Friday, June 30, 2006

Blair and the globalisation 'debates'. posted by Richard Seymour

I've suggested before that the PM loves to invoke the frisson of democratic debate precisely when he intends to steamroller something through parliament, ignore dissent, caricature opposing views and announce immediate success. Via Andrew Bartlett, I find this:

Complaining about globalization is as pointless as trying to turn back the tide. There are, I notice, no such debates in China.

Did you read that correctly? Resistance is futile, and we need to eliminate debate like China.

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Iran and 'regime change' posted by Richard Seymour

A couple of excellent articles by Yoshie Furuhashi and Justin Raimondo detailing the preparations being made for 'regime change' in Iran. The warnings signs are all there:

1) A strong bipartisan vote in favour of sanctions on Iran unless there is a change in government, with only fourteen dissenters. It took five years for a congressional vote in favour of 'regime change' in Iraq to become a military invasion.

2) A White House propaganda blitz, manufactured crises, press hysteria.

3) Dodgy exile groups disseminating false information, lobbyists (often pro-Israeli) ferociously dissembling and campaigning.

4) Clandestine activities inside Iran, including large sums of US cash supplied to various schisms and groups in the hope of destabilising the government.

5) The US government's sudden preference for the New Hitler sobriquet.

6) The manipulation of intelligence.

It has been said in several articles that Bush's focus was always more on Iran than Iraq, and Yoshie points out that in straightforward economic terms the former was always more important to the US. Of course in the short term, sanctions on Iran will actually drive up oil prices considerably, thus enriching that sector of capital closest to Bush, while driving up costs for everyone else. But this also provides some temporary benefits for Iran. One area where Iran is weak is in its dependence on gasoline imports, and the government is obliged by the WTO to cut subsidies for gasoline consumers. If they are obliged to do this, then they are in for some shocking inflation, since the price would rise from 9c a litre to 55c a litre. Higher prices on oil exports, however, would enable the government to avoid this, increasing the pot for subsidies and the Keynesian social spending programmes of the incumbent. Iran also presents a serious geopolitical problem for the administration - whether they intended it or not, their invasion of Iraq considerably increased the power of Iran in the region much to the dismay of Washington's local attack dog, Israel. The standing of the government in the Arab world is also growing. Iran's pursuit of nuclear power would also make them more energy independent. Their present capabilities are far from sufficient to build nuclear weapons, and they'd have to proceed at breakneck pace to get a weapon within the decade.

The Bush administration, should it decide to attack, will cover itself on all flanks: on the right, it will cite traditional 'national security' concerns, the alleged threat posed by Iran, its supposed nefarious activities, its belligerence toward Israel; on the left, it will cite humanitarian concerns, using women and gays as it made use of Dr Sima Samar in Afghanistan before ditching her. Pro-war exile groups like the MEK, a one-time marxist revolutionary group, have been drip-feeding propaganda on both counts - alleged sattelite imagery of nukes on the one hand, and stories of barbaric repression on the other.

Of course, I'm supposed to add that of course I'm against nuclear power and support the struggle of women and gays in Iran, but I see no reason to waste time on the obvious. It's a bit difficult to support women and gays in Iran, however, and rather hypocritical to bleat about nuclear power, if you're assisting or cheering on a nuclear power as it threatens to launch an attack on another country that will tear men, women, children - both gay and straight - to shreds, and reduce the country from being a modern state with an infrastructure to a ravaged war zone.

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British government considered nuking China. posted by Richard Seymour

Secret documents are filled with curious little items like this:

On February 22 1961 the then Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home said in a letter, marked 'top secret', to the Minister of Defence Harold Watkinson and to the Prime Minister: "It must be fully obvious to the Americans that Hong Kong is indefensible by conventional means and that in the event of a Chinese attack, nuclear strikes against China would be the only alternative to complete abandonment of the Colony.

"In these circumstances it is perhaps not so much formal staff talks with the Americans that we need so much as an informal exchange of views involving a discussion of the use of nuclear strikes.

"I need hardly say, however, that I agree entirely with your view that while we should encourage the Chinese to believe that an attack on Hong Kong would involve nuclear retaliation, we must avoid anything that would allow the Chinese to claim that the Colony is a military outpost of the Unites States."

Western imperialist powers prepared to reduce millions of people to particles simply to hold on to a bit of stolen land. What, I wonder, will be turned up in 2051?

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Event: International Conference: Against Zionism: Jewish Perspectives posted by levi9909

Check out this all dayer:
02 July 2006

Speakers: Rabbi Yisroel Weiss, Uri Davis, Prof. Yakov Rabkin, John Rose, Roland Rance, Jeffrey Blankfort, Rabbi Ahron Cohen, Stanley Cohen

Islamic Human Rights Commission

Event: International Conference: Against Zionism: Jewish Perspectives, 2nd July 2006, UK

Event details:
Against Zionism: Jewish Perspectives
Brunei Gallery, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Sunday 02 July 2006
9:30am – 7:00pm
Admission: FREE

A one day conference organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission in conjunction with NEDA and supported by The 1990 Trust, Crescent International, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Innovative Minds, Islam Channel, Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, Justice for Palestine Committee, Muslim Weekly, and Neturei Karta.

This conference is being facilitated to provide an opportunity for peoples of many different confessional backgrounds and none to listen to and interrogate some of the ideas of academics and activists who have opposed Zionism and who hail from Jewish backgrounds.

We hope this conference will inspire activists, as well as open up optimistic and fruitful debate.

Confirmed Speakers:
Jeffrey Blankfort, San Francisco
Rabbi Ahron Cohen, Manchester
Stanley Cohen, New York
Dr Uri Davis, Sakhnin
John Rose, London
Roland Rance, London
Professor Yakov Rabkin, Montreal
Michael Warschawski, Jerusalem
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, New York

For more information, please contact the IHRC office on (+44) 20 8904 4222 or
And to think some people are going to see The Who in Hyde Park

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Israel Kidnaps Palestinian Government. posted by Richard Seymour

Jews Sans Frontieres has some coverage of this breaktakingly arrogant assault by Israel. Aside from hardly having time to follow this issue, I am utterly at a loss for words to describe these bastards.

John Game posts a press release from the Palestine Centre for Human Rights:

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

Press Release
Ref: 56/2006

Date: 29 June 2006

Time: 08:00 GMT

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) Carry Out Reprisals against Palestinian Civilians in the West Bank

PCHR strongly condemns the IOF detention of Palestinian Cabinet Ministers, including the Deputy Prime Minister, and legislative council members from the “Change and Reform” party, affiliated with Hamas. The Centre views these detentions as a form of reprisal against Palestinian civilians and a form of collective punishment prohibited by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Centre calls upon the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to force IOF to respect the convention, which bars reprisals against protected persons, as stipulated in Article 33. The Centre calls upon the High Contracting Parties to enforce Article 3, regarding adherence to the convention and respecting its stipulations, and to take appropriate actions against the serious violations being perpetrated.

PCHR’s preliminary investigation indicates that in the early morning hours of Thursday, 29 June 2006, IOF conducted a number of incursions throughout the West Bank, excluding Jericho however. IOF surrounded the places of residence of a number of Palestinian Cabinet Ministers and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) from the Change and Reform Party. These forces detained nine cabinet ministers, twenty-one PLC members and a number of Hamas political leaders.

The detained Cabinet Ministers are:

- Naser El-Deen El-Sha’er, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education

- Omar Abdel Raziq, Minister of Finance;

- Samir Abu Eisha, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation;

- Khaled Abu Arafa, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs;

- Wasfi Qabha, Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs;

- Issa El-Ja’bari, Minister of Local Government;

- Fakhri Torokman, Minister of Social Affairs;

- Nayef El-Rajoub, Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs; and

- Mohammad El-Barghouthi, Minister of Labor.

The detained PLC members are:

- Hebron: Basem Ahmad Moussa Za’arir, Khalil Moussa Khalil Beb’ei, Samir Saleh Ibrahim El-Qadi, Mohammad Ismail Othman El-Tal, Mohammad Motlaq Abdel Mahdi abu J’heisha, and Mohammad Maher Yousef Bader.

- Bethlehem: Anwar Mohammad Abdel Rahman El-Zoboun and Mahmoud Dawood Mahmoud El-Khatib.

- Jerusalem: Wa’el Mohammad Abdel Fattah Abdel Rahman (El-Husseini), Mohammad Mahmoud Abu Tir, and Ahmad Mohammad Ahmad Attoun.

- Nablus: Hosni Mohammad Ahmad Bourini, Reyad Ali Mostafa Amli, and Yser Suliman Dawoud Mansour. IOF raided the house of PLC member Ahmad Ali Ahmad in Ein El-Ma’ refugee camp, but did not find him there.

- Jenin: Ibrahim Mohammad Saleh Dahbour, Khalek Suliman Fayez Abu Hasan, and Khaled (Sa’id) Abed Abdallah Yehya.

- Tulkarm: Reyad Mahmoud Sa’id Radad and Fathi Mohammad Ali Qarawi.

- Qalqilya: Imad Mahmoud Rajeh Nofal

- Salfit: Naser Abdallah Odeh Abdel Jawwad.

PCHR condemns these detentions, which came following the Israeli government’s threat to assassinate and detain Hamas political leaders, after the military operation against the Israeli military outpost in Kerem Shalom on Sunday, 25 June 2006. PCHR:

- Affirms that these detentions are a form of reprisal and collective punishment;

- Affirms that these detentions are part of a plan to undermine the democratically elected government and PLC;

- Reiterates the position that Israel is intent on implementing unilateral steps to complete the construction of the Annexation Wall and confiscate more than half the area of the West Bank. Targeting the new Palestinian government underlines the intention of Israel to continue to disregard and undermine the Palestinian leadership;

- Reiterates the call to the International Community to take immediate steps to provide protection to the civilian population, in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, and to work to prevent further deterioration in the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

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Office Boogie. posted by Richard Seymour

Something for you to listen to in work today.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Priya Gopal on Empire & Niall Ferguson. posted by Richard Seymour

Ferguson's Empire - a fairy tale even the kiddies won't buy:

The War of the World tells us that people "seem predisposed" to "trust members of their own race", "those who are drawn to 'the Other' may ... be atypical in their sexual predilections" and that "when a Chinese woman marries a European man, the chances are relatively high ... that only the first child they conceive will be viable."


Good governance? More famines were recorded in the first century of the British Raj than in the previous 2,000 years, including 17-20 million deaths from 1896 to 1900 alone. While a million Indians a year died from avoidable famines, taxation subsidising colonial wars, and relief often deliberately denied as surplus grain was shipped to England.

Tolerance? The British empire reinforced strict ethnic/religious identities and governed through these divisions. As with the partition of India when 10 million were displaced, arbitrarily drawn boundaries between "tribes" in Africa resulted in massive displacement and bloodshed. Freedom and fair play? In Kenya, a handful of white settlers appropriated 12,000 square miles and pushed 1.25 million native Kikuyus to 2,000 restricted square miles. Resistance was brutally crushed through internment in detention camps, torture and massacres. Some 50,000 Kikuyus were massacred and 300,000 interned to put down the Mau Mau rebellion by peasants who wanted to farm their own land. A thousand peaceful protesters were killed in the Amritsar massacre of 1919.


A wilful ignorance of other people's cultures and histories encourages the notion that freedom, democracy and tolerance are intrinsically western. As Amartya Sen has argued, the subcontinent has long been home to traditions of free-thinking and debate. Participatory governance was not Britain's gift (recall Gandhi's indigenous village republics), even if parliamentary democracy as an institutional form was adopted in some ex-colonies. Free trade is another mythical western contribution to world history. Amitav Ghosh has reconstructed the forgotten history of a vibrant trade culture between medieval India and Africa. When the Portuguese arrived, they demanded that the Hindu ruler of Calicut expel Muslims, "enemies of the Holy-Faith", from his kingdom. He refused and was subjected to two days of bombardment.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Those 'terror' plots in full. posted by Richard Seymour

So, first of all, the 'Miami Seven': They were not 'Al Qaeda' - the only connection to 'Al Qaeda' that these men had was that an intelligence mole called himself an 'Al Qaeda' operative (that's called entrapment; they had no explosives; they are not even Muslims (which would be enough to get one arrested); the best the government has is an alleged expression of a wish to target the Sears tower. One of the arrested was a Guardian Angel. There was no plot. It was a government provocation. It was entrapment. Nevertheless, Time insists they were a 'threat' cos they were wannabes n the guys who blew up the tube were wannabes n that proves they were a 'threat'. Yeah, but the guys who blew up the London underground were something more than 'wannabes'. They were people who had explosives of some variety and used them. Those guys were 'am so' not 'you wish'. Nevertheless, Alberto Gonzales said these seven guys were intent on launching a "full ground war" against the United States.

Meanwhile, that alleged Canadian plot is hidden from proper scrutiny by a full media blackout, their lawyers report mistreatment. The alleged plot has been reported to involve everything from an attack on the Prime Minister to an airplane attack to truck bombs in Toronto's financial district. It is alleged the men possessed explosives - but if they did so, this is because they were delivered by the Mounties. The group had allegedly been a "relatively innocuous little group of rank amateurs", and were able to grow only because the government allowed it to grow from 2004, and very probably infiltrated the group. So, you might ask: why would two Western states attempt to goad groups into participating in terrorist activity?

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The Blame Game posted by Meaders

As Hitchens retreated, someone remarked to him, "So your glorious war has turned out to be a total disaster, hasn't it?"

"It is glorious," the sodden scrivener blared, "and it IS my war because it needed Paul Wolfowitz and myself to go and convince the President to go to war."

As mourners digested this megalomanic outburst, Hitchens continued, "And we are going to kill every Al Qaida terrist and Baathist in the country and that's a good thing. They need to be killed and we will kill them."


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"Why is the TUC criticising Iraq's oil workers' union?": open letter from Sami Ramadani posted by Meaders

Dear Friend,

Please treat this as an open letter and feel free to circulate.

The head of the TUC European Union and International Department, Owen Tudor, has written a letter criticising Iraq's oil workers' union, for not building links with certain international union federations, and lambasting solidarity organisations for issuing statements alerting the trade unions and general public to the escalating anti-trade union measures and oil privatisation plans in Iraq. [Copies of Owen Tudor's statement, and the Naftana (Arabic for "our oil") and US Labour Against the War (USLWA) statements are reproduced below this email.]

Instead of directing his fire at the anti-trade union measures in occupied Iraq, Owen Tudor prefers to level a false accusation against a besieged trade union representing impoverished workers, languishing under a ruthless occupation. He also takes a swipe at "small" solidarity organisations in Britain and USA, and engages in diversionary nitpicking and making light of the grave problems facing the Iraqi people and trade unions.

But despite Owen Tudor's attempt to cloud the issues and downplay the seriousness of the problems facing Iraq's genuinely independent trade unionists, the facts are plain and simple to understand. The Iraqi government has, in the past few months, accelerated the implementation of decree 8750. The Iraqi Ministerial Council approved decree 8750 in August 2005 (probably not published in the official gazette till September) promising "a new paper on how trade unions should function, operate and organise," dissolving one government committee and replacing it with a new ministerial committee that includes the minister for National Security, to be in charge of Labour and Social Rights, and stating that the new committee would control all trade union funds. Using wording rivalling the deviousness of the Saddam regime's 1987 anti-trade union law, decree 8750 does not ban trade unions. In 2004 US administrator Paul Bremer issued a notorious directive, still in effect, reviving Saddam's 1987 anti-union decree, which also did not ban trade unions as such, but merely deemed all workers in the state sector to be civil servants. Civil servants were of course banned from joining trade unions.

Similarly, decree 8750 is worded such that it effectively makes all union activity illegal. The decree states that the new ministerial committee "must take control of all monies belonging to the trade unions and prevent them from dispensing any such monies." How trade unions can function legally when it is illegal to dispense a penny on their activities, only Owen Tudor knows. He also knows how to stay calm and not resort to "hyperbole" when "Unions in Iraq are clearly still functioning, and have been since the Decree was announced." In English, this means that his TUC department will not launch a serious campaign to defend Iraq's independent trade unionists until they all stop functioning.

While the country burned and cities were at the receiving end of trigger-happy US Marines, US air and land bombardment, and occupation-induced terrorist attacks, the government proceeded this year with the implementation of the anti-union policies and decrees. As if it was not bad enough that his TUC department did not campaign to defend the Iraqi lawyers' and writers' unions, Owen Tudor tries to downplay nakedly anti-union measures by describing properly constituted unions, with elected officers, as "more professional associations than trade unions."

In April the government accelerated the implementation of its 8750 anti-union decree. Contrary to Tudor Owen's accusations of "hyperbole," the Naftana statement below understates the scale of the problem facing Iraqi trade unions by highlighting the actual freezing of the accounts of only the oil workers' union. The government decree in fact ordered control over the accounts of all trade unions (including those close to the government).

I find it astonishing that he chooses to accuse the oil workers union, whom the TUC officially invited to Britain last year, of not communicating with international union federations. He knows very well that the oil workers' union has been trying very hard to establish such contacts in the face of insidious, but polite and patronising disregard. He also knows that this union is financially strapped -(the price of true independence under occupation)- and relies heavily on its supporters in Britain to communicate its news in English to the British and world trade union movement. Instead of publicly criticising the union, he should be writing to them expressing concern at the news of freezing their account, ascertaining the full facts and offering financial and other help. He should also be asking them how the TUC could help the union's planned second anti-privatisation conference in Basra.

It is deeply regrettable that some in the TUC international department prefer to turn a blind eye to certain international events, which are seriously threatening trade unionists abroad, if such events are deemed to be politically embarrassing to Blair's government. For them Iraq is building a democracy, and strangling independent trade union activity does not fit in with that fictitious Blairite image of Iraq, an image designed to lull trade unionists into silence about the gravity of the situation in Iraq, and thwart calls for the swift withdrawal of the US and British occupation forces.

In the name of supporting a fictitious democratic process, they are in effect helping to crush democratic activity. And by not exposing the consequences of the Blairite (Thatcherite) alliance with the Bush administration, some in the TUC international department are, probably with good intentions, helping prolong the occupation of Iraq and privatisation and theft of Iraqi oil and other wealth by the transnationals. In doing this, they are also damaging the reputation and proud record of most of Britain's unions, strongly opposed to the war and continuing occupation of Iraq. Instead, Tudor Owen should also be alerting Britain's unions to the fact that the Iraq's oil minister is preparing the ground for signing privatisation agreements, deceptively called Production Sharing Agreements, with the transnational oil barons.

The TUC is perhaps not aware that the occupation authorities have spent millions of dollars on so called civil society and other 'sweetheart' organisations to prop up activities designed to draw attention away from the war crimes of the occupation forces and plans to privatise Iraq's oil and main industries. The implementation, probably selectively, of decree 8750 will hit the genuinely independent organisations hardest, because they rely heavily on the pennies they collect from impoverished workers and donations collected by solidarity organisations .

Decree 8750 is aimed at strangling the truly independent trade unions and other mass organisations. International solidarity helps them stay independent and to resist pressures to turn them into 'sweetheart' unions, docile apologists of the occupation and the transnationals.

Best wishes,
Sami Ramadani
26 June 2006

The Naftana statement can be read here; Owen Tudor's statement is here

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Iraq Resistance: Bigger, Badder and Uncowed. posted by Richard Seymour

The 'Iraqi government' tries offering a 'truce' that doesn't involve the eviction of occupying troops, and the resistance says:

[A] spokesperson for the 11 largest Sunni insurgent groups said they can't accept the plan because they don't recognize the current Iraqi government.

They want a quick end to foreign troops in Iraq, Iraqi prisoners released from all Iraqi and U.S. jails and the United States and other coalition countries to allocate money to rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure destroyed by war.

They also want all negotiations to be monitored by the United Nations or Arab League.

Despite repeated attempts to smear the resistance as an anti-civilian sectarian movement riddled with psychos and under the thumb of Zarqawi and his putative successors, it is understood by US intelligence that the movement is indeed an anti-occupation resistance. For instance:

New data reveal, surprisingly, that the vast majority of the Iraqi insurgents' attacks are still aimed not at Iraqi security forces or at civilians, but rather at U.S. and coalition troops. In other words, as much as was the case a year or two ago, the Iraqi insurgency is primarily an anti-occupation insurgency.

The statistics—compiled by the multinational military command in Iraq and reproduced in a report released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office—raise anew a basic question in the debate over the future of U.S. policy toward Iraq: Is the presence of American troops doing more harm or more good?

And here are the stats (click to enlarge):

Of course, this is a huge surprise for those who hoover up impressionistic media reports:

This is a surprising finding because so many news stories from Iraq have been reporting a rise in attacks on Iraqi security forces and in clashes between Sunni and Shiite factions. The graph confirms that those attacks have risen, sharply. But they still constitute a small percentage of the attacks overall.

The graph reveals another discouraging trend. Since August 2004, the number of attacks has stayed about the same—bobbing up and down between 2,000 and 3,000 per month, recently hovering around 2,500.

The resistance is not going to be defeated any time soon. The US has killed tens of thousands of people, whom they claim are resistance fighters - and yet they have consistently estimated the resistance at no more than a few thousand, ten thousand at the most. The truth is, there are tens of thousands of fighters and a large pool of passive and active supporters. The last time they polled Iraqis, they found a growing number of people supporting resistance attacks - a majority outside Kurdish areas. So, the real question is how much pressure we can apply to force our respective governments to stop brutalising Iraq and withdraw. In the process, they will have to publicly negotiate with the resistance just as they had to in Vietnam. Perhaps we can even get Rumsfeld the Nobel prize in the process...

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

"The London Bombings": an independent review. posted by Richard Seymour

Prefatory notes.
Saturday's Guardian had a story about a man named Martin Gilbertson who supposedly worked with the 7/7 bombers and tried to warn police about them - a terrifically inflated story, if you ask me, and one buttressed by various discredited media accounts of goings on at the Iqra bookshop and so on. Basically, it comes down to Gilbertson having produced some websites and political material for a group of young men who - while apparently suffused with "religious racism" - allowed Gilbertson, neither a co-religionist nor a co-ideologue, fairly close access to their alleged activities. Except that these activities appear to amount to little more than involvement in the 'Mullah Crew', a local religious outfit that got young men off drugs and defended the community against white racists, and reading and disseminating entirely truthful accounts of Western crimes in Iraq and Palestine, interpreted as a war on Islam. This guy may have sent a package to the police, but what he says it contains is hardly evidence of involvement in criminal activity, terrorist or otherwise. On the other hand, today's Sunday Times meanwhile reveals that Mohammed Siddique Khan's car was bugged. There have been a number of reports suggesting that the men who are said to have carried out the bombings were actually tracked by intelligence for some time. How to interpret all this?

Well. I have been offered to preview books about five times now, and I generally don't respond since I am not in the business of doing publishers' work for them. However, when the book in question is what promises to be an inquiry into the London bombings by reputed author Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, I'll suspend my puritanical disdain. For, whatever else might be said, the case for an independent inquiry into what happened on 7/7 is overwhelming. Ahmed has been positively reviewed by Pilger, Vidal and others, and his new book has been reasonably well received in The Times (albeit tagged as a 'conspiracy theory' and lumped in with some reactionary drivel by Melanie Phillips). The book has a number of themes: inconsistencies and downright falsehoods in various police and government narratives of 7/7; British intelligence involvement with radical Islamist groups; the consequences of this strategy as 'blowback'; the consequences of this relationship for proper investigation into what happened. As the news broke, some people may have remembered as I did the New Statesman article indicating that British intelligence allowed radical Islamist groups to operate in the UK since under such a covenant they wouldn't attack the UK. Fox News made use of this sort of claim to suggest that MI6 was appeasing terrorism. Ahmed may, then, provide a useful counter to this sort of reactionary wheedle.

'Al Qaeda' or Amateurs?
Does he? In the first instance, I want to summarise the opening part of his book. He cites various sources (which, upon checking, seem reliable) to suggest that the initial opinion of police, intelligence and bomb experts was that this was an attack using military expertise and explosives, including C4 shipped in from the Balkans. He then charts an apparently very sudden shift to saying that the attacks were really a home-made, amateurish business involving TATP. Problems? Well, TATP isn't a thermochemical explosive - rather it releases sudden, large amounts of gas that should not leave people with internal and external burns or leave charred remains, as details from bombing scenes and eyewitness accounts suggest there were. On the other hand, TATP can be used alongside C4, which is how Richard Reid intended to blow up an aircraft. Part of the reason for asserting that TATP was the substance used was the apparent discovery of the stuff in a bath in Leeds - the person who rented the house was famously arrested in Egypt, but quietly released after three weeks. Ahmed says that the person was not interviewed by Scotland Yard detectives (citing a Daily Mail interview with the man), and he was certainly never identified by police as a suspect. The veracity of the claim that TATP was the substance discovered hasn't been confirmed as yet. Similarly, there has been considerable vagueness in media reports about the alleged discovery of bombs or bomb-making equipment and whether this was found in Lindsay's red Fiat or in Tanweer's hired Nissan Micra.

Ahmed also details the claims made about the bombers' movements. There are some notorious inaccuracies and discrepancies in various accounts here. Police appear to have released contradictory evidence about the train the men boarded (07:40 or 07:48). The official Home Office narrative says the men were on a train that left at 07:40, while CCTV footage appears to show them arriving at Kings Cross at 08:26. Problem is, the 07:40 was cancelled, and the 07:48 left late and arrived at 08:42. Plausibly, they got on the 07:24, which left a minute late and arrived at 08:23. (As Rachel North points out, this is not the only inaccuracy in the narrative). The narrow point is that the information given to us is unreliable and often false, while the wider point is that the movements of the bombers suggests some involvement in 'terrorist networks' connected to 'Al Qaeda'. Ahmed fluffs up a little here by suggesting the the atrocities committed in Spain were by 'Al Qaeda' - in fact, they appear to have been conducted by an autonomous Moroccan group with some connections to Spanish intelligence.

'Al Qaeda'...
What about Britain? Is the British government right to minimise the likelihood of Al Qaeda involvement? Well, following the attacks a claim of responsibility appeared on a website from an organisation called Qaeda al-Jihad, which Juan Cole suggests was written by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later appeared in an edited tape featuring Khan warning of an attack. Omar Bakri Mohammed, of what used to be known as al-Muhajiroun (now split into the Saviour Sect and Abu Ghurabaa), appears to have warned in late 2004 of an attack by Al Qaeda in Europe on London - he later is quoted as saying that the 'covenant of security' with the British state had been broken by the government's 'anti-terror' legislation. On the other hand, of course, many people knew an attack was on the way, and intelligence services had predicted that the war on Iraq could easily produce an attack on London. And here, the book becomes rather lazy. Several sources are adduced to illustrate the claim that large, radical Islamist organisations operated from and through Britain - albeit from the same sources (police and media) which have proven so unreliable elsewhere. Glen Jenvey, a "private intelligence professional" who alleges he had some role in getting information that led to the sentencing of Abu Hamza al-Masri, is cited as saying that Bakri is a 'prime suspect'. Well, Jenvey is a reactionary Islamophobic bigot who thinks everything that moves and has brown skin is Al Qaeda, so I don't trust him and don't see any reason you should either. I have found no corroboration of Jenvey's alleged role in Hamza's arrest and sentencing, and at any rate, Hamza has not been found to have been involved in terrorist activity as Jenvey claims - the only conviction under the Terrorism Act is his possesion of an Encyclopaedia said to have been written by bin Laden's network. It has to be noted that the first of a few blanked out passages emerges here - 'section removed for legal reasons'. Ahmed further cites the claims of an alleged al-Muhajiroun member and confessed 'Al Qaeda sleeper' named Muhammad Junaid Babar, who says that intelligence were watching Khan. He has, since being caught, become an 'informant' for intelligence. Ahmed cites an unnamed 'investigator' who alleges that Hamza was closely connected to Al-Muhajiroun, which in turn was suspected of links to 'Al Qaeda' through Bakri. The source this time is a URL which turns out to be a story in the Queen's Chronicle. (Quite a few of the footnotes, unfortunately, are URLs, without article titles or authors.) The attempts to trace a connection between the 7/7 bombers and 'Al Qaeda' at this point are extremely sloppy and unconvincing.

There follows a discussion of Bakri and his organisation's alleged involvement in terrorism, all sourced to this testimony from Andrew Dismore MP. I'm afraid the idea that a pathetic clown like Bakri has ever been a serious figure in these movements is unconvincing, and Dismore's claims are poorly sourced. Often they amount to Bakri mouthing off. Hamza is cited as seriously believing that the 9/11 attacks were a Zionist plot - not an unknown belief, but a curious thing to come out with if you're a defiant and proud supporter of Al Qaeda and a member of an organisation that will later refer to the 'Magnificent 19'. Ahmed also takes seriously the claims of Hassan Butt, a former member of al-Muhajiroun, who boasted that 60% of the fighters in Afghanistan were recruited from Britain by his organisation (Butt was also the source of the New Statesman story, by the way). Hassan Butt is described as having been arrested under the Terrorism Act but "unaccountably" released - one possibly is that he is an obvious fantasist. This story which cites the ultra-right Heritage Foundation and an unnamed US defense analyst, is adduced to bolster the claims. Similarly, an article on the hard-right Newsmax is referenced for a claim that the group is connected to Zarqawi, citing unnamed "French and German officials". I'm afraid that much of the evidence cited in connection with these claims is like this - nebulous, poorly supported information, drawn from untrustworthy sources.

...And Amateurs
The next part of the book is devoted to 21/7. Ahmed doubts claims made by the British government and police that these failed explosions were designed to kill, or that they were linked in any way to the previous attacks. Hussein Osman's testimony has it that his rucksack was filled with flour, hair product and nails, which is a non-fatal combination under most circumstances. The police and the government have it that the bombs were designed to be lethal, and that they were the work of a related group, if not the same group as that which carried out 7/7. Osman, when he was extradited, was arrested under the Explosive Substances Act of 1883 and has been charged with attempted murder. Ahmed cites an unfortunately unaccessible story from the Agenzia Giornolistica Italia which suggests that the Italian court panel which approved Osman's extradition confirmed part of his story (namely that flour and nails etc were involved), but which adds that either TATP or HMTD was found on the detonator. Ahmed comments that if this was the detonating material, the substance that was supposed to be detonated was not an impressive combination. In fact, it is extremely difficult to know what the case is with the bombs since precious little information has been released beyond the police's claims (which may or may not hold up in court) that the bombs were devised to be lethal. Whatever the case, the fact that the bombs failed, and that Adiesu allegedly abandoned his device, at the very least suggests an amateur operation. Nevertheless, they did hold extreme views, and did belong to al-Muhajiroun at some point and so, Ahmed wants to know, how is it that one of the 'cell' was monitored prior to the failed attacks in Pakistan only for him to slip under the radar because Pakistani intelligence said he wasn't doing anything significant? Surely, given Pakistan's previous 'sponsorship' of Al Qaeda, one wouldn't 'blindly' accept their word? This isn't particularly persuasive: the British presumably had intelligence-sharing with the Pakistani government, since the latter is a client-state of the West. The idea that Pakistan would conceal nefarious activities against the West isn't plausible. Similarly, why were warnings unheeded? Or if they were heeded, why does the government claim to have had no warning? This point, too, would be more impressive if the cited source didn't stipulate that the warnings were heeded: Ahmed suspects more could have been done, but it is unclear what. It is not even clear if the Mirror's story is accurate. Ensuing claims are often similarly tentative - drawing from this story, he suggests that because Luai Zakra, allegedly one of the five most important people in Al Qaeda (not the 'number five man' as Ahmed has it), testified that he didn't know about 21/7, then it was conducted without Al Qaeda supervision. The conclusions seems right, but the supporting logic is extremely poor. At any rate, this is a curious 'Al Qaeda' leader who doesn't like to pray, but fancies a drink. Is it possible that Turkish intelligence are simply making shit up?

"a marked man..."
On the Menezes shooting, Ahmed emphasises the possibility of wrong-doing higher up the chain of command, and hints that something is amiss in the very presence of the SRR. He cites claims that the Special Reconnaisance Regiment, an outfit with an appalling record in Northern Ireland, had identified Menezes as IC1 - a 'white European'. He actually points this out twice. This is interesting, but unfortunately the source he cites makes it clear that he was thus identified by the SRR soldier who was taking a piss at the time, who added 'it would be worth someone else having a look'. Ahmed cites a Sunday Times article which quotes an unnamed Whitehall official saying that those who carried out the shooting "were led by senior officers to believe that he was a terrorist". He cites revelations that some officers in the team which shot Menezes knew that he was not a terrorist or acting suspiciously. He notes the attempt to alter the log to make it look like the SRR team had not wrongly identified Menezes as the suspect: who in fact did give the positive ID, he wonders. He notes that even the brutal Operation Kratos procedures were violated if Menezes was allowed to board a tube carriage before being addressed in any fashion whatsoever. He notes that the police have, instead of adapting or abandoning these procedures, actually widened them so that they may now shoot-to-kill in the case of stalking or domestic violence. That story had completely passed me by. He notes that the police resisted investigation by the IPCC and blocked the handover of hundreds of documents. He suggests that this is because "the threat-perceptions of officers on the ground were manipulated by senior officials for reasons that so far remain difficult to fathom". Menezes was "a marked man", but we don't know why. This portentous speculation, which substitutes for evidence or even discernible logic, is one of the most irritating aspects of the book.

In an old Northern Irish comedy skit, an impersonator has Gerry Adams indicate that members who owe dues in arrears to the IRA will receive "a warning shot to the back of the head". By their own account, this is the kind of warning that the British security services received. Not so, says Ahmed: Whitehall documents revealed a "thousand-strong groundwell of al-Qaeda sympathisers in the UK" in 2004, including white British nationals and "those of West Indian extraction"; similarly, the head of MI5 suggested that Al Qaeda might and could attack the UK at some point using some means; Pakistan had warned of potential attacks (those untrustworthy guys?); France had made similar warnings as had the US and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi warning "remarkably" contained "very specific information" - the target was the Underground, the cell contained four people (unnamed) and the month was July 2005 at the latest. Unfortunately, Ahmed omits the bit about the target being "the Underground or a London night club" and the timescale being "within six months". Similarly, Ahmed mentions the Spanish interception of a message ordering attacks on Europe - he neglects to add that the putative authors of the message, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade, are not the most reliable bunch. In fact, since this alleged group has taken responsibility for almost every recent terrorist attack including in London and Madrid, it is a matter of some doubt that they actually exist. Then there is the infamous Israeli warning, some moments before the attack. Ahmed acknowledges that the story was denied, but not that the original source (AP) retracted it. He cites Tommy Preston of Preston Global as confirming the story that at least one person in London was warned moments before the first explosion, and that this warning was passed to Netanyahu. Ahmed cites the preposterous Zionist propaganda site Israel Insider which supposedly 'confirms' a similar story (it cites a German newspaper story which claims that the bombing was linked to one in Tel Aviv). But if Mossad were warned, so Ahmed infers, then intelligence must have been on the case for a long time, in which case they surely had more detailed knowledge than they let on. This is neither deduction, nor induction - it is reduction to absurdity. Based on retracted reports, the dodgiest of sources and pure rumour, Ahmed leaps to the most auspicious conclusions. He claims his analysis is supported by Stratfor, but it cites unconfirmed rumours. Ahmed cites "inexplicable" bomb scares prior to the attacks such as this one - yet, he goes on to describe its explicability: there was a suspect package, and someone had made a prank call. Two days later, there was another in Scotland, near the G8 summit. Another suspect package. "In any case", Ahmed avers, this "should have heightened security concerns around the country". This is a 'warning'?

How about this theory? Abu Hamza was on trial that morning - perhaps the attacks were aimed at disrupting that for all of six months? Apparently, "terrorist trials are a traditional 'watch date' for security service", especially as 9/11 happened "on the same date as the conviction of al-Qaeda operative Ramzi Yousef ... 11 September 1996". Bollocks. Yousef was convicted on September 5th, 1996, not September 11th, 1996 - he was also convicted on other dates for other offenses. Why does he do this?

Intelligence assets and connections
Two weeks before the London bombings, Special Branch noticed something funny: a Pakistani on a terrorist 'watch list' entered the country through a sea port. He left by air shortly before the attacks. No one knows what he was doing, but intelligence deemed him low risk. End of anecdote - or so you'd think. Later, it was alleged that the man had "visited the bombers in Leeds and identified targets on the Tube". Anonymous security sources are inclined to "believe" many things, as Ahmed would be the first to point out, but the next story is a bit more concrete. We now have a name: a British national named Haroon Rashid Aswat, 30, who has been accused of terrorism and whom a US intelligence expert named Loftus has described as an associate of MI6. His accusers, however: "unnamed American counterterrorism officials". Later, ITN news reported that Aswat has phone links with two of the bombers, (although Ahmed might have noticed that ITN was merely summarising what had been in some of the papers that day). Again, however, it is unnamed security sources: unnamed security sources tell me that the Times is full of shit. Well, at any rate, Aswat does seem to have some history of involvement in radical Islamist activity, so it is not impossible. Why, then, was he considered 'low risk'? Presuming unnamed security sources aren't fabulating, who gets their balls rolled for that one? Similarly, what kind of feeble denial is it when Whitehall officials deny 'any knowledge' that Aswat was potentially an MI6 agent? I like to think, boys and girls, that if I was a state official asked to confirm or deny such a claim, I could do better than that. Loftus, as I say, makes the charge, and is supported in it by John O'Neill, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent. Unfortunately, Loftus displays a certain amount of ignorance in his claims, alleging that Al-Muhajiroun "got started" when the British decided to recruit "some Al Qaeda guys" to "defend the Muslim rights in Albania and in Kosovo". That particular sect "got started" in 1996, when it split from Hizb ut-Tahrir. The claims that this group was connected to Islamists operating in Kosovo are supported by Dismore's earlier cited claims before parliament, as well as a Times article in which Hamza is said to have boasted to court that he was involved in Bosnia and urged followers to fight in Kosovo. More on this a bit later.

Abu Qatada is a man alleged to have ties with the Algerian GIA and Osama bin Laden, although he has denied this himself and although he was arrested in February 2001 by British police, he was released without charge. It is claimed that the failure to arrest him is a result of the fact that he is a double agent for MI5, although he is presently locked up in Belmarsh, having been held for two years without trial. These claims appear to come from a variety of sources - chiefly, European intelligence officials, Qatada's lawyer and Qatada himself. It was said in 2002 that he was being protected in the north of England by British intelligence. His lawyer is cited by Ahmed is saying that he was being monitored by intelligence and that "his actions had a large degree of tacit approval". However, Ahmed's source actually has Qatada's lawyer stipulates Qatada's opposition to and non-involvement in terrorism. The "tacit approval" alleged by Qatada's lawyer is actually for lawful, 'spiritual' activity. (The constant, and completely unnecessary, misrepresentation of sources by Ahmed is extremely discouraging). Nevertheless, a leaked document from the Special Immigration Appeals Commission does provide evidence of Qatada's connections with intelligence, and it includes reference to that Qatada was actively involved in supporting terrorist groups. The nature of the relationship, according to the cited intelligence officer, is that he was expected to use his influence to curtail the ambition of the 'hotheads'. For this reason, he was recruited to MI5, protected from the law and allowed to contribute to overseas radical Islamist groups.

Back to Abu Hamza. Ahmed notes that he was alleged to possess the Encyclopedia of the Afghani Jihad, produced by bin Laden's network, and for making threatening and insulting speeches. It "quickly emerged" says Ahmed, that "all 16 ioffenses for which he had been charged had occurred with the tacit consent of British police", who "made no effort to shut him down". Reda Hassaine, an agent for MI5 in Finsbury Park mosque, is cited as giving warnings "in no uncertain terms" of Hamza's terrorist threat. Hassaine says that MI5 thought he was a "clown", even if he was sending people to fight overseas: provided he did not try to launch an attack in the UK, he was not going to be arrested. However, Hamza's prosecution contained only one 'terrorism' charge - possessing the Encyclopedia. Ahmed suggests that the police tacitly approved of his possession of this book because they confiscated it and returned it to him, citing a Sean O'Neill article from The Times which is now no longer available. However, the charge was made under the Terrorism Act of 2000, and the book had been allegedly taken and returned in 1999. Hamza certainly advocated violence, but there is no proof available that he was organisationally involved with terrorism. Ahmed relies on the claims of the Times reporter and avowed former spy, Reda Hassaine, who says he burgled documents from Hamza's office showing that he had received contact from GIA activists. Elsewhere he says that Hamza was "the first spiritual leader of the GIA", and he claims to have witnessed the 'recruitment' of Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui by Qatada (although in fact, the two are said to have become active long before Hassaine says he began his spying). He later alleged that two Egyptian-born men alleged to have surveyed a potential training base in Oregon were terrorists and "direct subordinates" of Hamza. On the basis of these claims, which remain entirely unsubstantiated (although they certainly merit investigation), Ahmed asks why police and the CPS refused to use this "abundant evidence" obtained by Hassaine for the prosecution against Hamza. Later, he says "Hassaine's evidence is merely the tip of the iceberg". For instance, there were allegations by intelligence officials (those mendacious guys?) of AK-47 training at Finsbury Park. There are claims by US intelligence agencies that Hamza ran terrorist camps with the assistance of British ex-soldiers, (from testimony by captives in Guantanamo Bay). And then there is an embittered rant from David Blunkett in The Sun (quoted from a Times article), who claims that he could have stopped it if only liberal bobbies hadn't been so soft. (At this point, Ahmed is once more extremely sloppy, claiming that if Blunkett had used his extensive anti-terrorism powers, Hamza could have been arrested seven years before his conviction in 2006 - Blunkett became Home Secretary in 2001.)

For a truly independent inquiry...
The pattern traced by Ahmed's account is one in which the 7/7 bombers are connected to Al Qaeda via Finsbury Park notables, who are in turn British intelligence agents. Warnings are inexplicably unheeded, while known terrorists allowed to operate very publicly and loudly - indeed they are given assistance and protection. Unfortunately, Ahmed relies on tendentious sources, tentative reasoning, and sometimes straightforward misrepresentation. It is a pity because even when you discount for all that (and I have necessarily focused on those aspects of the book that I want to challenge or scrutinise most), there remains a strong case for an independent investigation, reasonable suspicions about the use of Islamist activists and groups by intelligence and serious misgivings about the official account provided by the government. There is an account of the relations between states and Islamist groups which use terror, drawing on the same kinds of media and internet sources that characterise Ahmed's book throughout, which is useful if equally tendentious. Some smaller criticisms. Aside from Ahmed's propensity to omit important bits of information, make glaring, lazy howlers, and proceed to colourful conclusions from inconclusive evidence, there is the odd annoying verbal tic - sources "confirm" information that Ahmed believes to be the case (even where it is rumour or unsubstantiated claim), while they "say" or "claim" what he does not. The book is often not as concise as it could be, lacks an index, and is lazy with its sourcing. However, you'll find useful information collated here in a way that you might not find elsewhere, and Ahmed's style is clear enough. If you have nine quid spare, and a bit of time free (but not enough to do your own Google research exercise), you could do worse than buy it. Sorry to Duckworth publishers - that's the best I can do.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

The great law 'n' order debate. posted by Richard Seymour

Blair is once again announcing that there will be a "national debate", which is what he always announces when he intends to run things through parliament, avoiding scrutiny by all possible measure while appealing to ignorant tabloid editors over the heads of those who know what they are talking about. In this case, the debate is to address the putative "justice gap" in which criminals allegedly have too many rights, which are being allowed "outweigh" those of Ordinary Decent Law-Abiding People.

This government has gone further than any postwar government, Labour or Tory, in criminalising behaviour that is not criminal, particularly with their ASBOs scam. They have introduced wave after wave of new legislation, burning up parliamentary time which - like oil and gas - is finite. What an enlightened day in parliament it must have been, for instance, when instead of deciding to increase pensions or abolish prescription fees, the government decided that it could criminalise the parents of truant children.

Blair has decided, in the service of this debate, to unleash another of his non-sequiturs on us:

It’s no use saying that in theory there should be no contradiction between the rights of the suspect and the rights of that law-abiding majority. In practice there is such a conflict and every day we don’t resolve it, the consequence is not abstract, it’s out there, very real, on our streets.

Read that very carefully. The rights, not of the criminal, but of the suspect, the individual who is supposedly innocent until proven guilty. Blair has already introduced a massive curtailment to the presumption of innocence in ASBO cases by changing the formulation for proven guilt from "beyond a shadow of a doubt" to "on the balance of probabilities". This, one supposes, is the kind of "first principle" that the Prime Minister wants to despatch. Of course it is already tolerably well known that the rights of proven criminals are indeed suspended (it is known as sentencing), but this won't be the last time the very obvious appears to be absent from Blair's purview.

In Blair's Criminal justice speech, there is the usual focus on perceptions - we (the government) have a wonderful record, but unfortunately no one believes it because of the publicity. But the reason people believe the publicity is because they "think the political and legal establishment are out of touch". They are right to think this because that establishment has sometimes mustered a sinew of opposition to the government's really jolly necessary measures. The reason these measures are necessary is because the public don't have confidence in the political and legal establishment, which is out of touch because the public say so, who are right because... well, we could be here a long time if we were to trace that coiling absence of an argument right down to its epicentre.

Blair adumbrates the present position: "As the 20th Century opened the number of crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales per head of population were at its lowest since the first statistics were published in 1857. By 1997 the number of crimes recorded by the police was 57 times greater than in 1900. Even allowing for population growth it was 29 times higher. Theft had risen from 2 offences per 1,000 people in 1901 to 55.7 in 1992."

That is the standard view given by official parliamentary statistics. However, and the title of the chart in the linked report should be a giveaway, there were a great many more things treated as crimes in 1997 than there were in 1900 - drug prohibition has contributed massively to crime statistics, while adding to actual crimes such as theft because the only way to sustain certain artificially expensive addictions is to either be one of Blair's yuppie friends or to pinch televisions. Not only that, but it happens to be reasonably well established that until the 1930s, the police recorded many thefts (particularly those inflicted on the poor) as simply lost property. Reporting was very low during the Victorian era at any rate, since the poor did not respect or trust the police. The level of crime has risen and fallen, usually in sync with the economic cycle - during recessions, property crime is unusually high, but it falls back down when more people are in work (and therefore have neither as much motive nor as much opportunity to steal).

Blair goes on to provide a Whiggish patina for some obnoxiously reactionary discourse: crime results from the increase in single-parent families, higher divorce rates, the breakdown of discipline in family and schools. However, the "moral underpinning of this society has not, of course, disappeared entirely. That is why our anti-social behaviour legislation, for example, has proved so popular – because it is manifestly on the side of the decencies of the majority." What sort of "decencies"? Well: "shame, for example". Where once people enforced shame informally on young people who made rude gestures and spat on the pavement, now the government must echo those old "moral categories" through law enforcement. Then, law enforcement is no longer about catching criminals, but about making non-criminals ashamed on non-indictable behaviour. It is about shaming homeless people who beg for change, teenagers with tourettes, suicidal women and the mentally unwell.

There follows some scrapping with a couple of straw men, and then more apology for what is already government policy, but the crux of it is this 'seismic change' (to which is added "global terrorism based on a perversion of Islam"). It is "globalisation", the forces of which call for a profoundly authoritarian state (but not one prepared to protect jobs or social welfare). There is a sinister warning that the Prime Minister intends to import his disastrous 'reforms' of public services such as the NHS and education into the courts system, and he specifically calls for "breaking down the monopoly, 'one size fits all' court provision". Perhaps he intends to introduce a new layer of elite community courts for the best crimmos. More likely, he means that he wants to have some courts where accountability, the presumption of innocence and the right to trial by one's peers are all eroded. There's something even more sinister: Blair wants to "reach" families that are likely to produce offenders "before they offend" since "we can identify such families virtually as their children are born". What does this mean? One monitors couples as they arrive in the maternity wing? Police surveillance? Well what, exactly, is "reaching" supposed to mean "before they want such intervention", in the context of a putative likely criminality?

As usual, there is the stench of racism around this "debate". Not so long ago, government ministers were blaming "hip hop culture" and the So Solid Crew for violent crimes, and recently the issue has been invidiously connected to the issue of migration because some people who had committed crimes and served their time were not deported when they might have been. This morning, Kelvin Mackenzie was allowed to say on the BBC that the increase in crime was due to increased migration. Blair raises the issue of Zimbabwean asylum seekers whom his government attempted to deport, and bemoans the court decisions which frustrated this - indeed, he attacks the very idea that one shouldn't deport someone to a country where they are likely to be tortured or perhaps killed. What if they were suspected of terrorism?, he asks. You might well ask yourself - the answer would conventionally be to charge them and try and prove the case against them, but this elementary observation simply eludes Blair. As well for him, since we know that Mr Straw deported Iraqi asylum seekers, explaining in a letter to them that he was confident that Iraq's legal system would try them fairly. But it is acceptable to treat would-be immigrants in this fashion because "each time an illegal immigrant enters the country ... someone else's liberties are contravened". The white man's liberty, in short.

Ironies abound to the immense discredit of the Prime Minister: he actually says at one point that there is a strong desire to avoid the complexities of the situation "by taking refuge in simple explanations and remedies". Blair's simple explanation: not enough discipline, too many single moms, families broken down, too much drugs, too many teen yobs and too much illegal migration. Blair's simple remedy: more prisons, more police, longer sentences, revoke the right to trial by jury, summary punishment, deport more illegal immigrants. This is exactly the Prime Minister's prognosis and solution, and it happens to bear a remarkable similarity to that of the far right.

This isn't to say that crimes such as theft, rape, murder and so on aren't serious issues, or that no increase in crime is detectible. Homicide would almost certainly be much higher than it is if it weren't for improvements in medical care. There is a real problem with the increase in violent crimes, which are rooted in alienation, depression, and the various forms of self-medication that one seeks: booze, for instance. But if more police numbers, more prisons and longer sentences were adequate and appropriate to this situation, then the enormous increase in police numbers in recent decades would have seen crime fall. The huge amounts of money spent by the Thatcher government on building up the Home Office and the police would have resulted in a reduction of crime. Instead, crime shot up during the 1980s and the Metropolitan Police (of all sources) accused the government at the time of pursuing "an economic policy, which includes a Treasury-driven social policy, that has one goal - the reduction of inflation. Any adverse social byproducts are accepted as necessary casualties in the pursuit of the overall objective". The Prime Minister tacitly acknowledges the connection with drugs, but not the ridiculous 'right' that the state reserves to criminalise those wish to purchase and use them. The government has previously acknowledged a connection with structural poverty, but it will persist in policies that inevitably and deliberately maintain a pool of unemployed labour (and thereby repress wages), all the while taking every opportunity to try and diminish and dismantle the welfare net and hit the very poorest in society.

Kelvin Mackenzie gets the last word here, because he accidentally hit upon something in the middle of his sleazy tirade: he said we have become a "criminalised society".

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Mike Marqusee on Forest Gate shooting. posted by Richard Seymour

A very good piece at Counterpunch by Mike Marqusee on the shooting that caused the Metropolitan's brightest and best to apologise for "any hurt that may have been caused". The effect of a bullet on fleshy tissues and the central nervous system is apparently shrouded in some mystery for the police. Which may explain why, according to the BBC, the police squad who blew Menezes brains all over the tube were - so they claim - still trying to wake him up until the ambulance crew arrived.

One aspect of it that stands out is the supposedly reputable source of the 'intelligence' that led to this raid:

It has emerged that this massive and aggressive police operation was based on an uncorroborated tip-off from a single informant, a young man serving a prison sentence with a purported IQ of 69.

The average alsation has an IQ of 60, while collies are said to be even smarter. The source of this information would struggle to beat Lassie in a game of fetch the stick. (Yes, I know, IQ is an almost meaningless test, and this is a rather cheap insult - but I am insultingly cheap). But of course the more telling point follows:

According to reports in the press, the government insisted the raid go ahead despite warnings from Scotland Yard that there were “serious reservations about the credibility” of the source.

Indeed, the defensive reaction of the political establishment, from Blair to Livingstone, suggests that the raid was in fact the result of an attempt by the government to create panic. What is more, the repeated attacks - sometimes sotto voce, sometimes explicit - on Muslims by the government suggests that it is deeply worried about the way in which that community has become more confident, particularly following the extraordinary scale of the antiwar movement, and the political consequences of that which include Respect's success. The Observer, a key Blairite organ, is quoted: "Better a bungled raid than another terrorist outrage". Better shoot a Muslim than even take the slenderest chance that they might be looking at us funny, in other words.

For all the immediate flurry of excessive protestations that the shooting was not like Menezes at all, the same justificatory logic is invoked, with the same preposterous cruelty and feigned innocence at the implicit racism.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Asda sees red over seagulls posted by bat020

News just in: workers at Asda's distribution depots have just voted for strike action by 74 percent in a long running dispute over pay and bargaining.

Details of the action will be announced by GMB officials tomorrow, but word is that it will involve a one day strike to coincide with a World Cup quarter final - though pressure is building for an all-out strike.

This announcement is the latest in string of bad news for Asda, which is owned by the loathsome US multinational Wal-Mart. And a little bird tells me that the supermarket's PR department is getting particularly hot and bothered by this article from Socialist Worker which is currently riding high on Google News... so perhaps it's worth quoting at some length:

Asda frozen food left out for the seagulls

by Simon Basketter

Workers at Asda supermarket depots have told Socialist Worker that the company is running risks with food safety. Members of the GMB union at Asda depots are balloting this week over strike action for union recognition. They say that it is not just the working conditions of Asda staff that are under attack by the anti-union company, but the condition of the food.

The company says its systems are safe and that it maintains high standards of health and safety, but workers accuse management of allowing frozen food to stand in the open air for hours after it had been delivered to stores.

Eddie, a GMB union steward from the Midlands, told Socialist Worker, “It is because of the just-in-time system. The food arrives almost as it is needed. Asda has the minimum room in the shops for storage because it takes up space that can be used for selling. The reality is there isn’t enough room to take the deliveries. Think of the hot weather we have had recently. Then think of frozen food sat in the sun.”

Drivers working in Asda depots in the north west of England say that food delivered to stores was sometimes left out for up to two hours before being placed in refrigerators.

One shop steward has made an official complaint to the company that frozen and chilled food was left out at the Gateshead store for six hours one day in May. He says he saw the food at 5pm and that shop staff had shown him a log revealing that it had been delivered at 11am.

Mick, a steward in Bristol told Socialist Worker, “We timed one load of frozen food being left outside in the sun for two hours 45 minutes. We have photos of seagulls picking at the packaging. The food was then taken into the store to be sold.

The workers point out that “checkers” at warehouses, who monitor the dates and rotation of stock, have been axed and the quality of training on food hygiene and trading standards has been cut.

These practices are not an accident but a deliberate strategy. In the management document, Warehouse Chip Away Strategy, the company outlined how Asda planned to drastically undermine labour standards. The document proposed cutting breaks and removing the right to take individual grievances to external arbitrators.

It introduced “single man loading” for jobs involving lifting, despite admitting that the company’s own risk assessment says two people are required for such tasks. Line managers are advised to “lead by example, not taking all the breaks that hourly paid colleagues get” in order to “take credence away from breaks”.

A driver at the company’s Wigan depot called Asda’s health and safety policies an “absolute farce” after photographing teetering pallets stacked up in the back of his vehicle. He said that such massive piles of goods regularly collapsed, putting staff in danger.

The driver says that this was due to direct orders from management to increase the number of cases on the lorries, thus saving costs by not needing to send out as many loads. “It goes to show how much we are worth to Asda, because they are putting profits well above our health and safety,” he said.

Asda is threatening to bring in agency labour to break the strike. This is illegal under British employment law and the GMB is threatening to sue any agencies that supply scab labour to Asda.

All this comes on top of Asda pulling out of a high profile plan to demolish the popular Queens Market in Newham and replace it with one of its superstores. And the company has had to reinstate Hugh Bennett, a truck driver and GMB steward at Asda's Wigan depot who was suspended for displaying an England flag on his cab with VOTE YES emblazoned on it.

There's a theoretical point worth logging here - we hear an awful lot of guff about how "globalisation" is making industrial action by workers irrelevant, cos companies can just shut down factories and move them across to the other side of the planet etc etc...

What's less remarked on is that exactly the same "globalisation" forces companies into deploying "just in time" management techniques that make them extremely vulnerable to strikes by key workers such as those employed in warehouses and depots. No wonder the company's flacks are getting into a flap about seagulls.

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Warnings from America. posted by Richard Seymour

A brief column by Gary Younge yesterday drew attention to some studies indicating that wealth is more likely to be transferred by inheritance in the US than in Canada and much of Europe, while higher education is very much an elite affair. No surprises there, and no surprise either that the Republicans are pressing for the abolition or substantial reduction of the estate tax, while conducting a massive ideological purge in the academia and weakening support for poorer students. They intend that polarisation to become even more entrenched. Much as in the UK, the capitalist class prefers education to reproduce class distinctions rather than efface them, which is they are always whining when too many people get good results - how does an employer distinguish? But look at this:

While the richest one per cent have been raking it in as they have not done since the age of the robber barons, "the vast majority of American incomes have not kept up with inflation for the past six years." Meanwhile, "A recent Congressional Budget Office report shows that, between 1979 and 2003, the top 1 percent of households enjoyed a 129 percent gain in after-tax income after inflation. That compares with 15 percent for the middle one-fifth of all households and 4 percent for the bottom fifth." Further, "So much of the fruits of economic productivity growth from 1966 to 2001 went to the top 10 percent that little was left for the other 90 percent, notes a new paper by Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon and student Ian Dew-Becker." Well, this is to be expected. On the one hand, capitalists do not introduce labour-saving devices or demand improved labour productivity in order to spread the wealth. On the other, the offensive of the Reagan years was about nothing so abstruse as a hostility to 'big government': it was about restoring capitalist class power in the US by eroding and dismantling gains made by the working class and left in previous decades.

It used to be astonishing - to me at any rate - that 22 million Americans live in trailer parks, that is homes that are usually one step up from the street. But how does it feel, I wonder, to add a detail like this?: "The New York Times recently reported a boom in building mega-yachts, some as long as a football field. Big yachts have multiplied from 4,000 a decade ago to 7,000 now. Only a few slips can accommodate the biggest boats, each of which can cost $200 million. (Many boat owners use tax breaks, some provided in a 2003 tax bill, to slash costs.)"

There was a brief chatter about class and race after Katrina, and to the extent that race is still occasionally discussed in any meaningful way, it is as a substitute for class, as a means of avoiding the pachyderm in the sitting room (as if it is possible to discuss racism without considering class - as if every baleful aspect of working class life, from poverty to homelessness to police repression, was not worse for non-whites). The CSM article draws some fairly apocalyptic - but by no means improbable - conclusions. Edward Wolff of New York University says that America's democracy is very fragile, but is more susceptible to reactionary backlash than revolution. As what the CSM calls the "middle class" becomes more and more deprived, it is supposed they will become less tolerant of the poor and programmes for them. Congress, "reflecting public opinion", will cut these back. Efforts to "limit immigration" could expand, while reactionary politicians would win more votes and, as the class system ossifies, the new oligarchy exerts more and more control over Washington DC.

This all depends on whether the American working class is able to rebound from these assaults, and of course that will depend to a large extent on how successful immigrant workers are in resisting the assaults on them. Radicalisation in the US, as Mike Davis notes in this interview with SW, has historically been rooted in the revolts of migrants, "Germans and Irish in the 1880s, Slavs, Finns and Italians in the 1900s, Jews in the 1930s and so on". The current immigration debates are obviously crucial in that respect. Unfortunately, much of what counts for the American left as represented by commentators such as Randi Rhodes and especially Thom Hartmann, has taken a disgraceful, stupid and reactionary line on migration. Hartmann bleats on his Air America slots and in his columns that immigrant workers drag down American wages, and cites Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers as having resisted migration to the US and shopped migrants. If only the American left could return to the good old days of wog-bashing. It is incredible bilge on his part, of course, since a) the UFW was actually composed of many immigrants, b) they shopped those who would not unionise, c) migration only brings down wages when it takes place under conditions favoured by capitalists - when migrant workers are intimidated and bullied, and don't know their rights, not when they fight back and win better conditions and union rights and push up wages as Miami cleaning workers recently did. Bush doesn't intend to end migration, he intends to make it a more terrifying process for those who get to the US, and make their position more insecure. One thinks of the scene in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada where border guards capture and beat a number of migrants, while three escape. One of the guards says "well, somebody's got to pick strawberries".

But of course, the migration issue does not only inflect the class divide in America: it is increasingly tied up with one consequence of neoliberal imperialism, what Mike Davis calls the Planet of Slums. As recent UN reports highlight, most future population growth will be in the South, particularly in slum cites with poor or no amenities. They will add to the growth of the informal working class, an atomised and irregularly employed class of people. Some of those who are able to will migrate - most will, as they already do, migrate on foot to nearby countries. Some may make it to Fortress Europe or Lockdown America, only to be reminded that their role is to be exploited by capital, and killed by imperialism. It ought to be a common sense on the left that those who do decide to migrate here, and manage to get in, should be defended rather than demonised since it is both inhuman and against our class interests to allow the reactionaries to have a scapegoat while giving capitalists an easily exploitable pool of cheap labour. By shedding its civilised integument, reintroducing the racist hierarchy known as formal empire into polite conversation, polarising the class divide and aggressively pursuing new avenues of exploitation by military or pacific means, capitalism has obliged people to find new modes of power and organisation and provoked a new wave of oppositional movements. But it is also reintroducing poisonous political energies, and without a clear class response, one expects savage and brutal reaction. This, I suppose, is what Chomsky, Pilger and others mean when they speak of a fascist potential in the United States. To defend their class power, to prevent the emergence of external rivals, to provide surety of future strength, and to defend their ill-gotten gains, the US ruling class might easily turn in that direction given a substantial enough crisis.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

How 15 Feb 2003 reached Guantanamo Bay posted by bat020

There's an interesting interview with Moazzam Begg, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee, in this week's SW. He describes how news of the global anti-war demos on 15 February 2003 managed to reach the detainees, despite them being cut off from all media contact and languishing in a legal black hole:

One of the guards in Guantanamo who volunteered for two tours of Vietnam – so he’s no tree hugger – told me that people in Britain had demonstrated in their millions.

It came as a huge breath of fresh air, especially after my experiences of the British government and intelligence services. I thought nobody in Britain cared except my family and friends. When I heard about people taking part in the demonstrations in their masses I started to redefine how I thought.

Since I’ve returned to Britain I have found there has been an alliance of Muslims and non-Muslims based on justice which is preventing the proliferation of war – my experience has been very positive.

There's also some interesting comments on civil rights and how the anti-war movement has affected the notion of a British Muslim identity. Read the whole thing here.

On a similar note, I remember a friend of mine telling me how the big Stop the War demos are always covered in depth on al-Jazeera – and how this had positively influenced the Arab view of ordinary people in the West. "Every time you go on these marches you're marching through 20 million living rooms across the Middle East," was how he put it. Worth remembering next time you feel frustrated at getting blanked by the Beeb yet again.

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Imperialism, feudal and capitalist. posted by Richard Seymour

And here we are, brothers and sisters, boys and girls, gathered for another spell of extemporaneous exposition on matters marxist. I know many of you, having read this, will go to your beds tonight with tails still aloft and wagging, but those of you whose brains shrivel into walnuts when I begin talking like this will, I trust, go back to the Soduko game. However, I have tested this piece with an audience broken down by age, occupation and sex - namely, me - and found it satisfactory enough.

First the obvious: The relationship between capitalism and imperialism is variously and controversially defined. Ha! If ever superfluity and mellifluity were more convivially introduced to one another than in my prose, I have yet to hear of it. Now my stall (which I have stolen from the 'political marxists'): I shall say that capitalism developed in already imperialist societies, particularly England, and transformed the nature of imperialism, in some ways making it more brutal and exploitative. In describing the relationship, understanding the nature of capitalism is crucial (here comes the Brenner thesis that some find so problematic). I would argue against the equation of capital with commerce that a number of authors make – for instance, Fernand Braudel has capital developing first in the use of money and credit in Renaissance Italian city-states. Similarly, Eric Hobsbawm locates a precocious capitalist class alongside the elements of the capitalist mode of production in late medieval societies, particularly in the Mediterranean. These ‘feudal capitalists’ in his account failed to break through because they were ‘parasitic’ on the feudal world, unable to bust out of the feudal integument and create the world in their own image. (Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century, Volume I, 1981, chapter 7; Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The General Crisis of European Economy in the 17th Century’, Past and Present No 5, May 1954). These accounts are similar to those of ‘dependency theorists’ who argue that capitalism is a system of world-wide exchange characterised by monopoly, in which the same processes which cause ‘development’ in the metropolis causes ‘the development of underdevelopment’ in the periphery. In Andre Gunder Frank’s thesis, capitalism emerges from “a commercial network spread out from Italian cities such as Venice and later Iberian and Northwestern European towns to incorporate the Mediterranean world and sub-Saharan Africa and the adjacent Atlantic Islands in the fifteenth century.” (Andre Gunder Frank, Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America, 1979). Similarly, for Immanuel Wallerstein, the defining aspect of a social system is “the existence within it of a division of labour, such that the various sectors or areas within are dependent upon economic exchange with others for the smooth and continuous provisioning of the needs of the area.” (Immanuel Wallerstein, The Capitalist World-Economy, Cambridge University Press, 1979). In this view, imperialism is structural to capitalist development, which could not have developed without the uneven exchanges imposed on the imperial periphery by the metropolitan centre.

Instead of that caper, and jolly fine caper it is too, I suggest that the ‘political marxists’ are correct to insist that capitalism is not merely the augmentation of commerce that Frank describes, is not the trade-based division of labour that Wallerstein describes – rather, one must distinguish capital-as-wealth from capital-as-social-relation. In the view of Brenner, Meiksins Wood, Holstun, Comminel and Teschke, capitalism developed as an unintended consequence (the 'law of unintended consequences' is not unknown to marxists) of lords and peasants in late medieval England trying to reproduce themselves. Following the catastrophic rural crisis of the 14th Century, peasants in the West of Europe were able to escape the re-enserfment that be-fell peasants East of the Elbe. In France, peasants were to end up owning the bulk of the land on which they reproduced themselves and thus gain considerable independence from the lords, but in England, feudal landlords were able to acquire ownership of most of the land – through enclosures – while transforming copyhold tenure into leasehold, which would allow them to set contract terms on the expiry of a lease. Being thus divorced from their means of reproduction, peasants were obliged to compete effectively, to “specialise, accumulate and innovate”. (Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, Verso, 2002, chapter three; James Holstun, Ehud’s Dagger: Class Struggle in the English Revolution, Verso, 2002, chapter four). Brenner explains:

Thus we have, classically in England, the rise of that ‘three-tiered’ relation of landlord/capitalist tenant/free wage labourer, around which Marx developed much of his theory of capitalist development in Capital. On the one hand, this capitalist agrarian structure made possible, to an unprecedented extent, the accumulation of capital especially through innovation in agriculture. On the other hand, the same structure made such productive investment ‘necessary’, at least in tendency.

So, in the first place, the landlords had been able to gain control over large consolidated blocks of land. This was a result not only of the decline of serfdom, but of the general short-circuiting of the emergence of small peasant proprietorship in the land—a process to which I shall return below. Large farms appear to have made possible the introduction of new techniques—notably up-and-down husbandry and various systems of irrigation—which transformed agricultural production. Those techniques appear to have been far more adaptable to large-scale production requiring large holdings, than to peasant agriculture. (Robert Brenner, ‘The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism’, New Left Review 104, July-August 1977).

The importance of this assessment is that capital as social relation brings imperatives to improve labour productivity, constantly invest, and thereby revolutionise the means of production – constantly. Primitive accumulation (the ‘so-called primitive accumulation’, Marx called it) is precisely the process of divorcing the bulk of the population from its means of reproduction – not simply accruing wealth through mercantile pursuits or the ‘putting-out’ system. Capitalism cannot, therefore, have been simply lurking in feudalism’s interstices, awaiting the ‘bourgeois-revolution’ (an ideal-type that in no way corresponds the bourgeoisie’s actual role in any of the revolutions called ‘bourgeois’). If Hobsbawm had looked at it from this point of view, he could not have said that “feudal capitalists” in Italian city-states misinvested their capital on buildings, lending and “immobile investment” without really being able to explain why. Hobsbawm suggests that it is because the capitalists were parasitic on the feudal world, but that itself demands explanation more than it explains. (Hobsbawm, op cit; Wood, op cit, chapter two).

There are some interesting critiques to and contrasts of this view that merit consideration, since this impacts crucially on how imperialism develops. Michael Mann, the Weberian social theorist, asserts that the “feudal mode of production” was finally broken by the market, and that a “differentiation among the peasantry” “stimulated early capital accumulation”. The capitalists are “rich ‘kulak’ peasants”, who used poorer peasant labour as “commodities”. In this analysis, it was the peasants lengthening their leases and weakening the feudal lords such that they had to lease out their demesnes and convert labour services into money rent – and the decisive element was the market, which allowed peasants to acquire such a surplus as to be able to pay off dues with cash or kind, rather than labour services. It was the market that enabled peasants to resist re-enserfment, then, and the absence of servile labour across much of Western Europe by 1450 is thanks to the market. (Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Vol I: A History of Power from the Beginning to AD 1760, Cambridge University Press, 1986, chapter 12). The problems with Mann’s account are numerous. In the first place, the absence of serfdom is not sufficient to bring about capitalism. One can simply be a subsistence producer. Secondly, if markets and an independent peasantry were a sufficient solvent of feudal relations, then capitalism ought to have developed in France first, since French peasants came to directly own 80 to 95% of cultivated land, while the English aristocracy had much greater ownership of land. (Wood, The Pristine Culture of Capitalism, Verso, 1991; Mann, op cit, chapter fourteen). If Mann was right, then France would have been the leading vector of capitalism in the world, rather than England. The ‘rich peasants’ who he says colluded with the absolutist state in keeping social-property relations pre-capitalist, would surely have formed an insurgent capitalist class. Mann’s account is close to that of Maurice Dobb, whom he draws from. For Dobb, the origin of capitalism is in the rise of small producers – richer peasants and yeoman – who began to employ wage labour. This points to another problem – with both Dobb and Mann in this case – which is that they discuss the existence of a propertyless rural proletariat which works for the kulak – but this class had to be created in order for rich peasants to treat them as commodities in the first place, and that had to happen not through market mechanisms, but through enclosure: in short, there had to be a class struggle. The assumption is consistent with the commercialization model: capitalism simply develops within feudalism, and awaits liberation from its fetters. (Wood, op cit, 2002, chapter two; Brian Manning, ‘The English Revolution and the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism’, International Socialism, 2:63, Summer 1994).

From a more orthodox marxist point of view, Alex Callinicos takes issue with Brenner for having apparently ignored the role of merchants in the development of capitalism, with an excessive focus on agrarian, aristocratic capitalists. Callinicos comments that Brenner does sometimes admit that these “transitional” social forms exist, but they remain unintegrated into his overall account of the development of capitalism. Further, Callinicos adds that Brenner’s account of the role of the smaller merchants in the English Revolution, as capitalists operating in the New World, conflicts with his earlier views and with his antipathy to the idea of the ‘bourgeois revolution’. Perry Anderson makes similar criticisms, suggesting that Brenner has been obliged to acknowledge the role of the ‘revolutionary bourgeois’. Yet, Brenner’s account is finished off with a lengthy postscript that easily answers these criticisms. Callinicos’ first criticism is dealt with by the simple reiteration of Brenner’s long-established thesis that capitalism was initiated by the self-transformation of agrarian aristocracy – that being the case, insofar as a section of the merchant bourgeoisie was capitalist, it is precisely because of the already established transformation in social-property relations. The second criticism, made by both Anderson and Callinicos, dealt with by pointing out that the leading bhurger stratum was not capitalist, but relied on the protection and privileges afforded it by the feudal state – consequently, this stratum failed to rally to parliament’s side. A more substantial criticism, I think, is that Brenner offers an ideal-type or hypostatized view of capitalism, in which characteristics derived from Marx’s abstract model are “privileged” above concrete exploration of how capitalism came about and how it can take various forms. I’ll return to this later, since similar criticisms are made of Benno Teschke. (Alex Callinicos, Theories & Narratives: Reflections on the Philosophy of History, Polity Press, 1995, chapter three; Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550-1653, Verso, 2004, postscript; Perry Anderson, Spectrum: From right to left in the world of ideas, Verso, 2005, chapter twelve).

The consequence of all this for a marxist account of imperialism is not that capitalism is unrelated to imperialism, or did not develop with the assistance of imperialist transactions. It is rather that capitalist imperialism is of a different kind to mercantile or Roman imperialism, as Lenin pointed out. (VI Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1939, chapter 6). The origin of colonial expansion in the early-modern period is, as Benno Teschke argues, a function of the lack of an inherent compulsion toward innovative and augmentative production under feudal social-property relations. It was rational to expand territorially in order to grow, and in its mercantile phase, feudalism would achieve massive profits often by simply controlling the trade in goods through maritime power and chartered monopolies. (Benno Teschke, The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations, Verso, 2003, introduction and chapter 2; Justin Rosenberg, Empire of Civil Society, Verso, 1994, chapter two). The tendency for absolutist, dynastic, or imperial states was to fight wars over succession and for territory. These were not to do with capitalist imperatives or the prerogatives of a national state. (Teschke, op cit, chapter seven). Territory was, once acquired, often circulated, thus disrupting the fixity of identity between state and territory that defines the nation-state. Territory was defined by nebulously controlled frontiers which shifted, rather than fixed borders. Within these frontiers, diverse tax laws and legal codes applied. (Ibid; Anthony Giddens, The Nation-State and Violence: Volume II of A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism, Polity Press, 1985, chapter four).

The commercialization model, adumbrated with reference to Wallerstein and Gunder Frank, would lead one to predict that those colonial powers which were most successful would develop capitalism most quickly. Yet, as Wood points out, Spain was the early dominant colonial power and the leading accumulator of wealth – yet that wealth did not translate into capitalism. Rather, Spain tended to divert that wealth into feudal pursuits – war as extra-economic appropriation, the construction of the Habsburg Empire. On the other hand, the industrial revolution occurred in England – undoubtedly with the growing importance of textiles exports, which relied on cotton imports from imperial plantations – but if industrial capitalism was achieved through exploitation of the periphery by the metropole, then why did even more successful imperialist powers not industrialise before Britain? (Wood, op cit, chapter seven; Wood, Empire of Capital, Verso, 2003, chapter six).

So, what is the relationship between capitalism and imperialism? According to Wood, “capitalism did not put an end to these old imperial practises. On the contrary, it created new reasons, new needs for pursuing some of them with even greater gusto, especially slavery”. (Wood, 2002, op cit, chapter seven). Ireland, for example: whereas pre-capitalist societies preferred land with labour attached – “bondage in the true sense” according to Marx (cited in Teschke, op cit, chapter two) – the dynamic of early capitalist imperialism was to implant the imperatives of capitalism and create economic hegemony. The forcible expropriation of Irish peasants from their lands and its resettlement by Englishmen and Scots consummated under Cromwell a process under way since 1585, and was designed to introduce the methods of English agrarian capitalism into Ireland so as to make it an economic dependency of England. This experience then became consciously adopted as the model for colonialism in the New World. (And in fact it was the new merchants who were to be instrumental in putting up a £300,000 investment in Irish lands to help the state put down the Irish uprising, an investment that paid off with the Cromwellian reconquest in the 1650s), Britain’s first major colonies in Virginia and Maryland were no longer trading posts, but explicitly rooted in the principle of production for profit. (Brian Manning, Aristocrats, Plebeians and Revolution in England 1640-1660, Pluto Press, 1996, chapter four; Wood, 2002, op cit, chapter seven & 2003, op cit, chapter five). Capitalist social relations also laid the groundwork for England’s imperial success, for example, providing it with the wealth necessary to defeat rivals such as Napoleonic France. (Wood, 2003, op cit, chapter six). And it was the defeat of Napoleonic France that established Britain’s Free Trade empire, at least until the 1870s.

However, here lies the rub: for Wood and Teschke, the British empire was obliged to turn to non-capitalist forms of rule to sustain its profits – in India, particularly, but also in Africa. In India, for example, the British were according to Wood drawn into the extraction of revenues by “Company and state” – of course the capitalist nature of British society meant there was a profound pressure to move toward a capitalist imperium, but precisely the very nature of Britain’s capitalist development and its attempt to subsume India into the logic of the market depressed the price of Indian goods and suppressed the development of indigenous industry, thus making it more attractive as a source of “direct coercive exploitation” – in short, “the imperatives of capitalism were constantly off-set by the logic of an imperial military state, which imposed its own imperatives”. Similarly, Teschke argues that the monopoly companies set up by the state for colonial purposes in Africa and India could not be either capitalist or a transitional form, because the “structural nexus between the economic and political” represents the precise “opposite of modern capitalism”. This has been exposed to some trenchant criticisms. China Mieville notes that this assumes the contours of capitalism rather than scrutinising actually-existing capitalism: it sets up an ideal-type, a hypostatization of capitalism in which the intrusion of the political into the economic is necessarily pathological to capitalist social relations. Actually-existing capitalism happens to be replete with instances of state penetration into the economy via public ownership. Indeed, some capitalist states have actually been dependent for their strength and functioning on their ownership of huge segments of the economy – for instance, the Iraqi state’s nationalisation of the Iraq Petroleum Company, which accounted for 90% of the country’s revenues in 1979. By the mid 1970s, the Bangladeshi state was in possession of 85% of ‘modern industrial enterprise’. This is true to a lesser extent of capitalist economies all over the world, including the most liberal, yet Teschke and Wood’s logic would have them consider this non-capitalist. This is especially ironic since Teschke emphasises that he takes a “processual perspective” on international relations. Such an attitude to capitalism would invite the possibility that wage labour and the extrusion of the political from the economic are tendencies rather than always-already fully developed features of capitalism. In this sense, it could be argued that the mercantile phase of empire embodied both capitalist and feudal imperatives: both the reliance on the state and the drive to accumulate. There is also a sense in which the state can itself act as capital: subject to extraneous competition, and driven in that way to improve labour producitivity and thereby surplus extraction - this is particularly the case in those societies which we usually call Stalinist, but it happens to be in evidence in practically all advanced capitalist societies to some extent. Alex Callinicos’ criticisms of Brenner in this respect might also seem apt: if mercantilism can function as a mediator between feudalism and capitalism in India, perhaps the same is true of early-modern England. However, there is an important sense in which the Companies in India began to operate on semi-capitalist principles because capitalism had already been established. Commerce can take both a feudal and a capitalist form, and the direction it will take must depend to some extent on the social formation in which it is embedded. (Wood, 2003, op cit, chapter 5; Teschke, op cit, 2003, introduction and chapter six; Mieville; op cit, chapter five; Malcolm E Yapp, A History of the Near East Since the First World War, Longman, 1996, chapter nine; Colin Barker, ‘The State as Capital’, International Socialism 2:1, Summer 1978).

And there ends my little soujourn. Put comments below.

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