "stinking animals" and "They ought to drop the bomb right there, kill 'em all right now".

Certainly connected, I feel, is the rise of anti-Muslim racism in the US.

Spanish skinheads have been burning and ransacking mosques.

Muslim schoolkids in Britain facing increasing racist attacks.

Nevertheless, some good news for you. The Muslim Council of Britain and gay groups have been working together to form an alliance against fascism, which as you'll see means opposing both homophobia and Islamophobia. Outrage disgracefully opposed the participation of the MCB in the Unite Against Fascism conference, so this is a victory for those who want to engage with Muslims. Also worth remarking on is the recent finding of the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy - "Contrary to the common belief, Islam has no problem accepting democracy and human rights", and "The Political Islamist movements observed in Muslim countries in recent years show diversity and bear dynamism. These movements are not homogeneous, and they do not all defend radicalism and violence." And, the Council of Europe has acknowledged the serious threat of Islamophobia, putting it on a par with antisemitism.

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Another 2,300 jobs axed, another 10,000 at risk. posted by Richard Seymour

The ongoing cull of manufacturing jobs, of which over a million have been lost since New Labour came to power, continues. The DTI is feigning outrage, as well they might since this could cost the government many votes in a crucial working class area. On top of which, there are about 1,700 supply jobs that depend on Ryton and as many as 8,000 jobs that rely on the spending power of those who worked there. The multiplier-effect has its nasty obverse.

There are a number of tendencies that replicate themselves when a large-scale closure takes place in the UK: 1) the news coverage tends to get all wistful, as in end of an era - just one of the sad little realities of the modern globalised world; 2) government ministers express great disappointment (see above) while firmly denying that anything they could have done or can do would make the slightest difference; 3) workers express anger and a willingness to take industrial action; 4) Tony Woodley of the TGWU vows to explore ways of reversing the decision, which basically means slowing the death march by finding another company which supposes it can squeeze a quick buck out of the remaining husk, with only 'voluntary redundancies' of course.

Of course, the question now is the same as it was when the Rover plant was first threatened with closure in 1999: why does anyone listen to Woodley? He's not the worst union leader around but he has shown himself time and again to be totally unwilling to take the necessary measures to save jobs and put the government under pressure. I remember April 2000 when about 80-100,000 Birmingham residents and workers staged a huge march and rally against the closure, and you could not have found a group of people who despised Woodley more. He was booed and hissed as he came on stage to speak. There were, by contrast, great cheers for those who called for the occupation of the factory and similar measures. Yet, in the end, the mood did not sustain itself. Woodley's way won the day, and MG Rover finally went into administration in April last year, with redundancies handed out to about 6,000 workers. It may be re-started by its new Chinese owner in the next year, but with only 200 workers.

So anyway, why does anyone listen to Tony Woodley? Because there are not and have not been the necessary structures of grassroots, rank and file organisation in the unions capable of maintaining the ability for independent action. Without that, one tends to see sporadic - sometimes inspiring - actions, that ultimately end in failure, disappointment and dependence on the union bureacracy, the government, or any capitalist who promises to save some jobs. Of course, the other factor that is required is an alternative economic vision, a different growth formula that is opposed to the neoliberal recipe touted by all three major parties. There is no ethical dilemma in attempting to force a capitalist outfit to engage in counter-cyclical activity at some cost to shareholders, but strategically it isn't a viable long-term solution. If the cars are not in demand, the only sensible thing to do is to renationalise the plant and redeploy the machinery and skills to other ends. Such would be a modest Keynesian gesture, and yet it is totally off the spectrum of acceptable meeja discourse.

Still, the fact that workers are talking about industrial action, linking up to French trade unions after their brilliant victory, is very important. And it is especially important in the context of the sell-out by union leaders last week over pensions. These are not just sectional fights organised around single issues, after all. This is about the future of the labour movement - if unions prove themselves inept, malleable to government pressure and sometimes little more than very costly and bureacratic negotiation services to settle disputes in the workplace, it is no wonder that numbers remain historically low (albeit they have picked up a little in recent years). If they are seen as fighting, campaigning organisations, capable of mobilising mass support and really seeing through struggles to victory, then recruitment will increase and branches will proliferate. It is a cliche to say of the anticapitalist movement that we need to take its initiative, political imagination, self-motivation and organisational independence into the trade unions. A cliche, but true. Rank and file organisation is the crux of this.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Cheap thrills posted by bat020

I did this today and it made me insanely happy for about 15 seconds.

Find a BT landline phone. Send a text message to it reading "The time space continuum is about to collapse." Wait by the phone. A few seconds later it will ring - and Tom Baker will read your message out to you!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Post-9/11 Blues posted by Richard Seymour

This is brilliant. The artist, Riz, is seriously talented. Witty, scathing, politically sharp - this should be played on Top of the Pops. The kids will love it. Go listen.

Update: Don't know how I missed this, but Riz is the same guy who played Shafiq Rasul in Michael Winterbottom's 'Road to Guantanamo' and who was illegally detained by police along with several other cast members and the three former Guantanamo captives. You can spank my bottom from here to Cuba, and I will still be saying "innit a small world?"

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tortured liberalism. posted by Richard Seymour

Rejoice, rejoice, for I am arisen! Anyway. Aaronovitch Watch has an excellent series of posts critiquing Paul Berman's obsequious, trite, facile smear against the left, Terror and Liberalism. I don't quite know how the author of the posts found the time and energy not to simply feed the volume to a shredding machine and allow a pet hamster to use the remains as bed-cum-lavatory. (S)he seems to have decided that since a number of liberals, not least Nick Cohen, cite the book as having transformed their view of terrorism, Islam and war, it might be worth checking it's sources. And do you know, by the very arse of crikey, it looks like we can rest assured in the knowledge that Berman is more or less what we thought he was: a glib intellectual conman whose relationship with the truth is about as amicable as that between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor.

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Arturo Ui in Baghdad. posted by Richard Seymour

Say, Dogsborough, this place is quite a tip. Violent, chaotic, terrifying to a man. Looks like you could use some protection. I could just supply a few thousand storm troopers...:

THE American military is planning a “second liberation of Baghdad” to be carried out with the Iraqi army when a new government is installed.

Pacifying the lawless capital is regarded as essential to establishing the authority of the incoming government and preparing for a significant withdrawal of American troops.

Strategic and tactical plans are being laid by US commanders in Iraq and at the US army base in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, under Lieutenant- General David Petraeus. He is regarded as an innovative officer and was formerly responsible for training Iraqi troops.

The battle for Baghdad is expected to entail a “carrot-and-stick” approach, offering the beleaguered population protection from sectarian violence in exchange for rooting out insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda.


US forces would try to avoid the all-out combat that was used to subdue Falluja in 2004. “If you cut up the city into pieces neighbourhood by neighbourhood, you can prevent it from becoming a major urban fight,” said Gouré.

Jesus, what balls! Did you read that? Go and read it again. They, the war criminals who bombed a city to drive out some of its residents, then encircled it and prevented all males of fighting age from leaving (military age is ten and above for these guys), launched a bombing raid that destroyed the city, killed thousands, used horrifying chemical weapons in civilian areas, committed war crimes in a fucking hospital (because it was a 'propaganda outlet') - yes they, who did all that, will sincerely try their best not to pulverise Baghdad in the same fashion. Rather, they intend to cut it up into pieces, and destroy it piecemeal.

Of course, Baghdad really needs this shit right now. At the moment, it has just come bottom of an international survey assessing the world's most liveable cities; the morgue is overflowing daily; electricity is still only on four about two hours a day; the sewage treatment facilities are so bad that all of the waste from the Western half of the city is simply dumped straight into the Tigris, which is where Baghdad residents get their drinking water from; and the water system that was destroyed as a deliberate act of US policy during the 1990s isn't in great shape either.

For such a hateful 'solution' to these problems as that proposed by the occupiers of Iraq to be even comprehensible, you have to completely invert reality. Hence:

U.S. officials say they spend much of their time teaching modern democratic practices and personal responsibility to Iraqis raised in a system of favoritism, nepotism and pervasive corruption built during 24 years of deposed president Saddam Hussein's rule.

Ah, bless. US officials, totally innocent to such notions as favouritism, nepotism and pervasive corruption, are peripatetics, democratic sages guiding their dear pupils toward the bright day when they can assume "personal responsibility". Do you suppose they sit their students under an apple tree, pick up a copy of Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man and ignite fires in their poor, corruption-sozzled little minds? Perhaps they season it with a soupçon of von Humboldt and, just for those inclined toward religion, a sprinkling of Spinoza? Oh, they do, please say they do! It's just too wonderful. I am pink and merry at the thought, beyond example. When the occupation ends, there will be a Dead Poets Society moment. A grateful phalanx of Iraqis will stand atop their desks, waving off their ever-so-proud-but-sad-to-be-going instructors. O Captain, My Captain, our fearful trip is done!, they will cry, while departing Abu Ghraib masters singe the body electric. (In retrospect it perhaps isn't so surprising that the younger Walt Whitman was a fervent imperialist). Anyway, as I say - bless.

Oh, by the way, the US is building an embassy the size of Vatican City in Baghdad, with its own water-treatment plant, electricity generator, independent waste management (ho ho), and a population equal to that of a small town. Unlike the Vatican, however, the embassy will only exert temporal power.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Free Malcolm. posted by Richard Seymour

Sign this petition launched by Military Families Against the War to demand that Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith be freed. He has been handed an eight month sentence and is obliged to pay £20,000 in costs for refusing to serve in an illegal war. Some commentators are unhappy about this. Simon Heffer, the lioniser of Enoch Powell and Tory columnist, writes for the Telegraph today that "A pity the firing squad was having a day off, I think". It is, but not in the sense that Heffer imagines: applying the standards of the Nuremberg trials, the Prime Minister is the one who ought to be slumped against a wall following the attention of a firing squad. Incidentally, I might add, staying with the Nuremberg theme, that Simon Heffer should pause and consider the unfortunate career of Julius Streicher before urging that our government's become even more criminally extreme. Those who refused to participate in the vicious invasion and occupation of Iraq are heroes - we can't allow heroism of this kind to be an imprisonable offense, as it presently is in imperialist states.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

That Euston Manifesto in full. posted by Richard Seymour

Right, er, comrades. Ahem! Let's agree on the following:

1) We support human rights for all, regardless of gender, creed, colour, nationality, sexual orientation, gustatory proclivity, hair colour, height, mass, adiposity, nose shape, tooth length, provenance, sumptuary propensity, or indeed, comrades, any other kind of human variation.

2) Let's go kill some untermenschen.

This absurd 'initiative', based on the resentments of a collection of bloggers and journalists of the petit-bourgeois liberal-left (the introduction is co-written by Nick Cohen and Norman Geras), is quite possibly the most comically inept excuse for supporting imperialism that I have yet read. Identical in tone to the equally preposterous 'Unite Against Terror' statement, it retails the usual array of charges made by these purblind bigots. The anti-imperialist left is antisemitic, fascist, Islamofascist, totalitarian, anti-American, terrorist-loving or willing to accomodate all of these. Anti-Zionists are either antisemitic or tolerant of antisemitism. We are heterodox, while they - they Decent Left, the One True Left - are keeping it real.

The impressive diligence with which the pro-war left repeats this pathetic list of McCarthyite denunciations is rendered slightly absurd by their complaint about those who devote "most of one’s energy to criticism of political opponents at home". And the charge of tactful silences comes from one blogger who could write five separate posts about the mutilation of four US mercenaries in Fallujah, but could not manage one about the subsequent siege which, we now know, killed thousands, and one journalist who could find not a single word of condemnation for that epic war crime, in many ways worse than Srebrenica, described by these pro-war liberals and many others as genocide. The solemn vows about resisting double standards and holding human rights dear for all human beings are underwritten by unambiguous support for the right of Western imperialist states to engage in massive atrocities. It contains within it the proposition that a racist state that has come into existence through ethnic cleansing and theft and sustained itself through war and expansion must perpetuate itself: "There can be no reasonable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that subordinates or eliminates the legitimate rights and interests of one of the sides to the dispute." Their proposed resolution negates, ex nihilo, the legitimate rights and interests of Palestinians, while upholding an entirely illegitimate and spurious claim by Zionists based on Biblical exegesis and racial domination. These people profess to oppose racism and religious fundamentalism, by the way.

The statement professes to originate from the socialist Left, and it certainly mimics a certain strand of Fabian imperialism, but it isn't difficult to discern the authors' complete break with socialism. The authors espouse "universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit". This simply submerges the achievements of the Left, largely the radical Left, awarding the credit for their labours to 'democratic countries' with no trace of irony - a formulation carefully designed to be inoffensive to Mr Blair and Mr Bush, as if the latter pair and the ruling classes they act on behalf of and advocate for are the inheritors of the tradition of the Chartist movement, the motley crews, Toussaint L'Ouverture (!), the Mau Mau, the NLF, the FLN, the civil rights movement, the ANC, the PLO, Imre Nagy, the Black Panthers etc etc. The authors bemoan global inequalities" as "a scandal to the moral conscience of humankind", but betray not the slightest understanding of the way in which these inequalities have been created and perpetuated by imperialism. Instead, they prove that they are just as scandalised by "a blanket and simplistic ‘anti-imperialism’". I don't want to be simplistic or anything, much less a blanket (damp or otherwise), but I'd suggest that if anti-imperialism is not a part of your political purview, then you have no right to claim to represent the 'real' Left. And if you have exerted yourself on behalf of governments who have killed and continue to kill in vast quantities, then you really have to be dead to shame, incapable of a flush not brought on by a pint in a Euston pub, to wheedle about the 'alliances' others have made. Finally, if you find yourself exercised about the crimes of official enemies, but have no time to examine the crimes resulting from and included in actions you support, or carried out by states whom you support, then you have no business sniffily denouncing the alleged double standards of others, or allowing the word 'apologist' to cross your lips. You are as guilty as hell.

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Christopher Hitchens' Bad Language, Part II. posted by Richard Seymour

From MSNBC's 'Hardball' programme:

THOMAS: Yes, but one of the problems, he wasn’t against the war. He was against doing the war right then. If you talk Richard Armitage’s aide, they were ready to go war, they just didn’t want to do it that year.

HITCHENS: Their aides? Their bitch, you mean.

MATTHEWS: His what?

HITCHENS: His bitch. Why are you calling Colin Powell a good soldier?

The imperialist left - liberating the 'bitches' from Afghanistan to Iraq and taking it back home again.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Immigration: the great debate. posted by Richard Seymour

Superexploit them or lock them out? This is the nature of the debate often espoused even by liberal commentators such as Polly Toynbee, who insisted that the free movement of labour was just a recipe for exploitation. The discussion for her was between the hard right bigots who simply want to shut borders, and the super wealthy who wish to avail themselves of cheap labour. It's not that simple, as Alex Callinicos notes:

Last Sunday’s New York Times cited a senior executive, coincidentally enough at a Dalton carpet firm, who “did not find many of the provisions of the Senate bill practical, particularly those that would have required long-time immigrants to learn English and pay fines…

“Many employers, too, oppose any provision that would penalise them for hiring illegal workers, knowingly or not. Some expressed concern about the provision that would have granted citizenship to immigrants who had been in the United States for at least five years, saying it might have encouraged them to quit or be less productive.

“‘The illegals are probably better workers than the legal ones,’ said Mike Gonya, who farms 2,800 acres of wheat and vegetables near Fremont, Ohio. ‘The legal ones know the system. They know legal recourse. The illegal ones will bust their butts’.”

In other words, the interests of capital are best served by controls that are weak enough to allow immigrants in, but strong enough to keep illegal workers vulnerable and therefore easy to exploit.

They need to be scared to death in other words.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Capitalist Manifesto posted by Richard Seymour

Creative destruction. Before the kaleidoscope pieces fall back into place, we will remake this world. Regime change. A new constitutional order. Bring down the barriers to free trade. Dismantle old fashioned protections for pampered workers. Take out failed states. What Marshall Berman calls Marx's 'melting vision' will be our new creed. All that is solid shall melt into air.

John Berger notes the total inability of the ruling class to offer even a semblance of a constructive project: only destruction. Karl Polanyi notes that without the intervention of Tudor and Stuart states, the conversion to a market society, the enclosures, the transformation of humanity and land into capital, would have been a disaster sufficient to wipe out most of Europe's human beings. The intervention of states to some extent limits the destructive capacity of capital, but it is the demands placed upon states by organised labour that are contended. Sure, regulate us: make sure no one's stealing from us; make sure some corrupt guy can't put us all out of business; protect our property rights; protect our trademarks and copyrights; support the infrastructure and educate the workforce; make sure they don't die on the job. But all this stuff about welfare and I'm-alright-Jack labour rights is going to have to go.

The new dispensations are as follows:

We will destroy the curtailments to capital's freedom of movement. We will remove safety, minimum wage and environmental regulations as unfair burdens on business. We will stop allowing you to determine policy at any remove. We will take the infrastructure that you've built and enclose it. We will be competitive.

Just as we once constructed boundaries in the Middle East, we will undo them as we see fit. Iraq will cease to exist. We will turn Iraq into three small protectorates, and they will compete to negotiate oil contracts with us. We will help divide Yugoslavia and turn two former components into UN dictatorships. Haiti will not have a government of its choosing. Iran will not be allowed to sass us: we will divide it too, into vassals and dependencies.

Disaster is good for business. We will allow New Orleans to be flooded, bulldoze the houses and rebuild it as a Disneyland for the rich, as we see fit. Our property rights are paramount, but yours are meaningless. Iraq's infrastructure will be destroyed. Oil prices will rise and we will get very very rich on futures. Another 9/11? Up goes the price of gold. Earthquake? Another contract for Halliburton. Environmental destruction? Someone's going to make a lot of money fixing that up, once we've finished making money destroying it. Nuclear megadeath? Money in that too, on both sides.

The apocalypse will unleash new earning potentials, new market niches, new avenues of profitability. You'll pay for it, either with taxes or otherwise, and what's more you'll enjoy it. Forget the stale certainties of a bygone era. Luxuriate in the libidinal intensities of the market place. Prepare for war. Revel in annihilation.

This is not just the current Vulgate of liberal communists. This is the voice of capital, live and uncut.

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Skin of the teeth. posted by Richard Seymour

How close was that? 0.01% is how close. The centre-left Olive Tree-led coalition took 49.8% and the Forza Italia-led coalition took 49.7%. First question to Italian voters: are you nuts? Berlusconi's collection of neo-fascists and crooks should have been squashed into the dustbin of history. The irony is that it is a new electoral law introduced by the Berlusconi coalition to consolidate the power of the right that gives Prodi 55% of the seats in the new parliament. Hoist on their own petard. Suffice to say, Berlusconi is refusing to admit defeat and demands a recount - his campaign has been characterised by ultra-right demagoguery, including comparing himself to Jesus Christ and his opponents, whom he called 'dickheads', to Stalin and Pol Pot.

In past elections in 2001 (general) and 2004 (European), the Rifondazione Comunista got 5% and 6% of the votes respectively. It seems reasonable to conclude that without RC in the coalition, Berlusconi would not be fighting for his political life. Last year, the left swept up the local elections in Italy after RC joined the centre-left coalition. I was, and remain, extremely sceptical about the decision to join the coalition, albeit one could hardly be dissatisfied with seeing Berlusconi so vigorously kicked to the ground. In the previous RC coalition with the centre-left, a Prodi government engaged in mass job casualisation, privatisation and supported imperialism in Yugoslavia. If Prodi succeeds in getting together a majority in the two Italian houses, he will presumably implement his proposals to cut labour costs, which is what the good folks at JP Morgan are asking for. This will set his government dead against Italian workers. To fight the election with any chance of winning, Prodi had to pledge to turn back some of the regressive 'temporary labour' reforms of introduced by the right-wing Berlusconi coalition, which he described as "worse than the French CPE". He has also pledged to reintroduce the inheritance tax, scrapped by Berlusconi, for the very rich. It's worth pointing out, however, that the centre-left's criticisms of the tax breaks were precisely those of international capital, as represented ideologically in the Economist, Newsweek and the Financial Times - namely that it was fiscally unsound and created debt, not that it transferred huge amounts of cash from the poor to the rich. There was also some criticism of Giulio Tremonti, the Minister for the Economy, when he tried to plug the gap created by his neoliberal reforms (salivated over by Business Week when he first got his post), by granting tax amnesties to the rich - they would pay a small fee to repatriate sums illegally deposited in overseas accounts, or a similar charge to change illegal buildings (with violations of building regulations) into legal ones. Government spending was also cut to cut the national debt. In the international system, only the United States is allowed to sustain massive debt. The right-wing government also forced through a plethora of labour and pension 'reforms'.

Prodi's record is not so nefarious and crooked, but is hardly more encouraging. His free market reforms, pension cuts and labour market deregulation, were what caused the RC to split from the centre-left coalition in the first place. A former EU Commissioner, he supported all the necessary neoliberal measures to get Italy into the Euro. As EU head, he led the charge for neoliberal reforms across Europe, encouraging would-be entrants such as Poland to slash protections for labour. When France rejected the EU Constitutional Treaty, he was the first to bemoan what he called the "fall of Europe". He has pledged to cut unit labour costs, mainly through tax cuts for employers, and is committed to 'liberalising' key markets. The modest welfare improvements he proposes (perhaps difficult to fund if he intends to cut taxes and the national debt), are intended as part of the neoliberal policy mix to underpin liberalisation by alleviating some of its costs. This happens to be almost precisely what is recommended by international capital and its paid monkeys (economists).

It isn't such a surprise then that Prodi failed to inspire voters with his neoliberal growth formula despite a huge turnout: these same voters have seen the rough end of such a programme for decades. I shouldn't be surprised, either, if RC's share of the vote has fallen. Strapped into the centre-left coalition like a bespoke straitjacket, it will presumably have found it quite difficult to criticise the right-wing measures proposed by Prodi. The right-wing RC leader, Fausto Bertinotti, argued that the centre-left had been undermined by the anticapitalist and antiwar movements and would therefore not be the same old sell-outs that the movement experienced in the late 1990s. Well, it isn't looking good on that front, even supposing Prodi does finally pull through with a sufficient majority to govern.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

CPE to be scrapped, says Chirac posted by bat020

News just in from the BBC:

France to scrap youth job law

French President Jacques Chirac has announced that the new youth employment law that sparked weeks of protests will be scrapped. He said the First Employment Contract - or CPE - would be replaced by other measures to tackle youth unemployment.

Obviously any full assessment of this depends on what the "other measures" entail, but withdrawing the CPE was a key demand of the movement, and forcing the government to do this is at the very least a huge symbolic victory. The odds on Villepin heading for the tumbril are certainly gonna shorten.

Update: There's a better and more detailed report in the Financial Times which includes some speculation over these "other measures":

However, the advice that was likely to have been given to the president on Monday is likely to recommend that the controversial contract be replaced by another contract aimed more specifically at young people without qualifications or training, according to people with knowledge of the preparations for the meeting.

The unions are meeting today and will be responding this afternoon.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Vicious Cabaret. posted by Richard Seymour

"We gave the people here quite a show, didn't we?"

(Click image)

#...[T]he backdrops peel and the sets give way and the cast gets eaten by the play
There's a murderer at the Matinee, there are dead men in the aisles
And the patrons and actors too are uncertain if the show is through
And with side-long looks await their cue but the frozen mask just smiles...#
('The Vicious Cabaret' from the graphic novel, V for Vendetta by David Lloyd and Alan Moore).

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