Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Also appearing posted by Richard Seymour

I'll be doing a talk at the Pages of Hackney bookshop on The Meaning of David Cameron, on Wednesday 3rd November. There will be loads of new material.

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This is Zionism. posted by Richard Seymour

"An Israeli army officer who fired the entire magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl and then said he would have done the same even if she had been three years old was acquitted on all charges by a military court yesterday.

"The soldier, who has only been identified as "Captain R", was charged with relatively minor offences for the killing of Iman al-Hams who was shot 17 times as she ventured near an Israeli army post near Rafah refugee camp in Gaza a year ago.

"The manner of Iman's killing, and the revelation of a tape recording in which the captain is warned that she was just a child who was "scared to death", made the shooting one of the most controversial since the Palestinian intifada erupted five years ago even though hundreds of other children have also died."

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Democracy posted by Richard Seymour

In the spoke-too-soon category:

“Does anyone imagine that Democracy, which has destroyed the feudal system and vanquished kings, will fall back before the middle classes and the rich?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

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You can't call peaceful Muslims a bunch of genocidal fascists any more... posted by Richard Seymour

...it's political correctness gone mad. (Hat-tip, and context. Bad news for Harry's Place).

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The 'big one' was a washout for the EDL posted by Richard Seymour

Well well. I haven't time to update you on everything that happened yesterday. You should have been following me on Twitter if you weren't. You can see some pics too. But the big picture is perhaps best encapsulated by the well known acronym: wtf? As in, wtf was all of this hysterical nonsense about 'riots'? As in, wtf was all of this about the EDL making Bradford their 'big one'.

Because the first claim, that holding an antifascist demonstration in Bradford would inevitably provoke a riot and couldn't be carried off peacefully, was the rationale for the police delivering leaflets through people's doors warning people not to attend the counter-demo or risk being arrested - reminding people of how many years people were (disgracefully) sent down for after 2001. It was the rationale for the council, supported by the police, calling a poorly attended 'multicultural event' out of its fundament and telling Asian lads effectively that if they didn't want to get arrested they should go to Manningham instead of the city centre. It was the rationale for local council-funded mosques organising day trips to take the youth out of the city. It was the rationale for all the smearing and nonsense from Searchlight and the Telegraph and Argus and the police and the council - though, to their credit, eight local councillors supported the 'We Are Bradford' protest, and one of them turned up and spoke.

The combined forces of the national and local state, the local media and an anti-fascist group with union funding were all against this protest happening at all, and they put incredible pressure on people. We couldn't mobilise many people at Exchange Square. I would have expected a few thousand people under normal circumstances. In fact, it was closer to one thousand, though admittedly it was a rather boisterous one thousand, with music, dancing and brrrraaap-brrrrraaap aplenty. Many of those present would probably rather have been out there with the local people when they decided to confront the EDL directly. But that would not have been possible with so many police present. And the point, that antifascists could stage a peaceful protest in the centre of Bradford without triggering a 'race riot', and that it is the racists and fascists, not antifascists and not local communities, who start riots, was made.

As for the EDL's big day out, it was a shambles that ended with fascists and racists getting their arses kicked and their collars felt. This wasn't mainly because of the police. It was because lots of the normal crowd were scared off by the possibility of having a fight with local Asians. This is going to be a long-term problem for them. They can't physically intimidate Muslim communities in Britain, which is supposed to be their rationale. They can build a periphery of racists, some of whom will come along to their demonstrations if there's little risk to themselves. They can provide the (almost bankrupt) BNP with a recruiting base. They can write acres of masturbatory 'poetry' for their websites, and produce little black hoodies with the EDL logo on. They can beat people up in small numbers. Indeed, where they think they've got an easy target, they can mobilise several thousand people who are ready for a ruck, prepared to break police lines and go on a riot. But Braford, 'home turf', 'the big one'...? No, the majority of the 'infidels' didn't dare turn up to that one.

For most of the protest, 800 EDL were penned into a mothballed shopping centre project surrounded by large fances. They had spent the morning getting tanked up, on an agreement with the police who laid on double decker buses to take them to and from the pubs. They presumably had more than a few carry outs while they were penned in to the 'Urban Gardens'. During this time, they regaled onlooking journalists with their usual repertoire of 'Allah is a paedo', and added a new chant of 'we love the floods' in reference to the recent catastrophe in Pakistan. When it turned out that a small, multi-racial crowd of local people had arrived opposite the EDL protest zone, the EDL started throwing bricks, bottles and even a smoke bomb in their fury. My understanding is that, unlike in 2001, local Asian kids made it clear to police that they weren't interested in fighting with coppers and that their main goal was to defend the local community. To that end, they tolerated a lot of shit and provocations from the police, refusing to be goaded into brawling with them: a lot of tactical lessons have been learned.

In the end, a few hundred EDL succeeded in breaking through the police cordons and started to run riot. Now, I put it to you that if 8,000 cops, with helicopters, mounted officers, surveillance and superior control of the geography, couldn't contain a few hundred fascist and racist thugs, this is because they were more obsessed with 'controlling' Asian youths (the paranoid racism of West Yorkshire Police hasn't changed) and antifascists than anything else. This vindicates the argument that the state can never be relied on to combat fascism. As it happened, it was hundreds of Asian kids, almost a thousand of them, who appeared as if from nowhere and stopped the EDL in their tracks, giving a few of them a good battering before sending them running back to the police to be voluntarily kettled again. If the high point of the EDL's day was getting back under police protection and saving themselves from the local community, you know it's an #EPIC #FAIL.

The tragedy is that those kids had to do it by themselves. The tragedy is that an antifascist group, and the local media, and the police, and the council have spent months mobilising against a counter-demonstration. The tragedy is that people's energies were not harnessed to building up local capacity for resisting the EDL, such that tens of thousands were out in opposition to the fash, so that they didn't dare try to riot. If that had happened, there wouldn't have been a peep from the EDL. They would have been extremely well behaved, for a bunch of bevvied racists, and left early. Instead, that vital energy was wasted in a campaign for a ban that was only ever going to lead to exactly the pattern of 'static' protest followed by EDL rioting, ultimately contained by well organised local people, that ensued. It's a disgrace that people were organising poorly attended separate events (the 'multicultural event' drew about 100 people at its height), doing everything they could to prevent unity on the day. Lessons will have to be learned from this.

One last thing. How is it that all the news noticed that there there was a peaceful UAF protest in the city centre, and that neither Hope Not Hate nor the Telegraph and Argus appeared to? Why were there surreal reports, obviously written from miles away, with wholly invented details and wholly separate events blurred? What is the point of that, after everything else that has transpired?

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Bradford tomorrow posted by Richard Seymour

This rather good video documentary for The Guardian gives a flavour of local responses to the coming EDL provocation in Bradford. It's much better than this entirely unbiased and fair and accurate representation of matters by the local police bod. I'll be using Twitter to keep you updated tomorrow, should you wish to follow events from afar (though you really should be coming along if you can make it). You would also do well to follow the UAF's Twitter page for regular bulletins.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

On class structure and income inequality posted by Richard Seymour

In 1979, Erik Olin Wright produced a book on the relation between class and income inequality with the aim of persuading social scientists working in the field of inequality to take marxist ideas seriously. He was, to put it mildly, in the wrong place at the wrong time. But his procedure was to rigorously conceptualise class as an antagonistic relationship centred on exploitation, rather than a system of gradations, or a competitive system based on the technical division of labour, market position, or authority relations. Having done this, he proceeded to show that with this understanding of class divisions in mind, it was possible to provide a powerful explanatory framework for understanding how income inequalities are perpetuated. I don't know whether much work is really being done on this subject these days, but here's one recent sociological attempt to situation inequalities in terms of production, which should be the basis of further research:

"These growing inequalities are clearly related to changes in employment relations. The work of entrepreneurs, managers and a top elite of professionals and technical experts has been considered increasingly worthy of high economic rewards, while rank and file workers have been subjected to pay restraints and wage cuts. Gosling et al. (1996) report on the widening gap between skilled and unskilled workers, along with increasing disparities within skill categories. Generally the picture is one of polarization between the well qualified and unqualified; between 1997 and 1993, the median wages of those with higher education rose by one third, while for those who left school by sixteen the figure was 10 per cent.

"Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, chief executives and directors received massive pay rises, along with huge bonuses and stakes of shareholdings in their companies; for example, in 1998 Sir Richard Sykes of Glaxo Wellcome had a 53 percent increase to bring his salary to £1.7 million, sir Geoff Mulcahy of Woolworths and B&Q a rise of 39 per cent to reach £1.5 million. In America Rifkin (1995) reports that the 4 per cent of what he terms the ‘knowledge elite’ earn as much as the bottom 51 per cent of wage earners: their gains were made at the expense of the mass of employees, who faced lower pay levels, loss of jobs and declining state benefits: ‘While millions of urban and rural poor languish in poverty, and an increasing number of suburban middle-income wage-earners feel the bite of re-engineering … a small elite of American knowledge workers, entrepreneurs and corporate managers reap the benefits of the new high-tech global economy’ (p. 180). The prosperity of the super-rich is shown in the fact reported by Kirby (1999a) that the ten richest men in the world earn more than the total wealth of the forty-eight poorest countries in the world, whose populations total some 560 million people. The UN estimates that $40 billion would be needed to achieve basic education and health care for everybody in the world, along with adequate food, water supplies and sanitation: $40 billion is less than 4 per cent of the combined wealth of the world’s 225 richest people."

Harriet Bradley et al, Myths at Work, Polity, 2000, pp. 138-9

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Discourse on religion and politics posted by Richard Seymour

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Liberals: the weak link in the coalition posted by Richard Seymour

Good to see further proof that the Liberals are the achilles heel of the ConDem coalition:

Today's voting intentions and Government approval ratings are the worst for the Conservatives since the election. The net Government approval rating is zero - 40% of people approve of the Government's performance, but 40% of people disapprove. On voting intention, the Conservative lead is down to 2 points, the lowest since the election campaign. Topline figures are CON 41%, LAB 39%, LIB DEM 12%.

Government approval has been on a slow downwards trajectory since its peak straight after the emergency budget in June. This has been partially down to Labour voters' hardening disapproval of the Government, and partially due to falling Liberal Democrat support. The remaining Liberal Democrat voters still say they approve of the Government's performance, but there are far fewer of them...

As the Yougov comment piece points out, the Tories have held up their support rather well so far - it's Liberal voters abandoning the party for Labour that is bringing down the coalition's support overall. My etch-a-sketch analysis: this is the inevitable result of the collapse of the centre ground as the opening shots of the cuts battle are heard. Liberal voters in Labour's former working class heartlands are probably deserting en masse, back to Labour. At the same time, middle class voters who have supported the Liberals in the past now feel better about supporting the Tories (because Clegg has lent Cameron his 'progressive' aura). What is more, they now have a decided class motivation to do so, since their income is invested in house prices, shares and speculation. If the Tories can rescue the City, and the housing market, they will win back much of the long-term loyalty lost in 1992.

I would be surprised, though, if the Tory support didn't also start to collapse very shortly, and Labour didn't end up with a clear lead. I suppose it depends on whether the Bank of England's polyanna-ish stance on spending cuts holds true, or whether the economists' sceptical stance proves more accurate in the end. It may also depend on whether Ed Miliband is the unelectable weirdo that I suspect he is, because he's probably going to win the Labour leadership contest.

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Bradford posted by Richard Seymour

It has been extraordinary, watching the wrangling over the planned EDL rally in Bradford, and the fight to have a counter-demonstration. First of all, just be clear: there is most definitely going to be a 'We Are Bradford' rally this Saturday, in opposition to a 'static' EDL demonstration occurring on the same day. It's happening this Saturday, 12 noon at Exchange Square, Drake Street, Bradford city centre. There are dozens of coaches booked from across the country to take thousands of anti-fascists to Bradford, though the main turn out will undoubtedly be local. You can book your coach ticket here.

The 'We Are Bradford' rally is organised by the local 'We Are Bradford' group, and is supported by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), MPs, unions and faith groups. UAF is, as you know, the result of a coalition between the Anti Nazi League (which in its original form saw off the National Front), the National Assembly Against Racism, and several trade unions. Its chair is Ken Livingstone, and its treasurer is CWU general secretary Billy Hayes. Among its supporters are senior Labour MPs, trade unionsts, anti-racist groups, and members of community organisations, who speak regularly at UAF conferences. Aside from UAF, Labour MPs, trade unionists and local activists support the rally. Jeremy Corbyn MP, John McDonnell MP, David Ward MP (Bradford East) and Peter Hain MP are among the backers.

Four national unions, including the CWU, PCS, UCU and TSSA are supporting the event. It has the support of Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob, civil rights lawyers Louise Christian, Michael Mansfield and Imran Khan. It is supported by Bradford University student union, and local campaigning groups such as Bradford Immigration and Asylum Support and Advice Network, Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern, Bradford Education Business Partnership, Communities Organised for the Common Good of Bradford, etc. It has the support of local trade unionists and youth support workers. It has the backing of Lee Jasper, Mark Thomas, trade union leaders such as Jeremy Dear, Jane Loftus, Gill George, Andy Dark, Tony Kearns, and Sue Bond. It has the support of anti-racist groups like the 1990 Trust, musicians and poets such as Aki Nawaz, Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, Lowkey... the list goes on. Public meetings have taken place locally, in the face of what I understand to be intimidating behaviour by the police, to coordinate the response to the EDL. It is, just to underline the point, a very broadly backed national protest, as well as a deeply rooted local campaign.

We know why the EDL want to target Bradford. They think of it as home turf - wrongly, as we intend to show. They think they can mobilise thousands of racists and fascists to isolate and attack local Asian communities, just as football hooligans, NF members and BNP supporters did back in 2001. The polarisation that resulted boosted the BNP in the elections and gave them one of their first national breakthroughs. The EDL, after suffering internal schisms and some humiliating setbacks - as when they had to call off their protest in the East End, and then again in Harrow, for fear that they would be massively outnumbered - also wants to rally the troops with a success. And after Bradford, they'll be taking their rolling tour of race riots to other cities, such as Leeds. I would like to believe that we didn't face this problem. I would like to think that it was merely a security issue, and not a political problem, and that it could be left to the forces of the state to deal with it. Unfortunately, lessons must be learned, and the number one lesson of the EDL's brief existence is that the police cannot be depended on to contain the EDL. This is not merely incompetence, but a logical corollary of institutional racism and institutional hostility to anti-fascists, protesters, the Left, trade unionists, etc. Past events, notably in Bolton, have seen police allow EDL to roam free while beating and penning in the antifascists. Dozens of arrests of UAF came to nothing, but an EDL gang did get to stab someone at a pub later, liberally exercising that 'freedom of expression' that they so vocally claim for themselves.

Weyman Bennett of Unite Against Fascism explained the case for a counter demonstration at a Bradford public meeting recently:

The Bradford campaign has been difficult, however, for a number of reasons. First of all, the police are pursuing two senior members of Unite Against Fascism - Weyman Bennett and Martin Smith - on bogus charges. Weyman is being charged with 'conspiracy to incite disorder', and Martin is accused of assaulting a police officer. Rhetta Moran of Greater Manchester UAF is also being charged with 'conspiracy to incite disorder'. A campaign was recently launched in parliament to defend them. Not every police department is identical in its approach. But I think it's safe to say that the West Yorkshire Police cannot be relied upon to treat antifascists fairly. For that reason, I think, unity, cohesion and discipline among the antifascists is going to be paramount on the day. We need to stick together, stay focused on what we are there to do, and rely on our numerical and organisational strengths to see us through.

Which brings us to another difficulty, that being the existence of two concurrent, conflicting campaigns by antifascists. The first, supported by UAF, you are now up to speed on. The second, by Searchlight magazine and its campaigning group Hope Not Hate, has repudiated all talk of counter protests. It has publicly denounced such mobilisation, claiming that it risks a repeat of the riots of 2001. We will return to this in a moment. As an alternative, Searchlight has engaged in a campaign, supported by the local newspaper, to get the Home Office to ban the EDL march in Bradford on that day. Some of us think that while a ban on the EDL is laudible in principle, focusing on it as a strategy is dangerous, since it will demobilise the necessary effort to build up local capacity to resist the racist incursion.

However, the police, evidently concerned about their ability to manage events if the EDL were permitted to have a mobile parade through the city, backed Searchlight's call, and the Home Secretary acceded to the request. The EDL, for its part, made it absolutely clear that if a mobile event was banned, it would still stage a 'static' protest. And, it is the position of the West Yorkshire Police, and the Home Office, that such a protest could not be banned according to the law. The EDL event is going ahead. All that has changed is that any marching around the city by fash will be unofficial. You would not know this for all that Searchlight's supporters have been going round telling people that victory has already been achieved. So, that is why I have had to make clear that the 'We Are Bradford' event is going ahead - because of a concerted campaign to ensure that there is no counter-protest.

Now for a strange turn. Some of those opposed to the counter-protest now say that a 'multicultural event' that until recently was actually unheard of, has been moved from the city centre to the Manningham area of the city, ostensibly to avoid being associated with/'hijacked by' the anti-fascist 'extremists'. This separate event is apparently being coordinated by the Liberal Democrat council leader, though you'd search in vain for any sign of it on the Bradford Council website. Elements of the local political establishment, it would seem, are now joining in the attempt to draw people away from the counter-demonstration, while scaremongering about the anti-fascists. Searchlight's Paul Meszaros, cited by the local newspaper in support of the council leader's baiting of anti-fascists, maintains that getting the EDL's mobile parade banned was already a success, and that having a counter-protest will just hand the EDL a victory. Nick Lowles has gone further, arguing that it "may well provoke a riot". So, regrettably, the campaign against our counter-protest by another antifascist organisation continues, with an element of smearing by insinuation added in for good measure. No good will come of this.

Now, I am sympathetic to pleas for antifascists to overcome their divisions. I think the divisions that have been evident since Searchlight split from Unite Against Fascism in 2005, and supported a separate campaign called 'Hope Not Hate', have been consistently destructive. For that reason, I haven't used this blog to attack Searchlight or its campaign. Where I have mentioned them at all, it has generally been in praise and solidarity. I like to think that we remain on the same side of this struggle, and that these arguments over strategy will eventually be resolved, or rendered insignificant. But its conduct over Bradford has been irresponsible to the point of vandalism. And I'm afraid I also agree with Paul Mackney, former general secretary of NATFHE/UCU, that Searchlight's current posture of relying on the state to fight fascism constitutes an abdication of its historic mission.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. In Harrow, Newport, Glasgow and Edinburgh, counter-protests were central to blocking the EDL. In Birmingham last year, the EDL were chased out of the city. In the East End, they didn't dare carry out their planned march because of the planned counter-protest. In Luton, where there was no counter-protest, the EDL went on a rampage. In Stoke, where the counter-protest was small, the EDL went on another rampage. And in Bradford in 2001, the free hand that the fascists were given by the police, who scapegoated local Asian youths, resulted in some of the worst race riots in Britain for decades. The Anti-Nazi League couldn't mobilise sufficient forces in time and was effectively suppressed by the police and vilified by the media. This meant that Asian communities were largely left alone to defend themselves against the combination of fascists and West Yorkshire Police. That cannot be allowed to repeat itself. When racists and fascists try to attack a town or city, it is quite right that residents should be on their guard and ready to defend themselves - but they should not be left to do so in isolation.

That's why UAF continues to support the 'We Are Bradford' rally, which is still going ahead this Saturday. Bradford will not be 'home turf' for the EDL. Nowhere will be 'home turf' for the EDL, as long as there are more of us than there are of them.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The class basis of the Conservative Party posted by Richard Seymour

What manner of party is the Conservative Party? What is its base, and what will its base be in future? The relationship between the Conservative Party and big business is so obvious as to be almost taken for granted. Its leadership is dominated by personnel from the ruling class. The Tory front bench, for example, is dominated by members of the capitalist class, especially the financial bourgeoisie, as this New Statesman article shows. David Cameron claims to be 'middle class', but by this he only means that he is a normally adjusted member of the capitalist class and not some toffee-nosed aristo who warms his feet in the stomachs of slaughtered peasants.

In the marxist lexicon, the Tories are a 'bourgeois party'. That is, they are a party that exists to represent the ruling class in political struggle, but they survive electorally through an unstable coalition between the core ruling class support, the professional middle class, the petit-bourgeoisie and a segment of workers. As Goran Therborn points out, Marx did not anticipate bourgeois parties having much stability or longevity as working classes obtained the vote and dominated parliamentary systems numerically. He anticipated a much more rapid process of social polarisation, and fewer off-setting factors, than has actually been in evidence. Oweing to the survival of petty bourgeois layers, the emergence of a 'new middle class' composed of managers, supervisors, etc., and continuing gradations in the working class, the bourgeois parties could as late as the Seventies still obtain the support of between 45% and 50% of the active population in many Western European countries. It's higher in the US, inasmuch as turnout varies between 50 and 60%, and the electoral system is monopolised by bourgeois parties. And in Japan, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party could depend on about 60% of the vote.

The Tories have been the dominant bourgeois party in the UK for a century, replacing the Liberals who have spent most of the duration as a middle class protest party. The electoral coalition that has kept the Tories in power has been broad. The high point of the Conservatives' electoral support was when they led the National Government in 1931 with 60% of the vote, and for much of the immediate post-war period they could demonstrate support at or near 50% of the vote. Since 1974, their support has oscillated between 30% and 44% of the active electorate, remaining consistently in the high end of that spectrum during the 1980s, and slumping to the lower end since then - that slump being the main reason for Cameronism, and the emergence of coalition politics. As Andrew Gamble once said, the Tories have never been the explicit mouthpiece of capital in the same way that they once were for the landed gentry. This is because the nature of parliamentary politics has changed considerably since the Great Reform Act 1832 broke the power of 'rotten boroughs' and empowered the urban manufacturing capitalists, and since the Second Reform Act 1867 ensured that the working class formed an electoral majority.

The Tories responded to the rise of urban capital through a conscious realignment with this emerging, dominant fraction of the ruling class, and by the turn of the twentieth century had become interlocked with industry and the City, forming prominent relationships with merchant banking and clearing banking families such as the Tukes, Barings, Rothschilds, Hoares, etc. Throughout the 20th Century, the Conservative Party cultivated links with, and was interpenetrated by, different segments of capital, from finance in the 1910s to mass transport industries in the interward period, and small businesses (the petit-bourgeosie) after 1979. The period in which the Conservative Party was most fully interpenetrated by the general interests of capital was after 1945, as the Liberals experienced near total eclipse and politics seemed to polarise between the party of the trade unions and the party of the employers.

The rise of mass democracy forced the Tories to adapt by developing constituency associations to mobilise middle class supporters and, eventually, a segment of the working class as well. Of course, there was never any intention of allowing these vulgar locals to influence policy, and it is a commonplace of analysis of the Tory party that its mass membership exerts precious little influence on the policies pursued. Even the conventional histories, such as John Ramsden's An Appetite for Power (which retails the baseless cliche that the Conservative Party has no ideology, and is pragmatic and traditionalist in orientation), acknowledge that the deep-rooted contempt for democracy among the Tory party's upper caste resulted in 'popular' organs being adjoined to the existing Conservative apparatus without fundamentally altering the decision-making process.

Until 1998 and the 'Hague rules', the membership did not even get a say in the choosing of the party leader, and their impact on policymaking has always been slight. Patrick Seyd et al have given reasons to qualift this point with their detailed analysis of the Tory party membership, which objects to any outright dismissal of the role that activists play in the party's direction and success, but the point about the basically hierarchical, undemocratic nature of the party stands. Activists can constrain and shape policies, but those who initiate policy and see it through are the core leadership which consists of direct representatives of large capital and a professionalised managerial elite.

The relationship with capital has not always been easy. This is partly because capital is fractious, its immediate interests ending to diverge rather than converge, especially during a crisis. If the Tories act as a sort of executive for the ruling class, it doesn't mean that their tactics, their ideology, and their attempts to mobilise the middle class base will not occasionally bring them into conflict with one, some, or most segments of capital. Wym Grant reports that during the 1970s, employers frequently conflicted with the Conservative Party over the handling of labour militancy. One notoriously right-wing boss approached Heath during the 1972 miners' strike with a solution based on offering the miners a very large sum of money to stop their action. He might have seen the longer term ruling class interest in beating labour, but trying to run a business with constant power blackouts wasn't doing him any favours.

Until the 'winter of discontent', it must be said, capital did not decisively move behind Thatcher's Conservatives as the best vehicle for dealing with the unions. There was a real feeling in elite quarters that with Thatcher's leadership, the Tories were heading to some ideological loony-bin of the petit-bourgeoisie, UKIP-style, and that Labour would end up the most efficient ambassador for business interests in society. Nevertheless, business did swing behind the Tories when it was clear that the institutions of the labour movement could not contain the workers' insurgency, as did the media: the red-baiting about the Labour Left in the capitalist press was of a quality that hadn't been seen since the 1920s. Thatcher delivered, and the CBI's goals, including some of their most fanciful ambitions, were accomplished. From 1978 until the poll tax riots, it was clear that the Tories were the most effective weapon in capital's armoury. The party's later inability to part with its aggressive Thatcherite posture when it was no longer an election-winning formula, and no longer strictly to capital's requirements - especially as regards the EU, which the petit-bourgeoisie is far more hostile to than big capital - led to the doldrums of the Hague/IDS/Howard era. In that period, a large segment of the centrist middle class abandoned the Tories for the Liberals, while business jumped ship for the glamorous New Labour party - a party rooted in the organised working class, but for that all the more alluring in its promise to deliver a new social compact with no fundamental alteration in the property structure. The Tories, out of favour with big capital, nurtured their petit-bourgeois base, though even small businesses had little to complain about with a New Labour government.

Cameron, though basically a Thatcherite in his small black heart, was selected by capital, and particularly by the capitalist media, as the most likely candidate to stop the Tories from repeatedly blundering down the blind alley of anti-EU, xenophobic nationalism. For all that has been said about Cameron aligning with the European far right, he has shown himself to be far more ductile on specific policy issues coming from Europe than some would allow - especially the Treaty, where his 'iron guarantee' of a referendum turned into a jelly acquiescence. What the Tories under Cameron will do is just enough to satisfy the lower middle class bedrock, and prevent the UK Independence Party from making any further incursions. At the same time, the coalition has raised the possibility of forging a new centre-right electoral bloc based on pro-business economic policies, relative social liberalism, centrism on Europe, and an immigration policy that sorts out capital's labour supply problem, appears to discard some of the worst practises such as child detention, but could best be described as segregation-with-a-human face.

The problem for the Tories in pursuing such a course is that the basis for the centrist coalition they're creating is highly fissile, and unlikely to hold as they impose the most savage attack on living standards in living memory. The ruling class returned to the Conservative Party in 2010 judging it to be the party best equipped to implement its austerity agenda, realise its demand for further weakening of labour's bargaining position, and protect it from demands for new regulations and higher business taxes. Had the Tories won an outright parliamentary majority, which would have been possible had they restored their share of the vote to anything like 1980s levels, they would have had the 'legitimacy' required to implement the cuts, without the need for civil service intervention, and without the need for coalition-forming.

But the Tories' class base had become objectively narrower, due to the proletarianisation of new social layers, including elements of the petit-bourgeois, and the professionals. Changing gender relations have also played their part. For example, through much of the post-war period, female voters had been a Tory bulwark. But the mass entry of women into the workforce, especially the public sector and the least secure parts of the workforce, changed all that, and the Tories have only partially recouped their losses among female voters made in 1997, and least of all among DE voters, who rallied for Labour. Similarly, while some Liberal voters in middle class boroughs returned to the Tories, not enough did to grant them a large enough plurality. In the 2010 election, the Tories got just over a third of the vote with 36.9%, comprising 40% of supervisors, professionals, and clerical workers (ABC1). There is probably a spike of about 50-60% support from small business proprietors and lone traders hidden in there. They won just over a third of the 'skilled working class' (C2), whereas in the 1980s they would have gained over 40%. And they got just about 30% of DE voters. All this on a turnout of 65%, one of the lower electoral mobilisations in the post-WWII period, and a continuation of the trend since 2001, when the turnout fell below 70% for the first time, crashing to 59%. Since the lowest turnout is - the rally to Labour notwithstanding - still among the bottom 'social classes' and among former Labour voters, the Tories' actual support among the voting age population is likely to be closer to a quarter than a third. That is what the combined support of finance, big industrial capital, small businesses, a layer of professionals, and a segment of the working class, amounts to.

The processes of social polarisation that would tend to undermine the stability of mass bourgeois parties have certainly been richly in evidence for the last thirty or so years. The narrowing of the Tory base has been partly the result of that, though these factors have some time been offset by an increase in the notional wealth of 'middling' layers on the basis of debt and speculation. The financial crisis, and the malaise of the world system that has ensued, does not permit the survival of such offsetting factors. Objectively, much of the Tory base is about to experience a diminution in living standards, which will be aggravated by the attack on the welfare state. More and more of the lower middle class will experience proletarianisation, just as the proletarianisation of former professions is being accelerated.

In short, I suspect that the class basis of the Conservative Party is about to be further, sharply narrowed, just as class power is increasingly concentrated in a smaller fraction of finance capital and big industrial capital. On top of that, the expansion of the centre vote that led to the rise of the Liberals, and the break-up of the social democratic coalition which has benefited the Tories electorally, may well be substantially reversed by the experience of this coalition. This does not mean that the Labour Party will necessarily benefit, of course. Labour's coalition has been narrowing too. As Ed Miliband acknowledges, in recent years this has been largely because it has failed to mobilise its working class support. Only a dramatic change in policy, which I don't see happening short of profound pressure from the grassroots and the public sector unions, could begin to reverse this slide. Just as possible is that the electoral system will become even less representative, as more and more working class voters boycott. Unless there is a revival of class struggle which plays out inside the parliamentary system, the franchise is liable to become once more the property of the ruling class, with the sharp-elbowed middle classes that David Cameron speaks of bargaining for largesse. On the other hand, to the extent that Labour is successful in rebuilding its support, business may well transfer its loyalties to Labour the better to manage the fall-out. Indeed, as in 1945, it may be that an upsurge in class struggle gives Labour the opportunity to be the agent of that new economic paradigm that the more far-sighted capitalists are looking for in vain.

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Tory scaremongering about conference posted by Richard Seymour

This is a crock of shit. The sole named source for the story's central claim, that Irish terrorists are targetting the Conservative Party conference in October, is Patrick Mercer MP. Mercer has form for spreading paranoia and for credulously recycling bogus claims. This is what Mercer says:

"They want to kill by the end of August in order to get themselves poised for whatever operations they can mount in September leading up to the Tory party conference in early October. There are doubts over whether they have the capability, but the aspiration is certainly there and West Midlands police would be crazy not to take the threat seriously."

Sadly, the West Midlands police say they are unaware of any threat to target the Tory conference. This fact is buried rather deep down inside the article, beneath a number of reaction statements from Conservative spokespersons on Northern Ireland which tacitly demonstrate that they are unaware of any threat either. This is not the first time that there has been scaremongering, in content-free news articles, about Irish 'terrorists' coming to bomb 'the mainland'. For example, unnamed "sources" warn variously that "the terrorists are plotting to smuggle in a lorry bomb ... they may try to hit a high-profile target such as Canary Wharf or the Tory party conference ... the Continuity IRA are close to perfecting their bomb-making technology..." etc etc.

What we can gather from this, I suggest, is that elements in the state want people to believe that there is a threat from Irish Republicans resuming the armed struggle. There is a minority of the movement that is angry about the inadequacies of the peace settlement, but these are a hopeless fringe, probably penetrated by moles from top to bottom, and I doubt they could pull off a john in a bus shelter much less an attack on one of the most heavily secured annual political events. Secondly, we can gather that Patrick Mercer and possibly some allies in the security forces want us to believe that the Conservative Party conference is a target and that the West Midlands police must ratchet up security to terror alert levels, despite no demonstrable threat. Now, why might this be? I don't suppose it could have anything to do with the fact that one of the first major signs of resistance to the Tories' unprecedented attack on the welfare state will be a national demonstration outside the conference on 3rd October?

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Friday, August 20, 2010

The rate of exploitation posted by Richard Seymour

It's just gone 'Third World' in the US:

Call centre workers are becoming as cheap to hire in the US as they are in India, according to the head of the country’s largest business process outsourcing company.

High unemployment levels have driven down wages for some low-skilled outsourcing services in some parts of the US, particularly among the Hispanic population.

At the same time, wages in India’s outsourcing sector have risen by 10 per cent this year and senior outsourcing managers based in the country command salaries above global averages.

Pramod Bhasin, the chief executive of Genpact, said his company expected to treble its workforce in the US over the next two years, from about 1,500 employees now...

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Bloggery posted by Richard Seymour

Just a bit of housekeeping. Please note that at the bottom of each post, there is a button for 'Facebook' and 'Twitter', enabling you to share posts via your accounts, should you wish to do so. Just click the URL for the specific post, and click the button for the social media network system you use. I would also ask that you consider adding posts you might particularly like, or think are worth sharing, to Reddit, Digg, Stumbleupon etc. The links below each post that are supposed to enable this seem to don't work at the moment, but I am working on it.

The comments moderation system is changing slightly. This is to filter out trolls using IP blockers, as well as a surprising amount of spam that I have to keep deleting. Essentially, if you want your comments to be approved immediately, you should sign in with an account. The JS-Kit commenting system allows you to sign in with Google, Twitter, Friendfield, Yahoo, Haloscan and OpenID accounts, as well as JS-Kit itself. I expect this might be inconvenient to a few people, but it will help weed out habitual trolls - regular commenters shouldn't be affected by this... oh, sorry, what am I saying? Everyone is banned!

And yes, that is my panhandling 'donate' button in the top right corner. Many thanks to everyone who has already sent donations. It is, admittedly, screaming for attention, but I will try to see if I can design a more tasteful and less garish button to use. Be assured that donations contribute directly to the upkeep of the blog, specifically in keeping me in a steady supply of books. Effectively, you are paying this Grub Street scribbler to research and write blog posts, and pursue book-writing projects. The fruits of which will very shortly be disclosed... cheers.

PS: what's that? You want me to draw you a diagram? Oh, very well (click to enlarge):

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Labourite repents on immigration posted by Richard Seymour

This is a very interesting piece by Dan Hodges, a friend of Phil Woolas and - if I'm not mistaken - the son of Glenda Jackson MP. Woolas' race-baiting in the 2010 election is currently being investigated, but it produces this reflection from Hodges:

The slide into the abyss can be clearly dated. Soon after the election of William Hague as Conservative leader, Philip Gould did a presentation to the cabinet identifying immigration as one of the few issues where the Tories, and Hague, could still outscore Labour. Suitably terrified by the prospect of young William tossing aside his baseball cap, donning a Union Jack t-shirt, and marching his crumbling blue rinse base down Dagenham Heathway, our attempted triangulation of race and immigration began.

How successful did this strategy for managing immigration as a political issue, as opposed to the management of migration itself, prove to be? At the time of the 1997 election, MORI’s Issue Tracker recorded the number of people citing race or immigration as the most important issue facing the nation at 3%. By last May’s election it was 38%. In 1997 the BNP stood 54 candidates and secured 36,000 votes, at an average of 664 votes per candidate. In 2010 they stood 339 candidates and obtained 566,000 votes, an average of 1,663 votes per candidate. A YouGov poll taken in March found that 69% of those questioned believed Labour’s management of immigration had been bad for the country, compared to 21% who thought it had been beneficial.

Set aside principles or morality. Even on its own terms, our political management of immigration has been a disaster. Trying to ape the language of the BNP succeeded only in boosting the BNP. Our use of inflammatory rhetoric to demonstrate our ‘toughness’, served only to draw attention to what the public viewed as one of our greatest policy failures. Take the heat out of the issue? We pumped the entire contents of an oil refinery on to the flames.

A Conservative Shadow Minister I met before the election expressed total incredulity at our strategy; “Does Peter Mandelson really think he can make the Conservative Party look weak on immigration? If you keep talking up the issue, the only winners will be us and the BNP”.

He was right. And we will pay an even heavier electoral price in the future if we don’t radically reassess how we negotiate the complex terrain of migration and race. Because if we don’t invest in a new compass, David Cameron will.

The author is wrong to claim, as he does, that New Labour started off with good intentions on this issue. For example: "Remember where we came in ... Scrapping of vouchers for asylum seekers." It was New Labour which introduced the vouchers scheme with the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, based on a 1998 white paper, which is the same piece of legislation that introduced detention camps. The right-ward lurch on immigration, and the attack on the multicultural consensus, was part of the New Labour package from the off. Still, the influence of New Labour's ultra-Blairite leadership in pushing the agenda even further to the right is certainly noteworthy. It would also be interesting of the author was correct to claim that Woolas, behind his race-baiting facade, is a lovely geezer who secretly tried to shape a fair and progressive asylum system under right-wing pressure, though it seems improbable. But such a mea culpa is welcome when some Labour candidates, especially Ed Balls, want to move in a more openly racist direction.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Greek lessons posted by Richard Seymour


The austerity measures that were supposed to fix Greece's problems are dragging down the country's economy. Stores are closing, tax revenues are falling and unemployment has hit an unbelievable 70 percent in some places. Frustrated workers are threatening to strike back.

The feast of the Assumption of Mary on Aug. 15 is the high point of summer in the Greek Orthodox world. Here in one of the country's many churches, believers pray to the Virgin for mercy, with many of them falling to their knees.

The newspaper Ta Nea has recommended that the Greek government adopt the very same approach -- the country's leaders have to hope that Mary comes up with a miracle to save Greece from a serious crisis, the paper writes. Without divine intervention, the newspaper suggested, it will be a difficult autumn for the Mediterranean state.

This dire prognosis comes even despite Athens' massive efforts to sort out the country's finances. The government's draconian austerity measures have managed to reduce the country's budget deficit by an almost unbelievable 39.7 percent, after previous governments had squandered tax money and falsified statistics for years. The measures have reduced government spending by a total of 10 percent, 4.5 percent more than the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) had required.

The problem is that the austerity measures have in the meantime affected every aspect of the country's economy. Purchasing power is dropping, consumption is taking a nosedive and the number of bankruptcies and unemployed are on the rise. The country's gross domestic product shrank by 1.5 percent in the second quarter of this year. Tax revenue, desperately needed in order to consolidate the national finances, has dropped off. A mixture of fear, hopelessness and anger is brewing in Greek society.


The entire country is in the grip of a depression. Everything seems to be going downhill. The spiral is continuing unabated, and there is no clear way out. The worse part, however, is the fact that hardly anyone still hopes that things will improve one day.

The country's unemployment rate makes this trend particularly clear. In 2009, it was 9.5 percent. This year it may rise to 12.1 percent and economists expect it to reach 14.3 percent in 2011. Those, though, are only the official numbers, which were provided by Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Greek trade union association GSEE considers those numbers far too optimistic. It considers 20 percent to be a more likely figure for 2011. This would put the unemployment rate as high as it was in 1960, when hundreds of thousands of Greeks were forced to emigrate. Meanwhile, purchasing power has fallen to its 1984 level, according to the GSEE...

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Public opinion does not exist posted by Richard Seymour

In 1947, the American public was canvassed for its opinion on the 'Metallic Metals Act'. As is usual with opinion polls, there was a sizeable minority of 'don't knows', with about 70% of people offering a definite response in favour or against. What was unusual was that its subject was a fabrication. There was no 'Metallic Metals Act' (a metallic metal being like an ironic irony, or a tautological tautology). Of course, opinion surveys aren't bogus. They do very effectively canvas responses to simple poll questions. If they select a representative sample at random, and appropriately weight the results, the responses will closely match those for the public as a whole. And when the question is something straightforward like 'how do you intend to vote in the upcoming election?', quantitative surveys have some predictive ability, notwithstanding the periodic difficulties which we will come back to.

On the other hand, 'public opinion' is a mirage. The very phrase implies a general social will, and the methodology implies that it is composed of individuated, definite, latent 'opinions' which will then determine behaviour. The mirage of public opinion is invoked typically to provide a pseudo-mandate for policies that elites have already decided to implement. In this respect, polls often conceal and suppress far more than they reveal. Pierre Bourdieu, whom I cited in a previous post, put it like this:

Public opinion is an "artifact, pure and simple, the function of which is to dissemble that the state of opinion at any given moment is a system of forces and tensions and that nothing is more inadequate for representing the state of opinion than a percentage".

The practise of opinion polling, says Bourdieu, rests on a number of false assumptions. In the first place, it assumes that those answering have the same range of competences as those who interpret the polls - politicos, commentators, etc. This is not usually the case. The example given at the start of this article shows that people often feel pressured in such interview situations to have an 'opinion' on something they haven't really thought about. In that instance, they will try to base their opinion on whatever information they have gained from the very mass media that is polling them. The large numbers of "don't knows" and "not applicables" offered by respondents in polls show that many people have a realistic sense that they simply can't answer the question as put to them, but these responses are usually set aside or just factored out of surveys to produce this artifact known as "public opinion".

Secondly, Bourdieu says, it assumes that all opinions have some sort of equivalent value and are formed in a similar, individualised way. But not all opinions have the same weight or conviction behind them, and they are formed in circumstances that don't mimic the isolated, individualised survey interviewing situation. Most people form their opinions on something by talking it through with others. The context in which such discussion takes place means that actual opinion is usually formed through group experiences, such as those arranged by class, race, religion, nationality and gender. In this sense, the collective logically precedes the individual: rather than some general public will being derived form individual units of 'opinion', individual ideas are usually derived from collective experience and ideas. But the practise of opinion polling does not reproduce this aspect of the way ideas are formed. These are some of the reasons why there are consistent problems with even the more reliably predictive election polling. Pollsters tend to blame discrepancies on voters misrepresenting their views. But it is just as plausible that the individualised context in which polling questions are put forces people to rely on their impressions of successful media campaigns, whereas their actual decisions as to how they will vote will take place after argument, reflection and a certain amount of discounting for media hype. The brief 2010 'Cleggasm' was arguably a pure spectacle phenomenon with little real traction in the population, but pollsters have tended to blame the fake Lib Dem surge on voters deliberately concealing their true opinions ('shy Labour voter' etc).

This is - of course - not to say that all such surveys are useless. I do recommend a careful, scrupulous, discriminating use of opinion surveys to assess the prevailing view on various political issues. But this should be done bearing in mind what polls are for. They polling industry is not an extension of the democratic process, but a quite deliberate attempt to subvert democratic reasoning and debate, to 'settle' important issues before they have been discussed, to bully opponents and put them on the back foot etc. Polls are taken to provide elites with raw materials the better to manipulate us with, not so that they can respond to our genuine concerns. Further, taken collectively they tend to disclose a set of apparently contradictory dispositions, ideas, and values, suggesting that the pseudo-finality of "a percentage" is indeed hopelessly inadequate as a register of the real ideas that people have. So, if majorities appear to support you on an issue, this may mean nothing more than that they are open to your argument, and that there might be an overlap between their priorities and yours. Similarly, if a poll says the majority opposes your position, it does not mean that they really do, and that if they really do, they are particularly settled in their view, or set much store by it, or will allow it to dictate their behaviour. There are undoubtedly issues on which clear majorities have a clear view one way or the other, and the polling evidence on such matters should not be ignored or discounted. But there is no 'public opinion', and any idea that opinion polls could by themselves provide a 'mandate' for certain policies has to be dispensed with. Polling is a weapon in struggle, and it is a weapon that is largely in the hands of the ruling class.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hounded until his death posted by Richard Seymour

Faraj Hassan was not a criminal. He was an asylum seeker from the Libyan dictatorship. In late 2001, he fled the country and stayed temporarily in Italy, before travelling to the United Kingdom. He applied for asylum, and was granted temporary residence by the Home Office. A month after his arrival, in May 2002, he was illegally detained. Police initially tried to say that he was an illegal immigrant. When he presented his documents, they nonetheless insisted on taking him into custody. He was kept in jail, both in London and in Leicester, while the police prepared a prosecution. They alleged that he had attempted to blow up a church while in Italy. They never presented him with any evidence for this allegation. In 2003, he was charged under the Terrorism Act 2000, which awarded the state powers that it had not used since the Irish struggle. In the context of the 'war on terror', these became part of a legal apparatus that specifically oppressed Muslims.

Hassan was also presented with an Italian extradition warrant alleging that he was the leader of an international terrorist gang. The warrant was suspended, and he was found not guilty in absentia by the court in Milan. But he was nevertheless imprisoned in - variously - Leicester, Belmarsh, Wormwood Scrubs, Brixton and Long Lartin for four years on the basis of evidence which no one, neither Hassan nor his lawyer nor a jury nor the public, was ever allowed to see. Hassan detested Belmarsh in particular, describing it as "institutionally racist" due to the victimisation of Muslim prisoners, who are mainly held in a separate, highly securitised wing of the prison.

In 2007, he was released under a control order. A control order is a comprehensive deprivation of liberty, a sanction imposed by the Home Secretary on the pretext that its subject is a terrorist threat. It restricts where you can go, what you can own, what means of transport you can use, who you may associate with, what form of employment you may have (if any). In practise for Hassan it meant that he was prevented from having much of a life. He could not work, he could not take the bus to the supermarket, he could not travel to visit his brother.

Furthermore, on the basis of his imprisonment, the European Union applied a sanction permitted under UN law, that being the freezing of a person's funds. He was not allowed access to his money, so was wholly dependent on vouchers supplied through the Home Office. Challenging this EU penalty through the European Court of Justice, he was told by the court that he must avail himself of the opportunities for judicial remedy in UK domestic law if he meant to challenge the good faith of the British authorities. He and his solicitors did so. In 2009, Hassan was released from the control order. This was because the Law Lords had at last ruled that the use of secret evidence was illegal. Secret evidence had meant that the state did not have to meet internationally recognised standards of evidence before depriving a person of his or her liberty. It meant that any old dreck could substantiate a terrorism charge and warrant detention in Her Majesty's toughest prisons. Without the veil of secrecy, the basis for the government's prosecution and control order collapsed.

Hassan fully availed himself of his freedom to start campaigning for others who were unjustly or illegally detained. He spent Sunday night lobbying with others outside the US embassy, in solidarity with Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is believed to have spent five years in one of America's secret detention facilities, and was recently jailed in the US for allegedly shooting at US military personnel while detained by Afghan police in Ghazni, Afghanistan. She was shot in the abdomen by a US soldier, allegedly in defence, held in a medical facility in the US, tried despite obviously suffering from poor mental health, and convicted despite a lack of forensic evidence and contradictory statements from prosecution witnesses. Having spent the night with a protest at the US embassy, Hassan rode his motorcycle home yesterday morning, and was killed when a red minicab crashed into him.

He was only twenty two when he was first arrested, and he died before he reached his thirties. For most of his adult life, he was being persecuted by the British state and the international legal system on the basis of phoney charges, secret evidence, and the onerous laws that facilitate the political oppression of Muslims in the United Kingdom. He was a casualty of a perilous intersection between good old British racism, the increasing authoritarianism of the state in late capitalism, and the global system of surveillance, kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings that US has promulgated under the mandate of the 'war on terror'.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Racism doesn't cut both ways posted by Richard Seymour

This is just an addendum to recent debates. Racism does not cut both ways, and it cannot. By definition. This is a point that we are forced to recall every time there is a bogus witch hunt, such as that would caused Shirley Sherrod to lose her job as the Georgia state director for rural development in the US Department for Agriculture. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor pointed out, the controversy was only possible because the right had successfully re-defined racism:

THESE ATTEMPTS to equate as racist acts "practiced by Blacks, whites or any other groups" distort who the historic and contemporary victims of racism in this country are.

There is no history of whites being the victims of racial discrimination in the U.S. Where such charges have been raised, they have come from right-wingers with an agenda against affirmative action and other social programs created to help African Americans, who were not only slaves in this country, but then faced another 100 years of legal discrimination after slavery that only ended one generation ago.

The civil rights movement and the Black Power era were instrumental in exposing racism at the core of American society and demanding legal remedies to create more opportunities for African Americans. As a result, by the early 1970s, Black poverty was cut in half, and more Blacks gained access to colleges and universities. Such reforms transformed Black life in the U.S.

Yet despite these historic blows to racism in America, the U.S. remains a deeply racist society in which African Americans suffer from discrimination in employment, education, housing, health care and, most prominently, the criminal justice system.

This history is the reason why the NAACP denouncing "all racism" is confusing and misleading.

It is also why media attempts to equate the NAACP and various Tea Party organizations as Black and white mirrors of each other is an affront to the historic struggle against racism in the U.S.

It's also a point that bears remembering when the slogan of the British National Party and the English Defence League is that "racism cuts both ways". They are not saying this in isolation. They are saying this against the backdrop of media reports which are specifically designed to confuse this issue. The effects of this are not felt only on the right. I have myself been engaged in debates with perfectly decent liberals who, for one reason or another, had forgotten that racism is a structural matter, and not to do with mere prejudice. But, once again, the backlash was assisted by a considered change in the way in which knowledge about society was gathered by the government. In the US, of course, the "color-blind" approach of the liberal sector of the ruling class and the state bureaucracy was consecrated after WWII following the sociological work of Gunnar Myrdal, whose net effect was to reduce racism to a set of social attitudes rather than the structure of oppression which produced them. This later provided the neoconservative and segregationist reactionaries with one of their mobilising tools: attempts to mitigate the effects of structural racism, through affirmative action for example, were "reverse racism". If racism was not seen as a system of structural oppression, then attempts to remedy structural discrimination could be depicted as themselves racist. But I think the turn, in the UK, was somewhat more recent, perhaps because the fruits of anti-racist struggle were more recently enjoyed.

This re-definition of racism is particularly potent when it affects the perception of behaviours that are defined by the state, and of course the main form of behaviour that the state gets to define is criminality. The issue of "racially motivated crime" has always been at the centre of anti-racist struggle, because its definition, and the subsequent treatment of such crimes, is at the centre of the state's handling of discriminatory and oppressive behaviour, and particularly its promise in 'race relations' legislation to protect minorites from racism.

While I was researching my article for the ISJ about racism, navigating the enemy territory of official statistics, I happened upon the fact that from 1994, the British Crime Survey changed its practise of reporting racially motivated crimes. As far as I could gather, the BCS had only begun to count racially motivated crimes in 1988. At first, the victim was only asked about racism as a possible motive if the victim was judged by the interviewer to be non-white. Which is not to say that white people were not asked about racist crime - but the question was 'ecological' rather than personal. They were asked to comment, for example, on whether they thought racist crime was a particularly large problem where they lived. As you would expect, white Britons were less inclined to think of racist crime as a problem in their area than non-white Britons. The reason being that white Britons, insofar as the majority were not perpetrating racist crimes, were not on the receiving end of them either.

The decision to count such crimes in the first place was an important concession to the anti-racist movements of the 1980s. I should say that the BCS's counting procedure was initially at odds with police practise, since the latter were compelled to collect data on racially motivated crime in the mid-1980s. The official police definition of a racially motivated incident was: a) any incident in which it appears to the reporting or investigating officer that the complaint involves an element of racial motivation; or, b) any incident which involves an allegation of racial motivation made by any person. This was different in two ways. First of all, it included the possibility of white victims of racism, and secondly it prioritised the perception of the investigating officer above the prima facie account of victims.

Perhaps for that reason police measurements of racially motivated crime varied considerably with that of the BCS. In 1991, 20% of the victims of recorded incidents of racially motivated crimes, by police statistics, were white. And, despite casting the net wider (and including a more comprehensive list of crimes in their reporting), the total number of racially motivated crimes detected by the police was way below the number detected by the BCS. In a single year, the police failed to detect 80,000 such crimes. This could reflect a number of factors, but it is reasonable to suppose that among them was a lack of willingness in an institutionally racist state bureaucracy to take the possibility of racist motivation seriously. This is a point supported by the fact that between 1988 and 1992, the rate of police detection of racist crimes increased by 77%, while the BCS detected only a marginal increase in that period, suggesting that political changes entailed greater bureaucratic pressures on agents of the police to take racism seriously.

Subsequently, however, changes to the BCS counting meant that any victim of a crime was asked if he or she felt there was a 'racial' motivation, wherever the victim was situated in the racial system. In this new procedure, it was just as plausible - by official lights - for John Tyndall to be the victim of racial oppression as it was for a young black man in Eltham to be. This change was taken at the height of the scandal over the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It followed more than a decade of central government hostility to efforts made by local councils to counter the effects of racist discrimination. And, importantly, it was clearly the result of a considered decision. It had to have come from a conscious, calculated change in the underlying conception of racism deployed by officials, which the statistics were there to report on. Somebody, or some bodies, in a government bureau had to take the initiative in driving this agenda through. I have searched in vain for an official explanation or elaboration of the rationale behind this. One Home Office report [pdf], discussing the change, simply takes it for granted that there were "racially motivated incidents where the victim was white" that the old BCS counting system had not acknowledged. I have no doubt that to many of Whitehall's finest minds, this would be uncontroversial, but it plainly isn't so. Part of the confusion might arise from the nebulous terminology, "racially motivated", which itself potentially implies the model of racism that is in dispute. Yet, nonetheless, there was initially an implicit recognition of a different model, in which racism is structural, even given the use of such a problematic terminology. The rationale behind the change, if it has ever been made explicit, would be an interesting topic of study in itself.

And it would be important. The gathering of data on such matters - statistics, etym. 'the science of the state' - is no neutral exercise, but a hugely important tool of governmentality, as well as a weapon of political struggle. Given the state's immense resources in data collection and knowledge production, its ability to shape popular culture and the output of the capitalist media is considerable. The change I refer to would is discussed in official reports as if it were a minor bureaucratic 'correction', made in a rarefied atmosphere by number-crunching policy wonks, but it shaped the agenda, and it filtered into popular awareness. It certainly fed into the racist reaction, and the spurious victimology that drives support for fascist groups like the BNP. (I offer two examples of the effect that this change had on the media's reporting of racist crimes: here and here. Both of these are chosen for being mainstream reports, widely cited to reinforce the bogus victimology I refer to.) The decision to redefine racism in this vitally relevant field, one that is itself overlaid with racist connotations about black criminality, obviously taken at a high level, has played an important role in enabling the subsequent state-driven neo-Powellite reaction, whose effects we are living through.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tax the rich to pay the deficit posted by Richard Seymour

Greg Philo has a solution, and it's been road-tested for popularity:

The total personal wealth in the UK is £9,000bn, a sum that dwarfs the national debt. It is mostly concentrated at the top, so the richest 10% own £4,000bn, with an average per household of £4m. The bottom half of our society own just 9%. The wealthiest hold the bulk of their money in property or pensions, and some in financial assets and objects such antiques and paintings.

A one-off tax of just 20% on the wealth of this group would pay the national debt and dramatically reduce the deficit, since interest payments on the debt are a large part of government spending. So that is what should be done. This tax of 20%, graduated so the very richest paid the most, would raise £800bn. A major positive for this scheme is that the tax would not have to be immediately paid. The richest 10% have only to assume liability for their small part of the debt. They can pay a low rate of interest on it and if they wish make it a charge on their property when they die. It would be akin to a student loan for the rich.

The tax would be extremely popular. We commissioned a YouGov poll of over 2,000 people to test attitudes. There was very strong support, with 74% of the population approving (44% strongly approving). Only 10% did not approve, and agreement was spread right through social groups, with those of the highest income being slightly more supportive than the lower. The strongest support came from those over the age of 55, with 77% in favour (47% strongly). This is an extraordinary result given that there has been no public discussion of this proposal and that the very negative consequences of the alternatives are only just beginning to emerge.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Myths of Toryism and class society posted by Richard Seymour

Following on from a theme in The Meaning of David Cameron on the myth of conservatism as a pragmatic, traditionalist ideology (also see this and this):

"[T]he Conservative Party has held a steady commitment to the principle of ‘inequality’. Often this does not appear like an ideological commitment at all since there has been a varying degree of inequality present in British society – in terms of social stratifi cation and income and wealth distribution – since 1945. Therefore what could be seen as an objective of the Conservative Party has often been interpreted as pragmatism, the maintenance of the status quo or a rebuttal of the Labour Party’s (at times shaky) commitment to greater equality. However ... there has been a principled defence of inequality by the Conservative Party. This has taken various forms, from theological or ‘natural’ arguments for inequality to an argument that individual freedom and social and economic equality are incompatible objectives. Therefore, the Conservative Party has sought at different times and in different ways since 1945 to limit the impact of egalitarian policies or even to reverse them.

"One further point should be made at this point which is that if we see the Conservative Party as having a central commitment to inequality, that Conservative politics is about inequality, then it would be possible to see a greater degree of continuity in Conservative Party politics since 1945 than is often asserted. What would appear to be the very different stances taken by ‘One Nation’ and ‘New Right’ Conservatives towards economic and social policy broadly could in fact be similar in that they both have a commitment to ‘inequality’.


"Several Conservative politicians have described the non-ideological nature of their Party’s politics. ... This emphasis on pragmatism has led to a concern with power. This view has been stated by Francis Pym: ‘by combining a strong motive for unity with a fi rm refusal to let ideology threaten it … the Conservative Party has a strong instinct for power’. The most sophisticated statement of this approach has been made by Michael Oakeshott, who characterised Conservative politics as being ‘anti-rationalist’. Rationalism was an ideologically based politics. It was a politics based on an abstract concept such as equality or liberty. Instead, Oakeshott argued that since this approach was not capable of capturing the full complexity of the organic society and could not be understood outside of the tradition in which these ideas were formulated a more desirable approach to politics would be one rooted within a recognisable tradition, which would entail operating within national identities. Such an approach has led to a distinction between ‘ideological’ politics and ‘realist’ politics.


"[K]ey figures within the ‘One Nation’ approach to Conservatism were united in their opposition of equality as a political principle. They remained committed to hierarchical social and economic structures and saw ‘equality’ as something to which the Labour Party were committed. Hence, although it may be possible to see a broad-based consensus of policy after 1951, with the Conservatives accepting much of what the previous Labour administration had done, there remained no ideological consensus with the idea of ‘equality’ showing a fundamental dividing line between the two major parties. Hence, while the Labour Party ‘revisionists’ such as Hugh Gaitskell and Tony Crosland were busy arguing that socialism was about equality, several of those seen as being on the ‘left’ of the Conservative Party were rejecting the idea of equality as being fundamentally against the principles of Conservatism. Hence David Clark, a leading member of the post-war Research Department and a key ‘moderniser’ along ‘One Nation’ lines, argued that inequality was natural: ‘inequality of natural ability results in class. Some men will always rise superior to others. In a group of men pursuing common purpose, whether it be a nation or a family, a factory or a farm, there must always be those who exercise authority and those who obey.’ For post-war Conservatives therefore there was to be an acceptance of the state, much enlarged during the Second World War and by the Labour Government of 1945–51, but an explicit rejection of ‘equality’. This can be seen in the stance taken on policy by leading Conservative thinkers, so for example, Hogg made a categorical distinction between poverty and inequality much similar to those associated with the New Right during the 1970s and argued that equality should not be a factor in education reform, where Hogg defended both public schools and grammar schools.

"A similar stance towards equality can be seen in the writing of a later prominent Conservative ‘One Nation’ thinker, Ian Gilmour. Gilmour argued that a belief in inequality is a core tenet of Conservatism. He argues that since a basic Conservative belief is freedom and since equality is a threat to freedom then Conservatives must reject equality. Equality is an ideological abstraction and since it lacks precise meaning must be something which is arbitrarily imposed. Although Gilmour sees the elimination of poverty as a Conservative objective, equality is dismissed as something which is the concern of socialists. Gilmour also sees inequality as desirable and natural as an underpinning for the family and for economic activity. There is much in Gilmour’s view of equality that could be found in a traditionalist or New Right approach, although he would be accepting of much greater government involvement in the economy and society. Similarly, contemporary politicians who hold to the ‘One Nation’ position reject the idea of equality. For example, Alistair Burt argues that Conservative politics is concerned with freedom, markets, enterprise and choice, and so even those on the ‘left’ of the Party do not commit themselves to the value of equality.


The more populist approach also sees the need to defend economic and social inequalities explicitly. In so doing, the traditionalist approach uses all political arguments available to defend such inequalities. So Powell and the so-called Peterhouse Group associated with Maurice Cowling, John Casey and Edward Norman, drew on the neo-liberal arguments of Friedrich von Hayek in order to defend inequalities. This led to them being described as a ‘Conservative New Right’ since they combined traditionalist approaches with economic liberalism. ... This points to a further element of traditionalist Toryism, which is the ‘anti-rationalist’ nature of politics. Politics based on abstract principles should be rejected in favour of a politics derived from and respectful of political traditions. There were anti-rationalist arguments put forward in favour of English national identity, as seen in the anti-immigration
stances adopted during the 1960s and respect for traditional political institutions as seen in Powell’s rejection of House of Lords reform. For some this marked a major distinction between traditional Toryism and the politics of the New Right, which was seen as being based on abstract (liberal) principles.

"...Inequalities are not just sought by those who would ‘benefit from inequalities of wealth, rank and education but also by enormous numbers who, while not partaking in the benefi ts, recognise that inequalities exist and, in some obscure sense, assume that they ought to’. They assume that they ought to because ‘they are accustomed to inequalities, inequalities are things they associate with a properly functioning society and they do not need an ideological proclamation in order to accept them’. It was this appeal to custom, ‘common sense’ and natural order that should be at the heart of the Conservative appeal in its defence of inequality. Inequality and privilege did not need to be based on abstract principles and could not be refuted by rational politics since they were the natural way of things." (Kevin Hickson, 'Inequality', in Kevin Hickson ed., The Political Thought of the Conservative Party since 1945, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

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