Sunday, December 27, 2009
New Iran protests posted by Richard Seymour
The characterisation of the Iranian movement in those terms was false in several ways. For a start, notwithstanding the 'confessions' issuing from various protesters tortured by the basiji, there is no evidence of any US involvement in the 'Green' movement. Secondly, it can't be assumed that the revolt was simply a movement of the comprador bourgeoisie. Ahmadinejad had done relatively little for the working class. Moreover, far from the movement being restricted to some symbolic appearances in big metropolitan centres, the revolts spread to poor working class areas. Even if it had been a movement exclusively of the middle classes, I would have wanted it to win - to win more than it bargained for, in a sense. It was clear, though, that the revolt wasn't just about Mousavi or the sector of capital backing him, and the rebellion persisted even after the bloody state attacks on protests left several people dead and many wounded. Not long ago Al Qods day, Iran's national day of solidarity with the Palestinians, also became an opposition protest - quite appropriately, I might add. Palestine has better allies than Ahmadinejad.
Students in particular continued to speak out and protest, while the most politicised and advanced sectors of the working class were attacked. Some Anglophone readers equate 'students' with 'middle class' (wrongly as it happens), but one result of the Iranian revolution was an explosion in higher education so that it can no longer be considered a preserve of the privileged. Indeed, just as the radicalism of some students in Britain resulted in part from the matriculation of the working classes, so the radicalism of Iranian students could be said to result in part from their poor background and the miserable economic prospects that await them despite their labours.
At any rate, when Ayatollah Montazeri died a week before Christmas, it would have been reasonable to expect some upheaval. Montazeri was no leftist, though he was initially one of the Republic's 'permanent revolutionaries' working for its export internationally. At the same time, he opposed excessive vengeance against the old Shah ruling class, and helped humanise the Republic during the 1980s when it was undergoing some of its most vicious purges, notably the killing of thousands of prisoners in 1988. He opposed the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and became an ally of the reform movement in the 1990s. Having criticised Ayatollah Khamenei, whose political instincts are usually reactionary, he was placed under house arrest. Most significantly, he issued a fatwa against Ahmadinejad's re-election this year. He instantly became a muse to the 'Green' movement. Upon his death, the protesters didn't mourn - they organised. Protests broke out not only in Tehran, where some reports apparently speak of protesters taking control of the streets, but also in Najafabad (Montazeri's birthplace), Isfahan, and Zanjan, where police allegedly tried to prevent memorial services from taking place. In the protests that followed, the state responded with its usual combination of tact and diplomacy. Yesterday, the day of Ashura, eight were killed and three hundred injured according to Le Monde. The dead reportedly include Mousavi's nephew. But if drowning the last protests in blood didn't work, how can the authorities assume that it will work this time? Look at these protesters:
If those writing the reform movement off as another 'colour revolution' were correct, we probably wouldn't be witnessing such scenes. There is no way that this is over. The old order in the Middle East, from the US-backed Mubarak dictatorship to the Islamic Republic, is breaking apart. A counsel of despair tells us that the only alternative to the current regime in Iran is some schlemiel maintained by Washington. However, this assumes that the current Iranian ruling class is the country's best vanguard against imperialism - an absurd proposition. The reformers are not Washington stooges, and their success would make attacks and sanctions emanating from Washington less plausible. It also assumes that no social class or coalition in Iran has the resources to build a better, more just state under the duress of pressure from the US. That has always been an excuse of developmentalist, and even 'socialist', despotisms. But there is no reason for us to accept this.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Apocalypse Snow part II posted by Richard Seymour
Some recent photographs. Again, the comparatively mild appearance of snow and ice depicted in some of the shots was enough to turn this country into a basketcase, because no one invests in the minimal infrastructure required to deal with such predictable weather occurrences.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
SWP 2.0 posted by Richard SeymourThe Socialist Workers' Party has a new website, which looks a lot more attractive than the old design. More importantly, it is a lot more user-friendly. The three main party publications are clearly displayed and promoted, as are the campaigns supported by the party. And all necessary resources for members, interested observers and batty Kremlinologists alike are available in a very direct and accessible way. Now, I'm far too curmudgeonly and shiftless to engage in a thoroughgoing re-design of the Tomb, especially given the fright I got when I saw the new Echo comments system, but I would like to point out that if you wished to fund such a venture, you can still donate to LT via the paypal link in the sidebar. You could also ensure that every member of your extended family has a copy of Liberal Defence. Come on, do your part: don't make me ban Xmas again.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The brutality of Operation Cast Lead shocked some of Israel's most devoted supporters, and divided the pro-Israel camp. Even as it was happening, some of the most shocking accounts of IDF conduct were emerging. These included sealing off a neighbourhood, bombing and shelling it, blocking medical and humanitarian entry, and knowingly leaving children to slowly die next to their already deceased relatives. They included the targeting of hospitals and ambulances, and the repeated targeting of schools. UN casualty statistics reflected a particularly onerous burden on the civilian population - 42% of those killed, they said, were women and children. Some news reports falsely suggested that this meant that 'only' 42% of those killed were civilians, which involved the racist supposition that Palestinian males over 16 no longer count as civilians with the full protection of humanitarian norms and laws. As it happens, the re-definition of the category of 'civilian' was integral to Israeli doctrine during the war, and it was essential to their military plans. The 'Dahiya Doctrine', the parameters of which informed Israeli operations in Gaza, involved precisely this shift, as General Gadi Eisenkot explained:
"What happened in the Dahiya quarter in Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired upon. We will apply disproportionate force upon it and cause great damage and destruction there," he said. "From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases."
“This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved”. [Emphasis added]
Such genocidal logic, congruent with the promises of a 'Holocaust', was consistently expressed in Israel's methods and targeting, not to mention the uplifting sentiments expressed by IDF soldiers while defacing Palestinian homes. Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, we have had numerous reports into Israel's conduct of the operation, though less attention has been paid to the supposed rationale behind the attacks. The Goldstone Report [pdf] has documented in forensic detail an astonishing level of premeditated and sadistic violence toward civilians. It documented deliberate attacks on hospitals, mosques, and perhaps most chillingly the assault on the al-Samouni area resulting in the calculated massacre of the al-Samouni family. Focusing on 36 specific incidents of such aggression, with detailed consideration of evidence in each case, it concluded that the war had either in whole or in part been against the "people of Gaza as a whole". This was quite remarkable for such a report, produced by a UN team led by a "Zionist" who "loves Israel". It also concluded that "the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas". As a consequence of such conclusions, the report demanded that Israel should pay reparations to the Palestinians affected by its actions, noting that its internal structures left few avenues open for Palestinians to sue for reparations themselves. It also encouraged the UN to refer the report to the ICC, and called on the ICC to act on legal appeals from the "Government of Palestine". Predictably, the report was subject to a barrage of ignorant rubbish, suggesting that it was the result of a mission biased against Israel (forgetting that its remit actually included studying alleged war crimes by armed Palestinian groups), and that its findings were based "largely on interviews with Hamas" (utter garbage). Numerous rebuttal websites have been set up, including a rather slick one by CAMERA, with the aim of blowing smoke over the findings. But all of this is so much acting out by an increasingly bellicose and shrill minority.
One point that the Goldstone report also emphasised was that the punishment of the Palestinian population was continuing in the form of a blockade, which it considered to be "collective punishment". On Sunday, a new report [pdf] by numerous NGOs including Amnesty, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam, Trocaire and Medical Aid for the Palestinians looks at the impact of the blockade. Its main conclusions are shared by the International Committee of the Red Cross. It finds that all attempts to regenerate Gazan society and economy since Operation Cast Lead have been frustrated by the ongoing blockade. Most of the $4bn of international donor money has not been spent, not for lack of determination, but because the conditions of the blockade make it impossible to carry out the necessary reconstruction:
"the civilian population and the United Nations and aid agencies that aim to help them are prohibited from importing materials like cement or glass for reconstruction in all but a handful of cases".
The inability to reconstruct damaged homes has left tens of thousands displaced, some living in tents.
"And this is to say nothing of the backlog of need from those homes severely damaged in previous military actions, those new houses left half-built due to lack of materials and existing properties condemned as unhygienic or unsafe to live in that cannot be replaced."
Not only are homes not being rebuilt, but power stations necessary to maintain production, keep hospitals and public services functioning, and maintain sanitary water, remain destroyed. Israel regularly refuses to allow generators into Gaza. And industries are going idle. 120,000 jobs in the private sector were lost because of the blockade. Even before Operation Cast Lead, "98% of industrial operations in Gaza were idle because of the blockade". Because of the destruction to power stations, sewage systems and water piping, 8,000 people lack any access to piped water at all, and the remainder of the population has to suffer sporadic supplies when the power cuts out as it regularly does: water shortages and power cuts are particularly liable to take place during winter. The shortage of clean water is causing a shocking rise in diarrhoea, which is behind 12% of young deaths.
The blockade has reduced the categories of goods entering Gaza from approximately 4,000 to about 35, and those items that are theoretically allowed in (some medicines, basic foods and humanitarian supplies) are subject to arbitrarily shifting restrictions. The blockade had also severely restricted agricultural production, and Operation Cast Lead destroyed 17% of cultivated land in Gaza. Israel's imposition of a depopulated 'buffer zone' "inside of the walls and fences surrounding Gaza" has resulted in between "a quarter and a third of Gaza's agricultural land" being subsumed into the 'buffer zone'. The combined effect of Cast Lead and the ongoing blockade has been to put 46% of Gazan agricultural land out of production.
While southern Israel "blossoms", Gaza is constantly regressing in its ability to reproduce itself as a society and economy. Earlier this year, a leaked UN report said that the ongoing blockade was resulting in a process of "de-development", with "increased aid dependency" among the population - already, 75% of Gazans depend on food aid to survive. The report by Amnesty et al concludes, with language that is becoming all too familiar, that the blockade amounts to "collective punishment". It is worse than collective punishment, and that tag will simply not do any more. Baruch Kimmerling has characterised Israel's war on the Palestinians as 'politicide': an attempt to wholly destroy the fabric of any potential Palestinian state. But, as Martin Shaw has written, the proliferation of -cides with respect to the crimes of war - femicide, democide, infanticide, etc - really adverts to the genocidal logic that they are all too often embedded in. The logic of Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians is dictated by its twin drives to maintain control of Gaza and the West Bank with the long term aim of incorporating both as official Israeli territories, and its determination to remain a 'Jewish state' with a substantial Jewish majority. Either the Israeli state must give up one of these goals (and no one is applying sufficient pressure to make it do so), or it must find a way of disposing of the Palestinian population. Ethnic cleansing is one such means. Imposing conditions such as are intended to make life and its reproduction almost impossible, and unbearable, is another. The war on the population of Gaza is an attempt to break Palestinian resistance by means of destroying, in part, the aforementioned population.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Rage against X-factor posted by Richard SeymourThe Facebook campaign to knock the annual X-Factor schlock from the top of the charts by promoting the Rage Against the Machine song 'Killing in the Name Of' is very close to success, but only by the narrowest margin according to reports. Today is your last chance to download the single. You can buy it for a quid on iTunes, for 29p on Amazon, and - if you don't have a credit card - you can get it for free using this method. The band are donating the profits to Shelter and have promised a free live gig if it makes the Xmas number one. The alternative is too horrendous to bear: some petulant boy will sing Miley Cyrus's 'The Climb', and those music industry creatures that Simon Cowell epitomises will blow another wad all over the public. Is that the kind of holiday you want?
Friday, December 18, 2009
The BBC doesn't mention that there are Jewish people on the panel and in the audience. Steven Rose is Jewish, and Ronnie Kasrils is also of Jewish descent. Several members of the audience identify themselves as Jewish, and are subject to no racist opprobrium. The BBC doesn't mention that Jonathan Hoffman is a member of the Zionist Federation, and is responsible for some of the most disgustingly racist apologias for Israel's attack on Gaza last winter. That is why he was booed. Readers of Jews Sans Frontieres will be familiar with some of his work. They also cite an 'anti-racist' campaigner as a source for the claim that the hostility to Hoffman was racist, and that he was attacked for being 'Jewish'. The BBC doesn't mention that the campaigner, Raheem Kassam, is an executive member of Conservative Future, the 'youth wing' of the Conservative Party. They incorrectly identify his organisation, Students Rights, as a group of 'anti-racism' campaigners. In fact, their explicit remit is to "counter political extremism", and threats to "free speech". The latter includes the attempts by some students to prevent military recruitment on campus.
Update: Raheem Kassam has asked me to clarify that while he was a member of Conservative Party, he no longer is, having allowed the membership to lapse a year ago. As such, he is no longer on the executive of Conservative Future.
Update II: The original BBC story has been substantially edited. The headline has been altered, and 'balancing' quotations from those present at the meeting have been introduced. The head of Student Rights, who I can confirm was not present at the meeting and only viewed the online footage, was initially the only source cited in the story. Student Rights is no longer referred to, falsely, as a group of 'anti-racist' campaigners. A success for those complaining, I think.
Hope? Nope. posted by Richard Seymour
That cash will probably end up in those dollar reserves that Third World countries have been compelled to amass over the last decade, thus making them net creditors to the world's superpower, but forget about that for a second and think about this:
The emissions cuts offered so far at the Copenhagen climate change summit would still lead to global temperatures rising by an average of 3C, according to a confidential UN analysis obtained by the Guardian.
With the talks entering the final 24 hours on a knife-edge, the emergence of the document seriously undermines the statements by governments that they are aiming to limit emissions to a level ensuring no more than a 2C temperature rise over the next century, and indicates that the last day of negotiations will be extremely challenging.
A rise of 3C would mean up to 170 million more people suffering severe coastal floods and 550 million more at risk of hunger, according to the Stern economic review of climate change for the UK government – as well as leaving up to 50% of species facing extinction. Even a rise of 2C would lead to a sharp decline in tropical crop yields, more flooding and droughts.
Now, I told you - didn't I tell you? - that this summit was going to be a flop. Half of the world's species facing extinction while the planet both burns and floods looks like a flop to me. Bear in mind that the Stern report is relatively conservative in its estimations. Recent research by the World Wildlife Fund suggests that the arctic ice-caps are melting much more rapidly than previously anticipated and that even an average global temperature rise of 2 degrees could be catastrophic. It may be enough to reach that tipping point where the year-round arctic ice disappears for good. Melting permafrost will unleash enough methane to cause a major extinction event. Islands will be submerged, southern Africa will dry up, and global hunger will surpass its already disgraceful levels. And it isn't just those unpleasant poor people down south you've got to worry about (though you see how the politics of climate change is already being structured by imperialism). As Mark Lynas has pointed out, if you increase average temperatures in the sea in that fashion, even with a 1 degree global temperature increase, you get more hurricanes, more frequently, and much closer to home for Europeans. You also get dustbowls in previously fertile food-growing areas across North America, which wasn't particularly fun when it happened last time round. You get soaring temperatures in Europe, more extreme and death-dealing summers, water shortages as precipitation declines in the Mediterranean region.
At the 3 degrees rise predicted by the UN on the basis of current negotiating positions, you can declare the game over. That is potentially the tipping point beyond which it is impossible to regain any control over global temperatures, the point at which positive feedback mechanisms cause temperatures to increase exponentially. I cannot adequately describe the full horror of such a scenario - the food shortages, the droughts, the floods, the fleeing of millions of people from newly uninhabitable territory, the intensified geopolitical competition over basic resources, the extinction of half or more of the species on the planet... it's just unthinkable. But, as Copenhagen shows, unthinkable horror is exactly what the rulers of the world have in store for us.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
British Airways strikers posted by Richard SeymourIt's not a fluke, but nor is it necessarily an omen. The overwhelming vote by BA workers (92%) for 12 days of strike action over Christmas, with a turnout (80%) way above the average, could be another false dawn. But it could also be the opening shot of resistance by the British working class to the more or less naked class war being waged by capital in the context of the recession. The effects of the recession have been blunted somewhat by successive government interventions, and workers have as often responded to catastrophe with dazed acceptance as with resistance: remember Woolworths? And when big struggles have been launched, as per the recent postal workers' strike, union leaders have acted quickly to curb the action - presumably eager to spare Labour embarrassment in view of any upcoming election. And even where there have been some successes, for example at Tower Hamlets college, these have in no way been of a sufficient scale to alter the overall picture of resignation in the face of mass unemployment. A recent BBC analysis almost boasted about how little struggle there had been despite predictions of a 'winter of discontent'. Yet, here we have a centrepiece strike in a core service industry during one of its busiest periods and the workers don't appear to be in a mood to back down. If you want to get a feel of the mood of workers, see this video from Socialist Worker:
British Airways workers have been through a lot. The cabin crew now threatening to take strike action had already accepted severe conditions back in June, to save the company from what they were assured would be ruin. Thousands took leave without pay, worked part-time or worked unpaid. There were 2,500 job cuts, capacity reductions and a pay deal with pilots to reduce costs. As a result, the company accumulated a war chest of £2bn. No one can say that the workers are not open to negotiation. And the union leadership has gone to considerable lengths to avoid a strike, offering cost-cutting agreements that would save BA £140m. However, evidently in a confident mood, BA boss Willie Walsh took the June agreements as his cue to prepare the most appalling jobs massacre, without negotiation with the unions. It is an attempt to break the union far more than it is an attempt to save money. So, the BA workers' reaction to this vote is no more surprising than is Willie Walsh's attempt to bully the workers through litigation.
Unfortunately, and equally unsurprising in its way, Derek Simpson of Unite has apparently said that he considers the strike "over the top". This is not just wholly wrong - workers have already taken as much as they can from this management. It is the worst possible stance for a union leader to take even for negotiating purposes. It is very likely to be the case, as Gregor Gall writes today, that the union is banking on the government intervening to secure a deal. The quid pro quo would be that if a Labour government can tame bully boy managers a little bit, then union leaders will do their best to keep militancy in check and support Labour's campaign. So, Simpson's comment makes sense in light of that strategy. Yet it has already helped the right-wing press to undermine the strike before it even begins. If I were a BA worker, I would take this as a warning not to depend on the leadership or on negotiations. Management is out to kill, and the union leaders look as if they're worried about how much blood they'll have to mop up.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Comments policy posted by Richard SeymourEveryone is banned, apparently, while Haloscan effects a transition to its new 'Echo' system. As it's unfair to leave you all mute in this fashion, I thought I should rehabilitate an old Tomb tradition of inviting submissions via a text box.
The best submission wins fifty quid.
Update: of course, the text box is a dummy, and no one's getting fifty quid out of me this side of unemployment. However, I have enabled Blogger comments temporarily, until JS-Kit is able to export all my old comments to their new system - which, I am told, may take a few days.
Via Stop the War. See also
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, some of it came from the Afghan opium trade. Foreign Policy in Focus has a fascinating article analyzing the recent UNODC study on the drug trade, entitled "Addiction, Crime, and Insurgency: The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium." While the original study headlines the role of the Taliban in the Afghan opium trade, the FPF article notes that buried deep in the study is the admission that the Taliban receives less than 15% of its funding from drugs and that it likely only benefits from 4% of the Afghan drug trade. Poppy farmers, for instance, take about 21% of the drug trade's earnings. And the rest?
"... the remaining 75% is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers ‹ in short, many of the groups now supported (or tolerated) by the United States and NATO are important actors in the drug trade."
Besides "our" allies being the main beneficiaries - not surprising since many of the people NATO and the USA put into power in 2001 were widely recognized to be warlords with large stakes in the drug trade. In comparison, the Taliban had outlawed poppy cultivation in 2000 based upon a promise from UNODC to provide aid to offset the revenue losses that would result from the ban. That aid never arrived:
That basic logic prompted UNODC to open negotiations with the Taliban once they had gained control over much of Afghan territory, using Executive Director Pino Arlacchi's hollow offer of USD 250 million as bait and raising unrealistic expectations about international recognition. In September 2000, two months after Mullah Omar's decree, Arlacchi announced that, instead of compensation, UNODC would close down all operational activities in Afghanistan. The decision took even UNODC staff in the country by surprise. They learned about it from a BBC broadcast. The Taliban were understandably angry: "We have fulfilled our obligations. We demand that the agreement we made should be fulfilled up to the end," said Abdel Hamid Akhundzada, director of the Taliban's High Commission for Drug Control. "We have done what needed to be done, putting our people and our farmers through immense difficulties. We expected to be rewarded for our actions, but instead were punished with additional sanctions" (Transnational Institute, 2001).
It is likely that the UN backed off on the aid under direction from the US which was in secret negotiations with the Taliban until five weeks before September 11 to build gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia, through Afghanistan, to a Pakistani port. The Taliban were resisting the US conditions and US negotiators were at turns offering threats and rewards to them. According to the French author of the widely read book "Bin Laden: the forbidden truth", US negotiators told the Taliban that "either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs." However, Colin Powell, US Secretary of State at the time, did provide a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) grant of US$43 million - a drop in the bucket - to aid Afghan farmers who lost significant revenue from their traditional cash crop. One is tempted to see this as an incentive to submit to the conditions offered to win the release of further aid. As a result of the Taliban ban on poppy cultivation, Afghanistan went from providing 75% of global opium to zero almost overnight - a drop of 4,000 metric tons. Besides demonstrating just how much the US/NATO invasion has transformed Afghanistan into a "narco-state", to use DEA parlance, it also demonstrates, once more, just how craven and dishonest was UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair is now all over the media saying that if the WMD justification hadn't worked he would have invaded Iraq in any case. The same dishonest - and deadly - method of international relations applied to Afghanistan. Blair stated that they would "bomb their poppy fields" even though there were none. And Downing street backed up this fiction:
"A senior Downing street aide said: 'We have reliable information that theTaliban are planning to use money from drugs to finance military action, anthat bin Laden has ordered farmers to step up production'"
But if the Taliban have never been the major beneficiaries of the Afghandrug trade, there have certainly been others. In particular, western banks have used drug money to lubricate the interbank credit system during the 2008 credit crisis. According to the UNODC report, somewhere between US$400-$500 billion in drug money has found its way into the banking system.
In fact, Antonio Maria Costa [UNODC exec. director] was quoted as saying that drug money may have recently rescued some failing banks: "interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities," and there were "signs that some banks were rescued in that way." "At a time of major bank failures, money doesn't smell, bankers seem to believe," he wrote in UNODC's 2009 World Drug Report (emphasis in original).
While the UNODC report may have attempted to provide a cover to further justify the war in Afghanistan, their use of stats that counter the report's headline claim actually reveals one more sordid truth about the war in Afghanistan. In addition to the death, destruction and destabilization of the region, the war has facilitated a massive growth in the Afghan poppy trade. From 200 tons in 1980, Afghanistan last year produced 6,900 tons and now controls 90% of the global opium trade. Upwards of 1.5 million Afghans are employed in poppy cultivation. And it reveals an irresolvable contradiction for the US: the more they attack the drug trade, the more they attack their own allies, some of whom - like Hamid Karzai's brother - are on the US' payroll. And most of all it hurts poor Afghan farmers who rely on the poppy trade to sustain their livelihood. It is they who will fill the ranks of the insurgency.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Then and now posted by Richard SeymourClinton, 1993: "You mean to tell me that the success of the economic program and my re-election hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?"
The Ecology posted by Richard SeymourFrom summit to nadir so quickly? Copenhagen was, according to the most powerful state leaders represented at it, a flop from the beginning. Obama said so, and he wouldn't lie to me. But not only is Copenhagen almost a complete waste of time as far as securing real measures to prevent climate change are concerned. Even the most ambitious rhetoric doesn't address the reality of the reforms required. Gordon Brown claims that he wants to reduce carbon emissions by 30% from 1990 levels by 2020. He does not appear to be taking any measures, unilaterally or multilaterally, to actually accomplish such a reduction. But perhaps he doesn't have to do too much. This is in part because, as George Monbiot points out, 'carbon offsetting' is factored into the overall target - so, the UK may continue to expand its polluting industries, particularly air travel, and will purchase carbon credits from other countries.
Based on the current arrangements, that means that the poorest countries, would have to buy sell so many carbon credits that they would end up reducing their total carbon emissions by 60% while the richer countries reduce theirs by only 40%. This limits the development capacities of those nations in need of development, while placing the burden of climate reform on those least responsible for the greenhouse gas effect. Quite aside from the issue of justice, the current targets agreed by the G8 countries currently dominating discussions in Copenhagen would not actually reduce carbon emissions enough to prevent global temperatures rising by 2 degrees - which itself may not be the best target anyway. Recall that a recent IPCC report predicted that 20-30% of animal and plant species may end up extinct if global average temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees above the levels of the late twentieth century. This would in itself be a catastrophic shock to the ecosystem upon which we appear to depend. And if the temperature does rise by more than 2 degrees, then the likelihood of 60% of the populated surface of the earth being flooded does rise substantially.
But the summit is also, if the 'Danish text' is any guide, the means by which the representatives of wealthy capitalist nation-states will further assert their dominance over the poor. More power is to be accumulated by the rich countries, and unequal limits on carbon emissions are to be imposed. These efforts have already resulted in a brief rebellion by African countries at the talks, who say that the rich countries are trying to overthrow Kyoto. The text also allows for developed countries to derive targets based on their own standards, rather than basing them on the science. Now, some commentators say that the release of such a draft document is not all that significant, that the circulation of these proposals is part of the drama of international negotiations, but that it does not necessarily preclude a more hopeful outcome to the talks. But the coincidence between the interests of the most powerful states at the summit and the measures vaunted in the text drafted at the COP suggests that something like the 'Danish text' will be the end result any way.
Now, I know what you're saying. There is nothing to worry about. The leaked e-mails from leading climatologists show that climate change is a fraud, and that global temperatures have actually declined. David Davis says so. Well, the good news is that the world's climate scientists are not engaged in an international conspiracy to defraud the public. The climate 'sceptics' are whistling dixie. Here's an effective debunking:
The bad news is, that means there is still the whole species-death thing to worry about, though the PR industry is still working assiduously to put your mind at ease on this score. Even worse news follows. Capitalism is a system of competitive accumulation and, as such, is a perpetual growth machine. The rate at which the system grows in normal circumstances has already taxed the earth's life-support systems to the limit. The effects of the amount of carbon already pumped into the atmosphere have not yet fed through the ecological systems that we depend on, meaning that we have probably already guaranteed ourselves a much more difficult - and for some, potentially unliveable - future on the planet.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The Pakistani rulers are in tatters. They are being attacked in their offices, the barricaded headquarters, that is, almost everywhere they hide. The imposing structures from where they rule stand today as prisons of a bygone power. The rulers are forced to sneak-a-peak and disappear again. They are reduced to issuing statements of sorrow and condemnation at the 'suicide attack'. They cannot appear with prior notice, their appearance has to be discrete, instantaneous and surprising, else they will be surprised by the unseen enemy.
This unseen enemy is also daily lambasted by the US and its imperialist allies. They denounce and everyone is asked to fight it, wreck it and finish it off from the face of earth. But the unseen enemy keeps on reappearing. It is also hidden, shadowy, instantaneous and surprising. But you cannot see it, you cannot find it, you cannot attack it. But the imperialist powers demand us in Pakistan to fight it. We are told as a nation, as rulers and as spymasters to muster all our energies and fight this unseen enemy. We are reminded, on a daily basis, its not USA's war, its yours, Pakistanis war and Pakistanis will have to fight the unseen enemy. And how do we know it is the unseen enemy that has attacked us?
Every time there is a bomb explosion in a city it is instantaneously claimed by the hidden ministry of interior, and the military public relations office and all sorts of sneak-a-peak rulers that the explosion was a suicide attack carried out by the Taliban or most recently India. To catch the suicide attackers every day scores are arrested in raids at Afghani, Waziristani and Swati localities all over Pakistan. This is how we are made to see the enemy. So the mountain inhabiting Pushtoons are portrayed as uncouth, greedy and rural. Pushtoons are made to look like uncivilized, hot-headed and terrorist in making. We are reminded that since we cannot see the unseen enemy but see a Pushtoon and therefore we should be watchful of their behavior. If we see them anywhere and we think they are acting suspiciously we must inform the police, spy on them and help save the nation. We are made to support the raids, search operations, arrests in the cities and killings in the rural areas only because we are made to accept the propaganda of the state. This is how Pushtoons are made to become the unseen enemy. Scapegoating the Pushtoons as the unseen enemy is aimed at creating a Pushtoon as a Taliban in our imagination.
So they win our imagination but have they won the wars? Despite the propaganda of winning the war in Swat and nearly winning the one in Waziristan we can see that attacks continue to happen on city centres and of course on the ruling class. Now we are told that it is an allout war, as if the military operation on Waziristan and Swat were not. On a daily basis it is officially claimed that 40 to 70 terrorists were killed in Swat/Waziristan operation. But we are supposed to be shocked at the 'suicide attack' only!
And hence we are told to get prepared to fight this war. Now does that ring some bells? Yes, first the US told us that it is Pakistani's war and now the ministry of interior and military's public relations tells us that the Pakistanis will have to fight it. But wasn't the Pakistani military supposed to fight Pakistan's enemies? But that is not enough now, comes the response, we need laskhars, defence committees and need to arm them.
So here we go again. Once more it is a jihad but now it is against the bad jihadists. So once again the minister of interior visits the local death squad organizers, the militias that control the cities, and asks them to join this war. Thus you see the pictures of the minister with the preferred sectarian leaders who are willing to give thousands of their madressa students and militant lower-middle-class MQM cadres to fight alongside the Pakistani military. Does that sounds familiar? Yes back in the 1980s it was the madressa students who were urged by the US and Pakistani rulers to fight the infidel Soviets in Afghanistan and the lower-middle class Jamaat e Islami came along as well. Now it is the good madressa students and the MQM which will get the arms to fight the bad madressa Taliban. Very soon we will be told that these good have also become bad and once again there will be another war of the people to be fought with the people. A war leads to another war.
So what can the people do? The ruling class has decided that it will speak from its prisons, rule from broadcasting stations and only police its own safe houses. The middle class has decided to pack its bags or for the moment allow the goons of the lower-middle class to fight the monster, the unseen enemy. The problem remains with the under-class unemployed, hungry, disempowered and the working class. It is these who are now forced to decide the side they are going to hold their sway.
The ruling and middle classes, if they had their way, they will make everyone else fight this unending and non-sensical war until they wipe out half of the population. They have already displaced record number of people in a single calendar year and are famous for shedding blood of 3 million at the least 39 years ago. They are already making the ordinary Pakistani soldier, coming from the lowest echelons of the peasantry, to give their lives to occupy the Pushtoon land. They have already bombed over 4.5 million people to punish them for siding with the unseen enemy. Now whenever they are attacked in their military or police or torture headquarters the next day a city centre is bombed. As if to ensure that if the war is between the Taliban and the military then it should appear as a war of Taliban against the Pakistani people. Hence they wish to create a false polarization.
Taliban leadership does not have an agenda for the under-priviliged, they themselves are willing to impose an order from above. Hence the false polarization is rapidly becoming a real polarization. This is between those who are against the Taliban and those who are with the Taliban. In other words those with the Pakistani rulers and those against. That means those against the US and those with the US. Hence condemnation of Taliban becomes an act of endorsing US-led aggression to occupy Afghanistan and now Pakistan. And this is a reactionary polarization. It is not a polarization of the under-priviliged against the privileged, the ruling class against the working class. It is polarization that sheds blood at every moment of its existence, it is reactionary to its core.
Therefore the underprivileged and the working class, the city dwellers and the countryside petty worker has to do is to refuse to accept that it is our war, demand the warring military to stop its military operations, force the US led imperialist occupiers out of our land and call for an all out peace.
The rulers are cornered, they have no way out. The middle class is besieged and the military bitterly divided. The imperialist power USA stands defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. They all want to spread the war, make it the war of Pakistani underclass. They want to use the military against ordinary Pushtoons, they want us to form lashkars and arm them, they want us to form defence committees. We should refuse to fight their war and refuse to accept that there exists an enemy which we or they could not see. We should refuse to scapegoat the Pushtoon and the Afghan and demand an end to extrajudicial killings and raids and arrests. It is not the unseen enemy we can fight back against, it is always the enemy we see that we have to organize against. The more the war spreads the more will be a mutated response against it. Its not our war, we should not let it be fought in our name.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Aspects of a racist diatribe posted by Richard Seymour
It could be an anomaly, of course. But it isn’t. The overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community. Of course, in return, we have rap music, goat curry and a far more vibrant and diverse understanding of cultures which were once alien to us. For which, many thanks.
Defending his comments, he offered the argument that he wasn't talking about race but about 'multiculturalism'. He went on to explain:
My argument is much as it has always been; that the creed of multiculturalism is largely to blame, the notion that cultures, no matter how antithetical to the norm, or anti-social, should be allowed to develop unhindered, without criticism.
There is no good reason to take this argument at face value. For a start, Liddle may be fantastically ignorant and complacent on many levels, but I suspect he is aware that his claims are straightforwardly statistically false. The point of ranting in such an off-hand racist fashion isn't to be precise, it is to 1) get Liddle some more notoriety, 2) hurt the targets of such abuse, and 3) get people talking about race in a particular way that benefits the racists. I also doubt that Liddle is unaware that 'race' and 'culture' are not neatly separable in his tirades. Indeed, that is the whole point. Here I disagree with Sunny - Liddle is unlikely to be confused. Rather, he knows exactly what he is doing. The attack on 'multiculturalism' is the right's main way of rehabilitating certain racist ideas. He would also be aware that white people, who are not subject to the same collective insults, are disproportionately represented in certain types of criminality and anti-social behaviour. (Cf. Bonnie Greer's retort that "the overwhelming majority of paedophiles, murderers, war-mongers and football hooligans are white males and all we got in return was beans on toast and Top Gear".)
The occasion for the rant is crime, but that is not the issue at stake. If it were, then all sorts of unwelcome complexities would arise. If you really wanted to discuss the origins of criminal behaviour, you wouldn't start by talking about either 'race' or 'culture'. For one, few people who use such terms can specify what they mean by them beyond some vague indices or anecdotes. What are the precise dimensions of a 'culture' that supposedly yields violent crime, for example? No one knows. Something about rappers and absent fathers, possibly. We all know how to use phrases such as 'culture of dependency', 'culture of blame', 'culture of violence', etc., but these are miasmic conceits designed to retail a particular kind of reactionary politics. Their vagueness is their virtue. Indeed, without wishing to dignify the discussion by endowing it with serious theoretical merit, we can at least acknowledge in passing that in understanding crime, both how it is constructed and how and why it is carried out, there are all sorts of issues involved that do not correspond to the bigoted obsessions of the commentariat. So, the point is not violent crime. The aim of such bombast is to resurrect some antique racial stereotypes that hold black people to be, whether by endowment or 'culture', rapists, robbers and murderers.
I note that the Spectator's editor, Fraser Nelson, has defended Rod Liddle's 'right to offend'. What he is talking about is the right incite racial hatred, which you certainly don't have and which is a monstrous right to claim. Anti-racist legislation has been conceived and passed precisely to thwart any such 'right'. It is because of this that the far right have had to be extremely careful about how they couch their propaganda in public, as noted by 5CC. But if Liddle can purvey such racially defamatory claims without consequence, then why would the fascists hold back? Especially if all they have to say in their defence is "I'm talking about culture, stupid"?
Thursday, December 03, 2009
What's in a minaret? posted by Richard SeymourA minaret isn't much to get worked up about. It is a tall, ornate tower appended to a mosque, which is sometimes used to broadcast calls to prayer. Yet, in the arguments of those who wished to ban the construction of minarets, thereby singling out Islam for restriction and opprobrium, they amount to a form of 'colonisation'. Whether that 'colonisation' is identified as a threat to conservative or left-wing values depends on the audience. Some members of the Swiss Socialists justified their support for the minaret ban on feminist grounds, and the feminist writer Joan Smith has attempted to lend this appalling stance some respectability. The Lega Nord, meanwhile, calling for a similar move in Italy, justifies the campaign on the grounds that Italy must remain, like Switzerland, Christian and white. Conservative writers like Michael Burleigh claim that it represents a stand against alleged infringements on European 'democracy'.
The language of 'colonization' is very important in the racist right's lexicon. These Lega Nord posters remind people that 'immigration' to the Americas resulted in Native Americans living in reservations - seriously implying, therefore, that white Europeans might become the victims of a genocide. It is also a language that the BNP is given to use, and of course, it was dramatically pictorialised in the icons of the anti-minaret campaign in Switzerland, with minarets depicted as black missile-like objects covering a Swiss flag, with an ominous looking woman wearing a burqa in the foreground. One cannot help but notice the 'bad faith' involved here. Muslims tend to be so targeted precisely because where they are least likely to be assertive, most isolated, and least in a position to defend themselves. They are targeted as a minority, with poor resources for mobilising on their own behalf, not as a colonial power. While we're about it, might we also notice the militarist implications of such a language? For if Europe is supposedly being colonised, in a way that threatens a fate akin to that of the injuns, then a war of liberation is surely the implied solution. The thugs marching on mosques across Britain, and the fascists who think they don't go far enough, understand this perfectly well.
A corollary implication is that those who do not rally to the war against 'Islamic colonisation', 'Islamic imperialism' or the 'Islamification of Europe', as it is variously called, are traitors. Now you might think that such language is the preserve of fascists and nutters, ultra-reactionaries, racists, EDL thugs, the BNP, etc. You would be wrong. For example, The Express, expostulating about its phoney 'revealations' about government funding for "fanatics who want to kill us", takes the logical step from its fabrications and fulminates: "It does not take a brilliant detective to work out what is going on here, just an ordinarily observant person: Britain's cultural identity is being systematically dismantled by a government of traitors." It is true that the Express takes the most extreme racist line toward Muslims of any of the tabloids, but this is an unabashed plagiarism from the pages of the British Nationalist. As it happens, the charge against New Labour is not only wrong on the facts, but it is politically perverse. No mainstream party has done more to capitulate to racist ideology than the one presently in command. Gordon Brown's dog-whistling about 'local houses for local people', following his tremendously successful 'British Jobs for British Workers' gambit, has been followed by more 'tough but fair' language and promises of concrete measures to deal with immigration. Brown is particularly concerned, after all, about 'Britishness' and 'British values'. Nothing saddens him more than the idea that we can't take some pride in the achievements of the empire, and of Anglo-Saxon culture in general. The allegation that this government is insensible of "Britain's cultural identity" (which appears to consist of being white, Christian, bigoted, ignorant, full of shit, and proud of it) is nonsense.
The main thing that vexes the Islamophobes, supposedly, is violence. If pressed, some of them will readily concede that any violence by Muslims is practised by a negligible minority and by no means incriminates the majority. (Do not even bother asking them to weigh it against the colossal violence of Anglo-American imperialism, which has incited such relatively miniscule violence as has taken place on the European continent.) The majority, though, will insist that such violence, even if practised by a minority, is driven by their commitment to doctrines that are mainstream in Islam. Thus: 'we are not against Islam, just extremism - but then, isn't Islam itself extreme'? Their attention to violent 'extremism', though, and that of the media and political class in general, is severely curtailed by their obsession with Muslims. Tell me if this sounds familiar. A man is found in possession of explosives, guns, ammunition, and other weapons. He is arrested, charged with terrorism offenses, and is convicted. But he is not a Muslim. He is white, and a BNP member, so his case doesn't grab the headlines. No one notices that the BNP has a demonstrated propensity for churning out terrorists. Let's try another one. A pair of students are severely beaten after attempting to defend a woman from a threatening gang. Suppose the gang is a Muslim gang, leering at a white woman, and the students are Ben Sherman wearing Brits on their way to play darts or something equally ridiculous. You would expect headlines from that. Predictably, of course, that isn't the case: the students are Muslims, as is the woman they were defending, and the attackers are white racists who were taunting the woman for wearing a hijab. So, it's not much cop, especially since most newspaper editors have it in their heads that wearing a hijab is itself a culpable and subversive act, which can at best be 'tolerated'. Incidents of both type are increasingly routine, as is their general oblivion in the welter of competing, largely fabricated, stories about the menace of Islam.
Given the pace of reaction across Europe, and the growing hold of this specious, essentialist garbage about Islam, it is unsurprising that an innocuous and sometimes rather beautiful structure can, if the PR is effective, become so suffused with peril and portent for so many. But the minarets are just the start of it. No Islamophobe would be content with what is, at the moment, a symbolic gesture, a super-sized fuck-you. There will be numerous intermediate steps. Sarkozy and his allies may be next with the idea of a ban on the 'veil'. Someone else may take up the original intended issue of the Swiss reactionaries, and try to outlaw halal butchery. But if the intended effect is to intimidate Europe's Muslim population and ultimately reduce their numbers, then it can only be a matter of time before 'peace walls', ghettos, and forcible expulsion are on the agenda - presuming no one lifts a finger to protest in the meantime. Some Swiss anti-racists have already taken to the streets. They are, at the moment, small in number. But they could not possibly be as small in stature, as pathetic, as ridiculous, as paltry in almost every respect, as that majority of Swiss voters who cast such a petty and vindictive vote.
What happened in Rwanda? posted by Richard Seymour
- While the killings were initiated by the FAR (government forces) in response to the RPF invasion, the bulk of those killed were not Tutsis but Hutus. The findings support the caim that the FAR bears responsibility for the "vast majority" of killings. However, he pattern of killings suggests that a programme of anti-Tutsi genocide was not responsible for all, or even most, of the deaths. The genocide caused, by their estimate, 100,000 of a total of 1 million deaths, with the remainder attributable to civil war, localised struggles for power, revenge killings and so on.
- In addition, the RPF itself bears significant responsibility for a significant tranch of the killings and behaved as an army of conquest, not of liberation. It did not merely carry out "spontaneous revenge killings", but large-scale massacres in, eg, refugee camps. Moreover, the killings in FAR-controlled territories abated dramatically whenever the RPF relented, thus belying the idea that the invasion had to continue to save lives.
- When the initial statistical data was disclosed to the prosecution, they rapidly lost interest in that kind of research and decided to rely on testimonies instead. They also attempted to obstruct the release of maps detailing FAR military bases, which would provide further evidence as to the pattern and nature of killings.
- When the researchers were going about their tasks, they were arrested and detained by the Rwandan military, who questioned them for a day about their motives and who they were working for. When they presented their findings regarding the pattern of killings and the victims to a conference in Kigali, they were interrupted by a member of the armed forces, who advised them that the Minister of Information had taken exception to their findings and that they were to be deported the following day, never to return to Rwanda. Following the conference, the prosecution team abruptly dropped the two researchers. The Kagame government and the prosecution has since worked to ensure that there is a single-minded, purblind focus on the FAR suspects, and none at all on the RPF.
Much of this is unsurprising, and the authors do not venture too far into the political context of the war, but it bears out some of the arguments I have previously made.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
I have long been excited by Alasdair Macintyre's work on moral philosophy. I wrote about his famous essay 'Notes from the moral wilderness' here. In that essay, he took issue with the 'moral Quixotes' who challenged Stalinism on the basis of an arbitrary individual stance. Rejecting the Stalinist conflation of morality with the laws of history, they opted for the authority of conscience: "Here I stand, I can do no other". But what, a Stalinist might ask, is so compelling about your conscience, as opposed to mine?
For Macintyre, this appeal to individual conscience was a leftover of Lutheranism. In the hands of the Lutherans, morality was reconstructed as a series of "divine fiats", "totally arbitrary" edicts that appeared to have no basis in the needs of human communities. With the decline of religion, these fiats were no longer divine, and all that remained was their compulsory but entirely arbitrary nature. This was in stark contrast to the pre-Enlightenment Aristotelianism that, even in its degraded scholastic version, provided a basis for moral thought in human need (cf Thomas Aquinas). Or, more precisely, it rooted morality in “the more permanent and long-run of human desires”. Macintyre hinted here at some of the basic moral problems that have come to define his work, specifically the difficulty of formulating moral questions properly in the post-Enlightenment era.
In A Brief History of Ethics, he provided a (Eurocentric, or rather, Hellenocentric) account of transforming moral habits rooted in changes of social structure, from Ancient Greece to modern Europe. Later, in After Virtue, written after he had ceased to be a marxist and had come to view the working class as possessing insufficient resources for solving the problems of modernity, he elaborated his compelling argument as to why the Enlightenment project had failed with respect to morality, and why it had to fail. Enlightenment philsophers sought to rationally ground moral claims, but did so on the basis of an unsustainable normative commitment to individualism. Thus, in Enlightenment philosophy the attempt to derive 'ought' from 'is' always fails. Either one lapses into Humean subjectivism (the default position of Anglo-American philosophy), consigning morality to an unavoidable but empirically unjustifiable sentimental response to the world, or one attempts to reproduce divine fiats at another level, as per the Kantian categorial imperative. For Macintyre, the Aristotelian tradition of deriving morality from a conception of 'human nature' had to be the starting point for any rationally grounded morality.
There is an understandable scepticism about attempts to appropriate Aristotelianism for revolutionary socialism, and a justified reticence about grounding questions of political justice in some other sphere (morality, biology, etc). How could one justify conceiving of a 'telos' without a designer, for example? How could one root moral arguments in human purpose, if the very idea of human beings having a purpose is incoherent? Even so, although no 'natural' fact about human beings entails any one particular programme, it is difficult to raise questions of political justice without stumbling on moral issues. For example, theories of justice often rely on the idea of 'desert'. Rawls points out that no one is entitled to advantage on the basis of their innate talents - no one deserves talents, having done nothing to earn them. This is an argument against disingenuous 'meritocratic' justifications for inequality, and it is a good point to bear in mind. The problem with this is that such formulations of 'desert' contain implicit normative claims that require justification in themselves. Why, a social Darwinist might say, should morality be about desert rather than excellence and achievement? Is desert even a coherent category, or isn't every apparently deserved accomplishment merely the result of physiological and social processes that the subject did not create or initiate? Doesn't 'desert' rest on a particularly liberal conception of agency? (Well, that's just off the top of my head, but I'm sure you could think of ways in which commonplace normative assumptions might be problematised). This is why the attempt to rethink morality beyond the horizons of liberal thought is so exciting.
My reservations about relying on a concept of 'human nature' to formulate such a morality were partially discharged on reading Dependent Rational Animals, in which Macintyre emphasises our animal nature, and particularly our lifelong dependency and vulnerability. While in a certain version of capitalist ideology (raised to its savage apotheosis in neoliberalism), one is encouraged to relegate dependency to the bookends of life - infancy and senility - and undertake life decisions as a sovereign individual, a moment's thought discloses that our condition is permanently fragile, and permanently needful. Therefore, the mutual, cooperative, selfless and nourishing associations that we concede are necessary in our very young and very old years can be regarded as being desirable throughout life. Knowing ourselves to be animals, susceptible as they are to disease, misfortune, accident and predation, we might conceive of a morality based on a long term collective interest in our well-being, which excludes exploitative or oppressive relations.
Well, the above ramblings are by way of a preface to my discovery of a new volume of Macintyre's early political writings, including his period in the New Left and the IS group. Edited by Neil Davidson and Paul Blackledge, this extraordinary collection, entitled Alasdair Macintyre's Engagement With Marxism, demonstrates the importance of his early marxism to his ongoing philosophical labours. The pleasurably terse and argumentative style that is so familiar in his philosophical writing is forcefully on display in a bewildering variety of contexts - arguments with left reformism, discussions of British capitalism, social democracy, nuclear weapons, Gaitskell and clause 4; thumbnail critiques of figures such as Sartre (whom he obviously admires, but regards as profoundly ignorant of the real situation of the working class - perhaps Ian Birchall can tell us how accurate this is), Marcuse, Lukacs, Mills, Williams and Deutscher; a dissection of the Sunningdale agreement (a 'colonial solution'); theological exposition, etc etc. It also contains 'Notes from the moral wilderness', and extracts from 'Marxism and Christianity' among other important texts. The book is, in a way, a settling of accounts, as the introductory essay makes clear. Macintyre's marxism was disparaged by revolutionaries at the time, who saw his position as leading inevitably toward reaction, and is all too often reduced to marginalia today. Yet it is difficult to peruse his engagements with the problems of liberation in a world bissected by Stalinism and US-led capitalism without seeing how much this early emancipatory impulse drove his interrogations into ethics and morality. That Macintyre is no longer a marxist, moreover, does not mean he has made peace with capitalist modernity, albeit he is now as likely to be championed by conservative thinkers as radicals. It is actually the very disdain for modernity that continues to give his writing a powerful critical edge.
Moody tracked the origins of this crisis to the late 1970s when, beginning in 1979, there was a sudden nosedive in membership, strike rate, NLRB negotiations and - as a consequence - wages. Part of the background for this sudden crisis of unionism in 1979-81 was that the union leadership had expended much of its energies combatting the rank and file insurgencies of the Sixties and Seventies that had challenged the norms of business unionism, thus evaporating activists energies on internal struggles. The dependence on the Democratic Party machinery was also fatal. The AFL-CIO helped Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford, with the promise of a labour-friendly bill, but it was filibustered and contained. And when Chrysler was going under, labour depended on Carter to organise a bail-out and thus engaged in its first, fatal, pre-Reaganite round of concessionary bargaining. Job losses were conceded and the union movement subsequently lost members and leverage. It was already ripe for plucking apart by the time Reagan destroyed the air traffic controllers union.
This nosedive in unionism reached a plateau by 1982 and it facilitated a wave of restructuring and spatial re-organisation in American industry, including auto, steel, meatpacking, trucking, mining, telecommunications and building. The US steel industry alone lost a quarter of a million jobs by the end of the 1980s, as larger firms downsized and smaller groups such as Birmingham Steel and Oregon Steel pioneered new successful models of accumulation. As in Europe, the manufacturing sector shed jobs in bulk and waged a bitter but often successful war against shop floor organisation. Through intensified labour regimes and technical innovation, capital was able to raise productivity while wages remained static rather than rising with productivity gains as had been the case in previous decades. Between 1973 and 1998, productivity in US industry rose by 46.5%, but the median wage fell by 8%. (Figures from Harman's Zombie Economics). Notwithstanding a brief period of growth at the end of the 1990s, real wages continued to fall in the Bush years, and are still falling while productivity has soared during this crisis. (Though, typically, a number of US economists writing in the New York Times have taken the opportunity to argue that US wages are actually far too high and should be reduced to the global "market-clearing rate"). The intensification of work included a crude increase in the rate of exploitation by way of increased working hours, so that the average labourer in the US worked almost as many hours in 2004 as a Mexican worker (1,824 and 1,848, respectively). This process, technically known as 'class struggle from above', did facilitate a substantial recovery in aggregate profit rates until about 1997 - not to the levels of the post-war boom, but certainly above the troughs of the late 1970s and early 1980s. (For figures, see David McNally, 'From Finance Crisis to World-Slump: Accumulation, Financialisation and the Global Slow Down', Historical Materialism, 17.2).
The model of business unionism that persisted and still persists involves the acceptance of capitalism not just de facto but in explicit ideological terms - the language of class politics is specifically eschewed. It involves reliance on the Democratic Party which is, both in terms of its outlook and leading personnel, a capitalist party, not even a reformist party akin to European social democracy. It involves bureaucratic top-down methods of organising and growth in which the latter is the preserve of 'professionals', long-term sweetheart deals, no-strike agreements, and the exclusion of would-be members if they do not belong to existing bargaining units.
The effect of this depoliticised, professionalised model of unionism is not only to forestall struggles but to substantially weaken them where they arise. Moody gave the example of auto-workers striking at a BMW plant who met with European trade union delegates. They explained that they were not against the company - they liked the company - but they just wanted a voice, a seat at the table. The delegates said 'they're going to get beaten', and of course they were beaten, because they didn't understand that it was a class conflict not a family quarrel. Another problem facing US workers is the one I mentioned in a previous post - older forms of community-based workers' organisation have suffered because labour is much more mobile than before. American workers can travel a hundred miles to get a job now, whereas once it was common to live within walking distance of work. Moreover, they are unlikely to work at the same plant, where common union representation would signify a common struggle. They are atomised, fragmented, and dispersed. The only workers' constituency that resembles those old communities is among immigrants.
The formation of 'Change to Win', which was supposed to break with the more bureaucratic methods of the AFL-CIO, did not augur a new period of growth. This was in part because the split didn't involve any substantial political or tactical disagreement. It was entirely driven by the unions' respective leaderships. The Change to Win federation essentially accepted the same model of recruitment as the AFL-CIO, based on professionalised campaigns and economies of scale. The SEIU, one major constituent of the Change to Win coalition, was supposed to have recruited tens of thousands of new members, but its net growth after factoring in losses amounted to approx. 10,000 - not really that large given that the SEIU represents 1.8m workers. Its leadership has publicly eschewed any idea of class politics, instead vaunting that old shibboleth, 'partnership'. And it has increasingly resorted to carrying out raids on other, smaller unions - a nasty and rightly scorned tactic in the labour movement. The UAW and USWA unions experienced losses. Only the smaller unions have made gains. There are positive developments, however. Unions are changing their attitude to immigration and increasingly looking to organise the 12 million Mexican workers in the US. The SEIU, despite its commitment to business unionism, did take some pioneering steps in this direction with its famous janitors campaigns in the 1990s. (The campaigns featured in Ken Loach's Bread and Roses). But it has not organised a great deal in the South, which is ripe for a recruitment drive, and where tentative efforts in, eg, the meatpacking industry have met with success.
Moody has long advocated a version of 'social movement unionism' to combat the conservatism and limitations of the 'business unionism' model. Rather than reserved for members of bargaining units, unions should be thrown open to all - not least those many workers who regularly volunteer their time and efforts to help union recruitment drives, but are not union members themselves. The unions should campaign on broader issues and be integrated into larger campaigns rather than restrict themselves to narrowly 'economic' issues. We had a glimpse of this with Seattle and after, and with the massive organisation of immigrant workers in 2006, subsequently crushed under a wave of ICE raids and horrendous repression. But as yet the model of business unionism has not been broken with on a large scale and, as a result, recruitment still doesn't make up for lost members, and union density continues to decline. It will require a painstaking accumulation of forces before the necessary shift can take place, but it would also require an ideological break with the Democratic Party to be sustainable - now a much more delicate and difficult matter with the Obama executive. To the extent that white workers break with Obama, it may just as well be to the right as to the left.
(Yet another whinging, pessimistic post. Where is the Hope? Where is the change-you-can-believe-in? Tsk.)