Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Strike Day Rally posted by Richard Seymour

The Respect Youtube page has just posted this excellent speech by Mark Serwotka on prospects for the Left, from last week's Left List rally on the day of the big strike:

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Anti-fascism and the left. posted by Richard Seymour

I couldn't make it to the carnival yesterday, otherwise I'd have pics and footage for you, but all reports I've heard indicate two things: 1) it was a massive success, and 2) the Left List rocked. At least 100,000 people turned up for the carnival, some thirty years after the original 'Rock Against Racism'. It is important that this was a success, because it will provide a springboard for the hard anti-fascist campaigning that is going to have to take place, especially given the threat of the BNP getting a seat on the London Assembly. In 2004, the BNP were 6,000 votes short of a representative on the Assembly. This time they may potentially benefit from a lower turnout (thus diminishing the total number of votes they need). A frequent talking point is also the collapse in support for UKIP (after the Kilroy fracas), presumably leading potential UKIP voters to consider the fascists. It looks as if there is little support for other right-wing competition like the 'English Democrats' (a bunch of nobody whiners whose candidate, from 'Fathers 4 Justice', has stepped down) or the 'Christian Choice' (led by a ranting sleazeball who is focusing his campaign against an East London 'mega-mosque'). Suffice to say that with the surge in racism across the UK, particularly against Muslims and Eastern Europeans, it is all too possible that the BNP will end up both with a seat on the Assembly, and with a sizeable new tranch of councillors across the country.

Secondly, it was important for the Left List to make a good showing, because it is the only radical left-wing vote available for both the mayor and the assembly. Ken Livingstone's weakness, resulting from his embrace of New Labour, has given the Tory press confidence to viciously attack him often in Islamophobic terms. The Evening Standard's obsequious support for Boris Johnson is matched only by the daily helping of ordure about Livingstone and his connections with Muslims, trade unionists and others reviled by the right-wing. The Standard doesn't seem to care that its Islamophobic tirades are helping the far right, but Livingstone is in a weak position to counter this because he is trying to mobilise a voting bloc on the narrowest possible grounds - depoliticised multiculturalism, no mention of the war, not enough for housing, privatization of the East London line, pandering to the interests of the City, unqualified defense of the police etc. Realistically, the biggest immediate concerns facing Londoners are the brewing recession, the collapse in available credit, the lack of affordable housing, obscenely high transport costs, the growing poverty and inequality in the city, long working hours and shit pay. The only mayoral candidate to talk seriously about this is Lindsey German. This radical message went down well at the recent Stonewall hustings. New Labour can't effectively challenge the BNP politically, and not only because they are quite often responsible for giving the BNP their best publicity (ie, Margaret Hodge). The reason they can't challenge the BNP politically is because they rule out in advance even the vocabulary that is needed to express the real problems that their policies do so little to attenuate and so much to aggravate. The sole occasion on which many New Labour MPs can be relied upon to talk about class is in the context of a rebarbative formulation about a supposedly marginalised 'white working class', which of course plays straight into the BNP's hands. You didn't see too many New Labour advocates of last week's national strike action.

Mobilising the anti-fascist vote is essential, but there has always been an argument about what that should mean: should anti-fascists act as vote-catchers for the Labour Party, for example? This strategy of backing the main centre-left party has dogged the French anti-racist organisation, SOS Racisme, and undermined its early militancy. Indeed, its core of activists has often been drawn from the Socialist Party (PS), have always been close to its leadership, and its president from 1999-2003 is a leading PS politician who favours immigration quotas. I doubt the efficacy of such a strategy. Similarly, while it is important to 'bash the fash', it is increasingly obvious that just pointing out that the BNP are a Nazi organisation engaged in various levels of subterfuge ("As long as our own cadres understand the full implications of our struggle, then there is no need for us to do anything to give the public cause for concern ... we must at all times present them with an image of moderate reasonableness") doesn't do enough to motivate people to vote against the BNP, especially if the mainstream candidates are an unappealing crop with almost identical policies. Any anti-fascist campaign has to unite, as the UAF website puts it, "the broadest possible spectrum of society" against the far right. The main strength for anti-fascists is that at the moment, fascists of the BNP ilk and their more explicitly Third Reich imitating milieu remain a tiny and largely despised minority. As such, there is obviously no question of such a campaign outlining in any detail a political alternative to the far right. So, there is an unmistakable need for a supplementary strategy by the left. Even in terms of just mobilising voters who might otherwise abstain, a radical left candidacy is important in combatting the far right - for example, more overall votes in London makes it harder for the BNP to get the requisite 5%. But in a much broader sense, of course, the fascists are thriving on social distress and alienation that they have no intention of alleviating, and which only a vibrant grassroots left rooted in the labour movement can begin to address.

The Nazi hardcore is minute, and any strength they obtain is a result of their ability to pull around themselves different strata of voters and passive supporters. By no means should we imagine that their current supporters are just stray left-wing voters who are tempted by the racist message, albeit many BNP voters will be former Labour supporters. The 2006 Rowntree Report on the BNP's electoral appeal found that their main strategy has been to appeal to 'lower middle class' voters, and their success has been not among the poorest wards, but in the slightly wealthier wards - those which you can imagine accruing smug epithets like 'respectable'. However, lower middle class voters are hardly privileged. Their precarious position means that they are exposed to potentially catastrophic changes in their life chances given a crisis of the system. Further, the Nazis would inevitably rely on being able to mobilise a substantial tier of working class voters with 'anticapitalist' rhetoric (this is already a crucial part of their strategy in the post-industrial north). Only if the systemic critique is articulated and the working class movement radicalised is it possible to counteract this. Put it another way - more than a decade of New Labour, and the strategies of accomodation hitherto pursued in much of the labour movement, has done nothing to hinder the far right.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Model Occupation posted by Yoshie

In the last couple of decades,1 advocates for war, sanctions, boycotts, and other measures on the human rights and humanitarian grounds have become a politically significant presence on the broadly defined Left in the USA and Western Europe (inflated during the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the final push for independence of East Timor, a little deflated since the Iraq War, but re-flated through Darfur, Tibet, etc.).

This current of thought is not non-existent in Japan. However, it has been a much smaller and much less politically significant current in Japan than in the USA and Western Europe.

There are various reasons for this difference.

1. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: being on the receiving side of atomic bombs has a way of encouraging pacifism and discouraging militarism, at least among leftists.

2. Japanese leftists, unlike American and European leftists, do not have a memory of being on the "right side" of a "Good War" in their "people's history." So, there is no ready-made narrative structure in which would-be pro-war leftists in Japan could easily marry militarism with humanitarianism and human rights advocacy. Besides, Japan is economically of the West but not culturally of the mythical West (whose narrative goes "from the birth of democracy in Athens to the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to liberal democracy of universal human rights," the narrative that is attractive not just to the Right but also to the Left, which may position itself as the better defender of the Enlightenment than the Right), so leftists in Japan cannot easily see themselves as protagonists in this dominant narrative of humanitarian imperialism.

3. Till very recently, the Liberal Democratic Party had had a de facto one party state in Japan. The Left in Japan being a minor force that has not had a chance of becoming a governing party or a member of a governing coalition, there has also been much less temptation to opportunism for them than those parties and intellectuals in Europe and the USA who could become, and sometimes did become, part of the establishment by joining center-left parties. (This may change sometime in the near future, with the ascendancy of the Democratic Party in Japan.)

4. The Communist Party, albeit no longer Marxist, has remained a mass party in Japan, more or less hegemonic over left-wing political culture in the country, not only directly but also through its numerous affiliate institutions and publications, in a way that Communists in the USA and Western Europe have not been especially since the long Sixties.

5. After WW2, both the Left and the Right of Japan renounced any ambition to develop their own foreign policies: the Left by embracing the "Peace Constitution"; the Right by always deferring to Washington. They embraced the defeat, as John W. Dower says.

This last fact has both positive and negative aspects for leftists in Japan. There is no big constituency for assertive liberal imperialism in Japan, which is good for the Left. However, by accepting what the occupier imposed on the Japanese, the Left in Japan has failed to develop a political culture of republicanism and democracy, which is not only bad for itself but also bad for the rest of the country.

That failure also has had unforeseen consequences for people in the global South. The Japanese Left's acceptance of the occupation -- seeking "to turn the conqueror's democratic revolution peaceably into a socialist one" under the leadership of a "lovable Communist Party" in the early post-war years (John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, pp. 255-256) -- has encouraged those on the broadly defined Left in the USA to look back nostalgically upon the occupation of Japan as a model occupation, good for the conscience of the occupier and good for the welfare of the occupied, a model which makes them think, "If we had done it the way it was done in Japan, we could have succeeded in Iraq" (blaming the Bush White House for its "tactical errors"), or "If Iraq had been like Japan, the occupation could have worked" (blaming the Iraqis for their "underdevelopment"). Therefore, no matter how disastrous the occupation of Iraq becomes, it doesn't curb the enthusiasm for other interventions, for the myth of the model occupation tells them seductively: select the right target and employ the right tactics, and you will be a liberator again.

Here's a dialectical irony: humanitarian imperialism has failed to grow on the Left in Japan; but its growth on the Left in the USA and Europe may very well have been copiously fertilized by the post-war choices made by the Japanese Left.

1 To be sure, there had always existed both imperialist and anti-imperialist political currents on the broadly defined Left. Liberalism, social democracy, and socialism all had politico-economic theories that could lend themselves to either current. For imperialist liberals and social democrats, imperialism brings capitalist development, which in turn, especially if it is tempered by reforms, fosters social and cultural development; for imperialist socialists, imperialism, by dissolving feudal barriers and dispossessing peasants, can hasten the day when the gravediggers of capitalism, the proletariat, are born on the world scale. A relatively broad anti-imperialist consensus at the height of anti-colonial struggles in the twentieth century may have been a historical anomaly.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

French immigrant workers on strike posted by Richard Seymour

If you've been paying attention, you will know that Sarkozy is in a bit of trouble these days, and his big presidential address doesn't seem to have cut any ice. Adored by everyone from George W Bush to Gordon Brown for promising a neo-Thatcherite upheaval, he has repeatedly had to compromise with the unions to avoid catastrophe, as Ian Taylor spells out here. He has constantly relied on dividing the poorest workers from the slightly less poor, as in this obvious gambit, yet he doesn't seem to have had much success. He is at a record low in the polls and rules a divided cabinet. And now some of the immigrants whom he has repeatedly and viciously baited and attacked are in revolt. They work horrendous hours, they pay their taxes, they get businesses running, they do the most difficult and unappealling jobs - and they're still "illegal", so they're on strike. Watch this Al Jazeera video:

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Melting the ice posted by Richard Seymour

Just a quick reminder: we could well be finished soon. Yes, the WWF are back with new results that confirm the worst: the arctic ice caps are melting even faster than we thought. As the ice melts and more of the surface is water, the temperatures rises more because the water can absorbe heat that would be reflected by the ice. The climate doesn't change in a linear fashion: it has sudden flips. It can sustain stability, like a canoeist, under immense pressure from different fluctuations. But beyond a certain point, it capsizes. The tipping point as far as arctic ice is concerned is that elusive point when nothing we can do can make any difference at all, and it has just got closer. If the tipping point is reached soon, then the arctic ice is gone for good. It will gradually eliminate many populous islands, of course, but we could handle that. Like most refugees, the residents will be pushed about from country to country and forced to live and die in shit and misery, and hated for the oxygen they waste. And we could presumably live with the destruction of the non-commercial forms of life that thrive in the Queensland Wetlands, the Kilimanjaro and the Amazon basin. And, as the ice melts and the Alps crumble because their sub-zero cohesive has trickled away, we can all expect a hearty laugh as mountaineers and cabin-dwellers are crushed to death under avalanches.

However, we may not be as happy with one third of the planet becoming uninhabitable by 2100. And we may be uncomfortable with hurricanes striking hitherto unprecedented zones, such as the recent one that swept into Brazil. One of the bases for hurricane development is a sea with a surface water temperature of higher than 26.5C, which is why the phenomenon has hitherto been so familiar in the Carribean. Raise global temperatures, increase the total amount of warm water, and you get more hurricanes. The hurricane that barrelled toward Spain only to die out may be the first of a new Mediterranean breed of deadly storm. America will find its fertile crescents turned into dustbowls again, but this time on an unimaginably greater scale. Southern Africa will dry up and, while the Sahel region will get more rainfall, it will come in Monsoons that simply destroy the surface earth and provide little basis for agriculture. You think today's food prices are high? Then, of course, you have to consider the interaction of these scarcities with global markets and the geopolitical structure supporting them. Scarcity and destruction is not only a moneyspinner for a privileged elite that could comfortably fit in a small football stadium. It is a driver of war too. Who, faced with failing crops and desolate land, would not be tempted by Lebensraum? All of that is based on a one degree rise in temperature, the most optimistic scenario, the first circle of hell in Mark Lynas' Six Degrees. Add a couple of degrees, and it gets a lot more grim. This is not about mother earth or the various species of plant and animal life that one may or may not eat. The planet will overcome all this, probably even if we drop the big one. It is our viability as a species that is in question. Perhaps the best solution is to rely on the people who gave us colonialism, the arms race, the arms industry, death squads, aerial bombardment, genocide and nuclear annihilation to come up with a neat market-based solution to our imminent demise. Perhaps we should wait and see if they can develop a technological solution. Bear in mind that, as with pharmaceuticals, they may be more interested in giving us something that can help us live with our horrible condition for a while rather than curing the problem. I don't know if it wouldn't be better to just take over the whole system ourselves and see what we can do about it. If it calls for a reduction in economic output, then I'm sure we can handle it. If Lafargue's 'right to be lazy' becomes a duty, I can't imagine too many complaints. Why not?

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Guy Hocquenghem posted by Richard Seymour

I just wilt over the thought of French revolutionaries. And, looking at the youthful Guy Hocquenghem - as he was during the tumult of '68 - who could blame me? And what I like about Guy Hocquenghem should be obvious enough. A gay liberationist, a founder of the Front Homosexuel d'Action Revolutionnaire, a leader of French cultural revolution, and - what else? - a scathing critic of those who "traded Maoism for the Rotary Club". The weaknesses and downright absurdities of French Maoism need no rehearsing here, although it is a fuck sight better to have illusions in Mao than to be a corrupt stooge of Mitterrand. At any rate, it isn't clear that Hocquenghem himself was ever a Maoist except in the perverse sense.

Hocquenghem had been expelled from the PCF for his homosexuality, and had then been excluded from the Trotskyist Ligue communiste revolutionnaire (the great LCR which, sadly, is soon to liquidate itself into an anticapitalist party of some sort), because of his fondness for 'direct action' which was seen as a Maoist sin. He had been part of a loose confraternity of the radical and revolutionary left, and was inspired by Huey Newton's support for gay liberation. He rejected a certain class of gay rights as constituting a new normativity that was deadly to desire, and even leftist discourse was susceptible to this normalisation. It was necessary to sustain the culture of marginality and deviance, to resist not only legalism and moralism, but normality itself. You can see how this would be compatible with a certain kind of ultra-left politics, and indeed he became convinced that capitalism should be assailed on all fronts at once, rather on its strategically weak points as the orthodox marxist position insisted. And Hocquenghem operated in a Maoist milieu including his work with the journal Tout!. However, when Maoists of the Gauche proletarienne (GP) tendency started to defend Pakistan's suppression of the Bengali liberation struggle, Hocquenghem was a harsh critic. Ironically, he criticised them and the regime they emulated, for being insufficiently Maoist - la pensee maotsetung was the authentic Maoism that was being betrayed by the CCCP and its supporters.

As for the 'nouveau philosophes' and their milieu, it was not their abandonment of Maoism that Hocquenghem attacked so much as the way in which former street-fighters or would-be street-fighters like Andre Glucksmann, Bernard Kouchner and even Daniel Cohn-Bendit had become bourgois, careerist and conformist. The activists who had co-founded the student publication Action at the Sorbonne with Hocquenghem were, by 1981, part of Mitterrand's Restoration. They defended the French state's imperial intervention in Chad, and its nuclear 'shield' at a time when Mitterrand was abandoning the Gaullist posture of restricting the use of nukes to France's self-defense, and suggesting they might become part of the anti-communist arsenal. They hypocritically denounced the youth for their apathy, yet would deprive them of the excitement that would rouse their passions. They warned of the dangers of a spectral 'totalitarianism', clinging to a normality that was only one or two steps away from Travail, Famille and Patrie. Hocquenghem abused and disabused these courtiers in the style of burlesque satire, but it was a humour that originated in disgust. He never apologised for his gauchisme and, unlike the bell-wether 'contrarians' of today, knew that perversity could come in the form of gallant fidelity.

Hocquenghem, despite his obvious importance in French intellectual and political history, has not really been given the profile he deserves. The most recent attempt to undo that injustice, perhaps resulting in part from the hegemony of his foes, is a documentary entitled La Revolution du Desir. This is an extract:

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Ken and Blairbie posted by Richard Seymour


So, Ken Livingstone is bragging about receiving advice on his election from Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell. Indeed - why stop at one sleazy, reviled warmonger when you can have his sleazy, reviled, war-flogging propagandist in the same bargain? This is the candidate who has been nicking Boris Johnson's policies and, amid many less bread more circus policy announcements, getting Ed Balls to butter up the City of London. Question: how much help has this strategy been so far? Presumably, Ken Livingstone has drawn the conclusion that is losing popularity because he is insufficiently integrated into the New Labour electoral machine. This is a ludicrous idea, to be sure, but no more ludicrous than the conviction that stealing Boris Johnson's policies is a route to popularity, or the thought that having watched Metronet crash and burn, a PPP deal is just what is required for the extended East London line. One of Livingstone's remaining sources of credibility after he re-joined New Labour was his apparent distance from a hated Prime Minister and his loathed war policies. Now, he's burning bridges faster than the Luftwaffe, and the only constituency left to flip off will soon be the newts. I always knew Ken Livingstone was an opportunist. I never thought he was an idiot.

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Fightback Thursday posted by Richard Seymour


1 million school students and 8,000 schools are affected by the teachers strike, apparently, which is much higher than was anticipated. According to The Guardian, this is the biggest strike over pay since Labour was elected. Predictably, New Labour are bashing the strikers and pretending that there is no problem. The schools minister has been briefed on his key statistics and sent out to face the newspapers and television studios. Teachers are apparently fat cats whose pay is being curbed in order to rollback their inflation busting pay rises. Of course, the truth is that since 2005 teachers salaries have been effectively cut each year, as pay rises have fallen well below the rate of inflation. Teachers on UPS3 have lost £2,000 due to these cuts. In the same period, the average pay for chief executives has risen by 37%. Such are the priorities of New Labour's Britain. The schools minister is quoted as saying: "The three-year pay award was a recommendation of an independent pay review body... we can’t re-open that process." Oh yes, you can - and you will. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are demanding that a no-stike agreement be imposed on teachers. You might remember that when someone tries to tell you that the Lib Dems are a slightly more left-wing alternative to New Labour. From the picket lines and protest marches, you can probably get all the updates with photos at Socialist Worker, so keep checking in throughout the day.

Update: I was right. Reports and photographs from across the country are being filed regularly on the Socialist Worker website.

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Republicanism, Irish and Iranian posted by Yoshie

Listen to "The Foggy Dew," sung by The Wolfe Tones, in commemoration of the Easter Rising (24 April 1916). The song's lyrics contrasts Irishmen who served on the British side in the Battle of Gallipoli with Irish republicans who fought against the British Empire:

Right proudly high over Dublin Town they flung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud-El-Bar . . .
'Twas England bade our wild geese go, that "small nations might be free";
But their lonely graves are by Suvla's waves or the fringe of the great North Sea.
Oh, had they died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha
Their graves we'd keep where the Fenians sleep, 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew.

An Irish friend of mine in Belfast, James Daly, told me: "By the way, the Iranians sent a plaque to the family of my friend Patsy O'Hara commemorating his hunger strike to the death."

Intrigued, I looked up more signs of Iranian identification with Irish republicanism. Here's the most eloquent: Iranian revolutionaries renamed "Churchill Street" -- the street behind the British Embassy -- "Bobby Sands Street" (Pedram Moallemian, "Naming Bobby Sands Street," The Blanket, 24 February 2004). Despite the British government's pressures on the Iranians to change the name again, the street remains dedicated to the memory of the Irish revolutionary.


Neither in Iran nor in Ireland have the highest revolutionary goals been achieved yet. But the flames of republicanism are still alive in the finest of their men and women. Tiocfaidh ár lá. Our day will come.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A tragicomedy in one paragraph. posted by Richard Seymour

For the notaries of humanist imperialism there is nothing as perplexing, and no outrage as great, as a politically astute and historically literate attack on their whole tradition by a playwright. Of all the bruschetta-munchers in all the world, a playwright. If you thought that David Edgar's essay would pass without some effort to put the little quill driver back in his place, you haven't been paying attention. Among the piqued responses I have seen is this frightful tribute to affronted vanity (entitled 'Six Straw Men and One Pat On My Back'). Another is the riposte by a promoted food critic with a mordacious journalistic manner. The latter's plaidoyer, true to style, opens with an interrogation which I want to interrogate in turn:

Conveniently early in his essay on "defection literature", David Edgar gives the game away:

"Just as past generations sought to reposition the fault-lines of 20th-century politics (notably, by bracketing communism with fascism as totalitarianism) so, now, influential writers seek to redraw the political map of our time."

Do we get the idea that describing the Soviet model, with its vast network of gulags and millions of state murders and total party control, as "totalitarian" was a historical error? Certainly, that's the suggestion left hanging like a two-pig-owning kulak.


As unlettered as this evidently is, as much as it discloses the hasty prosecutorial zeal of the polemical dilettante, there is an education of sorts lurking here. A sentimental education whose syllabus, originating in Fifties America, has been relentlessly globalised. It is apt that those who disposed of marbles, scruples or both in the post-9/11 reflux should so unreflectively reproduce the precepts of anti-communism, and Andrew Anthony does not make an exception of himself.

There are three points to call attention to here. The first is that of course there is a legitimate controversy over whether 'totalitarianism' is a worthwhile concept, and another for those who accept it as to what it's reach should be. The second is that Andrew Anthony would, on this evidence, have no basis for making such discernments. For him, it is a moral failing not to accept the schema of 'totalitarianism' because for him it is just a word one uses to refer to a state that is not merely very bad, but wicked, egregious, evil. The third is that while Edgar speaks of communism, Anthony speaks of a single regime that purported to embody communism. A whole series of distinctions is being lost here: between different kinds of communist ideology; between different kinds of regime; between different kinds of movement; and between ideology, movement and regime. It is a catechism of anti-communist ideology that such distinctions do not matter, of course. The roots of Stalinist repression are in the organicist conceptions of its ideological forebears, (conceptions they shared with their apparent ideological opposites), and that exhausts all wisdom on the subject. I am not saying that this is what Andrew Anthony thinks, because that would imply that some thought had gone into his excursus, and nowhere is this in evidence. But these are the ideological co-ordinates that structure the sentiment before it is inculcated. (This propaganda film offers a concise account of the ideology, despite its now archaic feel). The political map of the twentieth century can thus be arranged in a simple binary:



Obviously, I left out apartheid and other colonial relics, not to mention indigenous genocide and most of the authoritarian states that might in some views qualify as 'totalitarian lite', 'diet totalitarian' or 'I Can't Believe It's Not Totalitarian'. Totalitarianism versus democracy, the simple all-purpose political struggle. Today, the reinvention of 'anti-totalitarianism' relies on the celebrity of the stateless criminal enterprise of 'Al Qaeda', so 'totalitarianism' is no longer posed primarily as a question of the state versus the individual. Rather, it is refurbished with Victorian cant, its dichotomies revolving around the liberal versus the illiberal, the civilized versus the uncivilized, the progressive versus the barbaric. These work, as they always have, as structures of feeling and intuition rather than as analytical frameworks. In the era of the Cold War, liberals acquiesced in crimes sometimes tantamount to genocide while their idealism and wisdom was being extolled in official propaganda and while they were assured that their ideals were defended by the Pentagon and the CIA. In era of the 'war on terror', some liberals are complicit in grave crimes just as they are encouraged to believe that their always nebulous 'values' are at stake. This is a sentimental education whose output is an unattractive and strident assertiveness about 'Western values', which is as defensive as it is obtuse. This is why its sophisters cannot help but see their critics as in some sense treasonous, for the 'other side'. This is why they cannot help but inculpate, and why they are so drawn to the accusatory style even where all they expose is their own ignorance and lack of thought. It is no laughing matter: Anthony is stuck with his Pavlovian reactions, as are his co-partisans. David Edgar just rang the right bells.

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I see the circus... posted by Richard Seymour

...but where's the bread?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Comments Policy posted by Richard Seymour

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"Obliterate Them" posted by Richard Seymour

Hillary Clinton says:

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Left List for London posted by Richard Seymour

From the Left List page, I see they've put up the election broadcast. Thought you all might like to see it, in case you're not in front of the television when it is broadcast tomorrow evening:

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Nasser Zarafshan posted by Yoshie

Nasser Zarafshan, shortly after five years of imprisonment on account of having delivered a speech indicting the intelligence services for murdering five intellectuals, published this essay in Aftab on 11 November 2007 and Roshangari on 25 November 2007: "The Third Side Also Exists: Regarding the Likely American Attack on Iran" (Trans. Yoshie Furuhashi).

The essay is Zarafshan's intervention counseling Iranians against looking to America to bring freedom and democracy to Iran. While a majority of Iranians are unlikely to be in need of this counsel, it cannot be denied that there exists a current of opinion in Iran -- held by a minority but magnified by the imperialist media -- that Zarafshan criticizes.

Here's an excerpt from the essay:

Aggression to eliminate the obstacles that stand in the way of spreading the neoliberal order and to remake the world according to it is employed in the name of democracy and human rights. However, freedom and democracy, essentially, can only result from the historical development of a social and economic order and the development of people that accompanies it. Freedom and democracy are not commodities that can be detached from a given social order and imported, let alone brought by force, from abroad. Those who are looking for a freedom "imported" by force have not understood anything about its essential meaning.

Read the rest at <montages.blogspot.com/2008/04/nasser-zarafshan-third-side-also-exists.html> or <mrzine.monthlyreview.org/zarafshan210408.html>.

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Don't Mention It. posted by Richard Seymour

This is the Basil Fawlty election. Among the many things missing from most of the campaigning for local councils, and for the London mayor and assembly in particular, is the war. It is not on Ken Livingstone's agenda. Boris Johnson would like to make something of it, despite being pro-war, but is wholly subjoined to the neoconservative wing of the Tory party. The war is not in the Liberal Democrat manifesto at all, despite the fact that the Lib Dems have benefited from the antiwar vote in the past. It is not mentioned anywhere in the Green Party manifesto. Neither is Islamophobia, for that matter, which is a curious ommission. And Sian Berry has recently criticised her party over the Israel boycott, vowing to oppose it. All of this is presumably part and parcel of the deal between New Labour and the Greens at the London level, and it is hardly a surprise. Wherever the Greens have had success in Europe, they have often ended up in coalition with neoliberal, privatizing, warmongering parties of the centre-left. (Perhaps more curious is the weakness on public transport. The Left List manifesto promises quite specific tube fare reductions: a quid per ticket, free travel for students and the elderly, instant reduction of paper ticket fares on overground services to match. There's nothing comparable in the Green manifesto, and nor is there any mention of privatization of the East London line. A strange weakness for an environmental campaigner). This is the city that saw 2 million demonstrators protest against the war before it even started; that experienced 7/7; that has had two police shootings, one fatal, in connection with the so-called 'war on terror'; that has seen protesters nicked under 'war on terror' legislation; and which has experienced a dangerous rise in Islamophobia under the rubric of, well, the 'war on terror'. And no one wants to talk about it, bar the Left List candidate. This is one of the reasons why Lindsey German can boast the support of several key figures in the antiwar movement, including two from different frontlines of the 'war on terror'.

Aside from not mentioning the imperialist war, no one wants to talk about the class war. This Thursday, just one week before the elections, the teachers are having their first national strike for over twenty years. A quarter of a million NUT members will be on strike. Joining them will be 100,000 PCS workers, 30,000 UCU members, and 20,000 Birmingham council workers. On the day of the strike, the Left List will be holding a rally, with Mark Serwotka of the PCS and Jane Loftus of the CWU in attendance. The reason why this issue is important, in case it needs spelling out, is that at a time when food prices are soaring and credit availability is collapsing, the government is attempting to restrict consumption through its incomes policy. That is bad news for all of us, and to it one can add the effect of recent changes in taxation with Gordon Brown hitting the poorest by abolishing the ten pence tax rate. We're facing a recession, with hard times for millions of people, and we have a government that seems fit for any contortion in order to serve the interests of millionaires. Is any other candidate even interested? I don't see it. Ken is more likely to call for people to cross the picket lines than actually join them these days, and may be tempted to do so again as tube workers strike for forty-eight hours before the elections. The Greens are too busy going for the business vote. If there's any curiosity over the position of sad sack Lib Dems, they hate strikes and are cautiously supportive of the government's pay restraints.

Both of these issues cut to the heart of the current neoliberal/pro-war consensus. Taking the latter for a second, public sector workers are at the centre of a battle against both privatization and pay cuts. They are unfortunate in having leaders who, barring a few principled sorts such as Mark Serwotka, are unfailingly loyal to New Labour, putting its position above the interests of their members. They are also in the position of having political funds that pour money into the coffers of New Labour even while the government reduces the amount of money they take home. New Labour's whole strategy relies upon taking trade unionists and working class voters for granted while relying on the AB voters in its electoral coalition. These are the figures I mentioned a while back:

Labour's share of the vote in 2005 was reduced to 36% from 43% in 1997 (in the 2007 local elections, Labour got a mere 27% of the vote), and its overall plurality was less than 2%. Its support among AB voters was relatively well-maintained, down just 2% from its 1997 level, while among C2 voters, DE voters and council tenants, it fell by 9%, 13% and 9% respectively.


It is only because the collapse in support has been in working class areas with mountainous Labour majorities that they have been able to keep a majority, despite being in the clear minority on its central policy flagships: war and privatization. So, the more trade unionists break with New Labour, the better chance there is of building the alternative. At the same time, the major pole of radicalism is still the antiwar movement. Demanding troop withdrawals from all frontiers in the war, and the unconditional defense of civil liberties at home, the movement places all the main parties on the back foot by commanding majority support for policies that few politicians are willing to advocate. It doesn't merely critique and counteract Islamophobia, it connects it to the war and makes it a clear political struggle. One can hardly effectively criticise racism in this day and age without mentioning the imperialist background. In its analysis, it also contains a critique of neoliberalism especially as applied in Iraq, but understood as being inseparable from the global war of American expansion. The anti-war movement is thus a counter-hegemonic force par excellence. This is why none of the main candidates can talk about it. That is why you mustn't mention the war.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

What Do Iranians Think of Sharia and Women's Rights? posted by Yoshie

Recently, I ran in MRZine an excerpt from the latest World Public Opinion poll ("Public Opinion in Iran: With Comparisons to American Public Opinion," 7 April 2008) about Iranians' perceptions of their government: "What Do Iranians Think of Their Own Government?" (12 April 2008).

The poll results, which showed a high level of popular support for the government as well as Iranians' desire to make it more democratic, are very much contested by a number of Iranians on the far Left, for whom Iran is a republic of fear whose citizens cannot possibly reveal their true opinions frankly to any pollster. Iranian far leftists would rather believe: "A silent majority exists in Iran and beneath that silence lies a deep hatred for this regime" (Mohammad Alireza, "Are You Prepared for Some Truth?" Iranian.com, 15 March 2008).

Now, capitalism, based on ineradicable contradiction between capital and labor, cannot but breed latent discontent with exploitation and other oppressions that it creates or aggravates, not just in Iran but in all countries, including ones run by socialists. That, however, doesn't mean that such latent discontent is everywhere always close to the surface, about to erupt into an articulate mass opposition to the regime in power but for political repression.

Under all but revolutionary circumstances,1 discontent doesn't easily crystalize into a feeling as clear, simple, and powerful as "hatred." Rather, popular consciousness is very much complex. If Iranian leftists take a close look at the complexity of popular consciousness, rather than thinking without evidence that most Iranians, albeit silently, already stand where they stand, they can find in it much they can work with.

One of the notable findings of the aforementioned World Public Opinion poll, contradictory as it may seem from a typical leftist point of view, is that Iranians are largely in favor of both sharia (Islamic law) and gender equality (see pp. 24 and 26, excerpted below). The findings suggest that a majority of Iranians interpret Islamic law in a way that is promising for a Left that is not Islamophobic: as a populist ideological weapon against capitalist excesses rather than as a means to rigidly curtail personal freedom -- except in such areas as drinking, gambling, and prostitution, the latter two of which most socialists generally do not favor -- and severely punish social transgressions. Far from a basis to discriminate against women, Islamic law as it is interpreted by most Iranians, men as well as women, may very well be a standard of judgment according to which the government is not doing enough to promote gender equality.

The word sharia brings to the minds of typical Westerners only gender discrimination that exists in the dominant interpretations of it in the area of family law. Hence sensational sharia controversies in such nations as Britain and Canada, on the grounds that sharia is incompatible with liberalism. As a matter of fact, though, historically, liberalism has accommodated sharia, for instance in the name of inter-communal equality, by allowing religious minorities to put sharia into practice in the aspects of social existence such as family law where sharia presents no threat to its material and cultural underpinnings, for example in India, which is nowadays promoted by the empire as a model of Third-World liberal democracy.

If modern religions in many nations often seem more obsessed with sex than social and economic justice (to the chagrin of religious leftists and to the schadenfreude of many secular liberals and leftists), even though many of the texts regarded as sacred by them have much more to say about the latter than the former, that is because capitalist modernity allows religion to flourish only as a guardian of personal morality, abdicating its claim to be a principle that governs a whole way of life, just as it tends to reduce Marxism from a social movement aiming at communist society to a research method in academia.

Sharia ideologically challenges liberalism and materially limits capitalism only if it becomes a principle of Islamic republican liberty and virtue, as it did in justifying sweeping nationalization of private means of production in the early days of Iran's Islamic Revolution (the nationalization that went much further than Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution has gone and is likely to go -- we live in different times2).

Since then the Islamic Republic has become less and less Islamic, both for better and worse: it has gradually moved away from Islamic republican liberty and virtue, slowly liberalizing culture and society and re-privatizing the means of production, especially since the end of the Iran-Iraq War. Iranian leftists, in Iran as well as in the diaspora, have yet to figure out a coherent response to this Janus-faced tendency of the neoliberal stage of capitalism, which brings social and cultural liberalization in part as a byproduct of economic liberalization, not just as a response to pressures, inside and outside the state, from below. Listening carefully to what ordinary Iranians have to say about Islam, I submit, is the first step in creating an alternative that is conscious of the limits of both populism and liberalism and potentially capable of overcoming them.


1 The intertwined energy and food crises that are rapidly developing on the global scale have the potential to create uprisings that can topple all manner of governments in the Third World, across the ideological spectrum, especially of countries that neither produce oil nor have sought to develop agriculture. See, for instance, Sateh Noureddine, "Food Crises" (As-Safir, 8 April 2008). Inflation in Iran today is a relatively mild symptom of this global malaise. Iran's Islamo-Leninists learned a lesson from what the neglect of agriculture did to the Shah's regime: Iran, once a food exporter, became a food importer under the Shah, and higher world food prices in the 1970s, due to higher energy prices and poor Soviet harvests, aggravated people's discontent (cf. Robert K. Schaeffer, Understanding Globalization: The Social Consequences of Political, Economic, and Environmental Change, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, p. 258); and they have taken care to develop it as much as they can in an oil state: "Follow-up of the Implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action, National Report: Islamic Republic of Iran" (7 May 2006). Iran has achieved self-sufficiency in wheat -- just in time for the world food crisis -- and can now even export surplus, for instance to Egypt: Will Hadfield, "Grain Exports in Iran Set to Double with State Support" (14 March 2008). Whether that, combined with high oil prices, suffices for regime stability remains to be seen.

2 Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval write in "The Venezuelan Economy in the Chávez Years": "As can be seen in Table 1, the private sector has grown faster than the public sector over the last 8 years, and therefore the private sector is a bigger share of the economy in 2007 than it was before President Chávez took office" (July 2007, p. 6). In contrast, one neoliberal critic of Iran put it disapprovingly: "Semi-official estimates put the private-sector share of the national economy at between 15 to 20 percent. This made the Islamic state a mixed capitalist-socialist economy predominantly under clerical control" (Akbar Karbassian, "Islamic Revolution and the Management of the Iranian Economy," Social Research, Summer 2000). That is the aspect of Iran's Islamic Revolution that not only the empire but also Iran's own ruling class, committed to re-privatization of nationalized means of production, has been seeking to undo.



What Do Iranians Think of Sharia and Women's Rights?
by WorldPublicOpinion.org

Large majorities of Iranians endorse the principle that women should have equal rights with men and that over the course of their own lifetimes, women have gained greater rights. A large majority says that the government should act to prevent discrimination against women. A modest majority also supports the United Nations working to further women’s rights.

Three out of four Iranians say it is important for "women to have full equality of rights compared to men," with 44 percent saying this is very important. Very few (8%) said this was "not very important" or "not important at all."

Importance of Equal Rights for Women

Most perceive that women have gained greater rights. Respondents were asked to think back over the course of their own lifetimes and say whether, "compared to the rights men have in this society," women now have more equality or not. Seventy-five percent said they thought women had more equality today (39% "much more," 36% "a little more").

Most Iranians believe that the government has a responsibility to counteract discrimination against women. Asked, "Do you think the government should make an effort to prevent discrimination against women, or that the government should not be involved in this kind of thing?" 70 percent said government should make such an effort, and only 18 percent said government should not be involved.

Those who said that government should make an effort to prevent discrimination against women were then asked, "Do you think the government is doing enough to prevent discrimination…or do you think it should do more?" The larger number (36% of the full sample) said the government should be doing more than it is, while a quarter (of the full sample) thought the government is doing enough.

A modest majority supports the United Nations working to further women's rights -- even when given a counterargument implying that this could be intrusive for Iran. Asked whether "the UN should make efforts to further the rights of women, or do you think this is improper interference in a country’s internal affairs?" Fifty-two percent supported the UN taking such a role, while 36 percent saw it as a form of interference.

Interestingly, differences between men and women on these questions were quite modest. The number of men and women saying that that women should have full equality were statistically the same, though the percentage saying this is very important was higher among women (51%) than men (38%). While men and women are largely the same in perceiving that women have gained greater equality, 46 percent of men as compared to 33 percent of women thought women have gained much greater equality. Thirty-nine percent of women and 33 percent of men thought the government should make greater efforts against discrimination. There was no meaningful difference between men and women in their support for the United Nations playing a role to further women’s rights.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Only a small minority wants to reduce the role of Shari'a in the way Iran is governed, but only one in three favor increasing its role. Only one in three favor punishing an Iranian who converts from Islam to another religion. The highest priorities in the application of Shari’a are preventing usury and providing welfare to the poor. Applying severe physical punishments is a low priority, but still endorsed by half.

When asked whether "Shari'a should play a larger role, a smaller role, or about the same role as it plays today" in the way Iran is governed, only 14 percent wanted Shari’a to play a smaller role. However, only a third wanted it to play a larger role (34%). Nearly half preferred to hold the status quo on Shari’a (45%).

Only one in three Iranians favor punishing an Iranian Muslim who converts to another religion. Asked, "Do you think that the government should or should not punish an Iranian citizen who converts from Islam to a non-Muslim religion?" 32 percent said the government should, while 50 percent said it should not.

Respondents who said, in the question discussed above, that Shari'a should play either the same or a larger role in Iranian governance -- 79 percent of the whole sample -- were presented six aspects of the application of Shari'a' and asked for each, “how important is [this] for the government to do?"

The highest priorities in the application of Shari’a are preventing usury and providing welfare to the poor. A 51 percent majority (of the full sample) called "preventing usury" very important, and another 16 percent said it was somewhat important. Nearly as many (48%) said "providing welfare to the poor" was very important, and another 20 percent said it was somewhat important. Forty-six percent also said "making education and healthcare available to all" was very important in applying Shari'a (somewhat: 22%).

Anti-vice aspects of Shari’a also received high ratings. Highest was "punishing those who consume alcoholic beverages in public" (45% very important, 22% somewhat), followed by "policing moral behavior such as gambling and prostitution" (43% very important, 22% somewhat).

The lowest priority was assigned to "applying severe physical punishments to people convicted of certain crimes." Only 22 percent called this very important (28% somewhat important). Overall, though, severe physical punishments were still endorsed by half.
This article is an excerpt (pp. 24 and 26) from "Public Opinion in Iran: With Comparisons to American Public Opinion," a WorldPublicOpinion.org Poll conducted in partnership with Search for Common Ground and Knowledge Networks, 7 April 2008.  "The poll of Iranians was conducted with a randomly selected sample of 710 Iranian adults, from rural as well as urban areas, January 13-February 9, 2008.  The margin of error is +/-3.8 percent.  Interviews were conducted in every province of Iran.  Professional Iranian interviewers conducted face-to-face interviews in Iranian homes.  Within each community, randomly selected for sampling, households were chosen according to international survey methods that are standard for face-to-face interviewing.  In some cases, a respondent did not want to be interviewed because the interviewer was of the opposite sex. Interviewers then offered to either reschedule the interview for a time when the male head of household would be present, or to have an interviewer of the same sex visit.  The poll questionnaire was developed in consultation with experts on Iran as well as the Iranian polling firm.  In addition to the poll, focus groups were conducted in Tehran with representative samples of Iranians" ("Public Opinion in Iran," pp. 3-4). The questionnaire and methodology is available at <worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/apr08/Iran_Apr08_quaire.pdf>.  See, also, "Iranians Oppose Producing Nuclear Weapons, Saying It Is Contrary to Islam: But Most Insist on Iran Producing Nuclear Fuel," WorldPublicOpinion.org, 7 April 2008; "Iranians Favor Direct Talks with US on Shared Issues, Mutual Access for Journalists, More Trade," WorldPublicOpinion.org, 7 April 2008; Jim Lobe, "Iranian Public Sees Reduced U.S. Threat," Inter Press Service, 7 April 2008.

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IDF soldiers torture, choke, beat and murder Palestinians posted by Richard Seymour

As Israel continues to build new colonies in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers stationed in the West Bank city of Hebron have confessed to numerous atrocities against Palestinian civilians. The full testimonies can be read here. Sometimes, what is striking is the pettiness of the causes that leads Israeli soldiers to beheave like this. For example, one IDF soldier tried to steal an old man's tobacco box during a house raid. The old man protested, calling him a thief, and they all started to beat him up heavily. The thief then took the old man's hand and wrapped barbed wire tightly round it, explaining that "He lifted a hand on me, he'll be punished." That's the deal - if the untermenschen even lift a hand to their oppressors, they get beaten and tortured. Another old man got too close to Israeli soldiers while out walking, so they shot him. "No reason, he just got close". And so on.

However, there are also calculated attacks with intent to kill everyone in sight, regardless of whether they are armed, or defend themselves, or are unarmed non-combatants. For example, there's the testimony about a great "honour" that soldiers were given, by being allowed to swoop on a refugee camp in Tul Karem. The IDF had found that whenever they tried to raid the camp on previous occasions, the residents huddled round campfires fought back, climbing to the rooftops to shoot at the invaders. So, they decided to sneak in:

The four lit campfires we spotted were quite near each other, and near the only two or three vehicle access routes into the camp. We were told to also post sharpshooters…Our firing orders were that each squatter around the campfires should be shot just like during a liquidation operation.

Without pretense? Without arms?

Yes, even unarmed people were to be shot.

Everyone around the campfire?

Yes, everyone present at the campfire during our entry at 2AM or 3AM was to be shot to death. Regardless whether…

Regardless whether or not he was armed?

Even if he was unarmed. That wasn’t considered of any consequence. Intelligence reported that there were about 10-15 people hanging around, regardless of age, regardless of anything, everyone that….

Boom?

Boom.

...

Clearly this mission was not described as an ‘execution’. If it were one, a projectile would have been fired (at the squatters). Rather, it is described a ‘Confrontational, or violent patrol’. (e.g.a patrol aiming to draw fire, or, in this case, to shoot) Let’s say everything went as planned, how would they explain it tomorrow to the press? ‘The IDF encountered a group of armed people, (as probably there were some armed people there), and someone got wounded’, and that’s the whole story. Did you understand? And that’s the end. No mention that we came to execute.

What were you told in the briefing?

It was not described as an execution mission. Absolutely not.

How then was it described?

Like I said. Firing orders for this particular mission: Entrance (into the camp) at 2:30AM. Anyone present in the alley at that time was to be shot. There are no innocent people there. That’s the mission. No one described it as an execution mission.


Another testimony has Israeli soldiers stationed outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and instructed to fire on worshippers as they exited. "We were supposed to shoot whoever came out – doesn’t matter if he’s armed or not." [Curious thing: while I've been writing this, the contents of the online testimonies have disappeared from the original website - literally everything, including text, images and videos, has been deleted. You can of course view some caches of older material here for as long as Google keeps them up, and the booklet can at any rate be read here.] Israel's latest enemy in Hebron is Palestinian orphans.

We are on the brink of the sixtieth anniversary of the Nakba, which Israel will be celebrating with the usual aplomb during Passover. To keep the celebrations safe, they will be keeping out the Arabs - an appropriate tribute, I think, to the garrison state that has emerged from the original purification of the territory. Its systems of segregation, expropriation, blockade, colonisation, airborne occupation, assassinations, demolitions, raids, checkpoint massacres, protest shoot-ups, shellings, curfews and kidnappings, has all been for the purpose of maintaining racial supremacy over the indigenous Palestinian population and eventually eliminating the very possibility of Palestine for good. So this is a logical interlude in the tortuous conquest. Lights out for the natives. Pull up the drawbridges. Man the frontiers. Fire at anything that moves. Nothing can be allowed to disturb the repose of the executioners.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Various Artists. posted by Richard Seymour

Friday night gig at Lenin's Tomb:





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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Death on the Underground posted by Richard Seymour

Via Socialist Worker, we learn that it it gets a year closer with each stop east from Westminster station:

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Latest Menezes cover-up posted by Richard Seymour


The depressing saga of the Metropolitan Police getting away with murder takes a new twist. The Metropolitan Police Authority, after saving Sir Ian Blair's job last year, has shelved an inquiry into how he handled the crisis following the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. Ken Livingstone has, of course, sadly decided to throw his political weight behind the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, reciting the New Labour mantra. Clearly, when Livingstone relies upon votes from London's working class, and particularly those most likely to be targeted by the police, it wouldn't do to have another set of revelations or criticisms of the man that he has so forcefully and vigorously defended. Unsurprisingly, when "unaccountable delays" occur, some people are saying that it might be for 'political' reasons (ie, to stop a complete electoral fuck-up). Personally, I wouldn't impugn the purity of Livingstone's motives, but ideologically he seems to have a real affinity for the police. After all, he now wants police cadets in London schools. What's that going to look like? "Right kids, listen up. At the end of the firing range, you see a man: there is his unseasonal clothing, there's the Mongolian eyes, and behind them is the brain which you must destroy, okay?" And I certainly don't want to use any inflammatory language - opportunistic, sordid, furtive, disgusting, all that unnecessarily excitable language. But what does it tell you when even the preposterous Boris Johnson is pretending to be ever-so-slightly more sceptical of Sir Ian Blair? When the sadsacks of the Liberal Democrats are taking a more principled position than - excuse me - Ken socialism-in-one-city Livingstone? What does this mean? I suspect what it means is that these politicians know that voters don't really like it when the police get off scot-free for killing someone, and are put off when politicians prattle obsequiously on their behalf. It means that Livingstone doesn't even have the usual excuse of psepholigical rectitude. He is a party man now, and so shall remain to the bitter end. (Mind you, still give him your second preference vote, because you don't really want that fucking sociopath loser Boris Johnson to be mayor).

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The Deluge posted by Richard Seymour


The global food riots and protests have hit hardest in Haiti. It is to be expected that Haiti, which has struggled for so long to escape the tyranny of external powers and is today struggling under a UN mandate in which civilians are regularly murdered, should suffer the worst of the food crisis - an acute crisis, moreover, obviously created by the markets and not simply by scarcity. (Incidentally, to the extent to which poor harvests were a factor, these cannot be extracted from the intensifying problem of 'climate change'.)

Amid the uninformative and frequently racist pieties of the media when it comes to Haiti, I have been struck by the lucidity and power of Peter Hallward's recent book, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. It stands out as the single most informative account of Haiti's politics so far produced, and it will surely become a classic and a key reference. If it is a counterblast to critiques of Aristide as a sell-out whose rule was becoming disastrous and autocratic, that counterblast is aimed at left-wing critiques as well as the conventional right-wing ones. I can think of Alex Dupuy's hostile book, The Prophet and Power, which - while it does not conceal what the Bush administration did to Haiti in 2004 - maintains that Aristide was a sell-out after 1994, having reverted to an authoritarian paradigm that he once condemned with the formation of Fanmi Lavalas as a split from the broader Organisation Politique Lavalas, and was arming Lavalas-supporting gangs to murder opponents. It's not just Dupuy - many former supporters believed that he had refashioned himself in the mould of the Ton Ton Macoutes. Hallward does a sterling job of defending Lavalas and Aristide, and describing the means by which Haitian popular democracy was repeatedly subverted by the United States. (In fact, Hallward's review of Dupuy's book can be read here).





Hallward's argument, based on a surfeit of data, documents and interviews, is roughly as follows (it follows at some length too - you may as well forget this post and just buy the bloody book). Lavalas as it emerged in the 1980s was a movement of unprecedented moment, led by a man hated by the elite as a combination of Castro and Khomeini, the sophisticated liberation theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Hallward makes clear the particular nature of Aristide's theology: "That Aristide prefers to assert this [egalitarian] principle in primarily theological terms is an indication of its unconditional quality, not of its dependence on any sort of supernatural domain. What he calls 'God' is simply a name for an uncompromising commitment to equality and justice. 'There is no force superior to humankind' and 'There is no Messiah other than the people'." It was a grave climacteric for an elite cultivated by the US during its occupation from 1915-1934 during which time it massacred the Cacos rebels, killing up to 30,000 people, and created a plantation state from corvée labour, defended by a violent government militia comparable to the Guardia Nacionale created in Nicaragua. The US has supported that elite to this date, whether its leading spokesman is Duvalier or Apaid. The threat of popular self-government that culminated in a landslide victory for Aristide in the 1990 elections could only be answered by a coup and a wave of CIA-backed death squad violence, which killed some 5,000 people.

Aristide responded to this terror by arguing that there could be no question of confronting this terror with an armed struggle. He set about negotiating a means back to power with the US, accepting some harsh terms and more or less being compelled to take up much of the agenda of his opponent who had lost the previous elections. Critics of Aristide say that he made too many compromises to return to power, and effectively become a wholly bought adjutant of American power. Hallward maintains that Aristide had little choice by 1994, given the balance of power in Haiti, but to cut a deal with the US and adopt a more conciliatory posture. Moreover, the fact that he was able to do so was nothing short of miraculous, given that the Ton Ton Macoutes who were ravaging the country even as the negotiations wore on, were a direct extension of American power in the country. In fact, as the violence of the FRAPH escalated, US negotiators were not shy about reminding Aristide that unless he was a lot more cooperative, those nasty people might end up becoming "the dominant force on the ground". (Aristide's own account of the negotiations can be read in his 1996 book Dignity). It was quite a remarkable turnabout to have Clinton announce in September 1994 - to great disquiet among neocons and nutters of the John McCain variety - that he was going to send in 20,000 marines to remove the "most brutal, most violent" regime in the hemisphere. The solidarity movements in the US undoubtedly had a great deal to do with this, but the main reason is that the Clinton administration now had come by a different means of getting what it wanted. For, what those marines actually did was not to disarm the army, but to ensure the protection of the FRAPH soldiers and extend courtesy to the murderers while key coup leaders were exiled to the US. Many former soldiers were integrated into the new national police force (PNH) which at any rate was an immediate target for assassinations, and that police force rapidly reverted to behaviour redolent of the old army. As the transition was effected, the US was able to exert overbearing control over the reconfiguration of the state, populating it with chosen advisors and consultants. This will be familiar to those who follow such institutions as the NED - the professionalisation of the civilian component of imperialism has been a critical component of American power since the 1980s. It has helped convert quite explicit dictation of the affairs of others into a neutral exercise, a simple fulfillment of a sort of corporate strategy. The best recent guide to this tendency, albeit one that places too much emphasis on former Shachtmanites, is Nicolas Guilhot's The Democracy Makers.

Most US marines remained in Haiti from 1994 to 1996, while a small number remained behind until 2000. America's multilayered presence intensified its grip over the country. But the US could not stop Aristide from doing the one thing that the people demanded above all, which was to disband the army. However, neoliberalism meant conserving the elite, and any attempt to dilute its power was resisted by the US, usually successfully. Lavalas won the 1995 parliamentary elections resoundingly, but the main organ in the Lavalas Front, the Organisation Politique Lavalas no longer supported Aristide. Led by the career politician Gerard Pierre-Charles, the OPL sought to adapt to the new power balance. One of its leading members in the new parliament was the US-imposed conservative Prime Minister Smarck Michel. At the same time, USAID and a Washington-funded body called the Programme Integre pour le Renforcement de la Democratie (PIRED) were organising for the contuination of the business elite's dominance, with the latter using its influence to win over labour and community groups. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) was contracted by USAID to organise 'civil society' groups - business leaders in the main - to maintain pressure on the government. Instead of allowing Aristide to continue as President, the OPL opted in 1996 to back his former Prime Minister René Préval, and - although they were swiftly disappointed by the latter's continued loyalty to Aristide's aideas - they did successfully under-sell a series of public utilities. The right-wing drift of OPL politics led to the formation by Aristide and his allies of Famni Lavalas (FL), a grassroots-based party designed to create a link between the Haiti's working population and their representatives. When several Aristide supporters won decisive victories in the 1997 legislative elections, the OPL refused to accept the results and its supporters resigned from the government, refused to accept any nominations from Préval for a Prime Minister and blocked legislation until their terms expired in January 1999. They then acted to delay elections until May 2000, which meant that Préval had to govern by decree for the next 18 months.

What happened next shocked the OPL (now renamed the Organisation du Peuple en Lutte in order to distance itself from the old Lavalas front from which it had emerged) and Haiti's business elites. Aristide won a decisive mandate with the backing of a disciplined political organisation that was far more cohesive than the loose coalition that had backed him in 1990. If Haiti used a first-past-the-post system like that in the UK or US, "Famni Lavalas would have won more than 95% of the seats in both houses of parliament". This, Hallward maintains, made the Lavalas movement more threatening than before. The opposition howled that it was a fix. Both the OPL and the new pro-army, pro-US coalition called Convergence Démocratique (CD) vowed not to accept the results. They were followed in their dismissal of the results by Western politicians and also by media sources such as Reuters and AP - the agenda-setting media, as Chomsky points out. The basis of this is a minor technical complaint by the OAS, which did not dispute the fairness of the vote or the legitimacy of the result. The OAS referred to a mistaken methology used by the independent electoral arbiter, the CEP, which had no Lavalas representatives on it. On this basis, the opposition and the United States undermined the legitimacy of a highly popular elected government and proceeded to sabotage it. The US imposed an embargo on all aid and blocked development loans, cutting the national budget in half and reducing the GDP by over a quarter in the period that followed. The Clinton administration instructed its ambassador to tell the new government that relations would not be normalised until the "problems" with the elections were resolved. The Bush administration continued these policies with even less subtlety, insistent that Aristide had no future. USAID and other organisations poured money into the coffers of his opponents, and IFES was put to work to mobilise various groups under the rubric of professional associations to act against the government.

This is where Hallward's documentation and reportage is essential. Myths abound about this period, with Aristide accused of orchestrating violence against opponents and ruling by decree. This despite the fact that having won so convincingly, he had invited the CD into the government and was met with intransigent hostility. The CD embodied leading US clients, and was quickly adopted for grooming by American PR experts (Hallward notes that James Foley, the US ambassador to Haiti from 2003, had cut his teeth grooming the KLA into a 'respectable' outfit in the late 1990s). IFES and the IRI embraced the Group of 184 (G184), which represented the most reactionary elements of the business sector under the sweatshop owner Andy Apaid junior. But it was not enough to destabilise the government in non-violent ways, so by late 2000, the opposition was trying to recruit some of the armed groups operating in the slums, some of which were simple criminal enterprise. They had no success in this venture until mid-2003. Former army personnel such as Guy Philippe, an admirer of Augusto Pinochet, were organised by the US under the rubric of the Fronte pour la Libération et la Reconstruction Nationale (FLRN). This was an organisation comparable to the Contras in Nicaragua. Other leaders included former FRAPH death squads fighters including Jodel Chamblain and Jean Tatoune. The FLRN organised from the Dominican Republic, and launched its first incursion into Haiti in July 2001, attacking the Haitian National Police Academy and various police stations. The government's subsequent arrests of suspected insurgents included some CD members, and was used as a pretext to call off negotiations between the CD and the government. Then, on 17 December 2001, 30 commandos took over the presidential palace with the help of the national police and announced that Aristide was no longer president. The subsequent popular uprising that thwarted the coup involved a few offices belonging to constituent parties of the CD being attacked. And so it went on, with repeated attacks and destabilisation, and all the while US policymakers and the IRI disavowed its connections to Guy Philippe and his merry band of putschists. (Philippe himself was unhelpful enough to warmly recall his 'good friend Stanley Lucas, scion of a wealthy Haitian family and the IRI programme director whose subsequent starring roles involved him in support for the Venezuelan opposition). The opposition itself abandoned its disavowal by 2004, warmly referring to the insurgent Macoutes as "heroes".




Despite all this pressure, the Préval-Aristide governments managed several remarkable accomplishments - reducing infant mortality from 125 to 110 per thousand live births; bringing illiteracy down from 65% to 45%; slowing the rate of new HIV infections. They did what they could to soften the blow of 'structural adjustment', by maintaining subsidies, implementing some land reforms, and promulgating certain social programmes. However, they were not in a position to implement socialist or even social democratic reforms, and most people suffered from the effects of neoliberalism. Realistically, what Lavalas could do was create a lively popular movement to try to pressure elites for change, to formulate popular demands and try to fulfil them. That movement consists of a national network of ti famnis, groups of neighbourhood militants. Because of its popularity, however, and also because of its relatively informal structure, it has been susceptible to infiltration by criminal or opportunistic elements. Leading Lavalas politicians often ended up showing more in common with the party's opponents than with its base, and did a great deal to enrich themselves and further their own careers. Corruption spread throughout segments of the Lavalas hierarchy, albeit on nothing like the scale of previous administrations, particularly that of Duvalier. Further, when the success of Lavalas showed the difficulty of organising outside it, so many opponents decided to oppose from within. Aristide had to work with hostile elements in the police, particularly the force attached to the presidential palace which - surprise - was composed of large numbers of former army members. Chavez can call upon the loyalty of army cadres in Venezuela; Aristide does not come from a military background and has no experience in fighting wars. He put up with demonstrations calling for a coup d'etat, allowed an unashamedly insurgent opposition to organise, and sought compromise everywhere: far from being a dictator, Aristide was in an extremely weak position. Yet, human rights organisations have tended to depict the Preval-Aristide years as continuous with previous and subsequent administrations in terms of human rights abuses. Hallward comments: "Here we reach the crowning achievement of the disinformation campaign ... Remember the basic numbers: perhaps 50,000 dead under the Duvaliers (1957-86), perhaps 700-1,000 dead under Namphy/Avril (1986-90), 4,000 dead under Cedras (1991-94) and then at least 3,000 killed under Latortue (2004-06). And under Aristide?" Between ten and thirty individuals killed by the PNH "whose political affiliation was often anti-government".

At any rate, given the manifest weakness of the government, and the growing problems faced by the country's poor, it should not have been difficult for the US to start paving the way for a coup and the subsequent UN protectorate. In fact, as Hallward points out, it took quite a long time and was much more difficult than the coup in 1991 - a testament to the resilience of the Lavalas movement. It required massive intervention, with 11,000 people in 1,000 organisations trained within Haiti by USAID. It required repeated incursions and a failed putsch. But perhaps most striking of all, it required elaborate attempts at winning over a diverse array of NGOs and unlikely groups like Batay Ouvriye (BO). Hallward documents who groups like Christian Aid performed a neo-colonial function, advocating CD's preferred version of events and a version of their preferred outcome (the elimination of Lavalas as the dominant force in Haitian politics). Hallward rightly points to the funding that BO received from the NED, as well, and the role it performed in polemicising against Aristide despite the fact that their own aims would be served worst by the overthrow of the government (although he uses the unfortunate term "neo-Trotskyite" to describe them). He suggests that they may have supported the coup, and that they were at least content to see Aristide go. Whatever the case, their sectarian analysis and actions did not see them attempt to hinder the coup in any way. The coup began with the siezure of Raboteau in September 2003, and the emergence of the Cannibal Army as an anti-government gang engaged in attacks on government forces the same year. In February 2004, the death squads and criminal gangs and ex-army men united for the insurgency and were shortly on the march to Port-au-Prince, perhaps even already there with several sympathisers in the presidential palace guards. The myths that were widely repeated in the media - that it was a democratic rebellion, a popular liberation struggle, or perhaps a combination of genuine revolt with initial criminal instigation, which at any rate had nothing to do with any outside powers - are meticulously taken to pieces in Damming the Flood. Essentially, it is clear that despite national and regional efforts at finding a negotiated settlement, and despite the fact that the evident difficulties being experienced by the insurgents, the opposition was determined this time to bring the government down. And it seems it was Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega who pulled the plug on final negotiations. The Chirac government was also anxious to get rid of Aristide and his demands for restitution for the systematic extortion of the Haitian treasury by the French state after L'Ouverture's revolution (for the amount the French deemed that they had lost as a result of the overthrow of slavery), and it restored France's longstanding relationship with Haitian elite figures such as G184 supporter Serge Gilles. Finally, Aristide was abducted on 29 September 2004. The US ambassador at the time, James Foley, claimed that it had been a rescue mission, that the US was deeply saddened by what was happening, and that to protect Aristide's endangered life they absconded with him to a safe place. It was claimed that he had resigned voluntary, with an air of passivity and acceptance. Some 36 hours after his 'resignation', as soon as he found a phone, he told every news outlet that would listen that he had been kidnapped by US forces. Hallward does not profess to be a detective, but he does an excellent job here of piecing together what happened and skewering the propaganda.

We know some of what happened next, of course: the revenge of Haiti's ruling class. The mass imprisonment and murder of prominent Aristide supporters. The restoration of convicted genocidaires. A government under a UN protectorate that carried out attacks on pro-Lavalas neighbourhoods (not to mention hospitals). Hallward documents in some detail the Latortue government's repression, as well as the massacres of the UN and anti-Lavalas gangs. However, he is fundamentally optimistic - as is Jean-Bertand Aristide in the closing interview. The coup was difficult to effect, and it could not withstand the popular counter-coup that resulted in another Preval administration. The government is still beholden to neoliberalism, the UN troops continue to commit atrocities, but Lavalas is still a powerful popular movement. Terror has not been able to destroy it in the way that the Sandinistas were destroyed, even if Haiti's position means it will take a global upturn for the left to help shake it free of domination for good. Over 200 years old now, Haiti's liberation struggle could hardly have asked for a better contemporary advocate than Peter Hallward.


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