Saturday, September 30, 2006
Anyway, back to that open letter. It was not the fact that the letter is a fusion of glib, bald-faced lies, portentous bullying and unsupported assertions that arrested my attention. So much is to be expected. What drew my attention was that the authors of the letter were calling JfJfP traitors. I quote:
Your spokespeople, in their unbounded ignorance of Jewish sources, flatter themselves by invoking the Biblical prophets and the Mishnaic sage Hillel as their points of reference. They appear to be unaware of the fact that while Jeremiah, Isaiah and their colleagues criticized Israel relentlessly, they did so from within the midst of their people. They did not march with its enemies who wish for its destruction. Your self-styled rabbinic authorities also seem to have missed one of Hillel's central precepts, recorded in Perkei Avoth (Ethics of the Fathers): Do not separate yourself from the community.
We are confident that when the history of this period is written and the widespread loss of political reason that characterizes our age is finally recognized, your group will be properly consigned to a footnote in the long and dishonourable tradition of Jewish sycophancy and collaboration with hostility that has polluted the margins of European Jewry over the generations.
I declare myself perplexed at the religious claims here and involve myself in no part of them, but the political message is fairly straightforward. That "dishonourable tradition of Jewish sycophancy and collaboration with hostility", if it can be called a tradition, includes especially the pioneers of Zionism, of course. But that isn't really the point. The point is that the authors of that open letter - Shalom Lappin, Eve Garrard and Norman Geras - are in fact here conflating Judaism with Israel. To be anti-Zionist or to even associate with those who are is to be anti-Jewish, and is for a Jew to "separate yourself from the community". As it happens, this is a really easy complaint to get around: all Lappin, Garrard, Geras and all the other spiteful, bigoted bullies of their ilk have to do is to stop apologising for Israel, sign up to Jews for Justice, and then the latter will no longer be apart from "the community". But that again misses the point, which is that they evidently feel they are entitled to make a claim on the identity of other Jewish people on behalf of Israel.
Geras et al couldn't entirely support the attack on Lebanon, or at least not everything entailed by it, so you know what they went through in trying to provide a presentable defense that wouldn't look like mere sociopathy. If you look through Geras' blog archive from the period, it's ugly stuff. Shalom Lappin babbling about Israel's strategic problems, Geras saying that Israel had a "just cause" and it was being unfairly targeted for criticism simply because one or two little war crimes had been committed. It's a terribly traumatic experience, I imagine. But, far from proving their Budapest moment, it ended up consolidating their apologetic stance and driving them quite mental in the process. So much so, in fact, that they chose to publicly and openly express the sort of bullying fanaticism that they would surely keep under covers under normal circumstances.
Incidentally, Geras has this complaint which JfPfJ draw attention to at the appendix to their reply, which is that by contextualising what Amal Saad-Ghorayeb calls the "anti-Judaism" of Hezbollah, they make themselves apologists. Indeed, this is a complaint Geras often has - yes, you deplore 9/11, but you then go on to say US imperialism is partly responsible; similarly, yes, you deplore 7/7, but then you go on to say that the Iraq war is partly to blame. This game is meaningless, of course, but what would Geras think if someone had said something like "all these people going round raging about the twin towers last Tuesday, I mean, do they ever stop to think about Darfur or sanctions on Iraq? It's an order of magnitude!" I think I could guess what that would reduce him to. And yet, this was precisely his complaint following the murder of over a thousand people in Lebanon for a David Aaronovitch pre-Prime Time programme on Channel 5. This is always the complaint, of course. Please talk about Darfur, and not Israel. Why not discuss the situation in Chechnya, rather than how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been murdered by the US occupation? How about a little news from the Democratic Republic of Congo? Weather's nice. You could talk about that. Anything, in fact. Look, there's a squirrel. Oh, you insist? Very well, you are either a renegade or an antisemite.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Artistic License. posted by Richard Seymour
My art teacher used to threaten students who painted or sketched imaginary butterflies and creatures around an item of study with illegal violence. It never occurred to me to cite Whistler.
On spluttering at the news. posted by Richard SeymourA couple of stories yield the increasingly common and idiotic astonishment and internal dialogue. Take this:
Included in the bill, passed by Republican majorities in the Senate yesterday and the House on Wednesday, are unique rules that bar terrorism suspects from challenging their detention or treatment through traditional habeas corpus petitions. They allow prosecutors, under certain conditions, to use evidence collected through hearsay or coercion to seek criminal convictions.
The bill rejects the right to a speedy trial and limits the traditional right to self-representation by requiring that defendants accept military defense attorneys. Panels of military officers need not reach unanimous agreement to win convictions, except in death penalty cases, and appeals must go through a second military panel before reaching a federal civilian court.
By writing into law for the first time the definition of an "unlawful enemy combatant," the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have "purposefully and materially" supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death.
At the same time, the bill immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees who the military and the CIA captured before the end of last year. It gives the president a dominant but not exclusive role in setting the rules for future interrogations of terrorism suspects.
Additionally, take that:
Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein’s penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year.
Currently, three journalists for a small newspaper in southeastern Iraq are being tried here for articles last year that accused a provincial governor, local judges and police officials of corruption. The journalists are accused of violating Paragraph 226 of the penal code, which makes anyone who “publicly insults” the government or public officials subject to up to seven years in prison.
Click on the link and notice the matter of death threats. Now, because these threats were not issued to racist Danish cartoonists, they seem not to have galvanised a March for Free Speech. The 'Viking Jihad' does not particularly mind curtailments of free speech in Iraq.
The first story simply illustrates a point I have made before: the sharp turn to the right among the US ruling class and its political wings after 9/11. This bill passed with the support of a rump of right-wing Democrats - I think they and a number of 'moderate' Republicans would have been much more reluctant to sign up to this a decade ago. I do not forget that the US congress voted to exempt US officials from prosecution under the ICC, nor that the UN approved this. What the US Congress has done in this case is to retroactively legalise Bush's actions - this means that the American political class expect terrorist attempts to use such archaic measures as habeus corpus to subvert the United States, and are especially worried that US officials might be denied access to measures that they evidently will need to sustain 'full spectrum dominance' through the coming crisis. The second story expresses the embedding in a legal form of what has been the reality in Iraq for some time. It is another (much deserved) opportunity to sneer at the word 'liberation', but it is also an indication that the US-affiliated elite in Iraq expects to need to broadest possible terms for detaining and executing individuals, since the bulk of Iraqis now support the resistance alongside the removal of the occupiers.
A bit of eugenics humour. The comedian Jimmy Carr, whose talents know no beginning, is regaling BBC audiences with gags about introducing chlorine into the gene pool. Cleaning out the dreck, that is, getting rid of the untermenschen. Is it a coincidence that he is one of the foremost exponents of 'chav' 'humour' in this country?
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Halliday saw fairly immediately where this logic should take him - he supported the American war on Iraq in 1991, and shortly thereafter suggested in his deeply sympathetic encounter with Fukuyama that the left should embrace the idea that capitalism had a universalising dynamic, wanted to make the rest of the world much like itself, needed no enemy and would therefore bring progress. He accepted that the idea of 'progress' is problematical in itself, but nevertheless cleaved to it. Eloquently expressed half-truths and profound falsities like these have since reverberated in Halliday's polemics. Since in this perspective the left should accomodate itself to a reformed capitalism, a left-wing capitalism with the possibility of reviving the socialist movement at some unspecified future date, and since capitalist states are the bearers of 'progress', all remaining oppositional movements must be necessarily reactionary. Certainly, movements of national liberation, especially those inflected with Islamism, are to be opposed as obstacles to progress whether in Iraq or Lebanon.
For Halliday, as for Warren, capitalism was, through imperialism, raising the productivity and culture of non-Western societies and thereby providing the means by which socialism might take hold, which is Niall Ferguson with a happy lefty ending tacked on (although even Ferguson is not as clumsily dismissive of the brutal legacy of colonialism as Warren is, his formula is much the same - that it was on balance A Good Thing). Halliday now sees imperialism as the guarantor of 'rights', which reflects the Whiggish liberalism of both himself and his predecessor. And how! In his bid to prove how progressive capitalism was, and to exculpate imperialism, Warren argued that 20th century horrors (WWI, Nazi concentration camps, Vietnam) if unprecedented in terms of absolute numbers killed, were nonetheless “relatively equivalent in their impact to the enormities and brutalities of earlier centuries, the ravages of the Golden Horde or the Thirty Years War”. “In fact, the horrific atrocities, the propensity to large-scale indiscriminate slaughter, and the racism of Nazism were not at all unprecedented in history. What was unique ... was the sense of moral outrage felt by a large proportion of that section of humanity culturally closest to the Germans: the rest of Western Europe, North America, and Australasia. This moral outrage stemmed from the feeling that Germany had betrayed the Western heritage, reverting to earlier barbaric centuries”. The "Western heritage" not including genocide, concentration camps, slavery, racism etc. But in fact, Warren eagerly credits capitalism for everything made possible by past struggles often against incipient or expansionist capitalism, often as an attempt to curtail it: political democracy, anti-racism and universalism, opposition to slavery, civilisation, the mere sense that mass murder is bad and wrong. He credits capitalism with having invented the very notion of mankind, but is apparently totally blind to the sense in which capitalism has relied on the negation of universality, because he himself relies on that negation. Only by viewing "pre-moderns" as meriting the enforced 'progress' that imperialist violence, expropriation and mass starvation brings (in a way that moderns are conveniently exempt from), can he sustain his position. Capitalism, we are told in passages explicitly inspired by the neo-Smithian free market apologist David S Landes, liberates human creativity. The theory of alienation implies that? Capitalism martials human creativity, milks it, utilises it, directs it, but certainly cannot be said to free it in any important sense.
Underlying much of this is an important question that lies without the province of this post, namely the extent to which capitalism was necessary as a stepping stone to socialism. I'll mention in passing that I am increasingly sceptical about this proposition, and tend to see the logic as an unnecessary concession to teleology, indeed as an arbitrary constraint on the historical imagination since we cannot and do not know what might have happened, what agencies might have been convoked had things been otherwise. Capitalism's train of creative destruction might well prove to have been an immensely costly opportunity, but only if we are able to sieze control of it before it kills us all. That seems to me more commensurate with the marxist attitude, in which capitalism can be understood as in different ways both the best and the worst thing that has ever happened.
But there is a more immediate question and that is the extent to which the acceptance by marxists and the radical left of liberalism, its absolute hegemony as a world-view, has been pernicious, has undermined and derailed the socialist critique. In the name of progress, secularism, rights, anti-totalitarianism or any other silly little thing that enters one's head, one can always abandon opposition to imperialism and even to capitalism. (And one will be rewarded well for it, since to have a collection of nominally left-wing intellectuals assuring their audience that there is something in the Cold War or the 'war on terror' for them, that it is to do with their deeply held principles, is extremely useful.) It seems to me that the acceptance of liberalism disarms socialist criticism at every turn, so that an ahistorical, unproblematised and often provincial insistence on rights discourse or on progress leads its adherents to conclude that oppressed people have no right to self-defense. Take the strictures about Palestinian terror: isn't the insistence that Palestinians only ever use means that would sit well with Michael Walzer, the theorist of Just War (jus ad bellum, just add water) an attempt to make sure that they don't resist, since materially no other military means exist for them, and no diplomatic means avail themselves? Similarly, an insistence on secularism means that Palestinians have no right to eat and no right to self-government because the voted for Hamas and we can't send food via the Hamas government etc. The abstract, utterly unmaterialist insistence on 'mutal recognition' by Israel and Palestine of one another delivers much the same verdict since Palestinians had the temerity to vote for a government that doesn't accept the necessary right of Israel to exist as a state.
This happens again and again and those who espouse such nonsense are sometimes given to blaming it on poor old Marx, because he took an ambiguous position about India and because he and Engels took an abysmal position on the slavocracy's invasion of Mexico and loathed Bolivar and Pasha. But Marx was not a commodity and nor was he the fucking Oracle. He was the originator, the pioneer of historical materialism, but he wasn't born with it fully formed in his understanding and he didn't necessarily develop every aspect of it to its logical conclusion. No, the precedents for their politics are Mill and Bentham, and the precedents for their superhero worship are in popular petit-bourgeois literature.
In order to undermine this increasingly unified view, the occupiers have been working through their political allies in Iraq to push for the fragmentation of Iraq along sectarian lines. The Israelis are busily training Kurdish peshmerga for the fighting that will be necessary to secure this. So the lesson is, once more, that the occupiers would sooner see Iraqis torn to piece, drilled, shot up, blown up, tortured and raped in a flood of contrived sectarian violence than allow themselves to lose control. That should have been obvious from the fate of Yugoslavia, not to mention everything else the imperialist powers have done, but it merits repeated emphasis. This instructive when faced with preposterous efforts by the New York Times to persuade us that the US is promoting Iraqi nationalism.
The other lesson of this keeps being compounded, much to the embarrassment to the imperialist states and their apologists: US and UK foreign policy is provoking and inspiring a wave of armed or explosive attacks on Western targets. Aside from the huge weight of evidence beforehand, several recent reports have confirmed this. One is the leak of intelligence from within the MoD, which it is furiously distancing itself from, which discuss the way the 'war on terror' is provoking 'terror'. In addition, two reports - one from Washington and the other from the UN, have confirmed the hypothesis that the Iraq war in particular has galvanised 'Al Qaeda'. Of course, these reports are very narrow in their focus and misleading in that we are encouraged to think that this is all that Washington's new wave of imperialism is provoking and all that the old one has provoked. Resistance is taking various forms, and Political Islam has been one of them. Those Islamist groups using terror as a strategy have actually been of the least significance in terms of resisting Washington's hegemony. The most important resistance groups have often pursued a combined military and political strategy (such as Hezbollah, the Nepalese guerillas, the Moro independence fighters, Famni Lavalas etc). But strictly from the point of view of what the war is supposed to be on, 'terror', it is not succeeding and could never possibly have succeeded because it wasn't designed to succeed in that score.
This is what is deliberately obscured in the sophistical defense of the pro-war left and their neoconservative allies who repeat that, after all, it is no good saying that if we resist their attacks they will attacks us more. 'We' are not 'resisting' shit. 'We' (they, they imperialist states and their apologists) are attacking with callous disregard for the lives of those in the targeted societies. We continue to hear from people who think they've won the argument by saying that we had terrorist attacks before Iraq. So? As far as the US is concerned, there has been no let up in its war on the Middle East since it became a significant power in the region. Similarly, no respite has been allowed the people of South East Asia that was not brought about by the reistance of those people. Or Africa, or Latin America. Does not the recent success of Islamists against US-backed warlords in Somalia at the very least suggest that the war, (the real war, the one in which political leaders are inspired by an interest in resources and geopolitical control rather than some pathetically vaporous 'ideals' and the altruistic desire to spread them) has been going on for longer than five years?
In fact, we (the ones who live in imperial societies but are not consulted about our governments decisions) are being held hostage to the interests of the ruling classes, who don't feel they have anything to lose if some deluded groups or individuals conclude that murdering civilians in the UK or Spain or elsewhere is going to assist their cause. As residents of thermonuclear states, we have already been (and continue to be) hostage to those who have the capacity to bring about planetary death. As participants in economies trapped in a fuel-deathlock, we are hostage to those who are slowly incinerating our planet and poisoning us. As working people in capitalist societies, we are hostage to that class which has over the centuries appropriated the means of production and who now hold us as a captive labour force. If you want the means to eat, clothe yourself, ingest drugs and participate in every other normal activity of contemporary society, you have to allow them to exploit you. What are you gonna do, move to Russia? Set up a cooperative farm and live with a bunch of pale beardies? What would be the point of that? Why not simply resume control of our lives? Why not simply retake the means of production, subordinate the state to real democratic control, and collectively decide what to do about the environment, the threat of nuclear megadeath, the allocation of resources, the 'bringing home' of those who are sent overseas to kill, and everything else that affects our lives? It is our birthright. It is our rightful status. We have no business allowing ourselves to be the collective property of a master race which sees us as exploitable and expendable.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
It is a daydream appropriate to a totalitarian age. In his imagined world of gangsters Chase is presenting, as it were, a distilled version of the modern political scene, in which such things as mass bombing of civilians, the use of hostages, torture to obtain confessions, secret prisons, execution without trial, floggings with rubber truncheons, drownings in cesspools, systematic falsification of records and statistics, treachery, bribery, and quislingism are normal and morally neutral, even admirable when they are done in a large and bold way.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Speaking of "robust defeat". posted by Richard SeymourBlair's discussion of "terrorism" isn't worth too much attention at the level of empirical argument. What is asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof, and as ever nothing he says is designed to convince - it is designed to distract and muddy the waters. Blair asserts that "terrorism" is "an attack on our way of life". The BBC calls that "robust". Blair says "terrorism" isn't to do with foreign policy. That too is "robust". Blair says something about "reforms" to meet "rising expectations", which is not designed to communicate anything other than the sense that the British public are collectively an amusingly pushy consumer demanding better all the time and that they, New Labour, the managers as it were, are jolly well working their fingers to the bone to keep us happy.
Anyway, on the terror/foreign policy business, (and this appears to be the only way in which he really addressed foreign policy at all - the disgusting man couldn't even bring himself to mention Lebanon, to even fake a bit of shame), it is Blair versus reality. Were it not for the Prime Minister's unfortunate condition (that of being Prime Minister) we could afford to simply ignore his propositions as delusional salesy bullshit. Instead we have to address them as an expression of the pernicious, reactionary and authoritarian politics of New Labour. Since they cannot publicly acknowledge that Iraq and foreign policy in general is related to the increased risk of attacks in the UK, the government must insist on categorical guilt - that is, it must insist on the guilt of the Muslim community. They, collectively, are held responsible for rooting out the darkness within, and if it comes to it, destroying their own brains instantly utterly. Hence, the renewal of internment, the imprisonment of thousands of innocent people, the suspension of habeus corpus, the collusion in torture etc etc.
They cannot possibly sell this sort of policy without an appeal to racism, however attenuated, and however delegated. Islamophobic attacks through the press on Muslim organisations or individuals who dare to dissent are one way of propagating this. Another is to raise hysteria about alleged threats. There is nothing sophisticated in how this is done: the message is simply repeated over and over, with brutal insistence. Those who dissent are bullied. Those who try accomodate themselves to it while retaining some criticisms are threatened with ex-communication if they don't fully repent. Because this is New Labour's only way out of the shit it's in over the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and the recent proxy one in Lebanon. Blair is a competent salesman, and he's advertising like crazy. But you know, as Bertolt Brecht once remarked, under capitalism you sell your piss to the urinal. I hope the conference delegates have some of those refreshing blocks to suck on.
A tiny crack in the facade. posted by Richard SeymourWhen there is trouble at the top of government, the BBC seems to take on the role of a Greek chorus, advising the audience as to the secret motivations of the characters (as when some pillock stands in Downing Street and tells us what Blair "genuinely believes"), offering general commentary and demonstrating to the audience what their ideal reaction should be (astonished gasp, applause, shriek of horror, laughter, intense admiration, fascination... etc etc). Today's conference was, for your information, "an emotional Labour gathering", which is to say that the upper middle class Westminster media village, frequently derided by the Blairites in public, are sorrowful at the passing of a leader so dedicated to them and people like them.
But, amid the faithful retelling of soundbites from today's predictably dull tara from the tyrannical bigot who still gets to call himself Prime Minister, there was one small admission:
Monday, September 25, 2006
Warren used this term "pre-modern" with a hidden clause: that "pre-modern" culture as such belonged to the "feudal" ruling class, as if peasant resistance and traditions of struggle were not also part of "pre-modern" culture. At any rate, to discourse about modernity is one of the most obfuscatory ways of talking about a topic. Modernity is an ideal-type, not a reality. Capitalism is a reality that happily integrates and destroys "pre-modern" cultures according to its needs. Warren's choice of words is interesting in itself, since in colonial discourse, "pre-moderns" have no legitimate culture at all, nothing of value that is not derivative of what the moderns have done. Indeed, when it comes to imperialist violence, Warren has used a very typical modernist trope: our violence is always comprehensible in terms of progress; theirs is senseless, supererogatory, masochistic and self-defeating. Ours has meaning, theirs is nihilistic.
Those, like Ferguson, who wish to acknowledge and at the same time absolve imperialism of its grotesque criminal record are fond of counterfactuals - would you have rather it had been the Russians running south Asia? You surely can't imagine the Germans would have been more humane rulers than the British? This kind of nonsensical pleading misses the rather important relationship between imperialism and the barbarisms that supposedly exist in a state of antagonism with it.
Fascism developed in the laboratory of imperialist conquest. The German destruction of the Herero people of south-west Africa was the first recorded genocide of the 20th Century, and in the course of that genocide, the German geneticist Eugen Fischer stalked the concentration camps carrying out his first medical experiments, studying the effects of "race-mixing" between Germans and Hereros. He contended that the children of such couples were genetically inferior to the German parent. His 1921 book Human Hereditary Teaching and Racial Hygiene was read by Hitler while in prison, and Fischer was later made rector of the University of Berlin by the Fuhrer. Fischer's next most famous student was a man named Mengele.
It was with this "racial" hierarchy in mind that Hitler would observe the laws of war when dealing with the British or Americans, whom he respected, but not with the Russians. The Nazi gassing of Russians preceded the gassings at Auschwitz. Of all Russian prisoners of war held by the Nazis, 57% died - some 3.3 million. The intention was to kill ten million and keep the rest as slave labour. Yet the only thing that was unique about what the Nazis did in Europe was that it was in Europe: policies of annihilation had already met the aboriginal population of Tasmania and the Maoris of New Zealand. The last original inhabitant of Tasmania died in 1869.
Take a look at the preferred technique of aerial bombardment among our current imperial rulers.. As Mahmood Mamdani wrote in 2003, citing Sven Lindquist, this developed as a technique strictly for use against uncivilised peoples: the method specifically transfers the bulk of death and injury onto the civilian population. In 1991, US bombing in Iraq caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. The US army, by contrast, lost 79 troops. In every recent war in which this method has been used, the proportions are much the same, and the victims are mainly women and children. The civilians of the societies under attack were simply deemed more worthy of death than the combatants of advanced capitalist societies doing the attacking. Indeed, the attitude behind it is perfectly supremacist: why should Our Boys be risked for the sake of what Hitler termed "chaff"?
There is a related mythology about the British government having to overcome a temporary desire to 'appease' Nazism by replacing Chamberlain with Churchill, but you can only appease those whom you disagree with in principle. The British foreign policy establishment was deeply sympathetic to Hitler, and perceived the real threat as communism. The British legation to the Holy See, Francis Osborne, described communism as a result of the "brilliant imaginativeness, mental agility and distintegrative predilections of the Jew" combined with the "semi-asiatic fanaticism" of the Russian. It was perfectly logical that the British capitalist class and state elite should have seen it in this way: for them, communism was the aggressor, everywhere, while fascists tried to conserve the status quo. The use of internment, or concentration camps as the British called its efforts, would not have perturbed the class that was had used the same repressive method and would later use the manner of detention in Northern Ireland and against Muslims in Britain. Even the genocide didn't seem to bother anyone, since as we now know the allies had every opportunity to destroy Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it but simply couldn't be bothered. They too had carried out the odd genocide, and would go on to happily atomise millions with precision weaponry from 20,000 feet above the earth. They understood too well the will to dominate.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
This was fantastic. I've never seen such a mix of joy and anticipation: the former deriving from the knowledge that Blair is finished, and the latter from a sense that a new field of possibilities is about to be opened up. The turnout for a non-London demo was far better than we had any right to expect. I really don't know if the dissent that was given ample fora today will even be heard of on the conference floor. God knows, the antiwar movement was completely absent from Labour's 2003 conference, and New Labour have moved effectively to block dissenting resolutions. I would anticipate a fixed-up Blair love-in in which admits to mistakes, gets some sustained 'warm' applause and then oversees yet another haemhorrage in the membership while he tours the country trying to build up that wave of euphoria that he intends to depart on. If he really wanted to cheer the country up, he'd set to work aggravating that heart problem he has. Anyway.
I had decided to treat myself and take the 'Peace Train' to Manchester and back, so named because there wasn't a moment of peace to be had on it. It had been advertised that Tony Benn, Craig Murray and George Galloway would be aboard, so I had some vague notion that I would put my feet up on Galloway's spare cigar box and rap with the guys about world politics and that. For some reason, this vision completely failed to materialise, and instead I found myself sitting in a cramped carriage listening to the harmonious sound of the Strawberry Seeds choir, which might have been tolerable had it not been for the crushing hangover that I had hoped to luxuriate in while reading some ephemeral revolutionary leaflets. The atmosphere was only raised when the dissolute Mark Elf turned up in the seat opposite.
After four hours of camera crews rushing past, socialist newspaper sellers selling socialist newspapers, pamphleteers and leafleters pamphleting and leafleting, singers singing and children making noises that sadistically cut into one's torpor like a dentists' drill - well, after all that, we arrived in a city that looked like London with a slightly higher quotient of red brick. I met the man behind the Strategic Voter website, who apprised me of the strange ways of the natives and slipped me a leaflet or two. I also ran into Louise from Stroppy Blog later on. And, you'll never guess what - we all had ourselves a bit of a protest. Here's some pics to look at:
One of the curiosities was the fact that the police seemed to be persuaded that we were about to have ourselves a "terrorist opportunity" as the Chief of Manchester Police said yesterday. Despite the fact that the protest showed no signs of making an attempt on the wire cages that surrounded the Labour conference, and despite the fact that there was not a whisper of violence or criminality, they seemed to find it necessary to have lots of their men running around in military boots, filming people, forming lines to protect certain buildings, sending mounted policemen out to initiate what is certain to be a mountain of horseshit that will build up throughout the week. Take a look at these laughing policemen:
I can't tell you what they thought they were doing behind that wire fence with their little delegates' badges. Perhaps, or rather certainly, Blair looked at the fate of the Hungarian Prime Minister in recent weeks. That guy was also caught lying to the public, you know. I fancy that in all the prancing around in boots and bullet-proof vests (yes, they had those again), there is something of the fascistic desire for impermeability against the oceanic - like the fearsome tide-like movement of these crowds:
Mostly, however, I expect New Labour's local chumps led the police to believe that someone may attempt a breach of their seven-day Winter Palace. Anyway, here's Craig Murray:
And here are some other stars:
Those last kids assumed I was some media person and demanded that I take a picture. It is surprisingly easy to find people on a demo who want to have their photograph taken or are at least willing to be snapped. This is for the perfectly excellent pragmatic reason that if you go on a demo, paint your face, wave signs and shout slogans, you're already courting publicity.
Here is the tide rushing back toward the great square where the speeches were given:
Meanwhile, some more video. You can watch some Hezbollah supporters dancing here. You can catch a bit of Galloway's speech here. This is where the balloons were released after the die-in. This is where I charged into the tunnel and took child-like delight in the reverberating noise of thousands of people chanting. More protesting here. There are more pictures and videos to come. I can't possibly add them all this evening, but there is one in which a young girl sits on her father's shoulders and leads a huge crowd in some chanting. Stuff like "If you know that Blair's a poodle, say woof woof!" And people actually said "woof woof!" Because you don't say no to a sweet little girl who's got control of the microphone, otherwise she might do something crazy.
I have to admit that I didn't catch too many of the speeches. Salma Yaqoob was brilliant as she always is, Michael Meacher gave a surprisingly powerful speech (I didn't even expect him to be there), George Galloway did his usual best, Alan Simpson was efficient, Jeremy Corbyn was great, as was Craig Murray - the big surprise for me was the contribution of Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, who slammed the government over the mass deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also notable was a contributor from the British Muslim Initiative whose name someone will tell me, who made a brief but sharp contribution at the end to the effect that there was not so much a war between civilisations as a war on civilisation - that is, by the rich and gated classes of the world on the poor and oppressed. What was interesting was that while the force of the demo was directed at Blair, the speeches and the reaction to them really confirm what we have known for a while, certainly since the wave of Brownite resignations and the protests at Quintin Kynaston school, which is that Blair is a dead man walking. He isn't simply going to resign next year. His resignation is effective. Every new step he takes is a zombie lurch. The debate has moved on, and the argument is about policy. It is unlikely that McDonnell will be successful in his leadership bid, although one naturally wishes him the best. But the people I spoke to were already looking beyond the inevitable post-Blair Blairite to the matter of getting the troops out of both Afghanistan and Iraq and stopping Blair's right-wing policies. Maybe a few months ago, some people would have focused less on Afghanistan, but it has become very clear that this is becoming every bit the horrendous mess that Iraq is.
Anyway, if Blair had hoped that we would have a little demo, stage our die-in and then get chased off the streets by the old filth, he would have been dissapointed. Headline news everywhere, I'm afraid. That peace camp that they tried to ban, by the way, is there alright. The shitty New Labour council didn't win that fight. And what is more, there is actually large rectangular metal sign (looks like a road sign and everything) up right next to the camp which instructs drivers that Manchester is a "City of Peace". And the council didn't succeed in confusing me with their irritating urban planning so that I missed the train back either. Oh no. In fact, although it may have looked like I was wandering around all lost and terrified, I was in fact cunningly squeezing a tour of the city centre into my day. (The tour confirmed my initial suspicions: a slightly higher quotient of red bricks).
Like I say, more pictures and videos tomorrow. As usual, Socialist Worker has been quick off the mark with reports and pictures, and they will I am certain have close-up video-recordings of all the speeches.
Update: I have some more pictures and video for you, as promised. First of all, here's Tony Benn:
Here are the mounted police, for some reason guarding a second line of police on foot who appear to be pathetically trying to shield the die-in from general view:
Here is the master of ceremonies:
And here are some unbearably trendy demonstrators:
You can see all the pictures in a larger or smaller size and use them as you will at my Flickr account. Also, this guy has some good photos from yesterday as well. More video shorts now. You can watch the drummers in pink here. The conductor seemed to communicate instructions to the various percussionists through dance steps. The Prime Minister address the protesters here. Some noisy protesters making their way toward the peace camp here. A little girl siezes the mic and rocks the house here. The crowd marches up Deansgate for the die-in here. More here, here and here.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Crashing Manchester tomorrow. posted by Richard SeymourMad for it, yeah. If you non-Mancunians haven't already got your ticket to go to Manchester tomorrow, it can still be done. Check out the march route here.
We now know how hollow Harriet Harman's promise of healthy 'debate' at the Labour Party conference was. The vast bulk of resolutions from Constituency Labour Parties have been blocked, thus ensuring that the government faces no criticism over council housing, the wars, nukes, benefits etc. The only sound of dissent will come from massive crowds outside.
Meanwhile, the UN reckons Iraq torture is worse than under Saddam and anyone who tries to help a wounded man lying on the streets of Baghdad may soon be dead. The Republic of Fear is back, and worse than ever. The imperial project is weak, however. They can't possibly get enough troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so they can't really win. The level of car bombings directed at US troops in Iraq is spiralling upwards. Support for the resistance continues to grow The occupiers can't lose militarily, but politically they can be beaten. They're throwing another $70bn at it, but realistically their control of Afghanistan relies on the bought loyalty of warlords, and their writ barely operates anywhere in Iraq except when their death squads are in action. Not only have the bulk of domestic populations in the imperial countries turned against these wars, but some cracks have been opening up within the state and among ruling classes for some time. Tomorrow's protest is not only about dealing the death blow to an unlawful fugitive from the grave, but about cramming a great crow bar into that political fissure and prising the whole project apart.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Oxfamished. posted by Richard SeymourOxfam's use of sweatshop labour and its attempts to NewLabourise the anticapitalist movement through its involvement in Make Poverty History was one thing. Its refusal to accept a massive donation from Ted Honderich was an unsurprising instance of political timidity and cynicism. It's alliance with the World Bank was more of the same.
So, who can be surprised that they are applauding the appointment of an ignorant racist who oversaw massive corruption in the Iraq 'reconstruction' programme as the US envoy to Darfur? This guy who literally thinks Africans don't know the time of day, and who helped promote US imperial priorities in Haiti and Palestine is Oxfam's choice to represent American humanitarianism in Darfur. Sadly, they're not being satirical.
Coup in Thailand. posted by Richard SeymourAs per usual, the coup in Thailand is about restoring democracy. That's what the army claims at any rate: Thaksin Shinawatra is accused of making incursions into the country's democratic structures and so the army, with their long and distinguished concern for the people, have overthrown a government that won two landslide election victories, the first time in 2001 in the most open, corruption free election in Thai history. That election was fought under the 1997 People's Constitution, the result of massive public uprisings against the provisional constitution imposed by a military coup in 1991, which urged that the Senate would be appointed by the military (the National Peace Keeping Council, they called themselves), who would in turn override the elected Congress, and that non-elected officials could be made cabinet ministers (so that an acting military leader might become Premier). That coup administration was brought down by huge revolts in 1992, and a subsequent prolonged fight between the working class and peasants, and the army and ruling class opened up. The 1997 constitution was a classically liberal one, with all sorts of human rights guaranteed, proportional representation introduced, the executive branch strengthened (more in guard against the subventions of political supporters of the military than anything else), and an electoral commission established.
If voting made a difference, they'd ban it: it did make a difference. The government pursued a 'populist' programme of redistributing wealth to the poor by providing universal health care, debt relief for farmers, and development funds for villages. Poverty was massively reduced right across the country, and the economy recovered considerably from the 1997 crash thanks to this Keynesian demand-management.
However, let's not go nuts with admiration: it was a pragmatic concession to the working class and rural poor. The government also implemented an extremely harsh drugs policy, continued to privatise the energy sector, and continued the nepotistic policies that have marked previous governments. The repression of the insurgency in the south of Thailand by Malay Muslim groups was every bit as brutal as before, including a notorious massacre at Tai Bak where the army responded to a local protest by shooting at the crowd, using tear gas and arresting hundreds of local young men. Aside from those killed in the shooting, the army forced the arrested men to lie, stacked on top of one another in trucks, and 78 suffocated to death. However, eventually the government stopped screaming that the insurgency was all Al Qaeda's doing and actually started to try to meet some of the demands through negotiation. The National Reconciliation Commission was set up, and it recommended establishing autonomous 'Islamic' law for the region, allowing Malay-Patani to be the official language, and setting up an unarmed 'peacekeeping' force for the region. The government promised to implement these, but the King's Privy Council opposed the policies vehemently.
This coup has established a military government loyal to the King in advance of the coming elections for the House of Representatives. The 1997 constitution has been quoshed, and reforms such as healthcare, opposed by the medical elite, will likely to be overturned if they can get away with it. The Malays in the Patani province will get no autonomy, and you can look forward to more brutal repression there. The coup was aimed not at the Prime Minister but at the population. There is, predictably, an imperialist history here. Thailand's pro-Axis military government, which had declared war on the US and Britain, kissed and made up with the successful imperial powers afterwards. The US gradually increased its support for the military faction in Thailand so that, eventually, various forms of 'constitutional' rule were supplanted by restoration of Phibun Songkhram, who rapidly got to work suppressing various Red Threats, and US aid became the primary source of the dictator's domestic power in Thailand. Mimicking a pattern seen right across South East Asia, the US military establishment became thoroughly imbricated with the Thai military. The military elite, equipped with billions of US aid dollars, quickly became a crony capitalist elite as well, and military leaders were able to rake off huge monopoly incomes from banks, as well as private and public corporations. This tiny elite was able to take a staggering 12% of national income. Thailand was, of course, a useful aircraft carrier and mercenary supply-chain during the Vietnam War. Popular uprisings coincided with the decline of the US presence in the area, particularly with the prospect of a massive military defeat. In 1973, some 250,000 people massed in Bangkok and forced the temporary retreat of the comprador military-police establishment. During the next three years of moderate reformist government, the far right military opposition that built up was led by General Rojanawisut and Colonel Hatsadinthon, both men with close connections to the US military establishment. The CIA helped the latter to organise a counterrevolutionary force called the Red Gaurs, whose happy vocation it was to organise assassinations, beatings, strike-breaking, media intimidation. Eventually, the left was destroyed and by 1976, the US-sponsored military elite was able to resume control with the assistance of $89.6 million of US arms, more than had been sold to Thailand in the previous 25 years. The King and General Prem Tinsulanonda ruled together for the next fifteen years, and Prem was even able to win a couple of elections with the opposition more or less destroyed. During the 1980s, Thailand collaborated with the US & UK in supporting the restoration of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and - while prosecuting brutal 'wars' on drugs - helped ram American tobacco down Thai throats.
Well, as with Indonesia and the Phillipines and practically everywhere else that the US has crushed democracy, the American government would presumably like to see a managed process of neoliberal reform, with or without the appearance of democracy. This has been happening anyway, and the decades of corrupt autocracy have ensured that capital has a fairly easy time of it, with sweatshops bringing the dictatorship right down to the local and day to day experience of the Thai working class. The US no longer needs Thailand as much as it did during the Cold War and was therefore unwilling to bail out the country during and after the 1997 crisis. However, they had been banking on a 'free trade' agreement with the regime, and are now hoping that when the military 'restores democracy', it can be resuscitated. The military indicates that it will return to a democracy 'loyal to the King', but the King happens to be bearer of class power that has been revived, supplied and protected by the US government for fifty years. I think that 'free trade' agreement will go ahead in short order.
The big concern on the news this morning is what will happen to Thailand's tourist industry.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Internationalism, interventionism and some other things that don't belong to the ruling class. posted by Richard SeymourI see the Global Day for Darfur wasn't at all as impressive as one might have expected. Blue hats, dare I say it, were not in fashion this Sunday. Leaving aside the well-meaning humanitarians (and there must be some), isn't this because the 'movement' such as it is happens to be led by a campaign group for International Solidarity with Imperialism? The pro-war left and liberal interventionists are anxious for the ruling class to prove themselves worthy of adulation: their acres of verbiage and inches of demonstrators essentially make the appeal "Please, intervene, humanitarianly, somewhere, and prove that we are right to adore you". I have suggested that if these people are serious about Darfur, they should form a solidarity group with the Justice & Equality Movement, presently the main rebel force in Darfur, but I have noticed no movement yet. I'll give a starting donation of a tenner to anyone who does it. I really will.
I haven't detected much agitation from these folks on Myanmar where recent reports have suggested that the mortality rate for young males is close to that achieved in Cambodia under Pol Pot. Possibly, this is because Britain continues to arm the regime despite making flattering noises about Aung San Suu Kyi, and despite having a nominal blockade in place. Perhaps it is because British capitalism does nicely out of the large-scale import of cheap goods. More likely it is because, as I have said, they don't really give two shits: they are much more interested in trying to prove that their own moral fortitude resides in their support for imperialism. There is, in fact, a movement among liberals and human rights activists to support Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese democracy movement, but it isn't calling for war, or even a UN force. And there lies the rub.
For this slender but vocal movement, only the satisfaction of cleansing violence by Western states or (less satisfactorily) via local surrogates is good enough. Internationalism is for them a synonym for boundless international militarism; interventionism is code for invasion. Everything else is superfluous. Of course, the internationalist interventionism in support of Palestine, Iraq, Venezuela, Lebanon and, not so long ago, South Africa cannot possibly count. It cannot be good enough. Mr Blair doesn't get to bomb anyone. It is not nor it cannot come to good, unless the we get to fantasize about the ruling class becoming the armed wing of Amnesty International or executing a revolutionary transformation of the Other in its capacity as a Thomas Jefferson arsenal. The imperial mission force must be allowed to structurally adjust the crap out of assorted TV bad guys. This is one reason why the dramatis personae is so limited, and only states are real players with passive, sullen populations awaiting the arrival of superman: because the worship of power is partially an effect of television. Each week there must be a structured Manichean narrative in which our superheroes seek out evil, destroy it and leave a grateful population smiling and waving. There is half an hour of violent bliss, and then there is closure.
Because mass movements are invisible in the media, because only power has a legitimate purview for them, because other points of view must prove themselves sensible to power, comportable for that narrow spectrum of opinion, some more simple-minded viewers have become persuaded that these movements don't exist and that international solidarity was invented by the ruling class: precisely as William Wilberforce freed the slaves and Winston Churchill defeated fascism, George Bush now emancipates oppressed women, while Blair exhibits the Africa-shaped scar on his conscience and prepares to do something about it. But internationalism, solidarity and interventionism do not belong to the ruling class. The US air force is not the international brigades and the CIA is not the Comintern. Bush is not Sylvia Pankhurst and Blair is not Toussaint L'Ouverture. The attempt at enclosure, at appropriating the historical legacy of Atlantic motley crews, slave rebels, Chartists and revolutionaries, at transforming this legacy into a domesticate fairy tale for infants and infantile adults, is not the least of thefts that the left has to resist.
Revelation. posted by Richard SeymourTony Robinson's documentary about Christian fundamentalism last weekend suffered from the same weakness as Dawkins' previous, and to some extent the same weaknesses as ex-CIA man Robert Baer's suicide porn. An embarrassing naivete and smug conformity about the secular world, if you can call it that, is mixed with an absolutely apocalyptic, hallucinatory sense of the power of religion and religious organisations. The documentary itself was all very interesting in its way - showing how Christian fundamentalists support the most extreme Zionists in Israel, showing how their preferred political strategies tend to hasten the onset of apocalypse ("so it's a self-fulfilling prophecy!" Robinson cheerfully notes at one point), talking to people who describe their bizarre views with a rather chipper "that's-God's-plan" attitude.
But without wishing to minimise the noxious effects of the End-Timers and the very careful way in which they are used to indoctrinate and train up generations of reactionary polemicists and activists, the missing factor in these analyses is (as you would be expect me to say) capital. What's curious is that Robinson was rather eager to impute to the fundies a sort of political power that they don't realistically possess while totally ignoring the truly apocalyptic effects of capitalism. He interviews Zionist fanatics in Israel, but demonstrates no suspicion that they are a rational outgrowth of the ideology and movement that produced Israel, or that their batty dispensations about rebuilding the Temple on the Mount are far less worrisome than actual day to day mass murder going on in Gaza and the West Bank. He interviews people who discuss with gleaming eyes the prophecies that are already coming true: you know, the skies are blackening, wars are rather frequent, great meteorological catastrophes have taken place, societies are becoming more violent and polarised, all that stuff. And yet, one would think to have a glance at the recent history of humanity that these ghouls had half a point.
It was predictable that with the general collapse of other forms of identity (communism, most spectacularly) that religious identities would become prominent, thus resuscitating a very old liberal critique of religion and the politics of religion. The irony is that this critique, supposedly a scathing indictment of superstition and delusion, dogmatically accepts the theological underpinnings of capital, which is simply accepted as there, as part of the natural order of things, a logical step in a long process of technological development and the specialisation of labour. And that Smithian divine narrative is accompanied by all sorts of mad, quasi-religious doctrines about 'human nature' (which inevitably posits a natural inclination toward trucking, trading and bartering, homo economicus, as well as toward selfishness, cruelty, vindictiveness etc), which not only abound freely in liberal discourse but actually sustain it. The apocryphal tales about the development of capitalism fed to students in Business Studies and Economics classes are underpinned by a touching faith in the benevolence of the Holy Profit and the providential guidance of the Hidden Hand. With devout rectitude, one never questions these assumptions, one simply entertains every silly fable and fairy tale about free markets and enterprise and property rights. Every grotesque result of this grotesque system is externalised: in effect, the theodicy of Robinson and the Robinsonades is that God did it. In fact, watching these documentaries, one can't help but be moved by the immovable faith that Robinson, Dawkins and Baer have in the real earthly power of God. They are true believers.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Let's say I'm right and that a serious slump is about to hit America. It must do at some point. The massive debt-funded expansion of the state under Bush the Second is unsustainable. What is more the extraordinary efforts at restoring and enhancing every aspect of capitalist class power is a destabilising force in itself. The inherent imbalances in US capitalism result from the usual: because capitalism is an exploitative system, they can't possibly pay you enough to buy enough to realise every investment. The aggregate result is a crisis of 'overproduction', and they try to overcome the effects on profit rates by 'restructuring' the workforce (as in, "how you would you like me to restructure your bollocks?"), redistributing wealth through wage cuts, prices and taxes and breaking down the power of the working class to resist these measures. The reforms undertaken under the rubric of neoliberalism are usually associated in soft-left critique with growing inequality and poverty, which are really symptoms of the deeper effect of neoliberalism which was to transfer power from the working class to the ruling class.
Yet by busting unions and dismantling various forms of democracy and safeguards won through collective resistance, the US ruling class has ensured not the efficacy or longevity of capitalism, but their own ability to bunker down and ride out the oncoming catastrophe. The architects of the Bush tax cuts and the attempt to tear up social security are not informed by any arcane theories about capitalist growth models when they devise policy. They are interested only in the dismantling of the obligations that working class struggle has forced upon them, from safety and environmental laws to minimum wage to subsidies and benefits and union recognition. They want every last shackle removed. As capitalists, they cannot but see redistributive taxation and regulation as at best burdensome red tape and at worst repression on a par with the Nazi holocaust (hence the pharmaceutical industry's insistence that the threat of modestly socialised medicine merited the invocation of Pastor Nimoeller). Because they are, as always, the real victims.
A little bit of realism suggests that this class is not about to give up its power or its wealth or its clout even a little bit even to conserve the system that it benefits from. They hated Roosevelt for trying to make them do so, even though he unarguably saved corporate capitalism and ensured that the US would become a world empire: they resented it. And contrary to popular mythology, the US ruling class was not throwing itself out of windows in stock market trading rooms: it was exploiting the poor for every miserable penny, and employing Pinkertons to bust in the heads of those who tried to do anything about it. Had it been left to them, New York in 1936 would have looked like Berlin did in 1936. Rather than have the Works Progress Administration, they would crash the system, pay off some petit-bourgeois thugs and ride out the deluge from behind palatial fortresses, knowing full well that the depression will devastate the poor. Faced with the stark choice between even social democratic capitalism and barbarism, the ruling classes of every country have always preferred barbarism, and have always respected those willing to impose it. That Hitler, they quacked, he knows a thing or two. If we had Il Duce, he'd show the reds and the miscegenators.
And, in case you missed it, the American working class isn't in great shape as it stands. The situation today is already dire: even with a relatively small recession in 2001-2, US wages have not kept up with inflation since 2000. This was after thirty years of a brutal rollback by the US ruling class and its political allies in which the income of the poor had suffered dramatically already. There are fight backs, but the most militant and successful of these come from migrant workers who have a history of labour struggles. The Bush administration is therefore rather eager to break this layer, to intimidate it so that it will not stand up for its rights and set the wrong example to others. Similarly, they are keen to break any fruits of black workers' victories, such as affirmative action. The more women and black workers fight and win, the higher the wage floor goes. So Bush is, for American capitalists, a highly treasured wrinkled retainer. They rely on his 'tough guy' charisma to sell to American workers policies that are deeply costly to them, and utterly contrary to their interests.
As much as I hate the 'totalitarianism' thesis, I keep being drawn back to Hannah Arendt, who argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism that the unlimited expansion of power followed "the unlimited expansion of capital" - to put it in a more prosaic fashion, it is a sociologically banal fact that the most autocratic and violent regimes have been formed in defense of moneyed minorities and plutocrats who have wished to conserve not only their ill-gotten gains, but their ability to extract further ill-gotten gains by whatever means they deem necessary. The means of building up autocratic power in a democratic age vary, but the first gesture is always to break the working class. That was Mussolini's first move (a mass strike was what stirred the blackshirts to motion), and it was Hitler's first move, and it has been the first move of every tyrant and thug the world over: that part of the working class that they cannot coopt is trampled.
Of course, the American ruling class may not need to go all the way: if the American working class can be persuaded that the crash results from a crisis of competitiveness brought about by parasites and liberals and others of weak racial stock, then a full dictatorship may not be necessary. Perhaps they will merely have to expropriate the Muslim population and allow the workers to have their fun by breaking some windows and leaving stars n stripes flags on front lawns. But that might yield some resistance, and the regime will require that all forms of social solidarity are broken down and replaced by complete atomisation, widespread cynicism and mistrust and a contract of mutual indifference.
Ignore the dodgy music at the start, this is good.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
U.S. officials are concerned that the killings may have been committed by Shiite-dominated government security forces in areas already secured by U.S. and Iraqi troops — inside jobs, in effect.
These would be the government security forces built up by the CIA and Steve Casteel, a long-time US intelligence hand? And no one knows who's doing the killing, eh? The US government openly announces its plans, allows it to be reported from time to time, and still no one has any clues out there as to what is happening? The US goes in, secures an area, then leaves its guys in charge, who then go on to kill hundreds of people, and all is a mystery?
US officials are "concerned". I bet they are. I bet they keep themselves up all night, sick with worry.
Well, alright, if the left is reduced to the layer of liberal middle class professionals that make up the core of Cohen's readership these days, then he is partly right. Their focus on 'aid' for Africa, the total absence of any understanding of capitalism and the current phase of neoliberal 'reforms' that is responsible for genocidal levels of death - indeed, that sort of myopic narrowness can lead one to take a supercilious moralising posture about corrupt governments thwarting Western generosity. It isn't a surprise either that Cohen now accepts that questions about capitalism, neoliberal 'reforms' and accumulation by dispossession (through debt, privatisation and other devices) are utterly off the agenda. And if you further mistake the World Bank for a charitable organisation, then the ensuing flattery of those who appear to insist on probity from those receiving the funds is predictable. Yet, the creepy eulogising about Paul Wolfowitz is truly disturbing. Here is what Cohen says:
Wolfowitz is a conservative who, during his career, has championed democracy in the Philippines and Indonesia, feminism in Iran and opposition to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, causes that were once the preserve of the liberal-left.
Once, when book editors were heaping deserved praise on Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi's poignant account of educated women suffering under the Iranian mullahs, I managed to silence a literary dinner party for the first and I suspect only time in my life by asking if they realised the 'Paul' Nafisi had dedicated her book to was Paul Wolfowitz.
Azar Nafisi didn't dedicate the book to Paul Wolfowitz: Cohen has lifted this fictitious claim straight from the mouth of Christoper Hitchens. The dedication in the book is unambiguous: "In memory of my mother, Nezhat Nafisi; For my father, Ahmad Nafisi, And my family: Bijan, Negar and Dara Naderi". The acknowledgments page mentions a 'Paul', but Nafisi isn't very happy that some people insist on giving him a surname. Nafisi is close to the neoconservatives, and has been criticised by the Hamid Dabashi for her book, putting her in the league of 'native informants' like Irshad Manji and Fouad Ajami. But that is a separate and slightly more delicate matter. The irony is that for Cohen, Nafisi fulfils precisely the role of the native informant.
Still more important are the moist fantasies about Wolfowitz's commitments to democracy, free markets and incorruptible governance.
Oddly enough, in violating his supposed commitments, he has usually hit the trifecta. As State Department Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, he oversaw support for the crony capitalist Chun dictatorship and the massively corrupt Marcos kleptocracy. As Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia, he favoured funding a dictatorial thief who happily suppressed the market in the interests of American capital. As Deputy Secretary of Defense, he wanted Iraq to be governed by corrupt, unelected (and unelectable) exiles while allowing its industry to be owned by kleptocratic companies with monopoly access.
In no place and at no time has Paul Wolfowitz been a champion of democracy, least of all in the Phillipines or Indonesia. Indeed, for someone allegedly devoted to economic efficiency, incorruptible leadership and poverty reduction, Wolfie spent an awful lot of time midwiving the deregulation of Indonesia's banking sector under the massively corrupt Suharto family, which contributed to massive economic collapse, but which allowed the Suhartos to hold on to the largest ever private money pot for dictators, an estimated $35bn. As the architect of Iraq's postwar 'reconstruction', he oversaw one of the biggest corruption scandals in imperial history. According to Professor Jeffrey Winters, "there is not one instance" of Wolfowitz "speaking up on human rights or democracy in Indonesia" during his entire time as ambassador there. Indeed, according to Indonesian human rights activists, "Of all former U.S. ambassadors, he was considered closest to and most influential with Suharto and his family". According to the head of the National Human Rights Commission, "he never showed interest in issues regarding democratization or respect of human rights ... I also never heard him publicly mention corruption, not once". Binny Buchori, director of the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development - a coalition of 100 agencies promoting democracy in Indonesia, said that "He went to East Timor and saw abuses going on, but then kept quiet." Indeed, Winters cites reports from Wolfowitz's time under Suharto where he denounced an article criticising the corruption of the regime as "'bad' and told a press conference on his arrival in Jakarta that the U.S. would handle the sort of situation it created with the Indonesian Government by playing down the article and trying to ignore it". Wolfowitz "never alluded to any concerns about the level of corruption or the need for more transparency", according to Buchori.
US journalist Tim Shorrock adds that "East Timor ... was invaded and occupied in 1975 by Indonesia with US weapons - a security policy backed and partly shaped by Holbrooke and Wolfowitz. 'Paul and I,' [Holbrooke] said, 'have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.'" Joseph Nevins described in the National Catholic Reporter how Wolfowitz had consistently argued against Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor, and especially against US support for such a scenario. When the Indonesian government was using the tsunami as a cover for increased repression in Aceh, Wolfowitz visited and demanded US military aid for the TNI. (Nevins, cited in Chomsky, Failed States p 135). He had advocated resuming military ties to Indonesia ever since they were suspended in 1999. In 1997, he told the US Congress that "my balanced judgment of the situation in Indonesia today, including the very important and sensitive issue of human rights, needs to take account of the significant progress that Indonesia has already made and needs to acknowledge that much of this progress has to be credited to the strong and remarkable leadership of president Suharto".
As Tim Shorrock notes, Wolfowitz has repeatedly taken the credit for democratisation in which he has taken no part. He now claims to be an advocate of 'democracy' in Indonesia, and also claims the credit for persuading the South Korean dictator Chun to step down, and for the fall of the Marcos regime. In each case, decades of US support for tyrants was preserved by Wolfowitz right up until there was no longer any chance of survival, and US interests would be threatened by instability. Yet, Wolfowitz fought moves to end military aid to Marcos by the US Congress, in case it should strengthen "the communists". He himself had overseen the continued aid to Chun, Marcos and Suharto, and he didn't try once to cut off the supply on account of 'corruption'.
The creepy, arse-tonguing mythology about Paul Wolfowitz from Cohen shouldn't be countered by a mirror supposition that merely places a negative value on Wolfowitz's supposed theoretical commitments. He might well have imbibed something from Leo Strauss, and he might indeed be among the more ideological neoconservatives. But he is essentially a businessman, whose entire career has involved making things work for American capitalism. Nothing else has ever stopped him in that, and no putative commitment to democracy or free markets or fiscal probity has ever interfered with his service to capital.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
One of the big problems for investors in Haiti is the post-coup electoral procedure. They worry that "Were Lavalas to participate fully, there is a good chance that the party could win against the now-fragmented parties that helped to force Aristide from power." They add that "the climate for business is dim" because legislators will "resist making any moves that threaten to increase unemployment, which is already running in excess of 60%", so "The most that can be expected is some new legislation providing additional incentives and tax breaks for foreign investors". The US coup produced the highest regional inflation rate next to the Dominican Republic, and a massive contraction in the economy, but the business community can look forward to some decent economic results either from a "divided government" or a "reformist coalition".
They are disappointed by the UN's performance, lauding the "impressive body count" ratcheted up by the Minustah forces against the "armed radicals affiliated with FL", but noting that it hadn't brought about "stability". They note that the US has relied upon a "robust approach from Minustah" but insist that American troops may have to be sent in much larger numbers.
They are particularly anxious for the passage of "modifications of the Commercial Code, the Customs Code, and the Investment Code. Other bills awaiting passage concern tax and banking codes that will favor foreign investment." They enthuse that "Privatization has been proposed for firms in the telecommunications and electricity sectors, as well as port and airport facilities", but await "legislation to create a regulatory framework for the telecommunications sector, a prerequisite for privatization of the national telephone company, Teleco". There is a remarkable political realism throughout: FL was overwhelmingly supported prior to the coup, they note, with the poor embracing "Aristide's criticisms of the economic reforms proposed by the US and
international financial institutions" and that "the FL held all but one of the 20 filled seats in the 27-member Senate, and all but 10 of the seats in the 82-member Chamber of Deputies".
The report discusses the country's ruling class, an elite comprising "only 1% of the population": "A few mixed-race families control the country's industrial parks and its facilities for manufacturing and assembly. The majority flourished during the US occupation of the 1930s and survived the terrorism of the first Duvalier regime under 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. Some of these families control sumptuous assets, divided among investments in Haiti, the US, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, Venezuela, and France."
It openly speaks (with some distaste) of the class struggle which has frustrated the implementation of the reforms that the international capitalist class (or 'global investors' or 'the business community' or whatever euphemism you prefer) demand, but notes that the post-coup regime "has taken initiatives in economic and monetary policies as well as governance and transparency to pave the way for new investments. Such actions include reducing interest rates to facilitate access to credit, the implementation of a trade facilitation unit, and an effort to enhance the dialogue between the public and private sectors." The Haitian parliament was already on its knees in 2002, they note, passing "an investment law prohibiting fiscal and legal discrimination against foreign investors", but sadly some industries "still require special government authorization. Investments in electricity, water and telecommunications require both government concession and approval. Additionally, investments in the public health sector must first receive authorization from the Ministry of Public Health and Population." Still, taxes are terribly low, and most people can expect to pay hardly anything at all. Only incomes over $750,000 will pay as much as 30%. IMF programmes and WTO recommendations are discussed in some laudatory detail.
None of this is especially revelatory, although the detail is interesting. The capitalist class gets a relatively realistic picture of situation in Haiti from such reports, as compared to readers of the US press or viewers of British news channels. This report at points reads like some samizdat publication with value significations reversed. They're open: they want to crack open Haiti's markets, suppress the insurgent working class, enforce neoliberalism, beef up 'property rights' and sell off all state assets. They want US troops in there, and they want either a divided government or a 'reformist' coalition that will deliver what they want. Written before the elections that saw Preval's remarkable victory, despite rigging attempts, they anticipate that the capitalist class's most sympathetic political allies will easily lose and that any result will be marred by fixing allegations, and so they rely upon the likelihood of a divided government, and the armed suppression of the Haitian working class. It is in this light that one should understand the World Bank's Latin American and Carribean director and her demands that security and development should go hand in hand.
So anyway, Cassandra has snuffed it and her chorus will continue to howl and chatter into the audient void. Now the Pope's starting some shit. Angela Merkel has intervened to suggest that his holiness was only formulating "a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion". There is a curious parcel of similar-minded fuckwits leaping to the Pope's defense with vague formulations which always imply that one has missed "the context". What context? Well, his holiness was merely stipulating that violence is bad. So why did he single out the Prophet Muhammad with this quotation indicating that he was "evil and inhuman"? Oh, well, he was only quoting of course, he would never say that, and he really only meant that violence in religion is bad. Yes... So, what the reactionary old hammer of liberation theologists actually quoted suggested that Islam spread by the sword, and he didn't distance himself from that quotation or qualify it or attenuate it in any fashion. What relevance did he think the Byzantine emperor's 14th Century ruminations had today, bearing in mind that at that time it was Christianity that was busily spreading by the sword? What could he have been implying, do you think? Er... And come to that, doesn't his Popeness go on to say that unlike Christianity, Islam's God is not bound up with categories of "rationality"? Isn't, indeed, the whole discourse about 'reason and faith' and the defense of a "Greek" legacy and "enlightenment" in Christianity? Doesn't he approvingly cite this Byzantine emperor to the effect that as far as Christianity is concerned (unlike Islam), to act without "logos" is "contrary to God's nature"?
To be honest, I'm not sure if Muslims should be protesting or rolling on the floor laughing at this guy talking about 'reason'. He believes a wafer and Ribena transubstantiates in the Eucharist into the body of Christ. The fuck does he know about reason? Yes, Catholicism for Enlightenment! Bring back Giordano Bruno and Francis Bacon, all is forgiven! The rush to leap to the defense of this reactionary obscurantist is odd. I thought Europe's political and intellectual leaders were supposed to be 'enlightened' opponents of religious bigotry: but then, of course, that is exactly what the holiest of holies has told them. They are inheritors of true enlightenment and religious tolerance - unlike those nasty Muslims! Give it a while, and soon you will hear European commentators mouthing obsequies about the Pope's right to say it, free speech, and how Muslims should understand that we Europeans do things differently. And if there are sustained protests, then you will hear of how terribly intolerant Muslims are being.
Hossam el-Hamalawy, a Cairo-based journalist and socialist, writes that this sort of statement from the Pope, aside from being stupid and offensive, confirms radical Islamists in their thesis that there is a clash of civilisations. I don't know if the Pope intended his remarks as a provocation, as the editors of Jyllands-Posten so obviously did with their 'cartoons', but if he didn't then it wouldn't take two minutes to issue a retraction, roughly with the following words: "Dear Everyone, what the fuck do I know about reason and religious tolerance? I'm sitting on a mountain of unholy riches accrued through global conquests, and I'm still raking it in from worshippers all over the world thanks to European colonialism. Last time we had anything serious to do with Islam, we were torturing people in the Iberian peninsula. We failed every moral test from the Nazi holocaust to AIDS, and now we're going to fuck it up again. Seriously, I am a total dickhead and I don't know what got into me. Next time I will keep my big mouth shut. Contritely Yours, the Pope."
That wouldn't be so hard, would it?