Friday, April 30, 2010
The Meaning of David Cameron posted by Richard SeymourComing soon:
Monday, April 26, 2010
The changing face of racism posted by Richard SeymourMe in the latest ISJ, on racism in Britain today:
Instead of looking for a reference to supposed static entities called “races” to define acts of racism, it makes more sense to consider racialisation as a constant process. Just as fascism is notoriously a “scavenger” ideology, opportunistically appropriating ideological bric-a-brac from other outlooks and traditions, so racist ideologies are continually constructed and reconstructed with a variety of elements of national, regional, religious, sectional and class stereotypes. What they have in common is their relationship to the practice of racial oppression in which a minority is systemically excluded from the opportunities and entitlements of normal citizenship. Nor are they strictly literal in their expression. Racism operates to a great extent by allusion and conflation—mark the speed with which “Muslim” was substituted for “Asian” in the target of racist polemics after 2001. Indeed, that very shift tells us that the cultural racism currently directed against Muslims is rooted in several generations of anti-immigrant racism and, before it, imperial racism.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Everything's going to be fine posted by Richard SeymourHey guys, hey guys, it's totally awesome! The recession is, like, totally a non-issue:
THE richest people in Britain have seen a record boom in wealth over the past year. Their fortunes have soared by 30% even though much of the UK is struggling to recover from recession and the near-collapse of the banking system.
It is the largest rise in wealth since the list was first published 21 years ago. Much of the increase is a result of the rebound in stock markets and property values after the government injected hundreds of billions of pounds into banks and the wider economy to stave off collapse.
Philip Beresford, compiler of the list, said: “The rich have come through the recession with flying colours. The stock market is up, the hedge funds are coining it. The rich are doing very nicely.
“The rest of the country is going to have to face public spending cuts, but it has little effect on the rich because they don’t consume public services.”
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Debating the 2010 Election posted by Richard SeymourThe recording from yesterday's debate about the election is here [mp3]. Anthony Barnett introduced the first session. Barnett, as readers may be aware, used to be an editor of the New Left Review and was a co-founder of Charter 88. He now runs the Open Democracy website. His argument for a hung parliament has, as you will hear, given way to tactical support for the Lib Dems (barring a few exceptions, such as Caroline Lucas in Brighton) in light of their surge. For Barnett, a whole series of problems of late - from the expenses scandal, to the authoritarian 'Britishness' agenda, to the war on Iraq - can be traced in part to the highly undemocratic nature of the British state, the royal prerogative, disproportionate representation, centralism and dictatorial executive powers. Thus, forcing a coalition with the Lib Dems might yield some positive reforms in this light, and represent a sort of 'graphite revolution' against the old political class. I didn't agree with Barnett's overall strategy with respect to the election, but it's interesting that all the speakers were addressing the same problem from different perspectives: the sad, empty spectacle of democracy in 21st Century Britain. Thus, while Barnett thinks that we need to fundamentally reform the constitution and the electoral system to allow us to even start a real democratic discussion, Jeremy Gilbert approached the problem in terms of the way that voters have tried since its inception to reject the neoliberal project and the system has refused to register this.
Gilbert argued that part of the problem was embedded in post-war social democracy, wherein it seemed possible to vote for a nice chap and rely on him to protect you from unemployment and the erosion of welfare protections. This is what people have continued to try to do. The neoliberals' power, he says, is that they are one of the few groups in society challenging this paternalistic view of politics, even though their programme is in fact ultimately incommensurable with any form of democracy. Thus we need, in response, a radical leftist critique of that post-war settlement, particularly of its apparent normativity - it was, as Gilbert noted, an historically aberrant state of affairs. Tim Hall, zooming out to view the problem with a wider philosophical lens, argued that we no longer experience politics as taking place at a human level, at a level we can influence and produce. The processes of politics seem law-governed, objective, given. We no longer find in political institutions places where, pace Hegel, we encounter our own reason. And we need to find a way to reassert political subjectivity, to overcome the alienation in which social institutions appear as autonomous entities that we obey rather than co-produce. Maxine Newlands, looking to non-hierarchical social movements to create new democratic spaces, pointed out that the logic of parliamentary politics, with its obsessive media-driven discipline and domesticating tendencies, was being reproduced in campaigns such as the climate camps, thus producing a crisis for the very forms of autonomous democracy that they were trying to create.
John McGovern, who came not to appraise the election but to bury it, argued that democracy is over for now, giving way to crisis management. The deficit will be paid off, whoever is elected. Not just because of the social power of the bonds dealers and finance capital, but because anyone who has a final salary pension scheme has money invested in government bonds, whether or not they realise it. Not to pay it off would produce a crisis, and a revolt of influential electors. And the deficit will be paid for by deep cuts in public services. You can't borrow enough to keep spending at current rates, and taxing the majority at the necessary levels would cripple the economy and be political suicide for any government. Soaking the rich, he maintained, would not raise enough money either, because there aren't enough of them to tax enough of their income, and they have ways of protecting their wealth from taxation. And - he went on, relentlessly, bleakly - the majority are so dazed and battered after what has been done to them for almost forty years that they do not have the means to stop this. The post-war forms of solidarity and struggle came out of two world wars, and short of a crisis of that magnitude, it is more likely that people will come out of this recession punch-drunk rather than fighting. Democracy is, in short, a long way off. I must say that while I'm not convinced that we can't feasibly soak the rich (and cut spending on useless crap like Trident and the arms industry), the overall assessment is not difficult to credit.
My contribution is about half-way in. My case, roughly: all parties profess to be 'progressive' and 'radical' in this election; that this 'progressivism' includes record public sector cuts and neoliberal orthodoxy is telling of the state of democracy in the UK; that the Tories are partially just doing what they have always done since 1832, in trying to reach out beyond their class base; but that the grammar of Tory 'progressivism' would be incomprehensible were it not for New Labour and its attempt to seize these terms for what is overall a right-wing agenda; that this vitiation of democracy can't be reduced to New Labour 'betrayals' - it arises because of the major social and economic changes wrought during the 1980s which atrophied the Left's social base, and global metamorphoses after 1989 that seemed to validate pessimism about the possibility of socialist transformation; that to overcome this problem we need to reassemble the kinds of class forces that once made DIY social democracy such a powerful force, but to get there we also need united electoral campaigns as a means to subjectivate the forces we would wish to mobilise; that because of our divisions we have been unable to do this in 2010, resulting in disaggregated campaigns and, to put it bluntly, a missed opportunity - vote TUSC, Respect, or Green.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Immigration and the BNP posted by Richard Seymour
"In fact the more immigration an area has experienced, the lower its support for the far right. It seems that direct contact with migrants dissuades people from supporting the BNP. For example, of the 10 local authorities where the BNP gained most support in the 2009 European elections, nine had lower than average immigration".
This much is, or should be, common sense. Racist ideas about black people, immigrants, Muslims, etc. tend to be diminished by exposure to the targets of racism. And the IPPR argues from this that the government shouldn't try to sieze the BNP's territory on immigration. This is welcome. But there's an invalid inference, which is that the real cause of the BNP's success is "social exclusion", isolation and dejection among voters. This implies that BNP voters aren't primarily driven by racism, a canard that has led some to suggest that we shouldn't focus on fighting racism but instead on addressing only the bread and butter issues that supposedly drive the inchoate anger that leads people to vote for the fascists. The trouble is that the evidence shows that BNP voters are far more racist than the rest of the population, and that racism - not necessarily the hard racism of the BNP, but certainly a general hostility to Muslims and immigrants - is a big motivating factor for them. (My upcoming ISJ article deals with some of this). There are, to be sure, economic issues which might be more fruitfully dealt with in terms other than those of "social exclusion".
This is how I would put it: the specific ecology in which the BNP has thrived in the last decade has been in formerly strong manufacturing centres with big organised labour forces and strong local Labour Parties. As New Labour has allowed manufacturing to go under, it has hacked at the roots of its base. It has allowed unemployment to soar in these areas on the spurious pretext that a service economy will make up for the loss of, eg, car production - a strange phenomenon in a country with soaring road traffic due to suburbanisation and decrepit public transport. Tellingly, one area of manufacturing that the government has protected is aerospace and defence, which is one of the few manufacturing strengths of the UK economy. At any rate, the destruction of unionised labour forces has both deprived local councils of tax receipts, contributing to the generally poor services they offer, and deprived local Labour parties of potential members, door-knockers and fund-raisers. It is in these areas that former Labour voters have been boycotting elections for over a decade.
Even in 1997, as New Labour won its 'landslide' on a (then) record low turnout, the party's support among core working class voters was down by 5% on 1992, which was partially made up for by an increase of 4% in middle class support. In 2001, a further 2.8m Labour voters refused to cast a vote, and the turnout collapsed to an historic nadir of 59%. Approximately another million refused to back Labour in 2005, even as the turnout increased. The votes lost were in former heartland seats, de-industrialised wastelands where job insecurity and low wages now reigned. New Labour's electoral coalition has continually shrank, hollowing out from the core, but the fact that it was its mountainous majorities in core areas that were declining allowed for a certain amount of complacency. The rotten first-past-the-post electoral system gave them an alibi for keeping to the right - an alibi that, I would wager, is about to collapse. But it is largely because of these Labour abstentions that the BNP, benefiting from the climate of racism cultivated by the government and the media, has been able to make gains.
Strategically, then, one obvious response is to mobilise the anti-fascist vote in the short-term, and combat the broader climate of racism in the medium-term. Long-term, we have to be about rebuilding the Left in those areas, getting workers in the new industries organised, and (re)constructing a radical left-wing electoral challenge to New Labour.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Facepalms posted by Richard SeymourI have not been able to blog for the last few days due to this cloud of volcanic ash emanating from Iceland. This satanic raspberry has apparently inconvenienced quite a few people, and I am glad that our vigilant media - fresh from reporting on February's snowpocalypse - are still very alert to any naturally occurring phenomenon that could hinder travel to and from work, or affect house prices in some way. (The truth is, I have been busy working on my new book, but you're not supposed to know about that yet.) The main reason I wish to post today is to register my embarrassment and disgust over this. It's bad enough that our main two parties are so crap that people actually find Nick Clegg plausible, and his party has now taken the lead - although it is moderately encouraging to note that many of these new Lib Dems are defecting Tories. But this is just to nauseating for words. It's not even a personality cult. It's a dilute derivative of a personality cult. It is a pathetic mock-up, rooted in none of the same social dynamics and aspirations, and attached to a personality with about as much charisma as a loaf of bread. If this were to be the frenzied peak of excitement in British electoral politics, I should just go into hibernation. Thank heavens for TUSC, Respect, Solidarity, etc.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Labour's spending cuts pledge: "We'll cut your throat slowly, the others will cut your head off." posted by Richard Seymour"Labour’s Ronnie Campbell, fighting to be re-elected as Blyth Valley’s MP, has warned politicians on all sides that they most be more open about the harsh realities of so-called “efficiency savings” and the impact they will have in places such as the North East.
"In an outspoken interview he said his own Labour party was proposing spending cuts which would “cut your throat slowly”.
But, Mr Campbell, said the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats proposals would “cut your head off”."
Arundhati Roy and the Maoists posted by Richard SeymourI see that Arundhati Roy is to be investigated by police in Chhattisgarh over her "links" with Maoist insurgents, who recently killed seventy-six Indian paramilitaries. This is a backlash by the BJP-controlled state in response to an article that she wrote for Outlook magazine, which detailed her encounters with Maoist insurgents in Dantewada, central India, where the ambush was staged. The Maoists are among the forces resisting the capitalist takeover of rural India and growing in influence due in part to the failures of the Left Front in West Bengal and to state repression meted out to the communities they operate in - though they are far from alone. In a sympathetic piece, Roy argues that the Maoists are being forced into violence by the state, pushed into a situation where strategies of non-violence are guaranteed to fail. Watch her interview on Indian television here (wherein she castigates the "empty condemnation industry", something we are all very familiar with):
The recent attack in Dantedawa targeted members of the Central Reserve Police Force, a state paramilitary outfit that forms the sharp edge of its counterinsurgency operations. A new wing of the CRPF, known as the Combat Battalions for Resolute Action (CoBRA), was created two years ago to lead the fight against the Naxals. But their actions, in a campaign that has become known as "Operation Green Hunt", are also aimed at activists and forest workers, where there are movements to assert popular control of the forest resources. The Indian state has also been using various acts of draconian legislation to attack activists among the rural poor and label them 'gangsters'. The Adivasis are subject to torture and rape in Indian state prisons. The war is unnecessary. I think the Maoists are serious when they say they are prepared for talks. Their statement after the Dantedawa attack repeats the point that they are prepared for negotiations, but if negotiations are not available then more attacks will follow. If they ultimately believe that armed insurrection is the route to emancipation, it does not mean that they are unwilling to resolve this battle through discussions.
However, it does not follow from this that the Maoists are behaving in a responsible, politically appropriate fashion. Their tendency to impose themselves as the 'vanguard' of popular movements, by force if necessary, gives the state an opportunity to go on a war footing. In this way, popular resistance to the acts of enclosure by the state, by mining companies and so on, can be repressed. The Indian journal Liberation has a four part analysis of the Maoists, which critically engages with their politics here, here, here and here. The analysis concludes:
While resisting the Operation Green Hunt, progressive democratic forces must also question and reject the Maoists’ exclusive emphasis on armed actions. The neo-liberal policies and especially the corporate plunder of our precious natural and human resources have generated tremendous amount of mass resentment across the country. Whether it is the rural poor’s struggle for land, wages and survival or outburst of farmers’ anger against corporate acquisition of agricultural land or distress sale of agricultural produce, student unrest against commercialization and privatization of education or struggle of dalits, adivasis and women for dignity and equality, the demand for separate states or for withdrawal of draconian laws, the country is witnessing powerful mass struggles in almost all states. The Maoists have no policy of participating in or advancing these struggles except by armed means.
While not disregarding the ultimate role of force as the midwife of any fundamental or radical social change, the political nature and grammar of the struggle of contending classes in modern society must be recognized. To put an end to the political hegemony of the ruling classes, the working people must assert themselves as an alternative and independent political force – they must develop an alternative discourse of people’s power against the power and domination of capital. And this can be achieved only through wide-ranging initiatives and assertion of the people. There can be no shortcuts, no bypasses. Will the Indian Maoists ever realize this?
Today Left politics in India is poised for a new turn. The CPI(M)-led politics of ‘Marxist’ elitism and bourgeois respectability which revolves around compromise and capitulation vis-à-vis the ruling classes has all but collapsed on the soil of Bengal. Naturally, its projection on the all-India plane is also in for a serious crisis. The Left ground today can only be reclaimed through powerful struggles and initiatives in the democratic arena. For a resurgence of the Left we need a new realignment, a new model of fighting unity based on mass struggles. It remains to be seen how and to what extent this new situation is grasped, in theory and practice, by different Left trends in the country. And the future alone will tell us whether the Maoists too will come out of their orbit of one-dimensional theory and practice to reposition themselves as a constituent or participant in this new realignment of the Left.
And Roy's approach to the issue has stimulated some debate among socialists (see here, here, and here). In general, the criticism is that she is naive about the politics of the Maoists and thus uncritically celebrates their resistance without recognising the limitations of their outlook and methods, and the damage they can do the popular movements that Roy supports. Nevertheless, whatever the weaknesses of Roy's approach, she has used her celebrity to champion the oppressed, to lay into the Hindutva reactionaries, attack the Gandhian pieties of the liberal bourgeoisie which relies on the right-wing and the state do its dirty work, and force these issues into the capitalist media.
"Good riddance to New Labour" posted by Richard SeymourExcellent dissection by Tony Wood.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Gordon Brown has admitted mistakes in regulating the banks, accusing the City of lobbying against greater scrutiny before the financial crisis plunged Britain into recession.
Brown had previously blamed the scale of the recession mainly on the international financial crisis and the refusal of other countries to agree to tighter international surveillance of the banks.
In an ITV interview due to be broadcast tonight, Brown admits he had been influenced by bankers' lobbying.
"In the 1990s, the banks, they all came to us and said, 'Look, we don't want to be regulated, we want to be free of regulation.' ... And all the complaints I was getting from people was, 'Look you're regulating them too much.'
"The truth is that globally and nationally we should have been regulating them more. So I've learnt from that."
So, why did he listen to the bankers in the first place? What possessed him all those years? Has he no independent will of his own? Here's a possible explanation: opting to maintain a low-wage economy with a flexible labour market means you have to rely on debt and speculation to drive consumption and growth. The logic of this meant that all governments felt impelled to take down barriers to further speculation-driven profit, especially as the New York stock exchange was being freed from its Glass-Steagall shackles and threatening to leave the mighty City of London biting its dust. The government actually shows no signs of learning anything substantial from the recession. It remains committed to a modified version of the same growth model, as evidence by its planned spending cuts, refusal to strengthen labour's bargaining power, continued commitment to privatisation where possible, and - notably -efforts to maintain the property market as the major source of speculation-driven income and growth in the economy (hence, no big council house building programme, even if it costs them votes). Regulating the bankers, in this context, means coming up with some rules to protect that model from its immanent weaknesses, not abandoning the financialised neoliberal model that the Labour Party so avidly grasped once it had subdued its own left-wing.
Marxism 2010 posted by Richard SeymourMarxism 2010:
Central London 1-5 July
* Slavoj Žižek, John Holloway & Alex Callinicos discuss the idea of communism
* Ben Fine, Costas Lapavitsas, Alfredo Saad Filho, Guglielmo Carchedi, Andrew Kliman, Joseph Choonara, Graham Turner on dimensions of the economic crisis
* Prospects for the Middle East considered by Shlomo Sand, author of the acclaimed book The Invention of the Jewish People; Gilbert AChcar, author of The Arabs and the Holocaust; Haifa Zangana, author of City of Widows: An Iraqi Woman’s Account of War and Resistance; Ghada Karmi, author of Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine
* Marxist philosopher Istvan Mészáros speaks on alternatives to parliament
* US academic Hester Eisenstein, author of Feminism Seduced, joins Nina Power, author of One Dimensional Woman, and Socialist Review editor Judith Orr to discuss the challenges facing the struggle for women’s liberation. Sheila Rowbotham speaks on new book Dreamers of a New Day: Women who Invented the Twentieth Century.
* Peter Thomas presents his roadmap to Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks
* Danny Dorling speaks on his book Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists
* Panel on civil liberties with solicitor Gareth Peirce, former Guantanamo Bay inmate Moazzam Begg and Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four. John Hendy QC discusses the anti-union laws.
* Guardian feature writer Gary Younge, Tariq Ali and Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb speak on racism, Islamophobia and identity.
* Authors and academics: Owen Hatherley (Militant Modernism), Alberto Toscano (Fanaticism: The Uses of an Idea), G M Tamás, Sheila Cohen (Ramparts of Resistance), Jane Hardy (Poland’s New Capitalism), Gareth Dale (Popular Protest in East Germany 1945-1989), Kevin Doogan (New Capitalism?), Neil Davidson (Discovering the Scottish Revolution 1692-1746), Colin Barker, Paul Blackledge (Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History), Martin Empson (Marxism and Ecology), Jonathan Neale (Stop Global Warming: Change the World), Christian Hogsbjerg, John Rose (Myths of Zionism), Peter Hallward (Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment)
* Trade unionists Mark Serwotka (general secretary PCS), Jeremy Dear (general secretary NUJ), Kevin Courtney (deputy general secretary NUT)
* Politicians Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Christine Buchholz (Die Linke Bundestag member).
Join thousands of others at Europe’s biggest festival of radical ideas—featuring over 200 meetings, debates, film screenings, and musical performances.
Also, just as a reminder, I'm doing this election meeting next week. Background here.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
"All this dire misery, therefore; all this of our poor Workhouse Workmen, of our Chartisms, Trades-strikes, Corn-Laws, Toryisms, and the general downbreak of Laissez-faire in these days,--may we not regard it as a voice from the dumb bosom of Nature, saying to us: Behold! Supply-and-demand is not the one Law of Nature; Cash-payment is not the sole nexus of man with man,--how far from it! Deep, far deeper than Supply-and-demand, are Laws, Obligations sacred as Man's Life itself: these also, if you will continue to do work, you shall now learn and obey. He that will learn them, behold Nature is on his side, he shall yet work and prosper with noble rewards. He that will not learn them, Nature is against him; he shall not be able to do work in Nature's empire,--not in hers. Perpetual mutiny, contention, hatred, isolation, execration shall wait on his footsteps, till all men discern that the thing which he attains, however golden it look or be, is not success, but the want of success.
"Supply-and-demand,--alas! For what noble work was there ever yet any audible 'demand' in that poor sense? The man of Macedonia, speaking in vision to an Apostle Paul, "Come over and help us," did not specify what rate of wages he would give! Or was the Christian Religion itself accomplished by Prize-Essays, Bridgewater Bequests, and a 'minimum of Four thousand five hundred a year?'' No demand that I heard of was made then, audible in any Labour-market, Manchester Chamber of Commerce, or other the like emporium and hiring establishment; silent were all these from any whisper of such demand;--powerless were all these to 'supply' it, had the demand been in thunder and earthquake, with gold Eldorados and Mahometan Paradises for the reward. Ah me, into what waste latitudes, in this Time-Voyage, have we wandered; like adventurous Sindbads;--where the men go about as if by galvanism, with meaningless glaring eyes, and have no soul, but only a beaver-faculty and stomach! The haggard despair of Cotton-factory, Coal-mine operatives, Chandos Farm-labourers, in these days, is painful to behold; but not so painful, hideous to the inner sense, as the brutish god-forgetting Profit-and-Loss Philosophy, and Life-theory, which we hear jangled on all hands of us, in senate-houses, spouting- clubs, leading-articles, pulpits and platforms, everywhere as the Ultimate Gospel and candid Plain-English of Man's Life, from the throats and pens and thoughts of all but all men!"
Friday, April 09, 2010
Kyrgyzstan's revolt was never quite like the others, however. The opposition leaders, to be sure, were educated in the techniques of popular mobilisation by right-wing Liberty Institute activists in Georgia. And they were hugely reliant on support from US institutions like USAID, as well as publishing support from Freedom House. But, whereas the masses played a largely passive role in Georgia and Ukraine, essentially supporting a struggle carried on within the state machinery, the opposition in Kyrgyzstan had to mobilise people to revolt if it wanted to take power. President Akayev was not going peacefully. They had to seize government buildings and police stations, which they did beginning in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad. They had to convoke mass meetings, kurultai, at which they passed resolutions declaring Akayev's reign illegitemate. They had to physically occupy the palace and drive the president out. Dragan Plavsic narrates:
on 24 March, the protests spread to the capital, Bishkek, where a mass demonstration, swelling to some 50,000, stormed the presidential palace, forcing Akayev from power. Widespread looting and arson then followed. Something of the flavour of these events was captured by Times reporter Jeremy Page when he visited the presidential palace:These events demonstrate that, to use Page’s phrase, ‘geopolitics was not the driving force behind the Kyrgyz revolution’.
In Mr Akayev’s personal quarters I found a protester in a general’s hat raiding the fridge. Another was having a go on the president’s exercise bike and a third was trying on his multicoloured ceremonial felt robes. The president himself had fled.12
Just as it would have been wrong then to reduce the 'Tulip' revolt to external manipulation, so it would be wrong now to reduce the revolt against Kurmanbek Bakiyev's government to the "long arm of Moscow". Russia's government has certainly been agitating against Bakiyev since he declined to host a Russian military base while hosting a US base. One immediate source of the rebellion was high energy prices brought about by Russia's decision to impose new import duties on Kyrgyzstan's energy from Russia. And Roza Utunbayeva, of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, who has declared herself the country's 'interim leader', has been cultivating Russian support, appearing on Interfax to denounce the government for having "stolen our revolution". She now thanks them for helping to "expose" the "criminal, nepotistic" regime of Bakiyev. The Social Democrats, themselves participants in the 'Tulip' revolution, allege that their candidate, Almazbek Atambayev, won last year's presidential elections, which Bakiyev claimed to have won by 83%, and are thus quite ready to pluck the fruit of this revolt with Moscow's support. And in the service of ensuring their control, they are authorising the police and militias to shoot any suspected 'looters'. (No trivial matter: the presidential fir trees have already been pinched.)
However, the Social Democrats didn't make this revolution, nor did they or Russian supporters cause it. After all, Russia's influence in Kyrgyzstan is not greater than that of America. The underlying issue is that Bakiyev embarked on exactly the same programme of privatizing and expropriating public goods as all the neoliberal rulers in central Asia have, and resorted to thuggery, nepotism and suppression of the media when his power base and popular support began to fragment. The Social Democrats are already promising to restore two major electricity companies to public ownership. Bakiyev had explicitly opposed privatization in opposition, and his victory was won on the basis of popular revulsion against the dicatorial methods of his predecessor, so when the opposition accused him of stealing the revolution, there was some merit to it. And the government's reliance on US backing, as well as its continued support for the American military base, has generated massive public opposition. American backing is held partially responsible for enabling Bakiyev's corrupt and dictatorial regime. If, as looks possible, the US base is closed, that will be one of the most popular policies the new government implements. It will also shut down one of the key bases from which the US wages war on Afghanistan, something Obama is anxious to prevent. The struggle between Russia and the US for hegemony over this region remains, despite recent nuptials in Prague, lethal.
Notwithstanding the efforts by the Social Democrats to crown themselves the victors, this is not just a repeat of the 'Tulip revolution', in which public protests facilitate a shift of power between wealthy ruling class blocs. This sharp analysis explains why:
One difference between the 7 April protests and the Tulip Revolution is the level of violence. This week’s events were the bloodiest in Kyrgyz history. In confronting protesters, the police relied on live bullets while protesters used stones and Molotov cocktails. Official reports put the number of people killed at more than 60 and those wounded at more than 500.
Another difference was of regional character. While the Tulip Revolution was sparked by protests and government building seizures in the southern regions (Jalal-Abad, Osh), this time the protests erupted mainly in the poor and remote northern regions such as Talas and Naryn, where residents have long complained of exclusion.
There are other remarkable differences between the current protests and those of five years ago.
Triggers for the protests differed. Unlike the Tulip Revolution, when the spark for mass mobilization was the Akaev regime’s efforts to block a number of wealthy opposition elites from gaining seats in parliament, the current protests were triggered by simmering anger at the grassroots level.
...Yet another notable difference between April 2010 and March 2005 were the "engines" behind the change. During the March 2005 protests, demonstrations were organized by wealthy elites who felt that their bids to gain seats in the parliament were threatened by the incumbent Akaev regime. Such elites then mobilized their supporters in their towns and villages, relying on local networks and offers of cash. The protests we saw on 7 April were sporadic and chaotic. In many ways, they appeared to be more an uncoordinated grass-roots revolt by a disenchanted population than an elite-driven and planned campaign. As a result, the speed with which the protests erupted and spread was surprising, not only to international observers, but also to many locals. The administration and some opposition leaders seem to have not appreciated the extent of popular anger and were themselves taken aback. In other words, because there was no credible information about the distribution of power before the protests, there was little room for opposition factions and the incumbent regime to come to a negotiated settlement.
Neither the government nor opposition factions are in full control of the crowds. Already, there are reports of destruction of property and marauding in Bishkek and the regions that have seen protests.
If the 'Tulip revolution' wasn't a precise replica of its Georgian and Ukrainian cousins, this revolt is as different as can be. Despite an extraordinarily violent crackdown by Bakiyev, the grassroots insurgency prevailed. Protesters succeeded in taking over police stations, weapons, even winning police over to their side. They have demonstrated that the state does not possess a tight control over the means of violence, and that therefore popular demands cannot be ignored or suppressed. The Social Democrats, despite attempting to take the reins of power, still don't really control the country. If they attempt to control it with violence, they may face the same end as Bakiyev and Akayev.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Kapitalist ideology posted by Richard SeymourStarsuckers on the media, celebrity, the success ethic and the utter vileness of Bob Geldof.
The central proposal was originally to disconnect users who were found to have infringed copyright on fifty occasions. This sounds like you would have to be a dedicated file-sharer to fall foul of the law, but a few albums would be sufficient as each song constitutes a copyright infringement. The value of said infringement wouldn't have to amount to much - about £20 - for the law to come into effect.
The language of the legislation now appears to give the government more leeway in determining the scope of Ofcom responses to copyright infringement - they can potentially order ISPs to undertake a range of measures against subscribers, from bandwidth shaping to account suspension. Internet access is, for those who have it, a vital tool for work, communication, political organisation, etc. Most of the world's population who can be polled on such matters say access is a "fundamental right", which I think is reasonable since anyone without access is liable to be excluded from access to the crucial forms of political association, public discourse and economic opportunity that the great majority with access will have. Disconnecting someone is therefore quite a severe response to what could be a minor breach of copyright.
And, although it is assumed that file-sharers - ie, people uploading as well as downloading files - are the specific targets, the language of the bill isn't that specific. So, you could infringe copyright by merely visiting a site that contained images or text that are protected by copyright. And the risk is naturally greater if you find something useful online and decide to download it. Scribd, rapidshare, megaupload, hotfile, depositfiles, 4shared, and similar websites have been designed for the purpose of allowing people to post files online - mostly pornography, I gather, but not all of it in breach of copyright, and not always posted without permission. In fact, such sites are a very useful way for authors of, for example, academic texts that would be expensive to print and publish widely to make their work freely available to the inquiring public. By definition, any site that allows this to happen also allows the opportunity for file-sharers to post and share copyrighted material. The only way to avoid having your internet access terminated, it seems, would be to stop downloading anything found for free online. Which seems to go against the very point of the internet.
Specific online locations can also be blocked in an amendment to the legislation. One effect would be that public web providers, such as libraries and internet cafes, could be forced to take legal action to maintain their right to provide internet access. They would have to prove that they take serious measures to prevent copyright infringement. If these became too costly, the logic would force them to remove internet access.
Law suits designed to force ISPs to block access to subsribers, or block specific locations, could also be vexatious or malicious, designed to protect companies from unwelcome scrutiny etc. More worrisome still, websites like Wikileaks depend on publishing copyrighted materials. All leaked documents are copyrighted. One of the government's responses to Craig Murray's torture memo docs was to say they were copyrighted and had to be excluded from publication. This may not be the aim of the legislation, but the government was made aware of such concerns, and offered no assurances that such uses could not be made of it. Given that the US government now deems Wikileaks a threat to national security, and has been spying on the site (what, because of things like this and this?), it's not hard to see a US-friendly government - a tautology as far as the UK is concerned - using the law against the site.
The forces pushing for the Digital Economy Act look like nothing so much as the Save Schiavo crowd, determined to sustain the dead on life support on the off-chance of a miracle. They would be far better placed thinking up an alternative to the copyright model of production, but instead are trying to hold back the tide with legislation, court proceedings, DRM, etc. In fact, as far as the music industry goes, artists do better in a world of extensive file-sharing - so they should be the last people to be blackmailed into supporting such legislation. It is the record labels, not the artists, who lose out. Yet, the unions representing actors, artists, musicians, etc. almost uniformly backed the bill. To hitch the protection of jobs and incomes for 'creative industry' workers to such standpat, head-in-the-sand legislation was a dreadful mistake.
This law is a hasty ramshackle compromise between conflicting sectors of capital. But it also enhances the power of both the state and private capital to suppress information and the individuals making that information available. Sadly, it coincides with this decision by a US court, which puts net neutrality in some jeopardy. The ruling says that the FCC was without its rights when it sanctioned Comcast for slowing internet access for peer-to-peer file-sharers. In this case, the FCC was supporting "open internet principles", namely that all internet traffic should be treated equally. I don't believe for a second that abolishing net neutrality will save copyright. There are always mirror sites, and there is always encryption. The extent of state interference that would be required to successfully stop the bulk of copyright infringement would be phenomenally expensive, elaborate, onerous, and ultimately death blow to the promise of the internet. But the futile efforts to maintain forced tribute to intellectual property holders (long after the original labour has been paid for and revenues become pure profit, I might add) can do a lot of damage in the interim.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Worst. Election. Ever. posted by Richard SeymourThe 2010 general election will result in a victory for the nasty party, whoever wins. All three major parties, having supported the mammoth bank bailouts, stand for the deepest cuts in the public sector for over 50 years, far outstripping anything accomplished by Thatcher. Outdoing Thatcher in the cuts stakes is, in case the point passed you by, as nasty as can be. The chancellors' debate - which, underscoring the poverty of alternatives, was won by the drab former Shell economist Vincent Cable - reinforced this quite starkly. There is only a difference of emphasis and timing between the parties, and these differences all sound eminently reasonable and plausible within the terms of the discussion - but they are largely technocratic differences with policy flavours attached. And even if New Labour pretends to be protecting frontline services, the fact is that it is already driving cuts through the education sector. It is continuing its savage cuts in the civil service. Health departments are already budgeting for big cuts. For example, the London NHS Trust is conducting secret meetings behind locked doors, in which no notes are taken, in order to plan approximately £5bn in cuts. And that's just one city. Already, cutbacks in other areas, such as maternity wards and A&E departments in the north-east are causing difficulties for sitting Labour MPs - Gordon Prentice, the left-wing Burnley MP, is having to fight his own government over the closure of an A&E department in Burnley. To which the other parties say, amen, and faster, please!
The narrowness of the choice between the major parties is underscored by the scramble by both New Labour and the Tories to prove that their plans are the best for businesses. Mark New Labour's pain on discovering that dozens of capitalists (69 individually so far, plus all the employers' lobby groups) are swinging behind the Tories. The issue at stake is rather pitiful. New Labour plans to raise National Insurance contributions, which the Tories and the employers (and, in Scotland, the SNP) say is a tax on jobs. There is a distinct whiff of hypocrisy about employers who are always happy to cut staff for the sake of increased profits now complaining that a modest tax on profits (and earnings) will cause them to hire fewer people. Nonetheless, the Tories' pledge-of-the-week is to reverse this, and - sotto voce - cut spending in its stead. The total amount affected by this is £6bn per annum. It's not an insignificant sum, roughly equivalent to Job Seekers' Allowance for 1.5m people (that's £4k per annum per person for those over 25, in case you were wondering). But the government is in deficit to the tune of £167bn. It intends to cut spending over the next four or five years to reduce the deficit from 12.6% of GDP to 4% of GDP, which will mean cuts of up to a quarter in some departments. If the economy stops growing or falls into negative growth again, the deficit will expand and, with it, the cuts and/or tax rises deemed necessary to pay off the deficit. That £6bn is a relatively small amount of the money that will have to be found to pay off the holders of bonds and gilts, with interest, whether by means of taxes or spending cuts.
Consider the controversy in light of another fact. Since June 2009, national income has grown by £27bn. Of that, £24bn went to profits, and only £2bn to labour (the rest, presumably, went to taxes and other costs). That is, approximately 89% of all new income produced went straight into the pockets of capital. This has been possible in part because of the way the recession put organised labour on the back foot, undermining collective resistance to wage cuts, and making individual resistance - in the form of, say, seeking new employers on better terms - effectively impossible. But that in turn is due to a large extent to the accumulated outcomes of previous class struggles, in which the working class has not yet overturned the legacy of defeats in the 1980s. In the US, reflecting a graver situation for the working class organisation, matters are even worse: national income rose by $200bn, but profits rose by $280bn - meaning that an extra $80bn came out of workers' wages. The economic recovery, fragile though it is, has been bought at the expense of a massive attack on working class living standards.
This class offensive by the rich is hardly a trival matter. Nor is the fact that the Anglophone centre-left, led by Obama and Brown, have presided over the most socially unjust economic recovery in modern history. Yet it will not be an issue in this election - except in the sense that the hitherto disaggregated acts of resistance to this attack, whether at BA or Network Rail, will not fail to generate gasps of affronted respectability from the party leaders. It falls to the fractious forces of the Left to raise the matter, but the Left's resources, electorally, are divided. This is not a terrain on which we can expect big returns. Respect has some solid pockets of strength, and I wish them well, but I do not anticipate that they will pull off the hat trick of victories that they aim at. The Greens have a solid chance in Brighton, but they have to overcome a gap of some 6,000 votes between themselves and New Labour. TUSC is an experimental alliance involving the SWP, the Socialist Party and trade unionists, and it is not going to win any seats - though it does have the advantage of putting support for trade unions and opposition to the cuts at the forefront of its campaigning. So, what is looking increasingly likely is either a Tory administration, or a de facto national government with little support and less enthusiasm, with at best some limited signs of left-wing dissent and at worst new strongholds for the far right.
This election, then, could hardly be less inspiring. At most, it punctuates the processes leading toward a ferocious class conflict, accentuating one or other facet of it, handing the advantage briefly to one or other force. But of itself, it is hard to see democracy's summit, the conscientious register of public opinion on all vital matters, in this emaciated ritual.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Racism in Britain Today posted by Richard SeymourVia:
Saturday, April 03, 2010
Friday, April 02, 2010
Unite and RMT are far from experiencing this legal attack for the first time. A couple of years ago, it was bus workers who were slapped down on a technicality - this being that the union had failed to detail the occupational grades of those taking action with sufficient precision. Last year, court decisions in favour of Metrobus further enhanced the employers' massive legal advantage. Keith Ewing of King's College London, writing as the BA strike was unfolding, noted that Britain's laws meant it fell foul of its obligations under international human rights legislation. The ILO Committee, reviewing the laws, have once more called for the government to consider abolishing them. That isn't going to happen, but nevertheless, the trade unions have consistently relied on New Labour, even where the chances were roughly on a par with those of a hell-bound snowball, to repeal Britain's atrocious anti-trade union laws. But Blair had pledged in opposition that his government would not only keep the laws in place, but would be the "most restrictive government against the unions in Europe". Gordon Brown has made clear his fidelity to this stance. It has to be such. New Labour's model of growth, which is its only means of delivering some modest reforms, depends on keeping labour markets flexible, with weak bargaining power. Meanwhile, the Tories and Lib Dems have made it clear that they are opposed to the "militant unions" and consider the government far too soft.
This is going to become an ever sharper issue as all major parties press for deeper cuts than Thatcher. Let me remind you of what's ahead of us, via John Lanchester of the LRB:
The reality is that the budget, and the explicit promises of both parties, imply a commitment to cuts of about 11 per cent across the board. Both parties, however, have said that they will ring-fence spending on health, education and overseas development. Plug in those numbers and we are looking at cuts everywhere else of 16 per cent. (By the way, a two-year freeze in NHS spending – which is what Labour have talked about – would be its sharpest contraction in 60 years.)
Cuts of that magnitude have never been achieved in this country. Mrs Thatcher managed to cut some areas of public spending to zero growth; the difference between that and a contraction of 16 per cent is unimaginable. The Institute for Fiscal Studies – which admittedly specialises in bad news of this kind – thinks the numbers are, even in this dire prognosis, too optimistic. It makes less optimistic assumptions about the growth of the economy, preferring not to accept the Treasury’s rose-coloured figure of 2.75 per cent. Plugging these less cheerful growth estimates into its fiscal model, the guesstimate for the cuts, if the ring-fencing is enforced, is from 18 to 24 per cent. What does that mean? According to Rowena Crawford, an IFS economist, quoted in the FT: ‘For the Ministry of Defence an 18 per cent cut means something on the scale of no longer employing the army.’ The FT then extrapolates:
At the transport ministry, an 18 per cent reduction would take out more than a third of the department’s grant to Network Rail; a 24 per cent reduction is about equivalent to ending all current and capital expenditure on roads. At the Ministry of Justice an 18 per cent reduction broadly equates to closing all the courts, a 24 per cent cut to shutting two-thirds of all prisons.
It's impossible to imagine all of this being accomplished. It's equally impossible to imagine the bosses, and the bankers in particular, relenting until the massive transfer of public assets to the banks has been paid for by the working class. Unless the economy magically grows at such a rate that deep cuts can be avoided, there is likely to be years of bitter conflict, not to mention a complementary dash of pandemonium in the streets. The major resistance to these cuts is going to come via the public sector trade unions. And while the courts will certainly not be the major venue in which such disputes are settled, it is hard to see the government relinquishing the tools that BA and Network Rail - to select just the most recent examples - have availed themselves of. It has previously made use of such legislation when dealing with prison officers, for instance. A campaign to repeal the anti-union laws would appear to be the appropriate solution to all of this, except that the government have given us every indication that they wouldn't listen to any campaign without a proportionate bite. In reality, only if workers acquire the confidence to break the union laws and strike anyway, as postal workers did with wildcat action at the start of the millenium - and won some surprising victories against management - will there be any chance of seeing an end to the laws. Now, I want John Humpheys to say that on air.
"[T]he supply of indentured servants to the Chesapeake had dried up in the years immediately following the disturbance of the 1670s [Bacon's Rebellion]. Even if Virginia farmers and planters had wanted to continue purchasing white servants at that time, the number of indentured migrants was insufficient to meet their needs. The most convincing explanation of the transition from servitude to slavery in the Chesapeake lies in the changing supply and demand situation for servants at this time and the increased availability of African slaves, obtainable in conditions of nearly perfect elasticity of supply ... During the transition from servitude to slavery in the Chesapeake, comparative prices for both forms of labour played their part in determining planters' decisions to purchase unfree workers ... purchasers acted in an economically rational manner."
These arguments usually work in tandem, as even the most economically reductionist account usually emphasises that factors other than the relative costs of the different kinds of labour had to be in operation. They actually emerged in the context of a reaction against more radical accounts of the origins of slavery, pionerred by Oscar and Mary Handlin in the 1950s as part of their contribution to the emerging civil rights movement. The Handlins' thesis was based on the observation that until the 1660s, Africans arriving in the US were not hereditary bondsmen but were indentured labourers much as their European counterparts were. Thus, no pre-existing racial prejudice could account for the differences in treatment that later emerged. Racism was an after-the-fact ruling class strategy to justify segregating and enslaving African American labourers. Thus, there was no 'innate' barrier to African Americans acquiring justice in the United States. Of course, subsequent historical research has done much to render the arguments more complex than they initially presented themselves as being. But, as I think Theodore W Allen's monumental two-volume study The Invention of the White Race demonstrates, the hegemony of the anti-Handlins is not due to their superior marshalling of evidence or theoretical rigour. The institutional power that such accounts have acquired is due to the anathema against work that focuses on such passe notions as 'class struggle' and 'capitalism'.
Here is Barbara Fields' invaluable guide to that labour supply problem, for example:
Ultimately, the only check upon oppression is the strength and effectiveness of resistance to it.
Resistance does not refer only to the fight that individuals, or collections of them, put up at any given time against those trying to impose on them. It refers also to the historical outcome of the struggle that has gone before, perhaps long enough before to have been hallowed by custom or formalized in law—as ‘the rights of an Englishman’, for example. The freedoms of lower-class Englishmen, and the somewhat lesser freedoms of lower-class Englishwomen, were not gifts of the English nobility, tendered out of solicitude for people of their own colour or nationality. Rather, they emerged from centuries of day-today contest, overt and covert, armed and unarmed, peaceable and forcible, over where the limits lay. Moral scruples about what could and what could not be done to the lower classes were nothing but the shoulds and should nots distilled from this collective historical experience, ritualized as rules of behaviour or systematized as common law—but always liable to be put once again on the table for negotiation or into the ring for combat.19 Each new increment of freedom that the lower classes regarded as their due represented the provisional outcome of the last round in a continuing boxing-match and established the fighting weights of the contenders in the next round.
Custom and Law
In the round that took place in early colonial Virginia, servants lost many of the concessions to their dignity, well-being and comfort that their counterparts had won in England. But not all. To have degraded the servants into slaves en masse would have driven the continuing struggle up several notches, a dangerous undertaking considering that servants were well-armed, that they outnumbered their masters, and that the Indians could easily take advantage of the inevitably resulting warfare among the enemy. Moreover, the enslavement of already arrived immigrants, once news of it reached England, would have threatened the sources of future immigration. Even the greediest and most short-sighted profiteer could foresee disaster in any such policy. Given how fast people died in Virginia, the lifetime’s labour of most slaves would probably have amounted to less than a seven-year term of servitude (fifteen thousand immigrants between 1625 and 1640 only increased the population from some thirteen hundred to seven or eight thousand).20 And the prospect of gaining enslaveable children in the future—an uncertain prospect, considering how few women arrived during the boom years21—could not compensate for the certain loss of adult immigrants in the present.
Some of these same considerations argued against employing African descended slaves for life on a large scale; others did not. Needless to say, adverse publicity did not threaten the sources of forced migration as it did those of voluntary migration. Much more important: Africans and Afro-West Indians had not taken part in the long history of negotiation and contest in which the English lower classes had worked out the relationship between themselves and their superiors. Therefore, the custom and law that embodied that history did not apply to them. To put it another way: when English servants entered the ring in Virginia, they did not enter alone. Instead, they entered in company with the generations who had preceded them in the struggle; and the outcome of those earlier struggles established the terms and conditions of the latest one. But Africans and Afro-West Indians did enter the ring alone. Their forebears had struggled in a different arena, which had no bearing on this one. Whatever concessions they might obtain had to be won from scratch, in unequal combat, an ocean away from the people they might have called on for reinforcements. Africans and Afro-West Indians were thus available for perpetual slavery in a way that English servants were not.
The labour supply problem was, therefore, in large measure a story of resistance and ruling class response. It was therefore economically and politically rational that, in the face of the multi-racial Bacon Rebellion (actually, a rebellion that united European and African agrarian workers against Native Americans as much as against their white bosses), Virginia's ruling class backed by the English monarch would start to introduce this cleavage into the labour force. The unity of poor whites and blacks had enabled Bacon's forces to outnumber Governor Berkeley's forces, after all. Though white workers did not necessarily escape forms of slavery, these were never systematised because it was politically unviable to do so. It was far easier for the ruling class to enslave African American workers, to whom the Virginia planters related as part of an imperial ruling elite who had no accumulation of prior struggle with said workers. The dramatic expansion of the African American slave system esp since the 1680s, the introduction of various race laws that poor whites would be deputised to enforce, the transformation of doctrines of the 'Freeborn Englishman' into doctrines of the 'free white man', etc., were all "economically rational" precisely because of the prior accumulation of political - that is to say, class - struggles and their outcomes. The invention of race proved to be a highly durable and effective way of stratifying labour systems in a capitalist mode of production, and the model was subsequently globalised by the most powerful and internationally aggressive capitalist states. The enduring ideological power of those capitalist states is felt in their ability to promote and perpetuate ahistorical narratives that blame some innate human impulse coupled with an almost accidental fluctuation of the labour-supply dynamic for the invention of that system.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Also appearing posted by Richard Seymour
University of East London School of Humanities and Social Sciences
In association with OurKingdom presents...
The 2010 General Election: Will it Mean Anything at All?
Is there any scope for a progressive electoral strategy?
Have we left the era of representative democracy behind?
UEL staff are joined by two leading political commentators to discuss the issues
Anthony Barnett, founder of openDemocracy.net and editor of the OurKingdom blog
(see his recent article for New Statesman)
Richard Seymour, author of The Liberal Defence of Murder and blogger at Lenin’s
Andrew Calcutt (UEL), editor of Rising East
Jeremy Gilbert (UEL), author of Anticapitalism and Culture
Tim Hall (UEL), co-author of The Modern State
John McGovern (UEL), co-author of The Modern State
Maxine Newlands (UEL), journalist and academic
Wednesday April 21st 2010
All welcome - no charge
no booking required
University of East London
Cyprus DLR - the station is literally at the campus
Room EB.1.01 (first floor, East building, turn left on entering main square from station)
further info: email@example.com