Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Earlier on Tuesday the company announced the closure of the plant with the loss of more than 200 jobs.
It is also closing two other UK factories in in Basildon and Enfield.
Davy McMurray, from the Unite trade union in Northern Ireland said the way the job cuts were announced was "brutal."
"The administrators came in, took a meeting of the workforce and told them their employment was terminated.""
Update: it spreads!
Alternative G20 Summit posted by Richard SeymourIt had been rumoured that the Alternative G20 Summit taking place at the University of East London's Docklands campus from 4pm tomorrow was going to be scrapped, continuing the university's heavy-handed response to some remarks made by Professor Chris Knight in the media. If you look at the list of those who were scheduled to speak, you can see this was/is going to be a major event in the protest diary, and it has even been advertised in the papers and discussed on television. This petition appears to confirm that the decision was taken some days ago on "security" grounds, and demands that university management rescind their decision. I would encourage readers to sign it. As a matter of fact, I would encourage you to turn up at the alloted time and place anyway.
ps: Just seen this excellent video of Mark Thomas at the protest on Saturday (via Socialist Worker):
Kill neoliberal capitalism, why not?
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Put People First protest posted by Richard SeymourPlacards, papier mache models, balloons, flags, socialists, trade unionists, anticapitalists, celebrities, musicians, comedians, NGOs, samba bands, brass bands, racy chants, ingenious slogans and garish attire. There is your protest report in one sentence, if it can be called a sentence. To elaborate. The police estimate that about 35,000 people attended today's protest for "jobs, justice, and climate", which I guess means there was at least double that. So, it was a good protest. And it was a broad one with a huge variety of different forces uniting to resist the impact of the recession on the working class. This has created a good basis for future unity, I would think. And as important, it was an internationalist protest, with a good contingent of
I don't see it mentioned in the (copious) media reports, but there was one hitch in that the police massively over-reacted to some sit-down protest staged by a small number of anarchists and decided to stop the greater part of the protest from marching on to Hyde Park. The front part of the protest had been at the park listening to speeches for well over an hour before the rest arrived. Curiously, they do mention that 200 "anarchists" who wanted to attend were "kept separate" from the protest by the police. I didn't see anything like that, and it would be a disgrace if it were true. All of this would seem to be part of the continued effort to demonise the protests against the G20 on April 1st and 2nd. The rally itself, aside from being windswept and rainy, consisted of a mixture of video presentations, performances and speeches - on that basis, you might think there was little to distinguish this from the Bob n Bono festival back in 2005. It is true that the union leaders and NGOs that organised this are not interested in militant action. That's a given. Even so, this was a far more political event than G8, and it exposed much more raw anger. The speeches that went down best were the most militant (Brendan Barber's rather bland presentation was given the standard polite dismissal). Susan George got a good cheer from the crowd for saying that "the banks are ours, and should be treated as public utilities". Hell yes - nationalise the banks in full: it's as easy as Lloyds TSB, as simple as HSBC. And let's make them serve us instead of sending out letters advising us that we have been charged an extra eight pounds on a debit card payment because there was insufficient funds in our account. As it is, I think George was far more moderate than the crowd, from whom I heard some quite delicious suggestions as to what exactly might be done with the bankers.
Anyway, here is a slideshow of pictures:
And here is some footage:
This is the
You can see all the footage on this playlist, I think:
Friday, March 27, 2009
A promise of state terror posted by Richard Seymour
"Yesterday, the Metropolitan police was understood to have contacted a number of protest groups warning that the main day of protest, Wednesday, 1 April would be 'very violent', and senior commanders have insisted that they are 'up for it, and up to it', should there be any trouble."
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Another tenth anniversary posted by Richard SeymourSlightly less than a decade ago, I skipped London's first anticapitalist protest to go to work. It was the first and only time I did that. I still don't know why - this was temp work, and it would have been the easiest thing in the world to cancel a shift on the pretext of having to file some calluses off my feet, or flush earwax or whatever. I did take the train from south London to Cannon Street, however, just so I could pass through the milieu and see what kind of pseudo-Bakhtinian fun I was going to miss out on. It looked like fun. I trudged off, anyway, to work at the call centre and earn my five pound an hour. Started to hear rumours of a riot at the dinner break (half an hour only, but we made up for that with extended toilet breaks). By the time I got to Charing Cross station after my shift, it was closed down as was much of the centre. It turned out that a band of anti-social, drug-fuelled nihilists were being held up in their offices while the police battered the protesters outside. Naturally, almost everyone was convinced, including most of my friends, that these people deserved what they got and had brought it on themselves. I thought it was an inspiring first glimpse of resistance to New Labour, which was already mired in sleaze, ripping up its most modest election pledges and reviving the very crackpot Tory ideas that voters had just overwhelmingly rejected. But I didn't think it would last.
And then there was Seattle:
And then Prague, and Genoa. Ten years on, the ideas of that extaordinary movement turn out to be more relevant than ever. The methods of protests and carnivalesque spectacle were never going to work on their own, but they could have - sometimes did - lead to more militant action. And that is what we're looking for today, with the G20 protests and the amazing strike waves across Europe.
Strike Back posted by bat020"The name did cause a bit of a stir when I got arrested. A policeman would ask me my name and I would say 'Strike'. He would reply 'Yeah right, and I'm Arthur Scargill'."
That was former miner Norman Strike describing life as a flying picket during the 1984-85 dispute. He kept a diary of his experiences which he is now putting online, day by day. It's an extraordinary document - and a fascinating use of the weblog medium to boot. Go have a read at normanstrike.wordpress.com
The apex of moronia posted by Richard SeymourHL Mencken's description of Arkansas might have been revived to describe everything under the NATO canopy in 1999. Then again, his castigating of the "booboisie" would scarcely have gone amiss that year either. The tenth anniversary of the bombing of Serbia, supposedly the summit of that decade's growing humanitarian concern, should be the occasion for some wrist-slashing or hara-kiri on the part of those hideous ghouls who actually cheered the slaughter on. Though it wasn't the bloodiest of American-led wars, it was the occasion for some screaming, shuddering wargasms.
The moral ratification for such concupiscence was the contention that, in a corner of Europe not as yet integrated into the civilized integument of the European Union, genocide was (once again) unfolding. It would be redundant to revisit every article cynically rousing Holocaust memory, every quotation from a leading statesperson blithering about 'Europe' or 'Western values' (Ignatieff had surprisingly little to say about such narcissism, presumably because he partook of it), or every barbarity from Thomas Friedman. It is not necessary to catalogue the calls to "cleanse" Serbia, the demands for Serbia to be placed into receivership, the racial essentialism, the cries of "Not yet enough bombs, and they are already too late", Huntington's civilizational crap about Western humanitarianism versus Orthodox Serb barbarism, etc. Nor need we once again rehearse the numbers game, all of which distasteful charade was purely designed to reinforce the idea that there was an ongoing genocide which nothing short of an orchestrated campaign of high-tech violence could stop. The diplomatic record has been amply covered elsewhere, while the CIA's activities in helping lay the ground for war by making the KLA a proxy army of provocateurs awaits further elucidation. And the cover-up over Serbian civilian casualties, concealed within the raiment of 'surgical', 'precision' warfare aimed exclusively at the machinery of 'genocide', need not detain us.
It is enough to note that the ideas which produced this effusive outpouring of support for war were utterly berserk, and contributed to the deranged imperialism that liberals were to espouse during the 'war on terror'. Fresh from having pledged to fight for his country over Kosovo, David Aaronovitch defended Tony Blair's remake-the-world conference speech after 9/11 not so much against charges of "liberal imperialism" which were made in the New Statesman, but against the idea that there was anything wrong with liberal imperialism. Liberals, he averred, should try to run the world. The lesson of the Nineties was clear - do nothing, and you get Kosovo. Michael Ignatieff, having compared Serbian counterinsurgency to the Nazi holocaust, and demanded to know why the war was so late in coming, became a staunch advocate of "humanitarian empire". The age of postcolonial independence was a failure, as "populations find themselves without an imperial arbiter to appeal to" and so have "set upon each other for that final settling of scores so long deferred by the presence of empire". It was only unfortunate that America was so reluctant to fully assume the white man's burden. The liberal-neocon coalition over Yugoslavia, expressed by the Balkan Action Committee and its ads demanding a full invasion of Serbia, was carried forward into the new millenium and may well have continued to thrive had it not been for Iraq. It may yet be revived, over Darfur or a similar issue. The allure of a righteous kill, whether it comes with explicit overtures for empire or not, has hardly disappeared.
One other aspect of the war fever generated in the spring of 1999 was the sheer gratitude that many UK commentators expressed toward Tony Blair. I raise this because in a couple of talks and meetings, I have been asked to say something about why the lib imps so adore Tony Blair. It occurs to me that the love affair really began with Kosovo. Andrew Marr, later to issue a gushing benediction as the BBC's chief political commentator for Blair's war in Iraq, fell over himself praising the "brave, bold, visionary" new PM in the Observer. The liberal press were, as a rule, overjoyed to discover that their ally in Downing Street was no calculating cynic, but a true believer whose ministrations were as impassioned as their own. So unlike the previous, sleazy Major administration and its unprincipled stance toward Bosnia. Why, just look at the images of him, in his short-sleeved shirt, cuddling Kosovan refugees while his wife gently weeps in the background. Moreover, he was even more aggressive in pursuing that war than Clinton had been. There were strong indications that he would have favoured a ground invasion. As Blair became more adept at manipulating the commentariat, the loyalty he generated ensured that many backed him during his worst moments. Just as the antiwar movement was surging in numbers and feeling in early 2003, the neoconservative writer and current Tory MP Michael Gove wrote "I can't fight my feelings any more - I love you Tony". He was not the first or last to express such admiration. American warmongers always much preferred Blair to Bush, and the more the public hated him, the more they treasured for being so contemptuous of public opinion. Ten years on, the best the Atlanticists can do is groom a perpetually puzzled-looking David Miliband to take his place.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The sage of the wild west posted by Richard SeymourOne of the hair-raising ideas raised in Adam Curtis' The Power of Nightmares was that Leo Strauss, philosopher of the "crisis of the West", was addicted to the television show Gunsmoke. In that Western series, commended by no less a figure than John Wayne for its realism and adult take on American history, James Arness plays Marshal Matt Dillon, a handsome Aryan type who is always forced by his job to arrest or kill people illegally. You can see a typical denouement here, in which a cowardly killer played by Charles Bronson is shot in cold blood by the Marshal:
In its day, this horseshit was as popular as The Simpsons. What Strauss reportedly like about this show was that it reminded Americans of the existence of 'good' and 'evil'. The image of an elitist thinker indoctrinating his Chicago University caste in the finer points of Kojève, before speeding home to thrill to a comically simple-minded Western series, cannot but be bathetic. Yet, the confluence between the political philosophy of someone steeped in interwar European radical rightism (see the infamous 'letter', check his support for Vladimir Jabotinksy, and his ingratiating himself with Charles Maurras), and lowbrow culture in 1950s America is unsurprising. What Gunsmoke depicts is a political order driven by a sense of perpetual crisis, in which adherence strict moral probity threatens extinction. Universalism would be contemptible and self-defeating in such a polity, unless it was the sort of ethnocentric 'universalism' retailed by neoconservatives. Whatever differences Strauss had with Schmitt, he wholly accepted the 'friend/enemy' distinction as a realistic description of how politics worked. Egalitarianism would just as quickly finish off what remained of civilization on the frontier, since it would punish excellence and protect the base. The Western epic or miniseries mirrors the obscurantism of the Straussians in another sense, by cleansing history and politics of social struggles. The categories that matter are obviously not those of race, class, work and production (about which most intellectual production remains tactfully silent), but those of law and chaos, the Marshal and the mob. The 'Indian Wars' are there, but the traces of racial genocide are expunged - it is a sort of kitsch holocaust denial for children. The figure of the mob, moreover, is proof of Strauss' conviction that Nazism is the result of a surfeit of democratic egalitarianism. More importantly, the work performed by such productions was to reboot national mythologies, precisely those noble lies which Strauss endeavoured to protect and defend, and which he saw the value-free social sciences and their lax relativism as undermining (thus leaving American civilization susceptible to the communist threat). Strauss liked Gunsmoke because he liked the frontier state, its hierarchies, the seige mentality that it produces (Jean-Francois Drolet refers to as the "crisis-driven habitus" that he sees as constitutive of the neoconservative milieu), and what we have become accustomed to calling "moral clarity". I just wonder whether this means that the influence of Strauss is over-stated. Neoconservative intellectuals could exert influence only because of a favourable mass culture, only because their rightist, authoritarian, imperial assumptions were deeply embedded in American culture long before a German Jewish emigre started lecturing about Platonic excellence.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Thus the college president spends his time running back and forth between Mammon and God, known in the academic vocabulary as Business and Learning. He pleads with the business man to make a little more allowance for the eccentricities of the scholar; explaining the absurd notion which men of learning have that they owe loyalty to truth and public welfare. He points out that if the college comes to be known as a mere tool of special privilege it loses all its dignity and authority; it is absolutely necessary that it should maintain a pretense of disinterestedness, it should appear to the public as a shrine of wisdom and piety. He points out that Professor So-and-So has managed to secure great prestige throughout the state, and if he is unceremoniously fired it will make a terrific scandal, and perhaps cause other faculty members to resign, and other famous scientists to stay away from the institution...
It is a passage that Stanley Fish could do with perusing, judging from this and this.
Monday, March 23, 2009
One day of Zionism posted by Richard Seymour
Posted from Diigo. (Just experimenting).
Also appearing posted by Richard SeymourAmerican readers can catch me at the Left Forum 2009 in New York, from 17th - 19th April. I am presently booked for two separate panels, it seems, but I'll keep you posted as to any changes. So, if anyone has any tips for an agent of King George III travelling to the benighted colonies, post them in the comments boxes.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
In like Flint posted by Richard Seymour
First of all, Jovica Stanisic is not facing charges at the International Criminal Court, but at the ICTY. There is a huge difference in terms of the standing and legitimacy of each court. Secondly, even the ICTY does not charge that genocide took place in Croatia, or Kosovo, or anywhere outside Srebrenica, and even then it doesn't say that it was driven by Slobodan Milosevic. Yet, the reporter just keeps repeating 'genocide' as if this is supposed to have a hypnotic effect on the reader. What the indictment [pdf] actually alleges is an ethnic cleansing campaign in Krajina, and BiH. And at this point the key word remains 'alleges'. I don't doubt that substantial portions of the indictment are accurate, by the way, or that they would be shown to be such even in a court that wasn't as ridiculously biased as the ICTY. But that is hardly the point. The point of these falsehoods is to convey yet again that the fall of Yugoslavia is essentially a narrative of Greater Serbian expansionism checked only by exiguous 'peacekeeping' constraints, and that the current judicial process has more legitimacy than it actually possesses.
The story also asks us to believe that the CIA's influence was entirely benign, that it sought only to attenuate the causes of war, and that it used Stanisic to do so. This is because the CIA has taken the step of submitting classified documents to the ICTY to, er, 'clear up' their role in this affair. Obviously, we are not going to be told the truth either by the CIA, or by Stanisic in the context of a plea-bargain. But is a sign of the CIA's successful management of the news agenda that the revelation has produced not radical questioning but a further regurgitation of the propaganda memes of the 1990s, in a way that pro-actively whitewashes the CIA. The only question that the reporters asks is whether the US let the world down by being so 'equitable' to the Serbs at Dayton, as if that was the major problem with that lousy settlement. Should the US not have "unmasked" Karadzic and Milosevic and "demanded their surrender"? This would, of course, have entailed an invasion, and potentially quite a bloody one - but implicitly it would only have added to America's righteousness.
Lacanian phallacies posted by Richard Seymour
"Following Freud, Lacan proclaims 'the absence in women of fetishism.' What is the logic of this second disavowal? In Lacan's texts, women are doomed to inhabit the tongueless zone of the Imaginary. We are forbidden citizenship in the Symbolic, exiled from the archives and encyclopedias, the sacred texts and algebras, the alphas and omegas of history. If women speak at all, it is with male tongues, as ventriloquists of phallic desire. If we look, it is with a male gaze. In this way, Lacan's vision bears an uneasy affinity to the nineteenth-century discourse on degeneration, which figured women as bereft of language, exiled from reason and properly inhabiting the prehistory of the race. For Lacan, as for the discourse on degeneration, women's difference is figured as a chronological one; we inhabit an earlier space in the linear, temporal history of the (male) symbolic self. Pre-oedipal space (the space of domesticity) is naturalized by figuring it as anachronistic space: out of time and prior to symbolic history. Women's historically gendered relation to power is represented as a formally different relation to time: the imperial gesture itself.
"According to Lacan, women do not inhabit history proper. We bear a prepositional relation to history. We are pre-Oedipal and pre-Symbolic, permanently threatening the male Symbolic with our painted faces and unruly hair. Yet in this theory we are incapable of ever really disrupting anything. Just as, in imperial discourse, white men were the sole heirs to the grand narrative of historical progress, so in Lacanian discourse, men are the sole heirs to the Symbolic. While the discourse on degeneration invented imperial nature top underwrite racial, class and gender difference, Lacan invents the ineffable majesty of the 'phallic signifier' governing all social difference, a structural universal, unchanging and inevitable.
"Women in Lacan's schema are assigned the position of victim, cipher, empty set - disempowered, tongueless, unsexed. Identified inevitably with the realm of the Other, women are the bearers and custodians of difference but are never the agents and inventors of social possibility. For precisely this reason, we can be the objects of fetishism but never the subjects. To remain in the Imaginary is to become psychotic, the condition of the madwoman, hair wild. But if woman is Other, how does one begin to talk (as a woman) of different power relations between women, not to mention those between socially empowered women and disempowered men? When we speak and act as different women, the Self/Other dichotomy begins to totter and relations with the Other become relations with others.
"Lacan shares with imperial discourse the image of woman as riddle. All too often, colonials represented the colonized landscape as feminine, unknowable and unrepresentable. So too in Lacanian theory the feminine is an unrepresentable absence effected by a phallic desire that grounds the signifying economy through exclusion. Women become the Dark Continent, the riddle of the Sphinx - exoticized and implicitly racist images drawn from an Africanist iconography. Constructing women and colonized people as a riddle ("the Woman Question", "the Native Question") allows privileged European men to answer the riddle in terms of their own interests." (Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, Routledge, 1995, pp. 192-3).
Bloodying the G20 protests posted by Richard SeymourThe Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that Britain is in danger of "serious social unrest", according to the Telegraph. It is a "moderate risk", but it is one that the sentinels of capital are apparently taking rather seriously. For example, it would be hard to miss the spate of increasingly hysterical stories, some based on alarmist interviews with police eager for overtime, about the upcoming G20 protests, particularly those planned for 1st April (rather than the main demonstration on Saturday 28th). Almost all of these are prefaced by some statement in the passive voice such as "violence is feared, as delegates gather...". Just as with the G8 protests, the media envisions rivers of blood. Alongside the usual banalities about 'the majority of peaceful protesters' vs 'a small minority of extremists', these stories feature quotes from activists and websites that promise a revolutionary situation, that compare 2009 to 1649, that urge young insurgents to "storm" the banks and hotels, and so on. According to yesterday's Independent, such chaos could be brought about by as few as 2000 people. All of this hot gossip, the police attribute to "anarchists". It is difficult not to laugh at such silliness.
A great deal of this scary material is apparently coming from one website, G-20 Meltdown. This website is described as an "umbrella group" for protesters, supposedly representing 67 different protest groups, although there is nothing on the website to show that this is so. The only indication that it might be is a list of organisations supporting the protests, but a disclaimer at the bottom of the list rectifies a previous 'error' which implied that these organisations were supporters of G-20 Meltdown. (This error has lead to some statements in newspapers implying that the Stop the War Coalition among others are in some sense affiliated to G-20 Meltdown, which I don't think they are). And far from being run by hotheaded anarchists, the website is run by Camilla Power, an anthropologist based at the University of East London, a trade unionist,
This would appear to be one of the objectives behind these scare stories, the others being to obtain overtime for coppers, and frighten would-be protesters and deter them from turning out. Yesterday, The Guardian revealed that the officers who had severely beaten the shit out of Babar Ahmad at his home, punching, booting, throttling and humiliating him, also had dozens of previous complaints of brutality on their records, disproportionately against people from ethnic minorities. At the end of the story it mentions that the Territorial Support Group, the police department that conducted the arrest and assault, will be "on the frontline" at the G20 protests, as they have been in other protests where the police have behaved violently. They don't just have batons, incidentally. If the problem is deemed severe enough, they have tasers, tear gas, and pistols (just the thing to destroy-the-brain-instantly-utterly). I bet you look forward to meeting those guys up close. At any rate, the police's strategy will almost certainly be to provoke a disturbance sufficient to justify locking down segments of the city, beating protesters and enforcing mass arrests. In other areas, it will be to isolate and corner small groups of protesters and then lay into them. They may not succeed in doing this, but the bloody yarns appearing in the papers are intended to prepare the public for that violence, and to encourage them to blame the protesters.
If you do intend on going to the April fool's day protests - and you shouldn't let yourself be intimidated - you might like to take a camera to record any attempted provocation or brutality (and also to record the successes, the scale, and the temper of the protests). Be advised, however, that it is now illegal to take pictures of police engaged in "counter-terrorism" activities. Given how broad the legal definition of terrorism is, and given how many protests have been attacked under the rubric of anti-terrorism, this is de facto a law against filming or photographing demonstrations where police are present. Again, don't be intimidated: loads of people will be filming and taking pictures. The law does give the police the right to detain you on spurious grounds, but the police already had the right to detain you on plenty of spurious grounds before. The point is that if you do capture anything interesting, you'd do well to avoid being spotted by the police. The gathering of such empirical data is of great value in undermining the inevitable horror tales should the police succeed in their aims.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Morning Star workers win posted by Richard SeymourAfter having covered the strike by NUJ members at the Morning Star, it's only right to congratulate them on their victory. This is the NUJ's press release:
Morning Star journalists prove the power of a union
Workers' fight ends in decisive win
Journalists at Britain's 'daily paper of the left' have won a decisive victory over bosses who claimed they were 'betraying their class' by fighting for fair pay.
The sub-editors and reporters at the historic newspaper, which has a solid reputation backing workers fighting back, won their claim for a £19,000 a year minimum wage.
Bosses at the paper had offered the workers just a 3 per cent rise for the 2008 pay deal — effectively a pay cut as last year's average inflation rate was 4 per cent — claiming that there was no cash to pay more.
But this year, the Morning Star is benefiting from the largest investment of cash in it's history, some £600,000.
The journalists claim for £19,000 translated into a 5.7 per cent pay rise for the lowest-paid staff, but management insisted on ignoring their commitment to follow through on a previous pledge to try to raise wages when money was available.
Faced with management's refusal to put even a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of pounds in new investment towards improving low pay, the journalists voted 80 per cent to strike.
This move forced their bosses to concede the workers' full 5.7 per cent claim - plus a 3 per cent lump sum bonus - and exposed management's claim that the paper could not afford to improve pay.
About time we emulated this - we can make a start at the G20 protests.
In related news, my publisher Verso has just started blogging and twittering.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I know most of you probably saw the news headline last week that said approximately 45% of the world's wealth had been wiped out - this according to the CEO of the Blackstone Group. That is not just shareholders' wealth. Actually the rich are doing a spectacularly good job of defending themselves, shoring up their wealth and bonuses. They are dipping into national treasuries on the premise that governments will happily steal or sell the deferred wages (pensions mainly) of the working class to repay the debt. And believe me - whether it is under Obama or Brown/Cameron, they are coming for your pensions. It is the wealth by and large of those who in America are called "middle class" (what is it they say about being divided by a common language?). A huge part of what has been wiped out has been the wealth of those who depended on their house price soaring so that they could borrow against it. The value of one's house, for a lot of people, made up for stagnant or barely rising wages. Now, in the UK alone, nearly four million homeowners are in, or close to, negative equity. These people do have a pot to piss in, admittedly: they just won't be able to make the payments on it. (And some investors, nostrils filling with the whiff of carrion, are swooping in to take advantage of the collapse in prices, buying up the housing while it's cheap.)
Unemployment is rising faster than expected, as well, which means that income as well as wealth is being rapidly wiped out. We have just seen the fastest increase in the claimant count in the UK since records began. By the end of next year, unemployment is expected to be higher than it was even in the horrible recession of the early 1980s. In the US, the job market continues to deteriorate at an ever-increasing pace. It isn't going to get any better either. Those countries most dependent on the financial sector are about to suffer more, because even the banks that have so far weathered the storm are feeling the pinch. Santander, for example, which has depended on solid investments in Latin America, is about to feel the pinch as the Brazilian economy stagnates. HSBC, hitherto untouchable, has recently had to announce a rights issue. It is all turning to shit, and the last people to suffer from this will be the ruling classes who got us here.
Various left campaign groups are springing into existence in the US and UK, to pressure governments for palliation, with sensible measures like socially-affordable housing, job protection, union rights, etc. They are filling a void created by the absence of an upsurge in working class militancy, and the absence of a left-wing party capable of hegemony. In the US, there is a campaign to lobby the Obama administration from the left (I say 'left', but this includes the ACLU and Moveon.org). In the UK, the latest is the People's Charter, supported by trade unionists, left-wing Labour MPs and campaigning lawyers. This is a positive development, and I encourage people to sign up. Still, I wish it said something about tumbrils. I wish it said, in a word, that the rich are to blame for this crisis and that, as they have benefited most from the circumstances that led to this state of affairs, they ought to pay. We need to tax those bastards, take their businesses into public ownership, close their little tax loopholes, and criminalise their offshore havens. We ought to be resentful about it, too. And petty: let's make them clean the toilets at Spar while we're taking their shit. Enough with the gentrified conventions of bourgeois politics - I demand vengeance.
Monday, March 16, 2009
The real answer [to the question of why the Islamic Republic of Iran has survived] lies not in religion, but in economic and social populism. By the early 1970s, Iran had produced a generation of radical intelligentsia that was revolutionary not only in its politics -- wanting to replace the monarchy with a republic -- but in its economic and social outlook. It wanted to transform the class structure root and branch. The trailblazer was a young intellectual named Ali Shariati, who did not live to see the revolution but whose teachings fueled the revolutionary movement. Inspired by the Algerians, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, Shariati spent his short life reinterpreting Shi'ism as a revolutionary ideology and synthesizing it with Marxism. He produced what can be termed a Shi'i version of Catholic liberation theology. His teachings struck a chord not just among college and high school students, but also among younger seminary students. These budding theologians could easily accept his teachings (except his occasional anti-clericalism). One theology student went so far as to describe Imam Husayn as an early Che Guevara and Karbala' as the Sierra Madre. Most of those who organized demonstrations and confrontations in the streets and bazaars during the turbulent months of 1978 were college and high school students inspired mainly by Shariati. His catch phrases -- which had more in common with Third World populism than with conventional Shi'ism -- found their way, sometimes via Khomeini, into slogans and banners displayed throughout the revolution. . . .
This populism helps explain not only the success of the revolution but also the continued survival of the Islamic Republic. The Republic's constitution -- with 175 clauses -- transformed these general aspirations into specific inscribed promises. It pledged to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, slums and unemployment. It also vowed to provide the population with free education, accessible medical care, decent housing, pensions, disability pay and unemployment insurance. "The government," the constitution declared, "has a legal obligation to provide the aforementioned services to every individual in the country." In short, the Islamic Republic promised to create a full-fledged welfare state -- in its proper European, rather than derogatory American, sense.
In the three decades since the revolution, the Islamic Republic -- despite its poor image abroad -- has taken significant steps toward fulfilling these promises. It has done so by giving priority to social rather than military expenditures, and thus dramatically expanding the Ministries of Education, Health, Agriculture, Labor, Housing, Welfare and Social Security. The military consumed as much as 18 percent of the gross domestic product in the last years of the shah. Now it takes up as little as 4 percent. The Ministry of Industries has also grown in most part because in 1979-1980 the state took over numerous large factories whose owners had absconded abroad. The alternative would have been to close them down and create mass unemployment. Since most of these factories had functioned only because of subsidies from the old regime, the new regime had no choice but to continue subsidizing them.
In three decades the regime has come close to eliminating illiteracy among the post-revolutionary generations, reducing the overall rate from 53 percent to 15 percent. The rate among women has fallen from 65 percent to 20 percent. The state has increased the number of students enrolled in primary schools from 4,768,000 to 5,700,000, in secondary schools from 2.1 million to over 7.6 million, in technical schools from 201,000 to 509,000, and in universities from 154,000 to over 1.5 million. The percentage of women in university student populations has gone up from 30 percent to 62 percent. Thanks to medical clinics, life expectancy at birth has increased from 56 to 70, and infant mortality has decreased from 104 to 25 per 1,000. Also thanks to medical clinics, the birth rate has fallen from an all-time high of 3.2 to 2.1, and the fertility rate -- the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime -- from 7 to 3. It is expected to fall further to 2 by 2012 -- in other words, Iran in the near future will achieve near zero population growth.
The Islamic Republic has bridged the chasm between urban and rural life in part by raising the prices of agricultural goods relative to other commodities and in part by introducing schools, medical clinics, roads, electricity and piped water into the countryside. For the first time ever, villagers can afford consumer goods, even motorbikes and pickup trucks. According to one economist who, on the whole, is critical of the regime, 80 percent of rural households own refrigerators, 77 percent televisions and 76 percent gas stoves. Some 220,000 peasant families, moreover, have received 850,000 hectares of land confiscated from the old elite. They, together with the some 660,000 families who had obtained land under the earlier White Revolution, form a substantial rural class that has benefited not only from these new social services but also from state-subsidized cooperatives and protective tariff walls. This class provides the regime with a rural social base.
The regime has also tackled problems of the urban poor. It has replaced slums with low-income housing, beautified the worst districts and extended electricity, water and sewage lines to working-class districts. As an American journalist highly critical of the regime's economic policies admits, "Iran has become a modern country with few visible signs of squalor." What is more, it has supplemented the income of the underclass -- both rural and urban -- by generously subsidizing bread, fuel, gas, heat, electricity, medicines and public transport. The regime may not have eradicated poverty nor appreciatively narrowed the gap between rich and poor but it has provided the underclass with a safety net. In the words of the same independent-minded economist, "Poverty has declined to an enviable level for middle-income developing countries."
In addition to substantially expanding the central ministries, the Islamic Republic has also set up numerous semi-independent institutions, such as the Mostazafin (Oppressed), Martyrs', Housing, Alavi and Imam Khomeini Relief Foundations. Headed by clerics or other persons appointed by and loyal to the Supreme Leader, these foundations together account for as much as 15 percent of the national economy and control budgets that total as much as half that of the central government. Much of their assets are businesses confiscated from the former elite. The largest of them, the Mostazafin Foundation, administers 140 factories, 120 mines, 470 agribusinesses, 100 construction companies and innumerable rural cooperatives. It also owns the country's two leading newspapers, Ettelaat and Keyhan. According to the Guardian, in 1993 the foundation employed 65,000 and had an annual budget of over $10 billion.5 Some of these foundations also lobby effectively to protect university quotas for war veterans and together they provide hundreds of thousands with wages and benefits, including pensions, housing and health insurance. In other words, they are small welfare states within the larger welfare state. (endnotes omitted, Ervand Abrahamian, "Why the Islamic Republic Has Survived," Middle East Report 250, Spring 2009)
In some respects, left-wing media have more trouble foregrounding the gains of the revolution than even corporate media due to their own perceived socialist propaganda needs. Leftists tend to think that the way to win over workers of Iran is to hammer on only or mainly human rights violations or remaining socio-economic problems, though there is no evidence that their approach is doing any good to their own political prospect (as it doesn't help leftists speak to the experience of working people), let alone the working people of Iran (as it doesn't help working people take an objective look at their own country in comparison to others outside the core of the capitalist system and think strategically about how to make more social change to their benefit). Instead, why not properly recognize the gains of the revolution as such (as Ervand Abrahamian does above) and seek to defend and develop the remaining gains, win back the ones that have been eroded or taken back by the ruling class, and make new gains?
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Forget that the Lebanese Forces, part of the coalition which welcomed Hitchens, is a fascist militia movement co-founded by the Phalange. The post-irony Hitchens doesn't have to notice trifling inconsistencies like this. I just raise this amusing anecdote because it contains an interesting object lesson in the ideological mapping of the Decents. The SSNP are said to be the real fascists here. It is tempting to say that the sense in which the SSNP is fascist for the purposes of this discussion, is the sense in which anyone not wholly signed up the Project for the New American Century is a fascist. I suspect that there is no political force in Lebanon outside of the March 14th movement that Hitchens and his emulators would not describe as fascist. But the Decents point out that the SSNP have a symbol that looks like it might be a swastika if you look at it with one eye closed. With slightly more force, they point out that the SSNP are antisemitic, which is true. They point out that the SSNP possesses violent militias, which is also true - they saw action in the 2006 war against the IDF invasion. They aren't the only ones to have militias, of course. Several of their civilian members were slaughtered by Hariri militias in Halba last year and their offices have been repeatedly firebombed and attacked by the supporters of Jumblatt. One might add that the party has historically been right-wing and anticommunist, which is one reason why the United States considered them allies for covert action. Their cadre shifted to the left somewhat during the 1960s, and as a result the party has at times been erroneously described as belonging to the 'secular left'. Though they oppose confessionalism, they also aim to unite much of the land around the Levant from Turkey to Jordan under a 'Greater Syria', an idea based on the eccentric racial nationalism of the founder Antun Sa'adeh.
Claims that the SSNP was "modelled" on the Nazi party, whom their founder is said to have admired, are also popular currency in the right-wing blogosphere. It is a claim that is featured prominently on the party's wikipedia page, albeit you might flood your pants if you check some of the references provided. However incautious such claims are, there is a 'there' there. When the party was founded among a tiny intellectual cadre at the American University of Beirut in 1932, its doctrines bore certain (superficial) affinities to fascism. It was not uncommon for anticolonial intellectuals, raiding the intellectual arsenal of the European philosophes, to alight upon Johann Gottfried von Herder's romantic nationalism, as well as the racial doctrines that had been generated out of the colonial encounter. This was a case of stealing the oppressors' jackboots. And some of the anti-colonial movements forged in that era exhibited great interest in Germany as a once defeated nation that had renewed itself. Such germanophilia did not of itself entail sympathy with Nazism. It did lead to the SSNP setting their anthem to the music of Das Deutschlandlied (or 'Deutschland über alles' as is it inaccurately known outside Germany), even if this is a tune that pre-dates the existence of Germany as a nation-state, never mind the existence of the Third Reich.
But matters are far more complex than this. The origin of this debate, as it were, is in the counterinsurgency of the French colonial authorities. The colonists accused the party of ties to Italian and German fascism the better to harrass the activists and prosecute the leadership. It was intended to undercut the popularity of the party (which it would not have had, if it had just been a fascist organisation). The charges were never substantiated, and the party went to great lengths to dissociate itself from both fascism and Nazism. This doesn't mean there were no pro-fascist tendencies in the party. The late 1930s and early 1940s were characterised by a tremendous struggle within the party between those who maintained that a pro-Axis position was logical for both strategic anticolonial reasons for doctrinal ones, and those who supported Sa'adeh's position that the party was neither democratic nor 'totalitarian'. But the latter position won. The Third Reich, for its part, had little interest in meddling in British and French colonial interests. Indeed, it was initially more interested in encouraging the Yishuv than in making any alliances with Arab leaders. Whatever affinities Sa'adeh et al may have had with the precepts of romantic nationalism, irrationalism and authoritarianism that underpinned fascist ideology, the relationship to fascism as such was always far more ambiguous than is implied in most of the polemical writing on this topic.
This caveat applies to a great deal of writing on nationalist currents in the Middle East, especially those that emerged the interwar period: the Arabs, we are told by neocons and their liberal confederates alike, were all in with the Nazis. Peter Wien's study of Iraqi Arab nationalism is a riposte to just this kind of scandal-mongering. And this is the only reason that Hitchens little street-fight with the SSNP is worth mentioning. For here is the point: it is a common trope of Zionist and imperialist ideology in general that nationalism in the Middle East has a special ideational affinity with fascism. If you wanted to redouble the critique, you could simply replace the term 'fascism' with 'totalitarianism' which effectively operates as a synomym for all non-liberal political forces in this discussion. This fits into a broader set of stories about how Israel's military aggression is actually thwarting the prospect of another Holocaust, and of how US imperialism and its local auxiliaries are at present an authentic force for democracy in a region characterised by 'fanaticism' and 'totalitarianism' of various stripes. That the political economy of Aramco imperialism has tended to involve the US in supporting the most right-wing and anti-democratic forces in the Middle East is yet one more of those trivial inconsistencies (between fact and fancy) which we need pay no attention to.
'Political religion' is a weird thesis that, like its twin 'totalitarianism' theory, was long descredited before experiencing a revival during the 'war on terror'. (On 'totalitarianism' it is worth pointing out, as Corey Robin does, that Hannah Arendt has not been served well by her epigones. They take the more strange and least incisive of her arguments from the last third of The Origins of Totalitarianism to subsume difficult contemporary phenomena in a peasoup of pseudo-psychoanalysis.) Since the second half of 2001, there has been an academic journal devoted to disinterring this discourse. Its founder, the conservative historian Michael Burleigh, has produced several relatively popular books reheating the arguments of Eric Voegelin and Raymond Aron. Burleigh, being an ideologue of the counter-revolution, has taken the opportunity to recast Jacobinism, anarchism, Marxism and Nazism as movements reconstituting Christian metaphysics and eschatology.
The basic argument is that the secularization of church and state produced a sacralization of politics resulting in the Nazism and Stalinism of the twentieth century. The 'totalitarian' movements were political religions to the extent that their total claim over the lives of subjects enjoined them to fully determine the meaning and ultimate aim of those lives. They developed belief systems, myths and rituals equivalent to those of the overthrown church. Their fetish-object was not the cross but the state. As Eric Voegelin put it: "the divine head is cut off, and the state takes the place of the world-transcendent God". For Voegelin, a Christian theologian who hated all forms of collectivism, Nazism was a "satanical" force (he literally believed that evil was a "real substance", a "force that is effective in the world"). It was, moreover, a force made possible by the "secularization of life" that accompanied the "dissolution of Western imperial unity", the emergence modern states, and of doctrines such as humanitarianism. In short, while most critics of 'totalitarianism' hold it to be an anti-modern reflux, Voegelin holds modernity itself responsible. Human experience since the Diet of Worms has been characterized by spiritual cannibalism.
Burleigh draws extensively on this argument and shares its sympathies. As a result, he covers for the behaviour of the Catholic church during WWII, and casually expedites the whole history of Christian authoritarianism, persecution, antisemitism, racism, pogroms, etc from the narrative. As the historian Neil Gregor points out, the Nazis were not exactly reinventing the wheel when they progenerated their antisemitic texts: they drew on a history of pungent Christian slanders against the Jews. But the game is really given away by his deployment of the very apocalyptic gesture that he identifies as the hallmark of 'totalitarianism'. He indulges the rather commonplace idea that a tiny band of transnational jihadis represent a threat to "western civilization". Such doom-laden nonsense was given a free ride in the months following 9/11, and I deal with some of it in Liberal Defence (buy it already!). Essentially, it is a moral and political sanction for a wide-ranging and open-ended war in defence of said "civilization" which, if it is serious about defending itself, is adjured to restore its Christian roots.
They mean business posted by Richard SeymourThe funniest story all week is at Through the Scary Door. Sacked workers at the Sony plant in Pontonx-sur-l'Adour took their boss hostage and refused to let him go until he agreed to negotiate with the union. You bet that's funny. If you're not cackling with evil glee right now, you are BANNED from Lenin's Tomb.
Friday, March 13, 2009
What is 'political religion'? posted by Richard SeymourMichael Löwy has a lovely article on Walter Benjamin and capitalism-as-religion in the latest issue of Historical Materialism. I strongly recommend you get yourself a copy. But what Löwy doesn't say is that the final stage of capitalist religion, according to Benjamin, is Satanism. This is from The Arcades Project, composed between 1927 and 1940:
On Satanism: "When the puritans at the Council of Constance complained of the dissolate lives of the popes ..., Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly thundered at them: 'Only the devil in person can still save the Catholic church, and you ask for angels.' In like manner, after the coup d'etat, the French bourgeoisie cried: Only the chief of the Society of December 10 can still save bourgeois society! Only theft can still save property! Only perjury can save religion! Only bastardy can save the family! Only disorder can save order!" Marx, Der achtzehnte Brumaire, ed. Rjazanov, p. 124.
Also appearing posted by Richard SeymourI will be munbling at the Internet for Activists conference tomorrow, on the subject of 'blogging for campaigns'. You can find me at room G2, SOAS, 14.30 - 15.45. I see Tim Ireland is on the panel, and rather suspect he will bring the big-hitting technical expertise. SOAS folks can also see me speak, on the subject of The Liberal Defence of Murder, at a Stop the War meeting next week. It starts at 5pm on Thursday 19th March, and takes place at the Khalili Lecture Theatre, on the lower ground floor of the SOAS building. Finally, though I am not speaking at it (blast the organisers) anyone attending Birkbeck's 'On the Idea of Communism' conference today (for which free tickets are now available) might find me loitering there. Not that you should try and approach me if you do - as I'm sure others will testify, I'm right stuck up.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Obituary posted by Richard SeymourAlan Walter, 1957-2009.
The patriarchy principle posted by Richard SeymourJust because it isn't said in polite company doesn't mean people aren't thinking it. A Home Office study has found that:
16% of people in England and Wales think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she nags; 13% think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she flirts with other men; 20% think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she dresses in sexy or revealing clothing in public; 11% think it okay to beat if the wife or girlfriend doesn't treat the man with respect; 8% think it okay to beat if she is caught cheating.
Further, 36% think a woman should be held co-responsible for being raped if she is drunk; 26% if she is wearing revealing or sexy clothing; 43% if she flirts heavily beforehand; 49% if she does not clearly say 'no'; 42% if she is using drugs; 47% if she is a prostitute; 14% if she is out walking alone at night. (My summary)
Gender constructions apparently mean so much to so many that literally millions of people (including millions of women) are willing to see physical and sexual violence toward women as being some sort of punishment. As being justified or at least partially excusable if the woman in question does not behave completely as someone else's possession, or as a passive ornamentation for a well-kept house or an outing. I suspect that similar attitudes might be expressed, maybe by fewer people, about men who deviate from a certain paradigm of masculinity, who love other men, who are not violently assertive, who refuse to beat their partners, and who do not in general worship their own phalluses like Norman Douglas' man from Nantucket. Walk around acting like one of 'them', you can imagine it being said, and you're asking for it.
If I may satirise a certain commonplace way of arguing, the scope within which to argue that British values are essentially benign and not a threat to our way of life is diminishing by the day. All very well, but the underlying moral sanction of this horrifying authoritarianism is the empowerment of fathers and husbands in the name of 'family values'. Such values resonate with charm and homeliness, and it is constantly averred that they produce stable communities and disciplined children (as opposed, say, to obedient wage serfs and cannon fodder). There is barely a social problem that has not been blamed on their absence. The underlying political economy, on the other hand, is that patriarchy reproduces the very stratification-by-gender in the sphere of production that reduces the aggregate cost of labour for capital, enhances the surveillance of and control over female labour, and reconciles a number of men to aspects of the system which they might otherwise find onerous. I just mention the vulgar material basis for such ideas because it isn't going to be mentioned anywhere else, and the Home Office for its part will no doubt respond to its findings with a poster campaign or some other hearts-n-minds initiative, if they respond at all.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Although Sinn Fein are taking the unprecedented step of backing the PSNI - still a Protestant-dominated component of the British state - in their crackdown on the RIRA, there has been a great deal of hypocritical whining about how cool and clinical his statement was. Now, Gerry Adams' response to this criticism is vain and indicative of an elitist political outlook: he claimed that it was his wisdom that had manoeuvred the Republican community to where it presently was, and that therefore he should be trusted to know how to communicate effectively with his own base. This is absolute horseshit. The Republican leadership adapted to the realities in the grassroots, not the other way around. But, nevertheless, I fail to see how he could have gone further than to say that the attacks were "wrong and counterproductive" given that it is the explicit position of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA that the armed struggle was until Good Friday a necessity, brought about by the British state's refusal to admit peaceful means for resistance. Moreover, the British Army remains an army of occupation that the vast majority of Catholics do not accept. The issue, then, is obviously the political context in which attacks on troops take place and what strategy is involved. Furthermore, many of the people complaining about this supported the British state's war for as long as it went on, and obviously aren't pacifists. During the course of the war, the British Army killed 105 IRA members - I doubt a single one of those was even considered 'wrong and counterproductive' by Unionists.
Another potential consequence of the RIRA campaign could be to give carte blanche to loyalist groups who - although you don't hear much about them - have not yet decommissioned and show no signs of doing so. So far, the signs are that the loyalist leadership is happy to leave the British state to deal with this. But Gusty Spence, the doyen of the Ulster Volunteer Force, has already explained that his outfit have kept their weapons on the grounds that certain unspecified "activities" could lead them to undertake renewed "resistance". Such resistance would involve the murder of Catholic taxi drivers and postmen, and the shooting up of pubs in Catholic areas. Attacks on Catholic civilians constituted the vast majority of their activities. True, they are generally absorbed in racketeering and drug-dealing these days, even though they are known to 'police' loyalist estates with a supposed anti-drugs policy. Equally true, some of their number have been drawn into the penumbra of the far right, with activists beating up Chinese and black people. But there must be some nostalgia for the old days. As for the UDA/UFF, those poetasters of death, as far as we know they no longer have a gig with British intelligence. But, as their dalliances with sociopathic neo-Nazis and their bloody internecine feuding have demonstrated, they still have a penchant for ultra-violence.
Despite such dangers, however, it is hard to see the RIRA's campaign as anything but a death rattle. They reportedly have 300 members and guns, but little else going for them. They lost the argument inside the Provos, and they aren't about to manufacture a victory now. This is because the majority of the rank and file were not as doctrinally committed to a united Ireland as advertised. The impetus behind the struggle was the desire to seize the whip from the overseer's hand, as it were. When the majority of activists decided that it was possible to obtain civil rights for Catholics within the context of a British state, they overwhelmingly supported it. The RIRA can at most create a temporary state of tension, although I also note that they are capable of certain lexical innovations. For example, pizza delivery men are heretofore reclassified as a "collaborators". But I don't see any other party ready as yet to return to war. And as the Cedar Lounge points out, there isn't in any of this a strategy to unite Protestants and Catholics, or to build any other political basis for the struggle than the simple idea of placing the north of Ireland under the sovereign control of the Republic. Does that really address the needs of the Catholic working class today, much less the majority of the people of Northern Ireland? I mentioned its lack of support recently, but the larger question is, does it even seek popular support? The manner in which it is conducting itself suggests otherwise. Eamonn McCann, speaking for the Irish SWP, puts the case well:
"we reject entirely the strategy of 'armed struggle' carried out in the name of the people but, of necessity, behind the back of the people and without sanction of the people. We rejected armed struggle when carried out by the Provisional IRA. We reiterate that position now.
"The attack comes at a time when the need for working-class unity was never clearer. Here, as in the South and across the water, we are faced with a relentless attack on jobs, wages and public services, from employers’ groups and the governments of Gordon Brown and Brian Cowan. The killings on Friday are a disruption and diversion from these urgent issues.
"We reject the hypocrisy of Brown and others who promote war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, then profess a belief in peace when this suits their purpose. Brown was preparing to dispatch the soldiers killed at Antrim to kill or be killed in the doomed, imperialist adventure in Afghanistan."
Monday, March 09, 2009
Advertisements for myself posted by Richard SeymourThis ghastly parade of images is what happens when I am set loose with Photoshop and Powerpoint. Any better ideas would be welcome, even if it must be a lolcat image.
Update: The very talented graphic designer Noel Douglas was so pissed off by my drivel that he decided to contribute his own ideas. Here is a suggested banner and two ads:
Entschwindet made this:
More from another kindly reader:
Also, Qlipoth made these. See how they work? Attention, interest, action, desire. Always be closing. Always be closing. And a kindly anonymous contributor thought up this, based on this. Right, well, I'll be putting the contracts out to tender later this week.