Saturday, May 31, 2008
We live in a time when struggle is a war of position. Politics, economics and ideology in Britain have been relatively stable for the past 20-25 years. Just as where peace between states is only the time it takes to prepare for war, peace between classes only means the ruling class and the classes below it are fighting for best position from which to launch the next onslaught. The only difference is that capitalists are generally organised and conscious, whereas the other classes are generally not.
The job for any revolutionary organisation (any) is to shore up its position and its organisation before the advent of a revolution. This means using every available means to renew contact with its base.
In practice this means taking best advantage of each and every crack in mainstream consensus. In Britain we can only refer to the anti-war movement as the last significant, national break. The disintegration of the pro-war argument took place over the summer and autumn of 2002. A growing number of people became convinced a war with Iraq was being organised and that it should be stopped, the war drive was one egregious lie too far.
The fact that a (relatively) small number of people, in particular revolutionaries, took the time beforehand to fight for an organisation that could receive and give expression to this movement paid off. By the time the movement came to a head, provincial market towns and industrial cities in Britain could hold regular activist meetings of 50-100 people. Stop the War groups could call upon a wealth of human talent. One plausible estimate I remember from the height of the movement was 50,000 activists in 500 branches or affiliated organisations.
This number of people could successfully win the political battle amongst the wider population, against the mainstream parties and media (even pulling some in their wake, such as the Liberal Democrats or the Daily Mirror). They could call large local demonstrations, pull off successful direct action and, of course, build huge national marches as part of international demonstrations.
Though by no means permanent, the lasting benefits of the anti-war movement have been a generalised anti-imperialist consciousness, a suspicion of secretive, undemocratic government and a check on the racist backlash against Muslims. These gains must be defended.
When open class struggle with the serious prospect of social revolution breaks out, war of manoeuvre, the better organised a class is the more likely it will hold positions gained. A short example, one of the key reasons behind the bloody stalemate in Iraq is, all other things being equal, the Iraqi resistance simply isn’t united enough to provide a state alternative at the moment (which is not to deny the heroism or necessity of the resistance).
I want to illustrate the point about organization as a product of war of position in a slightly unusual way: through street encounters. The first physical line of defence for the ruling class is the police force. The moment when cohesion of the ruling class has weakened enough so the unity of the lower classes can come together, enough to set a significant portion of them into action, is when the police appear.
The bad news is the police will never be won to our side, not as a rule. They are handsomely paid for their jobs, very tightly controlled and ideologically marshalled by their superiors. Most importantly they are hardened by regular contact with the public. The moment the armed forces are set on the public is an intense psychic test for a revolution, as the members, especially the lower members, of the armed forces are simply not trained for the situation.
The good news is, given preparation (the opportunity for which, of course, is normally denied), the average citizen can match a police officer blow for blow. A police officer has access to hand arms, in particular clubs, but the ordinary citizen can get and/or easily improvise these. The same is true of body armour and self-defence. The police have roadblocks, the people barricades. The police can use sturdy, powerful vehicles, so can the public. The police can use tools such as water cannons to disperse a crowd but a resourceful crowd can use similar devices to reverse effect. The police can use small firearms. Even in Britain it is not impossible for a member of the public to get hold of some. Any weapons won from the police in battle can immediately be used against them.
The point is the police rely upon superior organisation and centralised control, not firepower. There are relatively few police officers in any country, never enough to deal with a general movement of people. This is one of the reasons why movements should be as numerous and broad as possible, to reduce the harm to life and limb to a minimum. When 2 million people are intent on using Hyde Park for a demonstration there is nothing the state can do to stop them (without seriously upping the ante).
When 125,000 miners go on strike (in albeit heightened circumstances), and are hung out to dry by union bureaucracy, the state is able to shift thousands of officers to mining areas to attack pickets and lay siege to villages, concentrating its all its power on its scattered, isolated opponent.
The key is to (1) prepare and organise as best you can, necessary but easier said than done, and (2) turn the tables and strike at their weak points. The police rely on organisation and co-ordination; do your best to break it.
For example, if the police are relying on you using a rigid set of tactics sell them a dummy and do the very opposite of what they want you to. During the anti-G8 demonstrations in Germany recently there was a very successful direct action that blocked the railway line to the summit resort. The police blocked every road route toward the resort. The marchers approached a blockade as a mass before raising a set of flags and dispersing in large, pre-organised groups into fields of shoulder high corn, following the flags. The police had not planned for this and could not cope with it; their organisation had been broken.
The point is there have been several years, and a huge variety of anti-capitalist mobilizations, from strikes to demos to blockades and so on. There is a shared anti-capitalist experience in Europe. On that particular day it became the organization of direct action. Current mass movements should be organized, their experience generalized so their achievements are not lost so when the big break happens we are not starting from zero again.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
SFC10 Composite: Palestine and the occupation University of Brighton – Eastbourne, University of Brighton – Grand Parade, University of East London Docklands, National Executive CommitteeCongress notes the1. continuation of illegal settlement, killing of civilians and the impossibility of civil life, including education;2. humanitarian catastrophe imposed on Gaza by Israel and the EU;3. apparent complicity of most of the Israeli academy;4. legal attempts to prevent UCU debating boycott of Israeli academic institutions; and legal advice that such debates are lawfulCongress affirms that5. criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are not, as such, anti-semitic;6. pursuit and dissemination of knowledge are not uniquely immune from their moral and political consequences;Congress resolves that7. colleagues be asked to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating;8. UCU widely disseminate the personal testimonies of UCU and PFUUPE delegations to Palestine and the UK, respectively;9. the testimonies will be used to promote a wide discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions;10. UCU facilitate and encourage twinning arrangements and other direct solidarity with Palestinian institutions;11. Ariel College, an explicitly colonising institution in the West Bank, be investigated under the formal Greylisting Procedure.
SFC11 Gaza emergency University College London
1. The humanitarian catastrophe that developed in Gaza in March 2008, following a long siege and military bombardment, during which over 100 people died.
2. The call by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) to international trade unions to put pressure on their own governments to take action to stop the escalation of violence and relieve the humanitarian crisis.
3. Students and academics have been among those trapped in Gaza.
To organise a fact-finding delegation to Gaza after the bombing stops and to send delegates on future TUC-sponsored visits.
SFC12 Palestine National Executive Committee
Congress notes the report of the Trade Union Delegation to Palestine in January 2008, facilitated by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in which 4 representatives of UCU took part.
Congress notes that the delegation was generously hosted in Nablus by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.
Congress deplores the failure of the Israeli Histadrut to pay the approximately 2.5 million Euros owed to the PGFTU since 1995, representing 50% of the official organisational dues of Palestinian workers working in Israel, under the terms of the Framework Agreement of March 1995 following the Oslo Accords of 1993.
Congress calls on the Histadrut to pay the dues owed to the PGFTU; to call for an end to the siege of Gaza; and to call for an end to the occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory.
The Israeli press are reporting this as a clear resuscitation of the previous 'boycott' motion, although in fact there was never an actual motion to boycott, only a motion to facilitate a debate on the possibility of a boycott. The UK Press Association describes the conference as 'urging' a boycott. Melanie Phillips, bless her bigoted witch-hunting socks, considers it a witch-hunt against the Jews. It has to be good if it's winding these idiots up.
One other piece of good news from the conference. They also voted overwhelmingly to try and stop the deportation of Hicham Yezza, who is due to be deported on Sunday. There was also some pressure on the University administration, whose conduct has been quite shameful (see this, for example). The main event will presumably be when it comes to discussions of future strike action - I would expect to see a big vote for industrial action.
Monday, May 26, 2008
For better or worse the situation in the UK isn't really consistent with Marx's predictions of a vast proletarian class with the capitalists and their retainers living like plantation owners among their slaves.
That is, of course, a caricature of marxism that originates in the revisonist literature of Kautsky and Bernstein. Whatever the connotations of the word 'proletariat', the sociological use to which Marx puts it could hardly be clearer: it refers to those who do not have access to the means of production and are therefore compelled to sell their labour-power in order to live. This does not necessarily entail plantation-like arrangements or any other kind of slavery than economic compulsion. It is quite compatible with higher standards of living - actually the intensity of exploitation may be increased in circumstances where the standard of life is higher. But it is on this basis that the author upbraids me for mixing up 'middle class' and 'working class' wages:
Instead there's something like a working class amounting to 35% of the population, with perhaps 55% of the population belonging to a middle class whose income is subsidised (tactically or accidentally rather than for reasons of social justice etc) by property income.
I'm afraid this is an estranged Blairite fantasy. There is not 55% of the population living on income from property, or even receiving income substantially subsidised by property. Most of the population do not own shares (the vast majority of which are owned either by multinationals or by pension and insurance companies) or second homes from which they could profit (about two million adults own second homes). There are a large number of private shareholders, 11 million in 2004, just over a third of the working population. Millions of those owners will not be part of the working population, so revise the proportion down as you see fit. Most, 56%, do not even have private pension schemes, from which they might indirectly acquire a profit. And realistically, in most cases such schemes will, where they do not disappear into a financial black hole, simply deliver deferred wages. All of which is reflected in the distribution of wealth. The bottom 50% of the population owns less than 6% of the wealth, and the bottom 75% of the population owns just over a quarter of the wealth. So, I search in vain for this 55% of the population who are profiting from the labour of others by virtue of their ownership of property.
All of this builds to what I think is the main point, which is that in adopting Marx's formulation on the determinants of wages (the reproduction of labour power), I produce an argument that is "bizarrely amenable to the kind of xenophobic nonsense Lenin rightly deplores". That argument was that: "The combined costs of reproducing one's labour power as a Polish worker is lower than the cost of reproducing one's labour power as a British worker." In fact, it isn't at all compatible with the anti-immigrant argument that immigration reduces wages. Recall that one of the arguments of the government and various pro-market commentators in general is that immigrants are in fact doing jobs that British workers refuse to do, and that we should welcome this as healthy competition. That is an argument for exploitation, and it assigns to workers themselves the key determining role in the level of unemployment, implying voluntary unemployment due to laziness or being 'spoiled' by a comfy welfare system, and that if they only shifted themselves and accepted a slightly less lavish lifestyle they could have paid employment. In pointing out that wage differentials are socially determined, not the result of some personality quirk or stubbornness on the part of unemployed workers, one concedes nothing to the anti-immigrant argument. In fact, in saying that lower wages for migrant workers are partially the result of the lower socially determined cost of reproducing labour power (that includes the cost of supporting families) in the country to which they will return, one can explain why employment soars as a result of migration. In contrast to the anti-immigrant scenario of scarce jobs being fought over by a large number of people, this analysis (and the empirical data) would indicate that jobs are created by the availability of cheaper labour (this doesn't take into account the large amount of migrant labour that is just making up for specific skill shortages). And by doing these jobs, immigrant workers can actually increase the demand for 'native' workers.
Now I pointed out that overall wages increased. The blogger 'catmint' prefers to talk about a nebulous notion of 'working class wages' - defined apparently by nothing more concrete than their being on the lower end of the income scale. In those lights, 'catmint' maintains that 'working class wages' stagnated as a result of immigration. The study cited in the earlier post indicates that wages didn't rise as quickly as they might have for lower income earners during the period of increased migration of Polish workers. This has been siezed on by reactionary commentators who have long argued that immigration hurts unskilled workers. Let me just point out the general empirical picture on that score. According to Nigel Harris almost 200 econometric studies have looked in vain for this effect in the US, where immigration is much more intense, and haven't found it. You can see one such here. It is a debatable effect, it is temporary, and it is slight where it is detected. Further, "tend to affect earlier cohorts of immigrants rather than the historical poor of the US – blacks or Hispanics". In Europe, a recent analysis of eighteen studies on immigration found that the reported effects on wages vary, but they all tend to "cluster around zero".
About those weasel words, "bizarrely amenable". Might I just point out that conjuring up a middle class majority is "bizarrely amenable" to one kind of right-wing propaganda, and conjuring up an immigrant threat to the working class "bizarrely amenable" to another kind entirely?
Behind some of this tension is the recent expansion of the hated migrant labour system. We thought in 1994 that the ANC government would slowly but surely rid the economy of migrancy, and turn single-sex dormitory hostels into decent family homes. But hostels remain, and in Johannesburg, the ghastly buildings full of unemployed men were the source of many attacks.
Even if racially-defined geographical areas have disappeared from apartheid-era Swiss-cheese maps, the economic logic of drawing inexpensive labour from distant sites is even more extreme (China has also mastered the trick), now that it no longer is stigmatised by apartheid connotations.
Instead of hailing from KwaZulu or Venda or Bophuthatswana or Transkei, the most desperate migrant workers in SA's major cities are from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia – countries partially deindustrialised by Johannesburg capital's expansion up-continent.
In a brutally frank admission of self-interest regarding these workers, First National Bank chief economist Cees Bruggemann intoned to Business Report last week: ``They keep the cost of labour down... Their income gets spent here because they do not send the money back to their countries.''
If many immigrants don't send back remittances (because their wages are wickedly low and the cost of living here has soared), that in turn reminds us of how apartheid drew cheap labour from Bantustans: for many years women were coerced into supplying unpaid services -- child-rearing, healthcare and eldercare for retirees -- so as to reproduce fit male workers for the mines, factories and plantations.
Apartheid-era superprofits for capital were the result. Now, with more porous borders and the deep economic crisis Zimbabweans face (in part because South African President Thabo Mbeki still nurtures the Mugabe dictatorship), South African corporate earnings are roaring. After falling due to overproduction and class struggle during the 1970s-80s, profit rates here rose from 1994-2001 to 9th highest in the world, according to a Bank of England study, while the wage share fell from 5% over the same period.
So notwithstanding South Africa's national unemployment rate of 40%, a xenophobia-generated bottleneck in the supply of migrant labour could become a problem for capital, such as occured at Primrose Gold Mine near Johannesburg. The mine's workforce consists nearly entirely of Mozambicans, who much of last week stayed away due to fear, thus shutting the shafts.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
When James Joyce was introduced to anthropologist Sir James Frazer he was asked:
'Joyce he said, 'James Joyce'.
'And what do you do?' asked Sir James.
'I write' said Joyce.
James Joyce was not a political writer. What little enthusiasm he had drained away over the years as he found fame and fortune, living in Paris, pampered and flattered, blowing a fortune on fine wine and cravats: an aging, half-blind dandy.
This is an easy story. It fits in nicely with the traditional legend knitted for radical authors. The scandalous rogue evolves into the solid man of letters or else gets burned in the fire of their own genius.
There is a contrast between the arrogant young man who wrote to a publisher, "I seriously believe you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland" by not publishing the collection Dubliners, and the frail old boy who hurried to translate his beloved Anna Livia chapter into French in case he forgot what the whole thing meant. But there's continuity there too.
What do you do, Mr Joyce?
Joyce was an author committed to busting literary taboos, in particular taboos about human sexuality. His determination to explore sexuality in life and in print gave an added twist to his anti-clericalism, which, in turn, was born out of his background in Irish nationalism. His family were bourgeois, followers of the Home Rule party, led by Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell’s political downfall in 1891 at the hands of respectable Irish society (he was caught having an affair with a married woman) coincided with the Joyce family’s tumble into poverty. Joyce’s father spent the rest of his life in semi-employment, grubbing amongst the members of the rabblement. His mother, Mary, died in 1903 from cancer of the liver, weakened by years of poverty and fifteen pregnancies. Joyce was barely 21 at the time. He described the scene in a letter to his future common-law wife:
When I looked on her face as she lay in her coffin – a face grey and wasted with cancer – I understood I was looking on the face of a victim and I cursed the system which had made her a victim.
In his works he took a long hard look at that system: a system that not only exhausted his mother but his mother country, Ireland. Joyce was an implacable opponent of British imperialism, in life and works, from start to end, from the imperialist allegory of After The Race to the shooting of the Russian general in Finnegans Wake.
Joyce lived through tumultuous times. The period of his life as an active writer, 1904-39, spanned a whole cycle of revolution and reaction.
Joyce was an avid reader of socialist and syndicalist literature (very much born out in his critial, political and journalist works). Living for many years in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he witnessed first hand many of the national movements of central Europe. His brother, Stanislaus, lived with him in Trieste was interned during World War One as an Italian Irredentist. At the start of the war Joyce a British subject on the wrong side of the battlefield. He sought refuge in Switzerland, where, incidentally, he dined at the same café as Lenin (no one knows if they met). After the war he moved to Paris, where he would find it easier to publish his masterpiece, Ulysses. It was eventually published on his fortieth birthday, February 2nd 1922. The Irish Free State was born the same year, although he refused all invitations to return. ‘The Blue Book of Eccles’, did not see the light of day in America until 1933, legalised the same month as alcohol. It wasn’t until 1937 that it was published in England, by which time the sequel, Finnegans Wake was nearing completion. Joyce’s nightbook foretold disaster, which was to come in the form of fascism and world war two. As war descended, he fought to protect his mentally ill daughter from imprisonment as well as helping to smuggle several Jewish friends out of German occupied territory. He escaped back into Switzerland in late 1940, dying the following year.
In 1907 James Joyce, aged 25, wrote what was to become the final story in the Dubliners series, called The Dead. It was a project he began in 1904: it wouldn’t see the light of day until 1914.
When author George Russell suggested Joyce write short stories for a magazine called the Irish Homestead he was pointing out a quick and easy way for young writers to make money. As adult literacy rose throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a huge new market opened up for magazines and newspapers. Part of that market was satisfied by short stories and serialised novels. Charles Dickens was an early pioneer. Later on Arthur Conan Doyle enjoyed success with the Sherlock Holmes series. Rudyard Kipling’s tales of imperial derring-do found a large audience.
The new form strongly influenced subject matter. While the novel remained a somewhat bourgeois pastime, the mass market demanded stories that reflected everyday life. Joyce was expected to deliver short, simple, moralistic stories for the Irish Homestead. He gave them something else: The Sisters.
The Sisters begins with an image. A small boy standing in a street staring up at a ‘lighted square of window’ where he knows a priest is lying dead. He repeats to himself the word ‘paralysis’, which brings to his mind the words ‘gnomon’, and ‘simony’. It sounds to him ‘like the name of some maleficent and sinful being’. He is afraid but longs to ‘look upon its deadly work’.
There was ‘something queer’ about the old priest, opines one the boy’s guardian over breakfast. The boy takes exception to this but bites his tongue. It turns out he used to go to the priest for religious instruction.
Later he dreams of the priest: he sees the ‘grey face’ desiring ‘to confess something’. The priest was disabled. The boy used to help him open his snuffbox, half of which ends up sneezed over his garments.
In their time together the priest taught the boy many things. ‘He had told me stories of the catacombs and about Napoleon Bonaparte… he had explained to me the meaning of the different ceremonies of the Mass and of the different vestments worn by the priest’. He repeatedly quizzes the boy on detailed religious questions. He leaves him with the impression that the duties of a priest were ‘so grave’ that he wonders ‘how anybody had found in himself the courage to undertake them’.
We then follow the boy, who goes with his aunt to see the body of the priest, lying in a coffin in his house. There they meet the priest’s two sisters. They eat together, swapping commonplaces and memories of him.
After about a page one of the sisters stops ‘as if she were communing with the past’. The conversation takes a turn. She too noticed ‘something queer’ about the priest. He was ‘too scrupulous’. Priesthood ‘was too much for him’. He was ‘a disappointed man’.
It turns out, during a ceremony, the priest broke a chalice, the cup Catholics believe to carry the blood of Christ. For a priest this would be a serious thing. The sky didn’t open up. The ground didn’t swallow him whole. Nothing happened.
There we have it, a simple tale undermining the institutions ceremonies of the church: clear enough even to the casual reader. The eagle-eyed reader, however, will go back over the pages. Why is the story called The Sisters when they play such a peripheral role? What’s with these heavily emphasised words ‘paralysis’, ‘gnomon’ and ‘simony’?
A ‘gnomon’ is a piece of a parallelogram (we spend much of the story making sense of half finished sentences and suggestive phrases). ‘Simony’, in the Catholic Church, is the act of buying spiritual favours or powers. Think again about the sisters, two unmarried, elderly women of independent means. What was their means? Their brother, of course.
In an impoverished Catholic country like Ireland, sons and daughters were often sent off to join the church as a good source of income for the family. Joyce leaves a few hints in the story as to the class background of the sisters, not least the description of ‘them new fangled carriages that makes no noise… them with the rheumatic wheels’.
The church is a good career move? This was political dynamite! Joyce followed this up with two more stories, one featuring references to mental illness and sexual perversion, the other drinking and gambling. They were turned down by the Homestead. There was further infamy when it was realised the ‘paralysis’ Joyce hinted at in The Sisters could’ve been the ‘general paralysis of the insane’, the latter stages of syphilitic infection.
Already we have teased out a number of themes that run through Dubliners (and on, through the rest of his work). Paralysis: in the form of the old priest’s illness or Mr Duffy’s hermit like life. Paralysis: like Eveline stuck on the wharf, or the canvassers huddling in the committee room because it’s raining. Moments of deception and betrayal are cast through the book. Mrs Mooney’s tender trap in The Boarding House; Corley swindling rich women; the nationalists’ betrayal of the principles of Parnell.
The book Dubliners is very much the product of Joyce’s youth. It is the stuff of a young bourgeois hurled down into Dublin’s petty life. An ex-student stuck in budget Bohemia, suffering intellectual unemployment, he saw his art being perverted by a petty nationalism that was backward looking and essentially put on for the benefit of the English. Dublin had been a capital city with its own parliament in 1800; by 1900 it was merely the fifth city in the British Isles, overtaken even by Belfast. Virtually de-industrialised, what there was of a Dublin proletariat existed almost exclusively for the purpose of shipping food to England. Instead of normal urban life we find the pages populated mostly with clerks, crooks and servants. There are numerous references to Dublin’s poverty in the book. Even the most opulent story, The Dead, hides a sad fact; Gretta and Gabriel are the only married couple at the party.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
… Is the most familiar of Joyce’s books, most obviously a novel. While it may not be Finnegans Wake, it’s far from conservative.
The book is a bildungsroman (more precisely a kunstleroman), a story of development, featuring a young man called Stephen Dedalus. Stephen is the first of Joyce’s major characters, a fictional projection of his youth, sharing many of the young Joyce’s experiences. Its in A Portrait… we see Joyce really putting his literary skills to the test. The techniques of mimetic prose and the epiphany come into their own, charting Stephen’s development.
A Portrait…is also the first occasion when Joyce uses with the ‘mythical method’. He chose Stephen’s strange name with care. Stephen is named after the legendary Greek character Daedalus, the inventor. In one story Daedalus invented a machine enabling a bull to mate with a woman. The result was the minotaur. To prevent the minotaur from running rampage Daedalus built the labyrinth, the world’s most complex and confusing maze, to trap the minotaur. He ended up trapping himself as well. To escape he built a set of wings, and flew away. In a later story, his son Icarus took those wings, flew too close to the sun and came crashing to earth.
In A Portrait…Stephen is both Daedalus and Icarus. Trapped in various mazes, prevented from fulfilling himself as an artist, Stephen tries to flee. Each time he tries to escape he comes back down to earth. Each chapter builds to a resolution, Stephen feels released, only in the following chapter to be recaptured.
In chapter four Stephen rejects the priesthood for life as an artist. Wandering down by the shore he sees the birdwoman, who captures his heart as an image of mortal beauty. Chapter five immediately swaps glistening rockpools and whispering waves for yellow dripping and pools of weak tea as Stephen contemplates pawning more items.
The book is not apolitical. The fall of Charles Parnell is dealt with most effectively, through the lens of a family argument round Christmas dinner. The ecstatic climax of chapter two conceals the fact it’s about the grubby hypocrisy of prostitution. This leads into the mental terrorism of the hellfire sermon in chapter three. Stephen finds religion to be a hollow con, the priesthood is offered to him as a good choice for a pious, diligent student.
Above all it is the story of someone trying to realise their identity in the face of society. In alienating each individual from the produce of their labour, the thing that makes each person human, capitalism warps personalities, swallowing each individual whole. By trying to realise himself as an artist, Stephen comes into conflict with ideas of the family, sexuality, religion and nationality. The ending is quite lonely. The list of protagonists dwindles throughout the novel until, in the final pages. Stephen ends up talking to himself, through his diary.
Through the novel Stephen realised himself as an artist. The same was true of Joyce. Ten years after leaving Ireland and seven years after beginning the book, Joyce was a published author. Before Ezra Pound discovered him, Joyce was a jobbing teacher, journalist and clerk; at one point he even considered becoming a tweed salesman. In 1914 Dubliners made it into covers and A Portrait…began to be serialised in English magazines, one of which, The Egoist, was edited by a woman called Harriet Weaver. She was a Quaker, a feminist and woman of independent means. Thanks to her financial and literary support Joyce was not only able to feed his family but become a full time writer.
What is Ulysses?
It is an epic of two races (Israelite-Irish) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day… It is also an encyclopedia.
This is a book where a day is as dense as a decade. This is a book exploring the innermost of the mind. This is a book that celebrates the human body, every movement and sensation. This is a book with a huge cast of characters, swarming across the Hibernian Metropolis and yet boils down to the simplest, most common intimate relationship (love, I mean the opposite of hatred).
Ulysses is about a day in the life of three people. Stephen Dedalus, star of A Portrait… Leopold Bloom, ad-canvasser and frustrated entrepreneur and Molly Bloom, opera singer and wife of Leopold.
Stephen gets up at eight. He is ‘displeased’. Having flown the nest in A Portrait…he is back in Dublin, living in a Martello tower with a patronising Englishman called Haines and his jester Buck Mulligan. After finishing his teaching job early, he heads off on an almighty bender, talking philosophy with the green fairy.
By contrast Bloom’s day begins with agreeably, with breakfast, a bath and a trip to an acquaintance’s funeral. He starts work late in the morning. He spends the rest of the day trying to secure an ad for the evening papers but finding himself getting sidetracked, at first trying to avoid his wife’s lover but more and more trying to look after this drunken lad he met in a hospital.
Bloom is unlike all the characters in Joyce’s books so far. He is temperate and kindly, quick-witted and intelligent, never at a loss for words. We notice something different about Bloom from his very first internal dialogue:
They call them stupid [cats]. They understand what we say better than we understand them. She understands all she wants to. Vindictive too. Wonder what I look like to her. Height of a tower? No, she can jump me.
Bloom’s horizons are not blighted and narrow, like other Dubliners. He is sympathetic, imaginative and can see things from another’s point of view. He helps a blind man across the road, imagining what it would be like to be blind. At one point he listens to a printing press, imagining it’s talking to him. He later feeds birds in the Liffey, dreaming up verses in their honour.
Take a random sample of Bloomthought. He sees some Ceylon brand tea and thinks:
Far east. Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, lazy leaves to float about on, cactuses, flowery meads, snaky lianas they call them. Wonder is it like that. Those Cinghalese lobbing around in the sun, in dolce far niente. Not doing a hand’s turn all day. Sleep six months out of twelve. Too hot to quarrel. Sleep six months out of twelve. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flowers of idleness.
Bloom is the son of a Jewish Hungarian immigrant. He is set apart from Dublin society, where anti-Semitism is rife, not just in the English (Haines) and the Anglo-Irish (Professor Deasy) but even the model Irish Citizen, the bigoted monster confronting Bloom in Barney Kiernan’s pub.
In creating Bloom, Joyce takes some of the most repellent anti-Semitic myths and subverts them. For all the machismo of his rival, Blazes Boylan, it’s Bloom who triumphs because ‘he knew or understood what a woman is’. He is something different; he is a new man. Despite being born in Ireland, Bloom is still considered an outsider. He may be the Wandering Jew of Dublin, but he is also its intrepid explorer, never at a loss, never paralysed.
He is also Odysseus.
There are many myths and backstories woven into Ulysses. The most prominent is the Odyssey. As we know, Bloom is Odysseus. In taking Stephen under his wing, Stephen becomes his ‘son’ Telemachus. Molly is his wife Penelope. Boylan is the suitor Bloom ‘slays’ at the end of the novel.
Each chapter of Ulysses parallels an adventure in the Odyssey. The minor characters, many of them from Dubliners, are also given mythical roles. Bella, the madam, becomes Circe, the sorceress. Gerty McDowell is the princess Nausicaa. The Citizen is the Cyclops. In the ‘Hades’ chapter, Martin Cunningham becomes Sisyphus; at the beginning of every week he has to redeem the items pawned by his drunken wife. In ‘Sirens’ the barmaids become mermaids. Why? Because barmaids wore their finest from the waist up to attract punters, out of sight, beneath the waist they wore work clothes.
But why did Joyce choose to do this?
There was a debate at the time amongst Joyce’s supporters. Some, like Ezra Pound, chose to see the use of myth as an aid to creativity, just as scaffolding is an aid to building a house. In his essay Ulysses: order and myth, T.S Eliot argued that Ulysses put an end to the narrative method, inaugurating the ‘mythical method’; authors were to impose order on a chaotic world not by creating stories but networks of allusion.
Both arguments are right and, at the same time, wrong. Ulysses is a fine story in itself. It is also a treasure trove of puzzles and allegories. However, the epic and the narrative are parts of the whole that is the book. For example, when Bloom tackles the bigot in Barney Kiernan’s pub he is not just a lonely man, out of his depths, tackling a gang of dangerous drunks, he is Odysseus, trying to escape from the Cyclops’ cave without being eaten. It adds to the sense of urgency. Bloom is in danger.
It’s worth noting that Joyce and Eliot represent political opposites within the trend of ‘modernism’. While Eliot saw the modernity as essentially distressing Joyce saw it as containing the potential for liberation. Eliot used myths to put ordinary people in their proper place. Joyce instead deflated myths to elevate the human. In The Wasteland Eliot describes the collapse of society as the end of civilisation. Later on, in The Wake, describes broken civilisation as ‘the midden heap’, the fertile ground on which a new and better society could be built. Perhaps it is coincidence Joyce ended up supporting progressive causes whilst Eliot, like many other modernists, swung hard to the right (Ezra Pound to the extent of visiting Mussolini’s Italy).
It would be senseless not to place Ulysses in a wider context. Joyce wrote the book between 1914 and 1921, a period of war and revolution, tremendous upheaval. Some see Ulysses as hiding from the war, just as Joyce did in Switzerland. It is, in fact, his response to the war: to deflate violent patriotism and heroics, emphasising decency and humanity. The ‘epiphanies’ in Ulysses are those moments where we see the potential for renewal in our old society. It was the kind potential that, for a short while, was unleashed in Russia by the revolution of 1917, something that enthused millions across the globe. While Joyce might not have meant him to be, Bloom, the ‘cultured allroundman’, is his portent of the future, when that potential will be revealed again.
Ulysses published in France in February 1922. For a year, Joyce diddled about, writing nothing. In early 1923 he overcame his block, scratching out a two-page sketch of ‘King Roderick O’Connor’, the last ‘pre-electric’ king of Ireland, as a boozy landlord. He’d begun writing what turned out to be his last book, Finnegans Wake. He expected to have it completed and published before the end of the twenties. It took him until 1939 to finish.
Say you’ve read Finnegans Wake and you’ll be met with either awe or disbelief. On page four, you’ll find:
Phall if you but will, rise you must: and none so soon either shall the pharce for the nunce come to a setdown secular phoenish.
The book is told in this language: English, but plastic and mutable (and funny), crammed with neologisms, portmanteau and multilingual puns. Joyce justified himself, saying:
One great part of human existence is passed in as state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and a goahead plot.
For the Wake is a book about a dream. The dreamer is a man, although we’re never quite sure who he is. He dreams about his life and family. He feels strangely guilty toward his kindly wife. They have three children, two boys and one girl, tended to by an elderly woman servant. The man is a publican. Twelve regular customers attend his bar.
These ‘characters’ come to life in the dream. The man becomes Humprey Chimpden Earwicker, his wife Anna Livia Plurabelle. Their daughter Isobel is a picture of beauty, their sons Shem and Shaun, typical warring brothers.
HCE as the man is known (his name changes but the initials stay the same) is haunted by two crimes. First, an incident in Phoenix Park, where a trio of soldiers catch him peeping at two temptresses (or exhibiting himself, or masturbating). Secondly, an incestuous longing for his daughter, who reminds him of his wife when younger, and in turn of his own youth.
The other part of the novel is taken up with the brothers and their struggles, with each other and to succeed their father. There’s Shem the Penman, who has an artistic bent, his aim is to tell the truth, he creates the word. Shaun the Postman is a politician at heart who aims to censor and control, he delivers the word.
The familial action in the book revolves around these two axes. They bring to mind the radical critique of the nuclear family. As the book developed, Joyce’s own family came under increasing strain. Throughout the twenties his daughter Lucia’s mental health deteriorated. She finally broke down in 1932. With the onset of blindness and his wife’s cancer, this greatly slowed Joyce’s work rate. His son George Joyce had problems of his own. Living in the shadow of his father, he found it difficult to make a life of his own.
The book goes beyond the mere rise and fall of generations. The characters within characters take on new roles. At points HCE is Moses, Zeus, the Flying Dutchman, Persse O’Reilly, Charles Parnell and so on. Shem and Shaun go through a variety of oppositions (and adventures), Mutt and Jute, Mooske and the Gripes, the Ondt and the Gracehoper. One of my favourite pairings is Butt and Taff, two television comedians (a story written in the late 1920s I must add).
HCE is also the city of Dublin. Anna Livia Plurabelle becomes the Liffey, washing away the dirt of civilisation. When she reaches the sea she is reborn as her daughter, a cloud. The twelve regulars become civilisation, as well as the gossiping ‘guinnesses’ who spread news of HCE’s crimes across Ireland.
The Wake is all this and more. Joyce’s use of flexi-English and the dream-form of storytelling roll back all boundaries, enabling him to encompass all of human history and experience in one book (or at least try).
Like Ulysses, the Wake the book is based on another form of scaffolding. Joyce based the structure of the book on the ideas of Italian Giambattista Vico, who saw history as a giant cycle, proceeding in four wheels, the ‘theocratic’, the ‘heroic’, the ‘democratic’ and the ‘chaotic’, which returned the process to its beginning.
We would recognise the stages as ancient, feudal and bourgeois society (perhaps we wouldn’t recognise the chaotic loop), the rise of each loop as the rise of each society and the fall the beginning of revolution, the hundred letter ‘thunderwords’ announcing the beginning of each age as the act of revolution itself. The process driving the book is history: conflict, cooperation, contradiction and struggle. Each new generation/society on the rise gives birth to the next, which proceeds to undermine and usurp the previous generation/society.
Joyce apparently wanted the Wake to be spiral bound, with no beginning or end. Escape from these loops of history, the end of the neverending book, comes with subjective input. The intimidating nightspeak becomes user friendly. The reader can bring their subjective impressions to bear on the book. You can read it looking for sexual references, historical allusions, myths, jokes and so on, each time finding a different book. The Wake is continuous and at the same time ever changing.
In Finnegans Wake Joyce once again shakes his fist at violent authority. Every ruler, every empire, every tyrant is destined to fall; something that might have seemed unlikely in 1939, when the book was finished, with war brewing and two great tyrants erecting edifices, one of them promising to last for one thousand years. After all the death and destruction, there is nothing left to do except pick up the pieces and start again, with the last sentence flowing into the first:
A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
Undoubtedly, many Labour members thought the campaign was disgusting. They will agree with Compass that the campaign was "poisonous" and "smacks of the poison spread by the far right". They will plead with the party bosses to come up with something to deal with spiralling inequality and slightly ameliorate the class structure that is generating so much justified resentment. And they can even offer a pragmatic argument, if no one will listen to the principled one. They can say that if the government stokes up racism about immigration, they can't expect to benefit from it because the racists will quite logically say that it happened under New Labour's watch and vote for someone else. But is anyone listening? Are there any forces capable of making this point heard? Does New Labour even have anything else to offer? Like I say, I think not. Brown may be overthrown, but he'll only be replaced by some oleaginous Blairite. We are just going to have to get ready for a 2010 atrocity, with all the filthiest rhetoric about immigrants and 'yobs', and all of the worst aspects of the government's social authoritarianism given a full public airing. The only possible antidote is the antifascist movement which, if it mobilises quickly and en masse, can undermine the vague 'respectability' that the media and politicians have been giving to racist arguments about migration and Muslims. As a start, United Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism have called a national demonstration against fascism and racism on 21 June, starting from Tooley Street behind the London Assembly building.
Anyway, that's a long intro to what this post is actually about. Anti-racist argument about immigration rightly stresses the contribution that immigrants make to the economy and the society in general. The TUC points to the benefits to public services, and our growing need to make up a labour shortfall caused by a declining birthrate and a longer life expectancy. We rightly point out that services we value could not have been built without the work of migrant labour. When we are told by some who should know better that immigration pushes wages down, empirical refutation isn't difficult to find. For example, a recent study for the Low Pay Unit found that overall pay tends to increase a bit as a result of immigration, although the lowest paid might experience a slight fall. Even conceding for a moment the ridiculous idea that addressing domestic inequality by raising barriers to preserve global inequality is some form of social justice, the evidence suggests that restricting immigration is a poor way to reduce domestic inequality. One kind of argument that sometimes comes out though, especially from pro-market commentators, such as Nigel Harris (whose book Thinking the Unthinkable is a very good treatment of the whole topic, despite his present neoliberal orientation), is that immigrants do the kinds of jobs that 'indigenous' workers will not, and that this leads to economic growth. Such is the view propounded by the Home Office. Now, it is just uncontroversially the case that, for example, the recently influx of Eastern European workers into the UK did stimulate growth and coincided with an overall rise in real pay for most workers. Undoubtedly, those workers were filling a supply gap that was not being met otherwise. Yet there are two problems with this kind of argument. The first is that it implies a kind of voluntary unemployment by British workers. The second is that it implies that the exploitation of migrant labour is okay, and actually a good thing. This may be a logical argument for some elements of the CBI, but it isn't our argument. It is true that the argument implicitly favours a freer movement of labour, against the global management and coercive systems (border controls, visa and pass systems, detention centres, extensive surveillance etc) which seriously weaken our class. To that extent, it is superior to the anti-immigration argument from the likes of Polly Toynbee, who has falsely argued that higher immigration leads to greater competition for work and lower wages all round. But it still misconstrues the case.
I find it useful just to look at what Marx said about the source of wages. In Capital, Volume I, chapter six, the argument is put that wages are the payment, not for labour, but for labour power. That is, capital is augmented (makes a profit) because it withholds a definite quantity of unpaid labour. What one is paid for is labour power, one's capacity to work, understood as "the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description." One is paid so much as is necessary to reproduce that labour power in its "normal state" - Marx speaks of reproducing the means of subsistence, but here he clearly refers to a historically produced subsistence as opposed to the minimum amount of nutrition, clothing and so on that one could possibly live with. The means of one's subsistence can include sufficient wages to use the internet, purchase a car, mortgage a house or pay rent on a flat, have the normal range of consumer durables, including a washing machine and perhaps any other labour-saving device that allows you to get to work on time and have sufficient hours after the working day to unwind and recuperate for the next eight hours. It would also include support for a family, which is after all the unit through which the labour is replaced. If you look at the UK national minimum wage, or the US mimimum wage, the level is determined not by reference to some ahistorical level of bare subsistence, but by how much it costs to reproduce one's labour in the here and now. If the rate is far too low in both cases, this is a concession to the needs of poverty employers whose margin of profit is slight. In comparing the wages of migrant and 'indigenous' workers, one therefore has to look at the determinants of the cost of labour power.
The combined costs of reproducing one's labour power as a Polish worker is lower than the cost of reproducing one's labour power as a British worker. We can suppose this is given some expression in the minimum wage levels in both countries. The British minimum wage is roughly equivalent to 1,190.49 per month, whereas the Polish minimum wage is roughly 329.49 per month. So, suppose a degree-educated twenty-something man migrates from Warsaw to London for a year or two to get some money together. Say he has a wife and small children. As will often be the case, he takes a demotion and works in relatively low-skill jobs for wages that would not sustain much of a life in London, but will support a single man in cheap accomodation and allow him to send a bit home every month. Further, because of his precarious position, the employer has more leverage and can extract more intense work and higher levels of productivity (naturally, the employers prefer to speak of the admirable motivation of such workers, as if it was just a cultural quirk rather than the result of a particular mode of capitalist discipline). In the case of someone who has got here by illegal means, the advantage is even more decisively on the side of the employers. It is a similar story with undocumented workers in the US. So, where a job might have gone unfilled because the cost of reproducing labour was too high for the employer to afford it, suddenly he might be able to hire two or three additional workers. The rate of employment can actually increase dramatically as a result of such immigration, and in fact that seems to have happened.
Necessarily, anti-racists have to play the numbers game. When the right complains that immigration is somehow deleterious to our economy and public services, we rightly point to increased employment, higher growth and increased tax receipts. But of course, the advantage to the employers partially depends upon this international coercive apparatus which loosely corresponds to a global 'colour bar'. It maintains a rough segregation of labour that permits the continued flow of managed migration without allowing the cost of labour power to equalise across nationalities. That is far from the 'free movement of labour', because freedom is impinged variously by quotas, by status differentials, by a plethora of restrictions that are designed to enhance profitability. The basis upon which socialists support free movement for labour is not that it delivers cheaper labour for business, but by contrast that it strengthens us as a class to be able to move wherever there is work, rather than existing as part of a domestically-confined large reserve army of labour. At the moment, European capital supposedly requires 8% unemployment - the 'natural' or 'non-accelerating inflation' rate of unemployment. Anything lower and the bargaining power of labour pushes up the cost of labour power (that's the 'accelerating inflation'), which is disadvantageous to the employers. However, we don't necessarily fancy being appendages to the machinery of capital, and that is what we become when migration is restricted to suit its interests.
Of his detention, Sabir said: "I was absolutely broken. I didn't sleep. I'd close my eyes then hear the keys clanking and I would be up again. As I realised the severity I thought I'd end up in Belmarsh with the nutcases. It was psychological torture.
"On Tuesday they read me a statement confirming it was an illegal document which shouldn't be used for research purposes. To this day no one has ever clarified that point. They released me. I was shaking violently, I fell against the wall, then on the floor and I just cried."
All of this because the student downloaded a publicly available document in the context of properly directed research. The University authorities had every reason to be aware of the nature of that research and could easily have checked all the relevant facts before ratting on one of their students. So, should this material be banned for the purposes of study? Why don't you have a look at it and tell me? If the US Department of Justice website removes the document for any reason, you can always see it here and here. In fact, the Pavilion Press have published a version which you can purchase via Amazon. If this is an illegal document, as the police appear to have told this student, the cops haven't done much to block access to it. It's probably one of the most easily obtainable documents in the world. I frankly suspect that they were [making shit up] relying on an excessively liberal interpretation of some law that would usually not be applied to retrospectively justify the arrest. And how dangerous is it? Not enough to stop the US government making it available for public consumption.
Here is a press release by Nottingham University Students and Staff:
21 May 2008
Nottingham University Students and Staff Express Serious Concerns about
Recent Use of the Terrorism Act on Campus and Demand Academic Freedom
Following six days in police custody under terrorism legislation, two
well-known and popular members of the University of Nottingham – a student
and a member of staff – were released without charge on Tuesday, 20 May. A
growing number of students and staff wish to express grave concerns about
the operation on a number of grounds.
1. Academic freedom
The arrests were in relation to alleged 'radical material', which the
student was apparently in possession of for research purposes. Lecturers
in the student's department, as well as academics throughout the
university, are deeply concerned about the ramifications of this arrest
for academia, especially political research. An academic familiar with the
arrested student explained that his research topic was about contemporary
political issues that are highly relevant to current foreign policy. The
criminalisation of this kind of research is an extremely worrying sign for
academic freedom, suggesting sharp limits to what may be researched at
2. Racism and Islamophobia
One of the officers involved in interviewing academic staff openly stated
that: "This would never have happened if the student had been white." It
seems that the over-zealous nature of the operation, causing great injury
and distress to the students, their family, and friends, was spurred on by
the ethnicity and religious background of the students involved. Police
behaviour during the operation, including the apparent targeting of ethnic
minorities for questioning, also suggested institutional racism.
3. Use of Terrorism Act to target political activists
During questioning, the police regularly attempted to collate information
about student activism and peaceful campaigning. They asked numerous
questions about the student peace magazine 'Ceasefire', and other peaceful
student activities. The overt police presence on campus, combined with
increased and intimidating police presence at recent peaceful
demonstrations, has created a climate of fear amongst some students. Many
saw the operation as a message from the police that they are likely to
arrest those who have been engaged in peaceful political activities. There
is widespread concern in the community that the police are criminalising
peaceful activists using terrorism legislation, such as the Prevention of
Terrorism Act 2005.
4. Behaviour of the university
Many of the university's statements during this time have concerned and
angered students and academics. The university put out a great deal of
rhetoric during this period emphasising its support for the police,
refusing to acknowledge either the potential innocence of the people in
question, or the distress caused to them, their families, and friends.
University authorities also spoke of stopping groups or individuals who
"unsettle the harmony of the campus." This appeared to be a direct
reference to recent peaceful student activism and protest, suggesting that
the university is willing to clamp down on political protest using the
Terrorism Act 2000 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. One lecturer
from the School of Politics suggests that the university called the police
onto campus with the ultimate aim of creating a "depoliticised" body of
students and academics. Throughout this period, the university has
continually ignored the fear caused by police presence and investigation
into legitimate political research and activities. It has also ignored the
concern of staff and students about the criminalisation of research, the
racist and Islamophobic nature of the police action, and the worrying
indication that the university provided intelligence on its own members,
possibly racially profiling its staff and students.
Academics and students from across the University of Nottingham, and
members of the public from the wider community, are calling for:
a) The guaranteed right to academic freedom
b) An end to the criminalisation of political research
c) An end to police and university racism and Islamophobia and the full
assertion of civil rights and liberties on campus
They demand that the University of Nottingham publicly:
a) Acknowledges the disproportionate nature of the police response
b) Acknowledges the unreserved innocence of the student and staff member
c) Apologises for the great distress caused to them, their families, and
d) Guarantees academic and political freedom on campus
e) Declares its commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of expression
To their credit, the staff and students of the University are preparing a public reading of the research material in question.. We're going to find out just how 'illegal' this document really is. If you can't be at the protest, you may as well download the document. I'm sure, readers, that you can do so without succumbing to the temptation to cause a conflagration.
* The University officially denies that the police were armed when they carried out their action.
Update: This is the status of Hisham Yezza's deportation process according to a press release by students, academics and local residents:
On his release Hicham was re-arrested under immigration legislation and, due to confusion over his visa documentation, charged with offences relating to his immigration status. He sought legal advice and representation over these matters whilst in custody. On Friday 23rd May, he was suddenly served with a deportation notice and moved to an immigration detention centre. The deportation is being urgently appealed.
Hicham has been resident in the U.K. for 13 years, during which time he has studied for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Nottingham. He is an active member of debating societies, a prominent member of an arts and theatre group, and has written for, and edited, Ceasefire, the Nottingham Student Peace Movement magazine for the last five years.
He is well known and popular on campus amongst the university community and has established himself as a voracious reader and an authority on literature and music. An application for British citizenship was underway, and he had been planning to make his yearly trip to Wales for the Hay Festival when he was suddenly arrested.
The authorities are clearly trying to circumvent the criminal justice system and force Hicham out of the country. Normally they would have to wait for criminal proceedings to finish, but here they have managed to convince the prosecution to drop the charges in an attempt to remove him a quick, covert manner. The desire for justice is clearly not the driving force behind this, as Hicham was happy to stand trial and prove his innocence.
Hicham had a large social network and many of his friends are mobilising to prevent his release. Matthew Butcher, 20, a student at the University of Nottingham and member of the 2008-9 Students Union Executive, said, "This is an abhorrent abuse of due process, pursued by a government currently seeking to expand anti-terror powers. Following the debacle of the initial 'terror' arrests they now want to brush the whole affair under the carpet by deporting Hicham."
Supporters have been able to talk with Hicham and he said, "The Home Office operates with a Gestapo mentality. They have no respect for human dignity and human life. They treat foreign nationals as disposable goods - the recklessness and the cavalier approach they have belongs to a totalitarian state. I thank everyone for their support - it's been extremely heartening and humbling. I'm grateful to everyone who has come to my aid and stood with me in solidarity, from students to Members of Parliament. I think this really reflects the spirit of the generous, inclusive Britain we know - and not the faceless, brutal, draconian tactics of the Home Office."
Friday, May 23, 2008
Going in and out of biblical verse, Hagee preached: "'And they the hunters should hunt them,' that will be the Jews. 'From every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.' If that doesn't describe what Hitler did in the holocaust you can't see that."
He goes on: "Theodore Hertzel is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew who at the turn of the 19th century said, this land is our land, God wants us to live there. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said 'I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel.' So few went that Hertzel went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the holocaust.
"Then god sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says -- Jeremiah writing -- 'They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,' meaning there's no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don't let your heart be offended. I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel."
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
"It is clear to me that we need a left wing alternative to New Labour. That must either emerge from a coup inside Labour, which kicks out the neoliberal impostors that currently run the party, or it will have to come from people outside of the party.
"Either way the trade unions must play a central role in the process. I think we need to keep asking them why they support the government that is attacking them, and what it would take for them to break from Labour.
"I know that either option will be hard – and that we’ve already had a few false dawns – but I don’t believe that staying with New Labour is an option."
I find this encouraging in the main, despite the lingering hope in the former option, which would exhaust itself even more rapidly than John McDonnell's bid to challenge Brown. Monbiot's argument that there can be no possibility of support for the most right-wing government since the war is an important one, and I can't see much enthusiasm anywhere for retreating to the ranks of the Labour Party, despite the obvious pressure to do so. In the immediate term, we have much to rally behind - anti-fascist work, pay strikes and, as a reasonable series of measures, John McDonnell's ten point Charter for the labour movement. But in the future, and soon, we will have to break the compact in which elected parties effectively promise to protect the property of the rich and punish the poor through surreptitious welfare cuts and tax rises.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Yes, it's the bye-election of doom, and the above skit is an introduction to the marvels of Hainite electoralism. Peter Hain's suspicion is that the New Labour coalition that won in 1997 is breaking up, and may not win its 'historic fourth term'. He further avouches that this is because Labour is now offering two extremes. One, favoured by 'New Labour ultras', is the crude mimickry of Toryism that takes Joe Sixpack for granted and will do anything to mobilise the marginals. The other, bruited by ?, is hard left class war politics that will ultimately see Labour retreat to a 'comfort zone' without the votes of swinging suburbia. The Hain option is to steer a middle course between these hazardous extremes, courting all the elements of the coalition that led to New Labour's staggering majority in 1997. The trouble with this logic, as ever, is that it is based on the dismal pseudo-science of psephology, which treats voters as market-tested blocs to be manipulated with policy flavours and a few cheap bribes into prefering one management team over another. Its occasionally self-fulfilling prophesies determine the limits of the possible in the minds of New Labour strategists. Populations are strafed and cleaved with poor substitutes for class and ideology, such as 'identity', 'values', 'social type', and so on. Coventry Woman in coalition with Sierra Man will win it for the team, provided their libidinal 'value' glands are tickled. Then, perhaps by stealth, the team might be able to do a small amount of what it wants to do, provided it doesn't upset the rich and their media outlets. Such a logic is, of course, profoundly anti-democratic. It highlights how little the electoral process now has to do with registering the real needs and desires of the population.
Labour politicians have always thought that the right answer to being defeated by the Tories was to try to imitate them further. They tried it in 1987, and again in 1992, and somehow it didn't work. Time to move even further to the right, get the middle class on-side, flatter big business. By 1997, the Tories were in such a state and their ideas so hated that New Labour could win on less votes than it had lost with in 1992. A broom with a red rosette sellotaped to it could have won the election at that point. Now they are being punished by working class voters for a decade of right-wing rule, and they're still biting their nails about 'aspiring' voters (as if we 'core' voters lack aspiration). So, rather than banging your head against the brick wall of Labourism, you'd do better to have a listen to the surprisingly prophetic discussion by the late Paul Foot, supplied by the excellent resource 'Resistance MP3s': Part I and Part II. This was just after John Smith had died, and Blair and Brown were sealing the deal for what would become the monstrosity that we have lived under for over a decade now. Foot is brilliantly scathing about Blair and his supporters, and the basic analysis has hardly dated.