Friday, February 29, 2008
An Israeli minister today warned of increasingly bitter conflict in the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians could bring on themselves what he called a "holocaust".
"The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves," Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy defence minister, told Army Radio.
Shoah is the Hebrew word normally reserved to refer to the Jewish Holocaust. It is rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi extermination of Jews during the second world war, and many Israelis are loath to countenance its use to describe other events.
The Israeli government are not Nazis. They just do a good impersonation.
The implication is unmistakable: Britain is becoming swamped by dark-skinned people to the detriment of others. And why specifically the working class? There are chilling echoes here of Margaret Hodge's two recent bouts of racism in which she said white working class people in Barking in east London would vote BNP because they felt ignored. Actually, people in Barking voted BNP because either (a) they are extremely racist, or (b) because they are sick of New Labour privatising the NHS and the education system; wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers' money killing innocent people in the middle east; and refusing to build council houses. The link between the two is being fuelled by the BNP, New Labour and now, it seems, the BBC.
Why the sudden concern for the white working class now? The BBC have never shown any concern before. During the miners' strike in 1984 the BBC colluded with the government to make an incident where mounted police charged picketing miners look as though the miners had started it.
This series of programmes is being shown at a time when reactionaries in our society are trying to argue multiculturalism hasn't worked, that muslims are all evil and maybe racism isn't that bad after all. It is pandering to the government's agenda and it stinks. This is simple old fashioned divide and rule tactics. The government is trying to divide the working class at a time when the economy is going into recession, Gordon Brown is trying to enforce a 2% wage freeze on the public sector and billions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being used to prop up an ailing bank.
It is the working class that is being ignored regardless of their skin colour, ethnicity or religion and this is a blatant attempt to stir up racism to shift the focus away from class issues onto race issues. This is deplorable and should be condemned by all working class people.
We need to continue to build the left in Britain to fight against all forms of racism as well as the attacks on working people and the war.
Labels: white; bbc; racism
"Kosovo Madness" posted by Richard SeymourThe Exile revisits a classic piece by Mark Ames:
On the south side of the filthy Ibar River, 130,000 Albanians control a near-perfectly ethnically cleansed area; on the North, about 18,000 Serbs, 2,000 Albanians, and another 1,000 gypsies, Turks, Gorani and Bosniaks (the latter two Slavic Muslim people) co-exist uneasily. Only about five or ten Serbs remain on the south Albanian side, half of them priests holed up in a monastery, protected by barbed wire, trip wires, tanks and troops. That's 5-10 Serbs in a population of 130,000 Albanians. That's all they'll tolerate; or rather, that's all that KFOR can manage to protect. South Mitrovica used to have a massive gypsy quarter, at least 7,000 of them. If you walk up to the miners' monument on the high hill on the north Serb side, you can look down and see what happened to Mitrovica's gypsies: an entire section of south Mitrovica, along the south bank of the river, of burned-out white houses, charred white, roofless, blackened beams like burnt ribs. Every last gypsy who wasn't capped or torched had to flee the Albanian pogrom, right under NATO's nose. Some live here in North Mitrovica. Others live in Serb-held Zvecan, most in tents. The remainder are scattered around Serbia.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Buckley posted by Richard Seymour
“The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” —William F. Buckley, National Review, August 24, 1957.
He's dead. Good. The affection in which this rather unpleasant High Tory sprog of an oil baron is held is unsurprising and rather appropriate to the age. After all, look at his credentials: former CIA agent; a confederate of James Burnham, one of the earliest neoconservatives; a McCarthyite; a Goldwater guy; a defender of segregation who also thought uneducated whites should be denied the vote and, almost as a corollary, an explicit devotee of empire; and a trashy spy novelist on top of it all! With this commixture of white supremacism and white trash, what's not to love?
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Scenes from the new frontier. posted by Richard SeymourThe Myth of the Surge. The US overcomes its difficulties by arming all sides of the civil war and letting them have at it.
Resistance in the Korengal Valley. The US encounters an "outpost of regress" in the latest version of the Injun Wars.
Ex-SAS soldier blows apart government denials of involvement in torture. Ben Griffin explains that a joint US/UK task forces has carried out torture since the occupation began.
Palestinian resistance is the "inevitable consequence" of Israeli terror and occupation, according to the UN special rapporteur. John Dugard says in the report that "common sense ... dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation."
Bush approves of Turkey's invasion of Iraq. Ever troubled by 'outside intervention' in Iraq (the US invasion is not 'outside intervention' because Iraq belongs to America), the US has no problem with its dear ally mucking in. Shocked, shocked, by Saddam slaughtering Kurds, Turkish slaughter is just fine.
Britain calls for coup in Kenya. Britain's post-colonial domination of Kenya - still trying to 'hold the ring' between uncivilised tribes.
Stop and Search posted by Richard SeymourOne of the big issues for London youths is the growing use of unaccountable stop and search by the police. Offered as a solution variously to terrorism and crime, there are politicians pushing for it to be extended and for 'red tape' to be removed so that they don't have to keep any records. In the context of gun and knife crime in London, the recourse to an old method of harassment and humiliation, racist in its application, is disturbing. Some of you may recall the BBC's documentary about racism in the police, in which officers openly exulted in selecting motorists for harrassment if they looked Pakistani or if they were black. Imagine removing all accountability from stop and search, and taking away any requirement that the search is based on intelligence or reasonable suspicion. They'd be as happy as pigs in shit. And it's not just racism, it's class as well. It's the poorest who are targeted, white working class kids with no amenities left to socialise on the streets and automatically stigmatised as "teen gangs". In one 12 month period alone, 60,000 people were stopped under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Now, that's one form of stop and search, in one twelve month period, and those are the official figures. That is certainly an underestimate, because a lot of the time the police don't bother following procedures. And the idea that it has any effect on gun and knife crime at all is just implausible. It isn't just that such policies don't get to the social roots of the problem, although that is important. It is that the chances of actually finding someone with a deadly weapon using this tactic are quite low. The odds of them finding someone completely innocent of any crime and treating them like dirt are by contrast very high. What ends up happening is that young people get aggravated and get nicked, and more young people experience custody and arrest, even if they've done nothing wrong - and they don't need that. Unfortunately, the mayor has backed the stop and search policy, just as he supported the cops over Menezes. Need I even mention that Respect is standing on a very clear platform of opposition.
Ady Cousins has posted videos of last week's Respect meeting on stop and search, and I really hope to see more of these meetings across London, not least because people to know their rights and to hear from lawyers, policemen and others who know the arguments and know why the claims for stop and search are baloney. Anyway, here's a few samples:
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Obama's the man for capital posted by Richard Seymour
I actually think that an Obama victory would be substantially better than any of the other main candidates. I do think his antiwar position on Iraq is important, even if I'm not convinced that he is a principled 'antiwar' candidate - one recalls his statements on Iran before the NIE, and notes his various pro-Israel statements, which are kind of obligatory. And actually, yes, of course it does matter that he is the only black candidate and the first one to have had a serious chance of winning. It counts, even if it doesn't count for all that much. And it counts that he isn't an outright neocon, whereas I think the neoconservative faction would actually do very well under both McCain and Clinton, who are the two other serious candidates. His campaign seems to be promising, though he will not deliver, an end to the nightmare. I personally hope Nader's campaign does something more than implode on the first few steps - if nothing else because by raising a serious radical campaign, it will drive the agenda further to the Left. If Democrats want to whinge about this, as they can always be relied upon to do, they have to be able to make a case to would-be Nader voters why should not vote for a radical left-wing campaign, and it should be something better than 'you're ruining it!' But Obama, while he doesn't differ on a lot of principle with Clinton and McCain, is different enough that it matters. A victory for him will be seen around the world as a defeat for the 'war on terror', and that counts.
Still, I think it's worth pointing out that one reason his campaign is in rude health is because capital actually rather likes him. The top campaign donations for Obama, Clinton and McCain are online, respectively here, here and here. It is noticeable that finance-capital, the dominant sector of the US ruling class, appears to be swinging hard behind both Democrats, although Hillary's largest donor is DLA Piper, a huge law firm and lobbyist for various corporate interests. Although both have a very different position on the justice of the invasion of Iraq (Hillary is trying to pose as an opponent, but is one of the most hardline supporters), both are broadly committed to devoting more to the occupation of Afghanistan and less to Iraq. One assumes that the US ruling class is sick and tired of the Bush clique's adventurism and wants to try and consolidate Central Asia.
Yet, Hillary is in bad shape financially and her campaign is losing momentum in a very serious way, which is why in the run up to the key states of Texas and Ohio, she is resorting to the Islamophobic card, just as she has played on racism throughout the campaign. Quite a ruthless team, the Clintons, and I for one am not ready to say they're out of the primaries - far from it. Although I agree with those who say that Clinton probably wouldn't win the presidential race against McCain (and the polls support this), she's tough enough and dirty enough to pull through this first round. And if that happens, you've probably got a an absolute militarist nutcase for President, albeit one given to wearing the humanitarian surplice (along with Bob Dole, if you can believe that). And then it'll be party time.
The dearth of suspense [over the selection of Raul Castro for the presidency] underscored the authorities' tight control over the island and its 11 million people, many of whom hanker for relief from poverty harsher than that experienced in eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin wall.
The Bush administration called on Havana to move towards democracy, an implicit acknowledgment that Cuba retained the initiative despite Washington's economic embargo.
This is not one of the worst articles I've read, to be fair, but it does grate against common sense. Poverty in Eastern Europe before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc? Yes, okay, there was plenty of it, but what about after? Surely one of the more unfortunate metaphors he could have chosen. And what about that economic embargo? Does it have anything to do with poverty in Cuba? Well, this is to be expected. Corporate media is the Land of Forgetting, a constant stream of Shocking Images and headline grabbing events with no context and no connections, just a very random assortment of things. Journos have to work fast and, if sense and context is required, they are under immense pressure to rely on internalised narratives supplied by official ideology.
One of the effects of Washington's economic embargo (and constant warfare) was to make Cuba highly dependent on the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, with whom most of its trade was conducted. It was partly for this reason, and the revolution's failure to spread, that Castro adopted the Sovet Union's model of economic development, which entailed strict targets and a highly disciplined labour force. In a way, they didn't have much choice - in order to develop in a highly hostile world system, they had to produce a huge surplus of commodities and try to export them. They couldn't afford to have serious discussion and dissent, otherwise they risked seeing the whole system unravel and get incorporated into the Washington Consensus. The invasion, the nuclear stand-off, the surreptitious guerilla warfare, the terrorism, the hotels blowing up here and there, airline hijackings, 630 assassination attempts and so on, also contributed to making the island state quite a repressive one. Falls in worldwide commodity prices could make the system very vulnerable, and stagnation in the Soviet Union could lead to lower growth in Cuba. For all that, the Cuban economy sometimes did better on average than Latin America as a whole. And, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, the Cuban revolution survived. You can't explain that simply by reference to the 'tight control' of Fidel Castro and his bureaucratic clique. It has, clearly, a substantial popular base because of the changes it has managed to achieve in extremely difficult circumstances.
What would have happened if the Cuban regime had fallen in 1989 or 1991? Realistically, it would not have become a thriving workers' state. It would not be a rich little Barbados either. What other state in the Carribean would it most closely resemble? Haiti. An American plantation with an exiled ring of death squad mercenaries ready to discipline the population as and when required. I mean, really, if people want to talk about dictatorship and poverty, look no farther, and it can't be more than a few dozen miles from the Cuban mainland. Constant US subventions, the repeated crushing of democratic dreams, virtual slave labour, staggering poverty, horrible inequality, low life expectancy, hardly any public sector, just a disgrace and constant misery. A whole new class of Andy Apaids, bumpkin billionaire oligarchs, gangster capitalists, would have sprang up. Life expectancy would have plummetted and poverty would be far worse than it is.
In Russia, the catastrophe of shock therapy was unleashed on 2nd January 1992. The shock came in two ways – first, the price explosion (food suddenly cost four times what it used to), and second, the massive public expenditure cut-backs. Inflation did drop – from almost 250% in January 1992 to approximately 30% in December 1992. Progress indeed. By 1995, it was estimated that 80% of Russians had suffered a serious decline in their income. Income from work for families had dropped from being about half of all income at the start of the 1990s to just 39% in 2000. From a mortality rate of 11 per thousand in 1990, the death rate soared to 15 per thousand in 2000, peaking in 1994 at almost 16 per thousand. In fact, in this “unprecedented peace time mortality”, we find an alarming underlying truth about Russian society. Between 1990 and 1999, there were 3,353,000 excess deaths in the whole Russian territory. Male life expectancy fell from 63.5 years in 1991 to 57.6 years in 1994. Female life expectancy fell from 74.3 years in 1991 to 71.2 years in 1994.
In Cuba today, the average life expectancy is a bit higher than that for the average American and is among the highest in the world, and that average takes no account of the horrifying nadirs in life expectancy for the poorest in the US. This is just because healthcare is a priority in Cuba, whereas in the United States profit is the only priority. You don't set up systems to look after human beings under capitalism - what about self-reliance and responsibility? - so naturally you just let the workings of the market wipe out the surplus population. Cuba has a slightly lower infant mortality rate than the United States too. Recently, there has been a severe increase in infant mortality in the south-east of the United States, which has reached 17 per thousand live births among black people, a figure comparable to Vietnam and Albania. Cuba, while it is not a socialist paradise, is a functioning state against all odds, and the population has been spared the fate of the poorest Americans. Inequality is rising in Cuba, but it remains one of the least unequal societies on the planet, which is one indicator of social justice. It has overcome a legacy of racist segregation and colonialism and slavery in a way that other states have not been able to. Unfortunately, it looks like Raul Castro is preparing to liberalise the economy further, presumably hoping to see growth on the current Chinese model of mixing neoliberalism with strong political oversight. But China doesn't have the disadvantage of implacable US hostility, which has shut off most sources of US investment and income from multilateral institutions that are effectively controlled by the US. China isn't in the American back yard. China is important to US capital, and can retain a measure of independence. Cuba, to put it crudely, is just going to get fucked.
I would love to see Cuba become a thriving socialist society and overcome its present impoverishment and difficulties. But the only way that can happen is if Latin America and the Carribean is revolutionised, (quite independently of the top-down politics of Castro, I might add), and if the American Empire is defeated. ALBA, (the Bolivarian Alternatives for the Americas, uniting Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela) is a step forward in that direction. So, just to rile the neoliberal consensus and just to play nice with the Fidelistas, I am toying with a new slogan: "Down With the Velvet Revolution!" Obviously that ain't a cri de coeur.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Left Party in Hamburg posted by Richard Seymour"Without us it would be deadly boring in [Hamburg's parliament]," said top Left party politician Gregor Gysi at an election rally in the port city on Wednesday.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Serbian protesters, angry at the secession of Kosovo, certainly picked the right target. There's hardly anywhere in the world where people don't delight in seeing a US embassy go up in flames. Unfortunately, they also managed to burn some poor functionary to death. Inevitably, the old cliches will be drawn upon. The reaction will be put down to simple-minded nationalism, ethnic hatreds, ancient prejudices etc, augmented by an obstinate Serbian administration stirring things up. There's no manipulative demagogue around to help the fantasy this time, since he's kicked the bucket. Further, the pro-Western candidate, Boris Tadic, won the recent elections. Nevertheless, there are ominous murmurings about the Serb regime trying to make it difficult. These myths are entirely unhelpful to understanding what's happening, but they have been cultivated for almost two decades now.
The break-up of Yugoslavia, for all that it involved the instrumentalisation of nationalism, was not fundamentally about that. It was about changes in property forms, a neoliberalisation enforced by the IMF with predictably catastrophic results. Producing waves of strikes and protests, it also led to intense competition among the players in the federation about the political forms in which the changes would take place, who would benefit, and how. The two northernmost republics, Croatia and Slovenia, were also the wealthiest and had reason to resent paying taxes toward the federation, while their political elites were straining at the leash. They took up democratic demands in order to win popular support, but also encouraged reactionary brands of nationalism, especially in Croatia, where Tudjman gave vent to pro-Nazi and anti-semitic politics, not to mention virulent anti-Serb sentiment which would be formalised in state repression and exclusion. Though one cause of resentment was the redistribution of their wealth to the poorest autonomous region, Kosovo, they nonetheless opportunistically backed Kosovan protesters if it would weaken the Serbian republic. It had nothing to do with the legitimate grievances of Kosovan Albanians. Milosevic had successfully used the resentment about Kosovo's autonomy under the 1974 constitution, to put himself in a virtually impregnable position in the Serbian communist party. Many of the accounts melodramatically describe a cold manipulator and demagogue, and he was adept at diverting discontent and protest into nationalist sentiment, outplaying far more doctrinaire rivals such as Vuk Draskovitch. However, trying to get the broadest layer of support on his side and also hoping to rely on the JNA whose elite was concerned about its privileges, took a formally pan-Yugoslav position and kept to it throughout.
While none of the secessionist parties won a majority in the December 1990 elections, and while the IMF and EU initially preferred a federation-wide solution, European states eventually came to the aid of Slovenian and Croatian secessionists, with Germany under Chancellor Kohl taking the lead in recognition. Kohl's quite immovable hostility to the claims of pan-Yugoslav unity and his willingness to break agreements and EC rules, is often put down to domestic pressures from Germany's Catholic constituency and from Croatian emigres. Yet, for a recently reunified German state, the prospect of two wealthy allies in the Balkans was surely very tempting. And while the other EC states blamed Kohl's intransigence and bullying, they were quite happy to go along with secession as long as certain concessions were made. The UK delegation, for example, was mostly concerned about conserving the interests of British capital, by allowing the UK to opt out of the social contract in the Maastricht Treaty. But they all agreed in principle to the partition of Yugoslavia. And the US got in decisively on the action by backing Alija Izetbegovic, arming him with the assistance of Iran, helicoptering mujahideen into the republic and encouraging Izetbegovic to resist compromise settlements. The EC broke its own rules to recognise Bosnia, and so contributed to the centrifugal forces tending to civil war. The JNA's abortive interventions in Slovenia and Croatia were pitched in terms of defending the constitution and, in Croatia's case, an oppressed minority. Certainly, this is how Milosevic presented his case, although he proved a false friend to the Krajina Serbs. As for the Bosnian Serbs, with no guarantee as to their rights or status, they largely rallied to nationalist parties and paramilitaries. A plebiscite held by the nationalists found that most Bosnian Serbs would rather secede from Bosnia in the event of a secession on its part.
The wars of the 1990s resulted from an interaction between class restructuring within Yugoslavia and the intervention of external powers. As Radha Kumar has written, the break of Yugoslavia very closely resembles the classic colonial partition. Such partitions have a lousy record, of course, and the brutality of the ensuing wars show that Yugoslavia was no exception. But as soon as the Western powers opted for partition, the demonology became crucial. Thus, it was all about rabid Serbs being whipped up by a malicious demagogue bent on genocide. As a result, the deaths during the Bosnian war were inflated and the blame placed almost exclusively on the Bosnian Serbs, with the subsidiary insistence that Milosevic was behind it all. Thus, Bosnia became a UN protectorate, a colonial dominion with a light democratic facade overseen by an appointed High Commissioner. Then, as the Kosovan Albanian secessionist movement turned to armed struggle, in light of repression and the lack of any resolution on their behalf in international agreements, Milosevic adopted a classical counterinsurgency strategy. This involved quite severe atrocities, although it bears repetition that in 1998, the year preceding NATO occupation, the KLA were responsible for more deaths than the Serb military. Spying an opportunity, the US led a negotiations process which was intended to fail. When Milosevic didn't agree to the neo-colonial terms set at Rambouillet, once again he was a genocidal maniac. The war was launched with the promise that anythying between ten thousand and a hundred thousand bodies would be recovered in mass graves. Kosovo became another colonial outpost governed by the UN, and hundreds of thousands of Serbs were ethnically cleansed from the province. Today, Serbs in Kosovo are a beleaguered and reviled minority. And while the Serbian working class was strong enough to overthrow Milosevic, it was not strong enough to impose a government that would defend its interests, so we have had a succession of timid, neoliberal administrations. They have all made use of the Kosovo issue, which has been a running sore on account of gangsterism in the Kosovan Albanian political elite, ethnic violence and endless provocations. But they're pretty impotent. Kosovo has now attained 'independence' with colonial oversight - what kind of independence is that? I note that Serbian socialists have argued (scroll down) that they support Kosovo's right to secession on the grounds that only solidarity of this kind can undermine the imperialist stalemate. They also point out that there is a radical element in the independence movement that also calls for an end to colonial rule. Quite. Nationalism in Yugoslavia has been a constant alibi for imperialism, and it can't be otherwise. However, for those Western liberals and even lefties raised on a diet of Serb 'evil', it's rather important to resist the demonological temptation here. The facile dichotomies of ruthless expansionism and genocidal aggression versus multicultural unity and patriotic defense have to be abandoned at long last. Milosevic was thuggish, corrupt and autocratic, but he was not a fascist demagogue as has been claimed, and his farcical trial actually made that rather plain. Izetbegovic was responding to a set of circumstances that he didn't decisively shape, but he was not a democrat fighting the good anti-fascist fight a la the Spanish civil war. The demonisation of Serbia and the overestimation of opposing forces has gone on for long enough. The protesters who have trashed the American embassy have plenty of reason to be angry at Washington. We do too.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
It is a fairly commonplace myth in liberal historiography about South Africa that apartheid was a result of the triumph of illiberal Afrikaaners over the more liberal southern Cape which had the most British influence. It is actually a mytheme in British culture too, expressed in the joke: "Why is Holland so laid back? Because they sent all their mad bastards to South Africa." Another myth is that part of the reason for the ability of the racist-nationalist power bloc to impose entrenched segregation and then apartheid is the lack of pragmatism on the part of resistance groups such as the ICU, the Communist Party and the AAC, but this is to conflate pragmatism with liberalism and social compromise, itself a fairly commonplace gesture in bourgeois ideology. The marxist revisionists of the 1970s and their slightly pomo challengers in the 1980s provided the tools to take these myths apart, but they also furnished new insights into the ways in which 'race' operated as a regulatory principle and how it interacted with class. I am always intrigued by the way the fiction of race blends in with other social forms - class, ethnicity and gender, most obviously. One can easily think of examples: when I grew up a 'Protestant-looking' household was one that could pass for middle class; class itself is itself often understood as a kind of 'ethnicity'; the ideology of 'race' is usually coextensive with a conception of proper gender relations; and, as we will see later, the stratification within classes based on skills and trade has been susceptible to racial ordering. The racially ordered labour system in South Africa is as good a basis as any for investigating these interconnections
The roots of formal apartheid in South Africa, introduced in a series of measures by the Afrikaaner Nationalist government elected in 1948, were established in a sequence of legal, political, economic and ideological mutations that began with the transformation of the Southern African economy by the rise of mining capital. The principle of white supremacy had been established in various ways before – for example, in the Shepstonian policies of colonial Natal which “provided a ready-made rationalisation” for segregation (John Cell points out that the Natalian expert on the ‘Native Question’, Maurice Evans, also held that Natal and Basuto-land provided some of the fabric for possible segregation). And the constitutions of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic insisted on "no equality between coloured people and the white inhabitants". However, an increasingly stark, and rigid, racial order emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Through the imposition of racially organised restrictions in the labour system in the late 19th Century and the elaboration of legal doctrines pursuant to the subordination of the ‘Native’ after the Boer War, the ascendant capitalist elite sought to integrate African peasants into the labour supply on an affordable basis. The colour-coding of labour legitimised this subordination and helped to frustrate the development of class consciousness among the growing working class. Crucially, it met some of the demands of white workers on terms that could be accommodated by the ruling class.
However, this is not reducible to a ‘cheap labour’ thesis, which strikes me as a reductionist approach. ‘Race’ was not merely a pragmatic auxiliary to the capitalist management of the labour system, a cheap ‘divide and rule’ mechanism. The doctrine produced and imparted its own rationality, affecting the balance of risks for any would-be employer as well as for statesmen pursuing particular policies. The hyperstition of ‘race’ inflected debates about disease, population management and geography. And the relatively short-term goal of profitable mining was situated within broader debates about what constituted self-government (was it a political or cultural state?) and who was fit for it. It also interacted with religion (capitalist labour could be seen as an admirable system of reward and punishment for fallen man) and rationalism (in which segregated labour was eventually seen as the most efficient use of human resources for the improvement of all).
The historical context for this development is obviously one in which white supremacy was an organising principle throughout the colonial world, and in ex-colonies (for example, the post-bellum American Deep South provided much of the experiential input into the doctrine of segregation in the Republic of South Africa). This racial order infused and, to some extent, enabled the global emergence of nation-states and capitalist development. Initially, mining interests did not favour a rigid racial division of labour. Until 1885, the main mineral traded in Southern Africa was diamonds, and for much of the early trade, Griqua, Kora and Tlhaping producers were dominant. But white diggers had sought to impose their own monopoly on claim ownership with some success. For instance, while the British authorities in the Cape were reluctant to endorse overtly discriminatory legislation, diggers were required to have “a certificate of good character” from a justice of the peace or resident magistrate. The historian Paul Maylam notes that this did not prevent de facto white ownership and control of the diamond mining industry, and it may be that the policy was “racially laden” , particularly if one’s ‘race’ impeded a judgment of “good character”.
Even so, it is clear that whatever significant forms of segregation took place were still usually ad interim rather than premeditated and systematic. Indeed, the initiative often came from white workers who, beholden to a doctrine of "free white labour", sought to maintain and entrench their own relatively privileged status. What the mine-owners did want was to depress labour costs, and they did this by recruiting large numbers of African labourers for “unskilled jobs at minimal rates of pay”. This recruitment drive, especially as demand for labour outstripped supply in the 1890s, stimulated one of the many fears entertained by white workers – being ‘flooded’ or ‘swamped’ by cheap African labour.
The regnant ideology in the English-controlled Cape was assimilationist – the British would use what today is known as ‘soft power’ to win Africans “to civilization and Christianity”, as Sir George Grey put it. This assimilationist posture is often referred to in terms of a "Cape liberal tradition", but I question the utility of this phrase – it seems to re-describe rather than explain. After all, from 1875 there was a great deal of de facto segregation in the "liberal" Cape: for example on the railways, where one’s class of carriage was arranged both by class and race. Further, to de facto segregation was added de jure segregation with the National Reserve Location Act of 1902 which forced Bantu-speaking Africans into restricted locations. Parry makes the important point that the overall context of imperial rule had changed dramatically for Britain. If the British Empire in the first half of the nineteenth century had been expansionist, it had also attenuated its aggression with co-option and persuasion. The Indian Revolt of 1857 and the Jamaican Rebellion of 1865 both stimulated high-handed ‘revenge’ and an increasingly shrill assertion that the "lower races" could not be integrated and so would have to "disappear". Racial ideas meshed with Social Darwinist doctrines in official British propaganda. A new attitude to relations with the Africans was entailed, and it is one in which Victorian liberals were deeply implicated.
However, that background alone would not explain the scale, timing and nature of the transformation, much less the duration of employers’ resistance to entrenched segregation. It was the interaction of this transformation of imperial ideology with economic necessity that made was decisive. For example, the first of a series of cumulative transformations leading to entrenched segregation was arguably the 1894 Glen Grey Act, promulgated by Cecil Rhodes, which abolished communal land ownership, taxed those who could not prove they had worked in the last three months, and imposed male primogeniture laws for the inheritance of land, with the intended effect of driving more and more Africans who had hitherto subsisted on collectively owned land into the workforce. The legislation is named after the turbulent colonial territory that Rhodes was made Prime Minister of in 1890. The British had repeatedly considered similar measures to break up the old African social fabric and win the loyalty of some. It was initially conceived of as an adaptation to indigenous resistance, and this preceded the ‘mineral revolution’, never mind the arrival of Cecil Rhodes. However, the Glen Grey Commission that was put to work in 1892 was aware of the region’s hitherto protection from the pressures of the labour market, and hostile to it. And Rhodes was certainly anxious to satisfy his labour shortages. Whether or not the legislation was primarily intended to supply cheap labour, it did so, and provided a model for others who wanted to do so. At first blush, too, the legislation would not seem to advance segregation so much as integration, even if on a highly unequal basis, since its thrust was to drive African workers into capitalist relations alongside white workers. However, while it stimulated the production of a large African proletariat to work in the mines, it also established separate laws with respect to land and taxation. Segregation was not complete separation – it was separation for the purposes of domination and exploitation. The success of this policy inspired much of the legislation later recommended by the South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC) and legislation enacted post-Union.
The significance of this legislation is not only the precedent it set. Part of its importance is what it says about the racial order that it was acting on. In South Africa, the arguably mundane business of specialisation of skills and class differentiation had been enchanted by its interaction with ‘race’. Just as certain forms of menial labour was seen as being beneath whites, skill was increasingly a cultural achievement rather than a vocational one, a gift of whiteness rather than of training and labour market fluctuations. Such conceits guided future legislation. In 1898, it was deemed that no ‘coloured’ person could hold an engine-drivers’ certificate of competency. And in 1903, the Volksraad in Transvaal adopted a regulation explicitly barring all but competent whites from underground blasting. When Chinese labourers were imported as a temporary stopgap to the labour supply problem in 1904, they were specifically excluded from over fifty separate skilled trades.
The production of the new racial order was a response to various actual and perceived problems for the rulers of South Africa. In the first place, the British were committed to the principle of white supremacy. The British high commissioner to South Africa, Viscount Milner, had explained to Prime Minister Asquith before the Boer War began that the principle of defending the ‘Native’ from oppression at the hands of both Dutch and English in South Africa was at odds with the principle of winning a loyal ally in the Dutch. Secondly, mining magnates had complained Paul Krueger’s administration and its failure to produce a steady supply of the needed labour especially for the Witwatersrand. The solution could not involve coercion of a too obvious kind, since the ‘Native Laws’ of the Boers that resembled slavery had been an issue utilised by the British government in its war propaganda. Yet, if the transformation that took place during and after the Boer War was animated in large part by the desire of central mining interests for cheap labour, the enabling discourses were legal, political, scientific, bureaucratic and cultural as well as economic. It required a vast effort at social engineering, the adoption of a bureaucratic rationality and a form of knowledge about the ‘Native’ that was neither as variegated nor ambiguous as that possessed by missionaries. As Adam Ashforth points out, the ‘Native’ had to be carefully constructed to be the subject of laws. SANAC, appointed by Viscount Milner following the Inter-Colonial Customs Conference of 1903 at which delegates from Britain’s regional colonies were in attendance, was to produce this kind of knowledge. The proper subject of ‘Native’ law was thus defined variously as ‘Kafir’, ‘Bantu’, ‘Native’ or ‘savage’, and this definition itself overlaid with assumptions of cultural inferiority and disability. In particular, he was understood to be bound by feudal political forms and antiquated modes of production that were unproductive. It was therefore necessary to impose restrictions on ‘Native’ land ownership, and undermine their existing social forms with the imposition of primogeniture. If only it were possible to “do away with free land,” one could “strike at the root of much that is most unsatisfactory in Native life”. Further, intermixture between the races should be avoided, and the ruling race’s supremacy should be carefully conserved. Capitalist social-property relations and white supremacy were cosubstantial with civilization.
Other discourses co-produced the new segregated order. The bubonic plague had arrived in South Africa in 1900, with the Boer War in procession. A surfeit of metaphors through which the ‘Native’ was understood as ‘disease-ridden’ came into widespread useage. The description was often used as if it were cognate with ‘lazy’, ‘uncivilized’ and ‘poor’. These metaphors contained a hidden cargo of economic resentment, but they also induced a set of policies designed to reduce the intermixture of African and white populations. In the case of Cape Town, the policy of moving Africans to Uitvlugt was considered a great success. It produced a temporary labour shortage, but this could be managed if the location was used as a source for labour to be funnelled to employers based on ‘pass laws’. Not only was the ‘Native’ considered diseased. He was also the source of viral discontent, especially where there was too great an effort to civilize him and where he had developed expectations beyond his means. He stirred up discontent and was unwilling to perform the manual labour that was required of him.
The SANAC recommendations provided the basis for future segregationist legislation. But as Legassick points out, a large part of the responsibility for disseminating these ideas is borne by those liberals who pressed for self-government for South Africa along the lines of Australia and Canada. Lionel Curtis, an advocate of integrating South Africa into a single Commonwealth state on the basis of self-government, was also one of the earliest explicit advocates of segregation. Other liberals, such as James Bryce, considered the ‘disaster’ of Reconstruction states in the American South an exemplary lesson in the danger of extending self-government to the ‘natives’. While the South Africa Act of 1909 granted self-government for whites, ‘Natives’ were the subject of authoritarian colonial relations. The Natives’ Land Act of 1913 restricted African land rights dramatically. Subsequently, some of the most violent labour disputes in the immediate aftermath of WWI - the South African government actually bombed the workers involved - involved the white working class wanting to avoid the status of 'Kafir'.
I leave the chronology there, although the resistance through the 1920s and 1930s, and what it says about combined an uneven development, is a compelling topic in itself. But let me put together some conclusions. It is obviously not possible to read off the transformation in South Africa’s racial order from economic developments. However, it is possible to say that among other things, the racial order was a particular ordering of labour, a colour-coding of labour’s status. It was increasingly seen as a natural means of managing both labour relations and the labour supply. The reshaping of the racial order did meet economic interests that were clearly expressed through policymaking institutions, and these emerged specifically from the transformation of the South African economy by the discovery of diamonds and gold in particular. It acted to consolidate Britain’s imperial tutelage of and economic position in the mineral-rich territory, by uniting its interests with those of whites in South Africa. Although South Africa’s capitalist class was not always the only or main agent pressing for entrenched segregation, only when that agency shifted from general resistance to aggressive support for such policies did the demand for them become effective. The spread of capitalist social-property relations and the imposition of white supremacy were co-extensive in a way that was possible chiefly because of the way in which capitalist relations were borne by the agency of empire. This is both because of the racist doctrines through which the British Empire came to understand its subjects, but also because it involved a capitalist society in an encounter with pre-capitalist societies which seemed self-evidently ‘backward’.
Love Letter to America posted by Richard SeymourYou know, Lenin's Tomb is sometimes unfairly accused of being anti-American. Describe Americans in conventionally misanthropic terms (fat lazy greedy pie-eating bastards, that sort of thing), and you're liable to be accused of anti-Americanism. But, and if I may be delicate for a second, the Tomb does not subscribe to this fashionable contempt for America. We fly the stars n stripes proudly and boldly at every opportunity. True, we generally add a few flames beforehand, but it's only a little joke. We enjoy your Seinfeld and your animated shows with racist humour as much as anyone. And so, as a gesture of appreciation, I give you 'America':
Don't worry, everything is rolling along as planned in Afghanistan. Our troops are winning hearts and minds, they¹re rebuilding, they're defeating the insurgency. Well, there¹s the small matter of Canadian soldiers beating the hell out of Afghan detainees, then covering it up and then, once it's discovered, of stalling the investigation for more than a year. And then there¹s those massive bombings. As was noted by Amir Attaran, an Ottawa law professor who blew the whistle on the abuse, "When the military is investigating the military, which is inconvenient for the military, is it any wonder that the military rags the puck?"
In fact the investigation took so long to get started that they can¹t even track down the detainees any longer. And the Afghan they hired to do so was assassinated by insurgents. Probably nobody else will be applying for his job. Nor can they go to the medical records of the detainees, many of whom were treated by Canadian doctors. Why? Oops, it seems that the medical records from that time period, well, they just disappeared. Can you believe these guys?
Well, then, no wonder the Tories don¹t see the big deal in handing detainees over to the Afghan authorities. The Tories don¹t discriminate hell, if torture and abuse are good enough for us, well, it ought to be good enough for the Afghans police. Small problem though, Kandahar¹s head torture master, Governor Asadullah Khaled, just fired somewhere between 100-250 police for corruption. Or, maybe it has something to the assassination attempt on his life and the growing power of the Taliban in and around Kandahar. The firing was done without notice, even to Canadian troops, who found out by surprise. If it was an attempt to eliminate a Taliban base inside the police then it failed to dampen the vigour of the insurgent movement. Within a two day spread two enormous suicide bombs killed a total of perhaps 150 people, including the "auxiliary police commander", ie. warlord, of Kandahar along with 35 of his men who were watching a dog fight. With potentially 125 people dead, this was the largest suicide bomb attack in Afghan history.
The Taliban have been having a lot of success in recent months eliminating important political figures inside Afghanistan, it seems. Then on Monday, insurgents struck again, with a suicide car bomb attack on Canadian troops that killed 35 civilians. The Canadians, it seems, were warned that there was a suicide plot afoot and that they should stay on their base until local police rounded up the attacker. But the Canadians refused to heed the warnings six of them, in fact - and now the governor, Khaled, is none too happy with the Canucks. Tory Defense Minister, Peter MacKay, has responded with the usual Tory line that everything is good and that the Taliban are on the run, saying that the bombings didn't indicate any increase in Taliban activity. He better hope not because last year was already a record year for suicide bombings in Afghanistan.
A Note on Useful Idiots posted by Richard SeymourLenin did not, in fact, coin the phrase "useful idiots" to describe his supporters in the West. He is not known to have used the phrase at all. The fact that the legend is so widely believed and recited by conservative commentators suggests that it is a form of projection, reflecting their own belief that dissent is treason. It might sometimes be that, and treason is usually perfectly legitimate, but in most cases dissent is just that and no more. The thought that, whatever one’s (implicitly idle) moral claims for doing so, to oppose the government is to be objectively for the other side, was frequently aired after 11 September 2001. The Daily Telegraph even briefly gave space to a semi-regular column charting the statements of various ‘useful idiots’ who opposed military intervention in Afghanistan. Mona Charen, a neoconservative dimwit, has written one of those books in the vein of 'how treasonous liberals give aid and comfort to bin Laden', called Useful Idiots. There are similar books devoted to Fidel Castro and his "useful idiots" in Hollywood or Che Guevara's "useful idiots". Those who supported the Sandinistas were communism's "useful idiots". A popular charge among Islamophobes is that one is a 'Dhimmi', which amounts to pretty much the same thing.
And then there is the use of the term "objectively", which is drawn from the same discursive detritus. Christopher Hitchens, scholar of Orwell on top of everything else, once felt compelled to point out that those who opposed war with Iraq and didn't trust the INC were "objectively" pro-Saddam. Andrew Sullivan, citing Orwell, repeated the charge and still cleaves to it, although he has diluted the force it somewhat by saying that he is objectively pro-Kim Jong Il. This sort of language was once used by Stalinist scribes in thrall to a crude stageist version of historical materialism, in which history is an 'objective' process. The moralising illusions of the petit-bourgeois "Trotskyite" intelligentsia who think they can attack the Five Year Plan without opposing themselves to historical progress were a source of confident scorn back in the day. It is true that George Orwell himself was once caught up in this idiotic logic, when he wrote to the Partisan Review in 1942:
Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, 'he that is not with me is against me.'
He revised his position in 1944, denouncing such a logic as "dishonest" among other things:
We are told that it is only people’s objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are ‘objectively’ aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true, the ‘objectively’ line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore ‘Trotskyism is Fascism’. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated. This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people’s motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions ... To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like.
A caveat. To even talk about what Orwell said during the war is almost to invite endless rounds of humiliating idolatry and scholasticism. For those who like Orwell the patriot and anti-communist, there is some reactionary drivel written by him in different contexts to support their claim; for those who like Orwell the revolutionary, there is a great deal to support that too. I simply mention him in this context because he is frequently cited as an authority by Cold War liberals who rather fancy the idea that anyone who opposes them is a fool or a scoundrel, and because it puts Hitchens' own claim in an interesting light. Well, anyway, it so happens that the phrase and the conceptual clutter it entails is a cynosure of right-wing discourse, and it has nothing to do with the Left, or with Lenin. The language corresponds to a highly authoritarian political purview. Decoupling one's statements from any social reality that they may refer to, the terminology is usually an attempt to shift the argument from anything to do with truth-claims to one about loyalty and one's entitlement to speak and be taken seriously. It could loftily be described as 'testimonial injustice', since it is an attempt to determine the outcome of a debate according to the priorities of power and since it deflates the validity of certain claims on a basis other than their truth or otherwise. But the usual, and more mundane, term is 'bad faith'.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Hegemony Begins At Home posted by Richard Seymour
Recently, our host was surprised that the Tomb’s American readership now equalled that of the UK. As an American, I'm not entirely surprised. Perspective is a bitter medicine, but once you realize you're living in a nation which doesn't admit its hegemonic relationship towards other States, but still expects to be obeyed by them without question, a fresh point of view is the only thing which convinces us that we're still the sane ones.
This slow creep to Empire began a long time ago. It now spans the globe, but its first victims are still at our doorstep. Before our 'special relationship' with Britain, before we were propping up and knocking down dictators to keep the sources of our energy reserves divided, there was the small matter of the people who were already living on this continent before we arrived. The most deplorable men of the 20th century looked to the American Reservation system as an example of how to deal with 'inconvenient' groups. With this history, and with the sorts of attitudes underscoring its design, it is no wonder that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is among the worst-managed branches of the American government. Since those subject to it have no say in how it operates, the BIA is run with the same 'genius' that decided to disband the entire Iraqi armed forces, from General to Private, so as to work from a 'clean slate.' Thanks to a court order in 2001, the BIA is cut off from the Internet to prevent them from losing any more of the Indians' funds in their care. As related in John Anderson's Follow the Money, the wholesale looting of everything the Bush Regime has their fingers in extended to the Department of the Interior and BIA. The infamous Jack Abramoff was involved in taking money from one tribe to lobby against another, then taking money from the party being lobbied against to lobby in the opposite direction, and while his days as a lobbyist with the scruples of an arms dealer are over, many reservations are still in ruinous condition.
Should someone be under the mistaken apprehension that the US moved smoothly from a conquest-driven, genocidal model to a faultless if bumbling bureaucracy, they may wish to reflect on the career of Dillion Meyers, who was placed in charge of the BIA from 1950 to 1952, and his successor, who followed many of his policies. One of the most interesting things about Meyers, apart from his conscious effort to abolish Indian hopes for autonomy by forcing the residents of the reservations to assimilate rather than renovating the reservations, was the job he had held previously. He was in charge of the Japanese interment camps during WWII, as Richard Drinnon relates in Keeper of the Concentration Camps.
Indigenous peoples across the world won a victory in September of 2007, when the U.N. general assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 143 to 4. (The reason that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States voted against it should be obvious.) A constant theme on Lenin's Tomb has been the Palestinians' right to, and need for, sovereignty. This is a need shared by the Lakota Indians in the United States. Unlike many of the tribes in the eastern US, the US government clearly treated the Sioux Nation as a sovereign entity prior to an expansionist campaign which left the Lakota without control over their own borders. In light of this recent UN Declaration, and the inability of the United States to comply with a succession of treaties it signed with these Indians' ancestors, prominent delegates reasserted the sovereignty of their nation in December of 2007. They argue that their recognized representatives are illegitimate patsies for the BIA, and have invited American citizens to join them in their new nation.
Their legal case, referencing national and international law, is laid out on the website of The Republic of Lakotah, an advocacy group working to promote a peaceful separation from the United States. They've also collected a sizable list of grievances against the US government.
Some have suggested that independence won't aid them in redressing their problems; however, it is difficult to see how exchanging an inept, corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs for a sovereign entity with control over its own borders wouldn't be preferable. As with the Palestinians, hopelessness is among the chief problems plaguing the reservation system. Alcoholism is also prevalent, and without the ability to control borders, activists have been arrested for preventing the flow of alcohol into the reservations.
Many have questioned the legitimacy of the activists. In response, I wonder who elected Nehru, Gandhi, Jomo Kenyatta, or Mandela, or any of the other anti-colonial champions of the 20th century. Many of those leaders were subsequently democratically elected by grateful citizens of newly reborn states. The process of independence for the Republic of Lakotah continues with Russell Means, an AIM co-founder and Republic of Lakotah spokesperson, visiting the Mohawk Indians to relate in his own words what they are trying to accomplish and to answer questions. They continue to seek the support of other nations, and considering the number of post-colonial nations in the world, have some reason to hope they'll be recognized. Bolivia's President is an Indian peasant by birth, and there are any number of governments outside of the American Hegemony (Venezuela, Cuba, Iran) who might recognize the young nation out of solidarity.
Means is, however, a problematic figure. He has had his differences with the rest of AIM in the past, notably when he travelled to Nicaragua to help organise Miskito rebels against the Sandinistas. The 19th century American capitalist ideology he appeals to was once championed by the same men who advocated extermination of his people. That the colonial powers were capitalist was not simply some accident of history, but rather this expansion is central to capitalism. Means is a libertarian, but past libertarian experiments have not fared well, to put it mildly. Should this enterprise succeed, it will do so because it is not, in fact, a libertarian experiment. Though damaged by centuries of abuse, there remains a core social structure, a central idea, of how the Sioux people relate to one another. Should this new nation be recognized by by Bolivia, by Cuba, by Venezuela, it is likely these groups will have as much impact on the new nation as Russell's libertarianism, and the culture which is to be preserved by this separation will have a stronger impact still.
It is my hope that the base Means is attracting is better than his faults and as good as his most worthy ideals, as this may well take decades to fully resolve and it will be those who are attracted to this cause now who see it through. Further, while Means is certainly the most visible activist promoting this cause, he is certainly not the only one. At this stage, calling attention to their legitimate right to secede from the United States, as well as present and past abuses, is much more important than whether or not they immediately are recognized as a country or the specific details of the form of that nation. Surely, there is a better answer than casinos for some and abject poverty for others. I, for one, wish the whole movement the best of luck. Hegemony ends one revolution at a time.
Northern Jelly posted by Richard SeymourA friend of mine who works in the City and is knowledgeable about the laws, regulations and internal procedures of investment banking said to me the other day: "Investors are the most pampered people in the world. There are so many laws and regulations designed to protect their rights, it's unbelievable." Laws designed to protect the property rights of the owners. Who would have imagined such a state of affairs? Well, today investors are predictably furious about the temporary nationalisation of Northern Rock. If a neoliberal government like ours undertakes a nationalisation, you know it's serious. But the owners aren't happy. Their shares, their shares! The socialistic government has stolen their money! Somehow they promise to mount a legal challenge, just as the shareholders in Railtrack did when the government allowed the company to go bankrupt rather than bailing it out with yet further billions in public money. The City is also alarmed. The government exists, as far as they are concerned, to defend their interests and as far as they are concerned that means the guarantee of private profits with public money, and private ownership with public risk. This sort of thing gives people ideas.
Nevertheless, there cannot be too much shock. Practically everyone knew that nationalisation was the only option in this case, and it was simply not plausible to continue ploughing in billions - the Bank of England has loaned the company £55bn, which is eleven times its value at its peak last year, and many more times its present value of £380m, while - while the owners floundered and frittered it all away. If anything, it would have been an obvious decision several months ago, long before a single penny of subsidy had been issued. The government has tried desperately to avoid it. And after all, the nationalisation is only a temporary measure designed as much to protect the institution and return to private capital in good condition once the economy gets back into good shape. And it will be run by highly paid individuals from the banking industry, such as Whatever the shareholders say, the rentier class will probably be quite relieved as a whole. Even Martin Wolf of the FT backs the nationalisation and gives a few reasons why the grasping bastards who have run the thing into the ground shouldn't be given any compensation. The Tories are arguing that this decision amounts to a 'humiliation' for Alistair Darling, and are raising the spectre of a return to the 1970s (a much maligned and underestimated decade). On the one hand, it's faintly embarrassing in itself that to change your mind is supposed to be a source of embarrassment, but on the other hand, Darling has sort of brought that on himself by straining so hard to avoid nationalisation. Anatole Kaletsky is predicting catastrophe on the absurd grounds that nationalisation is a form of market 'distortion' and anyway the government is crap at running things. Are there really people who still believe in the free market fairytales? Does he not know how his employer pays the bills?
Nationalization is often a poor substitute for socialisation rather than a synonym for it. It is usually a prophylactic, in fact, against such measures, a manageable half-way house. In this case, it doesn't even go as far as that. It is a temporary stop-gap, without any guarantees as yet for the workers in the bank, which places £100bn of public money on the line, with the company's future co-determined by a small number of experts from the industry, in order to return the business to private ownership as soon as possible. But still, it does give people funny ideas. You know, in a world where Morales is nationalising the gas industry, Chavez nationalised much of the oil industry (and was going to nationalise the whole banking industry), and even the Scottish executive is planning to fully nationalise the railways, the convenient myth that public ownership is 'unrealistic' is starting to look, well, unrealistic. And that raises all sorts of questions. We were told that privatising utilities would bring us more efficient, lower cost services. British Gas has just jacked up the prices and is making record profits, while energy companies like Npower do the same. The privatization of water has been disastrous in many places, and in the UK it has led to exorbitant costs and low maintenance. The privatised airports are uncomfortable and overcrowded because they allot most space to commercial facilities and provide little seating or other amenities. Privatization also led to increased unemployment and diminished bargaining power for labour. In each of the industries privatized by the Tories, employment fell dramatically - in steel by 75%, in railways by two thirds, and in electricity and water by about a half. Right-wing economists complain about over-employment, but the danger was always in the contrary temptation - to cut necessary staff and make the service unsound. And what is the point of having 'competition' in the banking industry when they all provide much the same lousy service and rip you off? Wouldn't a publicly owned and accountable industry be better for customers? And why should we have to pay for their crisis? If a company can't or won't keep its business running to keep people employed, shouldn't the government use its initiative, nationalise, defend jobs and engage in industrial conversion if necessary? Oh, Jesus no, don't start thinking like that! Winter of discontent, remember? You don't want to go back to the bad old days, especially not when everything is so fabulous.
Update: It looks like the unions' fears were right: the government is going to shed thousands of jobs from the bank.
I could almost have called this post 'How neoconservatives perish' if the title wasn't already spoken for. When Harry and Dave mourn together, you know a warmonger is dead. In this case, it is Tom Lantos, a Henry Jackson Democrat who recently kicked the bucket. I have little interest in Lantos, but since he is the object of post-mortem encomium and praise, it's worth looking at what the warmongers find so loveable.
Lantos is praised by his mourners for having resisted the Nazi death squads in Hungary, which is indeed immensely creditable. However, the sole reason he is really being mourned by these chumps is because he supported US foreign policy with a great deal of pecksniffery about human rights. Of course, he does have a reputation for supporting human rights, but it is entirely undeserved. He supported military appropriations for El Salvador's death squads at a time when the local ruling class was literally inclined toward genocide according to US analysts. He supported America's bombing of Tripoli, that actually killed up to 100 civilians, and in fact regretted that America was not aggressive enough in taking "punitive strikes" of that kind. When the Iran-Contra affair blew up, he told Oliver North that he regarded him with "respect, admiration and affection," and said it would be a privilege to make a financial contribution to a defense fund established by the lieutenant colonel's Naval Academy classmates. He defended the American state's incestuous relationship with the Saudi dictatorship on the grounds that it supplied a great deal of oil. It is true that Lantos co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, but then this was effectively a front for the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which is often used to devise 'humanitarian' cover for American wars and pro-US dictators and ethnic cleansers and so on. The same Hill & Knowlton switchboard that forwarded calls for Lantos and chums was also performing the same service for Suharto and the leaders of the FRAPH in Haiti. The foundation received its cash from the NED, and also from that other front organisation, the Committee to Free Kuwait, and on its board was vice-chair of Hill & Knowlton, Frank Mankiewicz (one of Lantos' friends). One of his other concerns, the Congressional Human Rights caucus, was important in disseminating propaganda during the first Gulf War.
It is true that Lantos hadn't liked the idea of supporting either side in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, but then his main concern was Israel (AIPAC loved him for his devotion to the blue and white), and I might add he never wasted a word criticising anything Israel might to do the Palestinians that he so reviled. He did pretend to support the Kurds of Iraq, but he was also a long-time defender of the Turkish state. He was a Holocaust-denier when it came to the Armenian genocide, until such time as Tayyip Erdogan's government made friends with Iran and Syria, at which point he abruptly turned on his heel and voted to censure Turkey's genocide - not, as he made clear, for any principled reason, but just to punish the Turkish government for its political mis-steps. In the end, Lantos was a miserable apologist for Bush's war in Iraq, having promised Colette Avital of the Israeli Labour Party that the US would impose "a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you". And he rebuked criticism of its scandalous Guantanamo gulag (which latter point made him a hero to the neocons). So, let's drop the pretense that he was a lifelong freedom fighter. Once you've supported death squads and dictators, and sacrificed the truth about one of the biggest extermination campaigns of the twentieth century on the altar of a geopolitical alliance with a racist state, you don't get to call yourself a supporter of human rights and a fierce opponent of genocide any more. In reality, he spent a great deal of time advocating American expansion and the aggressive pursuit of its interests, which often involved criticising the human rights record of opponents of the US while supporting America's worst atrocities. In pursuit of this, he commingled the exact same proportion of bombast, sanctimony and realpolitik with respect to American foreign policy that every neoconservative does. Like other hawkish Democrats, he just didn't share the neoconservative hostility to liberal nostrums such as environmentalism, gay rights or welfare.
Well, doesn't that just sum up the isomorphic relationship between neoconservatism and the 'pro-war Left'? Hitchens would probably be a neoconservative if they weren't hung up on religion and 1950s Americanism. Berman was persuaded of the neoconservative case over Iraq, and explains that he would have loved to be wholly with them, but they regarded his "drippy, left-wing" language about progress and so on with contempt, and he could never understand their domestic agenda in the 'culture wars'. BHL, interviewing William Kristol, was alarmed by the latter's support for the death penalty, but exuberant about a generation of American intellectuals committed to human rights and so on. They are so close, yet not close enough. They network together, dine together, appreciate one another's jokes, sign one another's petitions. Oh, but then some silly issue comes up at the dinner table. A neocon will say that the liberal support for egalitarian permissiveness dilutes the martial values and strong work ethic that America needs to defend itself. A liberal warmonger will reply that the neoconservative hostility to gender equality, gay rights, and social welfare makes a mockery of their support for the humanitarian agenda internationally. Yes, one neocon will reply, but not all neoconservatives oppose gay rights and it isn't as important as ensuring the conditions for freedom in which civil society can fight for such rights. But, the liberal hawk avers, not all neoconservatives supported democracy in Haiti and your record has been spotty to say the least, what with the mass terror in Central America - we have the advantage of consistency, or at least some of us do. Yes, the neocon godfather interrupts from the top of the table, but your 'consistency' is purchased at the price of impotence. If you don't play the game of real politics and aren't prepared to support America's real interests even if it means getting your hands bloody in the short-term, even if it means torture chambers and death squads and a bit of rape, then no one will listen to you and your words amount to nothing. The world isn't a nice place, much as we would like it to be, and we must do what is in America's interests, because those are the interests of democracy. So, one timorous liberal who isn't sure he should be there chips in, are you saying that support for human rights is a rhetorical component of the struggle for American supremacy which will eventually deliver strong liberal capitalist societies for most of the world? Doesn't that actually suck? At which point the rest of the table in one voice tell him to shut up.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
On this note, here is a headline from yesterday's New York Times: US Struggles to Tutor Iraqis in Rule of Law. You can forget the fact, if you like, that the US actually built up the present Iraqi administration almost from scratch, populated its departments with personnel from sectarian parties and death squads, parcelled out power on a sectarian-cum-patrimonial basis, drove a sectarian constitution, etc etc, and therefore any problems that 'Iraqis' might be having with the 'rule of law' are entirely down to the occupiers. That confounding hypocisy is now so typical, it's stereotypical. But so is the ideological structure into which it fits. I have not the time now, but - knowing the kinds of dreck I've just sighed over and tried to put out of my mind - I am certain that a careful sifting through the American press coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan over the last six years or so would yield dozens, if not hundreds of examples of this kind of colonial ideological pattern. The fact that this ideology is now professionalised through organisations like the NED and IRI, and that it has a professionalised lingo to boot - oh, you can imagine, 'exporting democracy', 'training country x in democratic practises', 'tutoring so-and-so in the rule of law', as if it was all a matter of step-by-step technocratic exercises rather than a pitch for hegemony - means that it has a faintly neutral air, despite its its invidious assumption that self-government is a cultural rather than political state. That is, of course, on purpose - but it shouldn't stop us from noticing the pedigree.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Nick Davies' Observer Hit posted by Richard Seymour
It is, of course, the fifth anniversary of the biggest antiwar march London has ever seen. Since I was there, and since I recall it with great clarity, I feel like making one thing clear. It was not just the cheerful, loud, bouyant event that was depicted in the newspapers - not, as David Aaronovitch angrily put it, one long Coca-Cola advert. It was not just the suspiciously festive occasion depicted in Ian McEwan's snide novel, Saturday (if keeping Saddam and all his evil works is better than removing him, the hero muses, isn't this joyous exuberance out of place?). Oh yes, there were the amusing placards, the amazed suburbanites, the angry young men, the choirs, the celebrities, the nuns and novices, the Buddhist monks, the costumed performers, the steel drums, and stirring oratory. Even that impeccable opportunist Charles Kennedy turned up. There was, really for the first time, some communication between the British Left and Muslims, stalls flogging the Koran and the kefiyeh yards away from stalls with the Communist Manifesto. It had everything rom Greens, CNDers, Labour supporters, trade unionists, anticapitalistas and the SWP (let's face it, you're never likely to miss us on a demonstration), to staid Liberal Democrats, the Muslim Association of Britain, previously apolitical teenagers, even a good portion of Tories. It was exultant, and it was what democracy looks like. But for my money it was also tense. I swear I walked into several angry arguments on the way home. One of them I intervened in, and it developed into an angry shouting match in someone's shop. And everyone knew that however big the march was, they still had the armies, the propaganda machine, the three-line whip, the knuckle-crunchers, most of the media machine, and the intelligence services. It would take something more, such as the collapse of Blair's cabinet, to force a retreat on the war. As we later discovered, we came quite close to that.
Nick Davies, looking back on the catastrophe that unfolded, started to pursue the story of how the media became an echo-chamber for the powerful, particularly with its almost completely uncritical recitation of the lies about weapons of mass destruction. His latest book, Flat Earth News, was borne of that enterprise. The book itself is a scathing critique of the media - not just some of it, all of it. The self-serving myths of media rectitude are taken to pieces. This is not Manufacturing Consent. It doesn't have the same analytical rigour, and it does have an irritating line or two about 'left-wing conspiracy theories', whatever that means. But still, from a journalist who has spent years working in the capitalist press, it turns out to be a genuinely radical and enlightening attack on his profession. Among the best chapters are his investigation of the origins of the propaganda about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and his scornful attack on The Observer. It is the latter which I want to talk about. We all remember The Observer's increasingly bilious attacks on the Left, its enthusiastic endorsements of Blair, and its endless stream of pro-war news items. Every Sunday was a new low. Even those of who don't think, as Nick Davies does, that the paper was ever "a flagship of the Left", were horrified by the sudden lurch into the sewer. MediaLens spent some time harrying The Observer's editor and writers over its propaganda, and yielded some shockingly ugly replies from the likes of editor Roger Alton and columnist Nick Cohen. (Alton, Davies confirms to no surprise, "swears when he breathes"). Thanks to Davies, we now have the inside scoop on how this came about.
Davies' most damaging dirt is on Kamal Ahmed, the man who - with no prior experience - was appointed political editor after Patrick Wintour moved to The Guardian. The more obviously qualified Andy McSmith threw in the towel, quit, and now writes for The Independent. He was appointed by the new editor, Roger Alton, whose sympathies were generally right-wing, and whose editorial emphasis was on more sex and sports on the front page. Alton was almost as politically clueless as Ahmed himself, and both were open to endless manipulation by Downing Street. Ahmed, after spending some time being treated with contempt by parliamentarians, made kissy faces at Number Ten, and was eventually recruited as an errand boy by Alastair Campbell. Though the news desk and several colleagues were increasingly pissed off at his regurgitating manifestly untrue stories from Downing Street, Ahmed was strongly defended by Roger Alton. While Ahmed's stories were increasingly laced with hallucinatory enthusiasm for Blair, Alton was forcing through pro-Blair leader columns. And while Ahmed spied on his fellow journalists and let Downing Street know in advance if controversial or critical stories were afoot, Alton regurgitated Blairite press releases as copy. Ahmed, flattered at being included in the New Labour inner circle, put himself at Blair's service by reproducing several false claims, most notably by reproducing uncritically the 'findings' of the 'dodgy dossier'.
The Observer suppressed several explosive stories during the build-up to the war despite uncritically producing flawed pro-war articles. The stories that were suppressed repeatedly include intelligence supplied from a high-placed source in the CIA who was willing to go on record as saying quite firmly that President Bush's line on weapons of mass destruction was a pack of lies. This was not some anonymous spook drip-feeding a gullible hack (we'll come to that in a minute). It was someone who was prepared to name himself, and the reporter in question was the highly experienced hack, Ed Vulliamy. Another was the extraordinary leak by Katherine Gunn of MI6 that was transmitted via Yvonne Ridley to The Observer. The story was that the US had authorised spying operations on key UN Security Council members. It required some work to back the story up, but the reporters working on it soon got the detail they needed. The revelation could, many Observer reporters thought, alter the votes on the UNSC and potentially stop the war. Alton and Ahmed were shit-scared of the story, and repeatedly shut it down. Even when it was clear that the UN Security Council vote would not go in Bush and Blair's favour, The Observer happily repeated Blair's line that all was well after a phone call with the man himself.
Some of the worst pro-war drivel was written by The Observer's now penitent David Rose, who seems to have been hooked into the MI6 matrix back in 1992, when the organisation's existence was first officially acknowledged by the government. In the guise of a new 'openness', MI6 offered to form a direct relationship with one of paper's reporters, and David Rose was just the trick. Unfortunately, his relationship with intel entailed the reproduction of a stream of falsehoods about Saddam's connections to Al Qaeda and his many large and frightening weapons. Rose attacked the antiwar movement and those like Scott Ritter who tried to tell the truth. And he believed, like many of the liberal hawks, in the inviolable integrity of the Iraqi National Congress - which Davies makes clear elsewhere is an astro-turf operation created by the CIA. By early 2004, Rose was seriously embarrassed by what he had been writing. But of course, it all fit neatly into a combative pro-war culture in The Observer, which alienated its antiwar reporters and many of its readers.
It was not enough for the government to have the right-wing press on side. It was not enough to have the tabloids belting out hysterical headlines every other day. As the Mirror showed, even the tabloids could get funny. They had to get the Labour-supporting press to back the war, especially the Sunday paper most widely read by Labour MPs. The Observer was thus a megaphone, right up until the last weeks before shock and awe was unleashed on Baghdad, for the British state. This is not only testament to how shockingly manipulable the media is, but also to how skilled the government is at manipulation. It would be refreshing if anything had been learned from the experience, but there is no evidence that this happened. On the contrary, the ebullient pro-war culture continued, Alton remained editor, Ahmed is only now leaving his job, and the usual stream of pro-war opinion and left-baiting persisted.