Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
The death of liberalism. posted by Richard SeymourApparently, Saddam Hussein was hanged this morning? I know you all probably didn't catch it, but it was a passing news item on some of the broadcasts today. I am not, I should point out, moved by the event one way or the other. His death is entirely superfluous (next to, say, over a million deaths from sanctions and war). Evidently, there will be an attempt to convert it into yet another milestone - or tombstone - on the way to a New Iraq, but not even the most belligerently idiotic could fall for another of those. The mortality I wish to say a few words about doesn't involve a sharp drop and a sudden stop, as per this morning's televised asphyxiation. It's a slower and more ponderous death, but it is nonetheless widely understood. When the apologists for the ever-expanding and increasingly barbaric 'war on terror' ask us to accept that liberal 'values' are threatened, they are pushing at an open door. We see the disintegration, but don't simply try to explain this by reference to various 'fundamentalist' encroachments.
The material basis of liberalism, in the broad and hegemonic sense, is advanced, relatively stable capitalism with high employment coterminous with steady urbanisation. In most of the world, these conditions don't exist, and they will be increasingly sparse. Robert Brenner's book 'The Economics of Global Turbulence' has been reprinted by Verso this year, and it is worth checking out (alongside The Boom and the Bubble and its sequel), not least because it deals specifically with what is happening in the advanced capitalist world, specifically Europe, Japan, the United States and Canada. For a book about economics, it's fairly readable, and the danger signs are everywhere: tumbling profit rates only slowed but not halted by the repression of wages; lower productivity in most sectors; declining investment; growing reliance on debt; growing unemployment and underemployment. I'm not going to try to outline Brenner's explanation for this, since I couldn't possibly do it justice, but suffice to say it involves a the orthodox marxist account of capitalism as an inherently crisis-ridden system with a tendency toward secular decline. This picture has only been occluded by temporary and localised successes where a 'new paradigm' has occasionally been sought - in Japanese and Rhineland capitalism during the Eighties and early Nineties, and in US 'free market' capitalism in the mid-to-late 1990s. But the trend is unmistakeable, and can only temporarily be overcome by, for example, reducing unit labour costs and driving up unemployment.
The advanced capitalist world is in serious trouble, and the resort to increasingly austere measures will themselves produce social problems that it will be the burden of repressive institutions to deal with. If you want to understand why Blair and Bush are rolling back even basic liberal commitments such as habeus corpus, it is because they and the state personnel that they direct, understand the likely impact of the economic programmes they are committed to, and they are equipping the state with the means to deal with it. Social attitudes are less likely to be liberal, and popular political action less likely to take place through traditional venues. Growing numbers of disposable workers creates a popular basis for tumult, not consensus.
How about when the global recessionary pressures move in sufficient concert to bring about a worldwide depression? How about when the oil becomes more and more difficult to find, the prices go sky high and people can't afford to take their cars to work? And when businesses cease to invest, because it's too costly? The truck drivers' road block will look like a genteel farce by comparison with the tumult that will ensue. The bulk of future population growth, as Mike Davis points out, will be in the South, and it will be in urbanised areas with little or no employment growth to accomodate it. The bulk of new work in the world will be informal. That's a process taking place everywhere from Brazil to India to China to the Gulf States, and it isn't exactly a solid basis for liberalism. As more and more people flee to the relatively wealthy metropole, the reaction will be tighter and tighter controls, more 'detention centres' and more intense resistance - the fires and riots at these prison camps in recent years will pale by comparison.
The supporters of the 'war on terror', who tend to be those that do quite well out of the system, think that the empire can save liberal capitalism by reforming 'failed states', repelling the 'fundamentalists' (they may agree or disagree as to the necessity of torture and secret prisons) and spreading 'free markets'. But even if this were a desirable goal, the empire has been liquidating the basis for liberalism for decades, whether in Chile, Lebanon, Iran. It hasn't recently invented the apparatus of torture chambers, death squads and disappearances. These are the means by which it has got things done, whether in El Salvador or Vietnam or Angola etc. It isn't interested in free markets, unless this is restricted to meaning enclosing pubic goods for Western capital. It doesn't attempt to save the system, and couldn't do so if it tried - it is only interested in suppressing internal and external challenges to ruling class interests. The more cynical owners of capital understand that the system is disintegrating and that the wealth of the affluent is going to be increasingly augmented by direct disposession and expropriation. The appeal to national chauvanism may be genuinely felt, but only as an after-effect of its utility - as Eduardo Galeano once put it, they love their country so much that they try to take most of it home with them every day. And they are aware that when the shit starts flying, they want it to be directed at anyone but them. Hence: 'Muslims spread disease in hospitals'; and The Caliphate is Coming.
It might be put off, but it is unlikely to be avoidable: if you think Gaza is only a television image, it will one day be on the streets of London. If you think Baghdad is a spectacle, that spectacle will erupt onto the streets of Washington DC. Liberalism is finished, and the real question is whether we have the resources to replace it with a positive programme for social transformation or whether we will be part of the ruins.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Prisons are hellish places, to be sure. Regimes of terror, no doubt. If our mainstream liberal newspaper is advocating the abolition of such institutions, I am all ears. But it is not. It is engaged in mud-throwing. The Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, a group usually cited by the State Department, but which has been in operation since 1994, is source for some serious criticisms of Venezuelan prisons. There are some interesting anecdotes and statistics, and I wouldn't be dismissive of every single claim made.
However, the framing of the story is simply rhubarb. There is no 'regime' of terror. Among South American states, Venezuela has the lowest prison population rate. In fact, it is lower than all American states, including the US and Canada, and is lower than most European countries including the United Kingdom. Unsurprisingly, the US has the largest rate of prisoners in the world. 30% of black males will spend some time in prison in America. The US tortures its own prisoners as a matter of policy, not to mention those it imprisons illegally, wherever in the world they have been kidnapped. That's a global "regime of terror" that The Guardian devoutly wishes it could support, if only a Democrat were in charge.
Israel, US & Egypt arm Fatah. posted by Richard SeymourThe New York Times reports:
After coordination with Israel and the United States, Egypt has sent a shipment of weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip to forces loyal to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, Israeli officials said today.
Senior Palestinian officials denied the report, including the spokesman for Mr. Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, calling the story "Israeli propaganda aimed at aggravating the situation between Fatah and Hamas."
But Israeli officials confirmed a report in the Haaretz newspaper that the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, approved the shipment in his meeting Saturday evening with Mr. Abbas. Four trucks with some 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000 ammo clips and some 2 million bullets passed from Egypt through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, they confirmed, and were handed to Mr. Abbas's Presidential Guard at the Karni crossing.
This Western campaign of civil war and sanctions won't finish Palestine, but this is certainly the beginning of the end for Fatah unless there is mutiny from within. One can well imagine that the New York Times reporter sincerely believes this to be an act of generosity to an embattled 'moderate' Palestinian leadership, but the reaction of Fatah supporters suggests they know it's more like the kiss of Tosca. Every gesture of Fatah's disgraceful leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has been sanctimoniously praised by Blair, Bush and Olmert. Of course, it isn't impossible that they could terrorise and immiserate the Palestinians so completely that they finally obey and select the leadership endorsed by Washington. Terror and bribery was a mixture that worked very well in Nicaragua. But it's hard to top a weekly record like this, and the Palestinians have not yet been broken.
Tragedy and consolation. posted by Richard SeymourThe New Left Review used to say in its constitution that "post-revolutionary states... represent a historic progress over the capitalist or pre-capitalist societies that preceded them". As such, they should be defended "against every variety of capitalist attack". Thus, the anti-Stalinist NLR's response to the evident downturn in working class struggle in the early 1980s in the UK took the form of Deutscherism. Neil Davidson deals with the topic here. Deutscher maintained that the Soviet Union and various states modelled on it were transitional to socialism if not actually a form of socialism already. Thus, the Cold War was not a 'system' in itself, as diverse figures like Noam Chomsky and EP Thompson claimed - it was an intersystemic conflict, a world-historical conflict that was settled in an infuriatingly farcical fashion on the side of capitalism in 1990. Fred Halliday took this position in 1990, arguing that the USSR had maintained steady competition with the West as a bearer of global working class interests even after Stalin dissolved the Comintern, since the Red Army was "far more effective in spreading Soviet influence abroad". With Gorbachev's reforms, the end of the Cold War and the uprisings in Eastern Europe, there was "no longer a socialist camp". This was a logical corollary of previous writings. Halliday had in a 1987 pamphlet, 'The Reagan Doctrine and the Third World', published by the Transnational Institute, expressed the view that the US assault on Third World countries was both an attack on revolutionary socialist regimes, and an effort in the belabouring of the USSR as part of this world-historical combat. Previously, he had written extensively in support of the PDPA and the Russian occupation in Afghanistan, and co-written a book supportive of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia. He was also one of the friendliest reviewers of Bill Warren's sympathetic reappraisal of imperialism. Given the collapse of the Soviet Union, Halliday concurred with Warren's assessment of "Late Capitalism" - "late for what?" Capitalism had, Halliday averred, simply demonstrated considerably greater resources than any marxist could have predicted, and had avoided the secular decline expected by most marxists. Moreover, capitalist democracy had much greater appeal than the various revolutionary states, and therefore socialism's fortunes in even the most propitious circumstances were diminished.
Halliday went on, as I previously mentioned, to embrace Fukuyama's claim that capitalism was all that we had to look forward to, and added that it at any rate 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. He was not alone in taking this position. Gregory Elliot, the eloquent and sardonic NLR writer, agreed in Radical Philosophy in 1993 with Fukuyama, saying that "we are witnessing the elimination, possibly only temporary, of socialism as a world-historical movement". He advised that it was time to take Deutscher's advice and retreat to the watchtower. (If he's up there, he sees perfectly well. His devastating assaults on Third Way politics have been complemented by timely critiques of French anti-socialism, and insightful writing on Althusser.) Perry Anderson, himself the doyen of Deutscherites and never too far from the watchtower, also embraced Fukuyama as an unconscious marxist who had correctly diagnosed the situation. He later explained in Renewals, an essay marking a new series of the New Left Review from the first issue in 2000, the depth of the changes that had taken place since the formation of the NLR as he saw it. In the 1960s, a third of the planet had broken politically with capitalism; a great thriving in marxist theory had taken place, especially since the collapse of Stalinist hegemony in 1956; and a massive cultural revolution was taking place, with its attendant shifts in theoretical perspective. Further, it appeared that the Soviet Union was amenable to reform, and the Sino-Soviet split was looked upon by Deutscher as indicative of the vitality of socialism. By 2000, however: "The Soviet bloc has disappeared. Socialism has ceased to be a widespread ideal. Marxism is no longer a dominant in the culture of the Left. Even Labourism has largely dissolved. To say that these changes are enormous would be an under-statement."
Some seek to find redemption in tragedy. Tariq Ali found it in Redemption, his (by all accounts terrible) satirical novel about the Trotskyist left and its response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In it, Alex Callinicos is featured as Alex Mangoes, while Chris Harman is Nutty Sharman. Those closer to Ali's purview were not treated much more sympathetically. The thesis was that they (we) expected to triumphantly displace the old Stalinist parties, and were unable to perceive why this did not occur: by contrast, most parties of the Trotskyist left entered a crisis alongside the social-democratic parties. No doubt some of the hopes of 1989 were wildly overstated. No doubt the far left as a whole entered into a prolonged crisis, and their ability to survive hasn't been strictly correlated to their attitude to Stalinism. However, it's hard not to notice that the Deutscherite perspective invited such a collapse.
As Neil Davidson sort of argues, is a form of massive substitutionism in which the authoritarian states claiming to represent the working class are allowed to stand as instances of socialist success. Hence, as Davidson puts it, "No matter how difficult the current situation may have been in Western Europe or the US, no matter how few papers were sold on the high street of a rainy Saturday morning, socialism--or societies 'transitional' to socialism--already existed in the world and their number was being added to year on year: Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (where the phenomenon of a genocidal 'workers' state' was shortly to be discovered) and Afghanistan." Interestingly, Davidson notes that Hitchens converted to a kind of Deutscherite outlook a few years ago, despite the fact that his writing on the collapse of Stalinism was among his best, and most optimistic. He tripped on the first hurdle, which was Bosnia - what would happen to the former 'progressive' Yugoslav federation now that the rigours of the market and various national chauvanisms were tearing it apart? Hitchens gave the same answer that many on the left did: the right of nations to secede should be supported, Milosevic was the bad guy (he was, but not the only one), and the West should intervene (as if it was at that time serenely standing by). If that substitutionism was particularly susceptible to turmoil following the death of the police states, it didn't prevent many from adhering to a principled anti-imperialist position and defending the gains made by the working class in the form of the welfare state. Few, like Hitchens or Halliday, became apostles of 'globalisation' and 'imperialism'.
Still, if Davidson is right to say that Deutscherism is (was) a consolatory doctrine, the tragedy itself needs to be inspected in more detail. Was it inevitable that the Left Opposition in Russia should fail, even with the collapse of the German revolution (whose success, orthodoxy has it, would have supplied the revolutionary state with an expanded working class which could build socialism)? John Eric Marot recently took this question head-on in Historical Materialism, in the course of a sympathetic but trenchant critique of Tony Cliff. Cliff had been more critical of Trotsky than most of the latter's descendants were happy with (understatement alert). Marot says he didn't go far enough. He argues that all too often the Left Opposition shared the assumptions of the Stalinist reaction, which were: 1) the CPSU represented the interests of the working class; and 2) the peasants were an incipient capitalist class whose property should be forcibly collectivised in the interests of industrialisation, tending toward the expansion of the working class and socialist development. These assumptions disabled most criticisms of Stalin and his leadership by the Left Opposition, many of whom capitulated (where they were not simply killed). The most biting criticism Trotsky and his supporters had of the Stalinist elite for some time was that Stalin would not be willing to take on the kulaks properly. He did not see that the bureacracy, with its "thoroughly servile, career-seeking and timeserving rank and file" had formed divergent class interests - indeed, had become "unremittingly hostile to the working class and the democratic-socialist project". As a rule, the Left Opposition supported the ban on factions and extra-party political activity - and therefore could not support working class struggles against the bureacratic reaction. These huge failures, Marot contends, laid some of the ground for the broader European failure and the failure of revolution in 1930s America, and in the ability of Stalinism to hegemonise and limit and contain the anti-fascist struggle, and then to divert working class insurrections into reformism or subsume them into police states. You might think all this is a bit much to lump onto poor Trotsky's shoulders, but then as a man of considerable stature and perspicacity, his failures and those of his milieu are of world-historical significance. Further, Marot cites the historical research of Kevin Murphy, which demonstrates a considerable working class resistance to the Stalinist reaction, and therefore clear opportunities for saving the revolution from degeneration - if the conflation of the party with the interests of the working class had been abandoned in time. It isn't a moralising critique: it would be a little bit late for that, would it not? But it does address a colossal mistake, perhaps the most dangerous temptation for revolutionaries, which is to forget that the emancipation of the working class comes from the self-activity of the working classes. Recognising this doesn't involve separating oneself from movements with different traditions in a sectarian fashion: one supports Chavez as long as he helps the struggle for socialism, for instance, but one looks to the Venezuelan working class to secure its success.
If opposing substitutionist politics means refusing serenades about how socialism survives in Cuba or in the much-maligned North Korea (a police state, but not the psychotic monster that we are warned about), it also offers reasons to be cheerful. After all, if we are interested in the working class and not merely various forms of institutional representation, then the working class retains its structural capacities and material interests. They didn't disappear with the overthrow of Stalinism in Eastern Europe (as the syndicalist wing of the Solidarnosc quickly discovered). The class struggle has not disappeared - on the contrary, while its recovery is still slow in Europe, the global south is rebelling with increasing tempo. The demolition of the EU Constitutional Treaty by the French working class was a massive victory, and the institutional representation of left or postcommunist parties across Europe has grown. Not only French students, but British and Serbian students are resisting the neoliberal offensive. The American empire cannot be said to be in good shape, and opposition to it is global and increasingly integrated with the global anticapitalist movement. There's a long way to go, but if we can resist the optical illusion that results from investing hope in 'revolutionary' states, then we can see that not every gain has been wiped out, and not every historical account has been settled on the side of capitalism. Far from it.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
New Year resolutions posted by Richard SeymourNumber one. I resolve not to fulfil my potential. First of all, as Dylan Moran says, it's like money - you never have as much as you think you do. Who needs to find that out? Secondly, potential isn't necessarily a good thing. No one ever said of the Nazis: "tragically, they never fulfilled their potential". They were over-achievers. Achievement is vastly over-rated. Thirdly, and most importantly, to fulfil one's potential is managerial-speak for self-exploitation, and for accomodating oneself to exploitation. You are encouraged to think of yourself as a piece of capital, shamefully wasted during unnecessary leisure time.
Is it a coincidence that this sort of babble emerged from the 'humanist' psychological paradigm of the business psychologist, Abraham Maslow? Maslow's iconic status in the development of managerial ideas owes itself in large part to the concerns of the Cold War, and his hierarchy of human needs expresses a kitschy account of human beings in which there is an 'essential' self that can be actualised in the process of capital accumulation (he didn't put it like that, of course). Underlying Maslow's apparently liberal and universalist account of self-actualisation was an elitist precept: that the situation of human beings owed itself to their sexually-rooted drive to dominate.
Following the McCarhyite purges on American academic institutions, those who survived as mainstream liberals were to do very well. Their utility was invaluable, and the CIA in particular became notable for its interest in techniques of 'mind control'. Maslow was himself a Cold Warrior, a staunch patriot and a supporter of the Vietnam War until he died in 1970. He considered that democracy of a "Western sort" was okay for those who had their basic needs met (those at the bottom of his hierarchy, such as food and water), since those whose basic needs were met were capable of proceeding to more refined self-fulfillment (democratic participation). His hierarchy was thus a social hierarchy, and its characteristics those of societies projected onto individuals. He could not understand why his ideas were being taken up by countercultural figures like Abbie Hoffman - if he had understood that segment of the counterculture for what it was, he would not have been surprised. For him, "enlightened management" was a form of patriotism, a kind that could be reclaimed from the far right. The predicates of this centrist patriotism had already been laid down by McCarthy: unAmericanism has funny foreign names, doesn't worship God, doesn't respect the cock etc. For Maslow, liberals could handle all this: they were tough, and "postambivalent" about that toughness. They were "good cops, good ships captains, good generals & bosses, good administrators of justice, good superiors." The old fashioned liberal with his suspicion of power, Maslow held, was re-enacting a sexual psychodrama in which identifying with the weak and oppressed was merely 'spitting in Daddy's face', but which concealed "the tendency to present to the dominant one" on the part of the "covert unconscious homosexual" who entertains "fantasies that go with offering yourself up to the strong one, who deserves to be the fucker & the penetrator & the mounter (it is suitable, fitting & proper, just & right, apposite, appropriate) ... the Gaze determines instantaneously
who presents and who mounts." Maslow pondered whether "this secret sexual life of the ambivalent 'liberal' might go over into overt behavior?"
Fulfilling one's potential, then, is the straight American power-worshipper's privilege in a materially privileged society. The good liberal works to ensure opportunity for all to self-actualise, but in the end, the weak are perpetually presenting to the powerful, availing themselves of being mounted, and this is only suitable, fitting and proper. So, instead of fulfilling my potential, I resolve to leave it the fuck alone. I shall, like Adorno, seek my utopia lying on a lily-pad in a lagoon, with nothing to do.
Number two. I resolve to boycott as little as possible. This isn't mere contrarianism, I promise. There is a serious point to be had here. Boycotts should be a determinate political strategy for applying pressure in circumstances where it is likely to have an impact. For instance, I would continue to boycott Israeli goods and support the attempts to impose a cultural boycott - the excellent thing about it being that the hysterical reaction of apologists for Israel suggests that it might well work. It is a tool.
However, boycotts are all too often encouraged as moralistic ventures, Beautiful Soul narcissism, keeping one's hands clean - whereas in fact, one's hands are already dirty. How could it be otherwise under capitalism? There is hardly a good to be had that isn't produced under exploitative circumstances, whose underside isn't drenched with blood. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.
Number three. I resolve to watch as little television news as possible. There's something insidious about it, particularly the compulsory impressions that it forces on you, against your best knowledge and best will. If you read a news item or a script, you can analyse and parse, you have time to slow down, go back and check what you've read. With the news, you have a barrage of images saturated with barbaric connotations and untestable hypotheses, fragments of events punctuated with ideological assumptions so hegemonic that you have to be a fanatic to even notice that they are ideological assumptions. You can call it intellectual self-defense, or you can call it the hubristic munification of one's fat-headed self against the oceanic flows of information, but I am sticking to dry text as far as possible. Solid chap that I am.
All of these resolutions will be broken.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Or, you could go for a nice walk (perhaps to the local Tesco Express, or Marks & Spencer Simply Food, seeing as you didn't buy enough milk).
If you have a few seconds, you can make sure that Maggie doesn't win the BBC's "Political Hero" award.
Vote here (your choice is pretty much Tony Benn or no one, but let's be honest, that's a good enough choice).
And the BBC want you to waste even more of your time by voting on the law you most want repealed.
We here at the Tomb are, as you know, often accused of being fascists (mostly because of our love of fine burgers and cheap beer). We'd like to live up to that description by telling you to vote to repeal the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.
This is the Act that makes it illegal to demonstrate without prior approval anywhere near Parliament.
Some people think that opposition to such a measure is short-sighted; after all, all you have to do is ask, and you shall be allowed to protest.
I have a small story that shows why any socialist - indeed, any liberal - should oppose such a law.
A while back, security guards on Eurostar, all brand new members of the RMT union, went on strike. They'd never organised before; never been members of a union before.
As usual, they (as privatised employees of a privatised company on a privatised railway) were being treated like crap; thankfully, they were militant enough to be ready for action, and their local RMT reps were ready and willing to help.
The picket line was excellent. For those who say "the working class is no more", this was proof of their error. Vibrant, annoyed, noisy, bitter - and most of all, dynamic, young and mixed. It was great.
After the picket was over, everyone went to a nearby pub for a mass meeting. But the union members were feeling proud and confident (especially after successfully getting the police to leave them alone, something us lot on the tube have yet to have any success with).
They decided to all walk together - to march, along the side of the road, behind their union's banner. A great moment - people who had never known about unions, quickly realising the power of united solid action and wanting to show their pride in such action.
But the police saw it a different way. They stopped the march. Why? Because we were here - within the area proscribed by the Act.
Yes, all we were doing was walking behind a banner. Yes, we were going down the pub.
And yes, the police said that we were committing a criminal offence and were liable to be arrested if we did not stop it immediately.
We did, cos we'd got to the pub and needed some beer.
As you do, now.
Vote, in this pointless poll.
And then, next year, resolve to fight even harder against the most nasty, vicious, bloodthirsty, anti-freedom government in recent times.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
New UN massacres in Haiti. posted by Richard SeymourThe guys in the blue helmets and ungainly halos have committed another massacre in Cite Soleil. This report is raised by the activist Joe Emersberger:
More than twenty (20) people were killed by MINUSTAH TROOPS in the Drouillard-Bois Neuf section of Cite Soleil on Friday morning, Dec. 22, 2006 according to our Community Human Rights Council (CHRC) reps on the ground in Cite Soleil. In addition the private middle school, Diecee, owned by Mr. Perancy LAURISTAL, a spokesperson for our CHRC, was completely demolished during this military operation. The school was vacant for the holidays. We have the names of some of those killed, Ti Bos, Johnny, Gerald, Kesnel, Ti Rasta and Vieux Tirus. St. Catherine hospital, operated by Doctors Without Borders, has been overwhelmed by the victims brought there. Atty. Evel Fanfan has issued a call to the international community for help in this latest incursion into this poor neighborhood by MINUSTAH troops.
More on that one from Jeb Sprague via Chabert.
And last night, at least five people were killed and thirty wounded in Port-au-Prince, in what is described as a crackdown on "gangs". The BBC blandly notes of this massacre that "Opposition to the UN peacekeepers is growing amongst slum dwellers".
The UN occupation has already seen 8,000 murders, and the rape of 35,000 women and girls. You have to tell or imply a story about this that doesn't redound to the discredit of the US-organised putsch, and so political insurgency is repeatedly conflated with criminal activity. Military repression is described as policing. But that's the message for us - the rubes. There's an entirely different message going out to Haitians.
Have a little read of Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber's excellent 1996 polemic 'Toxic Sludge is Good For You'. Make it a Christmas present to yourself, it's only £6.99. Their website is here, and the report, with video footage, of this year's fake news is here. Discussing the undermining of democracy by corporate propaganda, generally known as PR, the book has a lot of useful information about the means used by companies and states to condition the public mind. For instance, it was pointed out by human rights groups operating in Colombia in the 1990s that the government had hired one of the many PR outifts that provide flack for fascism, in this case Sawyer Miller. These guys were charged with the same task as Ivy Lee's PR outfit was when it worked for Nazi Germany - to "clarify the American mind". Sawyer Miller recommended that the Colombian government, widely seen as repressive and corrupt, reposition itself as a victim of the 'drugs war'. Then, it should be seen to be leading a heroic fightback against the growers. And then, it should be seen as a crucial ally in the 'war on drugs'. One artefact of this propaganda campaign was a bifurcate strategy for handling the little excesses that the police and army got up to. If a body was found that had been tied up, cut to pieces, doused in petrol and set alight, that was 'suicide'. Other such deaths were 'unsolved'. Internationally, the Colombian government wept crocodile tears for the deaths and vowed to catch the FARC terrorists etc. Internally, the message was that the government could kill you with impunity and would only need to offer the most contemptuous of excuses when the body showed up.
We would be foolish to think that UN-led occupations don't make use of such services, since they have the most need for 'legitimacy' in what they do. If there is a PR firm like Burston-Marsteller operating in Haiti with the MINUSTAH leadership, they will have given the UN advice something like this: whenever you're going to carry out a crackdown that may end up with a great number of bodies on the street, make sure it's widely understood that Haiti is a chaotic, highly criminalised society. Best if you don't say it in the voice of MINUSTAH. Get UNICEF to condemn child kidnappings with the implication that the "gangs" you are targeting are somehow responsible, on the day that you carry out your operation. In this way, an increase in child slavery widely understood to result from the overthrow of the elected government will become an alibi for the occupation regime. Because they're the real victims here.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Works in mysterious ways. posted by Richard SeymourA war, somehow, inexplicably, almost mystically, as if by divine 'intervention' (and by no means by the more mundane kind of intervention), is breaking out in Somalia. Not the low-level war of attrition between embattled "government" warlords and "Islamist fighters" (who are, in fact, the government). No. According to The Guardian, Ethiopia is somehow involved. Who? How? What? As if to make an even more ridiculously blubbering clueless wreck out of me, The Guardian avers that the Ethiopian army are going to formally invade to "defend" the government (they already have about 8,000 troops covertly operating there to defend the 'government' according to the UN), and the only explanation is that they think the SCIC are a "terrorist" organisation. On this flimsy basis, outright war in the horn of Africa is threatened. Granted, Ethiopia is a world power not to be messed with, but who would allow them to do this?
Well, there are clues. Ethiopia, it is mentioned, is an ally of the US in the 'war on terror'. And we know that the warlords are backed by Washington, and also that Washington has been sponsoring the warlords because, well, Coca-Cola has its bottling plant to think about and there are rich oil reserves waiting to be unleashed. Washington has also been sending in mercenaries, and pushed a resolution through the UNSC backing the use of "African troops" to support the "government" of Somalia. Policy is coordinated by Washington in concert with several European states through the 'Contact Group', one perhaps every bit as venal as the one formed to speed up and facilitate the disintegration of Yugoslavia. So, I don't know, is it possible that Ethiopia's decision is in some way explicable in terms other than the declared exasperation of Meles Zenawi, himself a vote-rigger and butcher of protesters in Addis Ababa (and also a former member of the esteemed Commission for Africa)?
Friday, December 22, 2006
The Nightmare Before Christmas: succumbing to the discipline of capitalist work-time. posted by Richard SeymourSo, everyone settling in for Christmas? Most of you anyway, you 'atheist' Christians-in-drag. I can see you now, even as you finish work early today. Stocks of booze piled up, a flipping great ball of poultry in the fridge, a mountain of shite food that you would never otherwise touch in a million years (especially that revolting Christmas pudding). Hours spent milling around in the nightmarish frottage-fest of Oxford Street or your local equivalent. What else is there to do? You're not going to get a week off work for another while.
"Work-life balance", I suggested before, is a phrase that tells the truth about capitalist labour: work is not part of life. The workplace is the dead zone. Of course, leisure time itself is structured by the demands of capital: the necessity of transit, the hours needed to wind down, the decision about how much to drink, the pursuits made available by profit-driven enterprise during out of work hours, 'free' and undemanding television etc. Where you live, how you dispose of your income, sumptuary choices - all are determined by the process of capital accumulation. Not only that but the encroachments of work into resting hours are becoming ever more insidious - especially with this 'blackberry' invention, which ensures you receive calls and e-mails constantly.
So, the obverse of dead labour time is dead consumption time. It is a life structured for us in almost every detail by capital, both as workers and consumers, and here we are going through the most elaborately structured consumption time of the year. Because what else is there to do? The Tomb, for its part, has been disgustingly decorated with some tatty ornaments for this sham festival. I have a facsimile of eternal life in front of me:
That fucking plastic evergreen tree with its fake bauble-fruits mocks my undead persistence. But worst of all is this pathetic, shiny plastic simulation of the Red Star of communism.
Damn Christmas, and death to it. Stick it up your bonhomie. Scrooge was a wimp.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
On decent internationalism. posted by Richard SeymourHere's a cheerful Christmas message. Of course, one cares - passionately cares - about politics in other places. One is angrily supportive of "Iranian democrats" and "Venezuelan democrats" and "Palestinian secularists". One supports "Iraqi trade unionists" whenever they say the right things. One is animated to frenzied disgust by the depredations of "Islamofascists" and their "apologists". One is perhaps even uneasy about certain excesses of the nevertheless necessary 'war on terror'. One dislikes racism, misogyny and homophobia. The sum of this care is that one will fire off polemics all year round and even attend a rally to defend free speech from dem Muslims innit. That's how much one cares. One is of the left, but decent. One is avowedly not an apologist for bad things and bad people. One is an internationalist.
Of course, there are not severed heads and drilled corpses appearing in bins in Burnley. There are not military checkpoints on the M26, where a soldier might well relieve you of your ID and refuse to let you pass, or arrest you, or shoot you for not smiling nicely. There are not torture chambers that we know of on the Isle of Man. There are not rapists in army uniforms driving through your residential area in Humvees, with almost complete legal immunity and an institutionally encouraged contempt for you. If the state had shot your fourteen year old daughter, you would expect to be able to attend the funeral at least. The main production centres are not sweatshops surrounded by steep wire fences and armed guards. You will not have Coca Cola death squads visit your house if you happen to belong to a trade union. The minimum wage, though pathetic, is somewhat higher than 35 cents an hour. You do not have an air force bombing the council estates, then bombing the ambulances that pick up the victims, then bombing the cars with fleeing civilians.
All of this may one day no longer be the case, since imperial violence, repression and hyper-exploitation tends to filter back to the metropole. Nevertheless, for the moment, it doesn't form an immediate and daily perceptible part of your social environment. It is otherwhere, beyond the tinsel-strewn screen, beyond the little island of intimacy and emotional sincerity that one reserves for friends and family. It is, in fact, an alternative universe, populated by creatures that one can't quite see as fully human, following a distinct logic that has nothing to do with this universe. That their cosmos has irrupted into ours in a few brief moments of horror is a warning that they are getting out of control, and that we must improve matters for them.
Hence, one can be persuaded of the virtue of Western states, and urge them to be even more virtuous. By all means, don't stop at helping Iraqis. Help the Darfurians next. We hear they are having problems with the "Islamic fundamentalists" too. Help the Somalis and the Iranians and the North Koreans. With an exaggerated awareness of the crimes attributable to various psychotic Others, and resolute purblindness about the criminality of the system and its main beneficiaries, one can live with the hundreds of thousands of bodies that are piling up in Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan, Palestine, Colombia etc without ever considering that people living in those conditions may wish to defend themselves, to resist their being murdered and raped and tossed into austere prison camps and flown to secret prisons and tortured. No - that would be a human reaction. The empire is virtuous, it is not to be resisted. And it's all their fault for not being the West to begin with, and for not accepting imperialism's ameliatory mission. If they didn't resist, they would be taken care of. Bush would have brought them food, and medical supplies, and education for girls. Blair would have tended to the physical and psychic wounds of refugees shivering on mountain slopes. Had there been dancing in the streets, with sweets and flowers for the armed missionaries, there would today be tranquility and the promise of Westernisation in Baghdad and Kabul and the Cité-Soleil. As it is, there are only a few of Them who have accepted our rescue operation. So we are embroiled in the tumultuous logic of their universe and must see it through, even if it involves us in occasionally becoming almost as bad as they are. That is what internationalism is all about.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Rattus rattus. posted by Richard SeymourMorbo will destroy you if you don't vote for his Vermin of the Year. Scrutinise the parade of primitive life forms in the post and then select which one you want Morbo to devour with the poll in the sidebar.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
US Army to break strike. posted by Richard SeymourEither show solidarity against the war, or wear a yellow ribbon for the scabs. That's the message of a new report in the Financial Times, which says that the army is being called on to break a strike at a Goodyear plant in Kansas. The company wants to shed unionised jobs and cut future health benefits for workers. The army is "considering measures to force striking workers back to their jobs" because they are facing a potential shortage of tyres for Humvee trucks.
The Bush administration has been very aggressive in dealing with the labour movement, especially since they threatened to use troops against dockworkers in 2002. The administration has been one of the most labour-bashing governments in living memory, blocking strikes in crucial airlines (Forbes magazine and its ilk are always complaining about the strength of airline unions), turning back gains made by workers in the 1990s and devising laws that undermine employer-sponsored healthcare. His administration has overseen sustained cuts to American workers' wages, which - aside from not rising at all from 1973 to 2000 for non-supervisory workers (ie 80% of the working population) - have fallen in real terms for the last six years. The last time real wages sank so dramatically was during the 1980s, and they only recovered the loss in the late 1990s when employment was picking up on the back of a stock market bubble, thus temporarily improving the bargaining power of labour.
However, this strike-breaking is somewhat different. The open motivation is not only to bash labour, but to sustain Bush's murderous war in Iraq. They intend to use the Taft-Hartley Act, which even a right-wing bastard like Harry Truman considered a "slave labor bill" when it was passed, to find some measure to force the workers back into the factories. And if they refuse to buckle? Cops bashing in heads on picket lines, perhaps? The invocation of the Military Commissions Act? I don't know how the American antiwar groups are responding to this, but it seems obvious that this is would be a good time to raise money and run petitions for the strikers. What's the Matter With Kansas?, your man wants to know. It's being attacked by capital, that's what. Bring a bucket load of cash down to the picket line in Kansas, see if anyone's going on about the 'culture wars' then.
We regret that our press release below (“OPT: Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks”) gave many readers the impression that we were criticizing civilians for engaging in nonviolent resistance. This was not our intention. It is not the policy of the organization to criticize non-violent resistance or any other form of peaceful protest, including civilians defending their homes. Rather, our focus is on the behavior of public officials and military commanders because they have responsibilities under international law to protect civilians.
It has also become clear to us that we erred in assessing the main incident described in the press release. We said that the planned IDF attack on the house of a military commander in the Popular Resistance Committee, Muhammadwail Barud, fell within the purview of the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict. We criticized Barud for reportedly urging civilians to assemble near the house in order to prevent the attack, in apparent violation of that law. Our focus was not on the civilians who assembled, their state of mind, or their behavior (such as whether they willingly assembled or not), but on Barud for risking the lives of civilians.
We have since concluded that we were wrong, on the basis of the available evidence, to characterize the IDF’s planned destruction of the house as an act of war. If the planned attack against the house – a three-story building housing three families - was, in fact, an administrative action by the Israeli government aimed at punishing a militant for his alleged activities, the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict would not apply and could not be violated.
An important consideration in this regard is whether the IDF had reason to believe that the house was being used for military purposes at the time of the planned attack. To date, Human Rights Watch has not obtained conclusive evidence as to whether the house was being so used, but eyewitnesses we have been able to speak with, including two journalists on the scene, claim they saw no such evidence. The IDF, moreover, has not responded to our requests to explain what military objective it could have had in targeting not a militant but his home after having ordered it vacated.
We recognize that it is important to view the planned destruction of Barud’s house in light of Israel’s longstanding policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, sharply increased in Gaza since June, of demolishing houses not as legitimate military targets but as a punitive measure. HRW has repeatedly criticized Israel for unlawful demolition of houses.
Never let it be said that the Prime Minister dislikes Arabs or Islam, or even "Islamic fundamentalism". He likes it well enough. He likes Arabs when, like Mubarak, they take the bribes and let American weaponry slide through the Suez free of charge. He likes the "fundamentalists" in the House of Saud alright, because with a subterranean dictatorship that relies on Western mercenaries for survival, you can almost always get what you want. In fact, when it comes to that, he is as politically-correct as you can get - as someone reminded us in the comments boxes the other day, Blair's response to Paxman's litany of Saudi crimes was to remind him that "they have their culture...". No, Prime Minister, they don't. They have our 'culture', for that is a dictatorship that was made in London and Washington. Blair's tolerance for other 'cultures' knows no bounds: he likes the oppressors of women in the London-forged slave state of Kuwait. He even likes the Iranian clerics when they help out with occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. He likes the Syrian Ba'ath when they do his torturing for him. He likes the mutilators in Afghanistan. He can see the good in anyone.
When Blair explicated his cosmopolitan vision for international law in 1999, he was quite serious. There is no hypocrisy as long as you understand the terms, and these aren't particularly complicated. The empire is indeed cosmopolitan, and it can accomodate a great variety of polities and cultures provided they all place themselves at its service and marginalise their populations. When they do not, however, integrate themselves into the ever-expanding empire, they are cast as human rights abusers whose subjects require liberation. By definition, those who ally with the empire support democracy and human rights, and those who do not oppose them.
NATO and the World Trade Organisation were, in Blair's vision, to become the chief instruments of an expanding cosmopolis under American hegemony, particularly in drawing the EU into closer affiliation with the US. The EU was at that time collaborating with the US on a new Generalplan Ost, which in this case involved forcing the FRY to become a US military base. The Balkans as a whole have became part of the EU's eastern empire, as tacitly recognised by the International Commission on the Balkans in 2005, when it stressed that the choice for the EU was enlargement (informal empire with the subsumption of Balkan states under the neoliberal umbrella, with stability pacts and so on) or empire (formal colonisation and continued direct rule). Since ongoing direct rule poses political and fiscal problems for the EU, the attempt is being made to convert this into a therapeutic, 'state-building' process.
Crucially, Blair imagined, an EU with a common currency under a neoliberal economic arrangement, and with those pesky left-right divisions well in the past, would be a better ally for the United States. The economy would flourish on the basis of knowledge-driven accumulation. The World Trade Organisation would hammer out shared arrangements for a new wave of capital accumulation that quiescent Third World leaders would accept. NATO would consolidate a potentially fracturing alliance, prove its military mettle and operate well beyond its traditional boundaries to discipline 'rogue states'. In such a world order, he supposed, Britain in particular would have more leverage. And moderate social-democratic goals, such as reducing carbon emissions and cutting Third World debt, would be available as an added bonus. At any rate, the growth made possibly by renewed neoliberalism would cure all ills - this despite the fact that the neoliberal age has seen far lower global growth rates than before, even with massive new territories, workforces and resources being prised open all over the world.
Well, this plan hit the rocks fairly quickly. Nato was able to 'win' in Yugoslavia, but only because the Russian government persuaded Milosevic not to fight. The worker-led revolt that overthrew Milosevic did issue a government more or less willing to accept neoliberalism, but that regime is having real difficulty in imposing many of its measures. Massive worldwide protests encouraged Third World leaders to block neoliberal reforms at WTO summits, beginning at Seattle. The EU Treaty is dead, partially a result of revived left-wing politics and trade union struggle. A continental radicalism has swept Latin America, and is attempting to turn back the neoliberal tide as well as evict US military bases and form an alternative pole in world politics. Blair's domestic policies, particularly on privatisation and pensions 'reforms', are already facing serious resistance. Nato is fighting in Afghanistan, but not with much luck, or much enthusiasm from member states.
When his liberal American ally was replaced by a clique of hard right crony capitalists, Christian Rightists and Likudniks, Blair took some time, swallowed any disagreements, and staked everything on an alliance with Bush. He had already collaborated with rightist governments across Europe, so it wasn't a stretch for him. And 9/11 provided the mother of all opportunities to get into lockstep with Bush. There followed a rapid, if temporary, victory in Afghanistan, and Blair marched into Iraq apparently fully confident that something similar would happen there. But it did not: the Iraqis inexplicably resisted. And the Palestinians had started to resist Israeli colonisation again. And Hezbollah had kicked the Israelis out of most of southern Lebanon. And then the Israeli military made another attempt on Lebanon, and was again defeated. And then the people of southern Afghanistan began to resist. The attempted coup in Palestine may well kill thousands, but it will not win.
Blair has inflicted a great deal of damage on the world, but his hopes have not materialised. He has done a great deal of service to capital, but they are not satisfied. He has tried to finish off the labour movement and the left, but to no avail. He began as the most popular Prime Minister for decades, and is finishing as the least popular Prime Minister in British history. And now he is touring the ruins, salvaging what he can, trying on various media-grafted halos, greasing palms and uttering meaningless oaths. His vanity, his sense of his place in history, will have to settle for the obsequious apologetics of the BBC, for whom Iraq was, at worst, a 'slip'.
Israel has spent the last five months unleashing missiles, attack helicopters and jet fighters over the densely packed concrete hovels in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army has made numerous deadly incursions, and some 500 people, nearly all civilians, have been killed and 1,600 more wounded. Israel has rounded up hundreds of Palestinians, destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, including its electrical power system and key roads and bridges, carried out huge land confiscations, demolished homes and plunged families into a crisis that has caused widespread poverty and malnutrition.
Civil society itself—and this appears to be part of the Israeli plan—is unraveling. Hamas and Fatah factions battle in the streets, despite a tenuous cease-fire, threatening civil war. And the governing Palestinian movement, Hamas, has said it will boycott early elections called by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, done with the blessing of the West in a bid to toss Hamas out of power. (Remember that Hamas, despite its repugnant politics, was democratically elected.) In recent days armed groups loyal to Abbas have seized Hamas-run ministries in what looks like a coup.
The stark reality of Gaza, however, has failed to penetrate the consciousness of most Americans, who, when they notice the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, prefer to debate the merits of the word “apartheid” in former President Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” It is a sad commentary on the gutlessness of the U.S. press and the timidity of the Democratic opposition that most Americans are not aware of the catastrophic humanitarian crisis they bear so much responsibility in creating. Palestinians are not only dying, their olive trees uprooted, their farmland and homes destroyed and their aquifers taken away from them, but on many days they can’t move because of Israeli “closures” that make basic tasks, like buying food and going to the hospital, nearly impossible. These Palestinians, after decades of repression, cannot return to land from which they were expelled. The 140-plus U.N. votes to censure Israel and two Security Council resolutions—both vetoed by the United States—are blithly ignored. Is it any wonder that the Palestinians, gasping for air, rebel as the walls close in around them, as their children go hungry and as the Israelis turn up the violence?
Call me a goofy optimist if you must, but I do think this an encouraging straw in the wind. Zionism has in the past been a crucial mediation to the right, one of the half-way points in the direction of left-wing capitulation to imperialism. It is possible to see an emerging consensus, developing from the antiwar movement, that is far more critical of Israel. As Israel's utility to the US decreases, that consensus may encroach on the mainstream. Possibly.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Blair firm on early polls posted by ejhEmbattled British Premier Tony Blair is resisting international Arab pressure to submit himself to early polls (our correspondent reports). Following a meeting with the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Mr Blair failed to call for early elections in the Parliamentary Labour Party and refused to accept that he was an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. "My government at the present time is not prepared to be constructive", Mr Blair was quoted as saying, "and until we are prepared to renounce violence we can play no real role in the peace process".
Analysts believe that a fresh mandate may allow Britain to return to the negotiating table provided that a new government is formed more amenable to international opinion. "Your people are suffering," Mr Abbas told Blair. "We don't want anything to stand in the way of helping the British people."
But Mr Blair, whose intransigent policy of refusing to recognise Palestine has alienated many within the international community, is considered unwilling to step down and allow his party to find a more acceptable figurehead, not least given the possibility of investigations into alleged corruption that might follow an end to his rule. "Nobody should have a veto on progress," Mr Blair said. "Apart from me."
Sunday, December 17, 2006
It's good to talk. posted by Richard SeymourNir Rosen, on the new and much hyped blog Iraqslogger, reports a new kind of telemarketing:
A mysterious psychological operations campaign is underway in Iraq, with Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army as its target. In recent days, Baghdad residents report receiving phone calls that caller ID show to be originating from outside Iraq. When the phone is answered, the listener hears a recorded message from an anonymous man speaking formal Arabic. He condemns the Mahdi Army and describes how it destroys Iraqi infrastructure, including electricity. Baghdad residents are afraid to discuss details of the message over phone lines, believing them to be monitored. But an IraqSlogger source tells us the unnerving message left at least one Baghdad woman in tears.
It's targeted at Baghdad residents, mind you. This isn't random digit dialling.
It is a part of the attempt to break the Hamas government, launched with a propaganda campaign to complement the massive cry of "no fair" in the West, then with a European Union policy of enforced starvation. The trouble with Hamas is that they are not guaranteed to more or less comply wiht Israeli policy as the increasingly corrupt Fatah did from 1994 onward, in return for bribes from the 'international community'. Hamas made a big electoral premium out of being incorruptible, and of refusing to compromise with Israel's ongoing diminution of Palestine to a couple of rump territories surrounded by militarised camps ('settlements'). Where Fatah was coopted into running and organising Israel's garrison state for it, Hamas promised it would not. The US and Israel therefore provided huge amounts of funding and support to Fatah, and have been pushing them to refuse a unity government and mount opposition to the Hamas government since it was first elected. Israel has mounted vicious military attacks on Gaza (which it called Operation Summer Rain), claiming to have been prompted either by an ineffectual sprinkle of Qassam rocket fire, or the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit, but effectively punishing the civilian population for its electoral choice. It destroyed a crucial power station, putting out electricity for 1 million Palestinians. It kidnapped the Hamas-led government, and then, following the loss of the 33-day war to Hezbollah, sought to pressure Fatah into forming an emergency government without Hamas. Then, in Operation Autumn Clouds, it continued to attack the civilian population and infrastructure. During these operations, they have used civilians as human shields and shot hundreds dead.
Meanwhile, Olmert has been dangling talks in front of the nose of Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, in return, has called for early elections, which the US has 'backed'. The US has also been training Fatah's footsoldiers in 'anti-terror' methods. Coincidentally, Fatah's men have now mounted a series of attacks, including an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Fatah's security forces have beaten up Hamas supporters, and opened fire on a huge Hamas rally in the West Bank. Israel has kindly legalised its own assassinations policy, thus preparing itself for a crucial role in taking out Palestinian government leaders. For some reason, the Hamas leader thinks that Mahmoud Abbas is looking for a war, and several firefights have broken out between the two organisations.
The so-called 'civil war' is a coup attempt. As far back as October, Fatah leaders were already advertising their preparations to "take action" against Hamas. We are beginning to see some of the fruits of these preparations. The tactic of pursuing a coup in the guise of a civil war is a filthy one, which would - if successful - kill thousands and potentially destroy the indigenous resistance to Zionist colonisation. Yet, it is doubtful that the bulk of Fatah's supporters are happy about such a strategy, and it isn't clear to me that Abbas would benefit from early elections, no matter how much money the US pumped into Fatah campaign.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Criminal II posted by Richard SeymourThe Prime Minister openly thwarts the rule of law in the name of the 'national interest':
A major criminal investigation into alleged corruption by the arms company BAE Systems and its executives was stopped in its tracks yesterday when the prime minister claimed it would endanger Britain's security if the inquiry was allowed to continue.
The remarkable intervention was announced by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, who took the decision to end the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into alleged bribes paid by the company to Saudi officials, after consulting cabinet colleagues.
In recent weeks, BAE and the Saudi embassy had frantically lobbied the government for the long-running investigation to be discontinued, with the company insisting it was poised to lose another lucrative Saudi contract if it was allowed to go on. This came at a time when the SFO appeared to have made a significant breakthrough, with investigators on the brink of accessing key Swiss bank accounts.
However, Lord Goldsmith consulted the prime minister, the defence secretary, foreign secretary, and the intelligence services, and they decided that "the wider public interest" "outweighed the need to maintain the rule of law". Mr Blair said it would be bad for Britain's security if the SFO was allowed to go ahead, according to the statement made in the Lords by Lord Goldsmith. The statement did not elaborate on the nature of the threat.
BAE claimed that it was about to lose out on a third phase of the Al-Yamamah deal, in which the Saudis would buy 72 Typhoon aircraft in a deal worth £6bn. The Saudis had also hinted that they would do a deal with the French instead if the inquiry pushed ahead. A 10-day ultimatum was reportedly issued by the Saudis earlier this month.
The national interest, as defined by New Labour, involves not embarrassing Britain's state-supported arms industry, the Saudi government, and by implication, the British government. With investigators "on the brink" of a crucial discovery, what could Blair possibly be up to his neck in for him to publicly intervene against the "rule of law"?
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Murder in Ipswich posted by Richard SeymourSo, anyway, Dr Infinite throws the London Paper down on the pub table, and the story says the killer may be "losing control". "Oh, d'you think? He's killed five people, for fuck's sake!" Yep, he's about to lose the shackles of civilisation and do something crazy. The misogynistic, prurient bile is not as salient as it once was, but it persists: prostitutes being described seriously as "vice girls" is one instance. And I don't want to be sanctimonious, but some of the contrived 'sick humour' going around (which I'm not about to republish), is another. And this insight into the psychology the killer brings you the expertise of Dr Ian Stephen who says:
"My worry is that his perception of women will change and he will see any woman who's out on the street at night on their own as a prostitute."
Oh, you mean he might start killing real people, then? For fuck's sake. Aside from the sinister implications of that offhand statement, there is the pointmissingness of it. Without getting into the crimmo psychology, the attack on these women isn't just an attack on prostitutes but is an act of violence against women as such. Based on a bit of common sense and what the experts say, it looks as if the decision to target prostitutes reflects a) the choice of an 'acceptable' target for male rage and b) the attempt to discipline femininity, as in Thou Shalt Not.
Salma Yaqoob pointed out a while back on Question Time that the issue of prostitution is fundamentally one about the commodification of women, and the already implicit violence in that process (which is an extension of the logic of the commodification of labour, which is underwritten by the implicit violence of the state). It is a form of sexual slavery, and not only because the vast preponderance of those who get involved start as children, and are usually addicts to boot. Even where the motive is pecuniary, you cannot seriously claim that people working in that trade are free. That would be to take the bourgeois ideology of 'free labour' to an absurd conclusion - reductio ad absurdum, in fact.
The fact that the demand for prostitution is increasing tells us something about the parlous condition of gender relations in this country. The growing number of clubs like Spearmint Rhino opening up across the UK, the 1990s spurt in 'lads mags', the sexualisation of especially young girls in popular culture - all are an expression, through market transactions, of the oppression of women, of the massive, fundamental and daily material disadvantages that women face in this society. It isn't only the 30% pay cut you take for being a woman; it isn't only the specific way in which 'labour flexibility' (the massive growth in part time, low paid, temporary work) and cuts to benefits affect women in particular; it isn't only the huge burden of domestic labour. These do explain in part why women are driven into sexual slavery, and into being objects of fantasy for young male consumers, but they are also expressions of something more fundamental. The social relations between men and women, rooted in a traditional family structure that is under real stress, condition every other relationship between them (between us, not to leave myself out of the picture). The family unit has been the chief way in which the reproduction of labour has been guaranteed under industrial capitalism. The woman's subordinate role in the household and in society has ensured that the exploited male worker can go home from an exhausting, brain-numbing day, and have time to recuperate in a small, controlled environment in which he can consider himself the boss. However, the breakdown of that structure, partially a result of real advances made by women, and partially the result of social atomisation and a disinclination of populations in late capitalist society to sustain these forms of comity, has not come about in a way that frees women. On the contrary, the entry of women into the labour market has, as noted, seen the reproduction of traditional structures of oppression through the market.
This is global. It is emphatically not simply a matter of crazy fundamentalists, although conservative religious doctrine is an enabling factor. Only a short while ago, we had the spectacle of a man shooting up Amish schoolgirls, nominally because of a 20-year-old grudge. It wasn't so long ago that a man in Staten Island engaged in a custody dispute decided not only to kill the spouse with whom he was battling in the courts, but also another women with whom he had fathered a child. Just because. The response of the father of one victim was to decry on national television the encroachment of liberals, the breakdown of Christianity, the anti-family agenda, and all the rest of it. This conservative reaction to murderous women-hatred was to insist that a return to traditional, 'organic' modes of oppression would protect women, which is structurally homologous to how religious conservatives in Afghanistan react when confronted with the rape of women there. And of course imperialism brings no liberation, at the very least because practically every imperialist adventure involves a massive escalation of sexual slavety, often child sex rings, whether in Bosnia or Kosovo or Haiti or elsewhere. The American military is sustained wherever it goes by the deliberate enslavement of women. More fundamentally, it is because US imperialism wants to reproduce and intensify the structures which sustain the oppression of women.
The oppression of women, as I've tried to indicate, illuminates and intersects with every other axis of oppression and exploitation in society. And since prostitution, as an aspect of that oppression, is itself a type of commodified labour, the response should at least in part be to show solidarity with a vulnerable group of workers, to demand that they be protected by the law, not criminalised. It is outrageous that the police are begging for information but have not as yet offered any form of immunity from prosecution to sex workers who come forward. The English Collective of Prostitutes is demanding an amnesty, and we as socialists should support that as a minimum. If you want to catch this bastard, stop criminalising his victims. And more generally, legalise prostitution, recognise fully the unions formed by sex workers, and outlaw Page 3.
I hope that's not too obtuse.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Fifty Shots. posted by Richard SeymourYou have to laugh at the media coverage of the murder of Sean Bell (and the injuring of Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield) by police. There are serious debates going on about whether fifty shots is excessive force or not. I don't recognise the concept of 'excessive force' when you've just shot an innocent man's brains out. Nevertheless, the whole matter now apparently hangs on whether the jury is willing to accept that the cops "reasonably" could have believed that the men they shot at were an immediate threat. Also, there is a miraculous theory known as "contagious shooting": this explains that fifty shots were fired because, well, one shot was fired and everyone else couldn't help but join in the fun. The police have a good sense of rhythm, you know. But then why stop at fifty? And now there's surprise - surprise, mark you - that the police's story seems to be different from that of the victims. Because the police claim, of course, that they only started blasting when the Sean Bell put his foot on the gas and tried to drive off, thus crashing into a police van. Benefield says the spur for accelerating away was the sudden appearance of an undercover cop shooting through the wind screen.
The police have distinguished themselves once again by leaking irrelevant and very probably fictitious claims to the media about the criminal past of the men who were shot. How reassuring to know that it isn't solely a hobby of the British policeman. Aside from that, the police have conducted a number of raids on those who knew the victims in an attempt to prove their guilt. In the course of this, they have managed to pull a gun on a seven year old girl and threatening her with five years in jail. All this because they have to explain fifty shots directed at innocent men to a jury.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
If there is a time to strike hard, now must be it. Hezbollah can't have raised all this furore (alongside Aoun and the communists) for the sake of a few more government posts in the same cabinet. It would be criminal, a complete betrayal of their supporters, to accept such a miserable compromise. The government must be overthrown, the imperialist camp defeated, and the neoliberal policies stopped in their tracks. 2 million people on the streets is more than half the population of Lebanon - that's a revolution in the making. If they squander something like this, they deserve to lose their support.
Not Dead Enough. posted by Richard Seymour
Pinochet is dead, but not dead enough. To see him as simply another vile bastard dictator who has snuffed it is to miss the point. He was crucial, inasmuch as he provided the opportunity for advanced capitalist states to test in the periphery a doctrine that lurked in the margins of political discourse back home. Long before the Arab-Israel war in 1973 and the OPEC crisis, capitalism was showing a serious crisis of profitability. As a result of diminishing returns on investment, the stock markets were slowing down, corporations offered low dividend payouts, interest rates were not much better than inflation - the wealth of the super-rich was being eroded, and a political response was called for.
As the crisis bit, and states went into fiscal crises, a vibrant extra-parliamentary global left pushed mainstream social-democratic parties to pursue the intensification of state regulation of capital (although the Eurocommunists pursued a more openly pro-market approach). If the post-war compromise involved guaranteeing full employment to the working class in exchange for its acquiescence in a the continuation of a precarious capitalism, the compromise could best be prolonged by increasing corporatist management of the economy. In Britain, the Labour Party was elected on the back of a wave of class struggle on its most radical agenda ever, far more radical than its 1945 agenda. Various experiments were attempted with forms of worker management. In the US, a Democratic congress pushed through a raft of laws enshrining new rights for workers and consumers. But, fundamentally, the enemy was not tackled head-on, and the remedies proved inadequate. Stagflation persisted, and in the same year that the Labour Party was bailed out by the IMF, New York went bankrupt. In practise, most social-democratic parties ended up attacking and restraining their own constituencies for pragmatic purposes.
Pinochet's Chile offered a new way of doing things. Following a massive effort of violent coercion, the banning of trade unions, the formation of secret police and mass disappearances, the 'Chicago Boys' were invited by the general to devise radical economic reforms. They privatised public entities, enforced trade liberalisation, and enshrined the right to repatriate profits. They opened up natural resources to be exploited by foreign corporations, with the one exception of the crucial resource of copper. Pinochet could attack the working class with outright violence because he had taken power with the assistance of a US-backed coup after years of CIA destabilisation in which people had been terrorised about the future. But the results of this experiment involved a short-term revival of the Chilean economy and new opportunities for capital accumulation, such that Western state-planners felt confident enough to take it up as their new doctrine.
It was on this basis that Thatcher galvanised consent for her commitment to roll back union power, and it was the same that allowed Paul Volcker in 1979 to notoriously use the fiat of the Federal Reserve to push the rate of interest up to close to 20 per cent, thus deliberately causing a recession not only in the United States but throughout much of the world, and forcing a change in monetary policy. Corresponding political changes facilitated deregulation, privatisation, and the attacks on unions, the catastrophic baby steps in the restoration of capitalist class power. Over the ensuring two decades, the share of the wealth accruing to the top 0.1% in American society trebled.
The experiments with peripheral states for the benefit of the metropolitan ruling classes have not ended either: for a recent example, take the decision to impose a flat tax system on Iraq, a political priority for the Republican right for some time.
Pinochet's central legacy remains in place, and if we want to exorcise his ghost and redeem his victims, the first thing to do is to build the movement internationally to challenge this neoliberal consensus.
Ode to a death. posted by Richard SeymourO Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere
anstimmen und freudenvollere.
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
The "Islamist militiamen" are the Islamic Courts Council who do represent a popular constituency, and do in fact government from Mogadishu. Earlier this year it was reported that, despite the ICC's success in defeating the US-backed warlords back in July, the CIA and US private military 'contractors' (mercenaries) would continue to to support the TFG. Leaked e-mails from one such mercenary outfit, Select Armor, discusses meetings with CIA agents and Abdullahi Yusuf, and remarks that several British mercenary outfits were looking to get involved - one can think of a few who would be well-placed to do so. The e-mails also refer to the "fucks" at the UN, who are nevertheless "on side" on the basic question of supporting the TFG. It certainly is - the UN Security Council only yesterday authorised the use of African troops to support "government forces".
Now, when I say the "government forces" are a collection of warlords, I mean it in roughly the same sense that the current ruling elite of Afghanistan are warlords: military commanders whose main source of revenue is violent extortion, and traffic in people and drugs. The US has, more or less since the collapse of the state led by Siad Barre in 1991, first fought and then relied upon these people to keep the country safe for American investors.
One of the results of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 was the discovery of a treasury trove of documentation about US foreign policy involving the Shah. One of those revelations was the Safari Club, a coalition of states initially directed by Kissinger to coordinate anticommunist interventions in African states. Siad Barre, a Greater Somalia nationalist and a brutal ruler who tended to disappear dissidents into secret prisons, initially tended to orient toward the Soviet Union, but when he tried to invade and annexe the Ogdalen, a region claimed by Ethiopia, Cuban troops directed by the SU repelled his forces. Consequently, the Safari Club offered him the arms that he would need to take the Ogdalen if he would only tear up his treaties with the Soviet Union. Since it was not in the US interests, however, this deal was not followed through, although America supported Barre until he was overthrown in 1991, not least because of the access he allowed US oil corporations.
Today, the equivalent of the old Safari Group in relation to Somalia is the Contact Group created by the State Department earlier this year, composed of America and several EU states. Formally promoting dialogue between the TFG and the ICC, this group is providing illicit military support to the otherwise beleaguered military commanders. If 6,000 Ethiopian troops are now assisting the "government forces", it is because the Contact Group has, through the UNSC given it the green light.
The war is clearly a war between the Somali people, who want a strong, stable and independent central government run by the Islamic Courts, and the "international community" who want the country subordinated to imperialist interests. The impression given by the news coverage of this fighting, which could indeed result in a regional conflagration, is that there are these inscrutable black people, some of them scary Muslims, who are inexplicably fighting one another over some obscure doctrinal disputes, while the West stands helplessly by. It is a chaotic story, in which facts aren't given any coherence. The Observer mentions the UNSC's "controversial" resolution, but displays no awareness of the significance of this, nor does it mention its previous revelations of mercenary involvement. It mentions that US policy could be viewed as "taking sides", but doesn't mention that this is because the US is in fact "taking sides". It mentions that the UNSC policy of supporting African troops to support the TFG is driven by the US, but then goes on to describe such troops as "foreign peacekeepers". The US is acting "controversially", but no one knows why. It supports "peacekeepers" who "take sides" but it is not clear if the US is in fact taking sides, and for what reasons. All is a muddle. Is this incoherence and confusion what liberal hacks mean by their insistence on "nuance"?