Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Strike! posted by Richard SeymourThere is rolling coverage from the picket lines of the civil servants strike at Socialist Worker today. If you have pictures or a report from your picket line, why not send it in?
The massacre of Najaf. posted by Richard SeymourRecently, you will have heard reports of extraordinary 'gunfights' in Najaf, between US-led forces and 'messanic cult' called the 'Soldiers of Heaven', which led to the deaths of 300 'insurgents'. This was the story articulated by the 'Iraqi government' spokesperson, former Baathist Colonel Ali al-Dabbagh. Patrick Cockburn reports today that independent accounts say it was a pre-meditated massacre, and that the 'Soldiers of Heaven' were not involved. Its presence was rather used by America's allies, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to launch a massacre against locals hostile to SCIRI's predominance. Having fired on a crowd of pilgrims celebrating Ashura, SCIRI supporters in the Iraqi army killed the chief of a hostile tribe as he led the procession. Receiving return fire, they called in the cavalry and shortly US helicopters was dropping leaflets threatening to bomb the area. One helicopter was shot down, and the remaining aircraft proceeded to wipe out the crowd with "intense aerial bombardment".
A couple of things. Colonel Ali al-Dabaagh was, when working as a spy for the Iraqi National Accord, the man behind the '45-minutes' claim. He later told Con Couglin of the Sunday Telegraph: "Forget forty-five minutes. We could have fired these within half an hour". So, he is both an experienced servant of two ruthless states, and an experienced liar on behalf of the US government. Second, even if the US was 'duped' into this atrocity by their SCIRI allies, one has to assume they thought this was part of their 'surge' tactic. More of this to look forward to.
In this vein, most of you will have seen or heard of the results of a study by the Policy Exchange thinktank, 'independent' and that, which claimed to show among other things that 34% of Muslim youths (16-24 year olds) want Shari'a law, 31% support the death penalty for apostasy, and 13% 'admire' organisations 'like Al Qaeda' who are prepared to take the fight to the West. These were the headline grabbing findings, and it's important to distinguish the devious and racist way in which the report seeks to galvanise press attention, and the devious and racist way that the report itself seeks to blame Muslims, exonerate racism and still affect a complacent 'liberal' attitude toward British society, whose virtues are constantly extolled.
The 1990 Trust first raised a few problems with the report yesterday, when it pointed out that the think-tank is actually a neoconservative outfit run by former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, and is 'independent' in the sense that 'Migration Watch' is independent. Munira Mirza, the report's lead author, is a Furedite, which almost automatically means that she is obsessed with 'multiculturalism', specifically with proving its failure, and is equally obsessed with 'free speech', specifically free speech for racists. She has written a great deal on both topics, and is admired by the far right for doing so. Secondly, the 1990 Trust has done its own research, the results of which suggest we're a long way from cultural armageddon. For instance, so far from masses of Al Qaeda supporting Muslims, they could not find more than one percent who supported the 7/7 attacks, which is probably about the same proportion of non-Muslims who would say they support it. Thirdly, the 1990 Trust points out that the Policy Exchange findings include a great deal of spin, not least from the report's chief author, which as usual relies on popular misunderstanding of the word 'sharia' (it's something evildoers practise among themselves), and so on. In fact, the poll findings themselves are merely there to provide a frontispiece of original research for what is otherwise a lengthy commentary that is highly derivative of a limited number of sources, most of them connected - as Mirza is - to the right-wing libertarian cult formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party. Every finding in the 'report' is mediated through dense layers of rhetorical banality and didactic dogmatism. You trust them at your own peril.
While the bulk of its findings are to do with growing religiosity, these are integrated into a narrative of disintegration, in which Muslims identifying themselves as Muslim is treated as a problem. Mirza, in the Policy Exchange press release, conflates religiosity with political radicalism, and the absence of religiosity as a sign of accomodation to the 'norms of Western democracy' - this no less than to claim that Islam is incompatible with 'Western democracy', that it is as such, as a cultural essence, responsible for division, political radicalisation and ultimately terror. Therefore, the condition of admission is cultural submission. Mirza complains in the report of Britishness being undermined, decries a culture of 'self-loathing', denounces local councils who 'ban' Christmas as this somehow encourages the "Islamists" and so on. The report tries to undermine claims of anti-Muslim racism, pointing to a finding that "84% of Muslims believe they have been treated fairly in this society". It is a curious way to proceed this: they omit in both their press release and introduction the qualifier "on the whole", then omit their other claims about actual discrimination. For instance, they elsewhere mention research showing that one third of UK employers discriminate against blacks and Asians - but again, this is only mentioned as if it undermined claims of Islamophobia. Indeed, when they come to the discrimination faced by Muslims, the report's attitude appears to be that it's somehow vitiated by the fact that non-white people in general face discrimination. As if different forms of racism were competing rather than contiguous. I might as well mention that similar research presented on the BBC suggested a couple of years ago that the problem may be even more severe than that, indicating that a quarter of applications to employers by candidates with traditionally English sounding names were successful in securing an interview, compared with 13% for the applicants with Black African names and only 9% of applicants with Muslim names. The Islamic Human Rights Commission did some research on this alongside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and found that 80 percent of Muslims felt they had been discriminated against because of their faith, although the majority (55%) felt this was only on some occasions. Anyway, having so speciously dismissed claims of Islamophobia, the report goes on to imply that the remaining 16% who do feel that 'on the whole' they have not been treated fairly, are suffering from a 'victimhood mentality'. Despite "concerted efforts" by Britain to "make Muslims feel included and protected" (Belmarsh and torture flights obviously the most 'concerted efforts' of the lot), young Muslims "continue to feel vulnerable, isolated and anxious about experiencing Islamophobia". It gleefully wields statements from some Muslims that claims of Islamophobia have been exaggerated, drawing on Kenan Malik's widely published claims (Malik is another Furedite), and claims that this is what is making Muslims feel fearful.
It also cites the usual array of Spiked Online contributors and liberal Islam-baiters (like Martin Bright). Curiously, while referencing the Runnymede Trust's account of Islamophobia, it does nothing to address any of its findings, and provides no evidence that Islamophobia is in fact being exaggerated. It's an intuition that they have, one supported with anecdote and the spurious authority of Furedite references. It defends Straw's brave stance against the niqab and complains about the 'recurrent demands for respect' that Muslims keep making, which they claim stifles criticism. If it did this, there wouldn't have been acres of news print supporting Straw - nor, by the way, would there have been widespread coverage of this contrived study led by and relying on some ex-RCP sectarians turned right-wing libertarians, the conclusions of which were evidently written long before any 'research' had begun. It further accuses Muslim women who wish to dress how they see fit of 'narcissistic self-aggrandisement'. It insists that not all cultures are equal, which supposes: a) that such things discrete cultures exist, and can be isolated, studied, compared and found wanting, and b) that 'Western' culture is superior. That is, it is both culturalist, even where it claims to be attacking cultural essentialism, and supremacist.
Finally, it complains about those who argue that British foreign policy is partially responsible for the emergence of minority currents in political Islam that wish to target the UK, asserting that it is simplistic (which it only is if the case is made simplistically) and that it is "pathetic" to oppose foreign policy purely on such grounds (which it only is if the policy is opposed purely on such grounds). And so on and on: everything in this report is a sustained reactionary complaint about the evils of political correctness, and about the trouble with Islam. Exonerating British policy at every level, except where it claims that the government has been too soft on Muslims, it provides the intellectual basis for a future David Cameron-led government.
This morning, 'Breaking News' has it that eight people have been arrested on terror charges following investigations by police in MI5. The fact that this has been publicised bears no relation to the actual threat level: we don't have to search our memories that much to think of innocent people who have been arrested, detained and then released without charge, some of them without even having been shot at. Nor is it too hard to think of a plot with hardcore weaponry involved that was specifically shunned by the media. This raises the question of how many of those who are arrested on the basis of such investigations are charged and convicted. Well, a Freedom of Information Act request by Olly Kendal produced some interesting statistics (which he reproduces in his Comment is Free piece, and elaborates in the comments). In 2005, 266 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and Terrorism Act 2006, and 11 for terrorism-related offenses not under these acts. Of these, only 30 were charged under Terrorism Act offenses, and only 8 have been convicted. In 2006, 143 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and Terrorism Act 2006 until September. A further 16 arrests were made for terrorism-related offenses, not covered by either act. Of these, 52 were charged under Terrorism Act offenses, and 4 have been convicted. So, out of a total of 436 arrests for terrorism, only 12 people were found guilty of a terrorist offense. This doesn't include any suspects who had their brains destroyed instantly utterly. Further, one suspects that a number of these convictions result from charges that are to do with activities (such as support for Kurdish groups) that have been banned by the government under Terrorism Acts, yet which don't have a great deal to do with terrorism.
However, the point is that however many are arrested, and however few are convicted, the background noise of facetious, strident, intellectually bankrupt, yet widely covered 'reports' such as this one provide a coherent cover story. It reassures people that Muslims are to blame for their own victimisation, which at any rate is imaginary, or if not imaginary then surely no worse than that faced by other minorities. It confirms reactionaries in their conviction that they are being unfairly silenced, even where their voices are the most frequently heard. It raises a threat to 'Western democracy', which it says originates from Islam itself. It provides a spurious academic respectability for ignorant bluster, parochialism and non-sequitur: you wouldn't put up with one percent of this crap for five seconds if you heard it in a pub, or read in a column. It throws the spotlight on non-problems (can Shabina wear her preferred clothing without undermining Britishness?), denies real ones, and actively obscures the role of the 'war on terror' and its repressive apparatus. It offers supremacism as a serious intellectual outlook, and does so in the name of overcoming division. But it is far from unique on any of these points.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The workers, united. posted by Richard SeymourTomorrow, 300,000 civil servants go on strike to defend over 100,000 jobs, now at risk under Gordon Brown's plans. They'll need it to be solid enough to sustain momentum for future action, since the best that can be expected from the current level of action is that it would prompt the government to make a temporising offer which it could later withdraw. The union has made it clear that this one-day strike and two-week overtime ban is the start of action: if they want to win it, they'll need to escalate dramatically and rapidly.
The reason why the government says it is cutting the civil service jobs is because it says it expects to save £20bn over four years to make up public spending shortfalls. Curious how this happens: we have NHS deficits, which they're planning to remedy by making cuts. This is an extremely rich country, which can usually afford to do what it thinks is important. If the government wishes to invade Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, it does so and there is no question of expense. If they wish to invest £76bn in a revamped nuclear weapons system, they do so, and congratulate themselves on their foresight. If they wish to maintain the arms industry, they plough investment into it, negotiate with state leaders on its behalf, offer Export Credit, underwrite it with guarantees etc etc. And this is, moreover, a government that has been able to, and has seen fit to, pour billions of pounds into extremely wasteful, inefficient, profiteering Private Finance Initiatives. So, it's a lie that this has anything to do with 'efficiency', and public services are run down enough without the government making further cuts.
A good start to this week was the huge climbdown by notorious union-bashing BA boss Willie Walsh, in the face of a strike threat backed by 96% of workers. BA made big concessions on pay and sick leave - however, as I suspected, the door has been left open for acceptance of BA's pension proposals, which involves later retirement and increased employee contributions. Nevertheless, the concessions that have abolished a two-tier pay-structure, significantly raising pay for large numbers of staff, and the withdrawal of sickness procedures that made staff frightened of taking a day off if they needed to get well, constitute a success. BA workers have shown what solidarity, even before a single picket line is raised, can do. Hopefully civil servants can do the same.
"American forces are deployed globally - we can move fast. I think that's a lesson for everybody". posted by Richard SeymourThose were the words of the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs on tonight's Channel 4 News, following some polite questioning from Jon Snow about a leaked UN document that suggests Ethiopia could not have mounted an invasion of Somalia on the basis of their present capacity. Abdullah Yusuf, the warlord they stuck in charge of Somalia, smiled charmingly as he explained that indeed the US had given his Ethiopian backers a 'green light'. Zenawi denied this, again in the face of some arse-lickingly respectful questions from Snow, but acknowledged that the US had been "very helpful" with intelligence-sharing and so on. Well, of course they were.
I might as well mention that there have been repeated reports of new strikes by US bombers, and fighting continues. The US think they've got the Islamic Courts more or less licked, although they threaten continued strikes against so-called 'terrorist' targets. As usual, the UN is sweeping up after the empire, begging the 'international community' to 'sieze a window of opportunity' to consolidate the rule of the 'government' because people may well be war-weary enough to submit to American proxy rule.
So, anyway, if you were wondering why the US has an iron curtain of military bases stretching from Greenland through Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs has given you your answers.
Praise be unto the only God. In the name of God,
the Compassionate, the Merciful. O ye Moslems.
O ye beloved sons of the Maghreb. May the
blessing of God be upon you.
This is a great day for you and us, for all the sons
of Adam who love freedom. Our numbers are as
the leaves on the forest tress and as the grains of
sand in the sea.
Behold. We the American Holy Warriors have arrived.
We have come here to fight the great Jihad of Freedom.
We have come to set you free. We have sailed across
the great sea in many ships, on many beaches we are
landing, and our fighters swarm across the sands and
into the city streets, and into the wide country sides,
and along the highways.
Light fires on the hilltops; shout from your housetops,
and from the high places, and say the sound of the
drum be heard in the land, and the ululation of the
women, and the voices even of small children.
Assemble along the highways to welcome your brothers.
We have come to set you free.
Speak with our fighting men and you will find them
pleasing to the eye and gladdening to the heart.
We are not as some other Christians whom ye have
known, and who trample you under foot. Our soldiers
consider you as their brothers, for we have been reared
in the way of free men. Our soldiers have been told
about your country and about their Moslem brothers
and they will treat you with respect and with a friendly
spirit in the eyes of God.
Look in their eyes and smiling faces, for they are Holy
Warriors happy in their holy work. Greet us therefore
as brothers as we will greet you, and help us.
If we are thirsty, show us the way to water. If we lose
our way, lead us back to our camping places. Show us
the paths over the mountains if need be, and if you see
our enemies, the Germans or Italians, making trouble
for us, kill them with knives or with stones or with
any other weapon that you may have set your hands upon.
Help us as we have come to help you, and rich will be
the reward unto us all who love justice and righteousness
Pray for our success in battle, and help us, and God
will help us both.
Lo, the day of freedom hath come.
May God grant his blessing upon you and upon us.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Choosing Sarkozy. posted by Richard SeymourYou remember Sarkozy: the guy who wanted to "karsheriser" the ghettos; the hard right free-marketeer who opportunistically tried to distance himself from the government's neoliberal reforms when the going got tough; the man whom The Economist elected to slaver over as an exponent of smart solutions the "post-ideological age".
Guess who's voting for Sarkozy? André Glucksmann, philosopher, writer and 'personality' of the French left. He doesn't agree with Sarkozy on many things, understand, but he is moist about the "murmur of innocent hearts" that Sarkozy said he heard when he visited Yad Vashem. Moreover, of course, he is unimpressed by the PS candidate, Ségolène Royal. Of course, this has nothing to do with the bulk of Royal's policies, which happen to involve a Blairite combination of neoliberal economics and pandering to reactionary attitudes on 'law and order' and 'family values'. Royal was, alongside the former PS leader Hollande, ardently in favour of the EU Treaty Constitution. Her answer to the riots last year was the reintroduction of military conscription. She has, as Minister for the Family, campaigned against sex education in schools and AIDS prevention ads on television. Glucksmann can have no difference of principle with most of this, at least no more than he has with Sarkozy's attitude to immigrants. His problem appears to be that Royal is not an Atlanticist: he dreamed that Bernard Kouchner, the former proconsul in Kosovo, would win the PS leadership bid. Better yet, he fantasises about a Sarkozy-Kouchner candidacy, because Sarkozy has said bad things about the Sudanese government and good things about the Chechen struggle. He doesn't like dictatorships either. He is the "American neoconservative with a French passport". Hating the left, despising working class politics, and being no particular friend of Muslims in France or anywhere else, Glucksmann's decision is entirely logical.
I've been reading some of the archive of his material, and if you think British pro-war liberals are bad, you want to check this guy out. How outraged he was at the outrage over the invasion of Lebanon. How disgusted he was that the French government didn't participate in bombing Iraq. How shocked he was at the failure of the French to say 'Yes' to the EU Constitutional Treaty. Glucksmann, of course, had been a soixant-huitard attracted to libertarian forms of communism before becoming one of the 'antitotalitarian' nouveau philosophes of the late 1970s - that wonderful time when Paris became, in Perry Anderson's phrase, "the capital of European reaction", having only recently discovered the existence of the gulag. For some reason, Glucksmann was able to benefit in particular from the mystifying benedictions of the inestimably superior Foucault. That is one reason why, without being as handsome or rich as Bernard Henri-Levy, he was able to become a media darling too. Glucksmann has been championing the expansion of the American empire at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, (now invade Yugoslavia! now Afghanistan! now Iraq! now Sudan!) and is now in the position of preferring a radically xenophobic authoritarian neoliberal to a dimwitted centre-left opportunist.
Neocon godfather Norman Podhoretz was jeered and heckled at Warsaw University last Friday (January 26).
Students against the War organized a picket of Podhoretz’s meeting on “world leadership”. The protest was backed by the “Stop the War Initiative” (comprising left wingers, greens and the unaffiliated). Just before the meeting was due to start the picket ended and the protesters went inside to challenge the pro-war panel.
The other speakers apart from Podhoretz were two Polish conservatives – extremist hawk and defence minister Radoslaw Sikorski and academic/politician Ryszard Legutko.
Sikorski is a member of the American Enterprise Institute which includes such luminaries of the right as Richard Perle and Newt Gingrich.
As the meeting started there was an attempt by the organizers to prevent people displaying sheets of paper on which were printed slogans such as “Podhoretz liar for empire OUT!”, “George W. Bush – terrorist no. 1”, “Down with US. Imperial terror”, “Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan” and “No anti-missile shield in Poland”.
Six people were ejected from the meeting, three of them were dragged along the floor. Their crime? The odd shouted protest – for instance, “Abu Ghraib”, “Terrorist” and “Shame!”.
After the speakers had finished people were not allowed to speak from the floor. Instead they had to write questions on pieces of paper and pass them up to the platform for the chair to read out. A fantastic example of neocon democracy in action! Many people walked out in disgust.
Podhoretz had argued for attacking Iran, denied there had been torture at Abu Ghraib and praised Bush. None of the speakers mentioned the word “oil”.
You can see a short film of the protest here:
The day before the meeting opinion poll results were published about whether the US plays a negative or positive role in the world. The poll covered twenty-five countries. The Polish result showed the biggest drop in those seeing the US role as positive – it fell from 62 to 38 percent a huge fall of 24 percentage points. Whilst still the highest of the European results it shows a marked downward trend which is probably set to continue.
This is because the current Polish right-wing government is continuing and intensifying its postcommunist predecessors ultraloyalist stance towards Washington. When other states are reducing their presence in Iraq Poland is maintaining its troop levels – currently about 900. In Afghanistan Poland is in the process of upping its soldier numbers from 180 to 1200 by April. This was why it recently received fulsome praise from NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Poland's rulers love such praise - they hope to strengthen their international position by being included among Bush’s most faithful allies.
But ordinary people in this country don’t support Bush’s wars. Poland was among the first four invading states alongside the US, Britain and Australia. However, opinion surveys have consistently shown opposition to the occupation of Iraq at between 70 an 75 percent. Sending extra troops to Afghanistan is also opposed by a majority of the population as is the siting part of Bush’s "anti-missile shield" in Poland.
Today the illusions of many people in US presidents have been dispelled thanks to their government’s servility, Bush and the global anti-war movement.
Andy Zebrowski is a member of Pracownicza Demokracja (Workers' Democracy).
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Attacks on pay and conditions
The background is this: it was widely acknowledged by government and opposition politicians alike that lecturers' pay was ridiculously low. Even the Prime Minister said that "everyone agrees that the status quo — the huge backlog of repairs to infrastructure and university lecturers' pay increasing by only 5 per cent in the past 20 years, when the figure for the rest of the economy is 45 per cent — is not an option". However, the employers, despite pledges to the contrary, were engaging in a sustained attempt to suppress the compensatory pay increases required. It had been agreed that at least a third of tuition-fee income would be used to make up the shortfall in lectuerers' pay, but instead the employers had been exploiting the organisational weakness of the two unions engaged in the dispute - AUT and Natfhe - to diminish both pay and conditions. In past years, the AUT and Natfhe had represented clearly distinct groups of educational workers, with the former representing lecturers in independent universities and the latter representing polytechnic workers. But the polytechnics were recognised as universities in 1992. Not only that, but the distinction between further and higher education was being eroded as well. In the circumstances, and given their common problem and their inability to resist the employers' offensive, it made sense to merge the two unions, which is what they set out to do. The merger, which resulted in the University and College Union (UCU) was completed one week before the dispute was controversially ended.
New research by the TUC-funded Union Ideas Network describes what happened. Through interviews with leading organisers from both Natfhe and the AUT, and with the use of documentary evidence and some background theoretical discussion on union organisation, it elaborates how the respective unions approached the merger and what they expected to come out of it. The AUT, so the report argues, dominated in the decision to cut a deal out of a desire to be seen as the 'wing' within the new union that had secured an unprecedented pay increased. The AUT leadership are seen as having run national policy without any real accountability or democracy. Cultural and organisational clashes include the AUT's hostility to Natfhe's 'political' tendencies (whereas the AUT saw itself as more of a professional association). They distrusted the system of regional committees, seeing them as being run by militants. The AUT are seen by Natfhe activists as approaching the merger as if it were a 'take-over', which was essentially the approach that the AUT developed in the early 1990s when it attempted to recruit Natfhe members. "By contrast, in the AUT the National Executive was elected directly by members on the basis of candidates’ short electoral statements. As elected members had no defined constituency in the AUT there was little day-to-day accountability (AUT EMP) and this was not acceptable to Natfhe lay activists."
The Pay Dispute
"The very formation of the pay claim in Autumn 2005 gave early indications that despite the agreement to merge relations between the two unions would be fraught in the ensuing period", the report says. The AUT's draft proposal for a pay claim was very simple, outlined on one sheet of paper because it was felt that employers ignored the usual charts and figures supplied alongside it. Natfhe's Higher Education Committee were unimpressed, and so were the other unions party to the dispute. One AUT organiser explained that people were ringing up, saying "we’ve got the cover sheet can we have the rest?"
The claim was nevertheless submitted, and when employers did not offer a positive response fairly quickly, the AUT declared a dispute, which Natfhe officials say they weren't consulted about. Further, it was felt that the fact that the claim itself stipulated no figure, simply asking for an "adequate proportion of new income derived from top up fees and other sources" to be used for pay improvement, which must involve "substantial percentage increases". Some AUT officials are unhappy, since it relied on fees income and "there was no discussion about how that would work out in different places" - it could result in uneven local settlements. There were also doubts from Natfhe members about the basis of the claim since both unions had opposed the introduction of tuition fees in the first place. Sally Hunt, then leader of the AUT, did not succeed in explaining to Natfhe's Higher Education Committee why there should be no figure to aim for. "Following Natfhe pressure a figure of ‘over 20%’ was added". Unfortunately, "the initial focus on student top-up fees allowed the employers to dwell on this aspect alone and to argue that with the bursaries and other improvements that were expected to be financed from this source, the amount for salaries fell well short of the aspirations of the unions." This had the effect of dividing activists since many were convinced that the money wasn't available from the stated source.
When it came to tactics, "because there was no proper joint discussion the assessment boycott did not have the same meaning for the unions". Natfhe's approach was that there should not be an exams boycott, since this would alienate students, but they should boycott marking. AUT members, on the other hand, were persuaded to mount an examinations boycott, which had little effect in the end, since most of the exams had been set well in advance. "The AUT envisaged a short, sharp dispute with the use of the maximum pressure of not setting examinations resulting in a quick victory for which it would be largely responsible. The AUT General Secretary told the Natfhe NEC that the dispute would be over if not by Christmas than February ... This account was endorsed by AUT sources, with one NEC member stating that: ‘We always saw it, particularly the General Secretary, as a short dispute’". This would explain why the AUT did not warn their members, or the NUS who supported their action and argued on their behalf, of a potentially prolonged dispute with pay docking, but it doesn't explain why they refused to meet with Natfhe to discuss tactics, deeming it "inappropriate". "The failure to consult and coordinate was to be a feature during the entire dispute." Aside from anything else, there was very little internal consultation in the AUT so it may have seemed inapposite if Sally Hunt had to explain to Natfhe members what was not explained to AUT members. "In contrast, Natfhe had an elected action committee made up from members of the NEC with additional members elected via national conferences and national negotiators." One AUT regional officer confirms that: "‘Every initiative from both sides, with lay people saying we must get lay activists together that’s how you build a new union, was blocked. I know they were blocked from AUT side through officials and some key lay people’". The reason for this, according to the officer? Positioning: "Key AUT officials thought that the way to preserve their territory was to be the initiators – so the press release comes out before it’s been through AUT let alone Natfhe".
Inauspicious start, bungled conclusion
The tactic of pressing an unspecific claim, and then of declaring a dispute before negotiations had started, resulted in an inauspicious start to the campaign. Natfhe felt that doing so gave the employers reasons to resist and too much time to elaborate their response. Eventually, however, a one-day strike was called on 7 March 2006, whose effect was described as "patchy". The employers' response to the boycotts and the strike was to dock pay and make offers well below what had been demanded. The AUT were nevertheless bullish, expecting a shift to come very soon. In late May, a somewhat better offer than previous ones was made during ACAS talks which, had it not been withdrawn, could have been voted on at the Natfhe Higher Education Conference which was due to take place. The reason for the withdrawal is unclear, but: "One opinion was that the employers did not want to hand UCU anything that looked like a victory ... It might also be that vice chancellors thought the offer simply too generous given that an earlier circular had revealed that ‘Sally Hunt has previously signalled to Ministers and other senior figures that something in double figures or in the range 11-14% “should do it”". If Hunt had conveyed these expectations, Natfhe had not been consulted.
Both the AUT and Natfhe were committed by decision of conference to continue the dispute, with Natfhe demanding no less than 5% a year over each of the three years of the agreement. Natfhe suspected that the AUT wanted to simply end the dispute without a substantial improvement in pay, as soon as possible, and that the involvement of Brendan Barber in the dispute was to achieve that end. One Natfhe officer who was at the subsequent meeting says that when employers returned with a smaller offer than had previously been mooted, "Sally Hunt announces it’s a wonderful offer and that we can do business on this ... The AUT President then went over the top in praise of the offer and how it could easily be sold. We were astounded."
Not all AUT members were happy about this, but the view of the executive was that employers would go no further, the action was fizzling out and they would be isolated nationally if they continued. Some of Natfhe's leaders were extremely unhappy about the deal and he manner of the suspension, but given the weakness of Natfhe's higher education sector, it would have been extremely difficult for them to continue alone. Internal reports of theirs suggest that if the AUT pulled out, then "it could lead to individual branches and groups of members becoming isolated". Therefore Natfhe withdrew and the resulting deal did not end the erosion of pay. One AUT official explains: "People complained that it did not deal with the erosion, but the claim was not about that it was for a third of the top-up fees and when the figures are added up I think we’ll be quite close to this." But 'third of top-up fees' was understood by most, including employers, to be a means to reversing the erosion of pay.
The future of education
Sometime after the suspension of the action, members were asked to vote and endorsed the deal. "The ex-AUT leadership interpreted this as an endorsement of their strategy." This is unlikely: it was their strategy that had, after all, produced the poor deal. But given that the action had been suspended, and given that a continuation of the action would potentially expose members to punitive action, it would have been difficult for many to contemplate continuing. Further, since many marks had already been released and students had gone for the summer, a vital pressure point had been passed.
The report concludes that the actions of the AUT leadership were about manoeuvring for power within the new merged union. It adds that there are traditions of organisation and accountability at stake, not merely the careers of particular leaders. Of course, it also about the broader approach to organising and to political engagement. One way to test whether UCU members have accepted the ex-AUT leaders' strategy avails itself: elections for the UCU leadership are coming up. Candidates include Sally Hunt, who aside from backing her own failed strategy is feted by supporters of Israel for promising to oppose the Israeli boycott campaign. UCU Left, for their part, are backing Roger Kline, former Natfhe activist who was intensively involved in organising for the dispute, but also stands in opposition to New Labour's twin policies of war and privatisation. This research should be shown to every UCU member, and should be widely publicised.
Marcuse was also sympathetic to Zionism (although there are hints in various placed that he became more critical after the mid-1960s), and he was no longer convinced of the inevitability of capitalist crisis and thus of the revolutionary role of the working class. In his defense, capitalism did not look particularly crisis-prone at the time: rather, the threat appeared to be an all-encompassing administrative society with rising wealth underpinning a deeply conservative consensus, at least in the United States, with intolerable barbarism at the expansive margins of the system. But he was in no way reconciled to capitalism, looking to the emerging civil rights, antiwar, feminist and student movements, as well as Third World insurgencies, to act as catalysts for an attack on the core of the system. Given that the conservative critique of these movements (smugly described by Nixon as the 'moral majority') often took aim at what was described as their "intolerance", which encompasses everything from noisome extravagance, to the shouting down of authority figures, to sit-ins, blockades, and finally armed insurrection, Marcuse took on the problematic of what he called Repressive Tolerance. I don't think Zizek acknowledged a debt to Marcuse in his 'Leninist Plea for Intolerance', one of his better pieces, but it's hard to see how doesn't owe it.
Marcuse argues that "the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed". Tolerance is a "partisan goal", whose method is intolerance of "policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery". Putting up with the irrationalities of capitalist production (he names 'planned obsolescence', of which Microsoft is a notable exponent), "moronization" through propaganda, the recruitment of young men for barbarism and so on is "the essence of a system which fosters tolerance as a means for perpetuating the struggle for existence and suppressing the alternatives". In a society in which democratic forms have been largely hollowed out, "even progressive movements threaten to turn into their opposite to the degree to which they accept the rules of the game". Participating in the 'democratic process' - letter-writing, peaceful protest - under such circumstances can strengthen social repression by testifying to its democratic, representative nature. In fact, "freedom (of opinion, of assembly, of speech) becomes an instrument for absolving servitude", since "the conditions of tolerance are 'loaded'". They are determined by the existing class structure and by the existence of legalised violence by the state. Over forty years on, and the role of 'tolerance' as a conservative nostrum has far from vanished.
Resourcefully, Marcuse calls upon the liberal tradition itself when legitimising intolerance, particularly of those who would not be disposed to reciprocate (for example, the far right), or of conditions that are actively harmful to liberty. Further, he shows that oppressed minorities are not obliged to seek the permission of society as a whole, to accomodate themselves to and tolerate something that is intolerable. Most interesting, I think, is the riposte to moralistic pacifism: "[T]o refrain from violence in the face of vastly superior violence is one thing, to renounce a priori violence against violence, on ethical or psychological grounds (because it may antagonize sympathizers) is another. Non-violence is normally not only preached to but exacted from the weak - it is a necessity rather than a virtue, and normally it does not seriously harm the case of the strong." Toleration in this sense involves agreeing to be coerced. I think of Iraq here: it was expected that they would tolerate being occupied, that if they weren't grateful, they would at least not put up any meaningful resistance. Given what the occupation entailed, the expected commitment to non-violence on the part of Iraqis would simply have been capitulation to the stronger force. Marcuse, while not celebrating the use of violence, insists on historicising the significance of violence, particularly on the difference between revolutionary and reactionary violence; between the violence of the oppressed and that of their oppressors. And he also makes short work of the claim that capitalist democracy is in itself the antithesis of dictatorship (and is therefore legitimate in its violent repression of what can only be a totalitarian challenge): "The only authentic alternative and negation of dictatorship (with respect to this question) would be a society in which 'the people' have become autonomous individuals, freed from the repressive requirements of a struggle for existence in the interest of domination, and as such human beings choosing their government and determining their life. Such a society does not yet exist anywhere."
Marcuse introduces important qualifications. While critiquing the strategies of accomodation to the system, he notes that "these liberties remain a precondition for the restoration of their original oppositional function": he critiques the society, but does not devalue the limited forms of democracy permitted. There is a problem, however, with the explicit focus on oppressed minorities, whose predicament and status as minorities precisely demands intolerance of the society; and also on students, the radicalised minority which sometimes out of frustration produced impotent violent acting out against the system, as per the adventurist antics of the Weathermen. The opposition to tactics in which the 'rules of the game' are formally assented to is certainly preferrable to liberal piety, but perhaps also implicit here is his doubt about the insurrectionary possibilities of the working class. As he explains in his correspondence with Adorno over the German SDS, Marcuse understands the ultra-left outbursts of some of the students, since the existing state of affairs is increasingly, almost physically, unbearable (and he rightly points out that between angry students and the state, he is with the students). Yet a focus on working class politics would involve the recognition that breaking the 'rules of the game' can potentially be as demobilising and inadequate as dogmatically adhering to them. There is no substitute for the organised power of the working class. As Lukacs points out in History and Class Consciousness, the revolutionary attitude to legality is purely tactical: we recognise it as a material force, but beyond that it has no mystique for us. We neither cleave to it remorselessly nor seek to confront it out of bravado when we have not the strength to do so. Formally accepting 'the rules of the game' can be the right thing to do and the more revolutionary thing to do.
Anyway, here's a documentary about Marcuse, his support for the radical movements of the 1960s, and his clash with Governor Ronald Reagan. It features some students of his, including Angela Davis:
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Washington Antiwar Protests posted by Richard SeymourThere are demonstrations taking place all over the United States today, and the main one in Washington is reported by the Washington Post to be attracting up to 100,000 people. The WaPo is undoubtedly playing down the numbers, relying as it does on nebulous "authorities". Active duty troops are said to be taking part. It's also somewhat cheering to note that hate figures of the American Right such as Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Tim Robbins and Jesse Jackson are going to be there. The Victoria Times Colonist, of all papers, reports that one of the slogans is Hip Hop Not War. Well, it's about time someone said that.
"We have installed a gang of warlords in power in Baghdad" - George Galloway's speech to Parliament posted by tony collinsThe government almost never allows debate about Iraq. This week saw one of the only Parliamentary debates that have been allowed since the invasion almost 4 years ago.
Of course, it was no surprise that not only did Blair not bother attending, government business managers wouldn't even allow a vote on the subject.
Fortunately, at least some truths were spoken during the debate:
Read the speech in full here and see more speeches by Galloway here
Friday, January 26, 2007
Empire and social-democracy. posted by Richard SeymourI mentioned before, without elaborating, the impact that the experience of empire had on European consciousness, particularly alluding to the way in which procolonial attitudes manifested themselves in the social-democratic tradition. Take the German SPD. In German South West Africa, what is now Namibia, there was a particularly brutal form of colonialism, permeated by an elite military culture, described in Isabel V Hilton's Absolute Destruction, as not only being brutal and racist in the conventional sense, but as comprising in-built, structural capacities for perpetual annihilation that extended well beyond its ends. There the first genocide of the century was perpetrated, against the Herero, in that colony. Atrocity piled upon atrocity, and the German state repeatedly proved itself at least as prepared for barbarism as the British state. In such circumstances, it would seem logical for socialists to articulate the most forceful opposition to the extension of such a state's authority over another people, regardless of the fanciful reasoning offered to excuse this.
On the other hand, Eduard Bernstein argued that the SPD should adopt a "humane" and "nonaggressive" colonialism, to promote democratisation and the evolution of capitalism. Offering no argument against imperial domination, Bernstein did thnk that inter-imperial conflict could be ironed out through the internationalisation of colonial management. Perhaps some sort of 'United Nations' or 'League of Nations'. Manfred Steger's sympathetic biography of Bernstein describes the impact of his family's liberal background, and of his years in London being surrounded by social-liberals and Fabians. It is hard to miss the impact of this on his wider political philosophy, particularly his preference for a ethical socialism and his gradualism, his conviction that capitalism was developing slowly, under growing working class pressure, into a welfare state that would facilitate the transition to socialist democracy, and his belief that the labour movement could impact on the colonial state to humanise its policies. Bernstein therefore argued, in The Struggle of Social Democracy and the Social Revolution, that: "the subjection of natives to the authority of European administration does not always entail a worsening of their condition, but often means the opposite." He adds: "under direct European rule, savages are without exception better off than they were before." (Quoted here).
At the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, August 1907, the colonial question was raised directly. It was suggested by most of the leaderships represented on the Congress Commission, that after all not all colonialism was bad, and it might even continue to play a civilising role under socialist governments. Bernstein, allied with Van Kol of Holland, argued for a "socialist colonial policy" rather than a socialist anti-colonial policy. Lenin's response:
This vote on the colonial question is of very great importance. First? it strikingly showed up socialist opportunism, which succumbs to bourgeois blandishments. Secondly, it revealed a negative feature in the European labour movement, one that can do no little harm to the proletarian cause, and for that reason should receive serious attention. Marx frequently quoted a very significant saying of Sismondi. The proletarians of the ancient world, this saying runs, lived at the expense of society; modern society lives at the expense of the proletarians.
The non-propertied, but non-working, class is incapable of overthrowing the exploiters. Only the proletarian class, which maintains the whole of society, can bring about the social revolution. However, as a result of the extensive colonial policy, the European proletarian partly finds himself in a position when it is not his labour, but the labour of the practically enslaved natives in the colonies, that maintains the whole of society. The British bourgeoisie, for example, derives more profit from the many millions of the population of India and other colonies than from the British workers. In certain countries this provides the material and economic basis for infecting the proletariat with colonial chauvinism. Of course, this may be only a temporary phenomenon, but the evil must nonetheless be clearly realised and its causes understood in order to be able to rally the proletariat of all countries for the struggle against such opportunism. This struggle is bound to be victorious, since the “privileged” nations are a diminishing faction of the capitalist nations.
Nor was Bernstein unprecedented in this. Kautsky had commented in a letter to Engels in 1882, two years before Germany started its protectorate in South West Africa, that "In so far as they cannot be assimilated by modern culture, the wild peoples will have to disappear from the surface of the earth."
Actually, if you want to get serious about it, some of the earliest left-wing apologetics for empire came from the near descendants of the French Revolution. There was enthusiastic support for the colonisation of Algeria in the 1830s. The Saint-Simonian Philip Buchez argued that France should take the opportunity to dominate the Mediterranean as it would provide a holding base for "direct communications with the interior of Africa". Charles Fourier had hopes that the communal societies he was proposing for Europe could be imported into Africa, a move certain to civilise the local population. One Fourierist paper declared that France's motto should be "colonise everywhere and always". The Fourierists in Algeria declared in 1848 that the colonisation of Africa was "the providential destiny of France in the nineteenth century". Proudhon argued that it was Europe's role to teach non-European peoples the need for work and, in the case of Africans, "it is our right to compel them to do so". Another Saint-Simonian was, of course, Ferdinand de Lesseps, who oversaw the construction of the Suez Canal as a means by which French and European imperialism more generally could radiate through the region. He specifically called for the partition of Africa among the great powers. Victor Hugo's newspaper, L'Evenement, urged that France conquest Madagascar so that a two-pronged French assault could be mounted on Africa from there and Algeria. Even when a strong communist party emerged under the influence of the October Revolution (which, let's not forget, was a revolt against imperialism as well as against capitalism) with a serious commitment to anticolonialism, it went on to participate in the left-wing Popular Front government which, while delivering many serious reforms, refused to grant independence to the colonies. You might remember that one of those most disappointed by the failure was Michel Aflaq, the intellectual founder of Ba'athism. Another set of disappointed people might have been the inhabitants of Morocco, ruled by both France and Spain since 1912 under the Treaty of Fez. The cruel irony here is that when Franco wanted to smash the Spanish left and, by creating a decisive foothold of fascism in Europe, set back the whole European left, he was able to mobilise thousands of Moroccan troops under Spanish command. Franco had, after all, emerged through the ranks of the Spanish Foreign Legion in Morocco, and had learned his methods of 'pacification' there.
What about the British? I don't know if people are surprised any more that the Labour Party in government is every bit as bellicose and grotesque in its foreign policy as past Tory administrations. But the legacy of support for empire among admired left-wing figures is substantial, and before getting into it, I simply want to illustrate Lenin's point with some examples of what we're talking about. Mike Davis pointed out in Late Victorian Holocausts that when the sans cullotes were storming the Bastille, the largest manufacturing districts in the world were the Yangzi Delta and Bengal, with Lingan and Madras not far behind. Further, he added that India contributed about 25% of global economic growth compared to Britain's measly 3%. With extraordinary speed, the British Empire succeeded in deflating these societies, at first imposing an opiate society in China then carving it up with the rival imperialist powers, while enforcing an agrarian despotism based on the rule of a Brahmanic caste in India (that was called 'Indian Tradition'). This period of domination, lasting until the middle of the twentieth century, saw Britain's ruling class immeasurably enriched while the Indian subcontinent and China experienced holocaustal famines as a result. Well, this is all uncontroversial, and the brutality of the empire combined with growing class consciousness in Britain itself stimulated a germinal tradition, embraced by a number of the Chartists, of anti-colonialism. Ernest Jones, for instance, urged Britons to support the 1857 uprising in India with an internationalist conscience that recalled the abolitionist movement and the Atlantic tradition of motley crews and revolution. It was this tradition that would re-emerge in the Movement for Colonial Freedom under Fenner Brockway with a large intake from the Bevanite Left, and the anti-apartheid movement that developed from it.
Still, at the time that Jones was taking this position, Chartism had by and large lost its mass base, and his views did not resonate very widely. Even the most Radical Liberals were not eager to give Ireland Home Rule, never mind give up the Jewel in the imperial crown, as India was described. In 1902, a sort of precursor of the Eustonites, the pro-empire Coefficients Club, was organised by those famous middle-Fabians, the Webbs. It included, alongside colonial governors and traditional conservatives, such surprising figures as Bertrand Russell. The Histomatist discusses them here. It was the middle-class Fabian left and the radical-liberals, who were to go on to formulate Labour's earliest attempts at a colonial policy.
Where they offered a critique, it was not that empire was essentially wrong, but that British rule had not sufficiently protected the colonised populations from the inroads of capitalism. The historian Paul Kelemen describes the policy as a paternalistic defense of "merrie Africa", an Africa of communal land and tribal authority, the natural state as they had it. This conception, though offered as a critique of capitalism, was steeped in racism, and it certainly did not provide any basis from which to oppose the empire in principle. Again and again, despite their critique, despite seeing the iniquities of the settler societies, they urged that the colonial system be retained and tinkered with. Indeed, the Fabian colonial experts impressed upon Labour the necessity of turning the empire into an exercise in propagating the kind of welfare capitalism they supported domestically. The Colonial Office also found the TUC leadership very congenial, prepared in principle and practise to defend the British empire against both anticolonial nationalism and communism. Neither were Labour governments necessarily inclined to be more conciliatory to anticolonial movements: whether in suppressing the Indian national movement, or the insurrection in Malaya, or even cleansing the island of Diego Garcia so that the Americans could have a military base, there never was a moment when a British Labour government took a principled anti-imperialist stance.
I outline these points to illustrate a few things. The first is that whether we are witnessing former soixant-huitards clamouring for 'humanitarian intervention', or seeing lifelong Atlanticists demand unconditional support for Bush, these arguments and alignments are not new, although the situation in which they unfold clearly is. Secondly, support for imperialism is directly rooted in support for capitalism. I'm not talking about the tacit consent expressed by the acquiescence of people who are simply doing their best with what's available. I refer to the explicit ideological claims made about it, whether they amount to a positive assessment of its capacity for gradual reform toward socialism, or a negative of assessment of every alternative. The latter case is what is most evident these days, and what is being offered as 'left-wing' imperialism is therefore not left in any meaningful sense: it advertises a profoundly reactionary subjectivity, one whose range of perception is that provided by the ruling class itself. Thirdly, that imperialism extends back into our own societies in very clear and ominous ways, some of which we are now seeing in the way that America's elaborate and secretive national security state has been cracking down on civil liberties and on unionism (although, in the latter case, direct repression is usually moot since Bush can rely on a manufacturing crisis to cut the rate of unionised labour by one or two percent every year now), and in the way that ostentatiously democratic governments are hosting Stasi prisons and torture flights, rolling back basic legal rights such as habeus corpus, enforcing internment, and raising the wall to migrants.
Not only in those ways, however: when ruling classes turn imperialist, they have always sought a bargain with the working class, depending on its relative strength. In seeking to create a hegemony behind the imperial mission, they rely on doctrines which are obnoxiously anti-democratic and racist. Anti-democratic in the sense that absurd and irrational attitudes of obedience to the state are encouraged, and racist in the sense that absurd and irrational attitudes of superiority to the targets of imperial aggression are encouraged. Imperialist culture is a potent competitor with the left for hegemony, even if its most vocal advocates are often those who claim to represent a decent left, a chastened left, a serious left, a sensible and tolerant left, a left that has been mugged by reality and much else besides. Indeed, in referring to 'advocates' - which in another context would refer to someone who is paid to argue a case whether she agrees with it or not - I want to convey that people like Kouchner, Ignatieff, Glucksmann, Makiya, Berman and all of those who have claimed to argue for empire from within the terrain of the left perform an important role of advocacy for the Bush White House (and its local auxiliaries). Within the organs of establishment liberalism and even the more dissenting outlets, using a language mastered during long past periods of activism, they are consistently hostile to the left, use all means available to redirect its polemical fire, and ritually bolster the ruling mantras (the Muslims are coming). They take the task of threat-exaggeration out of the domain of White House press briefings, where it would be regarded cynically, and remove the business of self-righteous moralising from the Pentagon, where it produce gales of laughter. They make all the necessary noises and obey all the etiquette that is needed for them to be adequate to the task, but the appearance of doctrinal consistency matters less than repetiveness. For it is through repetition that their cruel, barbaric, hateful panaceas acquire the quality of common sense.
Lebanon's brewing civil war. posted by Richard SeymourBusy as I have been, it was remiss of me not to at least mention that the first blow in a civil war was struck in Lebanon the other day when the Hariri gangs fought with the opposition in Beirut during the general strike, and three died. We are not allowed to know who killed who, so far. Nor are we told who the 175 wounded are. But according to Fisk, the violence involved Amal protesters and Sunni forces. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Forces, a far right militia and political movement that played a crucial role in the so-called 'Cedar Revolution', are active on behalf of the government.
There is a curious alignment going on. The supporters of Siniora, as Angry Arab points out, are Christian fascists bearing the stars n stripes, and Sunnis bearing Saddam's portrait. They are now complemented by the Walid Jumblatt militias who are busily carrying out sectarian kidnappings. (Angry Arab notes that they are represented in the Socialist International. One has to wonder why the Democratic Left Movement, splitters from the LCP, left-face of neoliberalism, a promiment participant in the March 14th movement, aren't invited). In opposition to these forces are Hezbollah, the Lebanese Communist Party, the trade unions and the Free Patriotic Movement. On the one side, those who by and large collaborated with the US-backed Israeli invasion, and on the other, those who fought to defend the country (and won).
It is hard to forget the hand of the CIA and Mossad in this, especially since Bush administration chose to tell the newspapers that it was planning 'covert' action against Hezbollah. But one shouldn't miss the sense in which the imperialist dimension of this conflict is continuous with the class dimension. The general strike is in part motivated by widespread hostility to Siniora's programme of savage economic 'reform', which includes massive cuts in social security and privatisation of key utilities. The IMF, recognising an ally in despair, are rushing to help the government, with grants to help debt repayments. Israel and the United States are propping up a ruling class based on a narrow and often bitterly reactionary segment of Lebanese society. The reason they miss Hariri so much is not that he was put in power by the Syrian government or that he eventually came to some friction with them, but that he was a billionaire neoliberal who worked Lebanon into a state of massive international debt, thus making the state highly dependent on American support.
Of course, because the Shiite Muslim population tends to be the poorest, class-driven conflict could easily find sectarian expression. This is exactly what the Siniora government is attempting to accomplish with its use of far right Christian gangs to break the strike. The other thing is, the political system of Lebanon is designed in an undemocratic fashion that gives Christians a disproportionate representation even under provisions of the Document for National Reconciliation (the Taif Accord). Aoun was outraged even by the Taif agreement for allowing Syrian troops to remain in Lebanon indefinitely, and was instrumental in organising anti-Syrian protests. Since Hezbollah were the beneficiaries of Syria's presence at the expense of Aoun's army, and since what Hezbollah demands is a rebalancing of the political structure to end the disproportionate Christian hegemony in Lebanese politics, it is remarkable that Hezbollah and Aoun have been able to work together. As was widely remarked at the time, Israel's attempted invasion produced massive solidarity across Lebanon, such that clear majorities of every sect in Lebanon supported Hezbollah's fight. Sectarian political movements were massively damaged - yet, they are operating again with the connivance of the state.
The Battle of Haifa Street. posted by Richard SeymourCBS recorded this, but apparently refused to show it, apparently because amid the usual propaganda (the battle is described as one between "Sunni gunmen" and "Iraqi forces", which precisely reverses the dimensions of the contest), it contains some reality:
Tortured liberals. posted by Richard SeymourAdvertising his fascist impulses, Martin Amis had this to say a while ago:
There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. . . . Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. . . . They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs—well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people.
You see I wasn't exaggerating when I said 'fascist impulses'. This was quoted in a friendly review by Hitchens of neocon Mark Steyn's new book, which outlines the latter's view of the 'Muslim threat'. The trouble according to Steyn is that the Muslims are breeding furiously, rapidly taking over Europe with litters of progeny even as we all lapse into a sullen anti-American slumber. Hitchens gives credence to this theory, dressing it up in the usual trashy self-exculpatio, and also quotes Sam Harris on his claim that only European fascists have the correct attitude to the Islamic threat, later adding "Not while I'm alive, they won't." Okay, now look at this:
As Martin Amis said in the essay that prompted Steyn’s contempt: “What is one to do with thoughts like these?” How does one respond, in other words, when an enemy challenges not just your cherished values but additionally forces you to examine the very assumptions that have heretofore seemed to underpin those values?
I could be persuaded to live with the idea that some viciously reactionary polemicists can espouse a chemically pure distillation of modern fascism, and still be called liberals. But it's a bit much to hear that they have been coerced into it by the "enemy". And it's altogether too much to hear these arseholes whine about it, as if they're traumatised by their own disgusting racism, as if it is merely another burden that whitey has to bear. Perhaps if these moments of introspection and narcissism actually produced a moment of self-revelation, it would be worth it.
This smoothe transition from humanitarian motives to barbaric ones reminds me of Kurtz, the vainglorious Belgian colonialist who, in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, is set to work on a report for the International Society for Suppressing Savage Customs. He at first commends a noble mission: "By the simple exercise of our will, we can exert a power for good practically unbounded" etc., etc. Marlow, reading the report, comments that the "magnificent" peroration made him "tingle with enthusiasm" right until "the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment" when "it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!'"
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
The 'surge' is on. posted by Richard SeymourHigh rise in Haifa Street bombed, thirty killed, all 'insurgents'. Same raid, thirty-seven reported wounded, including women and children. Meanwhile, 600 Mahdi Army men have been arrested, which is either an audatious attempt to stimulate a combined Sunni-Shiite rebellion which can be put down with overwhelming destructive force, or a sign that US forces have taken Sadr's return to the government as a sign of political weakness.
What is curious is that Bush and his cabinet must be fully aware that the escalation policy has already failed. Last year, Operation Together Forward saw a boost in troop numbers by 14,000 in an effort to combat the Mujahideen Shura Council in Baghdad, a Sunni umbrella group that now describes itself grandly as 'the Islamic State of Iraq'. The MSC (or ISI if you like) are reported by coalition sources to have lost hundreds of fighters to superior firepower or capture. Even if this were true, and I expect there is serious inflation involved in the figures of fighters killed, the result was a drastic escalation in violence across the city. The White House announced that it would review operations, and on 24th October the operation was brought to an end. So, what are the odds that this escalation will do anything other than tear up Iraqi cities and residents a bit more?
It can't be a disappointment, exactly, but it is underwhelming. The prose miscarries, the irony is leaden, even the calumny and scorn can leave no lasting impression. In the old days, Isaac Deutscher was able to compare, however mockingly, the ex-communists to the disappointed adherents of the French Revolution. The essay, on 'The conscience of the ex-communist', is worth quoting at length:
Our ex-Communist now bitterly denounces the betrayal of his hopes. This appears to him to have had almost no precedent. Yet as he eloquently describes his early expectations and illusions, we detect a strangely familiar tone. Exactly so did the disillusioned Wordsworth and his contemporaries look back upon their first youthful enthusiasm for the French revolution:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
The intellectual Communist who breaks away emotionally from his party can claim some noble ancestry. Beethoven tore to pieces the title page of his Eroica, on which he had dedicated the symphony to Napoleon, as soon as he learned that the First Consul was about to ascend a throne. Wordsworth called the crowning of Napoleon "a sad reverse for all mankind." All over Europe the enthusiasts of the French revolution were stunned by their discovery that the Corsican liberator of the peoples and enemy of tyrants was himself a tyrant and an oppressor.
In the same way the Wordsworths of our days were shocked at the sight of Stalin fraternizing with Hitler and Ribbentrop. If no new Eroicas have been created in our days, at least the dedicatory pages of unwritten symphonies have been torn with great flourishes.
In The God That Failed, Louis Fischer tries to explain somewhat remorsefully and not quite convincingly why he adhered to the Stalin cult for so long. He analyzes the variety of motives, some working slowly and some rapidly, which determine the moment at which people recover from the infatuation with Stalinism. The force of the European disillusionment with Napoleon was almost equally uneven and capricious. A great Italian poet, Ugo Foscolo, who had been Napoleon's soldier and composed an Ode to Bonaparte the Liberator, turned against his idol after the Peace of Campoformio--this must have stunned a "Jacobin" from Venice as the Nazi-Soviet Pact stunned a Polish Communist. But a man like Beethoven remained under the spell of Bonaparte for seven years more, until he saw the despot drop his republican mask. This was an "eye-opener" comparable to Stalin's purge trials of the 1930's.
There can be no greater tragedy than that of a great revolution's succumbing to the mailed fist that was to defend it from its enemies. There can be no spectacle as disgusting as that of a post-revolutionary tyranny dressed up in the banners of liberty. The ex-Communist is morally as justified as was the ex-Jacobin in revealing and revolting against that spectacle.
Koestler, Spender, the Partisan Review and New Leader crowd, for all their immense flaws, revealed and were revolted by the spectacle of Stalinism. Cohen reveals and is revolted by the details of his own dreary political biography. Still, one does recognise something of the current belligerati in this:
Worse still is the ex-Communist's characteristic incapacity for detachment. His emotional reaction against his former environment keeps him in its deadly grip and prevents him from understanding the drama in which he was involved or half-involved. The picture of communism and Stalinism he draws is that of a gigantic chamber of intellectual and moral horrors. Viewing it, the uninitiated are transferred from politics to pure demonology. Sometimes the artistic effect may be strong--horrors and demons do enter into many a poetic masterpiece; but it is politically unreliable and even dangerous. Of course, the story of Stalinism abounds in horror. But this is only one of its elements; and even this, the demonic, has to be translated into terms of human motives and interests. The ex-Communist does not even attempt the translation.
In a rare flash of genuine self-criticism, Koestler makes this admission: "As a rule, our memories romanticize the past. But when one has renounced a creed or been betrayed by a friend, the opposite mechanism sets to work. In the light of that later knowledge, the original experience loses its innocence, becomes tainted and rancid in recollection. I have tried in these pages to recapture the mood in which the experiences [in the Communist Party] related were originally lived--and I know that I have failed. Irony, anger, and shame kept intruding; the passions of that time seem transformed into perversions, its inner certitude into the closed universe of the drug addict; the shadow of barbed wire lies across the condemned playground of memory. Those who were caught by the great illusion of our time, and have lived through its moral and intellectual debauch, either give themselves up to a new addiction of the opposite type, or are condemned to pay with a lifelong hangover."
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
The Trial of Tony Blair posted by Richard Seymour
Belated hat tip to The Couch Tripper for recording and posting this.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Here's an intro from Charlie Kimber:
Read Charlie's article on Somalia and Ethopia here. And here's Charlie conducting an interview with Stanislaus Alusiola, a resident of Kibara, on why he is attending the WSF:
And here's Wahu Kaara from the Kenya Debt Relief Network, as she opens the World Social Forum 2007:
The last one is especially brilliant. Listen up. And keep checking Socialist Worker for updates.
Morris has always been a schmuck. From minimising the import of Zionist ethnic cleansing plans in 1947-8, he has proceeded to a more serious acknowledgment of the scale of massacres and rapes, and the 'transferist' ideology underpinning them, only to say that it was necessary to engage in ethnic cleansing and, what is more, that Ben Gurion made a huge mistake in not going much further and completing the expulsion of the Palestinians. There would be more peace, he now argues, had Palestine been wiped entirely off the map: "this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country-the whole land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake." What is more, he legitimises this practise by specifically exempting Palestinians (and Arabs and Muslims more broadly) from the normal sphere of human consideration. "There is a deep problem in Islam. It's a world whose values are different. Human life doesn't have the same value as it does in the West. They are barbarians ... something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up." To criticise this racist ideology and to militate against the reduction of Muslims and Arabs to sub-humans needing to be ghettoised and caged, is to prepare for the next Holocaust.
Given the eliminitionist tendencies of the Iranian regime, as adumbrated with sickly fascination by Benny Morris, how strange is this report from Forward? It says that Iran's Jewish community is refusing to cooperate in attempts to organise their departure from Iran. A few hundred have departed, but most cite economic or family concerns, not discrimination from Iranian regime. A strange situation indeed - HIAS, not the Islamic Republic, wishes to ethnically cleanse Jews from Iran, at the service of Israel's foreign policy! The irony is that if the leadership of Iran was composed of opportunistic pro-imperialist lackeys like Nuri as-Said rather than a nationalist 'Islamic' bourgeoisie, they could have helped HIAS organise a terror campaign against the synagogues and Jewish businesses to precipitate the desired flight to Israel.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
"A community of heroes". posted by Richard SeymourI wanted to draw your attention to Dominick Jenkins' book, The Final Frontier. I was stunned by the perspicacity of some of the analysis of America's early empire building (although it is somewhat cursory on the anti-imperialist reflux represented by Mark Twain et al). In particular, I want to highlight a few themes that Jenkins draws out brilliantly. The first is a motivation for empire often overlooked: the need to avert the growing polarisation and class war in American society. This was recognised in the late 19th Century by Theodore Roosevelt, (whom Vidal dubbed the 'American Sissy'), and Henry Cabot Lodge, who - recognising the growing insularity of the Protestant capitalist elite, its increasing tendency to seclude itself from the rest of society in country clubs, boarding schools, fraternities and other sealed spaces, its growing ethnic exclusivity - worried about what excellent fodder this situation presented to anarchists. Industrialisation drew millions of unassimilated migrants, who were not being assimilated, while at the same time the growth of an urbanised working class and the political challenge from black workers and women contributed to the growth of a new left, comprising anarchists, populists and socialists. The populists argued that the state was serving the interests of the East Coast elite, exploiting the financial weakness of farmers and grinding down the poor. The socialists and anarchists argued that since the ruling class was visibly pursuing its own interests, the working class should certainly pursue its own interests, and to hell with purblind patriotism.
Roosevelt et al contended that to save America, a new frontier was needed: by waging wars of expansion, always with the fondest motives, always with civilisation and Christian virtue in mind, Americans would be impressed by their collective power and would "come to see themselves, as they had done in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and in the colonization of new land, as a community of heroes engaged in a struggle upon which the future of humanity depended." Well, if that isn't American imperialist ideology to a tee. The firefighter, policeman, intrepid reporter, blue-collar bum, incorruptible union activist, brave American soldier - heroism is the supreme imperialist virtue (even if its application is cowardly, corrupt, venal, brutal, and in general as unlikely to inspire admiration as any form of human conduct).
The impression this was supposed to make on popular consciousness was immense: vice, Roosevelt argued, would be blown away like chaff once Americans had "something to think about which isn't material gain" - that is, the vice of class struggle would be whipped if American workers were occupied with fantasies of noble domination, of personal sacrifice and national supremacy. The creation of the Rough Riders when America declared war on Spain in 1898 was an early attempt to galvanise such a national feeling: it was one of three volunteer cavalries sent to fight in Cuba, putatively on the basis of liberating the island from oppressive Spanish rule. The 'classlessness' of the Rough Riders was emphasised: Bucky O'Neil, Roosevelt's "dearest comrade" was twice a Populist candidate for Congress; one sergeant was a leading Gold Democrat (a short-lived formation devoted to classical liberalism); one was a well-known socialist. In doing so, they provided an idealised 'democratic' community, representative and meritocratic, with cowboys and millionaires mingling their blood on the battlefields.
America's frontiers had been bounded to the West by the coast, to the south by the conquest of Texas, and to the north by the 1812 war. If a new frontier was sought, it was a perpetually shifting one: Cuba was taken, and so were the Philippines. In the latter, the Americans had to contend with Emilio Aguinaldo's insurgency, which fought both a convential war (initially, and to its great loss) and a guerilla war (later, and with much success). Given that the methods used to suppress the rebellion could not help but inspire outrage and disgust in an America not yet thoroughly imbued with imperialist doctrine, Roosevelt made the following pitch: "Every expansion of civilisation makes for peace ... The rule of law and order has succeeded to the rule of barbarous and bloody violence. Until the great civilised nations stepped in there was no chance of anything but bloody violence." He noted the Peace Conference at the Hague and the declining frequency of conflict between the European powers as instances of the peaceful lot of civilised nations - the Filipinos, by contrast, weren't even a nation, but a diversity of tribes and clans, and the rebels merely represented one tribe, the Tagalogs. Roosevelt compared them to the Apaches, and Aguinaldo to Sitting Bull. A long period of American rule was in order.
Now, let's take a look at the Nobel Peace Prize. Before Henry Kissinger was able to count satire among his millions of victims, Elihu Root was a recipient of that ignoble award. Under McKinley and Roosevelt, he was the US Secretary of War, then Secretary of State, then a Republican Senator. He worked in the field of international law, and worked in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He served the cause of peace in the Rooseveltian sense - as an imperialist warrior - and was emphatically opposed to Wilson's early neutrality on WW1. He maintained a firm Open Door policy (and was happy to kick in a few doors). In 1907, in his role as Secretary of State, he lectured Yale University students, explaining to them their role as a future elite. The trouble afoot, he explained, was that humanity would face multiple catastrophes that only the ruling class could ward off. He explained that they must explain to Americans the absolute necessity of state involvement in civilising each quarter of life, since the "fairest and most fertile" plots had been left as wildnerness for years under no government, while "under good government, industry and comfort flourish on the most sterile soil". They should highlight the progress that modern governance had brought them, and the dependence of every aspect of modern life on good governance. What is more, they should alert fellow Americans to the fact that good governance helps them to govern themselves, providing "self control - organised capacity for the development of the race". They ought to remind people of the tyranny of the mob, that most awesome of despots: look at the Red Terror, the French Revolution, the Wat Tyler rebellion... oh, look gentlemen, and fear. Make the people afraid of themselves, by all means possible. Finally, Americans ought to understand their achievements in light of ancient Rome, which had the virtue of being both an empire and a republic.
Another early endorsement of the new frontier ideology came from Woodrow Wilson, who saw the reforming elite as the best means of cementing Americans to "the best government of the few". He wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, today one of Hitchens' favourite haunts an generally the house magazine of liberal Zionism, on the topic of 'Democracy and Efficiency'. Democracy must prove itself efficient or face "reactionary revolution", he mused. Speaking wistfully of the genocidal campaign against the Indians, he added: "Until 1900 the United States always had a frontier ... There was always space and adventure enough and to spare, to satisfy the feet of our young men ... The whole European world, which gave us our materials, has been moralised and liberalised by the striking and stupendous spectacle". Accentuating the powerful emulative force of Americans past, Wilson goes on to add that "Our interests must march forward, altruists though we are; other nations must stand off, and do not seek to stay us."
In another article, 'The Ideals of America', Wilson argues that the "spirit of the old days is not dead", being "the very principle of life in a nation alive and quick in every fibre". He argued that the 1812 war, in which America sought to expand into Canada, was the true war of independence. And he tried to ward off the ideological offensive of the Anti-Imperialist League, who argued that conquest and colonisation was precisely what the colonists had rebelled against. He urged fellow Americans to understand that their capacity for self-government had been developed under the long subordination to King George, who taught them respect for authority and the common good, obedience to the law and patience with slow change. They could come to understand this "preparatory discipline" again if they experienced the introduction of democracy to the Philippines, whose luckless inhabitants would need years in stars n stripes flecked training diapers before moving on to self-government.
Not only would it be necessary to create a new American public of course - the moulding a new imperial state as crucial. This required, according to Roosevelt: a drastic expansion in the power of the executive; the reduction of representative government to professional administration in support of the executive; the use of political science to perfect technocratic methods; the use of academic institutions to make the system more meritocratic. Wilson was not a democrat in the sense that he thought the common masses should have a say in government (ie, not a democrat in any meaningful sense). He perceived the masses as governed by irrational sentiment, and argued that "Representative government has had its long life and excellent development, not in order that common opinion, the opinion of the street, might prevail, but in order that the best opinion, the opinion generated by the best possible methods of general counsel, might rule in affairs". Indeed, universal suffrage was liable to put an end to republican liberty (capitalism) as far as he was concerned. He didn't like it one bit.
Well, Wilson and the blueblood reformers weren't alone. The drive to empire was propelled by another social group whose status was becoming uncertain: the military elite. The Military Services Institute, formed in 1878, was to represent and coordinate the interests and knowledge disciplines of what Jenkins calls the 'military progressives', those who were persuaded of the need for a professionalised officer corps, a standing army, military academies... the trouble was, they depended on Congress for appropriations but could not point to a single enemy that raised the need for a large standing army. What they sought to do therefore was to offer the state control over warmaking, using the sciences to derive laws akin to those provided by mathematics and mechanics. Far from being dangerous to liberty, they could show with copious example, standing armies were essential to it. What is more, by understanding the mechanics of conflict better, they could minimise the risk of war, as well as the risks of warmaking. It was necessary, of course, to engage in the inflation of threats (or the invention of them), since America's railway system, industry and agricultural surpluses all favoured its rapid defense in the event of an attempted invasion. General Emory Upton advanced some unique arguments: first, that America's military successes were impaired by excessive human and financial waste, a matter which would be remedied through science and professionalisation; and second, that there was a great propensity for internal commotion - Shay's Rebellion, the Whisky Rebellion, the Great Rebellion, the Rail Roads riots of 1877 - which would need to be crushed before it became a nation-wide insurgency so that democracy could prevail. Others wondered how much the immigrant communities really valued American interests, particularly given a conflcit with the societies from which they had emigrated. Further, it was argued that America's growing transportation and commerce internationally would make it more vulnerable to attack, and that to assert her rights as a trading nation, it would be essential to have the military werewithal to resist rival intimidation. And they offered the instance of China, a great civilisation, plundered and humbled by a cluster of imperial locusts. New York's growing financial prominence might well surrender to foreign conquest as the Yangzi Delta's manufacturing dominance once had.
While the patrician reformers converged with the military progressives in their empire-building tendencies, the crucial gulf between them was how they perceived military service itself. The reformers tended toward a romanticised view of volunteer warriors, and of the army as a place to emulate American heroes past. The military progressives knew that it could never be thus. They sought an army capable of defeating a large European or Asian power, which meant conscription - men would be forced to fight by drill, propaganda and the threat of the firing squad. What is more, the military leadership knew as well as the reformers did that the main examples of heroism past were less salutary than anyone would publicly admit: the war against the south having been won through the prodigious use of terror against the civilian population. There was one way, and one way alone, to get around this: if the ordinary soldier could not be a hero, the commander could. The future of romantic combat lay in the charismatic power of commanding officers.
I think in all of this, you have the essential ingredients for the transition from an increasingly challenged, polarised and crisis-ridden republic to an empire. There was a sustained resistance to this transition, and the coordination of sectional and class interests was not an easy or harmonious one. It was pulled off in the end by the skilful manipulation of Europe's endemic and fatal crises by FDR. The resistance of the Anti Imperialist League that saw the Democratic Party adopt Filipino independence as part of its programme in 1900 was continued in various forms by the American left at least until World War II. This is to its immense credit: European social democracy never knew anything like this, and is still imbued with imperial habits of thinking. There was not, contrary to popular mythology, ubiquitous hostility to the Vietnam War on the British left. The Suez affair did generate opposition, but not only on the Left. Indeed, the main source of opposition on the Left came from Atlanticists like Hugh Gaitskell, who insisted that it was unthinkable that a British government would again embarrass its new American overlords. It might have seemed that the final victory of the imperial state over the American left had been accomplished during the anticommunists crusades of the 1950s, following which Kennedy's 'New Frontier' successfully welded imperialist expansion with mild social democracy. But the racial oppressiveness of American society, the returning crisis of capitalism and growing hostility to aggression against Vietnam, opened a new generation to the arguments of Third World anti-imperialist movements. It forced at least a section of the American public to begin to understand non-white freedom fighters as brothers and sisters. In the prolonged interval of defeat since then there has been plenty of resuscitation, refinement and fortification of imperial ideology. Plenty of heroes too. But since the growing rapaciousness of the capitalist system, its immiseration of most American workers over the last thirty years and its declension into a more and more violent and desperate condition, is alienating larger numbers of people from the society, dissuading would-be patriots in large numbers, and since it has not and cannot be displaced through renewed imperialist expansion, it isn't too optimistic to imagine that the imperial state has not run out of challengers.