Thursday, May 31, 2007

'Honorary Paramount Chief' posted by bat020

tony blair

"The one thing I have come to despise more than anything else in my 10 years is cynicism."

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Lebanon updates posted by bat020

A few updates on the ongoing siege of the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon: there's a solidarity statement translated into English on Angry Arab that's well worth reading, while Ghassan Makarem writes in Socialist Worker on what's behind the siege and its political impact in Lebanon.

Ghassan includes this snippet about the "bank raid" that kicked it all off, which I don't believe has appeared elsewhere in the (generally pisspoor) media coverage:

When Fatah al-Islam first appeared, they declared themselves to be in opposition to the "Shia Muslim expansion". From the onset they said they did not want any confrontation with the army and sided with the government over its opposition to Hizbollah and Iran.

However, after encouraging and sponsoring the group, the Future Movement turned its back on them. According to Fatah al-Islam, the current crisis began when the group went to the bank to collect their "wages". They were informed that the money had been frozen – so they robbed the bank.

This provided a pretext for the police to raid an apartment in the upmarket area of the city used by the group. After a fierce battle with the police, Fatah al-Islam attacked Lebanese soldiers in their barracks. The army responded by shelling any location inside the refugee camp without mercy – just as Israel had done to the Lebanese last summer.

There's also an absolute must-read eyewitness account of a solidarity mission to the northern camps over at Banana Republic, complete with some extraordinary photos, including a banner listing the confirmed Palestinian dead (the only attempt I've seen to count this figure).

Some of EDB's snaps display wicked flashes of surrealism - a table canopy that resembles a stealth bomber, or the refugee boy with rather outré taste in footwear...

A little girl and her friends came over to tell us that "their" camp is much nicer than this one, as if to apologize for a messy house to unexpected visitors. "My camp is beautiful. Not like this," she said, waving her hand dismissively at her surroundings.

Anyway, read it all here.


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UCU supports boycott of Israel. posted by Richard Seymour

So iniquitous. So uncalled-for. International condemnation rains down, government ministers bark their 'regret', a Nobel prize-winner is outraged, concerns for freedom are bruited. The media are universal in their condemnation. This cannot help the peace process, they unanimously gurn.

Not in respect of Israel's recent attacks on Gaza or the open kidnapping of Palestinian ministers, or the US-Israeli financed and armed 'civil war' (coup attempt). Not because Israel has been starving the Palestinians (or "putting them on a diet"). But because lecturers have voted overwhelmingly in solidarity with Palestinian trade unions who are pleading for a boycott of Israeli institutions, including the academia. Not only that, but they also voted to campaign for the "restoration of all international aid to the PA and all revenues rightfully belonging to it", and to oppose any "upgrade of Israel’s status until it ends the occupation of Palestinian land and fully complies with EU Human Rights law". It's a small step toward meeting that obligation, especially in a country that supplies massive amounts of weapons to the Israeli government. Disgracefully, Sally Hunt, the recently elected leader of the UCU, has issued a statement condemning the vote, claiming that it isn't a 'priority' for the union. I'm sorry, Sally, that doesn't fucking cut it. Israeli academic institutions are thoroughly imbricated with the occupation of Palestine, are deeply discriminatory in their own right, and have long provided intellectual, linguistic, logistical, technical, scientific and human support for the occupation. It isn't good enough to say that attacking the infrastructure of the occupation isn't a 'priority'.

There is an international campaign going on to boycott and disinvest from Israel. It is outrageous to say that other nation-states engage in similar behaviour and therefore one mustn't target Israel. No one denies that the victims of other states should be supported, but this pressure was initiated by the targets of oppression themselves, in the form of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), which was launched in April 2004. PACBI is supported by 60 Palestinian trade unions, NGOs, and political and religious organisations. Those who actually have the chutzpah to raise 'academic freedom' need to be reminded that these institutions are themselves violators of that principle by being complicit in the denial of Palestinian freedom of all kinds. And then, god help us, this disgusting, invidious insinuation of antisemitism. Never mind that Zionists have always been happy to collaborate with antisemites, whether Hitlerite or Falwellite: this campaign, as the organisers note, is supported by many conscientious Israelis and non-Israeli Jews.

Happily, and its a sombre happiness in light of the daily terrorist campaign and slow genocide being perpetrated by Israel, the campaign is getting widespread support - even the architects are in on it. The NUJ backs the boycott. The South African trade union federation COSATU backs the boycott. Venezuela backs the boycott. The Liverpool dockers back the boycott. A new group called Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods has been formed. International gay activists back the boycott. Irish musicians back the boycott. There are growing calls for sanctions to be applied. About time. To listen to some of the carping Israel-apologists, you would think that the world has been doing little for sixty years but supporting the Palestinians. Moan, moan, moan, every other week a new initiative to support the expelled and oppressed and impoverished Palestinians. Would that it were so. But it is because the argument is now being won decisively by our side, even if Israel fully and devastatingly commands the military situation, that they are becoming so hysterical.

If you fancy throwing a pebble at Goliath, you can join the campaign here.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Decoy posted by Richard Seymour

For about three decades (I guess) there has been a fruitful engagement with the question of 'the nation' and nationalism from radical and marxist critics - people like Benedict Anderson, Tom Nairn, Eric Hobsbawm, Ernest Gellner, Gopal Balakrishnan and so on. Yet, with the honourable exception of a few, like Partha Chatterjee, there has been little effort to integrate a 'gendered' interpretation of the nation. This is odd. As Nira Yuval-Davis points out, women "reproduce nations, biologically, culturally and symbolically". This isn't an optional extra, something that nation-states can rather live without. The "imagined community" is itself reproduced in the locus of the household, the first scene of socialisation and individuation, as much as in the print, visual or internet media. The "mother tongue" is taught there. Indeed, nationhood is often spoken of in the tropes of family, the household, and parenthood: the ‘motherland’ or ‘fatherland’; the homeland; the national ‘family’. Angelika Schaser's study of the patriotic German women's movement in the 'Second Reich' remarks that for many Germans, national feeling was itself "an extension of family feeling". The familial trope, as Anne McClintock points out, has several uses: it sanctions a national hierarchy as at the same time an organic unity, and it offers a "single genesis narrative" for the nation. It has also had its extension in the colonial metaphor of a "family of black children ruled over by a white father". And, to avoid any confusion, I'm using 'gender' here simply in the way that feminists usually do: in Yuval-Davis's terms, gender is a "mode of discourse" relating to groups of subjects whose social roles are "defined by sexual/biological difference". Gender is not biology, and it is not destiny. It structures social life, but only to the extent that it is reproduced as a discourse.

Male-only nation
Practically every new nation that was founded denied women citizenship rights, specifically the suffrage that was allotted to males, always with an apparatus of gendered 'role' allotments. I take most of my examples here from the Kaiserreich (Germany 1871-1918), because that's what I'm studying - but also because it is a fascinating example in itself. In Imperial Germany, as Schaser puts it, "the nation-state was composed of male individuals". Only men had the right to vote and bear arms, men were in executive control of the family, men had superior education. Women belonged to the world principally through the family, while men accessed the world through a variety of vital channels. The ‘natural’ boundaries for women were drawn around the three ‘K’s – Kinder, Kuche, Kirche (children, kitchen and church). Under the Civil Legal Code (initially elaborated in the 1870s, but finally made law in 1896), married women had no say in child’s education, and all property or money in marriage became the husband’s responsibility. The code states: "the husband takes the decisions in all matters affecting married life". The practise of abortion carried a 5 year sentence, and woman suspected of prostitution had to undergo examination by the ‘Morals Police’ (Sittenpolizei), while male clients faced no such humiliation. The state placed the full responsibility of the consequences of sexual interaction on women, while apportioning the full ownership of its benefits to men. Aside from that, the prohibition on abortion can be seen as an effort to exert strict control over the reproduction of society. This, of course, is not unknown: in the Soviet Union, which was the first country to legalise abortion in 1920, abortion was outlawed again in 1936, at the height of the mass deaths from famine and repression, and only legalised again in 1955. In Israel, as Yural-Davis - herself an Israeli dissident - points out, abortion rights are severely restricted and rather controversial with the right-wing, in part because of the 'racial' or - to put it more euphemistically - 'demographic' struggle with Palestine. She also recalls that females who chose sterility were upbraided by for inviting "national death" and "race suicide" by one Theodore Roosevelt (this at a time when the United States government was practising a crude form of eugenics). 'Race', of course, with its trope of extended family, of blood-lines and originary human communities, of purity and decadence, is the sina qua none of a highly gendered nationalism. The raciological dimensions of nationalism were to become even more apparent in the Third Reich, but then again they were hardly suppressed in an America that had recently wiped out the indigenous population and had enforced white supremacy as the political code of the southern states. In fact, I'm tempted to push the 'race' angle even further here because it's well-known that the more conservative elements of oppressed groups internalise the discourse of their oppressors. Isn't it the case with certain forms of Islamism that they accept that theirs is a problem of sustaining the 'race' against attack by Western society, in which they must maintain strict heterosexist patriarchical family norms? Hence the homophobia, the carefully defined place for women, the conservative moralising about drugs etc? Anyway, Imperial Germany's draconian criminalisation of prostitutes can certainly be seen as a reaction to the dramatic rise in that profession during the latter half of the 19th Century, but that itself was in part a consequence of urbanisation, industrialisation and the fluctuations of German capitalism. Once again, conservatives feared decadence in the ‘race’, of both a medical and moral character. Gendered laws were therefore partially about conserving German society even as it went through a process of traumatic 'modernisation'. In respect of family life, the Civil Code had rolled back some previously regressive local laws, which feminists had campaigned against: it removed the right of men to physically punish women or determine when children should be weaned. Yet it also allotted most parental rights to the father – the control of the child’s financial affairs, its education, the choice of profession, the choice of marriage partner. Once again, once notes two different affirmations here. On the one hand, conservative moralism held that it was motherhood was a woman’s assured place in society, the naturally endowed condition, and on the other it was prepared to seriously reduce their power to carry out that task. On the other hand, for the sake of race survival, the state was concerned to ensure the reproduction of strict patriarchical norms through successive generations.

Well, these policies were nothing more than natural, 'common sense', a function of Geschlechtscharakter (the character of the sexes), in which a system of binary oppositions sustained the sexual division of labour in the household and the nation. For example, Meyer’s Grosses Konversationslexikon (1904) described the following distinctions between male and female: “in the female, emotion and sensibility, in the male, intelligence and thought predominate; the imagination of the female is livelier than that of the male, but seldom achieves he heights and boldness of the latter”. Similar oppositions also emerge in dictionaries and encyclopaedias from 19th Century Germany: ‘male’ power versus ‘female’ beauty; ‘male’ volatility versus ‘female’ inwardness; ‘male’ loudness of desire versus ‘female’ quiet longing; ‘male’ acquisitiveness versus ‘female’ preservation; ‘male’ public life versus ‘female’ private life; ‘male’ activity, willpower and bravery versus ‘female’ passivity, weakness, fickleness and modesty; ‘male’ rationality versus ‘female’ emotionality; ‘male’ doing versus ‘female’ being etc. (Karin Hausen, ‘Family and Role Division’ in Richard J Evans and W R Lee eds, The German Family, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1981: 51-53). When the German League to Combat Women’s Emancipation (or Anti-League) was formed in 1912, it deemed the project of equality between men and women "an attempt to do violence to nature, which has clearly segregated the proper realms of both sexes everywhere and has ordained a strict division of labour": these dichotomies operate to naturalise a social state of affairs. The salience of the private, inward and domestic in the production of ‘feminine’ tends in two directions, reinforcing an ideal of family-bound behaviour as well as obedience toward the patriarch. For, what the Anti-League objected to was not simply the limited and tentative demands raised by the moderate Bund Deutscher Frauenverein (BDF), but the very idea of women’s activity beyond the household. Their entering the realm of power-broking and conflict was itself the perversion of a ‘natural’ order of ‘female’ sensitivity, emotionality, delicacy and so on. The Anti-League here forcefully articulated a hegemonic norm of Wilhelmine Germany. Political passivity was requisite. Only in 1908 did women gain right to join political party or even attend public meetings, in all states of empire. The right to vote for Reichstag elections was not secured until 1918. It took, in other words, the defeat of a neurotic, unstable, patriarchical capitalist hierarchy groaning with paranoia and insecurity, by socialist revolutionaries. It took the defeat of an empire burdened with an outlandishly expensive and insular aristocratic military caste, saddled with hypertrophic militarism and paraphilia (the uniforms, the medals, the symbols) at whose apex was a man whose very status could be rocked by the mere suggestion of association with homosexuality. (Wilhelm's friend, the musician Philip Eulenburg, was alleged to have been engaged in such a triste, while there is ample evidence that his 'Liebenburg Circle' was a homoerotic 'Mannerbund' in the fashion suggested by Nicolaus Sombart. As Sombart himself puts it, the German ruling elite was existentially bound to its commitment to 'premodern' solutions, unable to deal with challenges rationally - preferring to demonise problems and plot bloody civil war to defeat them. The consequences were "neurotic": the "hypertrophy of the superego as an internalised factor for social control" in which the superego is monarchical, masculine, militaristic; the censorship of the id, protecting the ego from its drives, which are "canalised and limited to that minimal sexuality necessary for reproducing the species" so that both sexuality and the female are repressed; the id is experienced as a constant threat, and its demands manifest as political programme. The superego’s injunction not to absorb these demands produces a repressed, "squashed" ego, prone to "distorting visions of anxiety". For the male seeking to escape this dilemma, the Mannerbund - whether that sodality be a ruling circle, or whether it be the army - is one mode of escape.)

What the duck is for
As Zillah Eisenstein points out in her new book 'Sexual Decoys', the dilemma is different today. The ruling class has become more apt at manipulating both 'gender' and 'race' roles. For although the United States has its fundamentalist revanchists who would dearly like to make Kaiser Wilhelm look like a liberal, and although the GOP tries to satisfy that constituency as part of its electoral coalition, there is universal suffrage for both sexes, gender roles are more varied, women may take up more roles in the military and in government, and many formal impediments have been removed. Even as Bush promotes 'chastity' and non-contraception in AIDS-rich countries, even as his right-wing supreme court appointees continue to oversee the rollback of abortion rights (incidentally, all GOP presidential candidates publicly favour repealing Roe v Wade, including Rudi who would be 'okay' with it), the administration cannot dispense with its purloined 'feminisms'. Bush's administration has promoted women, and Condoleeza Rice has been one of its most aggressive and prominent members. Laura Bush has been pressed into the service of 'liberation' for women in Afghanistan, even if the US's main allies in that country are warlords known for their brutal treatment of women. Similarly, in the military, women's roles were revealed in Abu Ghraib where Brigadier Karpinski and Lyndie England took the rap and the heat for the state violence that they had helped perpetrate. What is their role here? Precisely, that of the decoy.

For, it is not good enough to say, "Bush lies, we know he doesn't really care about these things, why waste time dissecting it?" It isn't coincidental that, precisely as black women in America catch the flak for its ills (as per that disgusting phrase "welfare queen") at the same time as they experience the worst of them (poverty, infant mortality, preventable disease etc), the frontwoman for Bush's racist and patriarchical programme of conquest is a black woman. Similarly, as Eisenstein goes on to argue, the role of the Englands and Karpinskis is precisely to mask the masculinism and women-hatred that is central to America's own hypertrophied militarism. It isn't a huge secret that women in the US military are being raped more and more frequently by their male counterparts, or that the US military relies upon the services of sexual slaves wherever the park up. Similarly, Hilary as a frontwoman (or Obama as a frontman) for a party devoted to capitalist-imperialist interests, would be a well-timed pitch - coming as it does when the Democrats have demonstrated their unwillingness to break with the Bush-led imperial mission in Iraq, much less Afghanistan, Somalia and beyond.

This decoy is a symptom, a distraction, and a warning. It signifies, on the one hand, the total paucity of resources available for truly creating equality of even the limited, liberal-capitalist variety. It also diverts fire: precisely as a certain amount of sexism was relied upon when England and Karpinski were made patsies for Rumsfeld and the Pentagon, the Bush administration is happy to rely on racism and sexism drawing criticism toward Condoleeza Rice (she looks so evil, after all). Oh, and also a bit of snobbery too, if you fancy a giggle at Bush's malapropisms: anything to keep your eye off the dollars. Finally, it says that someone means you harm. The classical wooden duck decoy, supposedly designed to lure real ducks out in front of a gunman who would then happily plug away at the innocent little saps, is now car boot sale material. They have better ones to catch you with.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Goldman Sachs bumpkin billionaire is new World Bank chief. posted by Richard Seymour

Take a look at this numbnuts. Talk about credentials! Big-time PNACer, former Enron advisor former Bush official, current member of the Trilater Commission, current Goldman Sachs chairman and managing director, and now head of the World Bank as appointed by George W. Bush. According to this profile piece, Zoellick is not a true believer when it comes to neoconservatism, despite being known as a "free-trade" evangelist. Rather, like Condi, he wants efficient American power, and keeps his eye decidedly on the welfare of American capital. And he's got brass balls. After the obliteration of Fallujah he went there to preach about "self-reliance". That's in the middle of a city of refugees with half the houses destroyed, the infrastructure torn to shreds, sewage everywhere, filthy water, corpses, the still-smoking rubble, kids living on charity in tents. And this guy goes and meets some greasy little marionettes who absolutely abase themselves in front of him, and he says: "People like you will be the key to Iraq's future, not the US. It's your country. We can help but you have to make it happen." Oh, you're gonna love this guy.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Cindy Sheehan leaves the Democratic Party posted by bat020

From the latest CounterPunch:

Dear Democratic Congress,

Hello, my name is Cindy Sheehan and my son Casey Sheehan was killed on April 04, 2004 in Sadr City , Baghdad , Iraq . He was killed when the Republicans still were in control of Congress. Naively, I set off on my tireless campaign calling on Congress to rescind George's authority to wage his war of terror while asking him "for what noble cause" did Casey and thousands of other have to die. Now, with Democrats in control of Congress, I have lost my optimistic naiveté and have become cynically pessimistic as I see you all caving into "Mr. 28%"

There is absolutely no sane or defensible reason for you to hand Bloody King George more money to condemn more of our brave, tired, and damaged soldiers and the people of Iraq to more death and carnage. You think giving him more money is politically expedient, but it is a moral abomination and every second the occupation of Iraq endures, you all have more blood on your hands.


Congratulations Congress, you have bought yourself a few more months of an illegal and immoral bloodbath. And you know you mean to continue it indefinitely so "other presidents" can solve the horrid problem BushCo forced our world into.

It used to be George Bush's war. You could have ended it honorably. Now it is yours and you all will descend into calumnious history with BushCo.

The Camp Casey Peace Institute is calling all citizens who are as disgusted as we are with you all to join us in Philadelphia on July 4th to try and figure a way out of this "two" party system that is bought and paid for by the war machine which has a stranglehold on every aspect of our lives. As for myself, I am leaving the Democratic Party. You have completely failed those who put you in power to change the direction our country is heading. We did not elect you to help sink our ship of state but to guide it to safe harbor.

We do not condone our government's violent meddling in sovereign countries and we condemn the continued murderous occupation of Iraq .

We gave you a chance, you betrayed us.

Cindy Sheehan
Founder and President of
Gold Star Families for Peace

Interesting development, especially the call to "figure a way out of this 'two' party system".

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

United Iraqi Resistance Coming? posted by Richard Seymour

Sadr's dramatic re-emergence this week, his pitch for a united front with Sunni groups, and his announcement that layers within the Mahdi Army were being expelled for engaging in sectarian murders, all coincided with a recent uptick in combat with the Mahdi Army. British forces killed a Mahdi leader in southern Iraq last week, while fighting goes on in both Baghdad and Basra. Air strikes have targeted Sadr City again today, and Sadrist officials are saying that cluster bombs were used.

A new analytical piece by Gareth Porter for the Inter-Press Service says that Sunni groups are 'receptive' to a Sadr alliance. Apparently Sunni leaders in Anbar are saying that this is a distinct possibility. One of Sadr's top aides, Ahmed Shaibani, has been put in charge of a 'reconciliation committee', and talks have been in progress:

The talks with Sunni resistance leaders have been coordinated with a series of other moves by Sadr since early February. Although many members of Sadr's Mahdi Army have been involved in sectarian killings and intimidation of Sunnis in Baghdad, Sadr has taken what appears to be a decisive step to break with those in his movement who have been linked to sectarian violence. Over the past three months, he has expelled at least 600 men from the Mahdi Army who were accused of murder and other violations of Sadr's policy, according to Raghavan.

The massive demonstration against the occupation mounted in Najaf by Sadr's organisation on Apr. 9, which Iraqi and foreign observers estimated at tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, was apparently timed to coincide with his initiative in opening talks with the Sunnis.

The demonstration not only showed that Sadr could mobilise crowds comparable to the largest ever seen in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, but also made clear Sadr's commitment to transcending sectarian interests. The demonstrators carried Iraqi flags instead of pictures of Sadr or other Shiite symbols. It also included a small contingent of members of the Sunni-based Islamic Party of Iraq.

Sadr's decision in mid-April to pull his representatives out of the al-Maliki government also appears to have been aimed in part at clearing the way for an agreement with the Sunni insurgents. Leaders of those organisations have said they would not accept the U.S.-sponsored government in any peace negotiations with the United States.

The US approach to countering Sadr's appeal has been to portray him as a pro-Iranian, and they are behind claims that he fled to Iran when he feared a US attack (that also has obvious uses if Sadr's movement becomes a leading resistance organisation). Sadrist officials have stated that he never left Iraq. A meeting of Sadr and his top allies is being held today to organise a relaunch for the Mahdi organisation. Watch that space.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

How popular are New Labour 'values'? posted by Richard Seymour

It's one of those words that the government likes to introduce into its policy announcements and PR quite a bit: 'values'. That oleaginous morpheme, and its shady associates (family, community, hard-working, honesty, decency, fairness etc) doesn't seem to have any real referent. Perhaps it is raised to reassure us that New Labour actually understands something beyond opportunism and plutophilia. Well, since Brown will now be using those vocables as often as possible, and as the latest British Social Attitudes Survey has come out recently, I thought I'd have a look at its findings and see if any of the 'values' espoused by New Labour hold much weight with the public. This survey, or surveys like it, have been produced for decades. Its reports don't focus on the same topics each year, and there is a great deal of interpretative commentary, yet there are some studies that have been going on for decades, and which therefore provide a picture of generational change and continuity.

Class and political identity
The first such findings relate to class identification. Tony Blair famously declared in 1998 that "we're all middle class now" and has consistently maintained that the class war is over - those are the "old divisions" that he and Brown want us to get over (by, for instance, restructuring education and the labour market with the claim that it will better equip the working class to deal with a neoliberal age - something they call 'equality of opportunity'). The public as a whole has thus far not internalised the conception of itself as an amorphous, largely middle class, consumer bloc. In 1983, when people were asked at the height of Bennism what class they belonged to, 61% said working class; in 1992, 60%; in 2005, 57% with 37% identifying themselves as middle class. (It was not asked on this occasion, but previous surveys have shown that three quarters of the British public believe there to be a "class war" in the UK). The researchers note that the unprompted identification with the working class has tended to be higher when "issues of social class came to the fore" such as in 1983, but on the whole "there is clearly no underlying downward trend of the sort we had expected". There has been a gradual decline in the number of people identifying themselves as working class, due to "the change over the last forty years in the shape of the 'objective' class structure, as defined by the proportion in manual and non-manual jobs", but still close to three fifths of people consider themselves working class. (One thing that has declined much more rapidly has been party identification. In 1987, 46% of people had very or fairly strong party identifications, which by 2005 had fallen to 35% - the number of people who "despite our persistent questioning" could come not name an identification at all had doubled from 7% to 13%. Of those who do identify with a party, the smaller parties are much more likely to feel a 'sense of community' with other members than either Labour or the Tories.

How does this translate into broader political attitudes? Well, predictably, the stronger the working class identity, the stronger the expression of views that there is class conflict: in 2005, of people who identified as working class and 'shared a sense of community' with them, 65% agreed that working people do not get their fair share; of those who stated a working class identity but didn't feel it to be based on 'close' affiliation, 58% agreed. Only 45% of those who identified as middle class agreed, whether they felt 'close' to others of the same class or not. Similarly, 58% of those with strong working class identification agreed that "business benefits owners at the expense of workers", and 50% of the same group that there is "bound to be conflict" between the classes (on this latter statement, 57% of those who strongly identified as middle class agreed). This in an era where there isn't much evidence of such conflict. When it came to trade union representation, although membership has continued to decline in most sectors barring the public sector (where representation remains solid at 58%, compared to only 17% in the private sector), one shift has been in the perception among union members of the efficacy of their union. Among unionised workers, the number believing their union actually makes the workplace either a lot or a little better has risen by 6%, precisely the figure by which those who think it makes no difference declined (only 5% think unions make the workplace worse). Among non-unionised workers, 66% thinks it makes no difference, while 7% thinks it makes the workplace worse. At the same time, this doesn't reflect perceived efficacy in winning good pay, at which only 3% of employees thought their union excelled. Despite the strong impression among non-unionised workers that belonging to one makes little difference, 41% say it is likely that they would join a union if there was one in their workplace (although, as you might anticipate, the likelihood of joining a union was much lower among those on the political right).

Pensions and redistribution
Any neoliberal government has won a great prize if it can privatise pensions, since pensions make up the greatest single chunk of social security expenditure. New Labour is too cautious to try doing that right away, but it is seeking to expand private provision, reduce state provision, introduce means-testing and extend working lives. Again, there appears to be a correlation between views expressed and social class (here defined by the authors in terms of employment status). Managers and professionals tend to be less supportive of universal state funding for pensions (36% in England and Wales, 50% in Scotland) than routine and semi-routine workers (47% in England and Wales and 60% in Scotland). As a whole, 59% of Britons support a universal state pension, but 61% of those polled think those on low incomes should get more money. New Labour's use of means-testing could be construed as an attempt to tap into those preferences, yet the result is that - as Age Concern has pointed out - the policy supposedly designed to achieve those desiderata, has actually increased poverty and reduced the access of the poor by introducing burdensome complexity to the claims process. Last year's survey asked specifically about support for means-testing, and 56% opposed it - although, again, there was implicit support for a different and very limited form of means-testing, that pertaining solely to a top-up on an already reasonable state pension. On a related matter, and one that is bound to come up, the 2005/6 survey also tested support for the flat tax proposed by some Tories versus progressive taxation - predictably, 56% of those on incomes above £50k supported it, while only 35% of those on incomes below £15k did; yet 37% of those on £50k or more support progressive taxation even where it means higher taxes for them. Similarly, approximately half of the public believes that "inequality continues to exist because it benefits the rich and powerful", with huge majorities in this group agreeing that the government should redistribute wealth, spend more money on benefits and increase taxes overall. A plurality of the overall population supports increased redistribution - 38% say the government redistributes too little, 28% say about right, and 13% too much. A fifth of the population has no view either way. On healthcare, the overwhelming majority, close to 80%, opposed any infringement on the universality of the health service.

Most people, 53% disagree with forcing people to save for their own retirement, and 67% disagree that it is people's "own responsibility" to save for any care they might need. 66% of routine and semi-routine workers think the government should be mainly responsible for income in retirement, while only 47% of managers and professionals think so. This is surely in part because managers and professionals are much more likely to have well-funded company pensions. Yet support for such policies is to a remarkable extent hegemonic, enjoying substantial cross-class support. Those who identify is being more to the left are 18% more likely to support universal state pension provision than those who are more to the right, yet that still means that 45% of right-wingers support such policies.

Worth mentioning that in Scotland, support for state funding of all pensions-related issues - whether care or decent income - is higher across the board. This suggests that opinion is partly shaped by what is politically realistic, since the Scottish Executive made a point of introducing free personal care for the elderly. I mentioned before that support for redistribution of wealth seems to follow New Labour's advocacy of such policies - to a limited extent, given the absence of a major political competitor for the left-vote, New Labour can set the boundaries of the possible, even among those who think the present distribution of wealth is deeply unfair.

Civil Liberties and Terror
New Labour's attitude to civil liberties was summed up in Blair's statement that traditional rights protect the accused at the expense of the ordinary citizen. He has insisted, whether rolling back habeus corpus, granting police new powers, or promulgating his hideous ASBOs, that the correct 'balance' be restored between victim and accused (not proven criminal, mark you - accused). Blair Despite the fervid atmosphere of the 'war on terror', most people don't seem to agree with him. In 1996, 56% of people thought it was worse to convict an innocent person than to let a guilty man go free, while 27% thought it was better to convict someone and risk him being innocent than let a crook go. In 2005, 52% of people thought it was worse to convict an innocent man, while 23% thought is was worse to let a guilty man go. The only rise in this period was among those who couldn't choose either way. Despite a fall from 73% in 1996, most people - 58% - still think the police should not be allowed to question someone for a week without the suspect seeing a solicitor. Similarly, although 45% of people support abolishing the right of trial by jury for those suspected of terrorism, 50% do not. And although New Labour increasingly criminalised protest (no-protest zones, anti-terror laws used to nick peaceful protesters), most people (63%) thought it was unacceptable to ban peaceful protests or demonstrations under any circumstances. In 1985, 1990 and 1996, this position was much more strongly held by Liberals and Labour supporters than Tories. In 2005, Tories are 14% more likely than Labour supporters to back such a position 'strongly'. Today, only 45% of Labour supporters back the rights of protesters 'strongly', while 59% of Tory voters do, as do 59% of Lib Dems. On torture, which the government professes to oppose anyway, there is a rather sickly fifth of the public who would accept the torturing of terror suspects in British prisons, but 76% find it unacceptable.

On some civil liberty issues, there has been a drift toward authoritarianism, some of which predates 9/11. While support for the death penalty fell from 75% in 1986 to under 60% in 2005 (still too high), the number of those 'strongly' supporting the rights of protesters still fell overall from 59% in 1985 to 51% in 2005. Those who 'definitely' think that those who seek to overthrow the government by violence should be allowed to hold meetings and publish books has fallen from 27% to 16%. Even though 84% agree that a country must always abide by human rights law when it is at war, 39% think that terror suspects should not be protected by human rights law, while 35% think that such law prevents the armed forces from doing their job. In 1990, more people disagreed with ID cards than agreed. In 2005, in this survey, 71% think it is a "price worth paying". Okay, the question presupposes a relationship between combatting terrorism and possessing an ID card that has yet to be demonstrated, but there has nevertheless been a shift. Predictably, a greater proportion of those opposed to ID cards thinks that the 'terrorist threat' is 'exaggerated' than those who don't, and that correlation holds on a range of issues from trial by jury to detention without charge. For about a fifth of people, the difference between supporting the government's position and opposing it is made by acceptance of the government's narrative of the 'war on terror' and its various dimensions. Even so, on most of its flagship policies and its expressed 'values' in relation to civil liberties, the government does not carry broad public support.

New Labour and Hegemony
The thing I wanted to emphasise here is not only that on a whole range of issues is New Labour in the minority - that can be the case when the consensus is fragmented. At any rate, polls taken on specific policy issues (war, PFI, benefit cuts) consistently find New Labour in a crushing minority. And it is not only that New Labour is consistently eroding the coalition of support it gained in 1997 mainly by attacking its working class base and Muslim voters. It is true that Labour's share of the vote in 2005 was reduced to 36% from 43% in 1997 (in the 2007 local elections, Labour got a mere 27% of the vote), and its overall plurality was less than 2%. Its support among AB voters was relatively well-maintained, down just 2% from its 1997 level, while among C2 voters, DE voters and council tenants, it fell by 9%, 13% and 9% respectively. Yet, again, that wouldn't necessarily redound to the left's advantage on its own. Public hostility to New Labour and its key policies can't realistically be in doubt. The question is, can an alternative coalition be forced? On the basis of the underlying 'values' reflected in successive studies and polls, there is a substantial basis of support for a rather old-fashioned left-wing programme of nationalisation, redistribution and trade unionism, alongside the urgent contemporary fight against the 'war on terror', and in defense of civil liberties. There is room for a sizeable left-wing coalition in British politics that isn't being given much expression electorally, yet potentially it embraces a much wider layer of people than the current supporters of New Labour.

It is easy to overstate this: I remember in the 2001 election, the Greens put out a press release claiming that if voting patterns reflected the patterns of policy support, they would be the party of government, and the main opposition parties would be the Socialist Alliance and the Liberal Democrats. Would that it were so. Even so: about forty per cent of people support increased redistribution of wealth, considerably more than would oppose it; a similar number supports nationalisation; there are overwhelming majorities in favour of withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and against the nuclear redux; majorities continue to support higher public spending on benefits and the health service. It is also true that on some issues, there are large layers of people undecided - but then consensus-building is always a strenuous effort, and opinion surveys provide a glimpse of raw material, not a permanent political map. There are some low grumbles of dissent from within the remaining rump of Labour Party members - disproportionately a middle class, salariat bunch - but compared to leftist revolts that have befallen past failed right-wing Labour leaderships, this is limp stuff. Labour ain't the vehicle for those policies any more, and its current coalition can't hold. Liam Byrne, the cynically manipulative Blairite MP, recently told Fabians that Labour could win the next election by retaining the coalition of 1997. It is delusional stuff: aside from banking on the bolted working class horse returning to a prodigiously soiled stable, every indication is that when the Tories present a saleable centre-right candidate, New Labour's marginal voters and fair-weather AB supporters will go Conservative. Having watched their heartlands crumble, New Labour is set to watch its middle class and rich friends wander back to the fold.

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Only 14% of British public support war posted by Richard Seymour

While The Guardian and Observer go out of their way to prettify Blair's characteristically narcissistic exit with claims that he'll be missed and loved and all of that shit, Angus Reid polls find that support for the war is at its lowest ebb:

Which, if any, of the following statements comes closest to your own view about the war in Iraq?

I supported the war and I support it now: 11%

I supported the war but do not support it now: 22%

I did not support the war but I support it now: 3%

I did not support the war and I do not support it now: 61%

It would be 11%, but there's 3% of Britons who are so sick that they refused to support the war until it became particularly catastrophic. 17% approve of Blair's handling of the war, which means that 3% of Britons oppose the war, yet remain convinced that Blair is smashing. Freaks. Also encouraging to note that a large number of those who told pollsters they supported the war while the invasion was in progress now deny ever having done so, as well they might.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

More on the Secret Air War in Iraq. posted by Richard Seymour

Nick Turse has been assiduously covering this neglected story for two years now, and has a further update, detailing the extent of documented bombardment, and the use of cluster bombs. He quotes Les Roberts: "our survey data suggest that there were more deaths from bombs dropped by our planes than there were deaths from roadside explosives and car bombs ... If you had been reading the U.S. papers and watching the U.S. television news at the time, you would have gotten the impression that anti-coalition bombs were more numerous. That was not just wrong, it probably was wrong by a factor of ten!" That's why it's a secret.

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"How transcendentally, how historically pathetic..." posted by Richard Seymour

Keith Olbermann, in case you didn't know him, is MSNBC's epigone of Ed Murrow (he even copies the sign off). And as performances go it isn't all that bad, even if Olbermann never actually says anything that isn't entirely within the 'mainstream' of permitted thought. This rant, following the failure of Democrats to hold to their very loose 'withdrawal deadline', reaches some sublime peaks of outrage:

And look at this. Obama and Clinton both voted against the proposals: they know which side the nomination is buttered on.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Dutch Revolt & early modern nation-building posted by Richard Seymour

Arguably, the Dutch revolt was the first modern national liberation war. It was also, quite possibly, the first time the word 'quagmire' came to be used to describe a floundering military invasion, as when (during the second wage of revolt in the 1570s), an English commentator described Holland as "The great Bog of Europe ... an universall Quag-mire ... Indeed it is the buttock of the World, full of veines and bloud, but no bones in't." (Geoffrey Parker, The Dutch Revolt, Penguin, 1990: 156). Those glib contemporary references could be construed, and in a way are intended, as a justification for writing about something so distant as a sixteenth century revolution. Perhaps another mode of justification would be to serialise it: a number of forthcoming Tomb posts about revolutions. Next, the 1525 Peasants War, then perhaps the English regicide, the overthrow of Louis XVI, and eventually, the Russian Revolution. I could offer a punning title for the series, like 'Revolting History' or some such garbage. (I'm sure there must be a blog with that title.) But I really just wanted to write about it.

I suppose it helps to know where to start, because historians don't agree on this. It could be anything from 1566 and that year's "iconoclastic furies" to 1581 and the abjuration of Philip. This depends on what one considers the overriding aim of the revolt was, since like most revolts it embraced different strata acting in different ways for different purposes. The conclusion can equally vary – perhaps it was effectively concluded with the 1579 Union of Utrecht, and all that followed merely last rites on the Habsburg claim? On the other hand, the Spanish did not relinquish their formal claim until 1648, even Dutch independence was implicit in the Twelve Year Truce reached in 1609. For my part, I am tempted to claim that it began in 1548, when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Habsburg Spain, first turned the disparate, disunited provinces into a discrete entity. However, before getting into that, it is worth discussing what kind of society was being integrated.

In addition to their geographical disunity, the traditional lack of overlordship and the independence of local rulers, the ruling class was far from cohesive in comparison to elsewhere in Europe (Jan de Vries, The Dutch Rural Economy in the Golden Age: 1500-1799, Yale University Press, 1974: 35-7), its presence was geographically sporadic, and its modes of exploitation differed rather dramatically. The peasantry was "nearly independent", particularly those working in unappealing peat bogs and wildernesses where the seigniors had been obliged, in the 11th and 12th Centuries to offer freedom and low, fixed cash rents and dues, in order to attract peasant colonists. As a consequence, peasants enjoyed almost a complete ownership of their holdings, and by the late 15th Century, owned almost 50% of the land, while the nobility owned a bare tenth. Bourgeois landownership was very widespread, and it wasn’t to get into the nobility, since the nobles didn’t enjoy security or prestige. A large portion of the land directly supported the urban economy - so brewers and bakers owned peat bogs, while brickies owned claylands. (Robert S Dupleissis, Transitions to Capitalism in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, 1997: 26-7; Jan de Vries, The Dutch Rural Economy in the Golden Age: 1500-1799, Yale University Press, 1974: 43)

The nobles themselves are difficult to pin down as a class. As Van Neirop argues, the nobility cannot be reduced to the titled nobility, for they were far outnumbered by untitled nobles. By the sixteenth century, there were only twelve accredited noble families in the Netherlands. Nor were they overwhelmingly a landowning class, since most of the land was either peasant-owned or burgher-owned. Noble landholding was virtually non-existent in the central peat bogs, and the Noorderkwartier, existing only significantly in a small number of villages where seigniorial rights well-established. The regions of greatest noble strength were in areas like Namur and Hainault - both of which were to prove pro-Habsburg strongholds during the latter phases of the revolt. Instead, the nobles were defined by access to specific constitutional and social privileges – the right to hunt, bear coat of arms, be tried in special court, and represented as separate group in meetings of state. (H F K Van Neirop, The Nobility of Holland: From Knights to Regents 1500-1650, Cambridge University Press, 1993: 23; De Vries, 1974: 35-37).

Aside from the unique weakness of the lords, the juridical structure of feudalism itself was weak by the late 15th Century: towns controlled provincial representative assemblies, while peasants – perhaps without need of collective forms of defence against lordly rule – tended to operate in isolation, with the sole significant form of collective body being the waterschappen, which drained fields, worked windmills and pumps etc. In many areas, flooding was far too frequent for the peasants to make a sustainable living from the farm itself, or specialise in any direction. They had to resort to various commercial pursuits such as dairying, grain-growing, fishing and so on – which rapidly made for a heavily monetized economy. (Dupleissis, 1997: 27) The clergy were similarly positioned - owning land, but not so much as to make a living from it, so that they had to live off charges for sacraments. And in fact, they did not partake of the traditional cooperative arrangement with the nobility that churches were able to form in the rest of Europe. (De Vries, 1974: 40-44).

The creation of the Netherlands as a political unit in 1548 had fused together a rather diverse bundle of provinces. Although many of the provinces had been united previously under a single ruler, Valois of Burgundy, the previous tendency had been toward disarticulated politics and society. The Burgundian Netherlands expanded significantly until the death of Charles the Bold at the Battle of Nancy in 1477, whereupon substantial portions of the land reverted to the rule of King Louis XI of France. Another portion was ruled by Mary, stepdaughter of Charles’ widow whose husband, Maximilien, took over after her death in 1482. The tradition of independence was such that during Mary’s rule, she had been obliged to grant the ‘Great Privilege’, in its own way a Magna Charta for the Dutch. Yet, when Maximilien became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1493, and his son Philip was inaugurated in 1494, that charter was immediately abrogated. Subsequent rule by Margaret (1506-1515) proved stable, and the territories were to come under the rule of Charles Luxemburg (soon Habsburg) in 1515, who became Charles I of Spain from 1516 and then Emperor Charles V in 1519. Charles embarked on a territorial expansion – largely financed by Holland’s growing wealth – acquiring Friesland, Utrecht and Overijssel in the 1520s, annexing Groningen and Drenthe in 1536 and conquering Gelderland in 1543. This was the total territory that would be united as a polity in 1548 when Charles persuaded the Diet to grant them status as a separate entity which would pass from the emperor to his heirs in perpetuity. Formally, it remained a circle of Empire, and so should have sent representatives to its diets and paid taxes to it in return for protection from France – in reality, this never happened. (Graham Darby, The Origins and Development of the Dutch Revolt, Routledge, 2001: 4-12; George Edmundson, History of Holland, Chapter II, Project Gutenberg, 2005)

Religion, taxes and crisis
Charles V, like his son, was indifferent to the juridical status of rulers in the Low Countries. He would as soon have employed bourgeois administrators if he could. At the same time, however, he did make certain concessions to the nobility, who could be considered exempt from taxes of their fiefs if they proved they lived like nobles, i.e. by income from lands, tithes, and manors, refraining from mercantile activities; practising war, serving in Prince’s court etc. Increasingly, the nobles saw their tax exemptions eroded throughout the 16th Century, not only because of demands of Castilian treasury, but also because of resistance by towns, who had to account for larger portion of subsidy in the event of noble exemption. And, of course, the Netherlands had an unusually large urban population. (Van Nierup, 1993: 32-3)

The formal arrangement was that tax subsidies were voted for by provincial states. If money was needed, the State General would be convened to hear a general proposition from the president of the Council of State, itself appointed by the regent. Frequently the locally appointed regent would simply override or ignore these niceties. Charles needed a great deal of money from the Netherlands on account of his expansionary wars, and he had to obtain the greatest bulk of it from subsidies. The peak of taxation under Charles was during the 1540s when he was at war with France, resulting in a greater tax, but also a greater local role in the collection of it. By 1557, the Netherlands was in a deficit seven times that of 1544. (James D Tracy, A Financial Revolution in the Habsburg Netherlands, University of California Press, 1985: 29-35; Darby, 2001: 14-15)

Reacting to the Reformation movement which had spread across Germany with extraordinary energy and pace, the Pope had imposed a strong placard soon after the diet of Worms in 1521 condemning Luther and his opinions and forbidding the printing or sale of any of the reformer’s writings; and between that date and 1555 a dozen other edicts and placards were issued of increasing stringency. The most severe was the so-called “blood-placard” of 1550. This enacted the sentence of death against all convicted of heresy–the men to be executed with the sword and the women buried alive; in cases of obstinacy both men and women were to be burnt. (Edmundson, 2005). The persecution had the effect of wiping out almost any trace of evangelism in the Netherlands by the 1540s, yet exiled Calvinists helped set up churches overseas and they provided the leadership for future Calvinist congregations. The Inquisition was also an abrasive affair for the nobility, who found it careless of their property claims. (Darby, 2001: 14)

Philip, who had been introduced to the Netherlands on a 1549 tour, spent the first years of his rule in Brussels. While Charles had left administration to the Council of State, Philip I stayed and ruled without reference to the Council of State. He departed in 1559 after securing, at much length, massive tax concessions, and never returned. There were already huge problems brewing. The state was in immense debt, the States General was dissatisfied, the nobles were dissatisfied, Calvinism was brewing under the surface, the new provinces that Charles had annexed or conquered were uncooperative, and the Duke of Savoy was unwilling to be his regent. Philip duly appointed his half-sister Margaret of Parma as regent, and placed William of Orange as stadholder of Holland, Zealand and Utrecht.

Revolt still seemed unlikely, despite the problems. In 1560, number of active Protestants in Netherlands was not much greater than 5%. Calvinists were as yet a tiny minority. (J H Elliott, Europe Divided: 1559-1598, Fontana, 1968: 126) Yet, by 1563, an enormous campaign had been mounted to remove Cardinal Granvelle. His reorganisation of the Church, though planned for some years by Charles, was seen as a Habsburg incursion on local traditions of liberty and independence. Philip was obliged to get rid of him, even though he insisted that his other unpopular policies would remain: the heresy laws would persist, and there would be no increase in power for the Council of State to the detriment of the monarch. Nevertheless, by coordinating their own campaign and with the pressure of popular unrest, the local aristocrats delivered a 'Petition of Compromise' in 1565, with the signatures of 400 lesser nobles. It wasn't well-received. Its language struck Granvelle as having been drawn directly from the Huguenots. Philip, for his part, had already located what he thought was the source of his woes, since the implementation of Counter-Reformation measures decided at the Council of Trent had revealed that many Calvinists were descended from Jews. (Philip's racist theory about the Reformation has been mentioned in a previous post). The Habsburg monarchy was not in a mood to compromise, then - but it soon discovered that it had no choice. Margaret issued a document of Moderation, mitigating the heresy laws. It wasn't enough, and moderates, such as William of Orange, and the prominent nobles Egmont and Hornes, inisted on yet more concessions (including more grants of land, titles and money for the nobles). Margaret promised to take it up with Philip, but by then it was already somewhat out of control: the local administration was fractious, and Calvinist preachers were able to take advantage of breakdown of central authority in 1564, open-air meetings urging resistance to Inquisition. The atmosphere of these sermons, usually hosted outside towns or in rural areas where the burgher guards had no chance of imposing their authority, is captured in Breughels's, The Sermon of St John the Baptist (below). Throughout 1566, the economy had been in crisis and this was providing much passive and active support for the Calvinists. It was not, incidentally, a crisis as bad as previous ones, such as the terrible winter of 1556-7, but in previous cases of unrest among the peasant and labouring classes, the rebellions had been easily put down by a united ruling class backed by the armed might of the Holy Roman Empire. However, the economy had suffered since the outbreak of the Northern Seven Years War in 1563, which hurt the Baltic grain trade and the cloth-trade with English. Large numbers of wage-labourers were out of work and this time, when they rebelled, they were supported by nobles and bourgeois. Burgomasters later confessed that it was so sudden, and widespread, that they had literally no idea what to do. Many of the sheriffs proved to be crypto-Calvinists and led in the destruction, while others simply refused to fight for popes and church. (Parker, 1990: 69-70; Darby, 2001: 16-17; Elliott, 1968: 133-8).

Iconoclasm and the freedom of the seas
One of the things that tends to get glossed over a little bit in the histories, at least so far as I can see, is the reason why iconoclasm should be so appealing, beyond widespread anti-clericalism, and the Calvinists' repeated instruction that images in a Church was a form of idolatry. It seems to me that you can't understand the widespread acceptance of this, and Philip's insanely angered reaction, simply on account of theology. Many in the Castilian court at the time assumed that it must be a conspiracy (a common enough theme when conservatives are faced with rebellion - Burke believed that the French Revolution was probably the upshot of a conspiracy of Freemasons and moneymen). Other contemporary observers would either put it down to the ruthless determination of the Calvinists, exploiting the economic crisis and the hatred of people for a clergy associated with exploitative practises, or to the exemplary purity of the faith and its matchless appeal. Phyllis Mack Crew raises another possible interpretion: the destruction of religious icons was a magical act, inasmuch as it tested their supposed protection from the Almighty. One of the crucial ideological bases for class power in Catholic Europe had been the belief that the natural world worked by the operation of sacred power. It was certainly an ardently held conviction on the part of Philip II, whose dream of creating a Universal Monarchy under his rule was guided by the belief that his power was endowed to him by God. (Phyllis Mack Crew, Calvinist Preaching and Iconoclasm in the Netherlands: 1544-1569, Cambridge University Press, 1978: 20-24). Of course, there also practical considerations: having destroyed the icons in one Church, you've made it suitable for Protestant worship, thus providing a sheltered enclosure for sermons and prayer (and feckin hymns). (Parker, 1978: 75).

Taking the Duke of Alba's advice, an enraged Philip decided to resolve this with brute force - he sent an army of 10,000 Neapolitand and Spanish troops under Alba's leadership to crush the mutiny. It turned out, however, that Margaret of Parma was able in 1567 to suppress it herself with the help of some magnates who had become rather worried about the extent of the rebellion and the involvement of the lower orders. But Alba had his orders, and he embarked on a campaign of such vicious repression that Margaret resigned in protest, leaving Alba to replace her as governor-general. He established a Council of Troubles, arrested Egmont and Hornes on false charges in 1568 and had them executed, alongside over 1,000 others. He precipitated a fight with William of Orange - who had supported the bid for compromise - by confiscating his property and kidnapping his son, and easily defeated him on the battlefield. He made the taxation system rather efficient and helped sort out another of Philip's perpetual fiscal crises. But, as is so common with the Habsburg monarchy, they had to go one step too far. In 1569, Alba convened the States General, and demanded a 1% income tax, a 5% tax on land sales, and - most controversially - a 10% tax on all other sales (the 'tenth penny'). The States-General refused to grant this, but in 1571, Alba imposed it unilaterally - that, and the coercive means by which the tax was extracted, made Alba loathed, and paved the way for a resumption of the revolt. (Darby, 2001: 16-19).

In its way, the Spanish imposition offended every class, and created the basis for a national revolt. But what was really unique this time was the seaborne resistance. The first such instance of this was when the 'Sea Beggars', a motley crew of privateers, captured the port city of Brill in 1572, and triggered a wave of enthusiastic revolt across the northern regions - especially Holland and Zealand. The Spanish could easily conquer the southern and eastern territories, because the nobles there were still loyal. Yet, although these were the pronvices that had been wealthier, and more populous, they would from then on go into perpetual decline, while the economy of the north took off. The north, especially Holland and Zealand, a) had no significant catholicism remaining, and b) was protected by the extraordinary system of rivers, canals, drainage channels, streams, flooded areas and so on - in fact, the resisting forces would often break the dykes in order to flood areas about to be captured by the Spanish, thus both making their conquest more difficult and depriving them of an economy to feed off. In part, this problem had been created by Charles V who, in battle with France, had bolstered the fortifications of towns on the north sea coast. They alone could not have kept a determined enemy out, but the invading armies were running on credit, which was running out: mutinies abounded. The Spanish thus found themselves in a useless deadlock, and Alba had to be replaced by Don Luis de Requesens, a meliorative governor-general whose immediate first step was to abandon the "tenth penny", even though it increased the financial weakness of the Spanish army. It was on the heresy laws, and the political authority of the monarchy, that Philip would not and could not relent. And nor could he relent on his war with the Turks over the island of Cyprus, which was also sapping the army's finances. Royalist towns were falling one after the other, and the mutinies between 1573 and 1574 both destroyed the army's morale and raised hostility in the southern, catholic provinces. (Elliot, 1968: 260-3; Darby, 2001: 18-21).

It went from bad to worse for Philip - the Spanish had to declare bankruptcy in 1575, and the following March, Requesens died, leaving the organisation of counterinsurgency was in ruins. Brabant and Flanders, loyal provinces, were plundered by further mutinies, and by 1576, the southern elites were united under the duke of Aerschot to seek unity with Holland and Zealand. This arrangement was formalised in the Pacification of Ghent, although a) it ommitted areas like Luxemburg and Limburg, which were still loyal to the Habsburgs, and b) Protestantism was only recognised in Holland and Zealand under the agreement. Don Juan, appointed governor-general in 1577, was able to crack a deal with the States-General, known as the Perpetual Edict, by which the Spanish tercios would leave the country. Their removal in March 1577 broke down the sole basis of north-south unity - but this would be reforged months later when Don Juan returned (under orders of Philip II) with the troops. Catholic magistrates in Brabant and Flanders, meanwhile, faced a series of Calvinist-inspired revolts in 1577 and 1578. William of Orange, emerging as a significant leader of the revolt, was invited to become deputy-governor in Brussels: in September 1577, he arrived in triumph. He tended toward 'moderation'. He tried to negotiate a ‘religious peace’ in 1578, and got the prominent Huguenot writer and diplomat Philippe du Plessis-Mornay to write a treatise – which, oweing to its vacillation, was vilified by both Calvinists and Catholics. Catholic nobles in the south, increasingly opposed to Spain, turned to the Duke of Anjou, the King of France's brother, to give aid, and the States-General recognised him in August 1578 as a 'Defender of the Liberties of the Low Countries'. The Calvinist provinces were more interested in establishing Protestantism as the faith than negotiating a politique-inspired religious truce, as William of Orange wished. In January 1579, seven northern provinces formed the Union of Utrecht, which is regarded as the foundation of the United Provinces. Several southern provinces formed the Union of Arras - Hainault, Artois, Namur, Luxemburg, Limburg - and united with Philip in May 1579. The middle ground, as it were, was disappearing - Orange reluctantly took the side of the Union of Utrecht.

'Outside interference', and a Spanish 'surge'
Queen Elizabeth had been alarmed at some of the successes of Alba's earlier campaign, and was not particularly encouraged when Don Juan died of the plague and was replaced by Margaret's nephew, Alexander Farnese of Parma, an altogether more spirited military challenger. The English state was not keen on a strong Habsburg dynasty, especially given Philip's designs on the English throne and their growing competition over the colonies. (I seem to recall that 1579 was the first year in which the English attempted piracy on Spanish ships?) Until 1580, there had been - amazingly enough - a sustained pretence of loyalty on the part of rebel leaders and their nominal political masters. In March 1580, that fiction was destroyed, as Philip outlawed William of Orange and charged Farnese with the task of finally destroying this rebellion. It was at this point that on-off contacts were initiated by Elizabeth. Orange united with the Duke of Anjou, who was made prince and lord of the Netherlands in January 1581. In July of that year, the States-General passed an Act of Abjuration, formally deposing Philip II as their ruler. (Darby, 2001: 22-4; Parker, 1990: 216).

At this point, it is tempting to see the beginning of the end for Spain. Yet it was by no means certain that Philip would remain deposed. The Duke of Anjou proved inept and unpopular, and had to flee after a failed coup in 1583. Orange died the next year at the hands of assassins. And Farnese notched up a series of stunning successes - Dunkirk and Newport in 1583, Bruges and Ghent in 1584, Brussels and Antwerp in 1585. The rebels became so desperate that they offered sovereignty to both France and England - both declined, but Elizabeth signed a deal with the rebels in 1585 that would enable the Earl of Leicester to send 7,000 troops if the States-General appointed him their governor. Elizabeth did not wish for open breach with Philip, but she did want to restore the stalemate and gain leverage with the Habsburg monarchy. Those who resented the growing dominance of Holland supported Leicester, and Holland would not submit to Leicester's rule. When Leicester's troops mutinied and betrayed Deventer to the Spanish, Holland's position was strengthened, and Leicester eventually had to return to England disappointed.

Philip knew that there had been a breach between England and Spain, and he prepared for an Armada to attack the mainland. This, however, had a number of effects - it diverted resources from Farnese's military machine; resulted in suspended operations and mutines; gave Elizabeth reason to drop support for anti-Holland factions' and thus gave cohesion to the rebels under aggressive Holland leadership. Philip's intervention in the French civil war finally turned Farnese against him. Farnese, before he died in 1592, urged Philip to seek compromise with the Dutch rebels and bow out of the French war. It might have been wise counsel, but at that moment it was not clear that compromise was on the cards. Holland had been handed leadership of the rebellion, and the shift of Spanish forces to France had already given the Dutch a huge advantage. Their economy had taken off, and in 1590 the States-General had declared that they recognised no overlord except the deputies of the provincial Estates. Having launched a full-scale offensive by sea in 1591, they recaptured several republics from Farnese’s onslaught (Ijssel, Nijmegen, Groningen). Territorial gains accumulated until the entirety of provinces was under Dutch control. Philip II's death in 1598 drew the attention of the entire continent to what had been a regional conflict. It was widely understood that a microcosm of the forces revolutionising Europe had been played out here. The Dutch had been able to do something extraordinary, and here I come back to their seaborne stunts. They had blockaded the Spanish coastline, and taken control of the north sea coast of the Netherlands. They went on to make serious incursions into the Spanish colonial trade, and it was the astounding expansion of the rebels into the Far East, Carribean and West Africa that led the Spanish monarch to seek a desperate ceasfire, finally consolidated as the Twelve Year Truce. (Jonathan I Israel, Dutch Primacy in World Trade: 1585-1740, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989; Jonathan I Israel, The Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World 1606-1661, Oxford, 1982) For much of the ensuing century, Dutch society entered into a Golden Age, most known these days for tulips on its stock market and the extraordinary flowering of art. In the vanguard of European economic development and colonialism, it was in that century that they first arrived in South Africa. Hugo Grotius, born during the revolt, would go on to elaborate his legal arguments for Dutch piracy (freedom of the seas). The Dutch successes in controlling the seas transformed European colonialism and with it the whole basis of future empire.

Is this an instance of a 'bourgeois revolution' of the kind that has plagued marxist typology? Well, it involved a noble-bourgeois alliance with the support of labouring classes - but then, so did the English revolution, and so - initially - did the French revolution. Were the Dutch bourgeoisie capitalist at the time? As I say, it had a highly urbanised society, it had a monetised economy, it made extraoardinary technological advances especially in agriculture, it was a highly developed commercial society, it had extensive wage labour, and it was more reliant than usual on overseas trade. The closest comparison that obtains is the Venetian city-state, particularly Florence. Yet, like Florence, Holland did not take the leap to industrial capitalism as England did, slowly being eclipsed toward the end of the 17th Century, especially after the English state acquired a state with a thoroughly integrated ruling class in charge of its domestic and international mission. Perhaps this is because, like the Florentine economy, the essential character of surplus-extraction in the Dutch economy was pre-capitalist commerce and 'political' extraction. Like the tax/office state if pre-revolutionary France, one of the main sources of status and wealth in the Dutch Republic would come to be public office. When the European economy declined, the Dutch Republic's trading advantage declined as well. Instead of investing in productive improvement, the Republic disinvested in agriculture, and committed itself to extra-economic means of leverage, namely the invasion of London - the very venture, ironically enough, that was to be known as the 'Glorious Revolution', and which placed the capitalist class decisively in charge of the English state. The revolt, with its various layers, dimensions and stages, certainly freed an extraordinarily advanced commercial economy from a horrendous economic, political and spiritual burden. It was certainly, in its way, the first 'modern' national war of liberation - yet this merely raises the extent to which 'modernity' is a problematic ideal-type, for in so many ways, the Dutch Republic retained pre-modern forms.

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Brown Shitstorm posted by Richard Seymour

It seems Gordon Brown is walking into Downing Street just as a labour revolt is brewing on several fronts over pay. Aside from the teachers and postal workers who are being balloted for strike action, and the civil servants and health workers who are fighting against Brown's 2% pay ceiling, the midwives are threatening strike action for the first time in 125 years. And Brown is apparently feeling the heat, having told Royal Mail bosses that: "I’m not coming into 10 Downing Street with a post strike going on – get this sorted."

Meanwhile, an important test case at the European Court of Justice has decided in favour of trade unions having a right to force companies supplying labour from outside a country to apply domestic pay rates, thus preventing wage depression. That fight is far from over: guess which side Brown will be on?

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Rambo does humanitarian intervention posted by Richard Seymour

So here's what happens. There's a genocide in Myanmar, right, and Rambo happens to be nearby with a big boat stacked full of military equipment. Except, the big dumb goofball is too cautious to get messed up in something that ain't his business. He's become an isolationist after defeating world communism, you see. And then, right, this bunch of human rights workers or something plead to use his boat to travel up to some unspecified part of Burma to try and help the poor local Burmese people who are being rather brutally taken apart by men with guns and sticks and things that spray fire. One of them, a white woman whose heart curdles with the milk of human kindness, tries to persuade the stupid, over-armed American behemoth to take notice of the plight of the poor oppressed people. Only when she and her fellow workers are kidnapped (she is predictably on the verge of rape by some oversexed Oriental) does Rambo remember that he's got a conscience, and he starts kicking ass in the most gruesome ways imaginable. He's such a cold, unforgiving instrument of God that, when he strikes, the enemy is almost certain to explode in a shower of pulped flesh and blood. Naturally, neither the enemy nor their Burmese victims have distinquishable features. Their faces don't quite register, and they have no real stories of their own. An amorphous mass, they either personify abject victimhood or eeeevvvillll.

Incidentally, it is odd that they should pick Myanmar for their genocide tourism, because reports last year suggested that the mortality rate for males aged 15-25 is close to that achieved in Cambodia under Pol Pot. This is not because the repressive government - which provides British capital with a flood of low-price commodities - engages in arbitrary or group-based murder (although it does those things too - about 2% of the population experiences a family member being shot at, beaten or stabbed by government forces). It is because it is a capitalist dictatorship, based on forced labour (up to a third of the population experiences this), with nothing that could be called a social security system. Malnourishment, starvation and treatable or preventable malaria cause the bulk of deaths as a consequence. That is to say, this grim tale is simply part of the reality of global capitalism, partaking of some of its worst ills. Obviously, the UK government repays the regime's services to capital with a steady supply of armaments. So, if Rocky does want to fuck with the Burmese, he has to go through the British first.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Ever hear of a guy called Nikolai Lenin?" posted by Richard Seymour

Some American propaganda films, from before they had people like Ridley Scott to do it for them. The evils of communism:

The benefits of capitalism:

And the drug war:

Try not to think of these as sweet relics from a bygone innocent era. The ideological foundations of contemporary class rule were being laid here.

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EDB on the latest strife in Lebanon posted by bat020

I came across Anecdotes from a Banana Republic during Israel's attack on Lebanon last summer - it's a sharply written and spikily cynical blog from Beirut that combines slice-of-life observation with a keen understanding of Lebanese politics.

Anyway, it's well worth checking EDB's latest post on the background to the current flare-up in Lebanon - it details how Fatah al-Islam has been armed and encouraged by the Siniora/Hariri forces in Lebanon as a counterweight to Hizbollah, quoting Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece from back in January:

"Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, 'The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.' Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. 'I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,' Crooke said."

But Fatah al-Islam is now out of control. The resulting fallout has led to a wanton slaughter of Palestinian refugees in the Nahr el Bared refugee camp:

What seems clear is that whoever once sponsored or gave orders to Fatah al Islam has unleashed a beast they no longer control and a policy of trying to contain (or tolerate) the group is no longer working.

In the meantime, the army which is not allowed to enter Nahr el Bared, is shelling the camp "indiscriminately", according to a PFLP spokesman earlier today. The wounded are not receiving medical attention; fires are raging. "We want ambulances to be allowed into the refugee camp to transfer the civilian casualties. We also want fire brigades to enter the camp and put off the fire in many buildings." A cloud of black smoke envelopes the camp, and rescue workers who were trying to evacuate the wounded were fired upon.

Read the whole thing here.


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Conundrum posted by Richard Seymour

How could one persuade The Guardian to produce a lengthy front-page 'exclusive' based on nothing but propaganda from an unnamed US official, with no proof, and nothing but 'US officials say' all over the place?

How indeed?

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Labour's racist housing argument. posted by Richard Seymour

Margaret Hodge has done it again, claiming that if we don't deny immigrants access to housing, the BNP will make gains. She was supported in this by a leading Brownite deputy contender, Hazel Blears. This from a government that has run down council housing at every available opportunity, selling it off, ALMOing it, defying the wishes of local residents, defunding it, etc. You might have thought that Hodge would have learned from the last time she talked up the BNP, when its members were telling people that councils in Essex gave 50k to African families to buy local houses. The result of Hodge's intervention last time was a substantial boost for the BNP, who went on to win a dozen councillors in Barking and Dagenham on an increased turnout. Not only that, but the Tory vote went up as well - Labour crashed to third place. The BNP had previously had little presence in the area. If pandering to racism was the way to neutralise it, this would not have happened. But this is Hodge's argument:

She said white, black and Asian British families, on low incomes, who had lived in an area for several generations could not get their own homes and all felt there was an "essential unfairness" in the system.

"They feel that they've grown up in the borough, they're entitled to a home, and that sense of entitlement is often overridden by a real need of new immigrant families who come in, perhaps locked into private accommodation, poor accommodation, overcrowded."

Classic New Labour projection - the voters are the repository of Hodge's racist argument, not her. What they can allegedly be said to "feel" is supposedly paramount in Hodge's prima-democratic mind. Yet, she doesn't escape that easily: it is her assertion that immigrants are prioritised over local families, and she knows the exact pedigree of that argument. It was the BNP who initiated the lies that immigrants were given special preference for housing (the fictitious 'Africans for Essex scheme'). The second sense in which it is projection is the obvious one: New Labour is happy to destroy services and trample on any "sense of entitlement" until they can blame the immigrants for it.

When the local council privatised ten care homes for the elderly early last year, one of the first results was that the company threatened to close all of them if the already underpaid staff didn't accept cuts. Similarly, while the council has sold off homes under right-to-buy schemes, it hasn't replaced them. There is a huge demand pressure. Dagenham, for example, is one of the cheapest places to buy a house in London, and has consequently attracted the poorest families from across the city. Yet, the council has not done enough to accomodate the demand. It has one of the highest rates of council housing tenancy in the country, 35%. Like any other council, houses used to be allocated on the basis of a points scheme in Barking & Dagenham. The understanding was that if you took a flat, you would accumulate points and get allocated a house. But since they didn't bother building new council housing, this became sort of redundant - so while people from across London have rushed to purchase the comparatively cheap houses put on the market, families have been trapped in cramped tower block flats. Their one move to address this issue has been to replace points with a 'choice-based letting' system in which the council acts as an estate agent, advertising properties which you can 'bid' for, and the 'bid' is then assessed on the basis of waiting time and priority. It is a typical New Labour scheme modelled on market mechanisms that doesn't address the shortfall issue. At the moment, there is a huge development scheme taking place that embraces Barking and Dagenham, which is run by a private entity, the Thames Gateway Development Corporation. 60,000 new homes will be built - but all in the private sector, with a 'socially affordable' margin of houses. 6,000 of these will be available to Barking and Dagenham residents, but none of them will be council houses: and for most workers, they will be unaffordable.

Margarget Hodge's argument, coming as it does from a front-bench MP, and with backing from the Labour Party chairwoman, signals what may be New Labour's on-off way of dealing with criticisms of its disastrous housing policy. Credit where it's due, Jon Cruddas, the MP for Dagenham, has rebuked Hodge this morning for racialising an argument that should be about provision. Cruddas' bid for the deputy-leadership of the Labour Party has involved him arguing for more council housing, a curb on private-sector involvement in the NHS and an end to the occupation of Iraq: he has received the backing of Ken Livingstone, Roy Hattersley and the leadership of 'Unite', the new union formed by the Amicus-TGWU merger. But he is pretty far down the bookies' list of contenders. So, it looks like Hodge and her 'appeasement' policy may win out.

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