Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Eve posted by Richard Seymour

Leninism, undead:

Wooo ha ha ha ha ha ha!


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The Thermidorian posted by Richard Seymour

One of the weakest arguments about the 'new philosophers' of France, unfortunately repeated in Julian Bourg's otherwise excellent From Revolution to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought, is that they took the logical step from their previous Maoist commitments, and moved straight from a critique of Stalinism to a critique of Marxism as such. A logical - even 'dialectical' - progression. You see this argument elsewhere: look at the neocons, aren't they all ex-Trots, or at least don't they owe their messianic doctrine to Trotsky? Aren't they the logical heirs of his internationalism, his revolutionary zeal etc? I don't think this holds water, for a variety of reasons that I won't go into, but one can see how a critique of Stalinism has been helpful to various styles of public intellectual in clarifying arguments while moving to the right. Yet, the role of anti-Stalinism for a revolutionary socialist, for example, is logically discontinuous with its role in the thought of someone who embraces Robert Conquest and regards Anglosphere social-democracy as the best future for mankind. The assertion of continuity may well reduce itself to the Stalinist stipulation that Trotskyism was already counterrevolutionary. (One of my favourite examples is La Pasionaria arguing, after a full year of Trot-hunting has almost destroyed the revolution and given the fascists the upper hand in the civil war that it was the POUM after all who worked on behalf of the German Gestapo, and who imitated Mussolini, and who assisted Franco).

What I like so much about Badiou's argument about The Thermidorian Subject is that it cuts this argument to shreds. Badiou points out that many of the prosecutors of the French Revolution were once its most fervent advocates, but rather than assenting to Soubol's position that the terrorists of the Directory really brought the logic of Jacobin terror to a head, he pinpoints the structural difference. It is not that the apparent 'opposite' actually embodies the real spirit of the revolution (raised under the banner of equality, it actually introduces capitalist inequality etc), but that each political sequence has its own internal logic which at some point exhausts all its capacities. The revolution proceeds, exhausts its capacities, and now there are those who act as agents of termination: they don't simply accept the limits of the revolution, they actively seek to mystify the revolution, to make it incomprehensible, to decouple its statements from the context, so that it can be seen instead as an expression of some satanic or totalitarian temptation. (Hence, May 1968 is less an expression of deep dissatisfaction with the Gaullist state, an unwillingness to accept the burden of the growing crisis of capitalism, an attempt to urgently re-order the world given the manifest paucity of the models of East and West, than a sort of sustained tribute to the allure of the Soviet Union). Those who were the revolution's agents recognise the crisis, and elect to become the agents of its domestication or liquidation.

Badiou delves into the pertinent background of his selected periods of reaction (he is drawing a sustained parallel between the 'new philosophers' and the Thermidorians), particularly the collusion with empire and capital (one worry was that the Haitian revolt continued - and of course, Napoleon came up with a brilliant idea of killing every resident of Haiti, sometimes by gassing on board ships, and replacing them with 'docile' Africans). But I think what's most telling about it is the understanding of the different roles of terror in a revolutionary and post-revolutionary society. Not only did terror not stop after the sequence of 1792-4; it actually acquired some intriguing new dimensions, so that the state took upon itself the right to regulate adjectives (for example, a club could no longer be "popular", since this was a threat to propertied interests, and at any rate all collectivities tended to be frowned on). For the revolutionary, terror is a substitute for political virtue; for the counter-revolutionary, terror is a means to secure a peaceful accumulation of property. The Thermidorian not only adapts to but ushers in the new situation as perfectly legitimate, what was intended all along even, and much more comprehensible than the utterings of fanatics who may have taken control of the revolution or infected it. Terror is perfectly alright provided it is vended in defense of property, and the political space in which property is accumulated, but demented when used to undermine property or restructure the political space in favour of more liberty (for Haitians) but less property (for French owners) etc. It is comprehensible in light of interests, but not in the pursuit of virtue. The Thermidorian moralises, but only because (s)he expects that this is what the plebians require - (s)he wants no part of virtue, because that is a dangerous autonomous component that threatens the social peace that makes the pursuit of interests possible.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Zizek on Trotsky posted by Richard Seymour

I have criticised Zizek's weaknesses on this blog more than once, but you have to give some credit to him for taking on Trotsky - not only for taking him on, but for taking on the most difficult work, the one that few Trotskyists defend, Terrorism and Communism. Part of my problem with Z's line on Trotsky in the past has been his (frankly pathetic) comparison of Trotsky's founding of the Red Army with his own decision to side with Slovenian secession (which I think he still defends) in terms of a willingness to get one's hands dirty and a refusal of Beautiful Soul politics. Ironically, Zizek's position on Yugoslavia looks more like Lukacs' 1935 'heroic' rapprochement with the politics of 'realism' (the position he criticises) than Trotsky's position (the one he endorses).

However, the latest of the 'Zizek Presents...' series is actually a decent read (partly because he has read Lars Lih's excellent contribution to the recent History and Revolution, itself an excellent volume, engaging with revisionist accounts of the English, French and Russian Revolutions). Lih's recent book on Lenin is coming out in paperback soon, and his penchant for meticulously busting anticommunist myth is evident in his contribution on the Bolsheviks' so-called utopianism and delirium. Zizek defends Trotsky's book on two key fronts: first, for its critique of the shortcomings of liberal democracy, especially in a revolutionary situation (contra Kautksy); second for its commixture of absolute realism about the horrible situation with its recognition of the need for a certain kind of utopianism, a willingness to seize advantages from the direst of circumstances. He doesn't really deal very well with the objections usually raised to the book (it mandates continued terror, it ), but he does effectively rebut some of the unfair criticisms of the Russian Revolution. Some of it is recycled from 'Revolution at the Gates', itself a nice introduction to Lenin's 1917 writings (in which he anticipated punk's apotheosis by exactly sixty years), and as usual with Zizek there are plenty of diversions, rhetorical ploys, set-pieces, extended quotations, gags etc.

It's important to introduce readers to a text like Terrorism and Communism with at least a sense of the immense difficulties of the Russian Revolution and of Trotsky's relationship with it - you really have to escape the powerful anticommunist blinkers, the auto-responses that make it difficult to properly read, and Zizek's introduction succeeds at that. This is no small matter. And, though Zizek is basically very Eurocentric and liberal (so I think), his willingness to engage productively with revolutionary ideology distinguishes him from the commonplace marxisant left-liberal theorist.

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Parisian Pierrot posted by Richard Seymour

I once started pedestrians by singing that song while drunk with a perfect Noel Coward pitch (or so it seemed to me). Quite what else they were expecting in the unpromising surroundings of North Woolwich, I can't guess. At any rate, I promised pictures, and so - like touriste racaille - I got some for you. There now follows a lurid display of those parts of Paris in which few people actually get to live or work, yet which tourists are encouraged to see as essential to the city itself. This here's the view from Montmartre (click to enlarge):

This is the shrine to the cult of the sacred heart, which is apparently illuminated at night:

This is a monument to the cult of the French Empire (with the Eiffel Tower in the background):

The Champs-Elysee, trees strapped with Christmas lights. In a sweet-store on this street, I found gums called 'The Melting Pot', liquorice flavoured black gums that caricature various 'races'. Chinoise, Africaine, etc.:

The basilica of the sacred cult of Louis Vuitton:

The lower part of the Seine below the Isle de Cite, with the Notre Dame in the background:

Zizek talking politics and psychoanalysis with a packed hall at the Sorbonne:

Inside the Sorbonne:

Outside the conciergerie where counter-revolutionaries where executed en masse:

The bloody Louvre which probably matches the British Museum for its loot of ransacked cultural and historical artefacts:

To answer some queries, I didn't get to the Banlieu Rouge, and Saint-Denis doesn't appear to have a Rue de Staline any more (they keep the streets and stations modelled after American presidents, a sure sign of the overbearing influence of the nouveau philosophes). My Michelin guide also denies that there is any such thing as a street named after Lenine, by the way - the admission of Lenin as a hero for the French is evidently too traumatic for the producers of tourist maps.

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Summa posted by Richard Seymour

Look, I don't want to spend my time writing posts about the crisis in Respect, even though the argument is already spiralling out into the stratosphere (thence, appropriately regurgitated by lunatics) because I want to see that crisis resolved. The only way it can be resolved is at the National Conference where issues are debated and voted on. That is the proper way to conduct this discussion. Unfortunately, from the start, the issue has been characterised by leaks, and at that leaks of inflammatory claims designed to polarise the debate rather than pacify it. In particular, certain blogs have been supplied with daily, inaccurate ballast. So, against the slogan "Let the Bloggers Decide", the correct and more obvious slogan would be "Let the Members Decide". Unfortunately, not all share this view. I received in my inbox an e-mail sent from the national office of Respect claiming that the SWP were splitting from Respect: quite why we should wish to do so when we think we can win the members on this question is mysterious to me, but the claim was flatly false, and relied on fictitious quotes from the National Secretary (who, while he is routinely attacked, oversaw some of Respect's most successful campaigns and also worked energetically to defend George Galloway from attack when the media were out for his blood over Big Brother). The Morning Star's report of the press conference in question correctly recorded that when asked whether the Socialist Workers Party would split from Respect, John Rees said: "Of course not. We founded Respect - with others." The SWP are not considering a split. It was also alleged that the SWP would consider standing candidates against Respect, which is also false. Aside from the signatories to this remarkable falsification (in truth, I doubt many of them had even read it or knew much about it), there were contact details for some people who used to be members of the SWP.

Why should this be? Why should it be that unambiguously untrue claims are being bruited by an official spokesman for George Galloway MP, who after all knows a thing or two about being lied about? Why try to declare a de facto split (in fact, an attempted mass expulsion based on a minority's say-so), I can only conclude that it is because some fear that the SWP may in fact win the argument at the National Conference. The recent Tower Hamlets meeting of Respect that precipitated the decision of a number of Respect councillors to resign the whip is a case in point. The reason given for resigning the whip was the appalling behaviour of Tower Hamlets chair and George Galloway's ally Azmal Hussain, who, having been unable to win more than a small minority for a resolution on conference delegates, abruptly terminated the meeting and left, insisting that everyone else evacuate the building. There had been an attempt by some people to prevent the entry of a number of Bengali women to the meeting, despite the fact that they were members (ie, no one had to buy their membership en masse that night). So, it being decided that a) the refusal to vote on all motions or even to inform people on what they were voting for was a flagrant breach of the democratic norms of the labour movement, and b) Abjol Miah's claimed refusal to work with others was obviously a huge and unfortunate obstacle to cooperation (consider this a 'circular argument'), four councillors including Oliur Rahman decided to resign the whip. (The claim that Miah cannot work with others has apparently produced a threat of legal action). Now, whatever else may be said about this decision, this kind of thing is a reality in UK politics: people resign the whip of a parliamentary or representative group when they can no longer abide its position. It is a decisive gesture, but it is not a repudiation of the party. However, it was then decided by Mr Hussain, in a fashion entirely external to normal constitutional procedures, that this amounted to self-expulsion. Having lost the argument and wrecked the meeting, it seemed to Mr Galloway's supporters that the constitution of Respect could be dispensed with at will.

Of course, it is true that in a coalition like Respect, people have different visions and ideas about how to win important political struggles. But what unites us, aside from our constitution, are the positions agreed in our democratic structures. The attempt to sidestep these is surely indicative of a deep-seated fear of losing the argument.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Paris posted by Richard Seymour

First time I've visited Paris for purposes other than tourism, and, ironically, the first time I've really enjoyed it. Tourists go to the Louvre and the Sacre Coeur basilica (a rather menacing-looking counter-revolutionary icon) and the Notre Dame. Far better to forget all that rubbish and take dander round the arrondisements (that's French for 'hood'). I have picked up the lingo after one day of these travels, and apparently "au revoir touriste racaille" is shopkeep talk for "have a nice day". Additionally, "un petit peu" means "I do speak English, but why don't you speak French?" I also saw Zizek at the Sorbonne and had prepared a Zhdanovite intervention until I realised that (mais bien sur!) the speech was in French and I hadn't a clue as to 45% of what he was saying. The place was packed, mind you, with mostly young people on the brink of either riots or splendid careers (or both). I skipped a PCF counter-Sarkozy demo to see this, but then I see a few PCFers did as well, if the amount of L'Humanités circulating among the Rouge and Liberation is any guide. I did illicitly record the Zizek talk (ssshhh), and my recorder has translation software, so I might even squeeze out a transcript. Anyway, I'll be back on Tuesday with some pictures and sticks of rock and things. In the meantime, it's all rather like this:

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Respect appeal posted by Richard Seymour

Those who agree with my post below might like to read and sign our appeal. If you want to sign it, you should e-mail, stating your name and position. If you are a member of Respect, I urge you to take it to your branch and persuade others to sign it too.

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The secret air war continues posted by Richard Seymour

Air strikes on Iraq increase 400% in the last year, while air strikes on Afghanistan have almost doubled.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Here's the disaster... posted by Richard Seymour wait for the capitalism.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Respect posted by Richard Seymour

Hear me now. I am not, as you know, one of those bloggers who delights in ersatz 'controversies' of various left-wing groups. It generally tends to consist of gossip, which is empty and ineffectual. In light of the very real crisis in Respect, there have been calls for me to 'take a stand' in public, as if it makes the slightest bit of difference. There are two reasons why I won't participate in this kind of thing: 1) I think it's wrong to air internal disputes on websites and other public fora unless it becomes unavoidable to do so (always a judgment call, of course); 2) I don't wish to encourage the trivial and hysterical pursuit of 'clues' and gossip; 3) I fear I'd bore most readers who don't follow that trivia to death. I notice that a few of the less serious blogs decided to take my post about Political Islam last week as some sort of indication that the Left is regretting an alliance with Islamists in Respect. This is a preposterous misreading: I in fact restated my position, which is that the Left should work with Islamists. Far more importantly, this isn't the nature of the crisis in Respect at all. The nature of the crisis is a division between those in Respect who cleave to socialism and those who have always tended toward electoralism. So it now comes to a point where this has to be stated in the open. Sadly, George Galloway has decided to drive a witch hunt against the main far left group in Respect. I am not interested in rehearsing Galloway's actual or alleged flaws. The important issue is the need to defend a coalition which has had unprecedented success for a small electoral coalition in its infancy.

We have laid blow after blow on New Labour heartlands despite the fact that we had a fraction of the resources and membership. We did so because we refused to subordinate our campaigning to psephological considerations: we promised to be fundamentally different from New Labour and the opportunist politicians of that mould, and such is the promise I want us to keep. George Galloway was central to building this coalition, but it is my view that he now has a different idea in mind: one that is more oriented to reformism and whose strategy is one of electoralism. He has changed his mind about the basis of the Respect coalition. I direct you to this editorial in Socialist Worker, which I agree with wholeheartedly. It doesn't simply state the position that I agree with. It makes a call I would like to echo: for all those who support Respect and have enjoyed watching us challenge and sometimes inflict humilitating defeats on New Labour; for all those who want it to remain a left-wing coalition with the emphasis on socialism; for all those who want to see it thrive and survive as an alternative to New Labour's corrupt mendacity, its neoliberal domestic policies and neoconservative foreign policies; the appeal is to support our position. The conditions for a strong left-of-Labour coalition could hardly be better, and the need for it hardly stronger. For example, we are the ones supporting the postal workers, while the Labour government bullies them. We are the ones who have defended council housing in an era of desperate shortfall in housing, while New Labour rolls back the entire council housing system. We are the ones who most vociferously defended Muslims when the government launched its vicious attacks last year. If you find a Respect candidate on Question Time, it's one of the few times when the programme isn't as dull as dishwater and conformist. You can see why I am so fond of this coalition, and why I want to see it preserved.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Klass Kranks posted by Richard Seymour

#It seems to me I've heard that song before. It's from an old familiar score. I know it well that mel-o-deee...# When Tony Blair declared that the class war was over in 2000, most media outlets were happy to dance to this old tune, but some sage observers recalled that Harold Macmillan had said the same thing over forty years before. The regularly repeated news that British people still have some basic purchase on the reality of this class society (even though more people think they're middle class than can be the case, a result of a sustained ideological assault) is usually greeted with exasperation and disbelief in the media. This old thing again? Class is so, like, 1970s. Get over it already. Who would have thought that a country whose main forms of cultural intercourse include such enlightening sobriquets as "gippo", "chav", "tramp" and "Jeremy Kyle", or conversely "nob", "toff", "driveway crawler", "golfing gimp", "stuck up twat", and "posh git" would still imagine that class matters? After the industrial defeats for the working class in the 1980s, the capitalist class and its media went on an intensified ideological offensive. And throughout the 1990s, the spectacle constantly assured us that the class war was over, no longer mattered, and any mention of it came from horny-handed trade unionists and political dinosaurs. When polls repeatedly found that most people considered the class war to be ongoing, despite the dwindling number of strike days, the figures were so baffling that the newspapers largely ignored them. When people wanted more power for the unions, and less for fat bastards eating all the pie, it was assumed that this was some sort of unpleasant hangover from the glory days of union-bashing in the 1980s. A few months after New Labour was elected, the Daily Mail - a paper of the middle class par excellence - enthused that Britain was a place where "talent is the only class act", "a great meritocracy" with few "class barriers". The Daily Mirror had a poll inquiring about its readers' class some years back and was appalled to discover that most of them didn't think they were middle class. 80% identified themselves as workers, which is certainly accurate. A clumsily snooty editorial by Piers Morgan put it down to nostalgia and an awareness of 'roots' (class as an ethnicity rather than a social relationship).

And so it goes on. The Guardian suggests that the current prevailing concern with class is usually based on the status of one's parents rather than one's present income, but its findings undermine this: the poorest (ie the working class) are most likely to be conscious of the way class impacts on their lives; by contrast, the Institute of Directors is composed entirely of people who pulled themselves up by nanny's apron-straps through sheer force of will and talent. Another way to avoid the issue is to turn it into an accident of geography and accent - hence, "the north-south divide". It is as if there is some great mystery to be explained by some curious combination of contingent factors, when it is actually astoundingly simple: the ruling class, which consists of people who appear on television on a regular basis as representatives of business interests and also as part of the political class, has been waging a class-war against the working class. While the economic component has been partially successful, the attempt to befuddle and disorient people about what is being done to them has been less successful. Class issues are rarely out of the news, even though they are usually treated as 'consumer' or 'business' items (how will this affect tube passengers, local industry, holidaymakers, etc?). Class will certainly affect our experiences of any fall-out from the stock market dives. In fact, barely a day goes by when there isn't a big event in the country's life that doesn't advert to its increasingly ossified class structure. If statistics didn't say it regularly, people would know that social mobility is slight and declining from their own life experiences. If Her Majesty's Stationery Office didn't 'fess up about growing inequality every year, we'd know because it is obvious. And if it isn't obvious, you'll probably find someone selling this in your town centre who will gladly apprise you of the facts.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Britain invades Iran; Turkey invades Iraq posted by Richard Seymour

Britain invades Iran:

BRITISH special forces have crossed into Iran several times in recent months as part of a secret border war against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Al-Quds special forces, defence sources have disclosed.

There have been at least half a dozen intense firefights between the SAS and arms smugglers, a mixture of Iranians and Shi’ite militiamen.

The unreported fighting straddles the border between Iran and Iraq and has also involved the Iranian military firing mortars into Iraq. UK commanders are concerned that Iran is using a militia ceasefire to step up arms supplies in preparation for an offensive against their base at Basra airport.

Turkey invades Iraq:

At least 12 Turkish soldiers have been killed following an ambush by Kurdish rebels near the Iraqi border - with 32 rebels also killed, officials say.

The PKK guerrilla group claimed it had also taken "several" soldiers hostage, but this was denied by the government.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called a crisis meeting in Ankara, which is likely to consider whether to attack PKK bases in Iraq.

But the defence minister said such action would not take place "urgently".

(Okay, so Turkey has had troops in Northern Iraq for months, while British operations started months ago, long after the US started sending terrorist squads to blow up Iranian cities, but we have to start noticing this somehow).

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

A rational approach to Political Islam. posted by Richard Seymour

Decentism demands denununciations. All the time. Will you condemn this latest atrocity in which three children have been dispersed across an Iraqi street by salafists? Will you denounce the rocket attacks aimed at schools? What about acid being thrown in the face of women by Talibs? Who doesn't know how to say "that's disgusting"? Aside from the fact that it defies every sound principle of politics to take one's cue from the decents, the problem is that: a) it's hypocritical, because the decents are energetically supportive of mass atrocities by warmongers, and even where they oppose a certain style of atrocity by imperialism, they are rarely as energetic in denunciation of those; b) it usually shades into denunciations of much more defensible actions or at least applying them to more ambiguous situations (which can only be disambiguated with simple-minded moralism), such as the call to denounce Hezbollah for using indiscriminate weapons during Israel's attack on Lebanon; c) the instances requiring denunciation almost always refer to actions carried out by currents of Political Islam, which reflects the Islamophobic bent of decentism; d) most importantly of all, it is not merely ineffectual but mirror's the theological conception of politics propounded by the 'fundamentalists'. I don't want to be misunderstood on the last point: it is almost as if the worst insult one could make of a self-professed secular liberal intellectual that they sound like their 'fundamentalist' opposites. However, my insult is directed at the 'fundamentalists'. I am denouncing them, if you will, by comparing them to those whose output is far more pernicious and far more complicit in massive violent crime. The decents are the theologians and obscurants of disaster capitalism, for whom all its worst manifestations are either accidental or providential, or the works of the devil. The revealed answer to human problems already exists in the form of liberal democracy.

As a rule, the liberal agitators for civilizational warfare know nothing about Political Islam except so much of the record of Sayid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood as might allow them to characterise it as "clerical fascism". So, instead of rehearsing the arguments about variations in Political Islam and the multitude of its possible relations to gender, democracy, socialism and so on, I simply want to suggest a rational approach. The rationalist approach, in fact, the one that so annoys the Bermans and Cohens of this world. It is this: the world does not consist of a confrontation between good and evil, but of social forces with interests and ideologies, and strategies for meeting both kinds of ends. The character of these social forces is not a matter of moral superiority or inferiority, it is a matter of their being harmful or beneficial (or, as is often the case, some mixture of the two). The reason why the decents insist on making this a central question is quite simply that they want to insist on the moral supremacy of 'Western', 'Anglosphere' or 'European' culture, which in itself reflects a deep unease and insecurity about the viability of the societies in which we live. The logical result of a rationalist approach to politics is realpolitik. The usual criticism of realpolitik is that it is amoral and so on, but this is not the issue: it is deployed by mediocre intellects such as Kissinger and Brzezinski on behalf of American ruling class interests, and so is necessarily savage. Socialism is therefore realpolitik for the poor, the working class and oppressed. That involves an attempt to understand, and to detect potential temporary allies and obstacles. If it rules out certain alliances, it isn't on a priori moralistic grounds (they're eeeevvvillll, they're violent, they're ruthless, they're communalist, they're against democracy!).

Proceeding from a political economy of Political Islam demands a much more complicated set of responses than that. It would suggest, I think, that it is right for the Left in Lebanon to work with Hezbollah for a limited series of objectives, while retaining critical independence; similarly, it is right for the Left in Pakistan to utterly reject the Jamaat e-Islami, even while defending their right not to be murdered by the Pakistani state. It is certainly right for Palestinian socialists to cooperate with Hamas, and it was a sectarian mistake for some socialist groups to refuse to work with them given the gravity of the challenges faced. The scissions in each circumstances are different, but where unity is called for, it is usually best to understand the Islamists as reformists without a class analysis. They may lean to the left or to the right depending on the circumstances. They may have David Blunkett's views on homosexuality, Peter Tatchell's views on Leninists, and Christopher Hitchens' views on women. Or they may not. They may support populist economic measures, or they may lean to neoliberalism. And wherever revolutionaries find it useful to work with them, the main issues demanding resolution and conciliation are rarely those issues that Islamophobic liberals associate with Islam - misogyny, for example. Hamas is seen as right-wing and misogynistic, but the truth is that Hamas did a better job of including women in its electoral slates in 2006 than, for example, the Tories have ever done - and Christian Marxist women at that. The proportion of women in its 2006 slates (about a sixth) is inadequate, but better than the representation of women in the UK parliament. The main issues that the Lebanese left and Hezbollah will disagree over, for example, are the same ones that reformists and revolutionaries usually disagree over: electoralism versus class politics, bureaucratic solutions versus grassroots ones, the extent of accomodation to the existing elite etc etc.

Socialists have to deal with groups to the right of them all the time, and Islamists are no exception. The irrational demonisation of Political Islam is not a result of class analysis, or revolutionary realpolitik, but of liberal blackmail. It reflects the theological conception of politics rather than the rationalist one.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Out of his gourdes posted by Richard Seymour

Johnny Cash, drugged to his eyeballs, singing about the plight of Native Americans with a worried looking June Carter Cash and Pete Seeger. The song is 'As Long As the Grass Shall Grow' from the album Bitter Tears. One of his best, in my view, especially the song about Custer:

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

New York Times on Iraqi Resistance posted by Richard Seymour

Look at this. Can you even believe that the NYT is carrying this, even as an op-ed? It practically says everything I've been saying here for about three years, and it uses both official statistics and Iraqi testimony to make the case. Someone make a copy before the editors get wise and take it down.

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The mysteries of wealth creation. posted by Richard Seymour

The world makes no sense. More wealth is produced every year than each preceding year. More goods exist on the planet now than ever before. Bewildering new technologies such as iPhones and Newtons, along with the most advanced medicines, the most sophisticated forms of transport, cheaper and cheaper forms of cultivation and mining and extraction and renewal, and so on. (Of course, in addition to this, there are extremely developed and complex forms of confinement, restraint, protection, weaponry, poisoning, polluting, killing and so on and on. But let's leave all that aside for one second). Did you know that the total world GDP last year was, by the purchasing power parity method of measurement, $65.95 trillion? That's product, that's value-added, that doesn't even take into account the wealth already existing, right? Now, suppose I were to say, pretend last year never happened. You can live on what you had in 2006, can't you? You don't desperately need a new house or something? Okay, so forget your measly interests for a second: what could I do with all that money? I'd spruce up the blog for a start, put an airbrushed picture of myself in the top corner, add polls and paid celebrity endorsements, buy ads in the New York Times. What else? Get a house, maybe some form of transport, buy all the books I've ever wanted. Maybe a bear, and some acreages of wilderness for it to play in. Perhaps engage in a few teenage pursuits like Richard Branson. Shack up with the Osbournes, take Ozzy up the Khyber pass. And I'd still not have spent more than a tiny fraction of it.

You know, with 6 billion people on the planet, $65.95 trillion amounts to $10,099.16 each. (Alright, it's 6.6bn now, so make let's say it would be $9,992.42 each). Did you get that much of a pay rise last year? Did you even get a pay rise, or is the Iron Chancellor trying to cut yours as well? Where the hell is all this money going? Who is doing what with it, and why aren't we told? I mean, I don't know about you, but I figure I did my fair bloody share, and I want a cut of that moolah. Alright, suppose we get over the Politics of Envy (Pinochet knew what to do with those who got too envious). Let us turn to the Politics of Compassion. There are 3bn people on the planet living in absolute poverty: that's half the population of the world. Many of these live in dynamic capitalist economies like India and Indonesia. 80% of Indians live on less than $2 a day according to the World Bank (who are making sure it's kept that way). The same august institution says that half of Indonesians live on less than $2 a day. But these are two countries that have followed orders, privatised, deregulated and liberalised. Of course, Indonesia notoriously had to go through a process of genocide in order to get there. Not to mention centuries of benevolent governance at the hands of colonial powers in both countries, which did admittedly kill a few tens of millions of people. But all of this mass murder was a temporary stop-gap on the way prosperity, and anyway - what are the fascist metaphors people usually use in this circumstance? Eggs and omelettes? Wheat and chaff? Chas and Dave? What can have gone wrong? The highest proportions of such a state of poverty are in Africa. Zambia has 94.1% of its population living in absolute poverty. Nigeria - oil-rich multinational-friendly Nigeria - has 92.4% of its population living in absolute poverty. And, as well as this, there are tens of millions of people living on below $2 a day in Russia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.

So, what happened to that $65.95 trillion from last year alone? Did it fall behind the sofa? Has someone wasted it on television phone polls? Well, remember I mentioned the Billionaire's Club last year? That is, aside from the richest 2% of adults in the world (about 83 million people) who owned more than half of the world's wealth, that 500 people who actually own billions? That was last year, and the statistics probably originated from longer ago (I think from 2000). This year, there are 946: 415 in America, 55 in Germany, 53 in Russia, 36 in India, and 29 in the UK. And it occurs to me that those chaps would be in an ideal position, due to their immense social power, to ensure that most of the newly created wealth goes to them, and as little as possible is redistributed (except when it's good for PR and capitalist morale). It's the same pattern in every country: look at the wealth distribution in selected countries. (Isn't it wierd that the bottom 20% of Australians have so little of the national wealth that they don't even register as a significant percentage share? Isn't it weirder still that some actually get a negative share such as in Germany and Sweden?). Now, we were talking about newly created wealth above, but what would the total global wealth look like if divided evenly among the world's inhabitants? I've tried to find some figures for total global wealth. What you can find is the occasional reference to total global household wealth, which isn't the same thing. And I suspect billions of dollars of wealth are concealed in off-shore trickery every year, so how can one reasonably expect to construct such figures? Total global wealth, including public and private wealth, all concealed wealth, and all wealth that is simply disposed of because it can't be sold, must be in the hundreds of trillions. And we aren't seeing more than an atom of it.

Well, I'm sick of it. Every year I get gipped. I get short-changed. I get a nice hot cup of fuck all. I wait for the cheque in the post, and all I get is another war. If this keeps happening, I'm going to start thinking it's being done on purpose.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Which ones are the Nazis again? posted by Richard Seymour

A small clarification: who can be compared with Nazis? Or, more appropriately, for whom is it a bragging matter that "we are not as bad as Nazis"? We obviously take it for granted that equating any group or statesman that isn't fascistic with the Nazis is at least problematic, and can be worse than problematic. Furthermore, there are those who think that even making a comparison, for the purposes of drawing out similarities, is outrageous in the event that someone makes that comparison with Israel. There are others who don't understand the difference, but we can forget about them.

However, there is a long tradition of propagandistic use of Hitler/Nazi comparisons and outright equations in circumstances that are certainly ridiculous and offensive, but nevertheless this is generally tolerated even where it is an attempt to legitimise mass murder. Everyone knows that Saddam Hussein was a new Hitler, and didn't cease being so until hanged, but at least he bore a few of the qualifications necessary. The Iranian President is routinely compared to Hitler with considerable stridency. Slobodan Milosevic was a Hitler until he died in ICTY custody. Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, insisted that it was not unfair to compare Hezbollah to the Nazis while Israel was pounding Lebanon in 2006. We know that Nasser was commonly referred to as a fascist in the British press, and compared by Anthony Eden to Hitler. We also know that the Chinese were compared to Nazis during the American war on Vietnam, on the grounds that they were a similarly aggressive power. None of these comparisons, whatever their respective merits, was made in good faith or with much precision: they were all designed to evoke a threat that could justify colossal international violence. The Enemy of the Month is always Hitler. In fact, this is the whole purpose of 'totalitarianism' theory as usually espoused in its Cold War version: every enemy is in some sense like the Nazis. Ask Nick Cohen or Paul Berman. It is perfectly normal conduct. It is mainstream and moderate. It is the way one constructs the friend/enemy distinction.

Here's an interesting example: Yasser Arafat in particular, and the Palestinians in general. Yasser Arafat has been cast as Hitler in so many columns and articles and opinions that Lexis Nexis doesn't know what to do with them all. Menachem Begin compared Arafat to Hitler at precisely the moment that he was sending Israeli tanks into Lebanon to murder people. In 2002, the Czech Prime Minister got into a minor controversy for having made that comparison, and for having said that the Palestinians should be expelled from their land (in a cowardly fashion, he denied saying what reporters heard him say, but didn't deny the bit about expulsions). In the same year, the large pro-Israel rally that occurred in Trafalgar Square saw Binyamin Netanyahu compare Arafat to Hitler. Routinely, Hamas are described as (equated with) Nazis, as are the PLO, Hezbollah, and any other group or state that Israel doesn't find amenable to its purposes. So, the people that Israel oppresses and murders are Nazis, and if anyone reverses the comparison as some are tempted to do given the obvious echoes, then they are also Nazis. Meanwhile, the claim that every Enemy of the Month is Hitler incarnate is moderate and mainstream political discourse, while to reverse the charge and say, for example, that "the American government is fascist", is extremist. The United States government, the world heavyweight champion of white supremacy, as the historian Gerald Horne once dubbed it, can only be understood as an opponent of Nazis in official discourse. Only it's victims are Nazis. Anything else is vulgar, calumnious, in poor taste, typical far left Chomskyite boiler-plate rhetoric etc etc.

Wouldn't it be simpler to officially and formally re-define Nazism to mean any designated foe of the United States and Israel, and that way we can avoid the confusion that leads people to take the comparisons/equations seriously?

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The neo-imperialist's guide to Islam posted by Richard Seymour

Lesson one: the interpreter:

If you ask specifically what is wrong with Islam, it makes the same mistakes as the preceding religions, but it makes another mistake, which is that it’s unalterable. You notice how liberals keep saying, “If only Islam would have a Reformation”—it can’t have one. It says it can’t. It’s extremely dangerous in that way.

Lesson two: the creeping liberal:

That night you revealed, inter alia, that you were Shia; and, as far as I understand it, the Shia minority speaks for the more dreamy and poetic face of Islam, the more lax and capacious (tolerant, for example, of representations of the human form), the more spiritual (in the general sense of that word), as opposed to the Sunnis, whose approach is known to be stricter and more legalistic. Your Shia identity endeared you to me, and made me feel protective, because Islamism, in most of its manifestations, not only wants to kill me – it wants to kill you.

Lesson three: the native informer:

Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.
Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?
Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.
Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Reason: Militarily?
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Men in Full. posted by Richard Seymour

Who's the Daddy? It's a question we have all had to ask ourselves at some point in our lives. Is that the sweet looking old man on the television? The next-door neighbour with ungainly muscles and a shaven head? Is it the man who cleans the windows and offers reassuring winks as he wipes away the soapy liquid? The question is more urgent than ever when catastrophe strikes. The American empire's assertion of manly virtues, barbarian virtues, the values of the Rough Rider, the frontier man, the Teddy Roosevelt civilised beast, has been a minor obsession of mine for a while. In this connection, Susan Faludi's latest, The Terror Dream, is a brilliant analysis of the post-9/11 culture in America. I've always liked Faludi's work: she deals effectively both with the American assault on women (especially African American women), and with the reasons why men are made to feel small, and cheated in light of the decline of meaningful work. This one draws on the work of the eminent psychosocial theorist Richard Slotkin to examine the animating myths of American culture that were so readily (re)activated in light of the conflagrations in New York and Washington.

The arrival of the 'barbarians' (the term widely used, without irony, after 9/11) not only gave masculinism a fresh lease of life against what are perceived as the decadent, feminising years of the Clinton administration; it gave a floundering Bush the chance to foster paternal projection by feeding us with baby talk, in the manner of Reagan. This is the significance of 'The Hug', the stage-managed encounter between Bush and Ashley Faulkner, photographed by her Republican father and sent to some people who rapidly dispersed it among 'close friends, whereupon it found its way through all the usual right-wing outlets and then the mainstream media. Bush, it transpired, was the Daddy of the nation, and his hugs would become legendary, even after he had presided over the contrived destruction by neglect (and then seige) of New Orleans. I have written before about how nationalism relies on familial (patriarchal) metaphors, and anyone who wants to understand the regressive tendencies of nationalism need only consult Peter Blickle and Uli Linke. American nationalism has emphasised these trends, despite the occasional nod to diversity. It is instructive to see Faludi's discussion of Bush going through his reassuringly fatherly routines: he discusses his favourite gun, stages photoshoots while swinging axes and chainsaws, catches big fat fish. "Protection fantasies," Faludi says, have become ubiquitous. Thus, Kerry repeatedly poses with a rifle (not unlike this man in a way), and photograghs of this are used on electioneering leaflets with the slogan 'Kerry Will Protect Ohio'. Pollsters and PR men seemed to decide that venturing into the wild and killing animals proved manhood: and Americans wanted nothing more than a big fat manhood hovering over them.

As the Rough Riders were sent forth to tame the Islamic 'wildnerness' with its bloody frontiers, pundits celebrated the re-emergence of the John Wayne style in American life. A wave of mass violence and terror was favoured. NYT columnist enthused: "We will destroy innocent villages by accident, shrug our shoulders and continue fighting." It would be like the Indian Wars again, except with much more efficient killing machines. This was the Last Stand (that fictitious episode that survived in mythology, like the heroic defiance of the Berlin Blockade and the Cuban Missile Crisis, long after the correct empirical data had been established), and this time Custer would win. Faludi comments that "the dreamscape in which Americans dwelled since the disaster" was a sortie into the past, especially into the references of the 1950s. Now, it so happens that the 1950s is a hot-button cultural space for the American right - that glorious decade of lynching, repression of commies, union-busting, genocidal war in Korea with barely a whiff of dissent, before the sexual deviants and wimmin and blacks and commies ganged up to ruin the place. You can't prise Newt Gingrich's frigid fingers off those Norman Rockwell illustrations. Reagan would be parted with his Fiftiana kitsch only over his cold dead body. It is a symbol of moral clarity in a land of confusion and turmoil. And so, once again, the white male, with a suitably racialised Tonto in tow, is the future of humanity.

What happens to women in this story? They can return to domestic docility, or they can take up decoy roles in the military. They can be like the precious Jessica Lynch, for example, whose story has been written and rewritten on her behalf and without her input several times. The helpless white girl roughed up by savages, rescued by the Rough Riders: a damsel in distress and danger, in need of humanitarian intervention. They can be weeping widows and mothers (unless their sons have been killed as a result of an unpopular war - intriguingly, there is no mention of Cindy Sheehan in Faludi's book). They can be "Let's Roll" widows, provided they stick with the media script provided in advance (one of the strengths of Faludi's account is to show how the voices of ordinary women are always pre-scripted by the corporate media). They can be virginal brides too. The dramatic resurgence of puritanical family values did not begin in 2001, and was never as popular as pretended in some quarters, but it did come to decisively shape the spectacle. Serious efforts to discover the full range of real public reactions to 9/11 found that they did not conform to the stale categories imposed on them. Quite the contrary: the sudden sense of vulnerability humanised people, and erased the distinction between (masculine) heroes and (feminine) victims. But these were not the stories told by Hollywood, or by Fox News, or by CNN or the New York Times. And that means that the stories that were told about men and women in the last six years have been important to the selling of the 'war on terror'. The truth was too toxic.

You can read an interview with Faludi here.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Genocidal Imagination of Christopher Hitchens posted by Richard Seymour

It turns out that I was right.

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Palestine, apartheid and colonialism. posted by Richard Seymour

Jimmy Carter says so. Desmond Tutu says so. Nelson Mandela says so. Israel is imposing apartheid on the Palestinian people. Such a claim brings the usual rushed denunciations from people who know perfectly well the strengths of the comparison. All comparisons contain limits: for example, it is reasonably well known by now that the Palestinians do not fulfil the same function in relation to the Israeli economy as black South Africans fulfilled in relation to the Afrikaaner economy. Tony Cliff drew the conclusion decades ago that Palestinians were thus not well placed to win their struggle alone, and required the support of revolutionary movements across the Middle East, unlike COSATU, the ANC and the South African Communist Party. The obvious analogy between Palestine and South Africa is the distribution of land. The bulk of historic Palestine has been siezed from Palestinians and colonised for the benefit of a non-Palestinian ruling group. One could add the extraordinary restrictions on labour, travel rights, the increasingly extreme racist segregation imposed in laws, in water access, the "Jewish-only" roads and settlements and so on. One obvious difference, however, is that the founders of Israel conceived of it as an ethnic-nationalist state based on the dispossession and exclusion of Palestinians rather than their subordination and exploitation, in the main. It had to have a dominative majority of Jewish colonists, whereas Afrikaaner nationalists were content to have a minority rule of white colonists. Israel does not particularly need Palestinian labour in the same way that apartheid needed black labour. Israeli leaders are obsessed with "the demographic problem" (removing the Palestinian peril), while Afrikaaner racists were more concerned about conserving their control of the labour system and the profits that ensued (removing the 'communist' peril). In this sense, the Palestinians face more than an onerous system of oppression and ritual devastation: they face real attempts to do away with them as a national group, to destroy their life-sustaining systems and throw them off their land inch by inch. We are speaking here of politicide. Given a sufficient crisis for Israel, we could be speaking of genocide: after all, if Israel's existence as a polity were ever seriously threatened, we have it on reasonable authority that the state proposes nuclear annihilation of surrounding population centres. I could be wrong and am open to correction, but I don't think that black South Africans faced that prospect. Another sense in which apartheid and Zionism are similar is, of course, the fact that both result from colonial rule. In the same way that white Europeans guided by pungent racism toward the colonised took control of the 'white republics', so Zionist leaders who had collaborated with the British effective won control of a Zionist republic: a state founded in extreme violence, based both on ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and on racist subordination of those who weren't driven out. The difference here was that while contempt for the colonised applied to European attitudes to the Palestinians (who were not even recognised as Palestinians) the Zionist venture was never recognised as having anything to do with colonialism as such.

However, establishing parallels is less important than understanding the global system of domination that the Zionist movement drew upon, and the racial codes that they accepted. For, to establish parallels with apartheid South Africa, you have to at least begin to answer the question of what apartheid actually was: I mean, we all know the literal meaning in Afrikaaner - 'apartness' - but we also know or sense that simply separating the 'races' was not what was essential about it. It was really about separating the overwhelming majority (70%) of the population from the wealth and land of South Africa. It was about expropriation and exploitation organised on the basis of racist doctrines elaborated when the Portugese and Dutch first touched land in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In addition to the extreme and explicit racism of the Afrikaaner nationalists, apartheid was legitimised with reference to the emerging decolonisation movement, using the language of 'homelands' that the Afrikaaner nationalists maintained were the historic lands of the majority who spoke Bantu languages (the 'homelands' comprised 13% of the land of South Africa when the nationalists took power in 1948 - what else happened around that date?). Beyond this? Well, revisionist historians of South Africa argue that we will have misunderstood apartheid if we think it's something imposed only after 1948 by fanatical racists. The basic structures of the system, though intensified by the nationalist coalition, were put in place by the British colonialists and then by the Smuts government. The pass system was initiated by the British, and the Bantustans were based on the old labour 'reservations'.

The structures of apartheid emerged from the structures of colonial exploitation, not from wicked ideas. A harsh and murderous, even genocidal, racial hierarchy was imposed in every single 'white republic' formed as a result of European colonialism: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, the United States. However, they each produced their own wicked ideas: as a consequence, the justifying myths of apartheid were frequently remarkably similar to those deployed elsewhere. For example, the myth that southern Africa was barely peopled until the Europeans turned up and - to purloin a phrase - made the desert bloom: it was maintained that the Bantu-speaking peoples swept in to the Eastern seaboard and interior in order to benefit from the colonial ways, and therefore weren't disposessed at all by the colonists. (In reality, the Khoisan had been there for millenia, and the Bantu-speaking peoples had arrived centuries before the Europeans got there). Now, that sounds a lot like the Peters hoax, which expressed decades of official Israeli ideology, but it is also redolent of certain myths about the 'taming' of the West, as if it was a largely barren wilderness with a few tribes hanging around and getting in the way of progress. Another myth deployed in official apartheid history was that the various tribal groupings that supposedly arrived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were so different, so culturally ill-at-ease with one another, that a restraining European hand was essential to keep order and prevent bloody war. (In fact, as is the case today in Darfur, ethnic designations shaded into economic ones: one could be a wealthy khoi, raising cattle, and lose it all through a catastrophe of some kind, and became a san, living through hunter-gathering; similarly, one could return to khoi status by accumulating sufficient wealth to return to cattle-farming). The myth of 'bitter ethnic divisions' is one that resonates with those used by the British to legitimise continued rule over India and Kenya, for example, and has now been deployed in Iraq. Now, of course, all the myths that were used to legitimise the apartheid regime were dispensed with only at the beginning of the 1990s, and then after some considerable struggle. This raises a point about the connection between power and knowledge: for years, simply because these myths were official, they retained purchase among a substantial layer of commentators despite ample refutation. In the same way, the gulf between what is now conclusively established about the conquest of Palestine, and the almost sixty years since then, and what is generally understood by commentators and the public alike, is massive.

The temptation to compare Israel's oppression of the Palestinians with apartheid South Africa is a result of the fact that they both emerge from the same historical complex of global white supremacy, in its various configurations. The denunciations of comparisons made of Zionism with Nazism, which produce much hysterical comment with little reflection as to why they possess resonance for those who make them, also fit into this matrix. When Norman Finkelstein raises similarities between aspects of Zionist ideology and that of Nazi ideology, he is really raising family resemblances (or relations) between colonialism and fascism. The founders of Israel didn't imitate the Nazis: they imitated colonialism and the apparatus of 'racial' knowledge that went with it. The Nazis radicalised and intensified European imperialist doctrines, whereas the Zionists simply adapted them for their own purposes.

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Come Back, Taliban: all is forgiven. posted by Richard Seymour

The UK has supported plans to bring senior Taliban into the Afghan government, according to The Guardian:

As British troops are being withdrawn from Iraq, the military presence in southern Afghanistan is to be bolstered in the next few months by the deployment of the Parachute Regiment and new Eurofighter/Typhoon fighter-bombers.

At the same time, however, British officials have concluded that the Taliban is too deep-rooted to be eradicated by military means. Following a wide-ranging policy review accompanying Gordon Brown's arrival in Downing Street, a decision was taken to put a much greater focus on courting "moderate" Taliban leaders as well as "tier two" footsoldiers, who fight more for money and out of a sense of tribal obligation than for the Taliban's ideology.

Such a shift has put Britain and the Karzai government at odds with hawks in Washington, who are wary of Whitehall's enthusiasm for talks with what they see as a monolithic terrorist group. But a British official said: "Some Americans are coming around to our way of seeing this."

I'm afraid I don't believe that Washington 'hawks' think that the Taliban are a "monolithic terrorist group", because they have the same information that the British government has, but then that's the kind of uninteresting shibboleth you have to revert to when you don't have any proper analysis of their strategy. Suppose Washington is unconvinced that bringing Taliban leaders into the government will have any substantial impact on the resistance they're facing? Suppose they're concerned that bringing 'moderate' Taliban into the government will both legitimise the military opposition and undermine the puppet government's supposed crucial advantage, which is that however murderous and venal it is, it is not the Taliban? Suppose they're worried it will undermine the evangelising moralism with which they sounded the launch of the invasion? Suppose their warlord friends are opposed to it? Suppose they don't feel the need to negotiate, since they can easily escalate the bombing?

As for the UK, what is guiding its strategy? Jason Burke's interesting report discusses the contours of this multi-layered war, as it unfolds in an increasingly autonomous network of warlord-controlled territories that could comprise a state in itself, an area that the occupiers are committed to placing under the firm control of a client regime which they think they will require a few decades to effect. He relates a widespread recognition by the occupiers that the Taliban have fought them to a standstill. Given this, the attempt to incorporate leading Taliban - who, after all, were allies not all that long ago - is only logical. It would only be puzzling if you thought that the occupiers wanted Afghanistan to be a Human Rights Protectorate, the global hub of women's liberation, or even a free and independent state. However, if the last six years weren't enough to disabuse you of that notion, then your delusions will undoubtedly survive any incursion of reality, however traumatic. Taliban leaders, for their part, have demands, which include control of most of the south and the withdrawal of the occupation. A national unity government, then, in which the one-eyed man could again be king? I doubt it. More likely is that a segment of the Taliban will be wooed, but the guerilla war will continue on the basis of grass-roots opposition to the current regime.


Meanwhile, you may be interested to know that despite the overwhelming opposition of Germans, the Grand Ruling Class Coalition has voted to remain in occupation for at least another year - and, as many predicted, the Green Party dismissed the vote against continued occupation at their recent national conference and voted to prolong the committment to ISAF. Josckha Fischer has, predictably enough, attacked his own party for slipping toward its pacifist roots. The only party now representing German people on this, as on so many key issues, is the Left Party. It is telling that the mildest efforts by the right-wing SPD leader Kurt Beck to shift party policy slightly to the left of Merkel's agenda of welfare cuts has faced a savage rebuke from the former party chairman and vice-chancellor. The SPD has been in straight decline for several months and it now polls less than 30% of the popular vote, but any alternative to the neoliberal agenda is apparently a threat to electoral credibility.

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Postal Workers "deal" posted by Richard Seymour

We aren't told officially what is in this 'deal' that union leaders have negotiated with Royal Mail, but the unofficial exposition appears to include Billy Hayes falling on both knees, opening his mouth wide and receiving a gurgling stream of Crozier's piss. All reports seem to indicate that the leadership has given in on pay, pensions and working conditions. Now, of course, that could be bollocks that Royal Mail is putting out to reduce expectations, or it could bad reporting. But the fact that the Business and Enterprise Secretary, who openly supports Royal Mail's management, is lauding the deal as "sensible" suggests that it is at best seriously flawed. I would be tempted to assume that Hayes' negotiating team was intimidated by the court's decision to declare next week's strike illegal on a spurious technicality - however, as the CWU notes, this doesn't affect any ensuing strike action. Furthermore, with wildcat strikes breaking out up and down the country, there is really no excuse for caving on the main issues. If the union executive is any good, it will tell Hayes to crumple it up, take it back to Royal Mail and wedge it tightly between Crozier's iron-hard buttocks. If they prove to be made of the usual rubbery substance, it will be referred to the workers who I hope will reject it overwhelmingly

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Kapitalist Reason posted by Richard Seymour

(Thanks to dizzy in the comments boxes for this). Enlightenment rationalism in the hands of Lawrence Summers, former chief economist of the World Bank:

DATE: December 12, 1991
TO: Distribution
FR: Lawrence H. Summers
Subject: GEP

'Dirty' Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I've always though that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

Or, as Adorno & Horkheimer put it in a much-maligned book:

In the most general sense of progressive thought, the Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant. The program of the Enlightenment was the disenchantment of the world; the dissolution of myths and the substitution of knowledge for fancy ... What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men. That is the only aim. Ruthlessly, in despite of itself, the Enlightenment has extinguished any trace of its own self-consciousness. The only kind of thinking that is sufficiently hard to shatter myths is ultimately self-destructive. Power and knowledge are synonymous.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

The real victims. posted by Richard Seymour

(What to call this post? Carry on Campus? De-canting Bollinger? Who Put the Cad in Academy? Oh, forget it.) It has been pointed out how cowardly and absurd the president of Columbia University was when he prefaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech with a load of hyperbolic invective drawn from the neoconservative lexicon. Presumably, Bollinger thought his bluster amounted to a courageous stand of the sort that would win him admiration in the New York Times - kind of like the Moynihan used to insult African and Third World delegates at the UN and get wolf-whistles in New York for it: finally, we oppressed Americans are standing up to the bastards! Students and academics in the institution simply thought it was stunningly inept. One could add, as Rostam Pourzal does, that it was stunning hypocrisy, since Columbia University has a long history of welcoming actual tyrants. Pervez Musharaff, who is certainly far more oppressive than the Iranian president, and does less in the interests of the general population and has fewer democratic credentials, was cheered to the rafters not so long ago. Oh, and guess who else they adored?

Well, there we might leave it if Columbia University wasn't recently the scene of another controversy, with a series of racist provocations on campus. This has involved two 'noose' incidents, one of which was placed outside Professor Madonna Constantine's door, and a variety of racist graffiti. As usual, these incidents are part of a daily, quotidian culture of systematic marginalisation and discrimination, which requires active efforts to undermine the racist structure of the educational agenda itself. And as usual, when Bollinger was challenged about the need to rollback a culture of racism in the academy, he spoke of how proud he was of its efforts toward tackling the problem already. In fact, the NYPD reported that Columbia University was rather hesitant to cooperate with their investigation into the incident, which in some quarters would be known as obstruction. The right-wing press is primarily concerned with the way that these incidents are being 'blown out of proportion', being used to 'indict American society in general' rather than catch the individuals concerned and get on with the business of perpetuating white suprem - er, colourblind meritocracy.

The slender margin within which it is possible in the American academia to produce critical thought and to attack the racist ideologies that the university system has typically been most effective in reproducing, is an obsession for the American right, particularly the neoconservative right. All that political correctness and multiculturalism. All those students reading Foucault when they don't even know who started World War II. All of that namby-pamby socialist theory. The humanities - oh, the humanity! For the neocons, notoriously, those working in the public sector form a 'New Class' of intelligentsia that is hostile to American values and the business class. Their intellectual production, so folks like Kristol maintain, is chiefly about providing ideological legitimacy for their class ends. And multiculturalism? A ploy by demagogues and hate preachers and PC thugs aimed at suppressing intelligent, technocratic solutions, and augmenting their own power. By both implication and explication, the neoconservatives maintain that the subordinate position of non-white 'races' in America is a logical and plausible result of the actual distribution of talents and value-creation, however glibly construed. Those who imagine that the present system is meritocratic are simmering with resentment at every concession made. Affirmative action: don't they get enough already? Isn't it reverse discrimination? So when a few years ago there was a row between Lawrence Summers and Cornel West, with the latter accused of poor scholarship, there was an explosion of furious, sarcastic, sneering commentary. Summers, known for his rank misogyny among other things was hailed by The Economist and the Harvard Crimson and the National Review and so on as a no-bullshit captain of the intellect, a chamption of meritocracy, who - shock, gasp, horror - insisted that all staff, even if they were black, had to produce adequate scholarship. Finally, someone said it, the neocons gasped. Finally someone stood up to all that black power socialistic PC shit and got tough on West and his rap albums. Exultations from Gertrude Himmelfarb, Irving Kristol, Hilton Kramer and the rest of the neoconservative crew. They, of course, are intellectual flyweights when compared with Cornel West. As Manning Marable wrote:

In the Spring 2002 issue of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education published a detailed analysis of Cornel West’s record of scholarship, and how it compares to the records of other prominent scholars in terms of the number of scholarly citations of the number of scholarly citations of their work, according to the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia. The Institute’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Index, for calendar year 2000, listed 205 separate citations of West’s works in scholarly publications, placing him second only to sociologist William Julius Wilson among black American scholars throughout the United States. In the Institute’s Arts and Humanities 2000 Index, West ranked sixth behind only Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Toni Morrison, Paul Gilroy, Alice Walker, and August Wilson. It is interesting to compare the number of citations between West and those neoconservative African-American intellectuals that the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream publications insist are actually producing “real scholarship.” Condoleezza Rice, former Stanford University Provost and currently the Bush Administration’s National Security Adviser, had only one fifth of the total references in scholarly publications in the social sciences than Cornel West did in 2000. Shelby Steele, whom in 2001 I had the pleasure of debating in Newsweek over the issue of black reparations, was cited in only one seventh the number of social science publications as West. What’s truly extraordinary about these rankings is that West is not a social scientist. That his scholarship lends itself to research across a variety of fields is the best standard for excellence to which one could aspire.

Despite this, for reactionaries, the very fact that he could do something as degrading as record a hip hop album was itself an outrageous example of a lax academic culture promoting the undertalented and underqualified to attack the ideological foundations of American cohesion. Eurocentric education, with its reproduction of racist idiocies and historical fallacies, is by contrast an ideal system of enlightenment. In fact, it is seen as a repository of inconvenient facts with which to confront those who still oppose slavery. Those who try to subvert that paradigm are the real aggressors (and if the rightist commentator has special chutzpah, they were also "the real racists"), and those who try to defend it are the real victims.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The sex worker who gave up his principles to work for Blair posted by Richard Seymour

The Alistair Campbell diaries.

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Iraq's resistance coalition posted by Richard Seymour

Six Iraqi resistance groups form a united front to evict the occupiers, called the Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance. This consummates a proposal first reported in the UK press a few months back, and comes with a fourteen point programme, the first of which is a commitment to the ongoing military struggle against the occupiers. Another commitment is to rescind all laws passed since the occupation, which is an excellent idea. The 1920 Revolution Brigades has decided not to get involved because it doesn't want to end up fighting against those tribal forces who have taken American arms to combat 'Al Qaeda', but denies it is working with the occupiers and insists it still attacks US troops. This is therefore still a limited coalition and has the potential to fall back into sectarian intrigue very quickly. And in addition, while it claims that the armed resistance is the legitimate successor to the present puppet government, this sort of excludes most existing Shi'ite blocs including the Mahdi Army. Such an apparently narrow agenda (I have no idea how well English language sources are reporting this, and it would be good to actually see a full translation of the fourteen points) would actually run against the grain of attempts at anti-occupation national unity among some of the parliamentary representatives opposed to the pro-US sectarian parties.

Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation reports that the combination of the Blackwater murders, the Biden proposal to partition Iraq, and the ongoing attempts to privatise Iraq's oil, have stimulated a surge in Iraqi nationalism:

Across the political spectrum, on both the Sunni and Shiite sides of the divide, a nationalist bloc is emerging to challenge the alliance of Kurdish and Shiite separatists that has governed Iraq for three years under American tutelage ... the emerging nationalist bloc could get enough votes in Parliament to topple Maliki's shaky coalition. Its components include two major Shiite factions, Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc and the Fadhila (Virtue) Party, which together hold forty-seven seats in Parliament; the entire Sunni bloc, led by the Iraqi Accord and the National Dialogue Front, which have fifty-five seats; and the secular bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, which controls twenty-five seats. In addition, say well-placed Iraqi sources, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Maliki rival in the ruling Islamic Dawa Party, has upward of twenty Shiite deputies in his camp, and Jaafari is negotiating to be part of the new alliance. The addition of Jaafari's bloc would give the alliance at least 147 votes, a clear majority in the 275-member assembly. On September 26 Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president, announced the formation of a National Pact project intended to unify the emerging bloc, and he promptly traveled to Najaf to get Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's blessing for the effort. Hashimi's twenty-five-point plan, similar to one launched earlier by Allawi, calls for equality for all Iraqis, an end to sectarian killing, opposition to foreign interference in Iraq, support for the legitimate right of armed resistance and a declaration (aimed at Al Qaeda) that "terror is not considered resistance."

So, expect the partition plans to be hurried through rapidly, before this thing gets out of control.

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Up the Posties. posted by Richard Seymour

Wildcat strikes double, causing the Telegraph "mail misery". Socialist Worker has a concise description of the issues behind the official strikes, and interviews one of the wildcat strikers:

“This is clearly not just about start times,” said the worker. “It is about the future of the union and Royal Mail, and it is a fight to the death.

“The only way for the union to win is to take the gloves off, and get the whole of London out, followed by the whole of the country. Then we must stay out until we win.”

Well, the wildcats are already having enough impact to galvanise cross-party support for government intervention into the strike, beyond simply demanding that the strikers get back to work. The government is already involved, so all it has to do is stop trying to impose wage cuts and instruct the management of Royal Mail to stick to previous agreements with the union about working practises. No one-sided flexibility, no pay cuts, and no sackings. Simple as that. It's intriguing to note that many right-wing commentators have taken a pseudo-balanced approach to this dispute: they point out that the posties aren't really to blame, and that the management are taking massive salaries. And then they say, "why don't we privatise it so that we can have an astonishing success like Deutsche Post [which now owns DHL]?" That's always the example that comes up, and it's telling since DP has actually been making some incursions into the UK thanks to the 'liberalisation' measures already introduced (although like Business Post and UK Mail and others, it relies on the Royal Mail's delivery force to bring the mail to the doorstep). Since privatisation won't solve the problems of the postal workers (except possibly by destroying their conditions and reducing them to casualised, de-unionised, low-wage serfs), and since there's no evidence that it will actually improve the service for customers, the only plausible meaning of success is that it made a lot of money. And it is true: DP shareholders have made a frigging fortune. Most of its money doesn't even come from mail delivery, of course, but who gives a shit? There's money being made, and that is officially a success story. The total UK postal market is supposedly worth £5.8bn: who wouldn't want a cut of that? Isn't it wonderful that the very same commentators who constantly blither about the demise of social solidarity, mutual respect and so on, wish to subordinate every last crack and corner of daily life to the cash nexus?

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Audacity posted by Richard Seymour

General Sir Richard Dannatt's remarks about the resistance in both Iraq and Afghanistan must have embarrassed someone with a Brown-nose. As you already know, hardly a newspaper or television show in the English-speaking world touched the story, conveniently averting their gaze to other aspects of the speech. The BBC was one such example. So, someone decided to e-mail Helen Boaden - head of BBC News - about this shocking ommission of what was surely one of the most surprising parts of the General's speech, and got the following reply:

Thank you for your recent email. Having looked at the whole of General Dannatt's speech, I think the online report did a good job of summarizing the main news points. If you look at what the general said in context, he does not suggest that the British army is fighting people who only want "jobs, money, security and hope" but a hard core of people who "offer violence against each other".

From the portion of Dannatt's speech that Boaden then goes on to cite:

So, because as an Army we are enemy focussed, some words on our adversaries in southern Iraq. The militants (and I use the word deliberately because not all are insurgents, or terrorists, or criminals; they are a mixture of them all) are well armed - certainly with outside help, and probably from Iran. By motivation, essentially, and with the exception of the Al Qaeda in Iraq element who have endeavoured to exploit the situation for their own ends, our opponents are Iraqi Nationalists, and are most concerned with their own needs - jobs, money, security - and the majority are not bad people.

Did you see that? Dannatt clearly suggesting that the British army's foes in Iraq are "essentially", with exception of the tiny 'Al Qaeda' element, "Iraqi Nationalists" who are "most concerned with their own needs"; and that "the majority are not bad people". Did you notice that? So, Dannatt didn't in fact say what he did in fact say, and the BBC did a "good job of summarizing the main news points" by ommitting one of the main news points. There must be something behind such a transparent refusal to face reality, and I'm sure that whatever it is, it reeks of the tedious authority of a Ministry of Defense mandarin.

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