Saturday, September 29, 2007

Victory posted by Richard Seymour

The Mahalla workers have won:

I could hardly get to anyone from my strikers’ contacts; I expect their phones are busy with incoming and outcoming calls… Then I finally managed to get to a Socialist activist who was at the factory… He confirmed the news… It’s a victory… the strikers accepted the settlement in a mass meeting, and left the factory around 5am…

Mabrouk for the Mahalla workers… Mabrouk for the brave men, women and children who solidly stood defiant in the face of govt pressures for a week… Thanks to all the activists and labor unionists around the world who sent in messages of support…

This is just the beginning ya shabab… I’m sure Mahalla has become a source of inspiration to all the textile workers, if not the entire Egyptian working class….

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Friday, September 28, 2007

"Death to Canada" posted by Richard Seymour

I've been waiting for somebody to say that.

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Speaking of inspiring rebellion against a military dictatorship... posted by Richard Seymour

The Mahalla strikers are not receiving splash headlines in Western media outlets, largely because the revolt by Egypt's working class is undermining a client-state of America, not to mention one of the world's finest torturers (see pics and here). 27,000 workers at Egypt's largest public sector factory are striking against low wages and abuse by management, and demanding a share of the immense profits that have been made from their labour. This is the second time in the space of a few months that Mahalla workers have gone out on strike, and when they agreed to return to work last time, they warned management that they were ready for more if their demands were not met. Their demands were not met, and they are out for more. Apparently, the government have offered a deal, but it has been rejected, and the strike continues. They have occupied the factory, and in response management have declared a week-long holiday, with the proviso that anyone remaining in the factory is trespassing and may be violently attacked by government troops, a threat that increases when the Minister for Labour accuses the strikers of sabotage. Several union leaders have already been arrested, but the workers aren't backing down.

A Solidarity Committee has been launched. The 7th December Movement (Workers for Change), a group apparently inspired by the Kefaya coalition, is trying to link this working class struggle to Kefaya's campaign to oust Mubarak and the NDP. Kefaya is a sort of popular front led by an ex-communist and now Islamist scholar named Abdel Wahab al-Messiri. It doesn't root its political strategy in the working class, but rather seeks to recruit them as an ally in a broader campaign, which they hope will include the Muslim Brothers one day. It's worth keeping an eye on what they're doing because they are the main grassroots opposition to the regime. But when it comes down to it, there is simply no match for the combined power and resilience of the working class. 3Arabawy is your best source of information on this struggle, and you'll find his regular updates linked in the sidebar.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Kushner posted by Richard Seymour

Charlie Rose is a dickhead, Kushner is a terribly soft liberal, yet this is worth watching:

Kushner's politics are no longer marxist these days, but he is sufficiently irritating that his co-written script for Spielberg's film, Munich, annoyed the neocons. He pretended, understand, that the Palestinians were somehow human. His Kabul/Homebody wound up the bomb-Afghanistan crowd because, well, it pretended that the people of Afghanistan were something other than cave creatures. Oh sure, he's with the 'vote Dem or lose dem' wing if American politics, but he is far from unique on that front. If you haven't seen 'Angels in America', do so. The political riffs are the least of it: it is the musical samples, the wit, the handling of damaged, desiring human beings, the meeting between Roy Cohn and his spiritual nemesis, that will engage you. Here is some of Angels in America to start you off:

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The partition of Iraq posted by Richard Seymour

From Ireland, Palestine, India, and Cyprus to Yugoslavia, and beyond, the old imperial idea has never lost its appeal. I told you this would happen. Several times, I think I recall. Well, the Senate has passed a bill on a strongly bipartisan basis to partition Iraq into three autonomous zones. If this goes through and there is a serious effort to implement it, then the ethnic cleansing and civil wars you have seen to date will look like a teddy bears' picnic. As if everything else they have done in Iraq, from Fallujah to Blackwater, and everything in between, has not demonstrated how contemptible the claims of Iraqi sovereignty are, this confirms it. Iraqis didn't support the sectarian constitution, and they don't support partition, but no one in the American political class gives a shit. The only thing that can stop this is a stronger, truly national, resistance movement. Otherwise, its communalism and mass murder.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

GM Strike posted by Richard Seymour

It looks on the face of it as if United Auto Workers have made a deal very quickly in their dispute with GM. Though they have won some of the concessions they sought, the union leaders seem to have conceded an arrangement allowing the company to buy out workers and replace them with ones on lower incomes, or so the Wall Street Journal says. Further, the VEBA healthcare scheme, in which the union takes over the management of a voluntary healthcare programme rather than leaving the company with the costs, appears to be going ahead with some changes to make the system more appealling to workers (which means GM are going to provide enough money to keep it solvent). The walk-out spread very quickly, and seems to have been very powerful. This was the first national walk-out by car workers for decades, and the first by GM workers since 1970. The fact that GM made the concessions that it did is indicative of how much damage a lengthy strike could have done. Given how many defeats American workers have suffered, the UAW members might well simply accept the deal as it stands. They could clearly get a better deal than this, but it would take more than a two-day strike. Still, the deal has to be ratified both by UAW workers and (for some reason) the courts, so this may not be the end of the story.

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Coopting the Myanmar revolt posted by Richard Seymour

Anyone watching the news might think that a bunch of Burmese monks have simply decided to stage protests for democracy and freedom in front of hidden cameras all of a sudden, and - well, what do you know? - the Bush administration and New Labour have decided to champion them and Aung San Suu Kyi. Possibly, when David Miliband started crowing about Burma, you were reminded of Britain's extensive imperialist involvement in the country, as well as New Labour's long-standing support for the dictatorship, including the provision of funds and arms to help it suppress dissent. Perhaps your suspicions have been raised by the fact that protests in Thailand against the US-supported putsch have been repressed even more violently, much more rapidly, and have produced a low-intensity war in parts of the country, without the splash headlines. Maybe you raised an eyebrow when an unshaven Brian Joseph of the National Endowment for Democracy, which has rarely seen a rightist coup plot it didn't like, started appearing as an expert on Myanmar in all the news reports. And perhaps when you heard that they were spending some of the US government's millions on the opposition there, your mind reeled with all the branding possibilities. The Garuda Revolution? Perhaps this was the point of Rambo's genocide tourism.

There has been a popular movement against the ruling State Law and Order Council for years, obviously, and this is part of a real revolt. The monks are an important and esteemed segment of society because they provide education and social services, whereas the dictatorship simply exploits people. So why should it be that the United States government has, for the last few years, been applying sanctions to Burma along with its allies? Why is it championing the main democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi? Only an ostrich would imagine it has anything to do with democracy. Well, it's the same as East Timor in many ways. The West, after having backed a genocidal regime for years, has terrorised the opposition into accepting a neoliberal programme. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has promised that, upon taking power, it will implement structural adjustments opening up huge parts of the economy to international investors. There is more than a parallel there: Suharto was one of the Burmese junta's closest allies before an uprising threw him off, and a polyarchical neoliberal regime in both states will restore the symmetry to some extent. So, it's another phase in the transition from anti-socialist dictatorships used by Washington to slightly less coercive regimes in which the opposition has basically been neutered. The experiment launched in Chile in 1973 was really that successful. Britain, which has been doing fine out of the old regime, now hopes to do even better out of the new one. And at the same time, it has a chance of re-moralizing its disgraced foreign policy. New opportunities for intensified capital accumulation will open up, and in all probability the health and nutrition indices - already so miserably poor that they contribute to genocidal levels of death in some segments of the population - will get worse. Of course, while the NLD are the natural beneficiaries of any successful rebellion, there is no guarantee that people will simply accept the neoliberal programme. It depends how much the overthrow of the SLORC is a result of mass mobilisation, and how much of it comes about as a result of the elite compromise and handovers that were prevalent in Eastern Europe after 1989, and in recent colour-coded revolutions. A recently victorious rebellious mass can be surprisingly disobedient.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

White supremacy is... posted by Richard Seymour

...a system. I know, believe me I do, that the very mention of the term 'white supremacy' is supposed to evoke Komical Krackers and Kooks, rednecks, sheet-wearers and fat old southern sherrifs. Because these happen to have historically been among the most visible agents sustaining and protecting white supremacy at least in America (and, so far as the KKK goes, in some of the Pacific outliers of the empire), they have been used in media dramaturgy as the brand label for a caricature of that system as some sort of abberation, or as some kind of funny delusion held by witless doughfaces. (Meanwhile, as movie viewers know, the FBI was an anti-racist activists union, simply aching to bust a few KKK chops on the orders of a cautious White House). However, American policymakers were always smarter than this: they knew that the domestic racial hierarchy was part of a global one that was produced and reproduced through the labour system, and which didn't always have to be protected through de jure segregation. Indeed, the whole point of the Jim Crow laws was not only to disenfranchise black Americans, but in doing so to prevent them from acquiring the education and labour rights that would improve their bargaining power. Suppose those ends could be achieved by other means? Today, the system is still reproduced in the labour market, and is sustained and defended through 'criminal justice'. Naturally, the way that system operates is to colour-code crime, especially violent crime, in a way that is structurally isomorphic to the treatment of international violence. Albert Memmi wrote that "While it is pardonable for the colonizer to have his little arsenals, the discovery of even a rusty weapon among the colonized is cause for immediate punishment." Your nukes are stupid and dangerous, while mine are a delectably intelligent form of global diplomacy. Your invasion threatens civilization, while mine protects it. My segregation is a local quirk, your resistance merits prison or the death penalty. Holocaust cartoons are unforgiveable, while Mohammed cartoons and dangling nooses are mere pranks sanctified by 'free speech'. Yes, we're defending civilization again: and you know it's bad when the official line on a lynching threat is "get a sense of humour".

Jena is a small, largely white, town in Louisiana, and already a euphemism-magnet. You can't talk about the town without referring to "racial demons", "unrest" and "tensions" which mysteriously, unpredictably "erupt", and then "simmer". Sometimes these "racial tensions" even "spark" public rallies. Shorthand is unavoidable, but much of this is ponderous circumlocution. I know American readers were aware of the details of this case long before I was, but UK readers may still be in the dark. When Kenneth Purvis, a black student at the local high school, requested permission to sit under a tree in the courtyard that was customarily reserved for white students(!), he got it, and used it. The next day three nooses were found dangling from the tree. Well, the headmaster apparently wanted to expel the white students responsible, but the superintendent intervened, calling it a "prank", and the mostly white school board agreed with him. A prank, mark you. I must have viewed any number of American high school farces in my younger years, and I never encountered the "zany" lynch-mob. I fear there is a whole outlook on life implied in such a claim that I will never be privy to.

At any rate, they reduced the punishment to three days suspension, thus triggering a massive local row. Lynching is, after all, a form of domestic terrorism that has killed thousands of African Americans. Racist violence has not exactly disappeared from the landscape, has it? For example, aside from the officially sanctioned murder, there was the killing - according to public testimony - of up to 200 black people by white vigilantes during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The most recent case of anyone being tried under lynching laws was when the attackers of Isaiah Clyburn were convicted in South Carolina in 2006. Clyburn survived the attack, by five white men, and the state didn't bother to investigate the racist dimension of it (Clyburn explains that they had yelled racial slurs at him before the attack) because it has no hate crime laws. Clearly, it was a threat, and equally clearly, the subsequent reactions displayed the range of racist resentment that fuelled the threat. (You may be interested to know that they appear to have inspired others, and of course there is now a website calling for the Jena Six to be - what else? - lynched).

There followed said "tensions", with an unsolved arson attack on a wing of the school, a beating being meted out on some black students by a white man named Justin Sloan (who was charged with battery and put on probation), and a gun being pulled on others (one of the students managed to sieze the gun from the assailant, only to find himself charged with theft of a firearm, while no charges were pressed against the original attacker). Shortly thereafter, a six black students beat up Justin Barker, leaving him unconscious and with a swollen eye. Their motive was that he was bragging about an earlier racist assault that a friend of his had made, and had allegedly been taunted black students with the word "n*gger". The students - Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor - were arrested. And the District Attorney tried to hit them with second-degree murder. They tried to have most of them tried as adults, though several of them are not adults. The charges were subsequently demoted to aggravated battery. One of the students, Mychal Bell, has been convicted by an all-white jury, and faces up to 22 years in prison for a school fight. I don't know why it never occurred to the courts to dismiss all charges on the grounds that it was only a prank. This is absolutely typical, of course. You could spend a few depressing years compiling details of similar sequences of events in which racist violence has been treated with indifference (and, actually, surreptitious condonement) by authorities, while violence in response has produced a massive crack-down. Sometimes these are outrageous enough, and noticed enough, to produce a movement. Such was the case after the East St Louis riots on 2 July 1917, a bloody and sadistic racist frenzy whipped up in part by the Democratic party which was accusing the Republicans of 'importing' black labour to diminish the bargaining power of white labour and help fix the elections. The night before, a car-load of whites had gone round shooting up black households in East St Louis - fire was returned, killing a couple of policemen. The next day, after a meeting at the Labour Temple, a clutch of white workers marched to black residential areas and began attacking men, women and children on the streets. There was no investigation and no move by the government to make lynching illegal. Six weeks later, and after repeated provocations by both white civilians and police, a hundred members of the 3rd Battalion of the 24th Infantry, a black infantry in the still segregated US Army (which was on its way to fight a war for democracy against evil hun at the time), marched to Houston and began firing indiscriminately at white people. They, of course, were not protected by official indifference. 13 of the infantry were executed with no review or appeal. That atrocious episode in an era of extremely violent racist reaction was one of the key factors in the breakdown of support for America's entry into World War I among the African American leadership: why not, Mister President, make America safe for democracy?

Well, the events in Jena are simply an example of the problems that exist across America, which everyone already knows about. There was always a danger that this case would be sectioned off in public discourse, and used to demonstrate the contrary - that the rest of America is a-okay. However, it hasn't worked out like that. Jordan Flaherty of Left Turn believes that this has "ignited a movement". So does the excellent Gary Younge. The protests have barely featured in the British media, but they are making a huge impact in America - an in Jena, where a town of less than 3,000 residents has grudgingly hosted up to 60,000 protesters. Coming after the murder of Sean Bell and the mass murder in New Orleans - by wilful neglect, by deliberate confinement, and by shooting - this crystallises previously existing trends, but also demonstrates the ability of bloggers to disseminate information and help organise disparate groups of people. Perhaps a Third Reconstruction is afoot. I hear that Cynthia McKinney has supported the development of the Reconstruction Party in New Orleans, a labour-based organisation which aims to become a national party for social justice. There is an International Tribunal being carried out to present a more coherent account of the government's performance during Katrina than the official whitewash. America's immigrants, though terrorised by callous government agencies (libertarians, so sensitive to war's contribution to the augmentation of government, should be more attentive to way that immigration controls contribute to state-building), have been repeatedly on the march. But there remain six students at risk of imprisonment for assault aggravated by by being black. It's a civic felony.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Official: Iraqi resistance is 'decent' posted by Richard Seymour

Never mind General Dannatt's plea for us to rally round the troops despite the unpopularity of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His comments about the Iraqi resistance are not well-reported online, but he was shown on Channel Four news describing them as "Iraqi nationalists", concerned about the well-being of the country and therefore "not bad people". It doesn't appear to be on any news site at all so far as I can tell, and his speech has not been transcribed on the Ministry of Defence website (which seems a bit strange). This is obviously an embarrassment since it completely undermines everything that Blair and Brown have said about it, and what the Bush administration continue to insist upon despite their own very comprehensive reports on the matter.

If anyone finds a transcript, or a single online report of these remarks, please post it in the comments box.

Update. Thanks to 'Dave S' in the comments box:

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What Happens When You Annoy a Bumpkin Billionaire? posted by Richard Seymour

This. And this. And this. (If those links are working by the time you read this, the crisis is over). Craig Murray's website, Tim Ireland's website, Bloggerheads, and that of Councillor Bob Piper, have been pulled by their service provider, Fasthosts Internet Ltd of Gloucester. The reason? Allegations made about Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov. (It transpires that a number of websites, including Bob Piper's and , were removed even though they said nothing about this topic, simply because they shared a server with Craig Murray and Tim Ireland. Fasthosts' conduct is predictable, but also a disgrace).

I do not, at present, know the content of these allegations. (Correction: now I do). Craig Murray, as former ambassador to Uzbekistan, has raised these claims on his website and was followed by a number of other blogs and message boards. Evidently, Usmanov feels threatened by them, and has employed the libel lawyers, Schillings, who have applied pressure to service providers to pull the websites in question - before a single thing has been tested in court. The issue as it now stands is not whether the allegations against Mr Usmanov are correct, but whether you should have a right to hear about them and whether the promise of the internet can be shut down by an affronted oligarch. It is one thing to expect a single post to be withdrawn, although even this is unconscionable if it results from straightforward goldplated bullying by a plutocrat. But to take down the whole site is outrageous. Fasthosts is not a free service: you pay to register the website, and you to pay for the web hosting. Whatever contractual stipulations they might use in their defence, Fasthosts ought to be compelled to defend the internet access of their customers and specifically to restore the websites in question. (Update: looking through the Google cache of some of Murray's articles mentioning this, I see that the service providers repeatedly edited his posts after threats from Schillings).

We've had repeated attempts to threaten and bully bloggers in this fashion. You may recall that when the revelations about Mazher Mahmood of the News of the World were released, Zak Newland, an employee of that Murdoch rag, threatened to sic the lawyers on us:

They didn't succeed, and nor should Mr Usmanov and his laywers. Here is Murray's article:

Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist

I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:

“Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.”

Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.

Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socilist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.

Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.

Usmanov has two key alliances. He is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.

Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.

Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out - with the owners having no choice - the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.

All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here:

Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.

I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.

Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters - as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any - can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.

I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.

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Three nooses posted by Richard Seymour

Just a prank. Happens every year. Need to get these kinds off the streets. Nothing to do with racism.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hoodies and cider posted by Richard Seymour

The obsession of the media with the fate of a missing girl, or rather with the drama of her parents as they first plead for help then plead their innocence, is probably of a piece with their general hatred of young people. You know the young: they're great to sell things to, but are otherwise a source of seething, vitriolic resentment. Need proof? Or, what about this research from Brunel University? The idealised, spectral, silent childhood embodied by the image of a sweet little girl is itself proof of the degeneracy and animalistic savagery of most of the remaining young population. They who wear strange head clothing, speak in their own language, stick together, listen to wierd music and plot criminal activity behind their concealing garments (does that stereotype sound familiar at all?). They who must be endlessly surveilled, regulated, dispersed on order from the police, ASBOd, tagged, curfewed, expelled, locked up, beaten and schooled in the virtues of a respect that they are never shown.

There is no other way to explain the frequent juxtaposition of utter derangement about paedophiles which has nothing to do with the legitimate outrage at the abuse of children, with crude and bitter denunciations of young people as criminal-minded and feral, people in need of refashioning by a stern patriarch (either in the family, or in prison, or in the military) before they are fully fit for the world. The media typically defends the very principle of patriarchy which actually mandates murderous violence toward children, and at the same time displays little interest in the fact that the bulk of violence toward the young - whether physical, sexual, or emotional - takes place within the sacrosanct space of the family. Perhaps this also partially explains the strange alacrity with which some of the more reactionary press are busying themselves proving the innocence of the parents. Of course, the main reason for the attention is that it's an easy topic to opine about, and therefore capitalise as advertising revenue, but that wouldn't explain the particular stances taken. Barely a day has passed without some rag - the Evening Standard or the Express or the Mail or the 'free' advertising sheets they shove into your hands in London - exhorting readers to disbelieve all rumours of parental complicity in the assumed death of the girl. Possibly, they're right - I don't actually read the damn things and don't fancy gossiping about it - but it seems a curiously quixotic effort in itself, since they can't know what the police will turn up. It can only be a reflexive, if mediated, defense of the structures of discipline and punition that supposedly keeps a tentative lid on the feral uprising. When this is over, whatever 'over' happens to mean, the daily deluge of 'yob' stories will be still be there, along with the usual array of rambo solutions from politicians and coppers. For Britain is still a country where the ruling ideology adores youth, but hates the young; idealises childhood, but despises children; and demands respect, but gives none.

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The dizzying pace of our progress posted by Richard Seymour

Sursock on the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon, 1951 and 2007:

Meanwhile, Daniel Pipes' call for war crimes in Gaza has been heeded by Israel. The invasion is coming, and not a moment too soon because, as the Washington Post helpfully points out, Hamas is contributing to a mass outbreak of beard growth. (I know we're not seriously expected to blame Hamas for the effects of a vicious blockade and encirclement policy). Israel, forever embattled, forever defending itself, forever the land of the little kibbutz populated by advanced human beings and surrounded by Arabs transmogrified by fungibility into a faceless, deindividualized horde. Invading Gaza - to expand the frontiers, press forth the outposts of civilisation, and conquer the untameable, esoteric wilderness - is nothing but a response to "Islamic imperialism". This kind of "imperialism" is completely unlike any other we know - subtracted from history, from politics, from production and appropriation. It is a timeless yearning for violent subordination to superstition, an insatiable ferment beneath every kufi, an effort to expand the zone of Oriental despotism and stultify progress. Speaking of progress, we all know - don't we? - of the boundless generosity of whitey when it comes to providing for the natives. Despite their ingratitude, he has been preparing an allotment for them for some decades - where they may, under strict supervision, content themselves with their curious customs. Yes, the amount of Palestine currently left to the Palestinians is 8% of the original, and that is latticed with 'Jewish Only' roads (all of which will one day lead to Damascus), "settlements" and garrisons. But statehood is in the works, selflessly crafted by Dore Gold, Ehud Barak and Avigdor Lieberman, by the light of a silvery moon and under the careful tutelage of Dick Cheney, Ribbentrop of Arabia. You watch, and wait. Don't do anything, for heavens' sake.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Guérin posted by Richard Seymour

The library is an erotic sort of place anyway, or at least it is to me, but imagine encountering Daniel Guérin for the first time in such a place. Of course, I've read Fascism and Big Business (excerpts here) in a non-commital sort of way, but I didn't know much about the author. About Guérin's life, you can read extensively elsewhere (he has a brief entry in Paul Avrich's Anarchist Voices). About his politics, you can discover some concise summaries online, as well as his own lengthy exposition. I only wanted to say what I like about him. I suppose you would expect me to admire his anti-colonialism, his outrage about American racism, his tireless combat against fascism (about which he theorised brilliantly), his anti-Zionism, his sympathy with Trotskyism and so on, especially since he held these views when both the reformist and Stalinist left in France had pathetic records on colonialism, fascism and Zionism (the less said about their approach to Trotskyism, the better). Well, yes. And there is the small matter of him being a sort of pioneer of gay liberation. But it was the Front Ouvrier International, and the Appeal to the German Proletariat Against the War, that left an indelible impression on my otherwise impassive kisser (as you know, I am one of those strong, silent types that Hemingway so admired). The attempt, that is, to revive the Zimmerwald Left in theory and practise during the darkest years of the Twentieth Century, in the most unpromising circumstances. That was bold, in a sense of the word that has been lost to an age pundits who are persuaded that a slight inflection in a Brown speech on Darfur can so be characterised. That was revolutionary.

You can read the appeal here, and for what it's worth, Google has a decent translation. Here he differed from those Trotskyists (including Trotsky) who advocated a Proletarian Military Policy which tried to turn an imperialist war into a revolutionary one, the Stalinists who offered a 'grand alliance' with bourgeois imperialism (after the tremendous success of the grand carve-up with Hitler), and the reformist left, which subordinated its anti-fascism to straightforward patriotic defense. I am not completely convinced that Guérin's position was the right one, but it's important to stress that it wasn't simple pacifism, or Beautiful Soul purity. He himself worked, after being freed from a Nazi internment camp, for the Comité d'Organisation du Livre, which regulated the publishing business in occupied France. His own Fascism and Big Business was one of the books on his 'banned' list. The opposition to the war was a revolutionary one, based on a rigorous marxist analysis of fascism. Guerin had himself spent some time in Germany before and during the Nazi years (see Dave Renton's review of The Brown Plague). As he wrote in 1945:

[T]he fascist regime, despite its “totalitarian” pretensions is not homogeneous. It never succeeded in dissolving into one single alloy the different elements of which it was composed. Its different wheels did not function without friction. Despite Hitler’s attempts for several years to find a compromise formula between the party and the army, the Wehrmacht on the one hand, and the Gestapo and the SS on the other, continued their cat and dog fight. Behind this conflict is a class question. The fascist regime, despite appearances, appearances that it delighted in maintaining, never domesticated the bourgeoisie.

The regime, despite appearances, was extremely fragile, and its unstable class formation was itself one of the reasons why war was pursued. It was also in part, as both Adam Tooze and Paul Hehn argue from different perspectives, a result of frenetic competition with the United States of America: as a model of development, and in terms of inter-capitalist competition over markets, particularly in Eastern Europe. Like most other revolutionaries, Guérin saw the war for what it was - not 'democracy versus fascism', but an imperialist conflict. So, while resisting the Nazi occupation, he and his confederates would not ally with De Gaulle as Maurice Thorez did. They sought to fraternise with German soldiers and encourage their revolutionary opposition to the war, to prise open the fissures in the regime and force its earliest possible downfall. We know that Hitler was funding his war in large part from extensive 'borrowing' from the German workers, which transaction - however coercive - relied on a certain amount of acquiescence. So it is by no means implausible that an upsurge in military and civil disobedience would have hastened the Nazi regime's implosion, and also hastened the end of the genocidal component of Drang nach Osten. But to think and act in such terms when the left has mostly sought to rely on the strength of the imperialist powers to defeat Hitler and Mussolini? When there were few visible signs that organised dissent was even possible within the Nazi war machine?

Such historical optimism seems insanely out of place, especially in light of the popularity of a version of Arendt's account of 'totalitarianism' in which social classes are liquidated, in which the individual is reduced to a fragment of the 'totalitarian' machinery and likes it, in which there is no match for the policeman inside the head of every 'totalitarian' subject. In light of accounts that accentuate the shadow of catastrophe under which we labour, alleged impulses to evil in the human make-up, the psychological appeal of mass violence - all of which would militate against the idea of socialist internationalism - the idea of a revolutionary struggle against both the war and fascism at that time seems impossible. But Guérin knew what we have been encouraged to forget: that the Nazis could not have succeeded without the timidity, confusion and pessimism of the Left. Had it understood the capitalist state, it would not have been disoriented by the failure of reformism; had it understood fully the threat of fascism, it would not have subordinated the struggle against it to sectarian rivalries or (as the German SPD did) passively sit out its coming to power, pursuing only legalist parliamentary opposition until liquidation; had it understood the rapid degeneration of the Russian bureaucracy, it would not have engaged in the criminal stupidity of 'third period' politics (or been surprised at the de-radicalising role of the Stalinists after the war); had it understood the significance of the Spanish Civil War, it would not have allowed the struggle to be subordinated to Stalin's foreign policy priorities; and so on (one really could go on).

It was through Guérin's analysis of fascism and the reasons for its success that he was able to look beyond the immediately self-evident, renounce the reigning pessimism, and try to subvert a war that killed 50 million people, and yet is still remembered as a 'good war'.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Frère Tariq: a case study in political paranoia posted by Richard Seymour

Mysterious are the ways of our absent heavenly father, but even he would have a tough job competing with Tariq Ramadan for inscrutability. Ramadan has - so we are repeatedly told - devised means beyond the wit of ordinary mortals to perpetrate an undercover take-over of Europe by Islam. Take this, for example. No more than the usual, which is way less than an argument. Allow me to list the charges: Tariq is biologically descended from the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, therefore could be an Islamist (a curious inductive strategy - being a defender of Darwin, Hitchens will know that he personally is biologically descended from primitive pond life); Tariq won't give Hitchens any reason to believe that the niqab or the burqa are worn voluntarily (while Hitchens is not obliged to provide a reason to believe that they aren't); Tariq made a donation to two charity organisations which the United States government says are terrorist fund-raising organisations (proof of which? The Simon Weisenthal recently lost a court case for making that claim without proof.); Tariq criticises Saudi Arabia, usually for being corrupt, which could be a sign of hardcore Islamism (or not, as the case may be). Through a series of non-sequiturs, and on such occult reasoning that it would raise the eyebrow of a thaumaturge, we are introduce to the conclusion that Tariq Ramadan is part of the "the soft mainstreaming of Islamic imperialism". Apparently, Tariq has concealed this behind a soundtrack of pomophonic jingles: the terms "discourse" and "space" apparently arouse suspicion.

Hitchens' authority on Ramadan's surreptitious bid to Caliphise Europe is none other than Caroline Fourest. Aside from encouraging racist paranoia about the Islamic Threat (oh, it's "Londonistan" and "Eurabia", the usual), and making a small career out of Tariq-hunting, Fourest is one of those dim young things who has made a career out of reproducing the worn bromides of Glucksmann, Levy, Bruckner and all of the 'antitotalitarian' anti-Tiermondiste crowd. Indeed, her most recent book is about The Obscurantist Temptation, which precisely characterises the anti-imperialist left as inferior to the 'antitotalitarian' one in every little way, and altogether too fond of the wretched of the earth and their attainment of political subjectivity (the wretched of the earth are fine, you understand, provided they are mute victims desperately seeking a Western superman). This isn't a coincidence, because Ramadan has made an enemy of the nouveau philosophes lot by attacking a number of these "French Jewish intellectuals" for abandoning universalism and becoming uncritical supporters of Israel, reversing the stereotype about Muslim tribalism. Glucksmann and Levy typically retorted that it was anti-Semitism, but then they are known for comical misuse of this form of obloquy. Fourest's belabouring of Ramadan is roughly as follows: he uses double-talk to conceal a sinister agenda, which includes slowly, subtly, twisting the definition of secularism so that Europe will become Islam and Islam will become Europe. He is part of an international project, a conspiracy of unequals, to affix a -stan to every European capital and an all-covering shroud to every European woman. Cassettes of his sermons supposedly reveal subtle discursive torsions that say one thing to Muslim audiences and another to European ones. Fortunately, Fourest has mastered The Muslim Mind, and can decipher it for us.

You want to believe that these depraved, illiterate tirades are the preserve of spiteful buffoons like Daniel Pipes, Bat Ye'Or and (bless her various sweaters) Melanie Phillips, but they no longer are. This horseshit is on the tip of a million wagging liberal tongues. I'm almost persuaded that it's a conspiracy to make Tariq Ramadan more interesting than he actually is. If you've read anything he's actually said (as opposed to what he is alleged to be plotting), you discover a relatively soft liberal with some criticism of neoliberalism (Buruma reckons he is something like an Islamosocialist - whatever). He is no reactionary, and in fact is probably somewhat to the left of Hitchens these days. I've read some of his articles and speeches, and even had a look through 'Western Muslims and the Future of Islam', which is published by that infamous den of dhimmitude, Oxford University Press. In what does Ramadan's message consist? It's bad to use Shari'a to impose repressive legislation; good for Muslim migrants to set aside sectoral distinctions that no longer matter; Islamic schools might be alright in some circumstances, but they aren't a panacea and leave out non-Muslim children; democracy is a good thing; there is no strict opposition between the West and Islam; there should be an Islamic Feminism, and all the excuses for putting up with discrimination against women dropped; the Islamic state is an illusion etc etc. The pretense that there is some mystery about this is childish, as is the hysterical demand that Ramadan become even more perfectly conformist and moderate than he already is. For example, one of Fourest's little moans is that Ramadan considers it acceptable to resist any law which compels him to foreswear his religion (that is, he insists on the same right to demur from opprobrious and ascriptively humiliating authority that everyone else claims). This, we are invited to think, could mean that he is about to strap dirty nukes to his chest and take out half of Europe in a fit of pique, ululating to his last breath, if someone takes away his prayer mat. So much of the plaintive commentary is like this: Ramadan thinks suicide bombings are "morally condemnable" but also "contextually explicable", and therefore is secretly contemplating a conflagration on a Tel Aviv schoolbus. If one isn't a native informer to liberal imperialism, one is expected to be ultra-conformist.

The strident paranoia about Tariq Ramadan is not fake, but the source of it is obviously not Tariq Ramadan. There is is indeed a sincere and utterly demented belief that something called 'the West' faces an existential challenge from something called 'Islam', but the cause of it is not Islam. The cause of it, dare I say the root cause of it, is not merely a rationalisation of the alliance with American imperialism. It is an awareness of how fragile the 'West' really is, how threatened it is by its inner tensions and recurring crises, and how incapable it is of dealing productively with its problems. The prickliness and belligerence of these commentators hardly suggests a great deal of confidence in 'the West', after all. And what is there to be afraid of? In its worst possible light, the actual military threat from various Islamist groups is puny. There is no economic threat to US dominance besides capitalism's own inherent tendency toward secular crisis. The EU isn't going to acquire cohesion overnight, and China has a long way to go yet. The Muslim countries are all handily under lock and key with guns, gaolers, torture equipment and bombers supplied by America, where they don't simply occupy. Culturally, America is becoming asinine and in some cases decidedly on the verge of Streicherism, but if the challenge is supposed to be low-tech video signals from Osama, I wouldn't sweat it. It isn't an external challenge that is producing this crisis, any more than decadent liberals lacking moral clarity caused it. It was there, brewing all along: the economic turmoil, the racist retrogression, the erosion of cultural hegemony, even the inability of mainstream ideology to handle the 'feminisation' of discourse (in which "political correctness" is seen as linguistically emasculating, thus restraining the necessarily "robust" response to the enemy of the month), all of it is entirely, er, indigenous. Still, as a totem is clearly necessary, by all means blame Osama. If you can't blame Osama, blame Tariq. Hell, fuck it, blame me. I killed Kennedy, wounded Reagan, had unsatisfying sex with John Leslie, and crashed Diana's car. I did it all, and now I'm behind the Islamic plot. Dialogue with me is utterly useless: I don't expect you to talk, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Poll suggests 1.2m violent deaths in Iraq since 2003 posted by Richard Seymour

The ORB polling agency, frequently cited in the press, has produced new research suggesting that up to 1.2m had died as a result of violence rather than old age in Iraq since 2003 as of last month. The press release is reproduced here, and there's a story about it here. Based on face-to-face interviews, this would seem to corroborate some of the more pessimistic extrapolations from the last Lancet study. This is the explanation:

Q How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003 (ie as a result of violence rather than a natural death such as old age)? Please note that I mean those who were actually living under your roof.

None 78%

One death 16%

Two deaths 5%

Threedeaths 1%

Four+ deaths 0.002%

Given that from the 2005 census there are a total of 4,050,597 households this data suggests a total of 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion in 2003.

The story isn't getting much coverage. In most news items I can find about it, it's relegate to a small side box item. For instance, here and here. Nothing about it in any UK news source yet as far as I know.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Iraq 'Surge' Poll posted by Richard Seymour

Much as you'd expect: the 'surge' has negatively impacted on most areas of life; of all factors in chaos, America's occupation forces are held most responsible (somehow President Bush is ranked separately); about half of Iraqis want an immediate withdrawal, most of the rest want security restored first (some chance); almost sixty percent support attacks on coalition troops (Bye Bye Basra); most Iraqis support a unified Iraq, with only Kurds supporting a federal or partitioned structure; conditions of life are quite bad or very bad for most Iraqis in all areas and on all fronts.

But since when did Iraqis have a say?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

General Petraeus speaks. posted by Richard Seymour

General Petraeus is, of course, the man who brought you the Special Police Commandos, Iraq's number one death squad service. He is also a typical creature of the American elite. Highly competitive, very capable, very ruthless, and apt at dissimulation. However, it seems he had an outbreak of inexcusable honesty in the run up to his presentation at Capitol Hill today, and composed a script that - due to its sensitive nature - he was obliged to ditch at the last moment. Happily, the Tomb is an international leaking post (so to speak) and I have the pleasure of presenting you with his original speech, with annotations in square brackets:

Well, good day. It's a pleasure to see so many familiar faces here today. [The military leadership cultivates excellent relationships with media and politicans] My purpose at this time is to provide a short update on the situation in Iraq, including a brief description of the operational environment, the challenges Iraq faces, and the status of our operations, and then to take your questions and ram them gently up your Potomac. [The Potomac is a long brown channel.] The operational environment in Iraq is the most complex and challenging I have ever seen - much more so then when I took charge. In one sense, things have never been more difficult: Iraqis continue to attack our troops in ever increasing numbers; they are developing more sophisticated weaponry; our political allies in Iraq are acting far too independently for our liking; much of the world says mean things about us; our fellow countrymen say mean things about us; the newspapers say mean things about us; the war is becoming enormously costly. On the other hand: our casualties, though media-sensitive, are comparatively trivial, and militarily insignificant except in certain sensitive geographical areas; their sophisticated weaponry looks like an archery club compared with our colossal means of violence; we can always substitute current political allies for new ones, and we have ample funds and forms of intimidation to make them comply; mean things being said is the least of our worries until it impacts on the political leadership that directs us in battle - if Iraqis planting IEDs and lobbing rockets at us doesn't deter us, why on earth would we care about criticism?; and the war is only meaningfully costly for us if the total sums of money required are unfeasible - our past experience of empire-building suggests that success pays for itself several times over, while failure is difficult to overcome.

Gentlemen, and those few ladies present, in this circumstance it makes no sense to speak of retreat. I am a military leader, rather than a politician. I am not General Wonderful MacArthur, and I am not grandstanding for public consumption. As I see it, neither our domestic enemies nor our foreign enemies has sufficient clout to obligate us to change course. It is true that American intolerance of combat deaths and outright genocidal violence against our enemies means we can't launch the kinds of attacks that would enable to us to exert meaningful, lasting control over significant portions of Iraq. Nevertheless, we have access to elaborate and sophisticated means by which to induce greater tolerance of combat deaths especially Iraqi combat deaths, since our [racist] assumption is that people are naturally more empathetic to their own kind. We have the means to moralise each mode of destruction that we choose at our disposal, and we are working to find new ways to make it effective. It is true that enemies whose loyalty we purchase can as easily be purchased by others, but it cuts in both directions: any friends we sell can be repurchased.

Unless significant global constituencies, namely Americans, take decisive action to raise the social cost of what we do [strikes, sit-down protests, occupations], thereby causing our political leadership the kind of difficulty that will cause them to restrain our actions [tie one hand behind their backs, in other words], we have nothing to fear from an audacious and wide-ranging, multilayered campaign of violence. The truth is that our domestic enemies are weak, disunited, and lack resolve. They are, at present, no contest. We are not colonialists. Colonialists are set in determinate relations and inevitably accrue responsibilities that cause them to lose dynamism and control. We are engaged an open-ended, simultaneous, and indeterminate operations to obtain political control over strategically significant regions, and to maintain them. The advantage of this is that each 'intervention', as we choose to call it, is disburdened of history. Each military and diplomatic transaction can be discussed as if it is unique, a response to an emergency that we have not helped to create, and therefore we bear no long-term responsibility for its outcomes, and no broad conclusions will be drawn about our actions [unless they confirm the master-narrative of humanitarian intervention and crisis resolution].

Therefore, I request that we make a graduated and slight reduction of troop commitments over the next year to give some of the troops a rest and placate domestic enemies. In the meantime, we will advise our Iraqi allies to hire replacement security consultants from our best mercenary firms, to remove any possible risk - although if truth be known, the mercenaries are capable of engaging in much more direct action than we can manage on account of their insulation from democratic and adversarial review [they can kill Arabs without being called on it]. In short, we have little to lose from managing this conflict exactly as our political leaders direct us, and they remain sufficiently empowered by general acquiescence in their goals that they are not about to restrain us. May I add, in conclusion, before I direct your questions upstream, that I am proud to be an American, and honoured to serve our nation. I hope you all feel the same way. Thanks. Great to see you all again. [Fuck off].

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

That "Israel Lobby" again. posted by Richard Seymour

U.S. support backed by a vocal and politically powerful Jewish lobby has been a key feature of the Jewish state's success since its founding in 1948, an event that is widely backed by U.S. Jews and non-Jews.

But the study found that "feelings of attachment may well be changing as warmth gives way to indifference, and indifference gives way even to downright alienation."

The study found only 48 percent of U.S. Jews under age 35 believe that Israel's destruction would be a personal tragedy for them, compared to 77 percent of those 65 and older.

In addition, only 54 percent of those under the age of 35 are "comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State" as opposed to 81 percent of those 65 and older.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

An immodest proposal posted by Richard Seymour

In addition to 'Notes on Racism', we should devise a diorama or display of specimens of this kind:

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Crime and publicity posted by Richard Seymour

1 missing, no suspect. 80 dead, suspected state criminality. Guess which story caught the media's imagination [sic]?

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Capitalism is a system based on choice... posted by Richard Seymour

It forces you to make huge lifestyle choices all the time.

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On knowing it when you see it posted by Richard Seymour

Easy now. I have time for a quick post, why not? Racism is usually typified in bourgeois ideology as a way of thinking and feeling about the world. In its worst form, this reduces racism to a form of "prejudice" or - god save us all - "hatred". (It is ironic, this: the 'hate' metaphor has almost invariably been used against the victims of racism: 1857 rebels were filled with 'hate'; slave rebels ditto; Cointelpro documents characterised civil rights organisations as 'black hate groups'; think of all the 'preachers of HATE' today). In a more sophisticated version, it might be understood as "race-thinking", to use Hannah Arendt's term, the theory and ideology that corresponds to the practise of white supremacy. But I think it's obvious that racism is a form of behaviour, in the same way that white supremacy is a system rather than what hillbillies and other caricatures get up to on the weekend. And this is surely why no one is impressed when someone who has made a racist comment or claim says "but in my heart, I'm not a racist". That is never the issue. In which vein, there is an interesting post (via Chabert) about "microaggressions", which refers to the cumulative petty acts of verbal violence directed against people of colour (I suppose that's a better description than 'non-white people', which characterises most of the planet as a negation). There are entire traditions of racial discourse involved here, which are 'automatically' deployed and 'imperceptible', except to those on the receiving end. Obviously, part of being an anti-racist activist is knowing this when you see it, and challenging it (since anti-racism, too, is a form of behaviour, and not merely a way of thinking and feeling). Given this, and given the state of perpetual ignorance that is maintained on the topic, surely it would be useful to produce a dictionary of racism. A critical compilation of racist tropes, metaphors, assumptions etc., together with their uses (whether it is providing legitimacy for concentration camps or 'detention centres' for immigrants). One gets histories of racism detailing the discovery of the 'Aryans' and the 'Tartars' and what have you, which are good and necessary. However, a straightforward reference guide with detailed examples and introductory explanations would he very useful. It needn't be mirthless either: consider the virtues of a chapter on testing race theory by extracting the blood of a racist co-worker, for example. This is a serious suggestion, actually. And since the daily, ritual, petty acts of written violence against people of colour is at its rawest in the blogosphere, where some truly obscene commentary is passed off as sensible (and 'left-wing', on top of it all), something online could be developed to accompany Mark Kaplan's 'Notes on Rhetoric'. That way, when you're engaged in a discussion online, and someone who assumes they are not racist makes a truly racist statement, you have a resource to link to, an anticipatory critique that is unanswerable. What do you make of this?


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Monday, September 03, 2007

Exile posted by Richard Seymour

Comrades, I have been in Siberia for a bit, will return shortly (matter of days at most). I should point out that the eyes of Lenin see all, and that you can certainly expect me to notice any petit-bourgeois deviations.


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