Saturday, March 31, 2007

Dahr Jamail on death squads in Iraq posted by Richard Seymour

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Iraq and Rwanda compared. posted by Richard Seymour

Speaking of denial over Iraq, I want to draw your attention to this interview with Les Roberts, in which he discusses recent revelations that the British government considered the Lancet estimate to be an understatement of post-invasion excess deaths when they were trashing it. One theme, which I missed before, is the comparison with deaths in the Rwandan genocide, at which Roberts was present in his role as an epidemiologist. Fordham University's study showed the latter to be ~6-700000, which means that purely in terms of scale (ie not rate), the number of deaths in Iraq are by now much greater.

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Dear Professor Makiya... posted by Richard Seymour

An Iraqi exile has some words for this Uncle Tom. Makiya, of course, recently told the New York Times - amid a dire bleat about how disappointed he is in Iraqis for their failure to live up to the high standards set by the occupation - that to expect one to apologise for having supported this mass slaughter was "Maoist". About Makiya, you must know that he is routinely lionised as, for instance, "an Arab dissident in the manner of Havel or Solzhenitsyn". I take that from George Packer's The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq, but I'm pretty sure Nick Cohen said something similar recently. Packer's book is a prolonged love letter to Makiya and the pro-war Left, whose seductive arguments he claims to have been taken in by. I want to lay some of this on you, as it's a real laugh. Here's Packer upon meeting Makiya in his office, who has declared himself "a universalist" and claimed that he has formed something called Charter 91 (thus practically begging for the comparison with Havel):

"Charter 91 and the Iraqi National Congress, the exiles' political organisation (Makiya was a member of its assembly), seemed unlikely to create the Republic of Tolerance ... The miracles of 1989 and the democratic revolutions of the 1990s were not for Iraq, which belonged to an alien and frightening part of the world where governments and people routinely did terrible things and no light or air ever penetrated."

You see? Because the Arabs are "alien and frightening" and can exist in an exoteric land without light or air, they are not destined to overthrow the dictatorships whom the US has by and large imposed on them - unlike white Europeans. They require shock and awe, proof of which is in Packer's inane, racist perception. He goes on to describe what happened when the State Department's Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs recruited Iraqi exiles to form committees on the post-Saddam administration. Makiya initially declined to participate on the grounds that the State Department was full of "Arabists" who were part of the problem and hated Makiya's friend Chalabi. For Makiya adored Chalabi, having been "drawn" to his "mind" after meeting him in Salahuddin in 1992, while his preferred Pentagon contained neocons who adored democracy. Indeed, what Makiya despised most about Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, was that he was an "appeaser". However, Makiya later participated in the State Department, as a key figure in the Future of Iraq Project's "Democratic Principles Working Group". One State Department official tells Packer that "Makiya did not pay heed to standard protocols for working in committee". Makiya's main complaint is that the diverse group of egos and wideboys in the FOIP would weaken the main ego and wideboy, Ahmad Chalabi. Instead, Makiay, Rend Rahim and Salem Chalabi took over the whole thing and devised a detail blueprint for the "transition from totalitarianism to democracy". Essentially, the plan was to put Ahmad Chalabi in charge of an INC-led vanguard, which would include the two main Kurdish groups and the Iraqi National Accord. Most of the other groups involved, of course, were as unrepresentative as Chalabi's gangsters, but even they were sidelined in the planning process.

Packer also meets an array of pro-war liberals, such as Hitchens, who tells him that he relishes the coming war: "I feel much more like I used to in the Sixties, working with revolutionaries. That's what I'm doing, I'm helping a very desperate underground. That reminds me of my better days quite poignantly", even if it would be a "revolution from above". And after all, "after the dust settles, the only revolution left standing is the American one. Americanisation is the most revolutionary force in the world. There's almost no country where adopting the Americans wouldn't be the most radical thing they could do. I've always been a Paine-ite." Yes - Napoleon was a Paine-ite, too. Off, then, to see Berman, who pleads that "It's extremely hard to judge what the people in the administration really think. On what points are they sincere? On what points are they hypocritical? They haven't allowed us to be able to tell." Aside from wearing sandwich boards, I don't know how else the Bush administration could have told Berman that they don't give two shits about human rights or freedom.

And so back to Makiya, whose wearily familiar tale of apostasy is recounted - he was a supporter of the Fourth International, a member of the PDFLP (I don't know if this is strictly true?), and then became disillusioned by the tactics of some Palestinian groups, by the civil war in Lebanon, by the defeat of the Left in the Iranian revolution. "I could no longer blame it on the United States", he says, as if he was supposed to blame everything on the United States, whatever that would mean. Indeed, Packer tries adumbrating the beliefs of the average Trotskyist, which apparently involves "workers in Israeli factories and kibbutzim" (uh-huh) teaming up wiht the "oppressed Arab masses to throw off the yokes of imperialism, feudalism and capitalism". Yet this caricature is apparently defeated when Makiya realises that another caricature (that one can blame the United States for everything) doesn't hold water. And so begins a "seismic shift" in his thinking. Indeed, when it comes to the Iran-Iraq war, "It wasn't the United States, it was the Iraqis and Iranians who were bleeding themselves to death". Finally, in 1984, he writes "Could it be possible that a Marx today in a Middle Eastern political context is far less of a revolutionary than, say, a Voltaire?" Yes, Voltaire, the friend of 'Enlightened absolutists'. And by 1991, he has come to the view that the sins of the US are those ommission, not commission. Initially, Packer reports, Makiya had urged the "Arabs themselves to repel Saddam's aggression" and notes that "the only other Arab willing to push this line, though for very different reasons, was a Saudi construction tycoon named Osama bin Laden". But then, of course, the American media suddenly found use for Makiya's superficial account of Iraq's dictatorship (ironically funded by money from the Hussein regime paid to Makiya's father), Republic of Fear, in August 1990, before which it had sat gathering dust. So, he becomes a cheerleader for war, and is only saddened when Stormin' Norman doesn't take it all the way to Baghdad and put an American flag in Firdos Square. He goes on to meet Chalabi and the INC bunch, and writes an attack book about Arab intellectuals and their alleged silence in the face of Arab tyranny which Makiya (by then a modern day Havel, or Voltaire, or Solzhenitsyn, take your pick) is sworn to oppose. Packer invites Makiya to say a few words about Edward Said, and is told that the problem is that Said is a relic of 1967, a Palestine-comes-first rejectionist. "You don't ever work to make it better." This, Packer depicts as a bid for "intellectual detachment".

Then, of course, Makiya meets Chalabi and the INC bunch in northern Iraq, and is impressed by Chalabi as the mon "most likely of all those capable of leading Iraq to go in a democratic direction". Chalabi took CIA money to launch coup attempts, failed, and went into business with a right-wing Christian PR man named Francis Brooke, who helps him set up a base in the Republican Right - he meets Perle, Wolfowitz and Cheney, and is introduced to the guys from the AEI, PNAC, the Gingrich Congress, Halliburton and so on. Impressed by these credentials, Makiya remarks: "Iraq has one democrat - Ahmad Chalabi". So that, come 2001, Makiya is already on standby with remarks about the blamefulness of Arabic and Muslim culture, its "sense of victimhood" and so on. It is in that year that the State Department begins recruiting Iraqi exiles, and the scramble for Baghdad's black gold begins. Makiya continues to sigh and huff and maintain that the catastrophe of the occupation was not predictable from the beginning. Iraqis have let him own. "The ideas were fundamentally all there and sound. Ideas are important, yes. But the test was one of character. And here they virtually all failed."

Packer's book finishes with an ambient scene in Makiya's kitchen, with a kettle boiling, and a great deal of wistful regret. Makiya lights up suddenly, and tells Packer, who is apparently enthralled enough to consider it an adequate closer, that "I think it was Ahmad who once said of me that I embody the triumph of hope over experience."

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Intermission posted by Richard Seymour

Click on Image

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Iran and "hostages": image & meaning. posted by Richard Seymour

Some people are never happy. Turns out the Foreign Office, who you might have thought would be delighted to see that the Marines are safe and well, are furious that Iran showed video footage of them eating snacks and confessing to their misdeeds. Clearly, no media outlet in the UK is simply going to look at that footage and go "oh well, that means they're guilty". One rightly assumes that there is more to the image than that, whatever one's thoughts about whether the Brave Boys™ were doing what the MoD says. Every report I've seen puts the word 'confession' in square quotes, or prefixes it with something like 'alleged', which seems entirely sensible. That is, one is capable of decoupling the image from the meaning overlaid by the Iranian state.

There again, there are other images with other kinds of overlaid signification. Take this map, derived from amazing photographic evidence:

The government's version of what took place is handling provided in this narrative. They say the Marines were 3.1 kilometres inside Iraqi waters and that the Iranians changed their story after they were told that their claims as to where their ship was when they carried out the arrest was inside Iraqi waters. So, there's an image and a story. Not much scepticism this time. The Independent calls the Marines "hostages". So does the Telegraph. So, in fact, does the Press Association. As for the right-wing American media? Oh, go and have a look for yourself.

A hostage is a person given or held as security for the fulfillment of certain conditions or terms, promises, etc., by another. No demands, conditions or terms have yet been raised by Iran, to my knowledge. Yet, of course, the use of the term indicates the widespread acceptance of the British government's narrative: if the arrested are "hostages", then clearly there is no sense in which the arrest can have been legitimately made in Iranian waters. (Or perhaps, more insidiuously, the story of Iranian Guilt is such that even if they were in Iranian territory, they have no rights to control over that territory. Their sovereignty is always de facto in question, something that might be compromised at any time by an invasion or air strikes, or the use of terror squads). Yet, as Craig Murray points out, there is a tremendous amount of naivete in the acceptance of the MoD's little map:

The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

But there are two colossal problems.

A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.

Elsewhere, he notes official acceptance of this point:

Before the spin doctors could get to him, Commodore Lambert said:

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they were in Iraqi territorial waters. Equally, the Iranians may well claim that they were in their territorial waters. The extent and definition of territorial waters in this part of the world is very complicated".

See how quickly it can happen? See how eager some people are to simply believe, and how avidly they suspend disbelief? We know the arrested Marines are "hostages" because that's what the Iranians do, because we have this here map, because the government said so.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Imperialism, capitalist & feudal: the case of Philip II posted by Richard Seymour

A few months back, I was defending the Brenner thesis about the transition to capitalism in Europe. Louis Proyect took issue with my citation of Spain as a feudal, rather than capitalist power. Citing ferocious labour discipline that went with the form of hyper-exploitation deployed by the Spanish in the New World, various modes of manufacture in the colonies and Blaut's claims about the relationship between colonial exploitation and the development of capital, Louis defended the outlook of the dependency theorists. My response was that, even if they told in favour of his view, the episodes cited by Louis fell outside the period covered by my claim (actually, Wood's claim) - that is, some centuries after the transition began. Still, that wasn't particularly satisfactory, or not to me.

So, I thought a quick look at Philip II's imperialism and his relationship to the two areas that Brenner considers were capitalist by the late sixteenth century - England and the Dutch Provinces - was called for. (It's one of those posts with references and page numbers again.) It's safe to say that the Spanish Empire ran into serious problems under Philip II, and arguably entered its period of terminal decline shortly before his death. There's a theory offered to explain this, perhaps informed by contemporary political considerations, that Philip II's regime can be characterised - as Bush's is by some opponents - as a "theocon" regime, in which domestic and foreign policy decisions were subordinate to Philip's devout Catholicism. The Spanish Empire under Philip II is described by Geoffrey Parker as one driven by “messianic imperialism”, in which Philip identified his interests with those of God (as interpreted by religious potentates), in which one of his most “cherished dreams” was to Catholicise his dominions, and in which rational calculations of strategic advantage therefore broke upon “rocks of intransigence” supplied by religious conviction. (Parker, 1995; Parker, 1978: 96). Philip, who was made monarch of Portugal (and therefore of its colonies) bearing medallions reading 'Orbis Non Sufficit' (The World Is Not Enough) was therefore a hubristic and irrational ruler. I don't care much for that - while theological considerations possessed their own weight, they were usually subordinate to the concerns of politico-military rule and a distinctly feudal class structure, which is the root and cause of the decline. Of course religion was a powerful animating force, a form of material power embodied in both secular and religious institutions, and also a crucial mode of legitimacy for most European rulers. But while inspection doesn't really support the "theocon" thesis, it does show how the specifically feudal imperatives of growth by territorial expansion, rent, enslavement and taxation, (rather than improved productivity) intersected with religious power.

Dispersed territories, debt, and God
The state of affairs inherited by Philip II when he succeeded Charles V in 1556 was characterised by an expansive empire, which permitted strong export-led growth in the urban textile economy. (Harman, 1999) Spain’s patrimonial possessions in Europe had increased dramatically with the 1512 reorganisation of the Holy Roman Empire and Charles V’s conquests, so that the Habsburg sphere now included Milan, Franche-Comte and the Netherlands, though it was administratively divided and costly (Anderson, 1974: 67-70). From the New World came gold and silver which enriched the mercantile class, while expanding the state’s capacity for war-making. (Braudel, 1992) As the monarch of a Catholic state and son of a Holy Roman Emperor, with an impeccable succession claim and a Castilian background, he was also equipped with powerful modes of legitimacy. (Braudel, 1992: 335-336).

At the same time, he was to confront a number of problems, which included conflict with Pope Paul IV, revolts in the Netherlands, Turkish power, increasing military and economic competition from England and Holland, the challenge of the Reformation which had began to lay tentative roots among Spanish town dwellers, repeated succession crises, and disloyalty in his court. Charles V’s expansionist policies had been paid for with debts of 30 million ducats, a state of affairs that “mortgaged” Philip II’s tax income for the first five years of his rule (Machenrey, 1993: 73-74). And he would face repeated crises of the Treasury, partially as a consequence of his imperial policies, and partially as a result of the means of extraction.

Philip II and the Papacy
Philip had inherited the Peace of Augsburg (1555) signed by his father Charles V and the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant princes in the Holy Roman Empire, which enshrined the principle that state leaders should determine the religion of their subjects: cuius regio, eius religio. This formalised the non-separation of politics and religion. State leaders had religious autonomy, while their subjects did not. (Teschke, 2003: 240-241). Conflicts with states which imposed Protestantism could be unproblematically cast in religious terms, but it was not so simple if the enemy was as Catholic as the Pope. And relations with the papacy were immediately hostile. Pope Paul IV attempted throughout 1556 to launch a war with the Holy Roman Emperor, a Habsburg emperor. He resented Habsburg power on the continent, and wished to see them overstretch themselves in a new war that might lead to their overthrow in Italy. In this conflict he was willing to consider any form of alliance, including with the Turks, while Philip II eventually won in the brief conflict that ensued by occupying Rome and embracing an alliance with apostate England (Ibid). Later, in order to protect ward off French claims to a succession to the English monarchy, Philip would defend Queen Elizabeth from attempts by Rome to excommunicate her, despite the obvious Protestantism of her state (Kamen, 1983: 129-130). This did not portend indifference to the question of English Protestantism, for Philip would go on to oppose English interference in the French civil wars (Ibid), and the spread of Protestantism anywhere could be seen as a threat to the very basis of Habsburg rule. Yet, even after the papal bull of February 25th 1570, in which Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth, Philip II adhered to a friendly or neutral policy with England (Chudoba, 1952: 86). If Philip II was “a good son of the Church”, as G R Elton puts it (Elton, 1963: 269-270), he was at least capable of overriding such considerations given a threat to Spanish power. Further, Philip had hoped for a successful succession bid to the English throne, and he did not therefore seek enmity.

Dutch Revolt
The earliest foreign policy experiences of Philip II were focused on the Mediterranean, where he sought to consolidate his Italian territories and ward off Turkish influence. Subsequently, his attention was drawn to the ferment in the Netherlands, where nobles demanded a relaxation of the Inquisition established at the request of Charles V. Given the risks of rebellion, Philip would, in 1566, grant concessions: this with the blessing of theologians, who argued that to spare the Church the potential evil of insurrection was no disservice to God. Given the indeterminacy of religious texts, practically any gesture of realpolitik could potentially be made acceptable to God, and indeed theological dissension was typically ignored (for example, see Kamen, 1998: 371-374). Only when open insurrection broke out did Spain take action to extirpate the heresy by occupying the Netherlands with 10,000 troops under the duke of Alba, and only with that occupation did serious tension with England begin (Kamen, 1983: 131-132).

Having occupied the Netherlands, Alba was charged with imposing new bishoprics and building up a clerical hierarchy. Geoffrey Parker (1978) explains this in terms of Philip’s “cherished dreams” of Catholicising his dominions, in which the Netherlands formed “one part of a consistent policy”. However, secular benefits also accrued: in imposing this defeat on the Netherlands, Alba was able to drastically increase the rate at which the wealthy provinces were exploited. As Parker points out, the taxes paid by the Netherlands increased from 750,000 ducats in the year of the conquest, 1566-67, to 4.4 million in 1570-71, while the flow of funds from the Castilian treasury to the Netherlands fell from 2 million to 550,000 in the same period (Parker, 1978: 96-97). If this partially and temporarily defunded the process of independent capital accumulation in the Netherlands, it also recouped some of the losses of a 5.5 million ducat annual bill resulting from the occupation of the provinces in preceding years (Machenrey, 1993).

Domestic Affairs: the Inquisition

The categories of ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ in a transnational dynastic states system are potentially anachronistic, for all domains controlled by the Habsburg dynasty were ‘domestic’, while substantial territories within Spain itself could be considered ‘foreign’ at different times, notably Granada until 1492. Even the Inquisition, which Perry Anderson describes as the only unitary ‘Spanish’ institution in this period, extended to the Netherlands, Sardinia, Sicily, Milan, Naples and the colonies. The Spanish Inquisition has the aura of an autocratic war for religious purity that is not justified by the evidence. Yet its promulgation, firstly by Ferdinand and Isabella, was dramatic reversal from past cohabitation. Kamen argues that the notion of a religious-style ‘Crusade’ had been absent from the reconquest of Spain by Christian forces which saw continued coexistence of Jews, Muslims and Christians. When the Inquisition emerged, therefore, it was “a wholly alien institution transplanted onto Castilian soil”. (Kamen, 1985: 1-5).

One aim of the Inquisition was to terminate the multi-religious legacy of Moorish rule and thereby ‘domesticate’ the territories under Spanish governance (Anderson, 1974: 67). It is not unreasonably argued that its role was to effect social control and curtail dissent, “such as he saw spreading over the rest of the world” (Hume, 1934: 78). In what sense, precisely? The ideology involved in the Inquisition was not merely religious, but also racial and class-based. The Inquisition sought to “recruit from the highest circles and the purest blood”. (Kamen, 1985: 145). Purity of blood as a lineal claim was one that the aristocracy could much more easily make than anyone else, since they maintained records of family history. On the other hand, dissent and provocation was equated with impurity, heresy with descent from Jews by Philip II. In this purview, class power, racial domination and religious piety overlapped. (Elliott, 1963: 212-6). Kamen argues that the roots of the Inquisition are in the double danger of economic competition from conversos, and underground heresy. (Kamen, 1998; Kamen, 1985: 18-43). In the face of religious militancy across Europe, often in the form of peasant insurgencies, and the fear of “Protestant cells” at home, the temptation to use the Inquisition to consolidate the regime must have been considerable. (Elliott, 1963: 204, 217-218).

Domestic Affairs: Financial Problems
Philip II’s court declared bankruptcy three times during his rule. In the first instance, in 1557, he disburdened himself of a 7 million ducat debt built up during his father’s wars. In the second instance, 1575, he was once again at war with the Netherlands, and had to default on 15 million ducats. Spain had tried to solve its problems by issuing juros, in which one could purchase a share of national debt, guaranteed by treasure from the New World. But by the 1570s, the costs of war accounted for 75% of that revenue. Further, the flood of Spanish silver through the European continent caused enormous inflation, especially in Spain itself. (Kamen, 1971: 77-78, 107; Machenrey, 1993: 73-4). The aristocracy was particularly vulnerable to inflation as a consequence of its property being in entail. Most forms of income suffered, but particularly seigneurial rents. So that, although the aristocracy would benefit from the wealth of Spanish silver through juros (debt guaranteed by the income from the colonies), it would lose out in other forms of income, thus inhibiting the purchase of further juros to fund more conquest. This would be further eroded when the royal treasury would renege on its debts or make discounts in annuities. (Kamen, 1980: 230-2). I would argue that the difficulty is in the mode of production that inhered in Spain: while in the Netherlands and England, early modern agrarian capitalists were investing in productive improvements, the Spanish aristocracy’s chief form of enterprise was state-led plunder. (Ibid; Teschke, 2003). Indeed, as Kamen (1980) points out, domestic revenues tended to fluctuate with the agricultural cycle rather than increase with improved surplus through intense husbandry.

Spain & the Slave Trade
Slavery is by no means antithetical to capitalism, so very far from it. As Eric Williams argues, the slave trade provided the crucial revenue to fund Britain's later economic growth. However, the empire system set up by the conquistadors under especially Charles V, and perfected by Philip II was a tributary one, based initially on the production of both gold and silver, then increasingly on silver through the second half of the sixteenth century. It was essentially a barbaric form of rent extraction. (Kamen, 1980; Blackburn, 1997:130). Spain became the largest slave power and the most important European colonial power by virtue of Philip's succession in Portugal (backed up by vast armadas and Spain's armies). Portugal's ruling class accepted Philip because he was a powerful conservative monarch who would defend their feudal privileges overseas and at home. Those who colonial traders were in cordial business relations with the Dutch and English feared a powerful Catholic monarch - but Philip II was not, as we have seen, doctrinaire when it came to his loot. The Spanish reassured that segment of the Portugese elite by drastically increasing the trade in African slaves (Blackburn, 1997: 122). Pedro Gomes Reinal, a Portugese merchant, was granted a monopoly over the Spanish trade in 1595 on the basis of providing Spain with an annuity in slaves, at a time when the Castilian treasury was once again entering crisis on account of its perpetual wars of expansion. Philip II's solutions to all of these crises had to be expansion and slavery because the aristocracy could not generate sufficient revenue to fund him.

'Ineptitude', or Capitalist Competition?
To say that Spanish policy in the age of Philip II was designed to support class rule domestically and internationally, to claim that it was severally determined by various structural constraints and discursive regimens, is not to say that the state was well managed. On two particular episodes, there are claims that Philip II was inept at handling his affairs and laid the groundwork for Spanish decline in the seventeenth century. Parker avers that with respect to Philip II in the Netherlands, the policy of “implacable use of military force” had to be abandoned at great cost to the Spanish, allowing the Netherlands to gain trade with Spanish America – in his account “everyone” realised that this had come about due to “Spanish ineptitude”. (Parker, 2001: 94-95). Tenace, meanwhile, claims that the Spanish failure to support the Irish rebellion in 1596 and 1597 prevented a decisive loss for the English, which could well have been their Netherlands. (Tenace, 2003). In the former case, it is by no means clear that another strategy would have pacified the Netherlands, and it is at least arguable that abandoning the war there would have brought the war closer to home. On the other hand, Dutch success at least partially owes itself to a superior system of production. In the latter, Tenace's case is persuasive, yet it raises the question of what success for Philip II in roping England and Ireland into his orbit would have meant. The enormous costs would probably have been paid for by a stupendous levy on the English, defunding capital accumulation and retarding the one independent capitalist power in Europe as it was embarking on maritime growth. Without a capitalist class to speak of in Spain,

The root causes, or such as I have been able to discover, of Philip II’s woes are to be located in the political economy of feudalism, not in excessive attention to religious questions or poor state guidance. The beginning of the end for the Spanish was precisely the essential feudal drive of territorial expansion and conquest, embodied in the barbaric creed, 'Orbis Non Sufficit'.

Anderson, Perry. Lineages of the Absolutist State, London, Verso, (1974)
Blackburn, Robin, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800, Verso, London, (1997)
Braudel, Fernand The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Harper Collins, (1992)
Chudoba, Bodhan, Spain and the Empire: 1519-1643, University of Chicago Press, (1952)
Elliott, J H, Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, Edward Arnold Publishers, London, (1963)
Elton, G R, Reformation Europe: 1517-1559, Fontana Press, (1963)
Harman, Chris, A People’s History of the World, Bookmarks, London, (1999)
Hume, Martin A S, Philip II of Spain, MacMillan & Co Ltd, London, (1934)
Kamen, Henry, The Iron Century: Social Change in Europe, 1550-1660, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, (1971)
Kamen, Henry, Spain in the Later Seventeenth Century, 1665-1700, Longman, London & New York, (1980)
Kamen, Henry, Spain 1469-1714, London and New York, Longman, (1983)
Kamen, Henry, Inquisition and Society in Spain, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, (1985)
Kamen, Henry The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, Yale University Press, New Haven, (1998)
Kamen, Henry, Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763, Harper Collins, (2003)
Machenrey, Richard, Sixteenth Century Europe: Expansion and Conflict, St Martin’s Press, New York, (1993)
Parker, Geoffrey, Philip II, Hutchison of London, (1978)
Parker, Geoffrey, ‘David or Goliath? Philip II and his world in the 1580s’, in Richard L Kagan and Geoffrey Parker (eds), Spain, Europe and the Atlantic World, Cambridge University Press, (1995)
Parker, Geoffrey, Europe in Crisis: 1598-1648, Blackwell, (2001)
Tenace, Edward, ‘A Strategy of Reaction: The Armadas of 1596 and 1597 and the Spanish Struggle for European Hegemony’, English Historical Review, 478, Oxford University Press, (September 2003)
Teschke, Benno The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations, London, Verso, (2003)

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Hung, stabbed, beaten unconscious, electrocuted, deprived of sleep, attacked by dogs, sexually humiliated: not guilty. posted by Richard Seymour

Via Ernie Halfdram, some of the things that a US court admits happened to nine captives from Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the fact that the court admitted that this "horrifying" torture had taken place, the case was dismissed on the grounds that Donald Rumsfeld was the man against whom the case was being pressed. The court ruled that the men did not have US citizenship rights and that Rumsfeld was immune from suits related to actions he took as Defense Secretary. Naturally, this last is disputed by military lawyers, but an American court was never going to put Rumsfeld in the dock for five seconds.

The BBC mentions that none of the tortured men were ever charged with a crime. But, Auntie, what about the ticking clock?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blair "threat" to Sudan. posted by Richard Seymour

The Guardian reports rather hopefully that Blair is pushing for a no-fly zone over Darfur as a preparatory to strikes on the country's military. I quote:

Mr Blair is said by his aides to believe the ethnic cleansing to be a defining moral issue.

"It's very important [President Bashir] doesn't believe he can renege on his agreements. We can't allow the status quo to be locked in after the ethnic cleansing there," a Downing Street source said.

"The prime minister believes in a values-driven foreign policy and believes you have to evenly apply those values to have any credibility. He sees Darfur as a test of the international community's commitment to its own values."

A few things are immediately obvious, and the first is that Mr Blair does not believe you have to "even apply" any "values". I suppose it is part of the derangement of our current affairs that we have to put up with a man who is murdering Iraqis and creating millions of refugees, arming the murderers of Colombians and the ethnic cleansers of Palestinians, supporting the murderers of Chechens, while remaining a staunch protector of the Saudi regime, telling us about "values" he thinks he holds dear. The enforcer of murderous neoliberal programmes will also detain you on the topic of poverty and starvation if you give him long enough, and you'd be a fool to take that seriously either. Secondly, ethnic cleansing is an interesting term for what is happening in Darfur, for if Blair can't quite say 'genocide' as he surely would like to, then that is obviously the next best thing. Yet, as any fule kno, the Khartoum regime is undoubtedly pursuing a vicious counterinsurgency, but this does not have clear ethnic dimensions to it. Thirdly, there is clearly no desire for 'regime change', here: it looks more like a disciplinary operation designed - as is openly admitted - to pave the way for bombing raids. It has the advantage that liberals and centre-left think-tanks like the IPPR have been calling for such measures. However, as Alex De Waal pointed out last week while supporting the principle of a no-fly zone, a bombing campaign would "in reality be a declaration of war on Sudan, with incalculable consequences". He concluded that it would be better to focus on "reconvening talks on Darfur, alongside new attention to salvaging the Naivasha Agreement". Finally, it isn't going to come to anything if the British military leadership doesn't fancy it, as the Ministry of Defense says it doesn't. I don't see that much can remain of Blair's bargaining power within the British state, even for the dearest causes of his heart. Anyway, the MoD could surely point out that the British state has paramilitaries and mercenaries to keep local statesmen in check when that needs to be done.

Another small point of interest. The Guardian goes on to quote the International Crisis Group favouring such a strategy. That group possibly sounds like an authoritative humanitarian monitor of some kind, but in fact it is an outfit of the Brzezinski-Soros wing of the American foreign policy establishment (also includes the former Khmer Rouge apologist, Stephen Solarz), which receives its funding from such companies as Credit Suisse First Boston, JP Morgan, Chevron and BHP Billiton (respectively, an investment bank, a financial services firm, an oil company and a minerals and petrochemicals dealer). ICG therefore represent not only a political alignment, but a network of interests with every reason to wish for local statesmen and rebel movements to be subdued: have to keep that Chad-Cameroon pipeline open, plenty of gold and oil to sustain a massive multi-billion-dollar mining industry in Sudan. I lie, brothers and sisters - it is pure coincidence that from West Africa to the Greater Horn, there are vast deposits of diamonds, gold, uranium, copper, coltan, nickel and - of course - gas, oil and timber. Western corporations only wish to move Beyond Petroleum, advance the United Colours of Human Rights, and keep women's liberation Coming a Long Way, Baby. Yes, the capitalist unit represents more of a 'value' system than anything else. And western states, angelic and conscientious as they always are, have probably been reluctant to acknowledge the great riches that are at stake in these conflicts. You can imagine Bush, Blair and Chirac agonising over how to avoid getting involved in such impure matters, counselling one another that they must at all costs to themselves avoid cost to others, and certainly keep their hands free of any petty trades that happen to be going on - whether it is arms and mercenaries from the Western states, or minerals and fossils from Africa.

Incidentally, while we're on the topic of pure hearts and beautiful souls, has anyone noticed a campaign to sign up an international brigade to go and support the JEM rebels? Can't something be done about it? Could we not see eager young volunteers of Enlightened liberalism lining up to fight for the shura, as would be so fitting?

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Areopagatica posted by Richard Seymour

The noble crafte of the Bloggyre: of modern Sexbys, Paines, Cobbetts and - oh dear me, yes - Bauers.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

The Germans Are Coming: Two Myths About the Kaiserreich. posted by Richard Seymour

Some while back in the comments boxes, there was some controversy about bourgeois ideological tropes about 'German Guilt', in which we are to count our blessings for the British Empire because (so Niall Ferguson's counterfactuals tell us) the alternative was either a terrible Russian Empire, or a terrible German one. There are two myths about Imperial Germany, Germany before 1918, that sustain this trope, and I address them here in two main parts (with references and page numbers where appropriate - it's that kind of post). The first myth is what is known as 'Burgfrieden', variously and inaccurately translated in English, which refers to the idea that World War One created a "Spirit of 1914" among Germans, who were altogether rather chipper about the idea of blasting the French and the Russians to bits, and consequently 'united' in a truce with any aspect of Wilhelmine Germany that they might otherwise have disliked. The second is what is known as 'Sonderweg', which roughly means 'special path' - it is the idea that Germany followed an unusual, deviant course in world history, that led to the Nazis. The political imperatives behind both myths will become clear, I hope: and they have not ceased to function simply because we are in a new century, and a new millenium.

On the face of it, Kaiser Wilhelm’s declaration was decisive and greeted with overwhelming if not unanimous support: “I recognise no more parties: I know only Germans.” It crystallised a sense of national unity that “led to the political truce of Burgfrieden”. (Seligman & McLean, 2000: 158). Again, war was initially greeted with “national enthusiasm”, “considerable jubilation”. “Even a considerable number of socialists at least formally supported the war effort.” (Fulbrook, 1991: 151) Further, “popular support for the war was not universal, but the relatively few voices raised against war were drowned by a chorus of approval in the popular press, in the churches and even among organised labour”. So much for the SPD, who were “as German as their class enemies”, in fact “more assimilated – and patriotic – than they dared to admit.” And those who were not had to think on the possibility of alienating the mass of the members who believed conflict was “forced” on Germany. The satirical magazine Simplicissimus reflected the patriotic line, as did the left-liberal Hamburger Fremdenblatt: when the parties accepted Burgfrieden (“the truce of the fortress”), so did the press. (Winter, 1988: 164-6). James Joll writes of a “mood of 1914” that represented a “widespread revolt against the liberal values of peace and rational solutions of all problems”. (Joll, 1984: 184).

‘Natonal unity’ is a nebulous concept and ‘a sense of national unity’ is potentially even more obscure, but even so, there are some clear dimensions of it put forward here: support for the war from internal antagonists, specifically the SPD and labour movement; overwhelming popular enthusiasm; the subsumption of parties under the royal military command; the overwhelming support of the national press. I will have issue with the ‘Burgfrieden thesis’. There is something to it, but I argue the following: that the images we have of popular enthusiasm are not completely accurate; that the Left’s accommodation was not total or always enthusiastic, and was forced upon it to a substantial degree; that the fissures in German politics and society were rapidly exposed to and intensified in the course of war; and that the often futile propaganda efforts and strict martial law were necessary to overcome those fissures, and were then only partially successfully in doing so. Indeed, arguably the decision to go to war was at least in part animated by an effort to finally obliterate internal schism – instead, it led to revolution. I will conclude with an attempt to explain what I take to be the crucial factor in the creation of the Burgfrieden myth: the social-democratic acquiescence.

July Crisis and August Drumbeat I: Image
Even Rosa Luxemburg’s Junius Pamphlet speaks of “euphoria” and “patriotic noise in the streets” if only to advert to its absence by 1915. (Luxemburg, 2003). Large rallies spoke of a national euphoria. Hitler attended one such rally and recalled how he was “carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment” and thanked the heavens for being permitted to “live in such a time”. (Hitler, 2002). Images are by nature polyvalent, but those which have been preserved tend to come from the pliant press of the time, and were therefore already overlaid with nationalist dramaturgy. The spectacle is a social relation mediated by images: these images reflected the decisive control taken by the non-parliamentary Imperial leadership from July 1914. Verhey argues that this has presented us with a myth of “the spirit of 1914” that occludes a much more fundamental picture of deep schism. In the first instance, because the crowds in these images embodied a number of different attitudes: not only “euphoria” or “jubilation” but fear, curiosity, excitement at removal from the humdrum and the mundane, and so on. Further, they were substantially outnumbered by larger antiwar rallies organised by socialists, which were censored from the national press. Finally, those most supportive of war tended to be the bourgeois elements, while those most critical of it tended to be agrarian dwellers and the working class: class and political tensions were at best temporarily suppressed. (Verhey, 2000: 72-113). David Blackbourn argues that “the patriotic demonstrations of late July involved relatively small groups, with students and young salesmen prominent” (Harman, 1999: 406).

July Crisis and August Drumbeat II: ‘Augusterlebnis’

Still, though, the crowds of war supporters were real enough. What is more, even if they weren’t, there is ample evidence of broad support for the war in decisive layers. Left opinion was in flux, moreover. As a friendly critic of Verhey points out, “popular support for the government's policy grew as the central issue changed from an endorsement of the Austrian ultimatum against Serbia to a desire to prevent the mobilization of the Russian army for an attack on Germany”. (Hamerow, 2001: 129). And while activists staged antiwar demonstrations, the leadership of the SPD had assured Chancellor Hollweg that they would not oppose preparations for war. (Joll, 1984: 117). All the parties, as Verhey (2000) points out, voted for war credits on 4th August 1914, and the parliamentary Social Democrats (SPD) voted unanimously for them. (Joll, 1984: 117). In the same month, socialist deputies would attend the Kaiser’s reception for the first time. (Joll, 1984: 184). Aside from the Social Democrats, every remaining party was fully signed up to the war effort. By November 1914, the only division was over whether the aims of the war should be annexationist and seek “world leadership”, as per the preferences of the Alldeutscher Verband, the Free Conservatives, the Farmers League, the National Liberals, the German Conservatives and the Bund der Industriellen; or whether it should instead seek indemnities from France, as well as her colonies and possibly the imposition of a customs union that would place Germany at the centre of a “financial world economy” as the advocated by the liberal Walter Rathenau, and supported by the left-liberal Progressive People’s Party, the Hansa League, a few left National Liberals, and the right-wing of social democracy. (Fischer, 1975: 516-523).

If the parties united, did it express a national collective will? The early military mobilisation, producing “a rush to join the armed forces”, appears to tell in its favour. The German army grew from an enormous 800,000 to 3 million after August’s rallies. By January 1915, the full might of the Germany army included 4,357,934 men. (Bessel, 2000: 438). Yet, this by no means speaks of unanimity or even unity in its restricted sense. In the first instance, this enthusiasm drew on already existing reservoirs of mass support for the military in the form of the Navy League, Army League, various paramilitary youth organisations Prussian veterans’ associations which claimed 1.5 million members, and the kyffhauserbund, which had approximately 2.5 million members. All told, the military had “a grip” on at least five million adult Germans before 1914, and most of these organisations were avowedly anti-socialist in drift. (Wehler, 1985: 163). This is not to say that none of the socialist working class evinced such enthusiasm, but that the already strong bedrock that the military had acquired was sufficient to account for a great deal of it. Further, as we will now see, it was precisely the scale of the mobilisation that stored up problems for the Reich.

War, Crisis and Discipline
The earliest impact of mobilisation was a sharp spike in unemployment: among unionised workers, unemployment in June 1914 had been 2.5%. By August 1914, it was 22.4%. Cities were emptied out rapidly, and many factories lost so much of their workforce that they had to close. (Bessel, 2000: 440). Soon, moreover, there were food shortages caused by an Allied blockade, and compounded by the military high command’s insistence that the military’s food needs be prioritised. Prior to the war, 19% of foods had been imported. An unfettered free market in food would now lead to undersupply and lead to rapid inflation – even so attempts to politically manage the food supply were hampered by disarticulated local regimens, so that when local authorities imposed price caps, traders simply diverted their food to those areas without caps. (Offer, 2000: 175-6; Winter, 1988: 178). If the traders had a sense of ‘national unity’, they had not lost their sense of the provincial. Prices soared, and this produced food riots by 1915 (Fulbrook, 1991: 152). At the same time as the elderly and those on fixed incomes suffered from , profits rose dramatically in the war supply industries, and the benefits for the rich were “not hidden”, with holiday resorts and spas booming in trade. In ever year of the war, real wages for all employees dropped 10%. (Winter, 1988: 178).

Aside from growing class polarisation, patriotism was being sapped: by February 1916, the Saxon Interior Ministry was being told of the “frequently heard wish that the war will soon come to an end”. (Bessel, 2000: 447). The efforts by the German state to overcome this problem, particularly after the disastrous harvest of 1916, foundered. On the one hand, the Hindenburg Programme compelled a massive civilian mobilisation programme to raise productivity, to little effect. (Bessel, 2000: 444-5) On the other, a propaganda effort aimed at keeping the country supportive of the war effort and stimulating financial support for the government through the purchase of war bonds was “never geared to the language of the population”. Conflicts between the civilian and military authorities disrupted the attempts at a smooth propaganda flow, so that the army had to produce its own press service, which ensured that propaganda was issued in the register of a Prussian officer, usually emphasising the themes of Pflicht (duty) and Opfer (sacrifice). (Winter, 1988: 185; Bessel, 2000: 449). In dealing with the stressful effects of war, moreover, the state ensured that the medical establishment did not become patients’ allies: rather, beholden to Social Darwinism, they frequently saw their role as weeding out the “malingerers” and “moral weaklings”, such that enmity was embedded in therapeutic as well as disciplinary practises. (Eckhart, 2000: 134-42). Despite what Bessel calls the “initial success of psychological mobilisation”, the demoralisation by 1917 was such that soldiers were urging loved ones not to subscribe to the war loans. The Landrat in Rudesheim noted in November 1917 that the poor response demonstrated that patriotic feeling was “declining more and more”. (Bessel, 2000: 447-50).

Strikes in all the war-making powers increased drastically in 1917, but increased most of all in Germany. They were often pecuniary, rather than political in motivation, but since the state had imposed wartime controls over the economy, it ensured the politicisation of economic struggles. There was also an increasing profile for women and children in the strikes and, lacking the discipline of the shop floor that older men tended to acquire, they were more militant. (Winter, 1988: 192-6). A faction of the SPD broke away to form the USPD (Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany), and it would go on to take part in political strikes against the war and demands for fundamental social change. In November 1918, the SPD were to be the principle beneficiaries of discontent, as a new parliamentary system was created with an advanced welfare state and progressive citizenship rights. (Fulbrook, 1991: 152-5). So far from creating “a sense of national unity”, therefore, the war at first gave the German state the ability to suppress or override differences, and later, it saw the monarchy consumed by them. As Winter argues, the war did not create this political struggle, but it did open up a new phase in it. (Winter, 1988: 196).

The Conundrum of the Social Democrats
It made sense for the Social Democrats in supporting the war to emphasise continuity with their principles, although presumably not the tradition of left-wing support for empire that led Kautsky to say in 1882 that “in so far as they cannot be assimilated by modern culture, the wild peoples will have to disappear from the surface of the earth” (Koch, 1987). On the contrary, August Bebel had argued that they had a class interest in war with Russia, asserting that “the German fatherland” belonged to the masses more than it did anyone else, and therefore if Russia “the champion of terror and barbarism” were to attack Germany, the SPD cadre would resist. They continued to make this case after the August 4th vote. (Joll, 1984: 180-1; Verhey, 166-169). While anti-militarists demanded a general strike against imperialism, the leadership of the SPD declared that “General strike is general nonsense”. (Joll, 1984: 180).

Yet, however it was put, the acquiescence of the Social Democrats was a stunning rapprochement with a political elite that had fought pitch legal and political battles against it (Hall, 1974), and considered it such a dangerous enemy that it prepared military offensives against them (Wehler, 1984: 157-8). If we want to understand a decisive element in the creation of the myth of ‘Burgfrieden’, we need to answer some questions. As Fischer (1975) points out, Kautsky’s study of the documents after the war concluded that the country had been tricked, and that the German ruling class was responsible for its beginning. Were the internal foes of Wilhelmine Germany so easily fooled? And why did they continue to support the war despite its savagery and the terrible class-polarising effects? On the one hand, there was state-repression to consider: it was only when the Chancellor was assured by socialist leaders of their loyalty that he persuaded army leaders not to arrest the socialists. (Joll, 1984: 117).

Secondly, there was the rightward drift of a substantial segment of the Social Democratic Party leadership, with great prominence for Fabian-influenced reformists like Bernstein. The 1907 elections in particular had split the party on the colonial question, as Chancellor Bulow had managed to create a conservative coalition, drawing in sections of the progressive middle classes over support for the idea of Germany as a “world power”. The dramatic losses for the SPD pushed Kautsky radically to the left, while the revisionists were convinced that there was a “reactionary mass” that could not be persuaded of a radical anti-imperialist stance. At the Stuttgart Conference of European socialists in the same year, it became clear that the revisionists were the strongest faction in the SPD. Further, the Imperial government had proved willing to assist August Bebel in bringing the Social Democrats into line in accordance with the War Minister’s injunction in December 2007. (Koch, 1987: 526; Schorske, 1983: 59-108). Subsequently, while the conservative coalition broke down in 1909 over the intransigence of agrarian conservatives over agrarian conservative opposition to fiscal reform, the SPD saw their best results for years in 1912 and were to prove instrumental in voting for tax increases to pay for military build-up in 1913. The party leadership now believed it could achieve reforms by cooperating with the war effort. (Eley, 1991: 254; Berghahn, 1994: 292; Joll, 1984: 117). Kautsky’s response to the 1907 elections had been to wonder if the state had finally found the answer to socialism in “the fascinating effect of the colonial state of the future”. Arguably, it would be the integration of a section of social democracy into the imperial project that was central in producing a temporary fascination. (Schorske, 1983: 63).


Of all master-narratives, the ‘Sonderweg’ thesis is particularly enigmatic. The problem it addresses is simple, on the face of it: “Why did Germany – unlike comparable countries in the West and North – turn to fascist and/or totalitarian perversion?” (Kocka, 1999: 41). Yet that, aside from already curtailing the discussion in ways Kocka indicates – it omits the positive ‘Sonderweg’ elaborated by historians like von Treitschke – this question contains a multitude of sins. We shall leave aside the polysemic nature of ‘totalitarianism’ and focus on the question’s other dimensions. In what sense is fascism a ‘perversion’? What does it pervert? In what ways is Germany “comparable” to other countries in the West and the North but not, say, those of southern Europe? As for Germany – von Treitschke knew what it was when he coined the ‘Sonderweg’ (Sheehan, 1981: 2): do we have such knowledge in ways that would make the discussion of a special path, perversion or anomaly meaningful? I shall argue that the ‘Sonderweg’ functions less as a legitimate heuristic than as an ideological trope which validates those states that Germany is compared to. It contains implicit “normative assumptions” so that “sometimes explicitly and often implicitly, it was ‘western’ and most particularly Anglo-American and French developments that were taken as a yardstick against which German history was measured and found wanting”. (Eley & Blackbourn, 1984: 10).

The Case for the ‘Sonderweg’

On the principle that it is pointless to address a mistake no one is likely to make, I will follow Kocka in focusing on the critical ‘Sonderweg’. The appeal of the ‘Sonderweg’ is clear enough: the experience of Nazism was unique and unprecedented, and countless superlatives could be expended on this point. The usual array of short-term explanatory factors – defeat in World War One, the harshness of terms of Versaille, the inflation and depression – don’t seem satisfactory. What is more, although I have obliquely indicated that fascism did occur in other states, it nowhere took the “extreme, racist and destructive form” that it did in Germany. Nowhere did parliamentary democracy implode with such speed even given prevailing conditions that weren’t much better. (Evans, 1987: 94) The ‘Sonderweg’ is therefore an attempt at a long-term structural explanation. It locates the problem as follows: the Kaiserreich’s system of government blocked parliamentarisation and created a rigid and fragmented party system; it encouraged the long-term development of illiberal, anti-pluralistic trends; pre-industrial elites such as the Junkers retained substantial influence and power; the Bismarck’s creation of Germany from ‘Blut und Eisen’ gave the officer corps exaggerated weight in German society. (Kocka, 1999: 42).

Another consistent theme is the weakness of the national bourgeoisie. Weber had suggested that the German bourgeoisie was “feudalised” and relatively unbourgeois, while Talcott Parsons argued that feudalism persisted in some forms. Parsons also argued that the strength of the bureaucratic tradition in Germany was a factor, as was the bourgeoisie’s fondness for titles. Ralf Dahrendorf favourably cited Veblen’s thesis that the bourgeoisie had internalised aristocratic values. Others argue that the German bourgeoisie had its chance to subordinate the military to parliament in 1848 and 1870, and thus create a liberal state, but failed. The notion is, suffice to say, ubiquitous. (Evans, 1987: 94-6). There are important elements of truth in this, and to the extent that most of the officer class was composed of nobility right until 1914 (Joll, 1984), the enduring strength of the “pre-industrial elites” is intimately connected with the strength of martial traditions, whose social weight is attested to by the variety of mass pro-military associations that by 1914 had the support of approximately 5 million German adults (Wehler, 1985: 163). What is more, the conditions of its emergence as a nation-state involved it in the massive state-led construction of railroads and ships, which contributed to the emergence of a strong bureaucratic state and an efficient civil service (Beaud, 2002: chapter four; Kocka, 1999: 46).

Although none of the problems faced by the German state were necessarily unique, the confluence of three issues was: specifically, the formation of the nation state, the constitutional question, and the social question. The circumstances under which the Kaiserreich emerged meant that it faced a special problem with the growing strength of the working class which, given the narrowness of bourgeois rule in parliament produced a virulently illiberal tradition. Despite anti-socialist laws in Germany, the social democrats’ clandestine action had started to pay off by 1884, with them receiving some 550,000 votes. Even when the anti-socialist laws were relaxed in 1890, the state continued to fight a legal battle against the social-democrats, and the military elite continued to see them as the most pressing threat to German security, planning urban counter-insurgency operations against them. Indeed, the imperial tradition was seen as an excellent counterweight to the socialist challenge. (Kocka, 1999: 45; Beaud, 2002: chapter four; Hall, 1974; Wehler, 1985: 157-8). When the social democrats gained in strength, at the turn of the century, Chancellor Bulow sought to undercut them by building a conservative alliance based on a strong colonial future – but even this temporarily successful coalition had fragmented by 1909 on account of the intransigent of “pre-industrial elites”, and the social democrats were resurgent in 1912. (Eley, 1991: 254; Schorske, 1983: 59-108). So, while the working class expanded and the socialist challenge advanced, and the aristrocracy retained substantial social weight, the bourgeoisie modelled German society much less than it did in France, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands. (Kocka, 1999: 46). This and the weakness of Germany’s representative institutions (for example, the restricted suffrage in Prussia) would appear to give substantial empirical weight to a thesis whose explanatory appeal is clear. A ‘feudalised’ elite in bitter combat with a militant working class, with impoverished liberal traditions – such a society exposed to such crises as the German state was might easily experience Nazism.

Kocka, a critical defender of the ‘Sonderweg’ thesis, allows the following problems: it establishes an unwarranted “normal path” (this is the Blackbourn and Eley criticism), and if one doubts the superiority of the West, the thesis loses its attractiveness; aristocratic influence on Germany society was, on the most recent research, no greater in late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century Germany than in many other European societies – indeed, it was the rule rather than exception that the aristocracy governed alongside the bourgeoisie; the pre-modernism of the Kaiserreich is exaggerated, since the Reich was full of modern dynamism with respect to science, scholarship and the arts; it has limited explanatory power beyond its “comparative core”; and the sketch of the foil can so easily be idealised, stylised, distorted etc. Yet, for all this, Kocka argues that there remain strong empirical claims for the model, and its weakness can be avoided with a little care. (Kocka, 1999: 44-9; Kocka, 1988: 9; Eley & Blackbourn, 1984: 13-14). It can explain Germany’s “totalitarian perversion” provided scrupulous comparisons are made with societies in which similar conditions obtained. Furthermore, while notions of Western superiority are disreputable, Kocka maintains that from a point of view of fascism versus liberal democracy, the West was superior. He concludes that “the structures and processes identified by the Sonderweg thesis did indeed facilitate the collapse of Weimar and, eventually, the victorious rise of Nazism”. (Kocka, 1988: 11).

Eley and Blackbourn accept that such comparisons can be made, provided “they work, illuminate, turn up new questions”. However, other comparisons - with Italy, Belgium, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe – might also be illuminating. (Eley & Blackbourn, 1984: 11). Not only that, but there remains the question of how far back the special path extends. Richard Evans, by no means a supporter of ‘Sonderweg’, argues that aspects of the Nazi dictatorship have definite historical precedents – the Prussian military tradition goes back to the seventeenth century, while the ‘great man’ tradition embodied by Hitler has its precedents in Bismarck and Wilhelm. (Evans, 2003: 8; Evans, 1987, 57). Another prominent historian held that German’s nationhood was stoked up from the dying embers of the Thirty Year War by Frederick the Great Elector (Schevill, 1947). As Eley & Blackbourn point out, one can go further back and posit a direct line from Luther to Hitler. (Eley & Blackbourn, 1984: 39). There is a point at which such claims become either underwhelmingly empirical or underwhelmingly metaphysical, either focusing on narrow and tenuous connections or on sweeping mythopoeic narratives.

There are continuities to be sure, but some of them were shared by the states traditionally designated as comparable in the Sonderweg thesis: genocide, racial domination, the promotion of eugenics and the attempt to sidetrack the growing working class challenge with the creation of an imperial ‘frontier’ were all mirrored in the United States (Jenkins, 2002). France and Britain were not fundamentally different to Germany in their approach to the colonies. Bismarck was rejecting proposals to set up colonies throughout the 1870s, and tried initially to avoid direct responsibility for territory – what Bismarck called the “French system” – relying on a tobacco merchant acquiring what would become German South-West Africa on its behalf. (Koskenniemi, 2004: chapter 2). Germany may have represented a ‘totalitarian perversion’ but, as Domenico Losurdo points out, that was a name the Nazis also used for their opponents. Indeed, in its early variants, the ‘totalitarianism’ thesis specifically impugned British imperialism. (Losurdo, 2004: 28). If Germany’s ‘path’ was a ‘perversion’ on account of its unprecedented brutality and colossal waste of life, then logically every other ‘path’ that was unsurpassed before being surpassed by the Nazi period also represented a ‘perversion’, and there are no shortage of comparable monstrosities. One is left to wonder who is normal. As Alan Confino writes, by creating an ideal-type of modernity, the ‘Sonderweg’ thesis says that German history is wrong, a sequence of errors. (Confino, 1997: 5-6). Yet there would seem to be no solid basis for insisting on France, England or America as embodying a ‘norm’ and therefore no point to the centrality of ‘Sonderweg’ in explaining Germany’s past. Eley and Blackbourn were right to decentre it.

Further, in what sense are these continuities intimately connected with something called ‘Germany’? As Sheehan writes, if Germany didn’t exist as a coherent entity either in terms of language, politics, or physical boundaries in the eighteenth century, the notion of a single German culture isn’t sensible. It is an abstraction, whether it is supposed to apply to the whole of the German-speaking territories or to that part of them later incorporated into the Bismarckian state. Further, while one can speak of German state-builders and their supporters, a narrative which omits opponents and those indifferent to German nationalism, not to mention the millions with ties to German social, cultural, economic and political life but were excluded from the Bismarckian state, does violence to the facts. (Sheehan, 1981: 6-22).

The charge of Germany’s perversion is rooted in the exigencies of war, and as such comes overlaid with political agendas. Allied wartime propaganda described the reactionary reflux in Germany as part of its “national character”, while the First World War saw ample references to Germany’s uniquely feudal social arrangements from such figures as Churchill and Northcliffe. (Evans, 1987: 94-5). In its political uses, the ‘Sonderweg’ thesis resembles the ‘totalitarianism’ thesis, except that where ‘totalitarianism’ points to similarities in different states, the whole point of ‘Sonderweg’ is to accentuate difference. It can be seen as a convenient antidote to the universalising marxist critique which held that capitalism was generally responsible for the depravity of fascism, and therefore a friendly accompaniment to the Americans on the Rhine. Yet, if we must single out German society as unique, it was precisely distinguished by the acute nature of its class confrontation, which consumed the society’s rulers. And it was not pre-capitalist privilege being conserved by the imperial state: even the agrarian aristocratic elites were pre-industrial, not precapitalist. (Kolchin, 1994). What is striking about the German state in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century is not some putative backwardness or oddity: it is the alacrity with which it picked up European traditions.


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Kocka, Jurgen, ‘German History Before Hitler: the Debate about the German Sonderweg’, Journal of Contemporary History, 23 (1988) 3-16

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Koskenniemi, Martti, The Gentle Civiliser of Nations: The Rise of International Law 1871-1960, Cambridge University Press, (2004)

Losurdo, Domenico 'Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism', Historical Materialism, 12:2, (2004)

Schevill, Ferdinand, The Great Elector, University of Chicago Press, (1947)

Schorske, Carle E, German Social Democracy 1905-1015: The Development of the Great Schism, Harvard University Press, (1983)

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Wehler, Hans-Ulrich, The German Empire, 1871-1918, Berg Publishers, Leamington Spa/Dover, New Hampshire, (1985)

Berghan, Volker R, Imperial Germany: Economy, Society, Culture and Politics, 1871-1914, Berghahn Books, Providence & Oxford, (1994)

Bessel, Richard, ‘Mobilising Germany for War’ in Forster, Stig & Chickering, Roger (eds), Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilisation on the Western Front, 1914-1918, Cambridge University Press & German Historical Institute, Washington DC, (2000)

Eckart, Wolfgang U, ‘The Most Extensive Experiment that the Imagination Can Conceive: War, Emotional Stress, and German Medicine, 1914-1918, in Forster, Stig & Chickering, Roger (eds), Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilisation on the Western Front, 1914-1918, Cambridge University Press & German Historical Institute, Washington DC, (2000)

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Fischer, Fritz, War of Illusions: German Policies from 1911 to 1914, Chatto and Windus, London (1975)

Fulbrook, Mary, A Concise History of Germany, Cambridge University Press, (1991)

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Schorske, Carle E, German Social Democracy 1905-1015: The Development of the Great Schism, Harvard University Press, (1983)

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Ministry of Defense: Lancet survey "robust". posted by Richard Seymour

The Ministry of Defense's top scientific adviser told the government not to diss the Lancet survey, saying that its methods were "close to best practice" and the study design was "robust". The government was asked to explain how they accepted the methodology but publicly rubbished the findings, and said:

"The methodology has been used in other conflict situations, notably the Democratic republic of Congo.

"However, the Lancet figures are much higher than statistics from other sources, which only goes to show how estimates can vary enormously according to the method of collection.

"There is considerable debate amongst the scientific community over the accuracy of the figures."

That's some heavily fortified bullshit. On the one hand, of course different collection methods cause various results: that is one of the points addressed and repeatedly made in the survey by Roberts et al. On the other hand, the idea of "considerable debate" over the accuracy of the findings is almost entirely contrived. A number of interested parties have done so, referring to something called 'Main Street Bias'. The BBC reports:

Some scientists have subsequently challenged the validity of the Lancet study. Questions have been asked about the survey techniques and the possibility of "mainstreet bias".

Dr Michael Spagat of Royal Holloway London University says that most of those questioned lived on main streets which are more likely to suffer from car bombs: "It would appear they were only able to sample a small sliver of the country," he said.

Dr Spagat has previously conducted research with Iraq Body Count, an NGO that counts deaths on the basis of media reports and which has produced estimates far lower than those published in the Lancet.

The Beeb missed a trick here. It isn't only that Dr Spagat, and a number of other critics, are associated with IBC - a much more conservative body count based on a passive assessment of media reports. It is that Spagat is an outright apologist for the Colombian government, whose work is funded by arms manufacturers

Relatedly, Ernie Halfdram has an interesting post clarifying some of the figures.

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We're Not Worthy: two cheers for Adam Curtis posted by Richard Seymour

Adam Curtis's documentary 'The Trap' is over now, but you will undoubtedly soon find all three installments on Video Google or Youtube or some such. This post isn't a review, but I can't suppress a few criticisms. In the last episode, he has returned to the themes of The Power of Nightmares, and recapitulated the weaknesses thereof and added some howling errors to boot.

In particular, he gives the neocons far too much importance, and takes them at their word as 'democratic revolutionaries' opposed to US government support for militaristic, torturing regimes. There is no mention of Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a revered neocon who explicitly argued in favour of supporting such regimes. Huntington is featured rather bizarrely as a sort of neoconservative despite his avowed anti-universalism and with no mention of his support for tyranny in South Africa and Palestine. Michael Ledeen is taken far too seriously, full stop - never mind his alleged connections to the Italian far right, it is simply doubtful that anyone in Washington considers this moron a font of policy wisdom. In pursuing the limits of this capitalist notion of freedom, (although Curtis doesn't frame it in such terms), he accepts that governments are serious in pursuing it. This leads him to the absurdity of claiming that neoconservatives thought it was wrong and immoral to support torturing, murdering regimes, while discussing American policy in Latin America but looking no further afield than Nicaragua! If he had looked at El Salvador for a second, he might have had to reconsider the whole thesis. He credits the Reagan administration with dropping America's former allies, Marcos and Pinochet, forcing both to stage elections which led to their downfall. Now this is fantasy, and damned arrogant too, to remove the opposition in both countries from the scene. For the record, Pinochet lost a plebiscitary referendum in 1988 which had been scheduled since 1980. The reason he wasn't able to fix the result the second time was because of mass strikes and opposition that had developed since then. In fact, if there was ever a willing pioneer of the Reaganite notion of 'freedom', then Pinochet was it. Reagan dropped Marcos after having supported him for four years during periods of martial law and extreme repression, in the same way that Carter had dropped Somosa before he fell (was Carter too a 'neoconservative'?).

Curtis paints a fairly heroic portrait of Blair as a man with fine ideals trapped by his own limited vision, and submits that the distrust of him was a result of Thatcherite anti-statism, a bizarre and wretched claim if you think about it for a second. (These cynics had never distrusted Blair over Kosovo, much less marched in great numbers against him). He never once challenges anything fundamental about Western foreign policy claims, accepting for instance the rhetoric about preventing ethnic cleansing in Kosovo at face value - bizarrely, he even manages to say that Blair persuade Clinton to bomb Yugoslavia in 1998. Either he knows something that we don't, or he got the date of one of his main plot points wrong by a year. He is good at pointing out how badly the 'freedom' in Russia went, and how much worse it went in Iraq, but seems to accept those promulgating these 'freedoms' were acting as sincere ideologues rather than hegemonists. The destruction of Russia and then of Iraqi civil society and infrastructure - an excellent and choice connection, actually - is seen as a kind of unintended consequence of myopic thinking. Also annoying is that Curtis repeatedly uses the words 'rational' and 'scientific' as if these were the appropriate phrases for the model of human behaviour constructed by game theory or such as is elaborated by Berlin or Hayek. And to claim without qualification that there is any sensible connection to be traced between Fanon's ideas in the Algerian revolution and the policies of Pol Pot is to cast an appalling slur on the anticolonial movement. Curtis is excellent in tracing intriguing, important and subterranean histories, but ultimately pedestrian in politics, and apparently rather lazy to boot (although perhaps the last episode was knocked up in haste).

And yet, and yet. A pregnant, wistful pause. The defense of a form of 'positive liberty', the defense of a freedom far more meaningful and broader than the one we are imprisoned in, which has something to do with deep equality and genuine political empowerment, the insistence against all cynicism that it doesn't have to lead to tyranny - this deserves sustained applause. For what Curtis has shown throughout is that the ideologies that sustain capitalism, that in fact train us to accept it as a natural and universal development to which we all tend, have as their basic premise that human beings are unfit for anything better. We are inadequate to the task of creating a world beyond selfish, narcissistic, consumerist narrowness, in which we are all mutually exploitative and indifferent, in which some thrive in the struggle better than others. Because human beings are self-interested, 'rational' creatures, constantly devising strategies, sizing one another up, figuring off ways to rip off the mark and track down the latest born sucker. Because this is the assumption, utopias that capitalism permit us are frequently technophilic masturbation fantasies, based principally on the transformation of the self. From eugenics to racial purity, from national service to the furnace of war, from EST to shopping therapy, from evolutionary psychology to neuro-modification - human beings must be forced to adapt. This was, in so many words, the thesis in Curtis's excellent 'Century of the Self'.

Ultimate self-improvement, new hope for brain repair, the quest for a smart pill, genes for the psyche, brain stimulators - not my words, those of headlines picked by the neuroscientist Steven Rose to illustrate the ubiquity of this fetish for tinkering with the brain as the source of all inadequacies. He hasn't suddenly come to this topic in 'The 21st Century Brain' - for much of his professional life, he has had to fight a bitter war against all forms of biological reductionism, from 'social Darwinism, to the genetic determinists, to the medicalisation of social ills, and latterly the attempt to prescribe a vision of "human nature" rooted in adaptive strategies that consolidated in the Pleistocene era some 100,000 years ago.

Such is the claim of the evolutionary psychologists: human behaviour includes an array of constants so fundamental and so 'ordinary' that we don't even notice it. These are shaped and determined by an evolutionary process that halted a hundred millenia ago. Every form of behaviour from self-aggrandisement to war to rape to social domination is firmly rooted in unmodified mental modules. One can easily see the appeal of such thinking: they offer certainties upon which to base policy choices, powerful explanatory forces for human behaviour, and also rather uncomplicated ones. They would appear to offer a Hempelian covering law in inductive-statistical arguments: if the covering law is that under circumstance C, agent A has a very high probability of acting in x fashion, then the incidence of circumstance C involving agent A can either be encouraged or discouraged. They also offer comprehensive and titillating explanations for diverse and minute phenomena. So, for example, Stephen Pinker writes of these modules not as a literal entities (they couldn't be, any more than the texts of Hermes Trismegistus described literal entities) but as nevertheless structurally isomorphic to brain capacities that determine such matters as the allegedly universal human propensity to prefer pictures containing green landscapes and water, developed during humanity's infancy in the African Savannah. Pinker has never taken polls among Brazilians or Chinese people on this matter, and even if he could and did, and they did indeed admit a preference for green landscapes and water, there would be some doubt as to what he had found - if he had located a universal human preference, or a temporally bound cultural development. But that is by way of a light-hearted example of the circularity inherent in evolutionary psychology.

More serious by far is the claim that men rape women as a result of adaptive strategies designed by sexually unsuccessful men to copulate and produce children. This is what a couple of evolutionary psychologists named Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer claimed in a book published by MIT some years ago. They raise some intriguing reasons for initiating their search into the possible evolutionary basis for this form of forced sex. In the first instance, lots of animals engage in forced sex for reasons of reproduction - and the specific instance of the scorpionfly is given - so there are reasons for thinking that humans might. Secondly, "Most rape victims are women of childbearing age", indicating an attempt by the rapist to find fertile women. Thirdly, "In many cultures rape is treated as a crime against the victim's husband", indicating the fear that their life partner has been impregnated by an undesirable, thus removing opportunities for them. Then, "Married women and women of childbearing age experience more psychological distress after a rape than do girls, single women or women who are past menopause", indicating a fear of being impregnated by an undesirable mate. Furthermore, "Rape victims suffer less emotional distress when they are subjected to more violence", supposedly a result of the adapted need to keep a permanent male partner by reducing suspicion of adultery. Finally, rape is said not to be an act of violence but an act of sex, and one that women can encourage by dressing up in fancy clothes. They insist that the claim that rape is about power or violence is disproved by figures (obtained by interviews of rape victims conducted by one of the authors) indicating that only fifteen percent of those interviewed claimed to have been beaten more than was necessary to accomplish the rape: thus, rapists "seldom engage in gratuitous violence". There follow plenty of grand claims about what "people everywhere understand", backed up by "could be" this and "may be" that, and such and such "could explain". But the political claim is that women put themselves in situations where rape is a likelihood by dressing revealingly, drinking lots of alcohol and going on unsupervised dating. They did not get round to adding that this explains the curious propensity for art beautifying rape scenarios among early modern painters.

Well, let's assume that Thornhill and Palmer haven't distorted any of the data they appeal to for this case. The first thing to note, as Steven and Hilary Rose point out in 'Alas, Poor Darwin', is that forced sex among scorpionflies involves such drastically different dynamics and circumstances to human rape that comparison for the purposes of asserting continuity is ridiculous. Secondly, as Rose & Rose also point out, to claim that "most" rape victims are of child-bearing age is not as automatically auspicious as the authors of the study seem to think: much seems to depend on detection and definition, and since we now know that many victims of rape are elderly women and children, and many are of the wrong sex for procreation with the rapist, we have to ask at what point the evolutionary process, er, 'failed'. These are plainly instance of sexual violence in which there can be no reasonable hope of advancing the cause of the sacred gene. Thirdly, figures based on limited sets of data derived from answers given to surveys are not necessarily useless but neither do they automatically conduce to the thesis being expounded. How meaningful is it to ask someone about the 'intensity' of the psychological pain they experience or the precise 'level' of the beating? Having got one's answers, how reasonable is it to insist that this reflects transhistorical human realities? Can one be sure that such surveys taken, say, no more than fifty years ago, would have produced similar results? Isn't there a possibility that answers to surveys reflect cultural changes in the interpretation and social meaning of violence such that a person could articulate the same horrific experience rather differently? Steven Rose argues that the evolutionary psychologists specialise in attributing a huge array of contemporary behaviours to 'distal' causes when proximal ones much more readily and clearly explain the phenomena in question. There is, moreover, a huge difference between recognising that evolutionary development creates the conditions of possibility for a range of human behaviour and insisting that it 'causes' them. And how useful is it in this context to point to what goes on in "some cultures"? If we are speaking of universal human propensities conditioned by an evolutionary process that not a single human being is excepted from, then what happens only in "some cultures" is by definition excluded from the matrix of evolutionary psychology.

It is not difficult to detect a misogynistic and socially conservative ideology masquerading as scientific inquiry here, and so it goes for the racist Bell Curve thesis and the whole array of dubious claims based on meaningless metrics such as IQ, or the claims for a gay gene or a Tory gene or a plumber gene. Within this essentialising episteme, the circular assumption that their forms of knowledge are relevant and salient inevitably becomes the circular conclusion that their forms of knowledge are relevant and salient. One can assume that there is a coherent biological entity that corresponds to the notion of 'race' against the best evidence, and one will find that, lo and behold, such and such phenomena co-constitute the qualities of one 'race' or another. One can assume, with no evidence at all, that "human nature" is a term with a real referent and one will necessarily find the proofs (and say of countervailing evidence that everything is of course very complex, and there probably extraneous factors inhibiting the usual evolutionarily determined course). One can always say, "our model predicts reality except when it doesn't". Every model of society does that: antisemitic conspiracy theories predict reality except when they don't, and the same goes for astrology, Kerlian photography, the Observer's comment page, fortune cookies.

Yet, as Curtis implies, capitalism requires us to accept such outrageous and irrational models of human beings. Any sense that we are capable of utopian promise without being chemically or genetically enhanced by the pharmaceutical industry and the military-industrial complex, any sense that humanity is adequate for collective, democratic enterprise with affordable energy, clean water, healthy food and peace is an outrageous heresy that must be extirpated.

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