Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pink triangle, blue star posted by Richard Seymour

I don't know how I missed this: the Israeli government is trying to dragoon a gay international into supporting its belligerence toward Iran:

The new campaign, to be overseen by the Foreign Ministry, aims to appeal to people who are less concerned with Iran's nuclear aspirations and more fearful of its human rights abuses and mistreatment of minorities, including the gay and lesbian community.

The campaign plans to recruit the international gay community, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed in 2007 when he said there were no homosexuals living in his country.

The campaign will also reach out to Jewish groups who want to bring more attention to Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and some members of the Iranian regime's anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist views.

About NIS 8 million have already been budgeted for the new campaign, which also includes increased briefings for foreign journalists on the Iranian nuclear program and greater use of the Internet and sites such as YouTube.

This is not the first time that Israeli leaders have sought to appropriate the progressive veneer of other people's struggles. Netanyahu has done it before. In 1999, he reportedly addressed a letter to Israeli gay groups arguing that the Palestinian Authority was anti-gay. Just as Israel's ultimate vindication in the West is that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East" (apart from the other democracies in the Middle East), so in general Israel's apologists are inclined to highlight the comparative liberality of the Zionist state compared to many of its neighbours. Obviously, this is as grotesque and cynical as Bush's attempt to pose as the liberator of womankind while dropping daisy-cutters on women in Afghanistan. And somehow, the idea of Israel promoting itself as the vanguard of gay rights fails to convince. A swaggering, macho garrison state where homophobia is rampant - this is the Stonewall of nation states? A country in which Pride demonstrators have been attacked and stabbed, where an elected politician literally thinks that gay sex can make the earth move (by causing earthquakes), in which the president once referred to gays and lesbians as "disgusting", in which a senior member of Olmert's cabinet referred to queers as "sick people", in which the very presence of gay people in the streets produces riots by demented reactionaries. This is the international prize-fighter whom LGBT people are supposed to get behind? And what's the programme supposed to be? Support gay rights by slaughtering Iranians? I wonder if the PR agents have contacted these people?

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The scalps posted by Richard Seymour

Sami al-Arian, Norman Finkelstein, Joel Kovel, William I Robinson, Nagesh Rao, Loretta Capheart, Margo Ramlal-Nankoe... From HR 3077 and the 'Academic Bill of Rights', to the ongoing drive to have students rat on left-wing professors, the kulturkampf of the right that was so energised by 9/11 continues to claim its scalps.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BNP threat posted by Richard Seymour

Peter Hain rightly challenges Guardian readers and fellow Labour members to take the threat of the BNP seriously. They are on the verge of winning seats on the European parliament, and thus acquiring up to £2m in funds. It is a pity that Peter Hain had to be the one to say it. For one thing, it could be seen as an attempt to shore up Labour's vote, which is on the precipice of a sudden deadly plunge. This was quite obviously the case with Harriet Harman's appeal earlier this month (though I note that at least Peter Hain doesn't just say 'vote Labour', as Harman did). Secondly, as much of the comment on the thread suggests, few people really want to take their lead from a former New Labour minister who backed the 'war on terror' (unfortunately, the thread is also crawling with fascists and demented complaints that Labour "sold out to Islam" - you might want to pop over there and bash the fash if you have a minute). This is a party that has vilified asylum seekers, bullied Muslims and promoted people like Hazel Blears to blither about political correctness. You might wonder who needs lessons in anti-fascism from such people. The hostility to New Labour is bracing. I for one am completely uninterested in rewarding Gordon Brown's crawling to the City, his 'British Jobs for British Workers' schtick, or his proposed austerity programme. And it is tragic that we don't have the kind of unified left-wing alternative that France and Germany both have, although there will still be left-of-Labour alternatives out there. Still, that doesn't change the fact that Hain is right about the BNP, and that complacency is not an option.

After all, the BNP are not just a racist, violent and authoritarian party. They are that. Their call for the 'repatriation' of black and Asian Britons - whom they deem "racial foreigners" - is a call for ethnic cleansing, sure to be backed up with the "well-directed fists and boots" that Nick Griffin used to drool about. It isn't just that their hardcore bully-boys, often integrated into the terrorist Combat-18 group that was formed to act as stewards for BNP rallies, are often violent criminals and sociopaths. The BNP is a party whose leadership and core members are marinated in the ideology of the Third Reich. It is a Nazi party. If this germinal junta gets European representation and funding, then it is a step toward barbarism in a continent where the far right is making atrocious headway. One comment on the CiF thread suggests that the far right can be relied on to disintegrate due to its often violent internal schisms. The BNP is not exactly short of factional ructions, as the 2007 split and a recent leaked document illustrates, but that hasn't really stopped them making worrying inroads in local elections. It doesn't stop them having 56 council seats and a seat on the London assembly. In the last European parliament elections in 2004, the BNP gained over 800,000 votes, just short of 5% of the total vote. This time round, they may get Nick Griffin elected to that body, and would need only 8% - easily within reach, I would have thought. That would shift the centre of gravity to the right and benefit every racist and reactionary current in the UK.

This means that a priority of the Left should be backing the campaign by Unite Against Fascism during the upcoming elections.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Best in the world posted by Richard Seymour

The British state has to be one of the most cynical and mendacious institutions on the planet. The recent release of 12 alleged 'terror suspects' reminded us that just because the Prime Minister tells us that a "a very big plot" has been foiled, this doesn't necessarily make it so. The manipulative invocation of periodic 'terror threats' in this country, from the tanks at Heathrow to the arrested firework insurgents in Portsmouth, are only remotely effective because we have a media that is avidly receptive to anything that smacks of authoritarianism - whatever it takes to police the dangerous classes. And think of the other lies. The lies during the Iranian 'hostage' crisis. The lies about Menezes, the Koyair brothers, and now Ian Tomlinson. I realise I'm not making an incisive sociological point here. It's just that the consistency with which this happens, the absolute predictability of it, is invariably lost in the media fug (notwithstanding Nick Davies' excellent piece in The Guardian today). So I thought it was worth mentioning.

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SOAS sacks key union activist posted by Richard Seymour

Employers have a number of ways of getting back at successful strikers, and one of them is to target militant trade unionists. Recently, after a high-profile campaign by SOAS Justice for Cleaners, which was ultimately victorious in its demands for decent pay*, the SOAS Unison Branch Chair, Jose Stalin Bermudez, was suspended pending a disciplinary hearing. This was presumably good news to the management at my alma mater, Birkbeck College, where Bermudez was supporting the Living Wage campaign by cleaners there - a campaign that continues to this day, and which involves staff and students at Birkbeck.

The charge against Bermudez was that he had made a "death threat" to a colleague in 2007. The charge has not been substantiated, and was rejected by an earlier grievance hearing, but nonetheless Sharon Page of the SOAS directorate resuscitated the charge in order to justify his sacking. This was the same Sharon Page who had, in 2008, conceded that there was "no evidence or witness to substantiate" the claim that there was "any verbal threat" to the life or safety of the complainant. This was subsequently confirmed in correspondence from the Human Resources manager Charles Perry.

Following the initial decision to sack Bermudez, an appeal was launched. SOAS selected a panel to hear the appeal, rejecting the arguments from SOAS Unison, UCU, NUS and several members of the Academic Board for an independent review. That panel, under the direction of the HR advisor, affirmed the original decision. The basis of the decision was the perception of the complainant. But there was an independent witness, Pablo Grisales, who - instead of being given the opportunity to testify - was brought before three managers, who read to him a prepared statement and asked him to confirm it. He was given no chance to read the statement, or qualify it in any way. He was prevented from offering his own independent version of events. And the statement, never signed, became the official "witness statement".

Grisales subsequently attended the disciplinary hearing earlier this year, and supported Bermudez's recollection that there had been no threat of any kind. However, Sharon Page dismissed the evidence as a fabrication, declaring that "on the balance of probabilities" she would prefer to believe the managers' claim that Grisales had "verbally confirmed" the unsigned "witness statement". Further, the complainant's version of events was deemed "far more credible" than that of either Bermudez, the accused, or Grisales, the sole independent witness. This absurd judgment reeks of prejudice. In their statement on the decision, SOAS Unison and SOAS UCU, say: "To say that this borders on downright racism would be an understatement. Sharon Page made her decision to dismiss Stalin on her perception of the complainant's perception. One white manager's perception of a white complainant's perception of a black employee. No contest in SOAS."

*The SOAS Living Wage campaign successfully sought to raise cleaners' wages to the modest London Living Wage level of £7.45 per hour, set by the Greater London Assembly to account for the high costs of living in the city. This campaign continues at the other Bloomsbury colleges.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

How to fill the 'black hole' posted by Richard Seymour

The IFS estimates that the Treasury has a £45bn black hole in its finances. Today, we learn that the 1,000 richest people in the UK have experienced a dramatic decline in their wealth due to the credit crunch, from £413bn to £258bn. £258bn is still too much dough for such a small amount of people. I expect they could comfortably survive on a mere million each (fewer ivory backscratchers, I admit, but we all have to make sacrifices in these difficult times). If you applied a windfall tax on their wealth, leaving each with a million quid to live on, you would still be raking in £257bn. That would cover the 'black hole', and pay for the TUC's proposed £25bn stimulus and leave £187bn left to spend or redistribute. Failing that, there is one other option: it has been noticed that the shortfall is roughly equivalent to the annual 'defence' budget. The obvious solution is to stop spending so much money on wars of conquest, arms development, nuclear weapons and all of the other means of mass destruction that the British state is so fond of. Lenin's Tomb will return soon with more attractively simple solutions to the world's most complex problems.

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Reasons to be cheerless posted by Richard Seymour

I mentioned the unrealistic growth expectations built into Alistair Darling's budget the other day, but no one expected these to be so rapidly and comprehensively mocked by reality within a matter of days. But so much for reality. Yesterday's report that the Brtish economy shrank by 1.9% in the first quarter of 2009, the fastest rate of contraction since 1979 has produced a stunningly inept response from Darling, to the effect that he holds form to his prediction of a 3.5% contraction throughout this year followed by a recovery next year. The Left Banker points out that the UK economy is actually on course to contract by 6% over this year and enter into technical depression next year. The basis of Darling's optimism, however, is that the government has "put a lot of money and a lot of support into the economy fiscally, in terms of lower interest rates and credit easing. We have underpinned the banking system." The trouble is that this very strategy of underpinning the banking and credit system in part depends on the government's insanely optimistic growth predictions. As Paul Mason points out, if investors don't believe the government's predictions, then they'll push down the price of gilts, thus increasing the real interest rate that the government pays on them and undermine the whole 'quantitative easing' strategy. Moreover, as Larry Elliot adds, even if the stimulus being implemented for this year (the last year of stimulus before austerity kicks in) were sufficient to bring about a recovery by the end of 2009, the idea of 3.5% growth from 2011 onward is "for the birds". Even in the most optimistic circumstances, in order to pay off the deficit any future government will ransack the public sector, slashing spending and selling off assets. They will also have to raise taxes, and probably not greatly on the rich or on corporate profits, thus eating further into consumption at a time of rising unemployment. Things can only get grimmer.

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Interview with Doug Henwood posted by Richard Seymour

WBAI has the MP3 of my latest appearance on Doug Henwood's 'Behind the News' programme, about 11 minutes into the show. I think I sound much more pessimistic about the Left's prospects than I really am, and I wish I'd remembered the return to the great wave of successful student occupations over Gaza which has been an inspiration, and the best antidote to the scabbing behaviour of the disgraceful NUS leadership.

Update: this link will last longer than the WBAI one.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Allied turf wars posted by Richard Seymour

Is Obama's new age of multilateralism all it's cracked up to be? Okay, let me put this another way. Imagine you're an Anglo-American liberal. Now, there's no need to put on a self-righteous rictus smirk, or start reading the New Republic: I am not asking you to method act, just use your imagination. You've just watched for eight years as America has betrayed its ideals, its democratic mission, the humane and inclusive world posture that won it so many starry-eyed admirers during the 1990s. Yes, you understand that in the messy world of global power politics one sometimes has to gravely compromise one's own principles. But to be so open about it, to be so brazenly cynical in choosing to launch a major war and occupation with poor excuses and worse planning... After all, you might think, there was a principled case for war if only Bush had coopted a few Democrats and been more strategically multilateral. The Clinton administration had used the Bush troika - WMD proliferation, human rights abuses, and terrorism - as the basis for belligerence throughout the 1990s. There was no reason for Bush to parody this fine legacy with his grotesque grandstanding and overtly partisan domestic position. And throughout this gloomy midnight of Pax Americana, you watched years of massive strategic advantage being frittered away, as the containment of Russia finally broke down, the NATO alliance was fractured, allies were angered by protectionism and unilateralism, enemies were strengthened by the same, and populations in formerly friendly societies chose regimes hostile to the US. Worst of all has been the contribution this folly has made to rising anti-Americanism of which you yourself have falsely been accused.

But now it is different. Barack Obama, who speaks softly but carries a big stick, is the new "leader of the Free World" (astonishing to think that people still use this expression). He is wildly popular in naturally sympathetic European states, and the Euro clerisy are balls deep in his hopeful audacity. As a result, he will have the clout necessary to restore the shattered NATO alliance and solve the problem of overstretch. Obama has spoken of restoring relations with Russia. He has scolded Iran for its nuclear heresies, but also offered to chat, the better to weaken and isolate its fanatical and hate-ridden leadership. As a necessary evil, he has exchanged pleasantries with that poisonous caudillo Hugo Chavez, who will soon fall to a colour-coded 'revolution', you hope. He has taken a sensible approach to Iraq, with a prudent application of the 'Pottery Barn rule' - no precipitous withdrawal, no dissing the surge, and no defunding. He has cautiously sought to roll back the unpleasantness of officially sanctioned torture (Bush scandalously neglected to fully outsource the practise). He has pledged to revive multilateralism and build a strong deterrent force in Afghanistan, and if his preference for 'security' over 'democratisation' saddens you, then you are equally saddened that Afghanistan is not yet ready for the liberal institutions that Bush so hubristically sought to impose. But this only strengthens the case for defeating the enemy. By appointing Clinton era officials, he has offered a reasonable chance of reviving that golden age. And perhaps Obama might better Clinton on Africa. With some intelligent planning, the crackdowns on Somali piracy - an early Obama success, drafting the EU into shouldering more of the imperial burden - can become the basis for a series of actions to stabilise that unfortunate continent, with the pacification of Sudan its crowning achievement. And even France has normalised its relations with the US by electing a neoconservative leadership that has already rejoined NATO. At any rate, you are optimistic for the first time in this young millenium.

Still, you can't help but find something disturbing in all this. If the new president, surely at the height of his appeal, can't get more than 5,000 extra non-combatant troops out of NATO, or reform the alliance to more adequately meet its interests, what has become of his dynamic multilateralism so soon? A boost in NATO commitments was supposed to give Obama room to cut taxes domestically and stimulate the economy. And if the potent POTUS can't get the EU to even agree measures to accept prisoners from the closing Guantanamo, does this point to European moral shortcomings or to US diplomatic shortcomings? Or to something worse? If European states can't see their way to defending the energy frontiers of what Brzezinski called the 'global Balkans', how can they be expected to commit to interventions where their commercial interests are less obvious? Moreover, the Obama administration seems to be remarkably slow at getting the right personnel, with no assistant secretary of state for African affairs appointed five months after his election - is this administration really going to lead an international (ie, Euro-American) coalition to save Darfur? Perhaps it is at this point that you wonder if the whole idea of a renaissance in American foreign affairs is a mirage. The political-economic basis for Clintonite multilateralism is gone, after all. Washington's unipolar dominance is disappearing, its hegemony over potential rivals ending, its mode of dominance through what Peter Gowan calls the 'Dollar-Wall Street-Regime' possibly coming to an end. Now you find Italy and France siding with Russia, while Germany - which, while its banks have suffered terribly from the crisis, is not a heavily leveraged society compared to its Anglo-Saxon competitors - bucks the financial 'bail out' plan. What if Bush was right? What if the neoconservative prospectus as of 2001 was not an extremist, adventurist programme but a realistic engagement with a world in which America's ability to control affairs was undergoing long-term decline? What if, while mobilising antique doctrines of empire, it was in practise an emergency management programme for a society that only survived the 2000-1 recession on the basis of a temporary housing bubble, with poor subsequent growth rates? Suppose the protectionism of the last administration was a sensible response to competition that America could no longer withstand. Even Clinton's handling of WTO disputes was thoroughly protectionist, or does no one remember the "banana wars"? And, after all, Obama isn't exactly abjuring protectionist measures, what with his proposed Patriot Employer Act. What if, moreover, the Bush government could do little else but pursue a 'unilateralist' course given the extreme measures forced upon it by the circumstances of obvious decline? The PNACers would probably have had little influence were it not clear that the US was losing some of its dominance, and was destined to lose its financial 'leadership' (to use one of your favourite euphemisms). What if Obama is obliged to do the same, only more forcefully? What if, unable to draw allies alongside him, he has to expand his Afpak war into other zones of Central Asia? Would Bush's rough-riding henchmen have acted any differently? What if, objectively, your stance for the last eight or so years has been objectively anti-American?

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Behind the Visteon closures posted by Richard Seymour

Socialist Worker has a few interesting pieces on the background to the struggles at Visteon, not least of which is this from Simon Basketter:

Ford set up Visteon in 1997 and outsourced it in 2000. An internal Visteon UK document in the possession of Socialist Worker reveals the method underlying the outsourcing process.

The document, which was presented to bosses in 2005, is couched in management jargon with obscure formulas for calculating risk and costs.

It shows how outsourcing was meant to lower costs.

It starts by saying the benefits of outsourcing are “increased productivity” and “cost reductions”, though it notes that outsourcing doesn’t “improve quality” of products.

The document uses the example of the outsourcing of part of Visteon to India. In 2002 this part had a resource per hour cost of $80 in the UK and $25 in India.

In 2004 it had a resource per hour of $75 in the UK and $20 in India. In other words, outsourcing drives down wages in both countries.

The document argues that outsourcing requires directors to have “toughness” in increased proportion to the number of outsourced companies.

It says that there are three options for contractual agreements: “Negotiate” which is described as “expensive and time consuming”, “Ignore”, or “Remove liability insertion points”.

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NY pics posted by Richard Seymour

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Darling Budget of April posted by Richard Seymour

So, what's this I hear about Alastair Darling composing a budget while I'm out of the country? Just a quick observation, since I've only just got some sleep and am horribly jet-lagged. Paul Mason made the point at the Left Forum that the idea that social democracy is dead has been disproven. He insisted that social democracy is becoming the dominant response to this crisis, and I think this budget - for all that it still seeks to conserve some kind of neoliberalism - bears this analysis out with its 50% upper tax limit. The policy concedes the principle that the rich should pay at least some of the costs of this crisis, even as the government has lavished billions on the City in a vain effort to maintain it as the hub of their economic strategy. This is only one measure, among others that are far less satisfactory. It is probably inadequate anyway, and certainly shouldn't be as unthinkable as it happens to be. I think that New Labour could easily have accomplished something like this in its first years in office, without substantially eroding its electoral coalition. And in the long run the government is still looking to impose £15bn of spending cuts. And of course, all of this is based on some unrealistically optimistic projections for economic growth, that see the economy recuperating by 2010 and surging to 3.5% annual growth by 2011. Still, the fact is that New Labour has broken with years of disavowing any redistributive politics. This doesn't mean, at least to me, that anyone should consider rushing back to Labour in a futile attempt to win it to the Left. That game has been tried for over a century and it isn't going to work now. It does mean that there is an opportunity opening to pressure the government from the Left that there hasn't been for some time.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Left Forum and New York posted by Richard Seymour

I realise that British readers are about ready to hit the sack at the moment, but as I write the Left Forum is just having its final plenary and the sun is blazing in Times Square (ghastly, tasteless place that it is). It has gone very well, with a very high level of debate and discussion, although it is sad to see that the only parties really present around the perimeter of the premises where the event is taking place are tiny sects with placards that look like a mixture of The End of The World is Nigh messages and Scientology posters. This perhaps speaks to a particular dilemma of the US left: huge numbers of knowledgeable, talented, committed people, but hardly any organisational presence. Sad to say it, even the ISO don't appear to have a stall (someone correct me by all means). This afternoon, I spoke alongside the excellent Samuel Moyn, who provided a detailed background to rights discourse and its entanglement with nation-states and the international order, and Rick MacArthur, the bon viveurish publisher of Harper's who interspersed his analysis with anecdotes about BHL et al. It was a really excellent meeting, well-turned out, and I think I went down quite well.

I also attended a luminous discussion on the financial crisis with discussions from Doug Henwood, Paul Mason of Newsnight, Robin Blackburn and Max Fraad Wolff. Wolff was the most entertaining and effectively hammered home the argument that there is no Main Street vs Wall Street, as in the pseudo-populist rhetoric of American politicians, but that the debt/speculation at the heart of the US economy was the basis of Main Street's ersatz sense of prosperity. The whole world economy, moreover, is integrated into that debt/speculation system, and would lose trillions in value if that system was abandoned (as it should be). Henwood, for his part, painted it black. The US economy is tanking, the ruling class is singularly lacking in the imagination or resources to reinvent the system, and the lack of a coherent opposition movement means that the system is likely to continue dragging on in an unpleasant way. He argued that there is a huge social crisis looming, though, since the system's legitimacy has been based on the spectacle of unprecedented levels of consumption, supported largely by debt. If the lower levels of consumption focused on essentials is a long-term development and the old system can't be restored, then there is potential for upheaval. Mason was particularly interesting with his diagnosis, and his suggestions (all hedged by the insistence, which raised laughter, that his appearance at the Left Forum by no means entails that he is personally left-wing). He argues that the Left has a unique opportunity to enforce a utility structure on the banking system, with low levels of profitability, complete transparency and effective socialisation in various forms. He argues that neoliberalism is finished and that, even though many politicians and their allies in capital are trying to manage any transition in as reluctant a fashion as possible, a renewed social democracy is ascendant.

New York is lovely, or at least parts of it are and, despite years of gentrification, there remains a certain community spirit with people chatting on the stoop and drinking out on the pavements, in the sun. The part of Brooklyn I am staying in hasn't entirely had the working class driven out, nor has it been ethnically cleansed yet, so it appears to be in an optimal state of diversity and well-being that will soon come to an end. The area is still alive with Obamamania, as is much of New York (or so one gathers from the Obama posters and kites proliferating in windows, restaurants, and small businesses). In fact, the advertisers seem to be exploiting Obama's popularity relentlessly. There is one insurance company advert which features a glowing face and the slogan: "Can one word move you? Yes!" As in 'Yes It Can!'. Well, it was a good branding exercise, so why wouldn't someone capitalise on it? I'll be back Wednesday with pictures.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Saving the trophies on the Titanic posted by Richard Seymour

David Clark, former New Labour foreign policy adviser, is unhappy that many on the Left who supported Operation Allied Force in 1999 are revisiting that position and recognising it as a destructive precursor to the attack on Iraq. Given his position, it is reasonable to say that he bore some responsibility for enabling British participation in that war (although I have to say that his boss, Robin Cook, didn't look to enthusiastic at the time, which is probably why the job of selling the aggression was delegated to the defence secretary George Robertson). Has he got anything new to say that might change one's mind? He reproves the Left, but has he listened to what anyone was saying? Unfortunately not. He rehearses a shopworn story, which for the most part has already been answered, and it would be trite to regurgitate it here. He flat out denies that there was any geopolitical motivation in launching the war, which would presumably raise a few smirks among Clinton administration officials who have publicly argued the opposite. He points to ethnic cleansing, but seeks by sheer rhetorical force alone to avoid the fact that the war itself, as well as US tutelage of the KLA, convoked that process, and that the result was entirely avoidable. And just as Clark baldly asserts, without qualification or serious discussion, western innocence with respect to what took place, he takes no account at all of the KLA's co-responsibility for the war, through its targeting of civilians, its seizure of territory, and its smashing of rival groups within Kosovo. He claims that Milosevic's war was waged in the defence of Orthodox Christian supremacy, which is absolute twaddle: it was a vicious counterinsurgency aimed at defeating a violent secessionist movement. One could go on - Clark's polemic is a mindless regurgitation of some long discredited talking points of 'humanitarian interventionists'. But there is just one point that I wish to draw particular attention to. This is the response to (absolutely undeniable) charges that the discussions at Rambouillet were sabotaged:

These critics talk as if the destruction of Bosnia was a figment of the imagination. The reality is that by the time of Rambouillet, western leaders had wised up to Milosevic's game of rope-a-dope in which he negotiated peace in bad faith while continuing to unleash ethnic terror on the ground. They had already endured eight years of it.

This is the self-destruct button in the article. Of course, the claim is a direct falsehood. The "western leaders" whom he imagines naively entertaining Mr Milosevic throughout the 1990s were themselves deeply involved in blocking and frustrating peace initiatives, at several key points, including the Lisbon agreement. This isn't a matter of controversy. Moreover, it would appear to be a non-sequitur if it is supposed to refute the claims that the negotiations were sabotaged. But the really interesting point is that Clark - who was presumably involved in the diplomacy at some level - doesn't actually bother to refute the claims that the negotiations were sabotaged and that unrealistic conditions were imposed on FRY in an effort to induce rejection. His retort is as close as one gets to admitting that the negotiations were sabotaged and adding that 'it's a good thing too'. If the story were as Clark says it is, what would be the point of negotiations? Wouldn't they just be an elaborate precursor to war, exactly as the antiwar Left said they were?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Left Forum 2009 posted by Richard Seymour

I'll be heading to New York tomorrow to participate in the Left Forum. If you're in the city, or within reasonable SUVing distance, I order you to attend. My two confirmed panels are as follows:

Liberalism, Imperialism & the Politics of Human Rights
Jacob Stevens (Chair)- Verso Books
Richard Seymour - author, "The Liberal Defense of Murder"
Samuel Moyn - History, Columbia University
John R. MacArthur - Publisher, Harper's
Sunday 19th April, 12-2pm

SCREENING: Malalai Joya: Enemies of Happiness
Women rights and the state of occupied Afghanistan
Post-screening discussion by
Derrick O'Keefe - Editor, rabble.ca
Richard Seymour - Author of "The Liberal Defense of Murder"
Saturday 18th April, 3-5pm


Otherwise I'll be around, cheerfully imposing myself on whoever doesn't see me coming.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Bombing Civilians: An American Tradition" posted by Richard Seymour

Marilyn B Young, who has written well on imperialism and the global 'colour line', has co-edited a new book on the history of American bombing. This is an excerpt from the book:

Airpower embodies American technology at its most dashing. At regular intervals, the air force and allied technocrats claim that innovations in air technology herald an entirely new age of warfare. Korea and Vietnam were, so to speak, living laboratories for the development of new weapons: the 1,200-pound radio-guided Tarzon bomb (featured in Korean-era Movietone newsreels); white-phosphorous-enhanced napalm; cluster bombs (CBUs) carrying up to 700 bomblets, each bomblet containing 200 to 300 tiny steel balls or fiberglass fléchettes; delayed-fuse cluster bombs; airburst cluster bombs; toxic defoliants; varieties of nerve gas; sets of six B 52s, operating at altitudes too high to be heard on the ground, capable of delivering up to thirty tons of explosives each. A usual mission consisted of six planes in formation, which together could devastate an area one half mile wide by three miles long. Older technologies were retrofitted: slow cargo planes (“Puff the Magic Dragon”) equipped with rapid-fire machine guns capable of firing 6,000 rounds a minute; World War I– era Skyraiders, carrying bomb loads of 7,500 pounds and fitted with four 20-millimeter cannon that together fired over 2,000 rounds per minute.

The statistics stun; they also provide distance. They are impossible to take in, as abstract as the planning responsible for producing them. In Korea over a three-year period, U.S./UN forces flew 1,040,708 sorties and dropped 386,037 tons of bombs and 32,357 tons of napalm. If one counts all types of airborne ordnance, including rockets and machine-gun ammunition, the total tonnage comes to 698,000. Throughout World War II, in all sectors, the United States dropped 2 million tons of bombs; for Indochina the total figure is 8 million tons, with an explosive power equivalent to 640 Hiroshima-size bombs. Three million tons were dropped on Laos, exceeding the total for Germany and Japan by both the U.S. and Great Britain. For nine years, an average of one planeload of bombs fell on Laos every eight minutes. In addition, 150,000 acres of forest were destroyed through the chemical warfare known as defoliation. For South Vietnam, the figure is 19 million gallons of defoliant dropped on an area comprising 20 percent of South Vietnam—some 6 million acres. In an even briefer period, between 1969 and 1973, 539,129 tons of bombs were dropped in Cambodia, largely by B-52s, of which 257,465 tons fell in the last six months of the war (as compared to 160,771 tons on Japan from 1942–1945). The estimated toll of the dead, the majority civilian, is equally difficult to absorb: 2 to 3 million in Korea; 2 to 4 million in Vietnam.

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Everybody knows except the BBC posted by Richard Seymour

Watch this clip:



You can't watch that and not think that this policeman slapped an innocent woman roughly, then swiped her about the legs with his baton. He did so without provocation. The BBC says:

"The footage shows the woman swearing at a police officer who then appears to hit her in the face on 1 April.

"The officer also apparently strikes the woman on the leg with his baton."


Got that? The only thing the BBC could ascertain about that footage was that the woman swore at the officer concerned (ooh, the fiend, the horrible fiend). Everything else - which you and I can plainly see taking place, including the police provocations leading up to the assault - is in doubt. This is presumably the same sort of ontological doubt that is routinely cast on possibilities that are inconvenient to power, wherein a matter of fact is not merely disputed by someone but actually dubious in principle. If this is the official Beeb standard of evidence, no wonder they couldn't determine that there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

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Obama: wise potentate? posted by Richard Seymour

Glenn Greenwald points out that Obama's position on state secrecy and torture not only adopts the most authoritarian and extreme positions of the Bush administration, but goes farther by claiming a radical kind of 'sovereign immunity' to ensure that torture victims get no redress and no one ever finds out about it. He also notes that the Department of Justice under Eric Holder now wants total immunity from wiretapping prosecutions. (Greenwald is, though, unduly pleased by the criticisms of Obama that are coming from his 'progressive' supporters. Leave it to Dennis Perrin to notice the cravenness of liberal opinion when it comes to his Highness.) In a typical irony, as Bruce Fein points out, Obama's quest for "czarlike powers" in the 'war on terror' is being resisted legally by a judicial appointee of the Bush administration. So, the Obama doctrine is coming into full focus: no one would want such powers if they didn't intend perpetual war. The administration has taken some constructive positions on Cuba, pledged to close Guantanamo (not Bagram or the secret prisons, obviously), and been slightly less eager to bait Iran than the Bush administration. Reports of differences with Israel are probably exaggerated, but among Obama's advisors are realpolitikers who think it high time the nutty little client-state had its wings clipped, so I wouldn't rule out some change there. However, the administration is doing all this because it is intent on freeing up its hand for a more aggressive policy in southern and central Asia.

For some liberals, social democrats and Greens, Afghanistan was always the 'good war'. It was the good war because it overthrew a hated dictatorship, because it deposed sectarian religious rule, because it liberated women from misogynistic terror, and because it was the proper war of revenge against 'Al Qaeda'. Of course, these excuses for imperial violence are outrageous and ignorant, hedged by simplistic notions about the sociological potency of overwhelming violence, and rooted in uninterrogated assumptions about America as a force for good in the world. Alongside the ersatz emancipationism is an eliminationist approach to designated foes: 'Al Qaeda' are 'evil' and thus must be physically destroyed, (along with tens of thousands of people who are either bombed, shot, starved to death, tortured to a pain-wracked end, or poisoned by Dyncorps). This is mindless of the way in which enemies are created when you start bombing from 20,000 feet. After all, it isn't as if this war has escalated because the Taliban has a huge standing army, or even much social weight. What is called the Taliban is a loose network of groups that are galvanising substantial sectors of the population and, as a result, making military gains. Nonetheless, this perpetual war machine has been mantled in doctrines of 'civilization' (and clashes thereof), which have experienced renewed intellectual glamour in the aughties. Even the most violent exterminationist actions are deemed plausible if what is at stake is nothing less than the future of a 'civilization'.

Today, many pro-Obama liberals are still up for it, despite the fact that the previously low-level battle for control of Afghanistan has morphed into a regional war that could take the US into direct conflict with Pakistan. Obama is dropping the handsome puppet Karzai like so much worthless stock and preparing opinion for a security-state in Afghanistan, the better to deepen the war in the south and east of the country (more US troops are being sent to these regions) and intensify the onslaught in Pakistan. Already, Obama's drones are outkilling Bush's drones, with a reported ratio of fifty dead civilians for every one dead 'Al Qaeda' target. The idea that this is just a war against some small bands of Islamist fighters is nonsense. The main social forces in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, are hostile to the quasi-colonial rule of the Punjab elite, and to its supplications on America's behalf. The NWFP and FATA are ethnic Pashtun, largely, like much of the population across the barely existing border, in southern Afghanistan. The vast majority of those who suffered from Pakistan's own 'war on terror' were non-combatants. Still, Pakistan's elected crime families show no sign of being able to deliver what Obama wants. They cut a deal with its foes a long time ago for fear of losing much of the country, and the government is now embroiled in a bitter row that has seen Nawaz Sharif expelled from the goverment and try to place himself as a figurehead of the lawyers' movement - Sharif, of all people, who has no reason to support a genuinely independent judiciary. Now, since the US military leadership is raising hellfire about some kind of 'Al Qaeda'-led nuclear-tipped state of supreme evil emerging if things continue as they are (a complete fantasy), one expects a US-backed military coup any month now.

And why not? The US has depended on the Pakistani army for fifty years and isn't about to stop now. Ironically, it is the army and its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) that has historically built up the jihadi networks that it has recently been battling, and which remains the main source of institutional support for these outfits. It was the army that protected its Taliban clients by facilitating the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, while allowing the Talibs to retreat to its north-western territories. It is also alleged that the army has maintained and protected groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) long after their legal sell-by date in 2002. True, the Pakistani ruling class has been in a bind since 2001. Prior to that eventful year, the traditional backing for reactionary Islamist groups was highly congruent with its status as a US ally. It has been a dilemma ever since, in which billions of US dollars are at stake. The army has twice struck against the Islamists, once with the Musharraf-ordered attack on the Red Mosque, and again under US pressure with the failed 'Operation Lion Heart'. Each time it has done so, it has damaged its relationship with those jihadi groups and stimulated the insurgency. So, the army's usefulness to the US is severely compromised by its need to retain good relations with America's erstwhile foes. On the other hand, who else could the US turn to? The army remains the most powerful social force in Pakistan. It is not just a powerful security and intelligence apparatus but, as Justin Podur points out in the latest issue of Radical Philosophy, a potent capitalist in its own right with control over corn flakes, real estate, cement, mineral mining, etc. The corrupt political class is no match for the military, and the civil society has only periodically been able to challenge its dominance. Short of an invasion, the Pakistani army are the only game in town.

An invasion of Pakistan, though, is not out of the question. While Obama has discounted such an approach for now, he did indicate his willingness to countenance an invasion in 2007, and he has already embraced the Bush strategy of 'preemptive warfare'. All dynamics in the present war would tend to indicate US boots on Pakistani soil and, according to the Pakistani government, unofficial incursions have already taken place. Given intense competition with Russia over those central Asian energy supplies, given the possible break-up of the NATO alliance if this war fails, and given the need for the US ruling class to shore up its global dominance as its financial system collapses and economic competitiveness takes a dive, the further militarisation of American power seems inevitable. The accumulation of executive power could be a prelude to a more ambitious phase of American expansionism than we have yet seen.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Help Visteon workers shut down plant posted by Richard Seymour

Tomorrow (Tuesday 14th), at 6am, workers will be picketing the Wharf Road entrance to Visteon at Enfield (EN3 4TA). It is requested that as many people join the picketers as possible to maximise its chances of success. There will be talks with employers later in the day, so the more the better.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Visteon workers fight on, end occupation posted by Richard Seymour

Check out this absolutely inspiring footage (via Socialist Worker):



Full story here. Do check out the blog of Ady Cousins, who edited the footage filmed by Mike Berry.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Socialism in the USA posted by Richard Seymour

"Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

"The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

"Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

"Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

"There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans - by an 11-to-1 margin - favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism."

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

BBC's disgraceful performance over Ian Tomlinson killing posted by Richard Seymour

It is staggering how eager the BBC has been to relegate the killing of a citizen by the police to a non-story, worth only one line in its initial coverage. Whether they were leaned on, or whether they just followed their natural inclinations, they just didn't give a good fuck about this suspicious death. Even when it became clear that the police were lying about protesters obstructing assistance, and that the single anonymous source who said he died of 'natural causes' was probably wrong, there was zilch. Worse, according to Guardian journalist Stephen Moss, when the BBC were offered the latest footage by The Guardian, they were told: "No thanks, we're not covering this, we see it as just a London story." Even now that they are forced to give the issue proper coverage, they don't mention that independent eyewitnesses confirm that Ian Tomlinson was repeatedly attacked by the police moments before the video was shot. That is a significant part of the story to just leave out. Neither do they mention that this kind of assault was part of a sequence of attacks on entirely innocent people, which the police take for granted as their right. At every stage, the BBC's performance has been a disgrace. Ian Tomlinson's family are rightly demanding justice. They might also want to ask why a supposedly public service broadcaster exhibited such callous indifference to Mr Tomlinson's death.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Strasbourg protests: down the memory hole? posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by Futurecast:

For reasons that perhaps are not entirely inexplicable, the demonstration against NATO last Saturday has been all but ignored by the bourgeois press. Over 30,000 activists demonstrating on the city of Strasbourg has been reduced to the activities of tens of Black Block supporters. Unfortunately it has also somewhat slipped through the lefty-media as well, (barring Socialist Worker). This is a shame as throughout the weekend there were clearly considerable steps forward to building international solidarity with other anti-capitalist/socialist organisations throughout Europe, but there were a lot of hard lessons learnt as well.

One of the particularly exciting events that I was not able to attend was the international rally held the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party/Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste) on the the 3rd of April. While I’m sure everyone is currently in the know by now, the NPA is the new united left party in French that socialists throughout Europe have been dampening their underwear with in excitement. While there were whispers of the rally not having enough time for discussion everyone who was there seems to have found it impressive indeed, hopefully more coverage will soon be on its way.

Stop the War Coalition sent three coaches (two from London, one from Manchester) to Strasbourg on the 3rd of April, many of those going were young and some of them politicized from the recent wave of University occupations. Arriving there was incredibly difficult as effectively the entirety of Strasbourg’s outer roads were blockaded by police - which made getting a coach load of demonstrators to the peace camp fairly difficult to say the least.

The Peace Campsite was in many ways similar to Climate Camps in Britain of recent years, it was a central rallying point for all those taking part in the protests where food, information, and electricity were available and where you could attempt sleep to the pleasurable sounds of multiple surveillance helicopters circling the site 24 hours a day (often doing so particularly low and loudly at night) and black drone helicopters circling at night also. The key difference with Climate Camp was who was manning the blockades, in our case it was hardened Black Blockers. As we walked down the barricaded street leading up to the campsite for the first time a STWC organiser told us ‘not to be concerned with the looks of things as it was all a bit theatrical.’ But walking through thick fog, down a clearly residential, yet very deserted-looking and very ransacked road guarded by an army of anarchist-ninjas, it just looked to like they’d taken the fucking street and buried the residents in their patios.

On Saturday STWC and the NPA marched together toward the front of the demonstration often sharing the same chants together in each others languages :

Hell Yes We Can - Stop the War!

Oo Ah - Internationale Solidarité!

Soon the demonstration began to swell with numbers as we reached the outer parts of Strasbourg. As the surveillance helicopter followed us some of the anarchists engaged in bizarre and complex methods to remove CCTV cameras from there poles and at this moment at least we all felt pretty united.

The protest reached a bridge where for reasons unbeknownst to any of us the police had blockaded the way forward. Such a thing was expected, but much later along the route than this. Soon enough tear gas canisters were fired into the air. Although some were fired directly into the crowd at very high speeds (something which I’ve been told breaks human rights law) narrowly missing people’s heads and faces. Supposedly at least one activist took one to the head. Despite many activists experiencing the CS in STWC our block held together stoically and extraordinarily well, refusing to run in the face of the gas or sometimes to fall back at all. My first experience of CS was on this demonstration, the first round was something like having citrus jabbed in your eye, which is pretty bearable. But the second time felt like being kicked repeatedly in the lungs and breathing had suddenly been assassinated by a coup d'état of deep and painful coughing (solidarity to the faceless protestors who gave me water and eye droplets while I spluttered by way to the ground.)

Eventually the protest broke through the police lines and pushed up the bridge. There is some debate within the STWC as to why this happened, some believe it was the actions of the Black Block, e.g. setting up fire blockades and throwing projectiles at the police. But in a discussion later it was agreed by the majority that what the police didn’t want was a melee clash with far larger number of protesters than policemen, which is precisely why they kept firing tear gas from such a distance.

The demonstration continued, the Black Block celebrated by burning garden allotments, smashing a petrol station, a post office and bus stops - all ‘collateral damage’ I’m assured. The demonstration continued to a huge gravel plain where the demo became its largest with tens of thousands assembled representing the IFA anarchists, the Black Block, Maoists, NPA, PCF (French Communist Party), Kurdish independence supporters, the SWP, STWC, SEK (Greek Socialist Worker’s Party) and their respective STWC, Linkswende, as well as very solid peace/pacifist pressure groups and so on. From here began the rally and all speakers that spoke from the platform unilaterally condemned the role NATO has played throughout the world as well as the actions of the police on the demonstration. Andrew Murray delivered an excellent speech by being the only speaker to actually sound suitably pissed off about his topic.

The representatives of ‘Blockade NATO’ announced they had delayed the summit by one hour with civil disobedience which met huge cheers. Yet that same day Sky News weeped tragic-bile one moment on how they prevented Michelle Obama from visiting a cancer hospital at and at another time how the protesters have made no impact at all:

“Clive, it seems as if this has had no actual disruption to the summit and effectively NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER?”

“Well you’re right Jane, it does seem that despite all this interference there has been NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER. Back to you.”

The rally ended with Bianca Jagger. Someone who clearly has done herself considerably proud with her defense of human rights and solid opposition to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Just before she began to speak we were informed that the dark clouds continually growing in the background (but being pretty much ignored) where in fact large buildings in massive flames, i.e. hotels and houses. At around this point continual rounds of tear gas were shot into the sky. While none of it reached the rally’s location it was considerably close and the nearby helicopter was circling extremely low. The fact that this somewhat distracted people from her speech made Ms Jagger become rather flippant, moaning like a school teacher: “I can tell you’re not listening..!” and eventually she threw a strop leaving the stage altogether. The selfish bastards.

The demonstration continued for many more hours in the blistering heat, but the police had totally blocked off the way forward with multiple vehicles on the bridge we were hoping to turn down. Instead we were lead onto an island by the demo organisers. Eventually after waiting a long time for the authorities to put out a fire so the demonstration could move on in the opposite direction from the bridge, clashes between the anarchists and the police begun once again and endless rounds of tear gas were fired into the sky. By now the demonstration had become so disorientated that it more or less collapsed, yet activists marched back to the camp site with their heads held high, still chanting and protesting, the IST’s block was out in full force and vigor which for many was a huge morale boost. Later that night there was a deep and detailed discussion with various comrades on the lessons of the demonstration, mostly focussing on the tactics of the Black Block, the state and how to fight repression by drawing in the masses and not isolating them with individual acts of extreme direct action.

On Friday and Sunday there was a rival anti-Nato peace conference which was good on left unity, with a broad turnout of different organisations, but when I was there it certainly suffered from a relatively low attendance. Some of the most valuable contributions I heard came from John Rees who said that he didn’t realise that the Hotel Ibis was one of the top ten imperial sites in the world, or that burning homes in working class areas of Strasbourg helps fight imperialism in anyway whatsoever. Further debate was had in a British caucus on the lessons and mistakes of the protest by the organisers, as well as improvements to be made for STWC’s actions also. The level of debate was strong and reflects a growing sense of democracy, accountability and internal challenging that is excellent to see alongside the movements of the left.

While the demonstration was entirely chaotically organised, heavily policed (there were more police in Strasbourg than there are troops being sent to Afghanistan on the back of the summit), misdirected by the poverty of politics of some protestors, ignored and attacked by much of the media, it won many key victories. It helped us further bridge international solidarity with our comrades across the various borders, it reminded the ruling class that their current projects of imperialism will be protested in huge numbers even when they police their summits to a ridiculous level, or hold them in cities with fairly small populations and even when they block the roads relentlessly (preventing an additional 7000 German comrades getting across the border).

On our way out of the campsite the police politely searched all of our belongings, asking us to empty everything we had into the street, confiscating Socialist Worker papers, flags, leaflets, books, clothing or anything remotely political. When questioned several times they said they had ‘a permit’ and it was ‘orders’. Clearly an odd few of them sensed a sort of guilt and awkwardness about this, yet little effort was made by them to do anything against their orders. Regardless if we can make the Gendarmerie feel unsure and awkward about the status quo and their rulers, then surely another world is possible.

ps: in related news, the Met are in trouble. And their case against supposed anticapitalist 'terrorists' in Plymouth has fallen to pieces.

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Crisis and accumulation posted by Richard Seymour


There is simply no controversy about it. The Obama administration is using this crisis to transfer wealth and power to the already wealthy and powerful. Even Jeffrey Sachs can see it. This is no surprise. As I said before, the aim of leading capitalist states at the moment is to restore the neoliberal system intact, with a further concentration of power and wealth at the top. Neoliberalism has been an extraordinary success story for the rich, so far. The raw data demonstrates it: the top 0.1% of US income earners held 2% of national income (not wealth) in 1978, but this had risen to 6% by 2000. The ratio of wages to CEO salaries rose from 30:1 in 1970 to 500:1 in 2000, as the financialisation of the economy boosted (inflated) the value of ruthless CEOs capable of delivering high short-term profits. As for wealth distribution, check out my candy-coloured bar charts. The share of the top 0.5% of wealth owners rose to 31.4% by 1989. As for financial holdings, in 2007 it was estimated that the top 10% of Americans possessed 80% of all financial assets, while the bottom 90% held 73% of all debt.

The question is, can they fix it? Can it work this time? The commitment to the existing model means firefighting an horrendous financial crisis, which could be as bad as 1929/1930. Just consider the consequences of this breakdown for a moment. The credit system, at its most functional, temporarily repairs the disparities in production created by competition. If, in pursuit of profit share, a producer splurges on capital investment in a way that is dysfunctional for the overall economy, then the credit system can partially iron out that imbalance. It can ensure a quantitative balance between production and consumption, in the short run. It can be used to accelerate production and consumption simultaneously, directing investment toward structurally important areas of the economy etc. When profit rates are reduced, it can make up the shortfall by providing the means of investment, and when wages are down, it can stimulate demand.

For the capitalist class, it also operates as another means by which workers' wages are further modified and reduced, just like all rentier activity, through the payment of interest on mortgages and loans. The financialisation of the economy just meant that this logic would be intensified and extended to hitherto 'neglected' areas of society. Even better than this, if they can get their hands on our deferred wages through the privatization of pensions, benefits and social security, they can take a nibble off that as well. In the meantime, we are encouraged to believe that those deferred wages will magically expand because of the Rumplestiltkin-like value creation of the stock markets. Sadly, the one thing the credit system can't do is produce goods, or 'use values' - if it could, we wouldn't have to work. Still, people are conditioned to behave as if that the appropriation of their income is actually a form of added wealth - their debt equals stuff. The mortgage is a house, with a perpetually soaring price, which can be repeatedly borrowed against. Politically, for as long as this project is successful, it deepens the hold of neoliberal ideology among a layer of workers as well as in the middle class. Being indentured to interest-bearing capital also inculcated a kind of small-c conservatism, to the extent that a house cost more than six times the average salary, and thus a person had more to lose by engaging in resistance. Remaining in paid work is, for the mortgage-holder, at least a thirty-year commitment and the basis of building a family. Accepting pay cuts, being recruited to productivity drives, putting up with longer hours, tolerating abuse, and so on, becomes an essential part of staying alive. It can also contribute to large-C conservatism to the extent that tax cuts are experienced as a pay rise rather than part of a means of undermining public services (which no longer appear to function very well).

So, when that system breaks down, as it eventually must, the abnormally high profits, the artificially high growth rates, the booming consumer markets, the relative political stability in spite of polarised social conditions - all of this is in mortal peril. Profitability has already taken a nose-dive, investment is shrinking, house prices plummeting, unemployment rising at record levels and set to reach 3.2m in the UK by next year, and the viability of neoliberal capitalism is in doubt even at elite levels. So, to the previous question: can they fix it? We know what Obama's answer to questions of that kind is - but we also know that he plagiarised it from Bob the Builder, which means it can't be taken too seriously.

Realistically, the only way they could possibly restore even an attenuated neoliberalism would be to hammer the working classes, plunder public spending, and savagely repress wages. This would definitely do the trick. It would restore profitability to the system, and open up vast new avenues for exploitation and stock market capitalisation. The main difference between the two parties at the moment is not whether to do this, but how. The Tories intend to tear up existing public sector pay agreements (already so miserly as to have produced the highest levels of strike action since the early 1990s), cut public spending and hasten privatization (one of their rising stars has openly called for the privatization of the NHS). New Labour's plan is to keep the public sector working for now, allow manufacturing to continue to slump, sell off public assets piecemeal (parts of the Post Office, and the UK atomic energy agency are the latest on Mandelson's list), and then drastically slash public spending in a couple of years time. Either approach involves a confrontation with the organised working class of a kind that we have not seen since the 1980s. The left may be historically weak, and union organisation lower in density than in previous periods of crisis, but does the ruling class have the organisation and unity for a battle of that intensity? The kind that, for example, they had in 1979? It is unlikely. It feels as if we are in for a protracted period of crisis and struggle, in which, because neither side has decisive strength, subjective factors will have exaggerated importance. At the moment, the main form of resistance that is appearing in the UK is that of mostly unionised workers renegotiating the terms of their dismissal. Other forms of ideological radicalisation are evident, over Gaza for example. And the anticapitalist protests showed that young people are generalising about their own experiences of being laid off, subject to demeaning work for low pay, and being treated like shit at the benefits office. But the resistance that will have force will come from those who are as yet confronting 'economic' problems (as if there was a purely economic issue) such as pay cuts or redundancies. It is their latent social power that can turn protests of thousands being beaten in the streets into mass strikes and protests of millions. It's happening on the continent: it can happen here as well.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Reviews posted by Richard Seymour

The latest ISJ is out, and it contains my critical review of Alan Krueger's What Makes a Terrorist. Also featured is John Newsinger's very flattering review of The Liberal Defence of Murder. Newsinger is the author of the invaluable The Blood Never Dried, so I'm delighted by his verdict. The pièce de résistance, however, is Charlie Kimber's excellent, detailed discussion of the class struggle in Britain.

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Whites Only posted by Richard Seymour

"Papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a "whites only" victory."

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Angry Arab vs Israeli Consul posted by Richard Seymour



In which the Israeli Consul gets his asshole handed to him on a platter.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Not so accidental death of a bystander posted by Richard Seymour

"Investigators are examining a series of corroborative accounts that allege Ian Tomlinson, 47, was a victim of police violence in the moments before he collapsed near the Bank of England in the City of London last Wednesday evening. Three witnesses have told the Observer that Mr Tomlinson was attacked violently as he made his way home from work at a nearby newsagents. One claims he was struck on the head with a baton.

"Photographer Anna Branthwaite said: 'I can remember seeing Ian Tomlinson. He was rushed from behind by a riot officer with a helmet and shield two or three minutes before he collapsed.' Branthwaite, an experienced press photographer, has made a statement to the IPCC.

"Another independent statement supports allegations of police violence. Amiri Howe, 24, recalled seeing Mr Tomlinson being hit 'near the head' with a police baton. Howe took one of a sequence of photographs that show a clearly dazed Mr Tomlinson being helped by a bystander.

"A female protester, who does not want to be named but has given her testimony to the IPCC, said she saw a man she later recognised as Tomlinson being pushed aggressively from behind by officers. 'I saw a man violently propelled forward, as though he'd been flung by the arm, and fall forward on his head.

"'He hit the top front area of his head on the pavement. I noticed his fall particularly because it struck me as a horrifically forceful push by a policeman and an especially hard fall; it made me wince.'"

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Support the Ford Visteon workers occupation posted by Richard Seymour

Support protest on Saturday 4th April 10-11am, outside Visteon factory, Ponders End.

Ford Visteon workers have occupied the Ponders End factory since Wednesday 1st April. The previous day in a meeting lasting just 6 minutes we were told that the European company, with plants in Belfast, Basildon and Ponders End, Enfield, was going into administration and that we were to leave - without our wages being paid. Personal possessions could be collected the next day, but at 10 o'clock the factory was locked closed. Workers have also occupied the Belfast factory.

The 200 workers who are part of the Ford subsidiary want the same conditions they have always had via "mirror contracts" with the parent company. Up to now they don't know when they will get wages due, and their pensions are to be controlled by the government Pensions Protection Fund. This means a maximum of £9,000 a year and much reduced conditions! Some of the women and men have 40 years service!

The whole situation has been created for news management - announce it during the G20 and it will get buried in the media. And this is largely what's happened. The move is to save Visteon USA money at the workers expense.

Unexpectedly Unite union members have taken determined action that bosses thought they had eliminated years ago.

The workers want their existing terms respected. Ford Visteon can't be allowed to avoid their responsibility. So far they have tried legal intimidation but have even managed to mess this up.

As well as proper redundancy payments, some are suggesting that the skills of the workers who can make anything in plastic, should be used to make increasingly needed parts for green products - bike and trailer parts, solar panels, turbines, etc. Government investment in this rather than throwing money away to bankers could be profitable and save jobs in the long term.

Ford Visteon workers have been pleased at the support received from other Ford plants as well, such as Southampton, who are blacking Visteon products.

Come to the factory in Morson Road, near Ponders End train station, to show your support.
Join a support protest on Saturday 4th April 10-11am.
(Trains from Tottenham Hale, then the plant is a 5 min walk from Ponders End station, cross the foot-bridge, walk down main road towards Central London, the next street to the left is Morson Road, with the factory situated at the end)

Get your Union branch to pass a resolution in support, and help raise money by workplace collections.

This is a fight we can win. We're off our knees and fighting fit!

Some Ford Visteon workers and supporters (from the occupied factory)

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Defend Council Housing activists occupy empty house in protest at action sell-off posted by Richard Seymour


Lambeth tenants, residents and trade unionists have occupied a two bedroom council home in Streatham, Lambeth, to demand that the council withdraw the flat from the market immediately - along with the other properties that are due to be auctioned on this Monday, April 6th.

27 Howland House on the Sackville Estate is just one of the council flats currently being sold off at rock-bottom prices by Lambeth Council. Why is the council SELLING flats at a time when more and more people are facing homelessness through repossessions and redundancy? There are already 17,000 people on Lambeth’s housing waiting list and almost 2,000 people in temporary accommodation - two-thirds of those need a two-bedroom home just like 27 Howland House. We demand that Lambeth withdraw this, and other council properties, from the planned auction on Monday.

Lambeth Council say they can only keep to their budget by selling properties and having massive rent increases. We believe that it’s not good enough to punish ordinary council tenants – and the thousands of people who would like to be council tenants – because of a financial crisis we didn’t create. If the government can find money to bail out failing banks then why not give local authorities the resources they need to tackle the housing crisis ?

In February 2009 Lambeth council said that it had 688 'long cycle' empty homes and 194 'shortcycle 'empty homes. Lambeth Tenants Council voted this week against the sale of any ' void' properties and demanded that the local authority explain their policy of sell-offs.

Stop the sale of council homes !!

Emergency measures must be taken to house families on the waiting list and reduce overcrowding

For more information contact Paul O'Brien in the occupation - 07854994409

or currently on the Sackville estate , Stephen Hack , secretary, Lambeth Defend Council Housing 07944293854

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Acting awfully bored, I loaned a buck from Henry Ford/Broke a date with John D Rockefeller* posted by Richard Seymour

It has been said that neoliberalism is experiencing a prolonged death rattle. Perhaps it is. But there is little evidence of it in the G20's announced deal. And this makes sense, as the neoliberal settlement has boosted capitalist class power enormously: this is what is euphemistically referred to when commentators discuss 'rising inequality', since the concentration of money wealth represents nothing other than the accumulation of surplus value (stop me if I'm getting too technical). Why overhaul a system that has been so effective, if you can get it running again for another decade or so? Gordon Brown claims that "the old Washington consensus is over". What the $1 trillion stimulus amounts to, in fact, is another component of the effort to save the Washington consensus, this time by making global growth dependent upon massive borrowing from the IMF (with the usual extortionate conditions attached thereto). As Graham Turner writes, when the IMF was sent in to the collapsing south-east Asian economies in the late 1990s, it imposed harsh fiscal restrictions that resulted in a deeper recession. The proposed regulations do contain some minimum necessary measures, but do not substantially break from the 'light touch' approach of the past thirty years. Take the tax havens. Brown says there is to be an 'end to tax havens' that don't share information. Now, that is already to concede that the rich can go on hoarding their wealth, avoiding taxes, and depriving states of billions in revenue. But in fact, there is to be no 'end': the proposition is simply to 'name and shame' the havens that don't share information. I'm sure they're terrified. They'll be raking in the billions but they will look, and feel, terrible. In toto, the financial system will emerge much as it was before.

As Larry Elliott points out, the $1 trillion stimulus, isn't even a $1 trillion stimulus. Not all of the money will be spent. In its best light, it might temporarily boost world demand, but it is highly unlikely to produce anything like that global 4% growth envisaged by the communique. The G20's growth claims are based on the IMF's consistently optimistic projections. While global growth is going to contract by 1.7% this year according to the World Bank's estimate, the first decline in world output since WWII, the IMF actually foresees a rise of 0.6%. The business press is anxious to talk up the prospect of a speedy recovery in the financial markets, in world demand (thus in trade volume) and in overall GDP growth. There have been numerous bear market rallies on the stock exchanges, and each time there has been a chorus of Polyannas anxious to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or the corner turned, or whatever equivalent metaphor is ready to hand. The most comical of these was a Financial Times video commentary on Timothy Geithner's ridiculous 'put' scheme (essentially another massive handover of public wealth to the banks), which strained desperately to be optimistic but concluded that "if the plan works, the crisis may be over, but if it doesn't, it isn't". The predictive power of bourgeois economics! Recently, the slight improvement in the US housing market after months of calamitous decline has been taken as an omen that 'the worst is over'. The ruling class needs to believe in that 'v-shaped' recession, because otherwise the basic structures of the neoliberal system that they are struggling to retain intact will have to be more than modified.

Lookit: the US government has been so determined to rescue finance capital and maintain its royal prerogative over fiscal policy that they have blown about $11.6 trillion on the banks, or just over 80% of total GDP in 2008. All of that will be paid for by the 'fiscal hawks' reaching into medicare, social security and so on. Obama's budget planners are reportedly giving serious consideration to a GOP plan to reduce social security entitlement. Indeed, the recession is being taken as an excuse to eviscerate the system. The US government have also signalled that they are prepared to let the car industry go under, thus further eroding the manufacturing base, and taking down one of the few remaining strongholds of organised labour in the process. And the dominant thinking on both sides of the Atlantic appears to be that the sooner this stimulus can be withdrawn, and fiscal austerity introduced, the better. None of this looks like a break with neoliberalism: quite the contrary. If there was to be a break with neoliberalism in the US, there would surely be a well-funded insfrastructural development programme, a boost to local state treasuries to fund vital services, the full nationalisation of most of the banking system and its subordination to public need, debt relief, house-building, interest-free loans, etc etc. Just for a start. But there is none of this, and nothing to restore the huge loss of wealth experienced by the working class, and the African American working class in particular, bar a paltry tax cut. The size of the much-vaunted "public works" programme, supposedly intended to create 2.5 million jobs and hailed as the biggest since the 'new deal', was $80.9 billion, or about 0.6% of total GDP - by comparison the Public Works Administration was funded with about 5.9% of GDP in 1933. The so-called stimulus package mostly consisted of tax cuts for those who didn't really need them.

So, wherein lies the rumoured crisis of neoliberalism? Despite Gordon Brown's formal renunciation of its tenets, no alternative vision has emerged among the ruling classes - and the working class movement is not as yet organised and militant enough to impose its own solutions. If the magnificent movements taking place in Greece, Italy, France, Ireland and Iceland don't spread; if the factory occupations in the UK don't spark off a wave of working class revolt; if the American working class doesn't explode in apocalyptic fury, then there is absolutely nothing to say that a new Frankenstein version of neoliberalism, with more Keynesian nuts and bolts, will not become the new dominant orthodoxy. I'm not expressing pessimism here, by the way. I think a renewed socialist ideology can emerge in the near future. In the meantime, however, we have to expect a certain lack of coherence. One of the most redundant, and condescending, complaints about the G20 protests was that "they don't know what they want". Of course there is not yet unity around a way forward, or what outcome should be obtained. There has been plenty of intellectual labour dedicated to exploring possible post-capitalist scenarios, but these remain dry, academic exercises in the absence of a movement capable of realising them. The best ideas, and the best perspectives about the means to get there will emerge precisely in the context of struggles over day-to-day issues.

*From Gotta Get up and Go To Work [.ram] by the California Ramblers.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Accidental death of an anarchist. posted by Richard Seymour

As you have heard by now (well, not if you rely on the BBC, which has to my knowledge devoted a single line to the topic), a man died in the police 'kettle' yesterday, where protesters were held for seven hours without food, water, or toilet facilities. In order to forestall criticism of the tactic, which is now a legally mandated crackdown on the right to protest, the police have claimed that they were prevented from helping the man at the scene by members of the crowd throwing bottles at medics. Now, given that the cops lie on every possible occasion when they get into trouble (De Menezes, the Koyairs, to name but a couple), given their absolute contempt for the general public, there is every reason to disbelieve them. I am not saying they are trying to subvert the IPCC process in advance, but I'm certainly thinking it very loudly. I would also be wary of the press. Most reports are relying on one unnamed source to say that the man was aged about 30, and died of "natural causes". A thirty year old man could die of natural causes, but unless this witness was a doctor I am reluctant to take this as the conclusive word on the matter.

Anyone who witnessed any part of this, or has any pertinent information, should write a full statement and contact the legal team at Bindmans Solicitors on 020 7833 4433 and the Legal Monitoring groups present at the demonstrations.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Riot police hammer protesters posted by Richard Seymour

Well, looks like I left the protests at Bank just in time. All morning on The Guardian's Twitter page, reports were coming through from their reporters of police beating innocent protesters, using tear gas and so on - but these were just isolated cases. Oh yeah, and Russell Brand was there, apparently. When I got there, the police had the (surprisingly large) crowd surrounded and broken up into separate groups which were penned in. You can see the space they've deliberately cleared in the middle to keep the groups separate. They were occasionally launching into the crowd and trailing people off to be arrested on stupid charges. One lady got dragged roughly across the street because she was holding what might possibly have been a spliff. Then, having nicked more people, they decided to start driving through the crowd with their vans at a considerably greater pace than usual. I'm surprised no one was run over. Anyway, having spent all morning acting as provocateurs, the police finally got their excuse to start clobbering people when a couple of protesters smashed in the windows at RBS. It is reported that things are turning quite nasty, with people being pounded with clubs and left covered in their own blood.







I'm still not clear on what the strategy is behind these mini-spectacles. It's great to see thousands of people turn out to protest against capitalism, despite all the media hysteria and off-putting threats from the police. We need far bigger protests in the future, ideally coinciding with a general strike or something. But it seems as if the idea at the moment is to have a carnivalesque parade, wind up in one spot and get penned in only to have the police mess with you if you try to have a drink or some weed. I don't want to be a negative nelly, but that's not reclaiming the streets, it's getting owned by the cops. No danger of getting penned in at the smaller, but equally lively, Stop the War protest starting outside the US embassy. Though the police did occasionally behave belligerently, there was none of the pumped up hysteria of the cops at Bank.



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