Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Little Massacre Therapy. posted by Richard Seymour

Military Inquiry will find that US troops committed Haditha massacre.

(Good article about this by Simon Assaf)

Supposing the findings are as unambiguously damning as expected, this is a serious crisis of legitimation for the occupation which, it has to be said, should only have the support of psychotics and outlandish, hirsuit survivalists by now. However, it reminds me of a comment Alex Cockburn made about the corrections column in the New York Times - its function was to give the impression that everything else printed in the paper had been entirely accurate. Of course, it is unlikely that the US ruling class will be successful in making this the cathartic experience that they hope it will be. Official inquiries are always intended as expiation or, more accurately, to 'put a lid on it', but people know a symptom when they see one. Or at least I hope they do.

Since Zizek is doing his Lacan master-class (that's class as in master-signifier) in Birkbeck these days, perhaps he can be persuaded to riff on that (here comes a blizzard of Badiouese):

The texture of Knowledge is, by definition, always total—that is, for Knowledge of Being, there is no excess; excess and lack of a situation are visible only from the standpoint of the Event, not from the standpoint of the knowing servants of the State. From within this standpoint, of course, one sees ‘problems,’ but they are automatically reduced to ‘local,’ marginal difficulties, to contingent errors—what Truth does is to reveal that (what Knowledge misperceives as) marginal malfunctionings and points of failure are a structural necessity. Crucial for the Event is thus the elevation of an empirical obstacle into a transcendental limitation. With regard to the ancien régime, what the Truth-Event reveals is how injustices are not marginal malfunctionings but pertain to the very structure of the system which is in its essence, as such, ‘corrupt.’ Such an entity—which, misperceived by the system as a local ‘abnormality,’ effectively condenses the global ‘abnormality’ of the system as such, in its entirety—is what, in the Freudo-Marxist tradition, is called the symptom…” The Ticklish Subject(Pg. 131)

Your "knowing servants of the State" are, of course, working hard to re-script the situation. This morning on the BBC, Lance Corporal Roel Ryan Briones's mother was shown, weeping into the camera and explaining how ill at this shit her her son was - which of course is probably true, since he later told the LA Times what horrible things were done. But you see the picture already: these boys went astray, did something wrong, 99.9% of our boys aren't like that, they have mothers who cry and everything. What's more, the Beeb reports, Americans are upset at the massacre - upset, mark you! Surely this is slander by understatement? They should be going through convulsive political awakening, seething with anger and steeling themselves for the possibility of having to have the entire executive branch of government decapitated, not going through the (e)motions of a Ricki Lake special. How long before all the guilty marines are featured on cushiony chairs against soft pastel backgrounds, having to answer worried questions from studio members, before finally explaining that they've all learned a valuable lesson and intend to get themselves an education? [Whoop, applause] Well, look, anyway, I thought this was worth mentioning:

Lance Cpl. Andrew Wright, 20, and Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones, 21, were ordered to photograph the scene with personal cameras they happened to be carrying the day of the attack, the families said. Briones' mother, Susie, said her son told her that he saw the bodies of 23 dead Iraqis that day.

Do you understand? They wanted pictures, in the same way as the Military Intelligence officers who directed the Disney-medieval torture scenes at Abu Ghraib wanted pictures. Not to post on, not to tell all to the President, but to have something to show others who might think of getting in their way. It's called terrorism.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sacred cows posted by Meaders

There wasn't nearly enough attention paid to this study:

The gap between rich and poor people in Britain has widened since Labour came to power if spending, rather than income, is used to measure poverty, a new report has claimed.

Since 1996/1997 the proportion of people living in households with less than 60 per cent of average spending levels had increased from 20 per cent to 22 percent, the study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) found.

The government currently measures poverty according to the number of households whose income is less than 60 per cent of the average. Under this definition, figures show that the poverty rate has fallen from 25 per cent to 22 per cent over the same period.

But the IFS said that spending rather than income was a better measure of household wealth because it is a more direct measure of people’s material well-being and reflects their consumption of goods and services.

The full report can be found at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation site (PDF). One of the reasons the report didn't receive more attention, I suspect, is that it does not fit into the conventional left-liberal narrative about New Labour in general, and Gordon Brown in particular: that, yes, the Iraq war was bad, but (in the words of the Observer, talking about Brown):

...Unlike Cameron, he has a proven track record on social justice, child poverty, SureStart and daycare.

If reputable - and broadly Brownite - organisations like the IFS are starting to claim otherwise, the case for an orderly transition to Dr Prudence (and indeed NEw Labour's continued existence) looks ever more ropey. Unfortunately, even if it has not in general delivered, New Labour has so successfully colonised the squishy, leftish, liberalish sectors of politics that it will require more than a few academic studies to dislodge it. The increasing willingness of, for example, organisations like Telco to talk to Respect is heartening, but to get even this far required a real political slog. The choice, in the end, will be fairly stark: do you continue to support a government and a political programme that says all the right things, but delivers little; or do we attempt to construct an opposition to that programme?

...the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also have a little more on why the gap between income and spending appears, and why spending may provide a more accurate picture of poverty and inequality than income:

Using spending as a measure also alters the perception of who is poor. In 2002/03, the income poverty rate for self-employed people (23%) was much higher than the spending poverty rate (13%). The picture was similar for those seeking work. This suggests that low incomes were a transitory state for some of these people, and that they were using savings or borrowing to maintain their standard of living. For retired and pensioner households, spending poverty rates were much higher than income poverty rates, highlighting the fact that many older people spend well below their income level.

Income poverty and spending poverty are quite distinct states: only around half of people classified as poor on one measure would simultaneously be classified as poor on the other. Very low-income households (those in around the bottom 2% of the income distribution) on average have levels of spending much higher than their income alone would suggest (see Figure 2). This phenomenon could be due to two factors: either very low-income households have only temporarily low incomes, and are running down savings or accumulating debt to fund their expenditure; or very low incomes are measured with error. In contrast, very low-spending households tend to have very low incomes, commensurate with their spending levels. This suggests that spending might be a preferable measure of well-being for the very poorest in society. A more reliable impression of those with the lowest standards of living might be obtained by examining those recorded at the bottom of the spending distribution rather than the bottom of the income distribution.

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De Cive, or, questions for a worker who reads Hobbes. posted by Richard Seymour

I mean the nerve. International Relations exam paper asks: "What is the relationship between Hobbesian man and the Hobbesian state? What are the consequences for international relations?" Who fucking thinks this crap up? So, I fuckin told em. I said, Hobbesian man is a servile, snivelling wretch, a coward who slavers before the King but switches sides the second a new, stronger master arrives. The Hobbesian state is what we get thanks to this cretinous oaf.

Next question: "Is the US an empire? Give reasons for your answer." Oh, fuck off! So, I fuckin told em. I said, no, our American overlords are not imperialists. All will be well. They have promised us many good things if we help them enslave the denizens of the Southern hemisphere. I for one welcome them. I'd like to remind them that as an internet literate citizen of North-western Europe with clerical skills, I can be helpful in rounding up workers to beaver in their fabulous diamond mines. I am Hobbesian man.

(I'm kidding. I haven't even sat the test yet, but I've seen past papers and as you can probably tell, I'm shitting it.)

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Racism, capitalism and empire. posted by Richard Seymour

Update! I'm reposting this in an expanded version with sources where they need to be and some critical engagement with a few authors and a bit more empirical material and fewer spelling mistakes and a better organised argument.

Periodisation of the Scramble for Africa, says Wesseling (HL Wesseling, Divide and Rule: The Partition of Africa 1880-1914, 1996), is no innocent business, and often revolves around attempts to locate motivations of individual statesmen in decisions that supposedly set the whole process off. Yet, at some point, matters did decisively change. After all, the British had been happily pursuing its Free Trade empire, which was preferable to the burden of protectorates or colonies. Successive Prime Ministers since Castlereagh had opposed formal British rule. As Macaulay put it "To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages". This represented what had been a decisive shift - whereas previously Britain had extended itself in colonising the Americas, Australia and parts of Asia, and whereas it had a great deal of 'influence' in West Africa around the slave trade, it subsequently made a decisive break - in 1807, for instance, banning the use of its ships to ferry slaves and later in 1833 extending the ban to all its colonies while maintaining a largely ineffectual blockade. Jurisdiction had been defined in vague terms, allowing for a great deal of ad hoc annexation and jurisdictional innovation. (China Mieville, Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law, 2005, chapter six). Following the defeat of France in the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had finished off its former rival for maritime supremacy – it’s position was “unassailable” (Eric Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire, 1969, chapter twelve; Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civiliser of Nations: The Rise of International Law 1871-1960, Cambridge University Press, 2004, chapter 2). The US was busily 'winning the West' against Sioux, Apache and other Indian tribes, and Russia was conquering the Khazaks, Uzbeks and Turkmen - that is, pursuing the overland imperial expansion more common to history (the predominantly overseas expansion of North-west Europe is a decided historical novelty). (D Abernethy, Patterns of Global Domination, 2000). In 1865, a Select Committee had decided that it would be better to restore the colonies to local rule. (Basil Davidson, The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State, 1993, chapter one).

Yet, from the late 1870s, both Britain and France made a sharp turn toward military enclosure (filling up the 'empty map'). From then on, intellectuals offering an alternative to colonization were either treated as nuisances or (after 1917), harrassed, spied on and eventually exiled. There was certainly no room for literate Africans in the running of states - except as clerks or policemen. (Ibid). At the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, the partitioning of Africa had been enacted on paper, using all the diplomatic techniques developed by absolutist states (particularly by France under Louis Quatorze) to negotiate their respective 'rights' - the discourse was decidedly cast in legal terms rather than pure power politics. (D Abernethy, Patterns of Global Domination, 2000, chapter five; Mieville, op cit, chapter six). Partition only started to come into effect properly from the 1890s, and it was imposed through a series of wars that were by no means new, but were certainly greater in scope than ever before. As before, colonial expansion syncopated the rhythms of natural disaster and epidemic disease - according to Mike Davis (Late Victorian Holocausts), the great incidence of drought was frequently used by colonial powers to impose their rule. In South Africa, the chief ally of the Portuguese and British against militarily independent societies was a great drought. Disraeli's designs for a single British hegemony over the southern cone of Africa made use of a great drought in 1877, while famines were ruthlessly used to wipe out the Mahdis. By the same token, the colonial creation of export-led economies was often at the expense of grazing and agrarian subsistence farming, which exacerbated crises. The wars themselves were extremely brutal - Germany's suppression of the Herero people in 1904 wiped out about three quarters of the people, while Britain's war against the white population of Boers involved scorched earth campaigns in which villages were razed and cattle destroyed (Martin Meredith, The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, 2005, introduction) - although it didn't quite match the ferocity of the campaign to destroy the Zulu kingdom in which, according to Michael Lieven, "Genocide came close to being official policy". (Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World, Verso, 2002, chapter three). The ongoing systematic violence continued for several decades - the 'pacification' of Morocco began in 1912 and wasn't complete until well into the 1930s. And of course, the imperial Metropoles were eventually obliged, in some cases after extremely brutal repression (Wesseling, op cit; Caroline Elkins, Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, 2005) to withdraw politically from Africa, having implanted their national capital investments and forced the creation of nation-states.

This has to be placed in the context of overseas expansion that followed the loss of the Americas. The overwhelming tendency was for colonial powers to leave the colonial white overlords to continue to conquer the New World, while colonising the Old World themselves. It is true that the bulk of territorial acquisition took place after the 1870s, (8.6 million square miles were acquired by European powers between 1878 and 1913), but about 5 million square miles had already been taken in the period 1824-70. Some of these advances had been made in Africa in its northern, southern and western extremities, and had been pushing inland in all these territories and even in those which they did not formally rule, with railroad expansion (see Hanna Batatu on the merchant class in Iraq and its dependency on the British commercial ascendancy, for instance). It must also be placed in the context of the unprecedented Hundred Years Peace, in which old colonial powers did not fight one another (albeit Germany did get into the odd scrap when it emerged, and won against Denmark, Austria and France - becoming the main beneficiary of the second industrial revolution in the process and becoming the main European growth centre). It has been suggested that this was a displacement of internal European rivalries and that once the territory was used up and divided, the old rivalries were restored - ironically, Abernethy offers this as a critique of Lenin, but it happens to be one of Lenin's crucial observations. (Abernethy, op cit; VI Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1939, chapter ten).

This details some of the arc of what happened and perhaps explains some of the timing of individual attacks - but the question again is why the change? Given Abernethy’s criticisms, it is worth scrutinising what Lenin says about the Scramble for Africa: "When the colonies of the European powers, for instance, comprised only one-tenth of the territory of Africa (as was the case in 1876), colonial policy was able to develop—by methods other than those of monopoly—by the ‘free grabbing’ of territories, so to speak. But when nine-tenths of Africa had been seized (by 1900), when the whole world had been divided up, there was inevitably ushered in the era of monopoly possession of colonies and, consequently, of particularly intense struggle for the division and the re-division of the world." He appears to give the impression that monopolisation of capital is the result, rather than the cause, of colonialism, although of course his position throughout the pamphlet is famously that the concentration of capital leads to monopolies, these to finance capital, and it is the merging of finance-capital with the state and the growing importance of its export, that brings about imperialism in the capitalist sense. There are some problems with this picture, but before getting into that, I’ll offer some background that in my view confirms Lenin’s basic diagnosis.

Britain's free trade position hadn't stopped other states from pursuing protectionist policies, particularly when their indigenous economies were weak or nascent. The development of national economies reduced the dependence of the US and European states on Britain, so that between 1860 and 1870, Britain had 54% of its investments in Europe and the US, while by 1911-13, it had only 25% of its investments in these continents. The City of London remained the trading and financial centre of the world, but that had obviously diminished due to protectionist policies, and was to deteriorate further after the First World War. (Hobsbawm, op cit, chapter seven). Britain’s position had started to wane in the 1870s – its share of industrial production falling from 32% in 1870 to 14% in 1913. The US’s share rose in the same period from 23 to 38%. (Michel Beaud, A History of Capitalism: 1500-2000, MR Press, 2002, chapter four).

Periodisation, as I say, is not innocent, but we can perhaps locate the big shift in 1873, which saw the beginning of a wave of profound crises: the stock exchange in Vienna crashed, followed by bank failures in Austria and Germany; Germany's successful war with France in 1870-1 had involved it in mass construction of railroads and ships, but this resulted in such drastic price rises in cast iron that the construction industry began to contract dramatically - so that the production of cast iron had dropped by 21% in 1874; the US, a big source of British profits, experienced a slump caused by the scarcity of materials and labour during the railroad boom, which caused banks and railroad companies to fail and a panic on the stock market; UK exports fell by some 25% between 1872 and 1875; a stock exchange crash in Lyon in 1882 was followed by a US "railroad panic" in 1884, and this in itself was coterminous with the growing protectionism and cartelisation of the depression-ridden German economy; the Baring Bank had to be saved from ruin in 1890 by the Bank of England, following a series of political and economic crises in Argentina, where it operated; and in the same year, the McKinley protective tariff was introduced, which coincided with the proliferation of large trusts in the US. (Ibid). These crises coincided with a growing working class, and its increasing weight as a political force. In Britain, the working class grew from 5.7 million in 1881 to 8.6 million in 1911 with the number of organised workers doubling from 1.1 million to 2.2 million between 1976 and 1900, while in Germany the number of workers grew from 5.6 million in 1895 to 8.4 million in 1919. Despite anti-socialist laws in Germany, the social-democrats clandestine action had started to pay off by 1884, with them receiving some 550,000 votes. In the United States, an intense period of strikes had taken place throughout the crisis – more than three thousand strikes took place between 1881 and 1885. (Ibid).

At the same time, diamond pipes had been discovered in South Africa, and gold would be discovered there too. Explorers had traversed Africa and established that the place was ripe for exploitation. The French government, in particular, was paying attention. Having lost its maritime power, it sought to recover its imperial losses through territorial acquisition. In 1883, Sir Percy Anderson, the head of the Foreign Office's African bureau, worried that "Action seems to be forced on us ... Protectorates are unwelcome burdens, but in this case it is ... a choice between British protectorates, which would be unwelcome, and French protectorates, which would be fatal." The monopolisation and concentration of capital, and its fusion with the state, was such that when the scramble was over, more than 75% of British territory south of the Sahara was acquired by chartered companies - often, grudgingly, undertaking administrative duties. (Mieville, op cit).

Another aspect of the division of Africa was the creation of nation-states. Even during this period of a 'liberal' foreign policy, the British relied to some extent on the support of a layer of Christianised intellectuals, some of whom were 'recaptives' - that is, had been found crushed as 'stowaways' into ships, destined for slavery, and sent to Freetown by the British authorities. These intellectuals had been educated by Christian missionaries and were overwhelmingly pro-colonial: consequently, they were regarded, quite reasonably, as apologists who had placed themselves outside of the community. But they had hoped that the British were serious when they spoke of some form of self-rule, and that they would benefit from the ideological imperative to 'de-traditionalise' African society, since it was assumed that those 'civilised' by the imperialists would be able to implement nation-statization against 'traditional' rulers who were cast as reactionaries, backward, clinging to fetishistic practises as opposed to good religion. Whatever the merits of the monarchs, they were not opposed to modernisation as such - they simply felt the imposition of a nation-state system was perverse and detrimental to African society, and at any rate they felt the 'modernisers' would make a hash of it. It may seem ironic that the main form of resistance to empire would later become a kind of colonial nationalism imbricated with various Marxist hybrids, but the apparently irresistible virtues of nation-states being granted recognition as sovereign states in an international system had considerably more weight than the canting rhetoric of liberals in the metropole, like Lord Acton insisting that nationalism would "sacrifice liberty and prosperity to the imperative necessity of making the nation the mould and measure of the state". the absence of a sovereign states-system in Africa represented an area which capital had not colonised. Sovereign states are, as Justin Rosenberg has it, the political expression of capitalist social relations, in that the extrusion of the means of violence from the relations of exploitation under capitalism involves the creation of separate private and public spheres. A private 'economic' sphere and a public 'political' sphere in which capitalist class power gives up the means of extra-economic coercion, allowing the state to guarantee its rights, its access, the social-property relations which ensure its dominion. The state does not 'withdraw' from civil society, as it is usually called, but it does differentiate economic and political functions sharply. Private enterprise runs the economy, while the government underpins the legal basis - and indeed, the state can lose some of its sovereignty by becoming involved in direct economic transactions inasmuch as by nationalising industries, it makes economic struggle a political struggle - the Thatcher regime in Britain was about replacing the politicisation of the economy with a strong state which reduced the power of unions and under-girded capitalist class power. (Davidson, op cit; Justin Rosenberg, Empire of Civil Society, Verso, 1994).

I have made a case for a version of the Leninist theory of imperialism, yet some criticisms of his method merit consideration. First of all, Wesseling offers a number of explanations which are not all by any means inconsistent with the Leninist account. First of all, there was initially no resistance, since the division of Africa was a ‘paper affair’ with its provisions only being enforced from the 1890s onward. And while Europeans had to compete with the US, Japan and Russia for a share of China, the diplomatic manoeuvring of European powers was uninterrupted by the US and Russia, who were busily pursuing the more traditional overland development. (Abernethy provides this part of the explanation, in fact). Motivations for the division are, for Wesseling, diverse and not entirely consistent. Citing Robinson and Gallagher, he differs with the view offered by Hobson and Lenin that capitalists promoted the division – at least for Britain, part of the motive was supplied by the need to ensure access to the East. As they themselves explain, most of the business and political classes were hostile to formal colonization, while public opinion tended to restrain imperial adventure, albeit some business and ‘imperialist’ lobbies – a distinction without a difference in my view – and the government ended up relying on private corporations. British efforts concentrated on east Africa and the Upper Nile, where direct bounty was less abundantly available – the reason was that “In all regions north of Rhodesia, the broad imperative which decided which territory to reserve and which to renounce, was the safety of routes to the east”, because “Britain’s strength depended upon the possession of India and preponderance in the East almost as much as it did upon the British isles”. The main driving force behind the advance into tropical Africa was the collapse of the Khedivial regime in Egypt, and the desire to secure the route through the Suez Canal. (Wesseling, op cit; Ronald Robinson, John Gallagher (& Alice Denny), Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism, 1961, chapter XV.)

Wesseling goes on to add that this motivation could only explain Britain’s conduct, and that only partially. Other motives would have included economic, financial, political and ideological drives (such as national ambition, and the ‘white man’s burden’). A few obvious retorts: why did political motives require this strategy? Why did ‘national ambition’ take the form of imperialism and not, say, levelling economic and political power? In what sense were British interests in the East not to do with those of capitalists? In what meaningful sense are financial motives not capitalist? Why would the ‘white man’s burden’ be a meaningful or necessary ideological appeal if not for the capitalist interests coyly adverted to? Wesseling frequently uses nebulous formulations – explaining why the Dutch didn’t defend their interests in the Congo, he explains that “Dutch foreign interests in general” prevailed but goes on to explain that “there is no such thing as the national interest”, only “various part-interests” interpreted and weighed by the state. Given this, what ‘part-interests’ can be said to have determined the Dutch government’s decision in this case? Wesseling explains that Britain considered the Sudan worthy of a clash with France, but did not simply abandon other ‘interests’ (“empire on the cheap”, good relations with France) – a penumbral plurality of ‘interests’ are adduced, but not connected to the social structure in which they surely reside. He adds: “we can only conclude, therefore, that … various motives played a part” with one motive then “another being paramount at any one time” - an explanation so vacuous that it manages to avoid explanation. (Wesseling, op cit).

The final attempt at an explanation is that whatever the subjective views of statesmen, they were “merely unconscious tools of what Hegel has called the ‘cunning of reason’” since it was “inevitable” that Africa would be drawn into the “European system of international relations”: now why might that be? According to Wesseling, Africans had only “eluded” the system for so long because America had been more suited to emigration and colonization, and Asia to commercial exploitation and trade. Africa became important once the rest of the world had already been divided and improved medical knowledge made it easier for Europeans to live and fight in Africa, while Europe’s military supremacy made conquest much cheaper. What’s more, Britain – having lost its supremacy – saw the second industrial revolution benefit rivals, while Italy and Germany, the new arrivals, were eager for their place in the sun. The politics of imperialism was therefore a “synthesis of social, economic and ‘purely’ political factors”. There are several problems with this account. The “European system of international relations” had not entailed nation-states for some time – instead, the imperial periphery had been composed of zones of influence with shifting frontiers rather than fixed borders (much as in Europe until the rise of absolutist sovereigns and the later formation of capitalist nation-states). Most of the imperial periphery had been subsumed under the sovereignty of European powers only in a juridical sense, while the social structure of the international sphere was characterised by mobility that undermined the notion of discrete societies. (Benno Teschke, The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations, Verso, 2003; Tarek Barkawi & Mark Laffey, ‘Retrieving the Imperial: Empire and International Relations’, Millenium: journal of international studies, 2002, vol. 31, Number 1; Marcus Rediker & Peter Linebaugh, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves and Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Verso, 2000, esp chapter 7; Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern 1492-1800, Verso, 1997). As I suggest above, the rise of modern nation-states needs to be rooted in an analysis of the rise of capitalism and its geopolitically mediated spread throughout the world. The integration of the imperial periphery into this system can only be considered ‘inevitable’ given the emergence of a capitalist social structure. The strict sense in which Hegel’s ‘cunning of reason’ is applicable is discussed by Mieville – the British had been entirely unwilling to submit to the logic of colonial ‘nation-states’, preferring informal annexation, and had ensured that the protectorates which it formed were exempt under the agreements ensuing from the Berlin Conference. Yet the logic of legality, of positive law, imposed itself – mercantile companies with private armies had been able to impose rule in their territories in the 16th and 17th centuries, but these were capitalist monopolies and proved incapable of and unwilling to impose rule. This is why protectorates had become the chief form of rule – since capitalist rule involves precisely removing the means of violence from the axis of exploitation, capitalist enterprises were wholly unused to direct political rule, and relied on the growing formalisation and legalisation of political power. (Mieville, op cit). The Italians and Germans seeking their spot in the sun doesn’t explain much, for as late as the 1870s, the Bismarck was still rejecting proposals to set up colonies. It too tried initially to avoid direct responsibility for territory – what Bismarck called the “French system” – and had relied on a tobacco merchant acquiring what would become German South-West Africa on its behalf. (Koskenniemi, op cit). Again and again, Wesseling either loses the specific in the general (as in ‘interests’, the ‘official mind’ and so on), or loses the general in the specific (a disarray of facts that are important but show no sign of being coherently organised).

There have also been a number of criticisms of the Leninist account from sympathetic marxist authors. One of the claims of Gindin and Panitch in their book on Global Capitalism and American Empire is that Lenin elevated the conjunctural situation of inter-imperial rivalry in the early 20th Century to a principle of late capitalism. David Harvey adds that Arendt was right to “interpret the imperialism that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as the ‘first stage in political rule of the bourgeoisie rather than the last stage of capitalism’ as Lenin depicted it”. (David Harvey, The New Imperialism, 2004; Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, Global Capitalism and American Empire, 2003). Lenin, however, called his pamphlet "Imperialism: the Latest Stage of Capitalism", and that is certainly the phrase he uses in the pamphlet, along with "a special stage of capitalism" (see Lenin, op cit, chapter VII; ‘Notes from the Editors’, Monthly Review, January 2004, Volume 55, Number 8). It may seem that he is pathologising imperialism as something external to 'pure' capitalism, which is another charge Panitch and Gindin make, but a proper reading of the pamphlet, particularly the conclusion, reveals that Lenin in fact was fully aware that a) imperialism is something that had persisted not only in previous capitalist forms (he specifically says so) but has persisted in previous non-capitalist forms, and b) the 'stage' he is describing is indeed 'special', the 'latest' stage but by no means the last (depending on how optimistic one felt).

Nevertheless, the narrative Lenin provides would tend to suggest that there is a unilinear process of concentration, monopolisation, the internationalisation of finance capital and then its merging with the state. The trouble is that, for instance, the US was importing, not exporting, capital prior to 1914. (Mieville, op cit). Further, Gindin and Panitch have a point when they say that the main reason the British resorted to formal colonialism in Africa was that they could not rope the US and Europe under their Free Trade imperium. (Panitch & Gindin, op cit). These states insisted on pursuing their own protected growth strategies and were able to emerge as competing powers. So, the 'scramble for Africa' illustrates on the one hand a conjunctural period of capitalist centralisation, and on the other, the last wave of nation-statization and capitalisation. It also illustrates the racist underpinnings of capital accumulation and imperial expansion, since where the empire was successful it either subjected local non-white populations to superordinate powers that eventually wiped them out, or suppressed them (Australia, Canada, the US, South Africa). Noticeably, in no colonised state were meaningful democratic institutions introduced for a non-white population - white Afrikaaners, white Americans, white Australians etc etc. Only once these states ceased being colonial outposts due to struggles from below and within was this reversed. (Abernethy, op cit). In fact, the precise form of ‘sovereignty’ that was ‘given’ to various states under colonial tutelage or indeed achieved by the colonists was directly bounded up with a discourse of ‘civilisation’ – one shared by liberal and reactionary imperialists alike, and one moreover that was pervasive among international lawyers. Henry Wheaton, an attorney with the US Supreme Court, and a diplomat posted in Europe, explained that “the international law of the civilised, Christian nations of Europe and America, is one thing; and that which governs the intercourse of the Mohammedan nations of the East with each other, and with Christian, is another and very different thing” – European positive law was certainly not applicable to those whose civilisation was lacking. (Koskenniemi, op cit). As late as 1963, an American authority could explain that it would take generations to teach Africans “the skills necessary to participate meaningfully and effectively in politics”. (Davidson, op cit). One suspects that the residues of this now disavowed position informs much of the discourse not only on Africa, but also on other ‘uncivilized’ states that find themselves governed by upstarts.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Killing Blair. posted by Richard Seymour

Look, I'm not supposed to be here, I've got exams shortly, but - I'm invited to distance myself from George Galloway for saying that the killing of the Prime Minister would be morally justified. I don't know if GQ fucked up the interview in which he's supposed to have said this, but come on! I'm not going to slag off Galloway merely because he didn't go far enough. Okay, I take the point. He should have said that the best way to spread Blair's philosophy would be to blow his brains out. He should have said that if the Nuremberg laws were applied, he and several of his cronies would be hanging over the Tyburn. He should have said that the only tragedy in the instance of Blair perishing in a suicide attack would be the loss of life on the part of the executor. He should have said that at least if we hung the cabinet, no innocent lives would be lost.

But what do you expect? - the guy's a reformist, a former Labour Party member, of course he's going to let emotions cloud his judgment.

(This is by way of an enormous and gratuitous 'fuck you' to the sanctimonious, unctuous idiots who publicly called for and supported the mass killing of innocents in Iraq. Eat it, and eat it raw, you nauseating pillocks).

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The politics of American revivalism. posted by Richard Seymour

US imperialists have had this problem ever since they became aware that they would supplant European colonial power. They so wanted everyone to believe they were different. Even when they colonised the Philippines or Haiti, they would have had the subjects believe that the US intended nothing more sinister than their own welfare and the development of market societies with liberal states. Indeed, what is usually referred to as Wilsonian idealism made a virtue of this what with the fourteen points and the self-determination of nations and the 'open door' policy. They were firm with the Europeans - it's tutelary power, Mandate-style, or it's nothing (compromise was reached by Jan Smuts of the British delegation to the Paris Conference of 1919 - there would be Mandates for nations on the verge of civilisation, and there would be prolonged dominion for nations almost solely populated by 'barbarians' - thus appeasing arch-imperialists in Africa). Meanwhile, the US worked to cultivate their own tutelary power in their hemisphere and in South Asia and the Middle East, supporting 'national' elites against the old colonial powers. They would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for those meddling communists.

Even where merely reform-minded, the communists denounced US power as simply an update on the old communism. They were, wherever they attained power or fought for it, unwilling to be the pliable patsies that the Americans required. Whereas the US elite had thought that the rise of colonial nationalisms combined with their economic dominance would allow them to lay networks of patronage and control in which 'open markets' would inevitably conduce to their commercial ascendancy, it transpired that even their well-armed placemen often couldn't keep the rabble down. Precisely at the moment where they emerged as the world's foremost military and economic power, they were discovering its limits - in China and Vietnam, then in Iran, and Lebanon. Apparently successful revolutions took place in Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia - the Iranians were stirring it up in Saudi Arabia of all places, while the very fact of the Islamic Republic had removed on of their three main supports in the Middle East. When the Arabs had been acting up over the oil prices, they had planned to invade and secure the oil-fields, but when you're busy bombing Cambodians and coping with fragging in Vietnam, and when you're broke, and Japanese competition is making itself felt, and there's a coup to mount in Chile and lots of little insurgencies to contain and leftist movements across Europe to worry about - Empire can be a harsh and gruelling business. They had used military suppression, genocide even - and still the bastards wouldn't comply.

On the other hand, they and their capitalist allies contained the leftist threat where it mattered most - in Europe, and for the most part in Latin America, and for the most part in Africa. The 'Afghan trap' helped finish off the Russians, while empowering the guys who would later fill in for the Russians as official enemy number one. Sponsoring Iraq helped keep the Iranians down, while arming the Iranians ensured that it wouldn't weaken and succumb to the serenading of the Soviets. A few cyclones of murder, torture and rape across Central America knocked several threats to capital on the head, and many of these 'communist' states - damnedest thing! - were opening themselves up to capitalism. Why, even the most independent Middle Eastern and Maghrebi states were opening themselves up to the IMF. Iraq was destroyed and made into a dependency and after a few years of terror, Aristide and his supporters (the bulk of the Haitian populace) learned to behave themselves. Israel was casually reducing Palestine to a few wards and ghettos presided over by some well-bribed guards, and local ruling classes were too busy containing the Islamist movements that they too had patronised to do anything about it - and those movements, too, were more or less washed up by 1997.

And yet, and yet... a pregnant pause and a wistful sigh... it wouldn't last forever. The Chinese were coming next.

So, this is where the revivalists come in. They had been through the era of sometimes quite catastrophic defeats, especially Dick and Don, they were tough, and they had cultivated along with well-placed media associates an extreme ideology that would reassert US power. They paid much lip service to a couple of revered ancient texts (bible and constitution) and the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs - sorry, Founding Fathers - but were essentially ultra-nationalists preparing for an all-out state-led offensive to assert a Global Capitaliphate with the US guarding the holy cities and, through their servile ulema, propagating the Law of the Market and the Holy Profit. They usurped some of the unctuous 'idealism' of liberal internationalism and paired it with classic realpolitik - no more self-determination, the Dollar-Wall Street regime will be forcibly extended and deepened. They have a megalomaniacal view of their capacities, and of their rights over other human beings, which amount to those of a global dictatorship. Unlike many revivalist ideologies, this was principally an elite affair and the best its adherents could do to broaden its appeal was conjoin their ideals in an amorphous and nebulous association with those of the devout middle class, as well as a slender layer of Zionist fanatics whose aims are broadly contiguous with theirs.

Clinton had been too much of a status-quo conservative for them (albeit he did expand the economic dominion of the US and entrench neoliberalism as a divine and holy writ), and Bush looked too weak initially - but what's this? "Looks like a terrorist attack, Dick." "Did you see that coming, Don?" "Hell no." "Well, fuck, we've got to invade Iraq!" "Got to!" "We'll get the sumbitch now." "We'll get all the sumbitches!"

Having 'got' Iraq, the problem of Iran persisted. You might have noticed that the Iranian bazaari class had been pushing for more privatisation and neoliberalism and closer relations with the US since at least the late 1980s. What had been known as the 'Islamic Left' in the majles had abandoned radical positions and become liberal reformers, often in coalition with centrists and the 'Modern Right' (represented by Rafsanjani). Substantial sectors of industry had been liberalised and, following Khatami's election on a reform ticket in 1997, the US released most of its embargo on the country. Khatami introduced a neoliberal five year development plan starting in 2000, in collegiance with the IMF Prior to Ahmadinejad's election in August 2005, had been seeking entry into the World Trade Organisation. Iran's conservative faction had successfully outmanouevred some of Khatami's political liberalisation, but were fine with economic liberalisation provided it was compatible with their continued privilege (as it invariably was). Having barred several candidates in the 2005 election and used police, Parasdan and 'hezbollahs' against protesters and the opposition, they had assumed I think that Rafsanjani would win it and govern as a moderate rightist.

Trouble is that although Bush had made grateful use of Iran during the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and although the US had been obliged to pragmatically seek Iran's help over Iraq, the sabre-rattling which had been particularly prominent in the early 1990s, with Secretary of State Warren Christopher in the US and Rabin in Israel referring to Iran's alleged terrorism in supporting Hamas (which was actually mainly funded by US allies Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) and nuke-seeking, had been reintroduced big time with the Axis of Evil speech. The continued weather of blustery rhetoric and threats had included attempts to impose sanctions, while neoconservatives were urging attacks on Iran, North Korea, an invasion of Iraq and so on. They were creaming their pants over the possibilities. For this reason, and also because of popular opposition to privatisation which had involved many student protests and clashes with the police, Ahmadinejad won. On the one hand, a better enemy of the month than Khatami - on the other hand, How Dare They Sass Us?

Fanatical American revivalists are thus prepared, whenever and however they can get away with it, for military strikes on Iran. They have devoted large sums of money to a disinformation campaign, used their immense power within international organisations to put pressure on the country, and have an unrealistic and cultish appreciation of their ability to, as one spokesman put it, 'create our own reality'. Their position in the executive branch of the US government, despite some knocks, remains strong. They continue to have a well-paid Greek Chorus in the media. The elite 'opposition' agrees with the bulk of what they stand for, so far being unable to exercise themselves to much opposition over strategic differences, and they certainly don't care to articulate the views of the working class and middle class whom they appeal to for votes from time to time.

Yet, the revivalists keep stumbling upon the same limits as more secular predecessors have: Haiti won't submit, Iraq won't submit, the Palestinians won't give in, Venezuela and Bolivia are teaming up against them, Iran has more or less told them to fuck off, OPEC countries are looking at switching to the euro (as Saddam did in 2000) which could mean a catastrophic decline in the dollar, global oppositional movements are being reconstituted, their allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia are experiencing 'domestic difficulties', South Korea is turning on them, they've even lost their people-boiling dictator in Uzbekistan to the Russians.

Call it the wishful thinking of a Leninist moderate, but I sort of feel that this racist, supremacist ideology reached its apex in mid-2003. Their callousness, bigotry, fanaticism, brutality and extreme fecklessness even on their own terms has generated a backlash within the US ruling class while consolidating anti-imperialist alliances and movements. Market fundamentalism has experienced serious defeats, even in Europe. We may yet survive.

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All Hail Aryan Nuclear Fission! posted by Richard Seymour

(Via MRZine).

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The wrong kind of British posted by bat020

A truly gob-smacking exclusive in this week's Socialist Worker about how the government and courts are trying to deport a British citizen to Pakistan. Yup, you read that right — a British citizen who happens to have been born in Pakistan, and is consequently considered a "foreign criminal" by this disgusting racist government.

Saqib Almas, the guy in question, did time for petty crime a few years back, served his sentence, was released over two years ago and was getting on with his life in east London. Until the government decided that hunting down "foreign criminals" was its number one priority.

Then someone noticed that Saqib had dual nationality (he was born in Pakistan because his mum, a British citizen, happened to be there at the time and has lived in Britain since aged 18 months).

And then another someone decided that this fact made Saqib "foreign". So the immigration officers descended on his house at 8am and now he is sitting in Harmondsworth about to be stuck on a plane to Pakistan. They have basically decided that if you're the "wrong kind of British" they can strip you of your citizenship at will.

The testimony of Sam Almas, Saqib's sister, is worth reading in full:

They came for my brother Saqib at 8am when he was still sleeping. My mother found two vans of police and immigration officers preparing to break our front door down.

Now the government is trying to deport him to Pakistan – even though he is a British citizen. This is blatant racism and arrogance from Tony Blair and his government. We have to challenge them, or they will carry on down this line.

The court issued a warrant for my brother’s arrest on Thursday 11 May. The next day they arrested him and by Saturday he was in Harmondsworth detention centre.

They gave him a document saying that they want to deport him to Pakistan because he has no ties in Britain and he has a criminal record.

This is ridiculous. He grew up here and went to school here. All our close family are here and we are British citizens too.

Yes, he has a criminal record – but for minor offences, and he has been punished for that. He’s done his time and he doesn’t deserve this.

What has happened to my brother makes me rethink my beliefs. I am British. I was born here. My grandfather was invited to live here after he fought for the British in the Second World War.

I’ve never felt that I had to choose between different identities before. But when they are threatening to put my brother on a plane to Pakistan, they are saying that they don’t want us here.

I’ve been a Labour supporter all my life, but now it makes me ashamed to think that I supported Labour. Some of the laws they have brought in are barbaric.

The government is completely blind. At a time when the British National Party is getting large votes in parts of London, anyone with any common sense would realise that what the government is doing is making the situation even more volatile.

Blair’s priorities are all wrong. I work in a hospital and I know that the NHS is in serious trouble with huge cutbacks. Government ministers should be worrying about that. Instead they are continuing with an illegal war, raiding homes and deporting people.

This is a quick fix solution from the government. To them, my brother and other people like him are just statistics. But he is a human being and he should be treated with some respect. I have a three year old daughter and sometimes I wonder whether I really want to bring her up in a society with so much racism and injustice.

Blair thinks he is untouchable. He needs to think about what he is doing before he starts trying to teach the rest of the world about democracy. I have no faith in him or his government. We should remind them that they are answerable to the people.

In other news: a 30 year old Afghan man was stabbed by racist thugs in Barking on Wednesday night - on the same evening that 12 Nazi councillors were sworn in at Barking & Dagenham town hall. They left him for dead - draped in an England flag.

And on Thursday night in Merseyside, Alec McFadden, a prominent local anti-racist campaigner and left wing trade union activist, had his face slashed up on his front doorstep by a knife-wielding Nazi. The attack took place in front of his two young daughters.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair has appointed Liam Byrne as his new immigration minister. You may remember Mr Byrne - he's the toerag who won his Birmingham Hodge Hill seat at a by-election in 2004 by running a blatantly racist election campaign.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Imperialism as a solution to capitalist crisis. posted by Richard Seymour

Domination, subjugation, oppression, racism, the master race - keeps the profit margins high and staves off social revolution. And it's good for civilization, too.

Cecil Rhodes, 1895:

I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for "bread," "bread," and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism ... My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, ie, in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands for settling the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid a civil war, you must become imperialists.

Joseph Chamberlain, 1896, to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce:

If we had remained passive ... the largest part of the African continent would have been occupied by our commercial rivals ... Through our colonial policy, as soon as we acquire and develop a territory, we develop it as agents of civilization, for the growth of world trade.

John Stuart Mill:

It can be affirmed, in the present state of the world, that the founding of colonies is the best business in which the capital of an old and rich country can be invested.

Leroy Beaulieu:

It is neither natural nor just that the civilized people of the West should be indefinitely crowded together and stifled in the restricted spaces that were their first homes, that they shoiuld accumulate there the wonders of science, art, and civilization, that they should see, for lack of profitable jobs, the interest rate of capital fall further every day for them, and that they should leave perhaps half the world to small groups of ignorant men, who are powerless, who are truly retarded children, dispersed over boundless territories, or else to decrepit populations without energy and without direction, truly old men incapable of any effort, of any organized and far-seeing action.

Hobson, 1902:

The new imperialism differs from the older, first in substituting for the ambition of a single growing empire the theory and practice of competing empires, each motivated by similar lusts of political aggrandisement and commercial gain, secondly, in the dominance of financial, or investing, over mercantile interests.

Hilferding, 1910:

[The imperialist] observes with a cold and steady eye the medley of peoples and sees his own nation standing over all of them. For him this nation is real; it lives in the ever increasing power and greatness of the state, and its enhancement deserves every ounce of his effort. The subordination of individual interests to a higher general interest, which is a prerequisite for every vital social ideology, is thus achieved; and the state alien to its people is bound together with the nation in unity while the national idea becomes the driving force of politics.

Otto Bauer, 1913:

Imperialism is in fact a means of extending the limits of accumulation.

"You guys realise you're dying for capitalism, right?"

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Latest Hitler: how lies become news. posted by Richard Seymour

Canada's National Post ran a false story claiming that Iran was planning to oblige non-Muslims to wear badges to indicate their ethnicity so that they could be distinguished in public. Experts have already dissed the story.

The National Post tries, in a lustrum written by Chris Wattie, to distance itself from the sensationalist item by describing it as a "news story and column" by Amir Taheri - a column, an opinion piece, the work of a malevolent hoaxster perhaps. Except of course that the original news story was by, well, Chris Wattie. Wattie adds, in his own defense: "The Simon Wiesenthal Centre and Iranian expatriates living in Canada had confirmed that the order had been passed, although it still had to be approved by Iran’s “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenehi before being put into effect." Also cited in its defense is the view of the Simon Weisenthal Centre that, although it had no independent corroboration of the report, they believe it to be true. Further, Stephen Harper, the Tory Prime Minister of Canada, said Iran is "very capable" of enacting laws similar to the Nuremberg Laws under the Nazis.

Amir Taheri, of course, is a dubious figure. He is a sublunary of the Benador Associates, a right-wing PR firm that supplies conservative speakers for all sorts of occasions. He specialises in producing bilge about Iran, interpreting Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush as an attempt to provoke a clash of civilizations so that the Hidden Imam will return, while asserting not only that Iran wants a nuclear bomb, but that it wants one to - well, hasten a clash of civilizations so that the Hidden Imam will return. He has claimed that attacks on London and New York were inspired by a desire by some Muslims to exert total dictatorial control over what you eat for breakfast (which is cartoonish nonsense), referred to Tariq Ramadan as a Muslim Brotherhood militant (which is flatly false), smeared antiwar protesters as defenders of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, and asserted that Israel must claim victory over Palestine. As an "Iranian-born analyst" (they never forget to mention this), he is the neoconservative's favourite 'native informant' about Islam, the Middle East and how well various imperialist adventures are going. Commentary Magazine loves him, the Wall Street Journal loves him, the Telegraph loves him, the National Review loves him - to put it mildly, his brand of 'insight' is very popular with that baroque sodality of reactionary imperialists. Noteworthy that, after the story has already been rebutted, Amir Tehari has gone and retold the story to the New York Post with the headline 'Iran OKs "Nazi" Social Fabric'.

But what is more interesting than Tehari's corroborative role is that this utterly false and utterly implausible story was first published by the National Post and then taken up by newspapers and television stations across America and the West, and even a supposedly leftish site called Truthdig. The report cited no solid sources, merely adducing unnamed "human rights groups" were were "raising alarms" and unnamed "Iranian expatriates" who "confirmed reports". Well, I say 'unnamed' - one Iranian expatriate is named, some geezer called 'Ali Behroozian'. Quite how he was able to 'confirm' this claim, what qualified him in other words, is a mystery. Googling yields nothing about him, so either he's a private citizen, in which case the question about his qualifications to confirm anything for the National Post is repeated, or the name is all made up, in which case other questions come to mind. Possibly, these human rights groups and expatriates are of the same character as the Iraqi exiles who obligingly told Bush what he wanted to hear - or what he wanted others to hear - so that he could invade Iraq. Or one could equally suspect the hand of such PR groups as Hill & Knowlton, who famously manufactured a story about Iraqi soldiers ripping babies from incubators and leaving them to die on the floor. But what is clear, abundantly clear, is that any news reporter worth his or her salt would have spotted that this set of claims had fuck all to it. Hardly any sources, obtuse style, vagueness of details, nothing but colourful, arresting and emotionally involving claims and expostulations that divert one from analysis. As Alexandra Kitty explains in her useful book on lies becoming news, those are the absolutely standard tell-tale signs of a hoax. CBS boasts that it did not publish the story because "there were too many red flags" and not enough concrete information. Yet Fox News, MSNBC the New York Post, the New York Sun, the Washington Times, the American Jewish Congress, the Jerusalem Post and any number of wingnut sites and of course our progressive friend Truthdig all repeated these outrageous, obvious lies as if they were fact. Most, including our progressive friend Truthdig, followed the National Post's lead by illustrating their coverage with artefacts or photos from Nazi Germany.

At any rate, bear with me while I ponder the obvious: the sheer volume of misleading, manufactured, slanted, spun, stilted and distorted information being generated about Iran right now - and particularly the time-worn repetition of He's-A-Hitler themes - suggests that some kind of attack is afoot. In order to blast a geopolitical opponent to Hades these days, they must first be portrayed as genocidal maniacs, ready to launch aggressive wars, pointing nukes at us... any war will not only be defensive, therefore, but also an act of humanitarian largesse.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Uprising at Guantanamo posted by Richard Seymour

America's own Chateau D'If is experiencing a desperate, doomed revolt by prisoners armed with weapons made of fans and light fixtures. They stand no chance against soldiers and professional torturers armed to the teeth and in control of almost every inch of the base, and so you could reasonably conclude that they are at this point indifferent to death. If you like, the United States has detained large numbers of people - many of whom we now know are to be released uncharged, which is to say that they have been trapped in hell for no reason, let alone a good one - and created suicide attackers out of several of them. This follows attempted suicides by four prisoners, using hoarded medicines. Commander Robert Durand says he can't discern a motive or a message, which means he either intends to insult our intelligence or his own.

The US has supplied the motive in abundance, and the response of many detainees is to attempt slow, agonising suicide. The message is that they are being held by such an inhuman, savage state that they'd rather die than continue in captivity. Donald Rumsfeld, in response to the hunger strikes, was kind enough to confirm this by describing them as "a diet". The invertebrate UN human rights watchdog that asked nicely for Guantanamo's closure because it seemed inapposite for a government so vocal about the human rights record of others to be kidnapping people and detaining them, indefinitely and without trial, and then torturing them, got its response today. The US said that the real problem is there aren't enough interrogators.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mao more than ever! posted by Richard Seymour

I am nothing if not promiscuous. Like Mrs Prentice in What the Butler Saw, I was born with my legs apart and shall go to the grave in a Y-shaped coffin. Of course, I'm not a Maoist and have never supported the Chinese government or revered the rather repulsive figure of Mao himself. But the question we now face is why the Maoist movements are gaining such a foothold across South Asia. This article by Henry Maitles comes some way to answering that question. This follows a somewhat equivocal piece by Alex Callinicos a couple of weeks ago.

Maitles simplifies matters a bit, necessarily so, but the gist of it is correct - the Maoists do not look to the Chinese government as the model for development (rather they see it as a capitalist sell-out); they are successful because they are the most brave and committed fighters; they have generally emerged as national liberation movements; their strategy of rural mobilisation has excelled as a military strategy in economies with strong or majority feudal-agrarian structures, but has the flaw of relegating the role of the working class; and because these post-revolutionary states must survive in a hostile world, they end up being extremely authoritarian and coercive. Maitles doesn't mention the role of Stalin's Comintern in encouraging the Maoists to form a disastrous coalition with 'progressive' capitalists, and it might also be worth going into how the idiom of Marxism had to be adapted by the nationalist intelligentsia who adopted it first to fit their surroundings, which - because the urban centres were hostile and dangerous - inevitably turned to mobilising the peasantry. At any rate, whatever the misgivings one has about Maoism as an ideology, movement and strategy, it is an extremely positive development that these movements are growing in South Asia. To some extent, one has to acknowledge that radicalisation was always likely to be hegemonised by the Maoists because they are the best fighters and also because there is not a real embedded tradition of Trotskyism there - in fact, the Trotskyists in South Asia are by all accounts quite mad.

A couple of other articles worth reading. Yuri Prasad has an article in Nepal here, and Charlie Hore assesses some of the myths and monsters in a bestselling Mao biography.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Shiny new Chernobyls posted by Meaders

You knew it was coming:

Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to give his strongest signal yet that he backs the building of a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK...

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said ministers appeared to be considering changes to the planning process to overcome local resistance to new power stations.

No 10 says Mr Blair will say he has seen a "first cut" of the government-commissioned energy review, which is due by the end of July...

The prime minister is due to say that if current policy remains unchanged there will be a "dramatic gap" on targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 2025 forcing Britain to become heavily dependent on gas.

That old chestnut: it beggars belief that an industry with as dismal an environmental record as nuclear power's should be rebranding itself as a squeaky-clean green crusader - though appointing the ludicrous Bernard Ingham as your Captain Planet hardly suggests they're taking the effort too seriously. Nor should we pretend this stuff is cheap.

If Blair is claiming that nuclear is any solution to Britain's greenhouse gas emissions, he is peddling a myth:

A complete life-cycle analysis shows that generating electricity from nuclear power emits 20-40% of the carbon dioxide per kiloWatt hour ( kWh) of a gas-fired system when the whole system is taken into account (see Nuclear Power: the Energy Balance by Jan-Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith).

The nuclear process chain also emits other greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide with far stronger global-warming potential such as chloro- and fluorohydrocarbons and probably SF6. These emissions are difficult to quantify from the open literature, but the total emission of carbon dioxide equivalents by a nuclear system will be significantly more than 20-40% of a gas-fired system with the same energy output.

...all of which means, far from delivering the magic solution to climate change, nuclear power is barely worth the immense effort:

Research by the SDC suggests that even if the UK's existing nuclear capacity was doubled, it would only provide an 8% cut on CO2 emissions by 2035 (and nothing before 2010).

There is no silver bullet, and it is disturbing that this crass, myopic government is starting to peddle the myth that there is. After the failures of their own energy policies - inherited and all but unchanged, needless to say, from the Tories - failures revealed once more this week, they're thrashing around for a clean quick-fix. That they should end up with the dirtiest, most expensive "quick-fix" imaginable is in character. What we need to tackle carbon emissions is planning: an integrated plan to deal with emissions from transport, housing, food consumption, and the rest. We need a serious research commitment to renewable and genuinely zero-emission fuels. What we do not need is New Labour's wilful short-termism.

Update: The text of Blair's speech to the CBI is now available:

The facts are stark. By 2025, if current policy is unchanged there will be a dramatic gap on our targets to reduce CO2 emissions, we will become heavily dependent on gas and at the same time move from being 80% to 90% self-reliant in gas to 80% to 90% dependent on foreign imports, mostly from the Middle East, and Africa and Russia.

Where, exactly, does the Prime Minister think uranium comes from? Organic farms in Wiltshire?

It'll come as no great surprise, either, to find that the figures making the economic case for nukes are apparently being busily rigged.

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Make Richard Branson History. posted by Richard Seymour

Give us our colour back, you theiving bastards! Who the fuck entitled you to colour your 'philanthropic' PR operations red? Yes, Product Red is once more upon us. Bono explains his latest enterprise - a slim red mobile phone with an MP3 player on it that will divert a little bit of money to AIDS charities - thus: "We had the student campuses and the church halls but we didn't have the high street". The man couldn't be more of an upstanding pillock if he tried. How simple can it be? Getting the 'high street' means getting the companies who are raking it in off the exploitation, misery, oppression and deaths of the working masses on this planet. You want to tackle AIDS? Get the pharmaceutical companies off their backs. Stop sending Christian far right missionaries to preach 'abstinence' to the poor. How's that for a start? You want to help the poor? Instead of giving GAP some cheap PR, get them to stop using slave labour. Instead of giving American Express a new marketing scheme, how about fighting against the far right neoconservative ideology which they aggressively help promote through the American Enterprise Institute? How about tackling bio-piracy, privatisation (of water and anything else up for grabs), the destruction of welfare systems and labour protections and so on? Instead of encouraging rich Westerners to buy mobile phones, how about considering the way class cuts across from the 'developing' world to the 'developed' world - how can it be that the US is second highest in the world for newborn mortality? How can it be that New Orleans is allowed to be held to ransom by a corporation? How can it be that TB has been making a comeback in parts of the UK where levels of the disease are now higher than in China or India? Why does it fall to the elected leader of a poor country like Venezuela to help out poor Americans and Europeans? Oh, nothing but the usual - capital is the problem and no part of the solution.

You know, a couple of weeks ago, I had the misfortune of reading this interview with a rather typical 'cardigan capitalist', one of those 'nice guy' capitalists who expends his wealth behaving like a teenager and pursuing vanity projects. In the interview with a BBC sap, Mr Branson describes how guilty he feels about the plight of the poor in Africa and the terrible burden of having all his wealth while so many die. He says that "the necessary evil of capitalism" must be turned to good. Yeah, if capitalism somehow, inexplicably, mysteriously, ineluctably, enabled you to grab almost three billion pounds in personal wealth (how much in those offshore trust funds, I wonder?), you'd call it a necessary evil too. And you'd cry your little socks off about the terrible, terrible guilt. Simply terrible. Not that you'd have anything to be guilty about, you understand, it's just that the necessary eeeeevvviillll of capitalism made you some money.

So, we are to understand corporate philanthropy as expiation for the capitalist concerned, but also - as explained with abundant clarity by one of the marketing whizzes behind it on C4 News last night - a badge of honour for 'concerned consumers'. No one noticed, not even the news anchor, that what the man had said in his interview was that he had spotted those little wristbands some people were wearing last year that said 'Make Poverty History' - you know, the ones that were made in Chinese sweatshops? And so he thought it would be a nice little profit-spinner if he could make a product that acted as a little badge for customers to say "I care about, er, these people or, er, that cause or this thing" (he really was that vague about it). The news anchor went on to spin this, literally, as "so, the message is, buy a phone and change the world". No no no - the message is, openly, buy our phone for a mere £149 and enjoy the sensation of being part of our little philanthropic circle-jerk.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, a clucking aristocrat mouths obsequies about the terrible problems in the East End. "The problem," replied Lord Henry Wotton, "is one of slavery. And we are trying to solve it by amusing the slaves." Times change - Bono and his greasy ilk are trying to solve it by amusing the masters.

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Palestine Demo posted by Richard Seymour

This Saturday:

The Palestinian people need your help Israel's brutal occupation of the Palestinian people is creating a humanitarian crisis.

The Israeli government has decided to strengthen the economic blockade of the Palestinian people. Dov Weisglass, the Israeli prime minister's adviser, joked: 'It's like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die'.

a. According to a January 2006 UN report, 64% of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are living below the poverty line.

b.. In Gaza, 40% of children suffer from malnutrition because of the Israeli occupation. John Ging, director of UN operations there, said: 'This is the first time bread has been rationed.There's no sugar, oil, milk, the basics.'

c.. A UN report in September 2005 said that 60 Palestinian women had given birth at Israeli checkpoints since 2000 and 36 of their babies died as a result.

d.. Since September 2000, over 3,800 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army and settlers, and over 29,000 injured.

e.. Israel is building an Apartheid Wall that, when completed, will annex East Jerusalem and almost half of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians imprisoned in a series of ghettos.

f.. Over half of the Palestinian population were expelled from their homes in the 1947-49 war, and a second wave of refugees was created in 1967. Today, two-thirds of Palestinians are refugees.

So: DEMONSTRATE, Saturday 20 May. Assemble 12noon, Embankment. Rally in Trafalgar Square.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Alo El Presidente! posted by Richard Seymour

You've got to love Chavez. He comes to London, much maligned, calls Bush a terrorist, promises cheap oil for poor Europeans, tells an ITN journalist not to be so stupid (for asking why he didn't meet Blair), supports Brian Haw, converts the FT to some befuddled racial theory about Latinos, quotes Rosa Luxemburg, forces the BBC to cave in through a network of Chavistaz and has dinner with Ken Livingstone - all without being shot.

Here's Livingstone interviewed about it on Radio 4. Here's Pilger on the topic, and here's a very biased segment on Jeremy Vine's show in which Vine carefully manages the show on behalf of the coup advocate and multifarious blogger, Aleksander Boyd, "calling from Millbank", against the criticisms of John Rees. Mr Boyd, who has been given plenty of space in The Times and elsewhere to explain his crackpot views, wonders how "democracy can be protected from itself", and concludes "violence is the only recourse left". Not on the radio segment, of course - he's a better PR man for the oligarchy than that. Here. Likewise, coup supporter Maria Corina Machado. Time was, supporters of the Nicaraguan death squads were being puffed by the US as democracy activists. How Washington must yearn for those days...

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Socialist Register posted by Richard Seymour

Via Marxmail, I learn that all back issues of Socialist Register from 1964 to 1999 are available free of charge. There's a brilliant range of material available there (all on PDF files, which I hate, but this is free!). In particular, I want to draw attention to David Coates' article, Labour Power and International Competitiveness: A Critique of Ruling Orthodoxies. This is the kind of argument that needs to be elaborated when corporations claim to be benefitting workers in poorer countries by shifting production overseas. Coates wrote the brilliant Models of Capitalism, which dealt brilliantly with some of the mythologies by which the Third Way temporarily sustained itself (before collapsing into the Third Empire). Even the left-Keynesian Larry Elliott was plugging it some years ago.

Anyway, it's all free, so go see, go see!

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Slum World. posted by Richard Seymour

Mike Davis on the cities of the present and future, here and here.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Act of God. posted by Richard Seymour

Prologue -

Watching the towers fall in New York, with civilians incinerated on the planes and in the buildings, I felt something that I couldn't analyze at first and didn't fully grasp (partly because I was far from my family in Washington, who had a very grueling day) until the day itself was nearly over. I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration. Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.

Lots of people disagreed with the use of the term 'Polemicist' in the earlier post linking to Charlotte Street's ruminations. What's being got at here is the career Polemicist (hence the capitalisation), the sort of scribe (or radio shock-jock for that matter) whose entire output is directed at this or that deluded sad-sack, these crooks, that enemy of the people. Well, in the absence of an alternative word, just go with it while I try and hammer something out.

The avenger, masked or unmasked, is the fantasy figure of the Polemicist's role-play. In particular, the figure of Monte Cristo is paramount, or at least the major literary expression of the mythology, which has been repeated over and over - to some extent in Zorro, The Shawshank Redemption, V for Vendetta, etc. The story was popular fiction in its time, released in 18 parts over two years, in similar fashion to much popular fiction to follow, in which the same hero did the same thing in book after book after book. The Sherlock Holmes novels were obviously dispensed in this way, and the triumph of market demand over art was established when Holmes was brought back from the dead in that improbable fashion. Holmes' awesome, superhuman talents, petit-bourgeois social position and aristocratic demeanour mark him out as a figure of the same cut as Edmond Dantes, albeit he acts on behalf of 'society' rather than himself. Moriarty is as much an intellectual foe as anything, but his swinishness and deviance is necessary to keep Holmes moving. Holmes perpetually needs problems to solve, otherwise he's stuck with his smack addiction. (I don't suppose it's accidental that this is what we get in much modern 'gumboots' or crime fiction - Franco Moretti has it that there is often a profoundly authoritarian, organicist ethos at work in such novels, in which the world is eminently readable, solveable, in which one can, or wishes one could, peer right into each little house and hovel, in which deviancy and normality are self-evident terms. Total transparency, the panopticon, is what is yearned for. The detective has an affinity with the criminal to the extent that he has eschewed the individualist ethic, but retains a memory of it - he knows the criminal mind. The contrast is that Dumas' popular fiction was profoundly democratic, and that his superman rebuked God and affirmed the individualist ethic).

Dumas based his tale on an apparently true story described in a memoir by Jacques Peuchet of a man named Francois Picaud who, imprisoned on the schemes of four false friends, later escaped with a treasure map bequeathed him by a dying prisoner and used his wealth to build up his resources in advance of a terrible, cruel revenge. How pleasurable to say that, by the way, to say that one will be terrible, cruel, unremitting, an avenging instrument of God, enacting la justice de Dieu. It is partially a male fantasy in Theweleit's sense, in which the man of steel is part of a macro-machine, an intrument of it, whose most "urgent task ... is to pursue, to dam in, and to subdue any force that threatens to transform him back into the horribly disorganized jumble of flesh, hair, skin, bones, intestines and feelings that calls itself human." But whether there is a 'true' story behind it or not is irrelevant, for what is striking is the appeal of the superman myth. If Picaud hadn't existed, someone would have invented him.

It is a particularly cherished conception of the petit-bourgeoisie, those whose social position disposes them to distrust the working masses while at the same time bitterly loathing and resenting and envying the ruling class. (I don't mean to say, of course, that one can 'blame' this literary production on the petit-bourgeoisie or 'taint' or 'damn' it by association with that social layer). If you only look at an activity, rather than at the rewards it incidentally manages to accrue in a given situation, it is obvious that the role of the freelance commentator, journalist or even, dary I say it, comedian, is petit-bourgeois. So, a comedian whose fantasy is that he personally is Siva the Destroyer, or the Shepherd, or even Christ-At-His-Angriest, reproduces this literary cliche even if it is occasionally to the detriment of his art. A pugnacious commentator-cum-journalist who explains that hatred of this or that fraud, or mountebank, or charlatan is a good reason to get up in the morning so that he can "continue the fight on CNN" could be said to be doing the same. It goes without saying, or should do, that Bloggery is a very petit-bourgeois activity notwithstanding the social class that any particular blogger belongs to - hence the popularity of fiskers, instant-rebutters, exposers, those who are forever trying to catch this or that threatening figure with his or her pants down.

The admiration for the European blueblood evident in this fantasy is intriguing as well. Thomas Harris's Hannibal absolutely ruined the mystery of Lecter by revealing it: he is merely a disdainful aristocrat, an elitist misanthrope, a refined sociopath, snob and sadist. Had this not been revealed (ie had Harris not written his awful bloody book), readers could have continued to admire the mysterious cannibal. Similarly, Zorro is an aristocrat in mask; Holmes is a lower-middle class detective with an aristocratic comportment; the Scarlet Pimpernel is also a masked aristocrat; Batman likewise... What is it about the aristocrat that we admire? His 'cool' inevitably, his capability, his authority, his rich accent, his learning, his disdain, his wit, his cruelty and his sadism. If only we too could be like that.

But beware, folks, beware... who else thought he was an instrument, not of God, but of Destiny? From one of the Chabert pieces above, a quote from Umberto Eco:

Gramsci's idea charmed me. That the superman cult of nationalist and fascist stock was born from, among other things, a complex of petit-bourgeois frustrations is well known. Gramsci explained clearly how this superman ideal was originally given birth, in the 19th century, at the heart of a literature with open democratic and popular intentions and leanings. "The feuilleton replaced (and favoured at the same time) the imagination of the man of the people, the ordinary man, and was a veritable day dream [...] of extended musings on the idea of vengeance, of punishing the guilty for the injuries they inflicted[...]" Thus it is certainly legitimate to interrogate the origins of the right wing superman cult but also of the equivocations of humanitarian socialism of the 19th century. Consider: Mussolini began as a socialist and ended as a reactionary nationalist; the superman of the popular novel begins as a democratic personnage (Sue and Dumas) only to finish in nationalism (Arsène Lupin).

Prophylactically, I should add and re-emphasise that this is not an attempt to 'incriminate' any particular author or comedian by association with fascism or anything of that kind. It simply happens to be 'there' (and 'here' if you like).

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Lockout: the Natfhe/AUT education dispute. posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by John Brissenden:

Lockouts at the universities.

“The shortfall of teaching funding has badly hit the salaries of academic staff, which have shown practically no increase in real terms over two decades. This at a time when professionals in virtually every other sector, including school teaching and the health professions, have improved their positions significantly; and when competition among graduate employers at home and abroad for the most talented potential university researchers and teachers is greater than ever. An estimated 1,000 UK academics have left jobs here for universities abroad, a quarter alone going to the US.” – Tony Blair, 14 January 2004

The media narrative of the current national dispute over university lecturers’ pay follows a traditional pattern for public sector pay disputes: uncaring strikers holding innocent victims to ransom while they hold out for an unreasonable pay increase.

But the reality is that university vice chancellors, with the support of the press and the government, are seeking to exploit the perceived weakness of university teaching unions the AUT and NATFHE to strangle our industrial action. The pay campaign, which dates back to last September, has now entered a critical phase. With exams imminent, and union members across the university sector boycotting assessment, a number of university vice-chancellors have started, or threatened to stop all or part of the salaries of those academics refusing to submit marks or set exams.

In many cases, as here at Bournemouth University, striking lecturers have been turning cartwheels to minimise disruption to students, by continuing to mark, give feedback and letting students know marks while not feeding them into the system. The university’s threat of a de facto lockout has hardened attitudes among staff and prompted sympathy from students. NATFHE is seeking advice about the legality of the threats, while 300 branch members at Northumbria University have voted for all-out strike action until their lock-out threat is lifted.

Our experience does not reflect the views of students reported in the corporate media. Yes, there is widespread concern and frustration. But students understand the chronic crisis in academic pay – a 40 per cent decline in relative salaries since 1992 – that has led to our claim; they resent the fact that the employers refused to respond to the claim until we began our action; and they are horrified that our reasonable approach is being met with the iron fist of suspension without pay.

They are also conscious of what is really at stake here. Writing in this week’s Times Higher Education Supplement, Chaminda Jayanetti says: “Our lecturers were promised that at least a third of tuition-fee income would be used to improve academic pay. If universities are allowed to break their word to academics who have given up trying to hold them to it, then they could consider themselves free to break the promises they made to us students, too.”

As a senior lecturer, I earn £31000. As a computing student at yesterday’s Bournemouth SU UGM pointed out, he earns more than his lecturers when he is on a work placement. Having worked many years in the private sector, I can honestly say that working in a university is the most demanding job I have ever had. The government and the employers accepted that something needed to be done to address the pay crisis back in 2004, when they were pushing through top-up fees in the teeth of opposition from the teaching and student unions. Over the past three years, university vice-chancellors have awarded themselves an average 25 per cent increase, with an average salary of £154000 and nearly half enjoying an increase between 26 per cent and 49 per cent.

The employers’ latest offer, of 12.5 per cent over the next three years, represents an increase barely ahead of inflation, which is why AUT and NATFHE negotiators had no need – despite the weasel words of ultra-Blairite Education Secretary Alan “I’m not getting involved” Johnson – to refer it back to us.

The employers’ position and actions are deeply cynical. With an additional £4 billion coming into higher education over the next three years, they mistakenly believe they can force – starve, if necessary – academics back to work and deny them a once in a generation opportunity to fix the pay crisis.

Peter Knight, vice-chancellor of the University of Central England, has seen his salary increase by 28 per cent, from £130,000 to £160,000 over the past three years, an increase almost equivalent to my total salary. As he put it on the opening day or our action: “If pay is stopped, the action will collapse. While there is proper and understandable loyalty to the unions from their members, there is a limit to that loyalty and it will get severely tested at pay day.”

We cannot and will not give in to cynicism and bullying. If you care about university education in this country, please support us.

(For more information, see Natfhe, AUT and Bournemouth University Strike Blog).

Also worth reading is K-Punk's article here.

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