Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Screw the anti-union laws posted by tony collins

It's big, and it could get bigger.

We’ve not seen images like it for over 15 years. The scene outside that prison in Liverpool at just gone 2pm this afternoon is required viewing. The local Prison Officers Association secretary on a wall, addressing a mass meeting. He’d just got off the phone to “our national vice-chair, Steve Gough” whose reaction to the government obtaining an injunction against the union was “tell them to stuff it up their arse”. The sound of journos’ jaws dropping was drowned out by the roars and cheers.

The biggest success of this action so far is the fact that it has taken place. The BBC, having had it as top item, moved it rapidly down the pecking order. No one can seriously doubt there was contact with the Ministry of Justice. This image of raw, effective, illegal action with the rest of the state powerless to do anything is one that the government, state agencies and employers will be desperate to bury. Typically, the BBC website has been at pains to quote union officers saying the action has to end because of the injunction, yet strangely, the newsworthy quote above seems to be missing from their story. In addition, of two pictures the BBC is showing online, one of them is of Bristol POA members returning to work.

In one burst of officially sanctioned unofficial action the prison officers have brought the possibility of serious action to break Brown’s pay freeze many steps closer. More significantly, they have rehabilitated the great weapon of the 1970s – the wildcat strike – traditional values in a modern setting, you might say.

Of course, prison officers as a category are not clear cut in the way, for example, nurses are. The state ultimately is bodies of armed men and their associated courts and prisons, and all that. But both in the demands of this dispute and the wider positions taken by the POA over the last 10 years, there’s a significant shift towards a social democratic trade unionism as opposed to a narrow craftism shot through with highly reactionary views and thuggery.

The statement put out by George Galloway and Respect rightly placed the dispute in the wider context of overcrowding and the government’s crazed policies:

"The POA and its members have my full support. I utterly condemn the injunction issued against the union, and Jack Straw should hang his head in shame for seeking it. Prison service management and the government ought to know that sympathy for the POA over the denial of union rights goes way beyond the trade union movement.

"The government is responsible for this action, and any consequences that flow from it, and no one else.

"This action is taking place on the day when news breaks of an ever growing bonanza in the boardroom. Anger among public sector workers over Gordon Brown's pay curbs, which amount to a cut, is growing.

"The prison officers' union has resisted the obscene privatisation of the service and has also championed calls for providing the staff, resources and training to ensure rehabilitation rather than tabloid-driven retribution.

"This government in caving in to that tabloid pressure is responsible for record prison overcrowding, which is damaging to prisoners and staff as well as doing nothing to tackle crime and its causes.

"Everyone should support the POA in this battle, which the government has it in its power to avert. In particular, I believe all public sector workers and their unions have an immediate interest in standing together and acting together to break Brown's pay freeze and ensure decent pay for all.

"In taking action despite the unjust anti-union laws and in refusing to cave in the prison officers union has set an example for the entire labour movement. Everyone must rally to their side.

"Respect opposes the Tory anti-union laws, which New Labour has reinforced. Every union has policy to have them repealed, as does the TUC. Now's the time to act on that policy."

The central question is that the prison officers today said, “Screw the anti-union laws.” In so doing they have created an example that might well spread.

At the time of writing Bristol had gone back in, but others were staying out. Whether they are all back tonight or by 7am tomorrow is not decisive. The genie is out of the bottle.

What's clear is that there will be relentless pressure on the strikers to return to work.

What else is clear is that we need to make sure those workers are inundated with messages of support, and that they are under no illusion that if action is taken against them by their bosses or by the government, we'll all do whatever we can to back them.

Send emails right now to - but don't stop there. Raise the issue at work and get your colleagues to send messages too. Make sure everyone in your union does the same. And be prepared to do a lot more if the action spreads.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Free Latif posted by Richard Seymour

Socialist reporter, Mohamed Abdel Latif, detained by America's client despot, Mubarak.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Lenin: a political moderate and humanitarian posted by Richard Seymour

Lenin's Tomb, eh? It's like the trains: you're waiting for one post, and then three or four come along at once. (No, you certainly shouldn't interpret that as me saying that this blog is a train-wreck). I simply wanted to adumbrate a case, the basis for a future pamphlet, perhaps, or even a novella. A week or so ago, I was sandbagged on the MediaLens site by a bunch of anti-Leninists, some liberal and some anarchist. This is all very much par for the course, and I appreciate that my insistence that Lenin was a democrat and the Bolshevik Party a model of thriving conversational openness was bound to be provocative. And I'd be the first to admit that Lenin's often brutal language during the Civil War, imbibed very much from his era I think, is chilling. The 'Hanging Order', in which a number of bloodsucking capitalists were to be hung in public as part of a terrorist campaign against the White Army and the Entente forces, is not what one would typically understand as the language or action of a political moderate - but that merely goes to show how loaded the terms of moderation and extremism actually are.

I don't pretend that I can settle the argument over whether it is ever appropriate to use terror to increase the human cost of an oppressive and iniquitous system or movement. It is a problem that has come up in almost every revolt in human history: the slave revolts, the French revolution; the anti-apartheid movement; and almost every anti-colonial struggle. It is an abiding issue in the struggle for Palestinian liberation. However, I will tentatively make a few suggestions. In the first instance, one has to reckon with the human cost of not using such methods, as well as the human cost of using them. This isn't the case for a crude utilitarianism, but it does suggest that the argument is a lot less simple than the violent prohibition of liberal moralism, or pacifism, would permit. The fact that the Bolsheviks won the civil war by the skin of their teeth - against an ememy that would undoubtedly have not only crushed the democratic achievements of the revolution, but also set a record for Hitler to break in terms of Jew-killing - at least suggests that to dispense with the tactic would have invited defeat and a potential humanitarian catastrophe. To adopt a more pacific posture when one is under sustained and vicious attack not only domestically from the most horrendous reactionary thugs, but also internationally from the club of rich men who have recently sunk Europe into one of its most depraved episodes in history, is arguably a form of fanaticism and utopianism that defies logic. Lenin is frequently upbraided for utopianism, yet if anything defines the Bolsheviks in opposition and in power, it is their pragmatism, their awareness of the necessary compromises to achive their goals. And those goals themselves were very precise and Lenin was one of the most creative in formulating direct, material means of achieving them (see this lively little warning shot, for example). The Bolshevik role in the revolution wasn't a coup, as it is usually interpreted, but it was at the minimum a form of humanitarian intervention. Having fought alongside Russian workers to win their humane goals in the real world, not in Utopia, the Bolsheviks then sought to defend them in the real world. Aware of the threat that the bureaucracy itself posed and the parlous condition of soviet power after the civil war, Lenin opposed the abolition of trade unions as a power separate from the soviets. Having gauged the threat of Stalin's obsessive bureaucratism, his petty tyrannical tendencies, and his Greater Russian chauvanism, Lenin tried to stop the slow-moving coup.

What is striking about the reflexive anti-Leninist posture of so many is how apolitical it is. Take a few of Chomsky's usual raps, for example. Here's him in 'The Soviet Union Versus Socialism':

"Soon Lenin was to decree that the leadership must assume "dictatorial powers" over the workers, who must accept "unquestioning submission to a single will" and "in the interests of socialism," must "unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process."

This is taken from Lenin's 'The Immediate Tasks of the Proletarian Government', and the full quote is as follows:

"We must learn to combine the 'public meeting' democracy of the working people—turbulent, surging, overflowing its banks like a spring flood—with iron discipline while at work, with unquestioning obedience to the will of a single person, the Soviet leader, while at work."

Iron discipline at work because of the economic crisis the country was in as a result of the war and the decimation of the country's industrial working class, but with "turbulent, surging, overflowing" democracy! Here's Chomsky again:

Lenin explained that subordination of the worker to "individual authority" is "the system which more than any other assures the best utilization of human resources".

This is taken directly from Maurice Brinton, who took it from Lenin's partially transcribed speech to the Third All Russian Congress of Economic Councils in 1920. This pre-NEP speech advocated the rapid requisitioning of grain to be distributed to workers at fixed prices rather than those obtainable on the market, which would be sky-high. It also advocated the more widespread use of one-man management to the same end. The quote is as follows, and I add in square brackets the part ommitted by Brinton:

"The transition to practical work involves individual management, for that system best ensures the most effective utilisation of human abilities, [and a real, not verbal, verification of work done]."

What is the significance of the ommitted passage? Only that production levels were catastrophically low, the working class had been drastically reduced in numbers by the ongoing civil war, and labour discipline was in a terrible state. This was something that Lenin was kind enough to include in his speech, in fact. Not only are the quotes lazily distorted, the political context is entirely removed: it is a moralistic fable, in which the bad men with their bad Hegelian ideology do wicked things and blacken the name of socialism. Curiously, Chomsky has recognised that the circumstance of war necessitates a certain amount of authoritarianism, and cites America during the Second World War as his example. Well, say what you will for Pearl Harbour, but the United States was not being invaded by an international coalition during WWII and was not in a situation of near social collapse as a result of years of reactionary war.

It isn't reasonable to continue to pretend otherwise: Lenin was a political moderate and humanitarian. I'm not recommending that you kiss his cold dead arse for that fact, but I simply think that if the terms mean anything, then they apply especially to Lenin.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Spectre of Yanqui Kapital posted by Richard Seymour

Well, alright, I admit that this is beautifully written and incisive and persuasive. I doff my cap. I disagree with its main appeal, however: it is reductionist and it puts the blame for the war on a caricatured crony capitalism and a right-wing assault on the treasury. In fact, that seems to be its goal. As a result, I don't see how it could explain the continued attachment of Democrat politicians to the war except through the ruses of timidity and voter reaction. And the continued support or acquiescence of big business, who on the whole probably like a fiduciarily reliable state with a balanced budget which is capable of bailing out hedge funds and savings and loans, and subsidising industry and keeping people in an employable condition etc, is a complete mystery. They do not particularly require a state with diminished capacity, so why on earth would the US ruling class partake of a scheme that threatened their interests? And why, despite strategic qualms, would European powers - who aren't stupid, or at least aren't that stupid - assist and cover for such an operation? Obviously, one could cite 'peak oil', but that could only be part of the answer as long as alternative strategies could have supplied long-term access to the oil (coopting a much-weakened Saddam and turning him into a junior partner to Bandar Bush was always a possibility).

Basically, I think Ellen Meiksins Wood is correct: an activist US state is required to maintain a global hierarchy of nation-states, with constant and open-ended forms of military intervention. This set-up, for from being obsolescent as Hardt & Negri claim, works very well, ensuring that the global appropriation of labour continues to be overwhelmingly for the benefit of a distinctly American ruling class. Obviously, the idea of a single coherent capitalist class ideology is a chimera - there will always be sectoral differences which are structured by ideology. However, if there could be a Spirit of Yankee Kapital - a spectral, unified, far-sighted capitalist class mind - it would surely pursue a geopolitical vision not at all dissimilar to that of PNAC: siezing the window of opportunity afforded by the lack of a rival superpower, trying to create a pro-US regime in the Middle East, demonstrating the ability to fight and win wars in multiple theatres, comprehensive military dominance in order to secure and sustain comprehensive political and economic dominance etc. If such a policy, broadly construed, could have been carried out successfully, then it would have been a master-stroke of strategy. If they can save the situation, and not lose either Baghdad or Kabul, and even claim Tehran or Damascus as part of an elevated war, then they will have carried off a real coup, and popular-democratic movements in the Middle East, as in Latin America, will be finished. And that, of course, would sustain the continued appropriation of global labour for the benefit of American capitalism. And as long as that situation redounds to the benefit of America's allies and cooptees, then they will support it too. (Is this why French capital, not only for domestic reasons, recently threw its weight behind possibly the most pro-US politician France has ever had?)

The current wave of military adventurism - threatening Iran, sending Israel into Lebanon - doesn't suggest a confident, assured elite, which can bide its time. It suggest purpose and ruthlessness, to be sure: but then Clinton wasn't purposeful and ruthless? Ricky Ray Rector's executioner, the man who insisted the poor weren't being fucked hard enough and so cut their welfare, the pitiless killer of Iraqis with a global blockade and a sustained bombing campaign, the bomber of Yugoslavia, the sponsor of Turkish and Colombian state murder? It seems clear that the Bush administration took over a broad policy that was already being crafted and nurtured, which was to replace Saddam Hussein, neoliberalise Iran, keep the Saudis and Mubarak happy, and contain popular uprisings in Latin America. However much the Bush administration has unquestionably manipulated those goals for the advantage of a narrow sector of energy and reconstruction capitalists, their decisions were only a more extreme variant of Clinton's programme. If you ask me, and you really shouldn't because I've about as much of a clue as you have, the driving force behind the administration's increasing bellicosity on Iran, and intransigence on Iraq and Afghanistan, is precisely an awareness that they could lose it all. Not due to internal factors, of course, or largely not at any rate. But they actually could lose Iraq - or, more accurately, they have already lost most of Iraq, and may not be able to regain it. And then, of course, if they did, Halliburton would still be rich, and so would various other companies close to the Bush administration - but the long term prospects for American profitability would be immeasurably harmed. You know what the sight of American nationals fleeing into helicopters on the roof can do to investor confidence? And this is how I think we should understand both the frantic aggression of the Bush administration and the complicity of its electorally compromised Democrat rivals. Neither 'liberal' nor 'conservative' US capital wants to cut Iraq loose yet, not without doubling the bet, and not unless they can do so in a way that leaves with them with a way back in and with substantial leverage over the regime. It isn't about raiding the US treasury or enriching a few multinationals: that is arguably a function of the 'war on terror', but it is a secondary one, and one even the Dems are willing to contest.

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Lost in Translation posted by Richard Seymour

Those inscrutable Orientals.

"I believe in assuming [the white man's burden]. I believe it would be better for the world and better for us."

"A Jap's a Jap ... There is no way to determine their loyalty ... It makes no difference whether he is an American; theoretically he is still a Japanese and you can't change him."


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Turn off the lights: you don't want to see this. posted by Richard Seymour

As if it was necessary to dim the solar rays so that the Bush administration could carry on its massacres discreetly. What's the point, when you can simply seal off towns, bust them up, and then let a former green beret posing as a reporter follow you around as you point out evil-doers and evil-dones? From time to time, there is a glimmer of good news: the troops openly saying the war is 'unwinnable', for example; the all-too-late withdrawal of troops from Basra, for another. But, with Democrat complicity assured, and little sign as yet that the antiwar movement is going to emerge from that canopy under which all life withers and dies, the Bush administration is going for the kill. This report, based on media reports, says Iraqi death rates resulting from the war have doubled in the last year, probably in large part due to the 'surge'. Now, I think you may remember me pointing out that the death rate had, according to the Lancet survey, doubled every year since the occupation began. If that trend has indeed continued, then there have been 1.3m excess deaths as a result of the war as of two months ago. For all that, Bush is so absurdly confident that he provocatively raises comparisons with Vietnam, while Cheney pushes for aggression against Iran. He doesn't have to worry - it isn't as if anyone is going to impeach him for anything he's done. Hardly any of it is being reported, at any rate.

The number of US troops in Iraq is at an all-time high, and there are 180,000 mercenaries at work alongside them. We hear that their operations are only beginning. We hear that the US is very disappointed with the Maliki government, and that US officials are starting to worry that the Iraqis can't hack democracy. As usual, the racist assumptions are wheeled out in support of the claim. A senior Republican from the House Select Committee on Intelligence says that Iraqi culture simply doesn't prepare its people for self-government - and so the troops must stay indefinitely. (At least this accurately summarises US elite thinking: it is always more obscene when Bush pretends that it is the arguments of opponents of the war that Iraqis are unfit for self-government.) And meanwhile Iyad Allawi - the ruthless thug who oversaw the destruction of Fallujah - is putting himself forward as the solution, and is paying Washington lobbyists $300,000 to promote him (this is how the old 'exile' community used to do business, in fact, which is how Makiya and Chalabi ended up bonding with neocons and Christian fundamentalists).

So, anyway, with all this happening, will someone kindly answer the following: why should any military opposition to the US, even 'Al Qaeda', stop what they are doing? I don't wish to blur important distinctions, or imply that 'Al Qaeda' has a legitimate war, but consider Bush's remarks to the National Endowment for Democracy in October 2005:

Over the years, these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence: Israeli presence on the West Bank or the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia or the defeat of the Taliban or the crusades of a thousand years ago.

In fact, we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We're facing a radical ideology with unalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world.

Set aside the fact that demoting the political aspects of an insurgency, and emphasising the allegedly irrational aspects is a classical technique of empire. This is a transparent case of projection: the reality is that the fanatical, adept, resourceful, devoted, imaginative and uncompromising servants of American power have for years used a litancy of excuses for violence. Their foes don't face a set of grievances that can be soothed or addressed. They intend to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No bribe, no soothing gesture, and no appeasement could compel them to stop. On Bush's logic, there is no reason for any group engaged in a war against the US to cease its activities, even if thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or into the millions of people are killed. Intransigence in the service of one's interests, however one chooses to moralise them, is evidently considered a virtue by American policy makers (hence, surely, the constant references to Frontier mythology and in particular to America's Last Stand). I realise that by saying this I don't add anything to mankind's sum of knowledge, but the United States government poses a far greater threat to what is called, without a trace of irony, civilisation, than any of its opponents, however unpleasant. Since this happens to be unambiguously the case, and understood worldwide if polls are any guide, the remaining supporters of the 'war on terror' in any of its aspects, have the unenviable distinction of being morally inferior by a very long shot to the supporters of 'Al Qaeda'.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Coming back for the silverware posted by Richard Seymour

The nerve. It's as if you've just ejected a set of burglars from your house, only to find them trying to sneak in through the kitchen window. You may remember that French voters delivered a huge blow to the EU Constitutional Treaty a couple of years ago. This was a tremendous victory for the left, because the proposed treaty embraced several regressive demands made by employers organisations, sought to undermine public services since they 'distort' the market, and locked signatories into building up military capacities in support of NATO (all the better to occupy Afghanistan for another fifty years).

Europe's political classes promised they would return, and so they have. In a way, it is Blair's parting shot to a country that has grown to hate him. The rulers of Europe have decided, after much consideration, that going to impose the Treaty in all its essentials without a referendum, by diktat. Last night, a batch of politicians including the dim-eyed Jim Murphy MP explained to viewers of Channel 4 News the logic behind this latest move. Essentially, they recited, having ditched the constitutional issue, they can now impose the same programme of reforms without bothering to consult the electorate. And after all, they didn't hold referendums on other EU measures such as the Maastricht Treaty. This bizarre argument boils down to saying that we haven't been democratic before, so why start now?

Brown simply stated, with typical arrogance, that there was no need for a referendum and he was certain that parliament would pass the bill - which, of course, it probably will given the number of seats Labour has. However, it could turn very bad for Brown, because 82% of British voters, including 80% of Labour voters, would in fact like to be consulted. The unions are leading the 'no' campaign on the grounds that the reforms would hurt workers' rights and lead to a wave of privatisation. Britain's trade union leaders broadly favour the inegration of European as a capitalist bloc, provided it includes some minimal protections for labour. One of their big problems with this is that Tony Blair has opted out of clauses providing such minimal protection not only for workers, but for human rights more generally. The reason for the opt-out is presumably that the British state feels it can be much more aggressive with organised labour than its European allies.

We'll see about that. The outcome of the recent talks between Royal Mail management and union leaders is still unclear. The Post Office has made unsatisfactory offers, and so strikes are to continue. And they may soon find that health workers and civil servants are also on the picket line after their recent pay cuts. New Labour may yet have to answer to the constituency it so fears and loathes.

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Pilger: War on Democracy posted by Richard Seymour

In case you missed it:

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Armed Militants Threaten Key UK Airport posted by Richard Seymour

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Oz Rules in East Timor posted by Richard Seymour

The leader of East Timor's largest political party has denounced the Australian troops occupying his country, saying 'they had better go home because they are not neutral'.

Mari Alkatiri, the Secretary of the Fretilin party, made his call after Australian troops waded into an anti-government protest held in a village near the East Timorese capital Dili yesterday. The Aussies provoked fury by ripping down two Fretilin flags and wiping their backsides with them...

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ecocide Q & A posted by Richard Seymour

So, what are the possibilities?

He quotes from a scientific paper by Nasa's Professor James Hansen, which says that the last time the world warmed by 2-3 degrees C in such a short time, the world's major ice sheets collapsed very quickly - and sea levels rose by 25 metres. "If that happens again," he says, "it would inundate the areas where 60 per cent of human beings live."

Yes, but which 60%?

If Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or what happened in Tewkesbury taught us anything, it is that poor people are less likely to have house insurance, the ability to migrate or resources to rebuild their lives. It's clear that it won't be scientific debate that sets the level of carbon emission reductions, it will be the result of struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Quite simply, the rich and powerful - for now - can tolerate higher levels of climate change because they can pay to escape the consequences.

Katrina also showed something else, didn't it?

A partial ethnic cleansing of New Orleans will be a fait accompli without massive local and federal efforts to provide affordable housing for tens of thousands of poor renters now dispersed across the country in refugee shelters. Already there is intense debate about transforming some of poorest, low-lying neighbourhoods, such the Lower Ninth Ward (flooded again by Hurricane Rita), into water retention ponds to protect wealthier parts. As the Wall Street Journal has rightly emphasised, “That would mean preventing some of New Orleans’s poorest residents from ever returning to their neighbourhoods”

They call it creative destruction.

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Dead stockbrokers posted by Richard Seymour

Soon, fellow insurgents, you will experience delays on the Central Line as stockbrokers finish themselves with gymnastic flips into an oncoming train. For, a spectre is haunting capital. According to Robert Wade's exceptionally timely New Left Review article, the recent weaknesses in the global system led the Bank for International Settlements to declare that the world was vulnerable to "another 1930s slump". The main reasons for the structural precarity are: (i) the exorbitant levels of global debt, with hedge funds currently valued at $1.5 trillion, making a 'great unwind' probable; (ii) a liquidity boom which has increased financial instability; (iii) the imbalances in the US economy, with a middle class squeezed by declining house prices and the drop in real wages, and its relative global decline leading it to seek less multilateral ways to expand its hegemony; (iv) the entry of rising capitalisms to the global club, with competition increasingly taking the form of neo-imperialism, particularly over energy access (Wade includes Russia's recent moves over energy in Central Asia in this category), thus raising the prospect of instability in the geopolitical system. The implications of a crash, in other words, are that economic autarky will be accompanied by increasingly militarised drives to facilitate the export of capital as well as access to energy resources. Aside from that, the condition of the labour movement is not optimal, and its ability to resist the inevitable attempts to make the working class pay for a recession with pay cuts and degraded conditions is weak. Not that it couldn't be done, not that a populist or anticapitalist challenge couldn't be renewed, but we'd have to re-learn some old lessons extremely fucking quickly.

Interestingly, the response of both libertarians and Keynesians is to blame the rentier class in different ways. Larry Elliott rightly points out that this is no mere wobble, but a sign of deep crisis. The flashpoints of the 1998 crisis were in the developing markets such as Singapore and Thailand (which Blair had hallelujahed unto the heavens before their sudden collapse), whereas today the flashpoints are in the most advanced capitalist economies. And while that proved to be a liquidity crisis, this may prove to be insolvency crisis as larger numbers of households find that they have literally nothing to sustain them. Yet, his argument seems to be that it is the privileging of unproductive financial capitalism over useful manufacturing that is exposing us to such danger, and so he calls for tighter regulation. If the growing profile of finance since the 1970s has produced more global instability, it doesn't mean that this is where the root of the problem lies. Had it not been for the contraction of profitable opportunities in the US economy, the investment banks would not have been tempted by these evidently risky investments in 'subprime' debt. And had it not been for the fact that the recovery of profitability in the US and to a lesser extent in Western Europe was based on the ruthless suppression of labour's bargaining power, thus keeping wages either in relative or absolute decline, then there would it would not have been necessary to stimulate spending with cheap credit. If the domestic markets were not so weak, American corporations wouldn't be relying on a peak in overseas profits to see them through.

The long-term tendency of the rate of profit to fall is the underlying factor that needs to be highlighted. The declining profitability of manufacturing in the US, Japan and Europe is what has led to the growing reliance on the service economy. Take a look at the UK's profit rates in the respective sectors:

And have a look at long-term manufacturing profit-rates in the advanced capitalist economies:

The US economy, like the UK's, has been losing manufacturing jobs rapidly for years. It has relied, due to the weakness of domestic markets, on overseas investments largely in the financial sector for its massive recent profit rates. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, "more than 40% of revenue of companies included in the S&P500 index now comes from operations outside the US". The results, compounded by a weak dollar, have been staggering until lately: for instance, Microsoft reported a 32% jump in revenue and a 65% surge in earnings earlier this year. To put it another way, the US is exporting capital like crazy. Yet, a contraction in returns on investment has been expected for some time precisely because of weakened domestic demand and a reduction in productivity growth. Tightening credit conditions were expected to compound this and make fewer assets available for reinvestment, thus making a recession increasingly probable. In other words, it isn't simply the antics of a clutch of lenders seeking risky profit that has been driving this crisis, and it will take more than a reining in of investors to solve the problem.

Short of a generalised labour insurgency, the likely means to accomplish this will be an attack on wages and conditions. Gordon Brown's attempted pay cuts for public sector workers is certainly part of the means of handling this without making any curtailments on the privileges of investors or their profits, which is one reason why the fightback by posties is so important. It's also probable that New Labour will ratchet up attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers as a way out of its inevitable difficulties. The US government's way out, which Brown is very likely to support, will presumably be to aggressively push to broaden its global hegemony so as to ensure greater market access, either militarily or through subversion. And if there is to be any kind of germinal radicalism or militancy, the US is busily expanding its forms of domestic repression. The recent perverse court finding on the Padilla case, and the Democratic support for warrantless wiretapping of phone calls, strengthens this trend. It means that American citizens can be spied on, and if deemed potentially dangerous, declared illegal combatants, accused of crimes on no evidence, and locked away for years on military brigs without access to lawyers and be tortured. The US government's domestic repression has usually been colour-coded, of course: reds and blacks were the typical public targets of statist aggression, as state police and national intelligence agencies assaulted the labour movement, peace movements, the left, the civil rights movement and so on. These days, the black working class is disciplined through the mass prison system. The US government spots a big threat from radicalised and undocumented migrant workers, whose risky activities have really been in the vanguard of the struggle to improve conditions nationally. So, naturally, they're trying to pass a repressive Immigration Act that will enable them to fine undocumented workers $5,000 - a sum none could afford to pay, and which would surely be used selectively to target deemed troublemakers.

So, it's all uphill from here, eh? See you in the deluge.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Exclusive Report from Climate Camp posted by Richard Seymour

Heathrow Camp for Climate Action – Report for Lenin’s Tomb by Strategist

Lenin requested reports and pics from the Climate Camp at London Heathrow Airport – so here I go.

First of all, if you want news of what is actually happening at the Camp then Indymedia UK, which has been down/unreliable for a day or two, is now well & truly up-and-running. The reporting of the News Ticker ( is infinitely more comprehensive and reliable than anything you will get from the Mainstream Media and the articles and debates are both high quality and passionate. So, in a way, nothing more to add: check out if you want to see, hear and feel what is going on at the camp - second-best only to actually being there.

So need only for a few personal reflections. On the achievement of the organisation of the camp itself; then only superlatives will suffice. The organisers have done an amazing job. The marquees work, the information works, the kitchens serve good food, the casual visitor is welcomed in and cared for in a phenomenal way. The bogs work and are regularly replenished with recycled toilet rolls. It’s as well-run as Glastonbury Festival, which is pretty amazing considering the shoestring budget and the fact that they had to do the whole thing covertly, establishing the site on squatted land in the middle of the night only last Saturday, subsequently getting equipment and supplies only after fine toothcomb police “anti-terrorist” searches and great delay. The seminar programme is excellent – with a quality arguably the equal of the Campaign Against Climate Change’s June international conference at LSE, except brought off in a bunch of old army marquees in a squatted field adjacent to one of the world’s busiest runways.

Someone even remembered to pack the kitchen sink

On key issue number 1 - whether threatening to carry out Non-Violent, Non-Personal Safety-Threatening Direct Action (NVDA) at a busy airport at the height of the holiday season and during a never-to-end terrorism threat panic alert “can ever be justified”, then the demolition by George Monbiot in last Wednesday’s Guardian of whoever prissy little prick writes the Guardian’s leaders really closes that one ( The profile of the Camp has been immense. Without the “threat”, the camp would have been utterly, utterly ignored. That debate is over.

On key issue number 2 – having successfully grabbed their attention, will threatening to carry out Non-Violent, Non-Personal Safety-Threatening Direct Action at a busy airport at the height of the holiday season and during a never-to-end terrorism threat panic alert engage or alienate the Great British Public? (ie, how will it be reported by the mainstream media, sympathetically or with hostility?). I reckon Alice Miles’s Polly Filler-style article in Wednesday’s Murdochshite sums that one up ( Journalists with any contact with actual reality (ie exclude those from The Sun, DTel, Express, Standard) cannot make any attempt to smear the campers as violent, alien terrorists stick. The campers so obviously include a high proportion of “ordinary people” from all walks of life, who just happen to have “got it” about the seriousness of the global warming issue. The organisers are so obviously the children of mainstream, conventional (we might even say middle class) Britain. The mainstream media can’t help itself but love ‘em really. Hence Miles’s point that Brown will only condemn, and the media/the public will only turn against the protest, if and when it “turns violent”. Which almost sounds fair enough unless you actually are there and see the way in which the camp is being harassed and intimidated by elements of the Met Police (especially the camera-wielding goons of the Forward Intelligence Team (FIT)). You might almost imagine their objective is to provoke violence (rumours of a power struggle between “honest” and “nasty” senior cops on this one feel plausible). If you’re following the story in the mainstream media you may be sure of two things if violence is reported: first, that it was provoked by particular specialist Met Police teams; second, that it has been staged in order to give the mainstream media its chance to demonise the Camp – and therefore that the powers-that-be consider the mainstream media coverage so far to have been over-favourable to the protest.

On key issue number 3 – should I, a regular punter, get my own sweet ass on down there, or should I give it a miss because I fear getting arrested/clobbered/stopped or searched/spied on/told on to my Mum by the police, then the answer is very definitely “you should go”. Never fear, it’s very safe and extremely dead easy. It’s one of the most accessible fields in the country, could scarcely be easier to get to ( If you arrive by public transport (train/bus/foot), you probably won’t even get searched by the cops. If you want to avoid violence, then you are more likely to be able to do so here, than when, say, driving through West Norwood. And you probably won’t even get wet, because the weather forecast is for improving conditions. (Note to Grim Up North Londoners, although it is within the London boundary, you simply cannot get fresh ciabatta after midnight and should bring your own supply).

Go on, dare to turn up – you are guaranteed a friendly welcome

A few final thoughts on the relationship between this type of “deliberately without a police permit” protest event (with added NVDA) and the 8 December Global Day of Climate Protest to coincide with the UN Climate Talks (in UK, the National Climate March),; - very much with a police permit and NVDA-free.

In essence, nothing could be more counter-productive than for anarchists and lefties/greenies to bitch at each other about which form of protest is the most effective. Clearly, there is no way that a conventional march of about 2-5,000 attendees that wasn’t threatening NVDA could get this level of media coverage and public profile. But equally, there is no way a camp or NVDA stunt could ever go really mega and attract (say) 2 million attendees, like the 2003 Stop the War March. The 8 December National March does have that inherent potential. And the global protest has the potential to amplify to 100 million or whatever in 100 different countries worldwide. And so it is obvious that the two types of protest event are perfectly complementary, and can & should work together synergetically to cross-promote each other’s success.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gaza residents worth $54 each to Mahmoud Abbas posted by Richard Seymour

This is the most shocking news I have read in some time. The Palestinian Authority has actually campaigned against a UN resolution expressing concern about the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip. It was an extremely modest - actually, pathetic - appeal from some of the Arab states to consider the residents of Gaza as in some respects human. After all, the UN itself states that a humanitarian crisis is emerging in Gaza, esspecially as Israel imposes a blockade:

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a press release in July 2007 that humanitarian imports allowed into Gaza in a week early in the month met some of the minimum food needs in the territory, where 80 per cent of the population already receive food assistance. It also stated that three quarters of Gaza's factories were either closed or operating at 20 per cent capacity, placing the direct livelihoods of about 30,000 people in jeopardy and causing at least US$ 500,000 of business losses daily. UN officials reported later during the same month that OCHA noted the layoff of 65,000 workers by companies in Gaza, following the lack of supplies there, to be capable of affecting as many as 450,000 dependents. Patients in the region had been unable to enter Egypt for medical treatment and another 400 to 700 patients were stranded in the open near the Rafah border. At the same time, border closures and restrictions had been stopping agricultural products from being exported, depriving farmers of income and leading to an overabundance within Gaza of items such as tomatoes, melons and apples, and therefore a drop in prices.

As Ali Abuminah points out, the blockade is driven and enforced to a large extent by Abbas. Soon, as a result, Gaza will be 100% dependent on aid, and they're getting precious little of it. Meanwhile, Israel continues to conduct regular raids into Gaza. And Abbas continues to bluster about how he will have no truck with Hamas. He would rather cozy up to the colonial masters than deal with Palestinians. He got $80m out of the Framework Agreement with Bush on 'reforming' the Palestinian security apparatus (to fully convert it into an American auxiliary). That's all he got. For 1.48m Gazans, that's about $54 a head: and that's what Abbas has sold out his fellow Palestinians for.

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Save Darfur guilty of false advertising posted by Richard Seymour

The Save Darfur coalition has been having a bit of difficulty recently. First, the New York Times (of all publications) criticised them for exaggerating the figures over Darfur, and now the Advertising Standards Authority has had a go at them for the same thing:

But Britain's Advertising Standards Authority said in a ruling last week that recent adverts saying that 400,000 people had died in violence that the coalition blames on the Sudanese government went too far.

"There is no dispute that atrocities are going on there," said ASA spokesman Matt Wilson. "One doesn't want to quibble when it comes to mass slaughter but they simply could not substantiate the figure of 400,000."

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Germany moving left posted by Richard Seymour

A recent news article in Die Zeit revealed that Germans are moving to the left:

These are the results from a study carried out by TNS, and they tell a strange mixture of tales. As you can gather from the image above, there is a sizeable swing to the Left. Only 11% of voters identify themselves as being right-wing, while 34% of voters place themselves on the left. The votes from the centre splits in several different directions, obviously, but it's significant that the Left Party picks up a substantial portion of voters who consider themselves centrists. Further, not only do more voters identify themselves as being left-wing, but if you go to the report (or do a Babelfish translation of the story), you find that voters for right-wing parties favour the left's programme. For example, 68% of voters for the right-wing FDP support a mininum wage, while 57% support reducing the pension age, 82% support free childcare (slightly more than Linke supporters), and most oppose privatisation as well. All of these positions are popular with most voters, but their acceptance by supporters of an aggressively free-market party signals how broadly as well as deeply these ideas are held. A plurality of voters think the unions are too weak, and on this point the distribution of support is more traditional, but still a quarter of FDP supporters, and a third of CDU supporters agree with the prevailing view. Another issue with a more predictable distribution of views is on nuclear power: 38% want to abolish it entirely, but this rises to 65% among the SPD supporters, 86% among the Greens and roughly an even split among Left Party supporters.

The article concludes that "the key demands of the Left Party fall on fertile ground, even outside its milieu". Die Zeit discusses all of these findings with a certain amount of horror, describing them as the result of the impact of neoliberalism on German society (in the usual condescending language in which people are depicted as frightened by a changing world). That is unquestionably the driving force behind this. However, the results also extend into foreign policy matters, where most German voters oppose their government's participation in the occupation of Afghanistan. The strongest opponents of the occupation are naturally Linke supporters, but - not completely surprisingly - the strong supporters of the occupation are Green voters, 47% of whom do so, more than the 42% of CDU voters who favour it.

It is no wonder that the Left Party has come from nowhere to regularly receiving over ten percent of the vote in national opinion polls, putting it ahead of the much more established Green Party. The latest poll puts them on 13%. Incidentally, the presentation of that poll is quite misleading: it says "most Germans continue to support the conservative parties in the governing coalition". In fact, "most Germans" do not: 36% of voters support the conservatives, 11% support the FDP and the remainder - most in fact - support the SPD, Left Party and the Greens. But this is how consent is manufactured, is it not? As Chomsky puts it: "Not only are citizens excluded from political power, they are also kept in a state of ignorance as to the true state of public opinion."

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Monday, August 13, 2007

The media's war on Lebanon posted by Richard Seymour

An interesting study by the ICMPA discusses the media's coverage of last year's war on Lebanon:

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Government threatens protesters posted by Richard Seymour

Anyone who thought that the Brownites would be less zealous in the war on civil liberties will have to revise their opinion. The government has threatened environmental protesters with the use of anti-terror laws so that they can be stopped and searched without evidence or reasonable suspicion, detained for up to a month without charge, have their homes searched etc. Naturally, the police insist that they're concerned about a 'minority' of protesters who are intent on disruption. Imagine someone disrupting something. Imagine someone challenging the inalienable rights of private property. Wouldn't that be simply awful?

The anti-terror laws are nothing of the kind, of course. That is sort of given away by the fact that they have been used almost exclusively against dissidents and protesters who aren't terrorists. Those seeking to disrupt the Great British arms trade for instance. Antiwar demonstrators. Protesters outside the Labour conference. And many others besides. Which I don't think is merely an odd coincidence. Surely the only reasonable course of action is for as many people as can be there to attend and ensure that the camp is a little bit too big for the police to push around and bully.

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"To save America, we need another 9/11" posted by Richard Seymour

Via, this little stool of lunacy is exposed to fresh air:

Because we have mislaid 9/11, we have endless sideshow squabbles about whether the surge is working, if we are "safer" now, whether the FBI should listen in on foreign phone calls, whether cops should detain odd-acting "flying imams," whether those plotting alleged attacks on Fort Dix or Kennedy airport are serious threats or amateur bumblers. We bicker over the trees while the forest is ablaze.

America's fabric is pulling apart like a cheap sweater.

What would sew us back together?

Another 9/11 attack.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Mount Rushmore. Chicago's Wrigley Field. The Philadelphia subway system. The U.S. is a target-rich environment for al Qaeda.

Is there any doubt they are planning to hit us again?

If it is to be, then let it be.

Now, I expect you get it: he's only telling a little joke. He doesn't really think that thousands of Americans should be shredded and incinerated so that Americans will stop bickering: he simply thinks it's funny to say so. It is an ironic lament for the lost pro-imperialist consensus, a sorrowful titter over the deflation of fevered American nationalism. Still, it lets a rather mangy, vicious cat out of the bag: given the choice between compromise, adversarial review, democratic grassroots challenge of state policy, and strict ideological conformity, timidity and death, the neocons will always choose the latter. That's reassuring.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Channel 4 and the 'Bad' Orient posted by Richard Seymour

Channel 4 have got themselves into a bit of trouble over their 'Undercover Mosque' programme which sought to demonstrate that Muslim preachers are spreading a "message of hate" in mosques run by reputedly moderate organisations, all sponsored by Saudi Arabia. Well, Saudi Arabia funds reactionary Sunni groups all over the world, but usually of the status quo kind unless they are operating in a state that Saudi Arabia considers an enemy. And at any rate, the Saudi regime has been wholly annexed by the US and Britain. However, this particular programme ran into trouble because the West Midlands police decided to investigate their claims to see if anyone could be banged up over it. What the police appear to have found is that statements were spliced together to fundamentally distort what most of the speakers they quoted were actually saying. A CPS lawyer reviewing the footage agreed.

Naturally, the right-wing papers are whinging that the police should be 'doing their job', which as they see it involves arresting Muslims and spying on their meetings. The fascists are obviously howling with indignation as well. However, if the police are right, then Channel 4 is possibly guilty of incitement to racial hatred. That has certainly been the effect, as Muslim-hating bloggers and commentariat have combined in a mass circle-jerk over Dhimmitude and so on. What is more, Labour and Tory MPs were very quick to demand precisely the inquiry that the West Midlands police carried out. As usual, the newspapers were filled with phrases like "revealed" and "preachers of hate". C4's defense is that the statements they quote speak for themselves - but of course, they don't. That is precisely what is at issue: anyone can edit someone else's statements and produce a fundamentally different meaning, and then try to claim that the edited statements speak for themselves.

There has been a swathe of programmes by all the UK television channels devoted to exposing, examining and investigating Muslims of various stripes. It would hardly surprise you if I told you that studies of the British press revealed that by far the largest portion of all news items discussing Islam were related to terrorism. But perhaps I should refine that because the study I'm referring to, reprinted in 'Muslims and the News Media' edited by Elizabeth Poole, discussed The Guardian and The Times in particular. The supposedly serious broadsheets, one of them purporting to be liberal, have done their bit to convey the impression that Islam is mainly about terror. Obviously, 9/11 had an impact on this, but it's worth mentioning that even before that date, Islam was a big issue for the UK press, although it then was more likely to be cast in terms of 'Islamic fundamentalism'. Indeed, one of the biggest issues throughout the 1990s for these papers was 'honour killings', which was usually interpreted as something specifically Muslim. From these, you would get the impression that Muslim families are dysfunctional, inherently repressed, unusually patriarchal, riddled with misogyny etc. What is more, although there is now a rash of complaints from neoconservatives and Muslim-bashers about the use of the term 'Islamophobia', the study finds that it was barely visible in the UK press as late as 2003. The current framework for news or television items discussing Islam is as follows, then: 1) Muslims are a threat to security; 2) Muslims are a threat to 'British' values; 3) Muslims possess inherent cultural differences that create community tensions; 4) Muslims are increasingly assertive in national politics. You see where that's going. Another study published in the same volume found that in news stories concerning Muslims, where Islam was cited as an explanatory factor, it was highly likely to be in the instances of terror or crime, although it was also raised as an explanatory factor in the case of cultural issues (the writing of fiction, for example, or academic work). For the record, the most dispassionate and least partial reporting was found in the Financial Times.

These findings advert to the media's central function in the (re)production of ideology: it isn't simply a matter of reporting things which may or may not be true, it is an ordering of facts and claims in a particular way. In this case, the ordering is regulated by something called 'Islam', whose existence as a coherent 'thing' is taken for granted. And this 'Islam' is constructed from the mechanically recoverable refuse of older Orientalist doctrines: that Islam is part of the 'bad' Semitic Orient; that it is a doctrine of conquest; that it is unusually political and not merely spiritual; that deception is integral to it (think of the 'taqiyya' theme beloved of neocons); that it is obsessed with issues of shame and honour; that war is a normal state of affairs for it; that rationality is not a value for it. And so on. I simply cribbed those from Said's Orientalism, but they are as persistent today as they were among the 19th Century authors that Said studies. Importantly, this doctrine was developed in connection with 'race' theory in which the European colonist produced himself as 'White Man' (freedom-loving, peaceful but prepared for war, lofty, adventurous, civilised, progressive). While 'race' theory was gradually eroded after white Europeans found it turned on them by Nazi savagery, and especially after a series of anticolonial rebellions finished off Europe's old empires, its dreck has been conserved as far as possible as an ideology appropriate to managing a postcolonial racial hierarchy. So, when immigration was encouraged from South Asia and the Carribean to solve a labour supply problem, the intellectual equipment was copiously available to legitimise their subordinate position not only in the labour market, but in society as a whole. In its way, the 1990s obsession with Islam and integration was complementary to the other obsession with British Asians and the increasing tendency to depict them as criminal and deviant, with a gang-oriented male youth, non-English speaking parents, and values that somehow sit uneasily with a 'Britishness' recalibrated as relaxed, modern, tolerant and so on. The current priorities of the 'war on terror' have shifted the discourse and added some new functions to it, but it is continuous with older forms of racism.

I raise all this because perhaps anti-racists are sometimes blindsided or taken aback by a sudden spate of 'revelations' about 'moderate' Muslims, and are put on the defensive. Some responses focus on the empirical validity of the 'revelations', but while that is important, it is actually far more important to examine the underlying ideological assumptions of the documentaries and reports. In the same way that it used to be easy for racists to cite a random report of a 'black mugger' or something like that, the anecdotal focus of Muslim-bashing and the refusal to countenance serious analysis of the structural repression and oppression in British society is specifically arranged for the purposes of generalised obloquy. The disavowal involved, the tacit or explicit claim that we don't mean all Muslims and we only want to highlight a genuine problem, is as old as the hills. The distribution and emphasis of the British media's reproduction of 'Islam' makes a nonsense of it. The fact that Channel 4, with its self-serving claims of being off-message and insubordinate, is one of the main contributors to this obnoxious trend, is no surprise. Media stars and intellectuals are disproportionately prone to the belief that their particular form of subservience and orthodoxy is actually no-bullshit, cutting edge, hard to the core, strong-headed realism that goes - oh dear me - 'against the grain'.

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Shadwell posted by Richard Seymour

The Brown bounce has officially flopped. Respect has hammered the former Labour council leader Michael Keith in Shadwell. I reckon the almost 40% turnout is unusually high for a bye-election, but this one was a heated campaign. New Labour were seriously pissed off to lose all three seats in what had been one of Labour's safest wards in the whole country. Standing Michael Keith against us was symbolically important to them, since he was one of those to lose his head when Shadwell became Respect-occupied territory. They wanted to show that we were one hit wonders, but the fact is that Michael Keith and his party made themselves desperately unpopular by trying to privatise local housing, by doing little in the way of necessary repairs or renovations, and by making cuts this year of £3.8 million to frontline services while raising the council tax by 5 percent. The number one issue in the borough is housing, and it was a campaign led by Respect that killed New Labour's privatisation drive. What's more, no one believes that Gordon Brown's cabinet is going to be different on the war or most other significant issues.

There was some speculation in the East London press that the resignation of a Respect councillor that led to this bye-election was "orchestrated" by Michael Keith (right). I don't know if that's true, but if it's got the slightest grain of truth to it, then he's got to be kicking himself. So much effort, only to get another kick in the teeth. Congratulations are in order for everyone who worked hard in this campaign.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Going Postal posted by Richard Seymour

I haven't written much about the postal strike, but it actually seems to have been having some success. Socialist Worker has carried frequent updates, reports and pictures from the picket lines, music videos (?), in-depth discussion of the issues behind the strike and exhortations to other workers to dare. There has been wildcat action across the country - no really, unofficial action almost spontaneously breaking out all over the country, usually due to management attempting to get them to handle scab mail or bullying staff members in an attempt to undermine the militancy. And the management looked pretty stupid when they tried to argue that workers should take a fucking whacking pay cut while they get secret bonuses. Now after four waves of strike action, it looks like management might have blinked. The strike has been suspended and talks are now taking place.

If the posties get what they're demanding, this will be a huge blow to Gordon Brown's attempt to suppress public sector pay, and it will be an enormous boost to nurses, teachers and civil servants who have also been told that they have to put up with pay cuts. I need hardly add that the implications of reduced public sector pay for private workers would potentially be very bad. So, no deal. If Brown wants to reduce inflation, he'll have to stick the fork into the executive pork barrel. He can cut Allan Leighton's pay for a start.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dropping the Big One posted by Richard Seymour

Roughly sixty years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a poll was taken among Americans on the topic of dropping the atomic bomb. It found that 47% thought it was the right thing to do, and 46% did not. Now, as it happens, that's a considerable improvement on the situation after Truman did the dirty deed. 85% of Americans then supported it, while a study of US newspaper editorials found that only 1.7% disapproved. The typical editorial argued that the barbarism was a response legitimised by Japan's own barbarity both in the attack on Pearl Harbour and in the disgusting treatment of prisoners of war. This was a view commonly held in the mainstream and on what was and is considered the 'American left', as Paul Boller discovered in his research. It was a view shared by The Nation, The New Republic and the left-liberal magazine PM, whose managing editor wrote: "While we are dropping atomic bombs why not drop a few on Tokyo, where there's a chance to run up our batting average on the royal family - and clear the bases for democracy after the war." For most people, however, Nukes For a Democratic Revolution was not the slogan that mattered. Essentially, it was the extreme hostility to Japanese people that Americans had been saturated in during the war. A Gallup poll taken in 1944 found that 13% of thus surveyed favoured genocide against the Japanese. And of course, that made it much easier for people to accept the now comprehensively refuted mythology that was constructed to enable public support for the bombings.

The academic consensus was summed up by Samuel Walker, a chief historian of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who explained that "careful scholarly treatment of the records and manuscripts" had answered all the critical questions and generated the conclusion that "the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan to end the war within a relatively short period of time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it." This is to say that the usual claim that the bombing was chosen to end the war early, thus saving lives was wrong; the claim that it was necessary to achieves this purpose was wrong. The remaining question would seem academic: would it have been moral, even if necessary for the stated purposes? Obviously, this can't be answered independently of the . But there is a fairly robust discussion of the diplomatic record, the internal governmental and military discussions, and the process of Japanese surrender, in a few good books, not least of which is Martin Sherwin's 'A World Destroyed' and Gar Alperovitz's two classic books, 'The Decision to Use the Atomic and the Architecture of an American Myth' and 'Atomic Diplomacy'. (For the apologists' side there's Stephen Harper's 'The Miracle of Deliverance', Wilson Miscamble's 'From Roosevelt to Truman', and a lively historiographical survey in The New England Quarterly by Robert P Newman called 'Hiroshima and the Trashing of Henry Stimson').

A lot of the current writing kicks off with the decision by the Smithsonian Institute to feature an installation with the fuselage of the Enola Gay in 1995, producing a significant right-wing backlash and the display's eventual withdrawal. The installation was to be accompanied by commentary based on the currently regnant revisionist account, which is what made it so offensive. I think it's telling that on this, as on a number of issues (Israel/Palestine for example), public opinion is kept so far in the dark for so long by historical mythology that is only belatedly undermined by revisionism and declassification that it results in such a massive gulf between what is academically known and what is generally understood. It is particularly the case on matters where historical events matter most for contemporary understanding. As Alperovitz and his team discovered when going through the archives, this particular American myth of a necessary evil has been assiduously constructed and disseminated by military figures, policymakers and educators from the instant the decision was made: he devotes almost half of his 1995 book to dealing with the extensive efforts in this regard.

The main findings of revisionist scholarship coincide with those of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, which concluded (in a widely quoted statement) that: "certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated." Now, since there is no doubt that Russia would have entered the war on 15th August 1945, it would seem probable on the basis of that conclusion that a surrender could have been achieved even more quickly than this. And since the planned invasion by ground would not have occurred before 1 November 1945 (it was scheduled for the Spring of 1946), the claim that the bomb saved 500,000 lives that would have been lost in such an invasion doesn't seem to be supportable. A second document, declassified in the Seventies, is a War Department study on the 'Use of Atomic Bomb on Japan' written in 1946. It found that "the Japanese leaders had decided to surrender and were merely looking for sufficient pretext to convince the die-hard Army Group that Japan had lost the war and must capitulate to the Allies." Even an early landinglanding on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu would have been only a 'remote' possibility, while the full invasion of Japan in the spring of 1946 would not have occurred. In fact, the belief that it was totally unnecessary to use the atomic bomb on Japan's cities was shared by Eisenhower, who records telling Stimson that "Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bombs was completely unnecessary" and by Admiral William D Leahy, who opined that "the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender."

Robert P Newman insists that the bombing survey's conclusions couldn't possibly have been sustainable had the MAGIC decryptions (the decoded intercepted communications between Japanese officials) been available, since they only show that Japan wanted an armistice on easy terms, not surrender. However, this is not supportable by the evidence, and it's glossed over very quickly by Newman. The reality is that Japan's situation was basically unrecoverable from late 1944. Russia's abrogation of the Neutrality Pact in March 1945 had sent a massive shockwave through Japan, and it was followed by the surrender of Germany on 8th May. Italy had disintegrated, and the only Axis member left was losing territory, and soon had to deal with a massive Russian entanglement in Manchuria. On 12th May, an intercepted message from Ambassador Naotake Sato read: "once the enemy's European air forces are transferred to the Pacific, our damages will exceed anything we can imagine, so that we may be facing the same situation that led to the downfall of Hitler Germany." In late June, Japanese Army leaders called a meeting of the Supreme Army Council for the Direction of the War and relayed a very gloomy assessment of the growing internal dissent and the destruction of the wartime economy. In fact, the previous year, the US War Department intercepted a message dated 11 August 1944, in which it was stated that Foreign Minister Shigemitsu had instructed Ambassador Sato to see if Moscow would assist a negotiated peace. In all of Japan's communications with Moscow seeking mediation, in fact, it was never asserted that only a favourable armistice would do. What was asserted, and what continued to be the case until the end, was that surrender would not be unconditional. In fact, many US state actors were concerned to avoid unnecessary continuation of hostilities because of an unhealthy attachment to the phrase "unconditional surrender" (George Marshall was such a one), and Churchill encouraged Roosevelt to avoid that phrase and simply define terms and war aims. By 25th October 1944, Japan was negotiating a peace in China. By 30 Janauary 1945, the State Department received an OSS message that Japan was seeking peace mediations through the Vatican. As of April 29, 1945, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) explained in a report entitled 'Unconditional Surrender of Japan', that increasing "numbers of informed Japanese, both military and civilian, already realize the inevitability of absolute defeat." William Donovan, director of the OSS, sent a memo the President on 31 May, stating that Japan was ready to cease hostilities if it could keep its "home islands". A 12 July message, intercepted just before Potsdam, showed that the Japanese emperor himself had decided to intervene to attempt to end the war. In his private journal, Truman described it as the "telegram from [the] Jap Emperor asking for peace." By 17 July, an intercepted cable showed Foreign Minister Togo express the surrender terms thus: "If today, when we are still maintaining our strength, the Anglo-Americans were to have regard to Japan's honour and existence, they could save humanity by bringing the war to an end." However, "if they insist on unconditional surrender, the Japanese are unanimous in their resolve to wage a thorough-going war." Despite being fully aware of this, the US continued to insist on unconditional surrender, with assurances for the future of the Emperor or any of the leadership cut out of the declaration at Potsdam by Truman and Byrnes against the advise of practically the entire remainder of the Anglo-American elite: in fact the uncompromising declaration by the US at Potsdam threatened the most stern reprisals against war criminals, and it was reasonably assumed that the Emperor would not be safe from such threats. As was understood and predicted by the American leadership, this resulted in a chilly silence from the Japanese.

With the US fully apprised of Japan's weakened condition, its 'peace feelers' and the moves by important civilian leaders going right up to the Emperor to seek surrender, the question is left as to why the US decided to bomb two cities very closely together, without warning. After all, the Russian Option, as it was understood by America's military and civilian leadership, would certainly do the trick. When Truman obtained a promise from Stalin that he would enter the war, he explained the consequences to his wife Bess: "we'll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who won't be killed!" That is the question that Sherwin focuses on, and as he shows, the documentary record proves that as soon as the bomb was proven to work - as it was at the Alamagordo base in New Mexico on 16th July 1945 - the US military and civilian leadership was convinced that it no longer needed Russia. In fact, the bomb itself was a good diplomatic weapon against Russia. As Secretary of State-designate Byrnes explained, "our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe". At this time, the US had been experiencing some difficulty persuading Russia to accept its terms, particularly an independent Poland. By 28th July, Byrnes, according to the diary of Navy secretary James Forrestal was "most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in." Sherwin broadly accepts that the main motive of Secretary of War Stimson in using the bomb was to end the war early, not to intimidate Russia: his account has altered only slightly over the last thirty years or so, with assessments becoming a touch more conservative on the "balance of evidence" (previously, he had suggested that there wasn't really a balance of evidence available as to Stimson's true motives). However, he does not accept that it was the only motive or that the bomb was necessary: in fact he repeatedly finds US leaders making the effect of the bomb on Russia a central consideration. As soon as it was understood that a bomb could be developed quickly, and what its impact would be, the civilian leadership including those who envisaged some form of postwar cooperation understood the bomb as a vital diplomatic lever. So, Stimson, by 14 May 1942, was already recording that the USSR "can't get along without our help and industries, and we have coming into action a weapon which will be unique". Sherwin shows that although elements in the civilian leadership favoured international control of atomic energy (Stimson did up until July 1945), Roosevelt had been opposed to the whole idea and pursued a contrary strategy - which is why he had effectively rebuffed Niels Bohr's pleas that negotiations be opened with the Soviet Union with the aim of avoiding an arms race after the war: Roosevelt and Churchill both wanted what Bohr did not. As soon as a successful test was made, Walter Brown, Byrnes' press secretary, records the Secretary of State saying that he was hoping that the bomb would press Japan to surrender and ensure that Russia would not "get in so much on the kill". He describes the minutes of the Interim Committee which recommended the bombing without warning (all the important documents are included in a lengthy appendix), showing that the leadership was intent on assuring not only a profound impact on the Japanese government, but also a salutary effect on relations with the USSR. Even if intimidating Japan was the chief motive, it was certainly not the only one, and nor can it be understood separately from the refusal to consider the other options, including the Russian one. In fact, the decision to use the bomb a way of avoiding the Russian option, and limiting its claims on a postwar set-up in the Far East.

There remains the question of the impact of the bomb. Its physical effects were impossible not to foresee. The test in New Mexico had resulted in a 41,000 foot high mushroom cloud spilling into the stratosphere. It had broken the window of a building 125 miles away. It had created a 1,200 foot wide crater. It had destroyed a 41 ton steel tower one and a half miles away. Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project which oversaw the bomb's development, accurately predicted that its effects would be much more significant than those observed in New Mexico. On August 6th 1945, two days before Russia declared war on Japan, the uranium weapon 'Little Boy' was dropped on Hiroshima, with predictably atrocious consequences. The impact created an enormous fireball with a temperature of 4000 degrees centigrade at its core, sent out a shockwave and then a thermal pulse that destroyed everything in its path and vaporised everyone in open space within a kilometre radius. Ionized radiation killed tens of thousands more slowly, and led to the massive growth of malignant tumours, small head size among babies, mental retardation, chromosomal abnormalities and so on. Now, it's quite typical of apologists for the bombing to assert that even then the Japanese were intransigent. Stephen Harper's account, for example, acknowledges the 'peace feelers' very briefly, but without considering their significance. He makes much of Japan's refusal of the terms of Potsdam without considering that the US was perfectly well aware that such terms could not possibly lead to peace, but that slightly different terms would. He emphasises that the war continued for nine days after Hiroshima, and suggests - without any evidence at all - that only after Nagasaki, and "rumours that Tokyo itself was to be the third atomic target" impelled the Emperor to step in and end the government's "prevarication". He also accepts, without considering any contrary evidence at all, that an invasion would have been necessary without the bombs. Now, this doesn't stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, the peace party in the civilian leadership were already openly calling for surrender, and insufficient time was given between Hiroshima and Nagasaki to see how this would work out. For another, if the Army was still intransigent after Hiroshima, it might suggest that the atomic bomb wasn't what decisively shifted the leadership. Indeed, Robert Pape's 1993 study, 'Why Japan Surrendered', suggests that: "Japan's military position was so poor that its leaders would likely have surrendered before invasion, and at roughly the same time in August 1945, even if the United States had not employed strategic bombing or the atomic bomb." Furthermore, "the atomic bomb had little or no impact on the Army's position. First, the Army initially denied that the Hiroshima blast had been an atomic bomb. Second, they went to great lengths to downplay its importance. When Togo raised it as an argument for surrender on 7th August, General Anami explicitly rejected it. Finally, the Army vigorously argued that minor civilian defense measures could offset the bomb's effects." The 13 August MAGIC cable intercepted by the US showed the Army General Staff surrendering in these terms: "As a result of Russia's entrance into the war, the Empire, in the fourth year of its endeavour is faced with a struggle for the existence of the nation." This statement did not mention the bombings. In fact, the condition that the national (Imperial) structure be maintained was not relinquished, but the surrender was accepted all the same, and the Emperor remained in place. Since postwar plans situated Japan as an outpost of US interests in South East Asia (a crucial consideration for Stimson in the selection of targets, by the way, and one reason why Kyoto was not bombed), the US relied on the old elite to oversee its reform programme. The alternative as they saw it was a socialist or communist threat of some kind.

Now, there is an attempt to challenge this revisionist account in a book published this year by Reverend Wilson Miscamble (mentioned above), a neoconservative scholar who works at the University of Notre Dame. Miscamble writes about postwar US foreign policy, and makes his preferences clear at the outset: complaining of "predictable" outrage at the bombings, recommending a piece in the neoconservative rag The Weekly Standard by Richard B Frank - who he relies on a great deal - a summary of Frank's book 'Downfall' which purportedly exposes the myths of the Alperovitz 'thesis' (Miscamble's scare quotes). Miscamble is extremely pissed off at the influence of commies on the teaching of history. He promises to undermine the revisionist account, showing its faulty assumptions for what they are. The trouble is that he spends more time carefully editorialising on behalf of Truman than he does engaging with the writings of Alperovitz and his sympathisers. He explains that the decision to use the bomb wasn't at all controversial for Truman or Byrnes, which is certainly the case (although he omits to mention the extensive controversy beyond this pair - virtually every important World War II military leader who had access to the relevant information stated openly that the use of the atomic bomb was not a matter of military necessity). He claims on the basis of single edited sentence of Truman's (hoping that "pacific war might now be brought to a speedy end") that this was his "primary and deepest hope regarding the impact of the atomic bomb". He insists that no change of action by the Japanese made the avoidance of the bomb possible anyway, and insists - using Frank's account - that the Japanese terms did not include surrender or envisage any occupation of the home lands. Now this is simply disingenuous: you can read Frank's piece for yourself and decide, but I think it's fairly clear that he is only able to qualify and minimise the mountainous already existing evidence that a surrender was available. In fact, much of the evidence he highlights is already perfectly well known, and is cited in Sherwin and Alperovitz's account. What is more, Frank's argument (repeated by Miscamble) that the Japanese were such fanatics and so looking forward to giving the Americans a good kicking on the home islands that they would not have surrendered, is incompatible with the extensive evidence which he only deals with patchily. Not only that, it is logically incoherent: if the argument is that the Japanese wanted a land war on home territory which would have killed hundreds of thousands, if not perhaps millions, then why are they supposed to have surrendered after a couple of hundred thousand deaths resulting from attacks on non-military targets? Actually Miscamble suggests that alternatives to bombing have been "overemphasised", but this is supported by nothing more than the point that the President didn't really consider the alternatives as useful (although the evidence, which Miscamble doesn't engage with, suggests that before the bomb was shown to work, the alternatives were seriously considered and understood as such). Miscamble acknowledges, briefly, the importance of the Soviet Union's declaration of war to the Japanese surrender, but tries to argue that the Soviet entry was precipitated by the atomic bomb itself. Whatever the merits of this position, the Soviet Union was going to declare war at any rate, regardless of the bomb, and thus surrender would have been assured. In fact, Miscambles account confirms some of the revisionist claims without appearing to appreciate their implications. So, for example, he acknowledges that neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki made an impact on the position of the military leadership - but this totally undermines the claim that these bombings resulted in the surrender. He also repeats the inane claim that Hiroshima was a military target, although this is a stretch only permissible within the purview of total war: there were military targets near the city, not in it. He sneers that those who actually study the alternatives are engaged in "wishful thinking and fanciful recreations", but in fact his entire counterfactual scenario as to what would have happened had the bomb not been dropped (an eventual ground invasion with many deaths) is based on a complete refusal to assess the countervailing evidence and as such as wishful thinking and a fanciful recreation. And so on and on, he bleats for "poor Harry Truman" who has been the topic of "moral condemnation" that Churchill and Roosevelt escaped. He refers critics of Truman to the despicable Japanese leadership, and anything else that will remove the focus from the very real and known alternatives, from the extensive documentary record about what Truman knew to be the case, about what the American military leadership knew to be the case, about how close surrender was and how little needed to be done to achieve it. This is apologia in pseudo-scholarly veneer, and rather typical of its kind.

So why is it crucial for some people to rescue that disgusting human sacrifice? It isn't exactly a mystery, is it? The nuclear question is a pressing one in British politics, with the decision to renew trident. It is a pressing global question with the threat of nuclear weapons being wielded against Iran. Options need to be kept open. And, of course, it never ceases to be important to demonstrate that American power is uniquely benevolent, utterly free of the fanaticism and inhuman derangement that most power systems exhibit. As soon as you start to notice a pattern of atrocity, extending into the Korean War, the Vietnam War and its extension into Cambodia, Latin America, the Middle East and so on, you become less susceptible to claims that policymakers are turning a new leaf and that this time things will be different.

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