Sunday, January 31, 2010

Race and crime reporting posted by Richard Seymour

I haven't written anything for the last few days because, to use a shopworn colloquialism, I have been swamped with work. Writing, mostly - I have a lot of new shit coming your way, so if you have somehow neglected to purchase and peruse Liberal Defence, you're about to get way behind in your reading. Anyway, I wanted to mention something. A while back, when Rod Liddle averred that young African-Carribean men were responsible for the overwhelming majority of violent crime in the capital, he had a host of reactionary defenders. They asserted that the statistics bore out his argument, (they did not), and that he was the real anti-racist because he was dealing with a serious issue without allowing it to be siezed upon by racists (this is easily refuted by having a quick look at the comments underneath the offending post, and subsequent efforts). Liddle was simply recasting an argument that has been a racist commonplace since significant numbers of Commonwealth immigrants arrived in the United Kingdom in the 1950s. (See Paul Gilroy's There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack for a detailed account of this.) The statistics are just so much fungible matter for the prosecution's rigged case.

One of the points I made at the time was that there are complexities in the construction, classification, reporting and prosecution of crimes that are simply ignored in the angry diatribes of the ageing white men who largely populate the commentariat. Official statistics tend to show that non-white people are over-represented in arrests, prosecutions and convictions in a number of crime categories. This is a million miles away from saying that young African-Carribean men are responsible for the "overwhelming majority" of rapes, robberies, gun crimes, etc. And there were some anti-racist bloggers who suggested that lots of defineable groups are over-represented in crime statistics - young people, poorer people, etc. Sociological commentary has tended to attribute the overrepresentation of black people in some crime categories to their overrepresentation among the poorest of the working class, the unemployed, etc.

That is a reasonable approach, in that it refutes the relevance of 'race' or some essentialised 'culture' in such debates. But it does also assume that the statistics are reliable, essentially accurate, and unlikely to be skewed in a way that is 'racially-laden'. And that assumption is not a safe one. The government occasionally gathers information about this sort of subject, though it is only selectively publicised. And the Home Affairs Select Committee did produce a report in May 2007, after a lengthy inquiry, that is worth digesting. This is the report. There is some intricate analysis, as well as a measure of arse-covering advocacy for the police. It is a study of black over-representation in certain crime categories, and while it sought to buttress the then Blair government's narrative concerning a crisis in black communities, its caveats are extremely interesting. Note what it says about the government's own findings with respect to the distribution of criminal behaviour among different ethnic groups:

Evidence from the Home Office's Offending, Crime and Justice survey suggests white young people and those of mixed ethnic origin are more likely to report offending behaviour than young males in other ethnic groups, including black young people.[26] The findings from Home Office self-report surveys have been remarkably similar over time.[27] The most recent sweep of the survey found white males aged from 10-25 were "far more likely" to have committed an offence within the last year than young males in other ethnic groups (28% compared with a range of 12% to 19% for other ethnic groups).[28] The survey found that once young black people committed an offence, they were more likely to come to the attention of the police.

In fact, it should be said that even if they hadn't committed an offense, young black people were more likely to come to the attention of the police. Black people of all ages were three times more likely to be arrested, and six times more likely to be stopped and searched, by police. They are less likely to be given bail, or let off with a caution. And they are more likely to receive the most punitive sentences. There is more, of course, and I am sceptical of the broader thrust and conclusions of the report. But the above raises the question: even if Liddle's claims were close to accurate, even if they weren't manufactured on the basis of a half-remembered Daily Mail article, what would the statistics be evidence of? The Home Office's findings, quoted above, indicate that they would at least partially be evidence of the extent of racist discrimination by the institutions of criminal justice. In other words, the very evidence that the state continues to oppress ethnic minorities, not least young black men, is what would be being used to damn them.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Alistair Hulett posted by Yoshie

Scottish singer and socialist Alistair Hulett died yesterday. He was only 59 years old.



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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Labour and inequality posted by Richard Seymour

Gordon Brown is 'sobered' by a new report showing the growth of inequality in the UK. He has to be because, while New Labour formally disavowed the politics of redistribution, insteading on poverty and exclusion, it was a tacit goal of the government to reduce inequality. Numerous changes in taxes and benefits were designed to shift a small amount of wealth from the rich to the poor. Moreover, this was supposed to be an important part of achieving greater 'equality of opportunity'. Opportunity, as any fule know, comes with wealth and income. Everything from access to education, healthcare, and jobs, is structured by inequality, hence the importance of ameliorating its effects. Today's results show, however, that the richest ten percent are 100 times richer than the poorest ten percent. If anything, in detecting a marginal narrowing of earnings inequality over the last decade, this study is slightly more friendly to Labour than previous efforts have been. According to another report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, inequality in 2007/8, as measured by the Gini coefficient, was higher than at any point since records began in 1961. The very modest dip in the early part of the decade, moreover, matched a similar dip in the mid-1990s under the Major administration.

There is another finding in the report that ought to 'sober' New Labour. When John Denham claims that Labour has substantially reversed racism, that you're not necessarily discriminated against any more if you're from an ethnic minority - a shocking claim in itself, given the trends of the last decade - he should be pointed toward this study. It shows, for example, that Muslims and black African Christians receive 13-21% less income for the same job with the same qualifications than their white counterparts. White families earn, on average, twice the income of ethnic minorities. This is the least that could be said about Denham's ridiculous boasting.

New Labour has run, in many ways, the most right-wing administration since the Second World War. This is true in terms of its privatisation of housing and public services, in terms of its tax cuts for the rich and services to the City, in terms of its warmongering, and on any number of other axes that you could name. It has adopted neoliberal economics, neoconservative foreign policy, and the New Right's agenda on race relations. Yet, the party still depended on the backing of the trade union bureacracy, and still had to deliver something in the way of improving the situation of at least some workers. Hence the minimum wage, some welcome reforms of trade union laws, higher public spending, and new tax credits for the poor. Modest reductions in child and pensioner poverty resulted, though these started to reverse after 2004/5. Even so, the massive inequality unleashed by Thatcherism has barely been touched and, according to some studies, has now reached record levels.

The government's response to this is necessarily two-fold. The first retort is to say that there isn't a viable electoral coalition in more radical egalitarian politics. Here, a bit of psephological quackery is deferentially invoked, as if no one had ever thought of fighting for public opinion, and winning the argument for change. I would be more impressed by this if New Labour's electoral coalition wasn't actually rather flimsy - only a well-founded hatred for the Tories has ensured three terms for Labour, on depressed turnouts, the last one with a puny plurality. It would also be more convincing if New Labour pursued only such policies as were approved of by the British public. In truth, core New Labour ideas and policies are extremely unpopular. Moreover, for New Labour to protest that there isn't an electoral coalition in egalitarian politics is uncharacteristically modest - it has been instrumental in undermining support for redistributive politics. The public consensus explicitly favouring redistribution in the early 1990s was squandered by New Labour's explicit abdication of such politics. The government's high-profile targetting of welfare recipients - the word 'bogus' or 'fraud' comes up a lot - has fed a perception among some in the public that the general function of the welfare state is to channel money to layabouts and criminals. Even so, polls tend to show that people would favour higher taxes on the rich to fund public services. Gordon Brown is a beneficiary of this, and his recent 'class war' attacks on the Tory front bench suggests that he is aware of the public contempt for millionaires.

The second retort is to point out that the existing dynamics in the global economy (one doesn't say 'capitalism') tend toward greater and greater inequality. To slow, or marginally reverse, this trend is an achievement of social democracy. This is true, and we are entitled to consider what the state of affairs would be had the Tories still been in office. Worse, I'm sure, though I can't say by how much. However, it is a feeble answer when the government has always known that capitalism, under normal circumstances, generates inequality. Whatever New Labour ministers say in public, they know perfectly well that capitalism is an exploitative process, in which profits are accumulated by the rich through the labour of the majority. The appropriate response would be to move swiftly to bolster the bargaining power of labour in this transaction. This government, its few meliorist measures to one side, has largely gone out of its way to bolster the position of capital, maintain flexible labour markets, keep wages low, and cut corporation taxes. This isn't because such a policy mix is actually popular. It is because New Labour is committed to the efficient administration of capitalism. Only on the basis of capitalist growth, therefore, can it accumulate the tax base to deliver its meager reforms. But since capitalist growth is precisely what generates more inequality, this leaves social democracy complicit in a process that it can do nothing other than slightly humanise. Worse, when it comes to a crisis involving the deepest economic contraction since 1921, the government finds itself in the position of redistributing public wealth to the richest in the form of massive bank bail-outs - which we will have to pay for through deflationary spending cuts that will create higher unemployment, reduced wages, and increased poverty.

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Also appearing posted by Richard Seymour

For those readers based in or near Wolverhampton, I will be speaking tonight, at a meeting entitled: "Obama One Year On: The evaporation of hope?" Come to the City Bar at 7.30pm. And bring money - t-shirts will be on sale.

American readers, meanwhile, can console themselves about their inevitable absence from said event by picking up Liberal Defence for a ridiculous bargain basement price at Amazon US. It's a fucking disgrace, but you may as well avail yourselves of it.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Haiti: "The humanitarian myth" posted by Richard Seymour

Yours truly in Socialist Worker (US) on the myth of humanitarian intervention in Haiti:

The paternalistic assumptions behind the calls for 'humanitarian intervention' have sometimes been starkly expressed. Thus, the conservative columnist Eric Margolis lauds the history of American colonial rule in Haiti: "[T]he U.S. occupation is looked back on by many Haitians as their "golden age." The Marine Corps proved a fair, efficient, honest administrator and builder. This era was the only time when things worked in Haiti."

Purporting to oppose imperialism, Margolis insists that "genuine humanitarian intervention" is "different," and calls for Haiti to be "temporarily administered by a great power like the U.S. or France." He writes: "U.S. administration of Haiti may be necessary and the only recourse for this benighted nation that cannot seem to govern itself."

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Obama: the dream dies posted by Richard Seymour

A year after the ecstatic spectacle of Obama's nomination, and more than a year after the Republicans were overthrown in some surprising new places, the Democrats have lost the previously safe senatorial seat of Massachusetts, lately the fiefdom of the late Ted Kennedy. This spells the end of Obama's 'healthcare reform' in its current, pathetic, version. Nancy Pelosi has made this clear: "I just don't see the votes," she has said. Her Democratic confederates largely agree. It looks as if, predictably, the massive public consensus in favour of healthcare reform, has once more been squandered. This was the Republicans' hope when it became clear that candidate Scott Brown was leading the polls. He told his suburban voting base that if they wanted to scupper this socialistic abomination, he would be the vital 41st vote for Republican filibusters.

The 'debate', if I may speak loosely, over healthcare reform was one that acted as a lightning rod for right-wing hysteria about high government spending and taxes. Relatively rich GOP voters identified their class interests in terms of lower taxes, a smaller state, and less handouts for the lazy bums. (Didn't those irresponsible, impoverished, often black folks cause this crisis through their subprime borrowing? Isn't it time to reintroduce red-lining and free up the police to deal with the inevitable crime spree among this hapless bunch, rather than lining their pockets with other people's hard-earned cash?) Scott Brown knew this, and evidently recognised that the best way to package some dog-whistling over the issue would be to give it an impeccably liberal imprimatur. His campaign crafted the successful 'JFK ad', which segued JFK spelling out his Keynesian tax cuts programme from 1962 into Scott Brown explaining that lower taxes would equal more jobs - he even delivered a concise account of the 'multiplier effect', though I suspect this was a coded appeal to 'trickle down' economics. The great majority of polls taken after the ad was aired put Brown ahead. Notably, Brown won in some of the areas with highest unemployment. One thirty-second slot would by no means have been enough to do the job. What really mattered was the disillusionment of Democratic voters. The turnout, though reasonable for a 'special' election, was way down on 2008, and fell most dramatically in the most Democratic areas:

In President Obama’s strongest areas — towns where he received more than 60 percent of the vote — the number of voters was about 30 percent below 2008 levels. In the rest of the state, the number of voters was down just 25 percent. In Boston — one of the strongest areas for Democrats — the number voting fell 35 percent.

The Democratic base, in other words, was just not mobilised. Lance Selfa, author of a critical history of the Democrats, asks why this was. It is easy to blame the lousy performance of Croakley, or whatever her name was. Her campaign treated the race as a coronation, at a time when voters are angry. But if right-wing voters are exercised by 'socialism', liberal voters had little to be excited about. In November 2008, they voted for a healthcare programme with a public option, lower insurance premiums, and universal coverage. What they were offered was a system that provided government enforced subsidies to the insurance and healthcare companies, lacked a public option, compelled people who might not be able to afford it to buy insurance policies, and didn't offer universal coverage. The healthcare industry, which had co-drafted the legislation, saw its stocks soar on Wall Street as soon as the legislation was finalised.

The unpopularity of Obama's proposals cannot be reduced to right-wing hysteria, which is only persuasive for about a fifth of Americans and two-thirds of Republicans. Such shrill nonsense motivates a right-wing base and, for that reason, cannot be dismissed - but let's get some perspective here. For a start, Americans hate the current healthcare system. The majority in poll after poll favours something like a single-payer or national insurance health system. That isn't reflected in every poll, of course, but the overwhelming trend is for Americans to prefer a government-run health system to the private, heavily subsidised, system. Secondly, this is Massachusetts we're talking about here. This is a state where a powerful majority voted 'yes' on a ballot initiative favouring a single payer system in 2008. The vote against the Democrats in their heartland was not a vote against socialised medicine, because that is not what was on offer. And despite the slavishly positive spin put on the proposed legislation by Democratic congresspersons, even many of the pro-Obama progressives hated it, and were deeply disillusioned by it. Even Arianna Huffington, bless her Coca-Cola advertising slots, has declared the end of hope.

The current polling status of congressional Democrats is pitiful, hovering at about the same level of popularity as the Bush administration in its lowest ebb. Obama's popularity has also sank, if not to the same lows. This rapid dissipation, after only 12 months, reflects a class anger. As Selfa points out, the president who won on the basis of a claim to represent Main Street rather than Wall Street (ho ho!) is widely understood to represent his major backers:

A September 2009 Economic Policy Institute poll asked a national sample of registered voters to say who they thought had "been helped a lot or some" from the policies the administration enacted. The result: 13 percent said the "average working person," 64 percent identified "large banks," and 54 percent said "Wall Street investment companies."

Obama knows this perfectly well, which is why he was blustering some while back about not running for office to serve a bunch of fat cat Wall Street bankers, and may also explain some of his tentative moves to lightly tax and regulate the parasites. Indeed, in the wake of the loss of Massachusetts, Obama has talked up his reforms yesterday, promising a 'fight' with Wall Street firms who tried to sink his proposals. These are not radical reforms - if the multi-millionaire Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne approves of them, they aren't that radical. But the president's combative language at least suggests that he is aware of where his weakness lies. This electoral pressure is important, though it is nothing compared to a mass movement. And I would contrast the miserable healthcare reforms with the surprisingly good proposals for immigrant rights reform, which comes on the back of pressure from a well-organised campaign rooted in labour and the migrants themselves, despite the latter's difficulties with organising under the ICE jackboot. This tells us that the Democrats are susceptible, if only at some remove and with considerable reluctance, to pressure from the left. In that light, the best thing that could happen to the electoral coalition that swept Obama to power is that they stop hoping, and start fighting.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"There are no security issues". posted by Richard Seymour

Once again, just for emphasis and instruction, the security crisis is fabricated:

One thing that I think is really important for people to understand is that misinformation and rumors and, I think at the bottom of the issue, racism has slowed the recovery efforts of this hospital. Security issues over the last forty-eight hours have been our—quote “security issues” over the last forty-eight hours have been our leading concern. And there are no security issues. I’ve been with my Haitian colleagues. I’m staying at a friend’s house in Port-au-Prince. We’re working for the Ministry of Public Health for the direction of this hospital as volunteers. But I’m living and moving with friends. We’ve been circulating throughout the city until 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning every night, evacuating patients, moving materials. There’s no UN guards. There’s no US military presence. There’s no Haitian police presence. And there’s also no violence. There is no insecurity.

This message, now coming from aid workers in the Red Cross and Partners in Health, starkly contradicts the racist coverage of the wire services, the mainstream newspapers, and the television channels and the websites belonging to all of the above - the capitalist media in toto. Take this, for example: a wire story, reproduced in newspapers and on television programmes across the world, uncritically reproducing the claims of the Haitian police, using less than a handful of named and unnamed witnesses as editorial sock puppets to justify the attempts to spread terror and organise vigilante violence - to actually create the very suspicion, mayhem, and bloodshed that has so far been notable by its absence. Of course, the give-away is the reference to 'gangs' and 'gang leaders'. In the vernacular of the White House, the US press corps, wire services, and the Group of 184 (essentially a delegation of Haiti's comprador capitalist class), these vocables refer to activists belonging to Lavalas, the most popular and rooted political party in Haiti, and the most conspicuously excluded from recent elections.

There will be some real violence, alongside the desperate efforts by starving people to secure food and water for themselves. There is no society in the world that doesn't have violence on a regular, daily basis, never mind in the middle of a horrendous tragedy and a reloaded military occupation. But what we are seeing here is the entirely justifiable expropriation of hoarded goods in stores and other situations being used to characterise the situation as a security crisis. In a scandalous if barely reported manipulation of aid workers, it has emerged that both UN and US authorities instructed people not to deliver relief directly to the victims, because doing so will lead to them being attacked by an 'angry mob'. Such sick conduct, depriving the needy of aid by means of racist scapegoating, constitutes an incitement, among other things, to the organisation of 'angry mobs'. However intelligently said 'mobs' go about trying to secure the means of existence, the right to life in other words, they can be shot without the world batting an eyelid - as recent HNP and MINUSTAH actions demonstrate. (Here, I use the phrase 'the world' in the same sense that the media does, in which 'the world' is just that combination of images and text that are generated by the news corporations themselves, and which in fact mediate our experience of the 'real world'. 'The world' does not bat an eyelid, in other words, so long as the Anglophone media remains unshaken by it.)

This 'security' mytheme has also been used to justify the imposition of martial law, at the behest of the United States, which will be enforced by the US military:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had demanded the imposition of the emergency decree during her visit to Haiti on Saturday. “The decree would give the government an enormous amount of authority, which in practice they would delegate to us,” Clinton declared.

Haitian police and UN troops have already been firing at crowds characterised as 'looters', even if they didn't necessarily have any purloined goods on them at the time. However, the US government is profoundly aware of its PR predicament, inasmuch as many people may refuse to be dazzled by the propaganda and notice the fact that the US has actually just invaded, taken control of the aid, blocked the entry of field hospitals and aid equipment on spurious grounds, and is now in the position of using its immense military advantages to impose martial law on an occupied country. So, the military bosses are telling anyone who will listen that "we're not in Haiti to fight". Well, of course they're not. They genuinely expect people to do as they're told without the question of a fight coming into it. Commentators can fulminate about machetes in Haitian hands, but 82nd Airborne has assault rifles and, if they consider it necessary, helicopter gunships, missiles, fighter jets, and behind them the entire galactically enormous arsenal of US imperialism. They are in a country whose GDP is a mere 1% of the US military budget in a single year. They are in a country that they have already tortured with death squads and terrorised under a UN mandate. Of course they don't expect a fight.

On top of the 10,000 US troops taking over, 3,500 extra UN troops are being sent to combat "lawlessness". This reminds us that the overthrow of Aristide and the imposition of a UN MINUSTAH ocupation was itself already a 'security' operation. It was, moreover, one with a multilateral mandate, construed as a humanitarian operation and by no means an abridgment of anyone's sovereignty. The point is made emphatically by China Mieville in this racy chastisement of international law, which notes that John Yoo, justly anathematized over the torture memos, risks no censure from liberal internationalist opponents when he describes the occupation of Haiti as an attempt to prevent a bloody civil war.

Recall that according to the spurious story originating from the White House, Aristide had 'fled' Haiti amid turmoil and unrest resulting from his poor governance and corruption. According to the imperialist narrative, the UN then helpfully intervened at the behest of the US and other concerned members of the 'international community', to put a stop to this turmoil and unrest, and facilitate the development of democratic institutions (they never seem to catch on in some countries, though we never lose faith that they might). The UN has since faced a difficult struggle against 'gangs' (see passim), but is determined to continue to protect the slum-dwellers from such predators. That the 'turmoil' had itself resulted principally from US intervention in the form of Dominican Republic-based death squads, that Aristide was the elected president and was kidnapped, and that the processes set in motion under the UN's violent occupation constituted a massive net curtailment of democracy, need not detain us for long. Nor need we malinger around the facts of the recent senatorial and congressional elections in Haiti which, even as Haiti's most popular party was banned from participation causing turnout to sink to approximately ten percent, are represented as a signal of the international community's determination to facilitate the democratic process. The point is that 'security' in this sense functions as a cynosure in a profoundly authoritarian and usually imperialist discourse in which populations rather than opposing armies, or even armed insurgencies, are construed as the source of illegitimate antagonism to be repressed. That is what 'security' is for.

This is important to understand because it is already a keyword of the Obama administration - in Afghanistan, the North-West Frontier Province, and now in Haiti. The new president's language is expunged of some of the exaggerated, triumphalist self-righteousness of the hard right. The pseudo-messianic, missionary language has been subject to de-emphasis. The contention that the US is a fervent champion of democracy, and that its opponents are in some sense evil, is not entirely abandoned, but it is more carefully deployed. Liberals breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced last year that Obama was abandoning the obsession with democracy-promotion and focusing on security. But the language of security, while possessing reassuringly technocratic cadences, is not less dangerous for that. It is a primary moral and legal justification for violent repression.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Security issues. posted by Richard Seymour

Or, "We haven’t had any security issues at all". (Via). Excuse me? I thought that violence was growing. I had been led to believe that "looting and gang-related activity" had taken over. Said gangs were, I was assured, "storming quake-ravaged storefronts and even ransacking coffins and piles of dead bodies in search of usable belongings". (That fascination with corpses again). As it transpires, even in the text of these reports themselves, the major act of violence was by the Haitian national police opening fire on crowds of starving earthquake survivors, murdering one of their number, and leaving others tied up on the streets to be beaten to death by 'vigilantes' later. The striking fact, patiently reported by observers on the ground, is that Haiti is not gripped by anarchy, 'mob rule', mass slaughter, or anything of the kind. There was probably no more violent crime in Haiti this weekend than there would be in any normal weekend, and probably less than in some American cities. Instead, while aid is obstructed, Haitians have cooperated to undertake rescue efforts and administer aid without the assistance of relief workers:

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Learning the ropes posted by Richard Seymour

Turns out that if you want to edit a major newspaper, the correct training ground is provided by football fan forums. There, under an anonymising moniker, you can puff up your chest and gas all macho about the blacks and women. For example, you could try out lines about kicking a "stupid bitch" "in the cnt", discuss how black people are "on average a little under 10 per cent thicker than whites; 15 per cent thicker than east Asians", and complain about "thousands of organisations catering exclusively to black and asian minorities." "**** 'em, close them down", you might add. "Why do blacks need a forum of their own? As a power base and cash cow for ****s and in order to perpetuate the myth of widespread discrimination". Given the degenerate culture of the British media, I'd expect its leading personnel to appear quite regularly in such forums. And imagine the possible zeniths of such cultural cross-fertilisation: a swearing contest between Rod Liddle, Roger Alton and Kelvin Mackenzie; Richard Littlejohn and Howard Jacobson debating the merits of Roy Chubby Brown's wanking and rape jokes; all of the above engaging Melanie Phillips in a discourse on 'golliwogs', Muslims and immigration. The coffee houses and salons of the Enlightenment have truly found their successors.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti: getting the picture posted by Richard Seymour

So, if we can summarise. Haiti is a country which is subject to "progress-resistant cultural influences", such as:

the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

This (rather than this), says neoconservative David Brooks, explains why Haiti is so poor. The appropriate response is imperial disdain for Haitian culture, and paternalistic intervention. Such a culturalist reading of social institutions and political economies is not exclusive to neoconservatives, but it is their preferred variant of the liberal defence of murder. As you would expect ftom the savages described by Brooks, though, they have responded to the disaster of the quake by looting and building roadblocks from the dead. The security situation (a phrase worth unpacking) is... what, you tell me - 'deteriorating'? 'Testing'? 'Tricky'? 'Challenging'? What is the bromide of choice these days? At any rate, the state of affairs arising from said "progress-resistant cultural influences" is so baleful that it is compelling the US to use its military power to obstruct the delivery of aid, because delivering aid will - so Obama's defence secretary tells us - lead to riots.

Brooks is not alone in hoping that American power can be used to discipline the hapless natives. As Obama sends in the marines and the 82nd Airborne, precisely to deal with the above-mentioned "security situation", the American Enterprise Institute insists that such forces are used to "ensure that Haiti’s gangs—particularly those loyal to ousted President Jean‐Bertrand Aristide—are suppressed." The worry about the prospect of a return of the elected president, Aristide, which "can only create further mischief". The AEI, I would confidently wager, has no reason to fret over this particular exercise in humanitarian intervention. Obama is committed to maintaining the coup government, the sweatshop oligarchy and the phoney elections. The troops are there because the Haitian population is seen not merely as pathetic supplicants but as a threat. The very sophisticated networks of community and solidarity that have been developed in Haiti under dictatorship and terror, and which are best placed to deliver assistance to those in need of it, are precisely the problem as far as the US government is concerned. It is they, the 'gangs' who refuse to assimilate to America's benevolent programme of racial uplift, whom successive US governments have attempted to destroy, whether through the IMF or the Tonton Macoutes. It cannot be long before the marines find themselves gunning down some restless ingrates, and there is certainly no prospect that the Obama administration will allow Aristide to return to his country.

Just as well, then, that we have been apprised of all these horror stories about bodies doubling as road-blocks (as if people in need of aid would actually try to block the roads), machete wielding 'looters', security breakdowns, gang violence, etc. Otherwise we might have been inclined to misunderstand the situation, and wonder whether in sending trained killers into a disaster area the Obama administration isn't hijacking a catastrophe according to a premeditated plan, a pre-conceived set of priorities, and a prefabricated story.

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The fallout from 'free speech' posted by Richard Seymour

So, about this free speech that no one really believes in (as the furore over the puny and pointless 'Islam4UK' reveals). Apparently, words and language have consequences. Apparently, the unchecked expression of racist vilification, in streets and town halls across the land, results in more racist hate crimes. Baffling, isn't it? Reality is just so random that way.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

More far right terrorism posted by Richard Seymour

So, a BNP member making bombs and guns, and a neo-Nazi developing a little arsenal. Nope, no need to get worked up about these as it turns out the culprits are white. Add them to the list, though. (Eg, see this, this and this).

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No fucking way posted by Richard Seymour

You remember all those stories about Katrina victims raping babies in bathrooms and engaging in bloody orgies of destruction and mutual mutilation? You remember how the vast majority of them were utterly utterly bogus, racist fantasies that were used to justify withholding aid and sending in the military to calm the "little Somalia"? Well, I'm just saying, and it's just a suspicion, but I think this story stinks:

People have started blocking roads with corpses in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince to protest against the delay in emergency aid, an eyewitness says.

TIME magazine photographer Shaul Schwarz said he saw at least two downtown roadblocks formed with bodies of earthquake victims and rocks.

"They are starting to block the roads with bodies; it's getting ugly out there," he said. "People are fed up with getting no help."

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Nil desperandum posted by Richard Seymour

Oh, you doom-mongers. You naysayers. You negative normans. Everything's all soooo gloomy as far as you're concerned. Unemployment. Wage cuts. Public sector cuts. A Tory government on the way. Endless war. More Big Brother. The litany of complaints from the stubbornly downbeat is about as long as the lines of coke in a professional footballer's dressing room. Well, shame on you, because Britain's youth are showing you up for the sadsacks that you are, as today's Mirror demonstrates:

They are the million-strong army of youngsters sentenced to life on benefits before they are out of their teens.

According to doom-mongers NEETS - young people not in employment, education or training - are a symptom of all that's wrong with Britain. A third have confesses to suicidal thoughts.

But, as these uplifting stories reveal, many are determined to find jobs and defy the critics. Our three NEETS set out to impress and offered their services for nothing under the government's Work Trials scheme.

Ah, bless. Determined not to lapse into shiftless despondency and dependency, they've taken advantage of a government scheme to give employers free labour. The older generations, who lumpenly expected to be paid for their labour, don't know they're born. And how did these go-getters get going? Well:

[Courtney] refused to spend her days lounging in front of the telly and did six months' unpaid work at a clothes shop, only to be told they couldn't afford to take her on.

Then Courtney found that a 99p store was looking for employees and signed up for a two-week work trial. At the end of it she was offered a job.


You see? A job. Only six months and two weeks of free labour and someone hired her. And all she had to do was work fourteen hour shifts. There's jobs out there for them that wants them. You know how you get it? Bloody hard work, love. No one owes you a wage packet, not even your employer.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti: opportunity knocks posted by Richard Seymour

You want to hear about chutzpah? You want to hear about sheer gravity-defying audacity? Well, ladies and gentlemen, comrades and friends, prepare to catch your lower jaw. Forget Limbaugh's racist anxieties. Forget about Pat Robertson drooling about Haiti's 'pact with the devil'. He's a senile old bigot, and his sick provocations are familiar by now. This is the Heritage Foundation on the Haiti earthquake, which is estimated to have killed 100,000 people:

Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.

In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region…

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue.


While you're letting that sink in, let me lay this on you. It is, or ought to be, widely enough understood that the category of 'natural disaster' is increasingly redundant. Whether it's an earthquake, a storm, a flood or a crop failure, the truly shocking and baleful consequences of ecological events are generally caused by their interaction with existing political economies. Ashley Smith therefore asks the right questions:

Why were 60 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince shoddily constructed and unsafe in normal circumstances, according to the city's mayor? Why are there no building regulations in a city that sits on a fault line? Why has Port-au-Prince swelled from a small town of 50,000 in the 1950s to a population of 2 million desperately poor people today? Why was the state completely overwhelmed by the disaster?


Well, quite. The wretched subjugation of Haiti by the 'international community', particularly since the multilateral anti-Lavalas coup in 2004, is angrily and movingly described by Peter Hallward in today's Guardian, and there is more here (the Tomb's coverage of the coup is here). The coup was promoted to advance the process of neoliberal capital accumulation, break the left and the unions, and break Famni Lavalas and the civil society organisations sustaining resistance. For years, UN 'peacekeepers' have slaughtered thousands of Haitians, and the residents have been put through rigged election procedures. Lavalas members, priests, and activists have been subject to political imprisonment and murder, some of them characterised as 'gang' members. This is all for the aid of sweatshop bosses such as Andy Apaid, and the multinationals principally based in the US and Canada that benefit enormously from the exploitation of Haitian labour. This process of capital accumulation is what has driven Haitians out of a devastated rural economy and into impoverished slums with a tinpot infrastructure, and left them vulnerable to this extraordinary catastrophe. There are a tremendous number of NGOs operating in Haiti, but there is hardly a public service infrastructure capable of a response. What support systems were available have themselves suffered terribly in the quake.

Following from the above, such disasters are generally exploited by states and companies in the vicious and predatory way that Naomi Klein outlines in The Shock Doctrine. Perhaps a lesser known example of this is the way in which in the wake of the tsunami in late 2004, the Indonesian military took the opportunity to ramp up repression in Aceh. A more obvious example is the depraved way in which the Bush administration (and the local Democratic party) effectively ethnically cleansed New Orleans and turned it into a haven for developers and construction firms after Katrina. So, what depraved agenda is going to be more forcefully thrust on Haiti in the middle of this catastrophe? Obviously, there is no danger of Obama allowing any impoverished immigrants into the US on the back of some rickety boats. You might recall that after last year's hurricanes, his administration continued to deport people, even in the middle of urgent legal appeals. So what is the plan? Back to Ashley Smith, who writes:

In close collaboration with the new UN Special Envoy to Haiti, former President Bill Clinton, Obama has pushed for an economic program familiar to much of the rest of the Caribbean--tourism, textile sweatshops and weakening of state control of the economy through privatization and deregulation.

In particular, Clinton has orchestrated a plan for turning the north of Haiti into a tourist playground, as far away as possible from the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince. Clinton lured Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines into investing $55 million to build a pier along the coastline of Labadee, which it has leased until 2050.

From there, Haiti's tourist industry hopes to lead expeditions to the mountaintop fortress Citadelle and the Palace of Sans Souci, both built by Henri Christophe, one of the leaders of Haiti's slave revolution. According to the Miami Herald:

The $40 million plan involved transforming the now quaint town of Milot, home to the Citadelle and Palace of Sans Souci ruin, into a vibrant tourist village, with arts and crafts markets, restaurants and stoned streets. Guests would be ferried past a congested Cap-Haïtien to a bay, then transported by bus past peasant plantations. Once in Milot, they would either hike or horseback to the Citadelle...named a world heritage site in 1982...

Eco-tourism, archaeological exploration and voyeuristic visits to Vodou rituals are all being touted by Haiti's struggling boutique tourism industry, as Royal Caribbean plans to bring the world largest cruise ship here, sparking the need for excursions.

So while Pat Robertson denounces Haiti's great slave revolution as a pact with the devil, Clinton is helping to reduce it to a tourist trap.

At the same time, Clinton's plans for Haiti include an expansion of the sweatshop industry to take advantage of cheap labor available from the urban masses. The U.S. granted duty-free treatment for Haitian apparel exports to make it easy for sweatshops to return to Haiti.

Clinton celebrated the possibilities of sweatshop development during a whirlwind tour of a textile plant owned and operated by the infamous Cintas Corp. He announced that George Soros had offered $50 million for a new industrial park of sweatshops that could create 25,000 jobs in the garment industry. Clinton explained at a press conference that Haiti's government could create "more jobs by lowering the cost of doing business, including the cost of rent."

As TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson told Democracy Now! "That isn't the kind of investment that Haiti needs. It needs capital investment. It needs investment so that it can be self-sufficient. It needs investment so that it can feed itself."

One of the reasons why Clinton could be so unabashed in celebrating sweatshops is that the U.S.-backed coup repressed any and all resistance. It got rid of Aristide and his troublesome habit of raising the minimum wage. It banished him from the country, terrorized his remaining allies and barred his political party, Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular in the country, from running for office. The coup regime also attacked union organizers within the sweatshops themselves.

As a result, Clinton could state to business leaders: "Your political risk in Haiti is lower than it has ever been in my lifetime."


Would those who sycophantically defended Clinton, particularly over his Haiti policy, care to comment? Do the 'progressives for Obama' have anything to say at this point?

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cameron: I'll cut immigration, not bankers' bonuses posted by Richard Seymour

So, earlier this week you may have noticed that Cameron had supported a campaign with the stated aim of stopping the UK population from reaching 70 million. This is a specifically anti-immigrant campaign, following Lord Carey's divine intervention in the nation's affairs, which ran thus:

"The sheer numbers of migrants ... threaten the very ethos or DNA of our nation.... Democratic institutions such as the monarchy, Parliament, the judiciary, the Church of England, our free press and the BBC ... support the liberal democratic values of the nation. Some groups of migrants, however, are ambivalent about or even hostile to such institutions. The proposed antiwar Islamist march in Wootton Bassett is a clear example of the difficulties extremists pose to British society."


Yes, he did include the monarchy and the C of E among Britain's democratic institutions. Yes, he did invoke DNA in a very palpable instance of dog-collar-whistling. And yes, hearing said high-pitched trill, Cameron barked. Cameron's reasoning doesn't invoke 'British values', but a supposed threat to public services which makes immigration caps necessary. Cameron, like the former Prime Minister of whom he is emulous, is not as stupid as he is intellectually insubstantial. He may not trouble himself too much about theory - the latter being equivalent to ideology, itself a short step to baggage, which is something no careerist can afford to be laden with. One travels light when going up the greasy pole. But he is, I think, reasonably perceptive, and it would have occurred to him that immigrants will provide the taxes and employees to build up public services as much as they are likely to use them. This is especially important to bear in mind when we are constantly told that the working population is not growing enough to support the taxes and national insurance necessary to maintain a decent public pension.

Moreover, as Socialist Worker points out this week, the reference to immigration is an extraordinary red herring. Most of the projected population growth is due to births, and the real "pressure" on public services in the coming years will be from the cuts intended by both parties, though with predictably greater gusto from the Tories:

Cameron also made his starkest statement yet about his cuts plans this week.

Asked if he wanted to make more cuts or make the cuts earlier, he replied, “It’s both, and one leads to the other. We think it should start now.

“We would have an emergency budget within 50 days. It would start to do some of those things.”

Meanwhile, John Redwood, Cameron’s economic adviser, wants cuts too – cuts to the taxes of the rich.

He said, “Tax cuts must be cuts in taxes on enterprise. Cut the higher rate of income tax, cut the corporation tax rate.”


You remember John Redwood. He is the Thatcherite windbag who asked John Major out for a fight and couldn't take him. He has been orbiting the moon ever since, but now seems to have been called to earth by Cameron to help craft the Conservative Party's pitch to big business - the ruling class, in more accurate terms - in advance of the coming election. You think New Labour kisses your arse?, he seems to say. Well, we can spit-shine it too. So, an important lesson for the coming elections. Attacks on immigration are almost invariably an opening shot in a class battle. Those who intend to attack the working class must first divide the working class. Start by singling out immigrants, then move on to public sector workers, trade unionists, welfare recipients, and any other likely target of invective from the steaming shit-sewer of the scum British press. Then tell everyone that focusing on class is petty and juvenile, and beneath the conduct of responsible statesmen. This is why fighting racism and fascism, defeating it in the streets and challenging it in the media, is not separable from class issues nor from the matter of resisting the recession. It is a vital aspect of securing a minimum of working class unity in the coming, highly volatile, period.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mort posted by Richard Seymour

Daniel Bensaïd, founding member of the great LCR and author of Marx For Our Times, is dead. Here is his memorable essay on Leninism: "Leaps, Leaps, Leaps!"

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Monday, January 11, 2010

The future editor of the Independent, folks posted by Richard Seymour

Apparently, Rod Liddle is the leading contender to edit the Independent. Just so you understand what that means, here's a snippet from his latest:

“F*** off back to where you’re from, then, you Muslims.”


This gem of free expression, communicated in the lumpen cadences of an English Defence League bootboy, would be enough to get some people arrested for incitement to racial hatred. For Liddle, outbursts like this amount to a career strategy.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Air attacks on Gaza posted by Richard Seymour

Just days ago, the seige on Gaza was broken by the Gaza Freedom Marchers, who faced down serious violence from the Egyptian cops who injured dozens, and attempts by Mubarak to frustrate their arrival in Gaza. Mubarak is one of America and Israel's favourite dictatorships, and is busily constructing a steel wall to prevent another Rafah, complementing the torrent of steel rain from Israeli jets intended to prevent Palestinians from smuggling food and cattle into Gaza, where millions are dependent on food aid. So this intervention was directed against an intense form of international aggression against the Palestinians, promulgated by Israel, supported by the Quad, and upheld by pro-US despots throughout the Middle East. The crossing was therefore no mean accomplishment. Today, however, Israel has decided to reassert its right to tyrannise the Gazans with new air strikes:

A massive explosion took place few moments ago western Gaza City, in Tal Al Hawa neighborhood. Eyewitness reported that Israeli F16s launched an aerial attack midnight. The attack was followed by a series of air raids.


These attacks are in addition to the usual run of attacks on tunnels designed to circumvent the criminal blockade, and could well foreshadow another full-scale military operation against Gaza. Watch this space.

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Approbation posted by Richard Seymour

Aaron Swartz:

The Liberal Defence of Murder

This book is like a little miracle. I’m not even sure how to describe it, except to say that it turns one’s understanding of history completely upside-down.



Infinite Thought
in German newspaper Taz:

K-Punk and Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb are excellent sources for serious political debate outside of the mainstream media, and quite a lot of what I might say about any issue will be on these sites (and better phrased) before I’ve worked out how I might put it.


Yay.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

A brief note on Anglian soldiers and their opponents. posted by Richard Seymour

One thing that Anjem Choudhury and his acolytes are absolutely right about is that Anglian soldiers are going to rot in hell. At least, they'll be rotting in Wootton Basset under Union Jack napkins while the RAF stages its provocative marches through the beleaguered market town, which is just as bad.

I have been observing a strange, coded, stilted kind of uneasy chattering emerge in the media, the kind that is usually filed under 'comment' or 'debate'. The general thrust of this chatter is that 'extremists'* known as 'Islam4UK' are intent on marching through Wootton Bassett, a small town in Swindon near RAF Lyneham. This is also where deceased British soldiers are paraded when they are brought back from Afghanistan, en route to the coroners. (Nothing good ever happens in Swindon.) The chatterers believe that this is no coincidence, and that this group 'Islam4UK' means to denigrate the sacrifices made by these soldiers - let us leave aside whether their sacrifice is at all worth extolling (it isn't). Depending on their specific concern, these commentators either want us to revile 'Islam4UK' or ignore them. My sympathies are with the latter, since this group is eminently ignorable. They pose a threat to no one, and are probably riddled with MI5 moles. In fact, I'm of the decided opinion that there's more mole than molehill in this organisation. The trouble is that the latter position often comes with hand-wringing about defending 'real' or 'moderate' Islam from association with these headbangers. I really don't blame them for this - it is the racism of the media and a segment of the public that compels them to undertake such prophylactic operations. But it is still far too defensive: Muslims don't have anything to answer for as a group, and aren't responsible for 'Islam4UK' any more than all white people are responsible for Operation Enduring Freedom, Guantanamo, Bagram, extraordinary rendition, fascist marches, arson attacks on mosques, genocide, colonialism, slavery, Nazism, etc etc.

But already a Facebook-based campaign aimed at opposing the march has generated considerable media heat, and has garnered over 600,000 members. The group insists that it is not anti-Muslim, has no racial agenda, and is not interested in promoting any one political group. I think for some of the organisers this may be true. Predictably, however, it emerges that among those running the group is a BNP activist named Dennis Raines. What is more, despite being apprised of this, the organiser of the site is standing by Mr Raines. So, that suggests a very interesting approach to what the group refers to as 'extremism'. Fascists and racists are, far from being extremists, appropriate allies in the struggle against a group that would have difficulty packing out a telephone box. I would like to think that this is just an anecdote, just an incidental fact about the way in which one campaign emerged and has developed. But it happens that whenever there is an attempt to generate a controversy about the troops, Islam and 'extremism', the far right and the racist filth are almost invariably involved. Further, one has to wonder about the sense of perspective among such a large number of people that they are apparently moved to affront by a proposed hoe-down involving refugees from the banned al-Muhajiroun outfit. I realise they're a noisome bunch - I hear that Anjem Choudhury is opposed to Christmas forgodsake. Still, they remain peripheral. And I'm quite sure that among those mortally offended by Choudhury's antics are quite a few who have nothing but bromides about 'free speech' to offer when genuinely menacing and violent groups like EDL engage in marches against local mosques etc.

Isn't it about time these people grew up, and stopped being so easily gulled? Their wealth is being consumed in the fires of an almighty recession, their mortgages aren't worth jack any more, their economic security is being incinerated, they can't borrow any more and even if they could they could never expect to pay it back, if they have a job they can't be sure they'll still have one in a month's time, employers are taking the opportunity to slash wages and extend working hours, their retirement age is being deferred in some cases beyond the point at which they can expect to croak, their public services are about to face a savage bout of cuts, the whole basis of their livelihood until this point has been based on ideological fiction... and they're allowing themselves to be obsessed by these objects of petty resentment. If you're one of these people, my advice is to stop hyperventilating, get some exercise, relax, and concern yourself with a few things that actually matter.

*Just so that we're clear on useage, 'extremism' isn't a meaningful political category. What is extreme is whatever offends me, whatever defies my common sense, whatever my tastes and/or narrow-mindedness prevents me from understanding. As the above indicates, the discourse of extremity smuggles in normative assumptions in a language that is supposedly neutral and technocratic - it's one reason why governments are apt to frame legislation in such terms, as it allows them maximum flexibility in pursuing heretics. The correct political term for people like 'Islam4UK' is 'fucknuggets'.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Today's headlines posted by Richard Seymour

It's snowing! Oh my god, it's snowing! Waaaaah! The roads, the footpaths, the fields, those poor sheep, all covered in milimetres of apocalyptic snow! Help, help, mayday mayday! I've just run out of Cadbury's mini-rolls, and the nearest shop is two hundred yards away, separated by a blanket of alien frozen matter. It may as well be on fucking Mars for all I can do to get to it. And as if to mock me, some bastard has built an effigy out of this iced vapour of doom, just half way down the road. It glares at me with its sinister coal-black eyes, daring me to make a suicidal dash for the grocery, willing me to slip and hurt my arse. This is the last stand: I'm pushing the sofa up against the door, blacking out all the windows, and preparing to eat my own faeces to survive! This is it. If I don't survive, tell my creditors I died broke. Already the hunger is setting in, and I've got nothing to squeeze out for fodder. Mind you, these butter puffs will do fine if I add some cheese and a cup of coffee. Hmmm. Not bad at all... Think I'll put the heater on and watch a film. Oooh, Jennifer Aniston in a life-affirming comedy of manners and such. That's much better. Wonder what's outside the window... aaaaaah, it's more snow! Fuck off fuck off fuck off!

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Obama in Aden. posted by Richard Seymour

Until the so-called underpants bomber failed to strike, you would have been hard pressed to find much information on the Yemen insurgency outside of Press TV. Of the Anglophone media, only the wire services seemed to pay much attention to the Houthi rebellion, and Saudi air strikes against it. US involvement in the Saudi air strikes, some of them ostensibly against 'Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula', started to be reported this month. Now this clueless bampot/false flag (take your pick) and his combustible loin cloth have been taken into custody (I'll let you riff on how it could have been a 'dirty bomb'), the former reported as saying that he was trained by 'Al Qaida' in Yemen. So, Obama has his opportunity to come out openly and demand more US attacks in Yemen.

What is this actually about? In one light, the conflict could be seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latter accused (though I have seen no evidence for the accusation) of sponsoring the Houthi rebels, who are in turn accused of having engaged in a cross-border raid on Saudi Arabia. In another light, it is simply about the breakdown of the Yemen polity, which is increasingly de-funded as oil and tourism revenues tumble. President Ali Abdellah Saleh's resort to reliance on Saudi air power against the Houthi rebels reflects the inability of the nothern ruling class, represented by Saleh, to maintain their dominance in response to various regional challenges despite having won the civil war in 1994. As is so often the case, though, it is not possible to extricate the internal conflict from imperialist pressure, as the US shores up the regime and attacks both Sunni and Shia rebels, the latter through Saudi strikes. One thing it isn't about is 'Al Qaida'. The radical Sunni militias that helped the north to victory in 1994 may have turned against their former allies, and there may be organisations there dedicated to attacking US interests in the Middle East. However, to characterise such groups as 'Al Qaida' is to buy into a brand myth. There is no 'Al Qaida' in the sense of a coherent movement with a shared organisation, a clear set of goals and a consistent ideology.

The roots of the current crisis of the Yemeni state are to be found in its construction from a polity divided between British imperial rule, and Ottoman rule. The Arab nationalist and leftist movements sweeping the Middle East since the 1920s did not take root in Yemen until relatively late, only becoming strong among the Adenis in the south by 1956, though a number of oppositional clubs had been founded. Typically, such nationalist groupings demanded not only the unity of southern Yemen, but also unification with the north: this was the position of the group around the an-Nahda (Renaissance) publication, and that around al-Fajr (Dawn). But the independence movement was given a radicalised edge by proletarianisation and the emergence of a militant trade union movement (the Adeni Trade Union Congress). It was this movement that gave a cutting edge to the emerging forms of anticolonial nationalism, as the organised working class rallied to Nasser's Egypt when it was attacked by Britain, France and Israel in 1956. It had successfully organised election boycotts, scuppered attempts by the British to circumvent anticolonial unity by creating a 'Federation' linking traditional sultan rule in the 'hinterland' of southern Yemen to British capital in Aden, and formed the basis of the People's Socialist Party. Despite ferocious repression by the British authorities, they were able to win major reforms and pose the anti-colonial question in a compelling way.

Meanwhile in the north of Yemen, the lead was taken by Nasirists. In 1962, the newly crowned King, Muhammad al-Badr, had attempted to check opposition by appointing a Zeidi and a nationalist, Abdullah as-Sallal, as head of his bodyguards. But he owed al-Badr no loyalty, and began preparing a coup. A separate group of Nasirists had also developed in the army officers' corp, a typical social base for modernising Arab nationalists. They had been planning their own coup for September 1962, but were beaten to the punch by as-Sallal, whose tanks shelled the palace in Sanaa, the capital of the north, taking control of the city. They declared a Yemen Arab Republic in the north, quashed the Imamate, liquidated the property of some landowners, outlawed slavery, and set up a new currency as well as a series of institutions to help transform the north into an independent centre of capital accumulation. Badr fled to Saudi Araba from where he launched a royalist counterattack, with Prince Hassan returning from New York to rally opposition to the royalists' side. At the same time, a number of local tribal leaders took the opportunity to declare their own Imamates. There began a civil war that consumed approximately 4% of the North Yemen population, with Egypt and the USSR backing the Republicans, and the US and Saudi Arabia backing the royalists. But the royalists had the greater resources at their disposal, and as territories held by the YAR fell, Egypt's involvement in the war became very unpopular domestically, as well as among some tribal forces constituting themselves as a 'third force' hostile to both the royalists and Egyptian involvement. Nasir decided to cut a bargain with the Saudis, pledging to withdraw his troops if the Saudis would stop aiding the royalists. There were also said to be unpublished agreements that would limit the scope of anti-British resistance in southern Yemen. When as-Sallal flew to Cairo to protest against a deal which they were not party to, they locked him up and imposed a new leadership on the YAR. This particular deal collapsed, but the fact that Egypt continued to prosecute the war in the old ways - attempting to control the republicans bureaucratically, containing their efforts in ways congruent with the interests of the Egyptian state - weakened the YAR's chances, strengthening the 'third forces' who would eventually cut a deal with the royalists and turn North Yemen into a Saudi sattelite.

In southern Yemen, it was the left that took the lead. The anti-colonial insurgency had been given a shot in the arm by the declaration of the YAR, although it would probably have received little support from the north were it not for Britain's decision to back the royalists. The socialist Left had until that time relied on more or less peaceful metods of mass mobilisation, but it now became apparent that a military solution was called for. It had to spread well beyond the capital into the 'hinterland', and embrace forces beyond the left. So, a new National Liberation Front was formed, comprising army officers, pro-republican tribal leaders, workers and intellectuals. It sought to mobilised the hinterland and develop a 'popular revolutionary army', quite distinct from the kind of professionalised army that was in power in Egypt and intervening in north Yemen. The guerilla war it launched sought to tax the British army by drawing it into a territory, hammering it, then vacating as troop concentrations became overwhelming, whereupon a new offensive would begin elsewhere. The policy of igniting the mountainous and rural areas of the 'hinterland' was effective. The British had relied on traditional sultan rule to counterbalance the militancy of workers in Aden and the Gulf. Now they had lost control of the countryside, and the insurgency was about to go urban. Attempts by the incoming Labour government in 1964 to coopt the leadership, appointing a nationalist (albeit a right-wing one) as Prime Minister and putting on a conciliatory face, were futile. They were committed to maintaining the 'Federation' and their base, but the NLF was not willing to accept this as the basis for any agreement. British military repression, and the torture of local residents intended to extract information, were insufficient to quell the rebellion.

In 1966, the Labour government accepted that it could no longer hold the base and included withdrawal from Aden in a Defence White Paper. This did not mean that they would relent on trying to ensure a pro-British government remained in power. And, in fact, when Egypt was defeated in the Six Day War in June 1967, they took this as the cue to reverse course, declare that they would increase aid for the 'Federation' government, and maintain their military presence for at least six months after 'independence'. Meanwhile, the NLF was radicalising, having refused to subordinate itself to Egyptian interests by uniting with the more right-wing bourgeois nationalist group, the Front for the Liberation of South Yemen (FLOSY). Its leadership began to speak of 'Marxism-Leninism', had studied the guerilla tactics of Mao and the Viet Cong, and was preparing for a much more radical struggle for power. Instead of depending on the Egyptians for funding, they would expropriate the bourgeoisie (bank and jewellery shop robberies), and raise whatever contributions they could from supporters. The FLOSY, backed by the Egyptians, began to attack the NLF using their new paramilitary units, to little avail. A right-wing faction within the NLF favoured negotiating with the FLOSY, but this was unacceptable to most NLF militants. And even as Britain was back-tracking on its commitment to withdrawal, an uprising in Crater took place in which the police and army corps rebelled against the British. This threatened Britain's last credible instrument of power, the South Arabian army. The NLF governed Crater for thirteen days, freeing prisoners, distributing propaganda, and handing over British owned villas to the local population. Moreover, the British had failed to anticipate one effect of Egypt's defeat in the Six Day War, which was to discredit the Nasirists and hand the initiative to the most radical currents in the NLF. The British had to flee, and by 29 November 1967 their troops had vacated. At midnight, the People's Republic of South Yemen was created.

The NLF left wanted to take the struggle much futher. They wanted a new kind of state, in which the army was a popular militia, and in which political power rested on popular committees in each locality, which in turn would elect officials to higher bodies. Abdullah Fatah Ismail, writing for the NLF left, maintained that the new state could either be dominated by the petty bourgeoisie and become a capitalist state using socialist phrases, or it could be a state of workers, poor peasants and partisans. Eventually, the NLF left mobilised to defeat the relatively right-wing leadership in June 1969, and the country was renamed the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.

Thus, the north and south of Yemen were divided along political and geopolitical lines. They embodied, appaarently, competing social systems, the former pro-capitalist and pro-Western, the latter aspiring toward socialism and pro-USSR. But that division notwithstanding, the majority favoured Yemen unity, and such unity was nominally sought by both northern and southern states. However, that usually took the form of one side trying to impose its version of unity on the other. Thus, in 1972, the north invaded the south with Saudi support. Then, in 1979, the south invaded the north. No dice either way. The southern state was never to achieve any of its radical aims - it was a poor state, its leadership fractious, its politics expressed increasingly in the dogmatic canards of 'Marxism-Leninism'. In 1990, after the collapse of the USSR, it agreed to unity with the north's military leader, Field Marshall Ali Abdullah al-Saleh, who it agreed would by head of the new state.

But, again, the northern elite ought unity on its own terms. The south's oil riches were there to be exploited only by the northern bourgeoisie. So in 1994, when the south looked like seceding, al-Saleh embarked on a preemptive civil war against the former rulers of the south, the Yemeni Socialist Party, purging them and pillaging Aden at the end of a ruthless seventy day assault. Al-Saleh, himself a member of the Zeidi Shi'a sect, did not hesitate to use right-wing Sunni Islamists such as the 'Aden-Abyan Islamic Army' in order to win that war. (It was they who were later supposed to have organised the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and it is groups like this who are often referred to as 'Al Qaida'. It was supposedly a group like this that trained that numpty who didn't quite blow up an airplane in Detroit). Even following that victory, however, the northern ruling class could not prevent the emergence of regional, tribal and confessional challenges, often taking the form of armed insurgency.

This brings us to the present impasse. The model of Yemen unity that has been imposed since 1994 clearly isn't sustainable, nor does it have the remotest resemblance to the democratic and egalitarian promise of the 1960s. And where the old left and nationalist currents have failed, Islamist currents - often right-wing ones - sometimes took their place. And these in turn intersect with regional disaffection, as the geography of capital accumulation favours a central ruling class, while leaving substantial territories impoverished. That is what has happened in Yemen. The current stale regime, having encouraged Islamist currents in order to purge the left, now finds itself on the receiving end of their fire. Certainly, Sunni Islamists have some support in Yemen, and their numbers may be augmented by support from some refugees from the Somalian civil war, and US aggression there. However, while their ability to act speaks to the weakeness of the regime, they do not pose a serious threat to the state, and nor are they the targets of the Saudi bombings. That would be the Houthi rebellion, which is led by the Shabab al Moumineen group, whose members are Zeidi, and which calls for a Shi'a state in Yemen. They are also hostile to US and Israeli domination, and especially to the state's over-dependence on Saudi Arabia. Far from representing a localised insurgency centred on a single family, as the Yemeni authorities prefer to maintain, they do pose a comprehensive challenge to the authority of the state.

At the same time, a secessionist movement in the south has resumed, as southerners claim - with some justice - that they are subject to severe discrimination by the current rulers. The fact that they have been butchered while holding peaceful protests (eg) has tended to deepen their conviction. The Southern Movement is not an armed insurgency but, with a state in fiscal crisis and with unemployment at 40%, its success would certainly deprive the northern rulers of revenue (notably oil revenue) that they intend to keep. They are not Islamists, but nor are they exactly leftists, though they do have support from exiled leaders of the Yemen Socialist Party. Now, the US is committing $70m to upholding the present Yemen regime, and while its back-up artillery might take out some groupuscule leader deemed 'Al Qaida'. the basic aim of its funding and military intervention is to defend the incumbent regime against far more cohesive opponents. The result will be to encourage the regime to continue to brutalise and slaughter its opponents - indeed, help them to do so - rather than attempting any reforms that might be necessary to integrate them. The US doesn't care, of course. Suffice to say they don't have an alternative to the present model of Yemen unity, any more than al-Saleh does. They want to conserve a pro-American regime in Yemen as a de facto Saudi sattelite, and can't be expected to worry about the petty grievances of these little people with their absurd ideas about self-government and autonomy.

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