Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt's class struggle posted by Richard Seymour

Juan Cole:

The Nasserist state, for all its flaws, gained legitimacy because it was seen as a state for the mass of Egyptians, whether abroad or domestically. The present regime is widely seen in Egypt as a state for the others– for the US, Israel, France and the UK– and as a state for the few– the Neoliberal nouveau riche.

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What is the Egyptian army doing? posted by Richard Seymour

As Lenin, Trotsky & Lukacs all agreed, the armed forces are crucial in any revolution. Against a cohesive, well-led and opposing army, no revolution can prevail. The people are either unarmed or poorly armed, and thus easily outgunned if they do not win the army. This is why it is so crucial that the protesters consciously sought to win over the soldiers, and that the troops, far from turning their guns on the demonstrators, have joined in celebrations with them, allowing them to paint anti-Mubarak graffiti on the tanks, sometimes even protecting them from police violence. The latest news is that the army has arrested two leading NDP figures, including a well-known thug by the name of Ahmad Ezz, and the Interior Minister Habib Al Adly. This looks like an attempt to punish the government for its violence against the protesters, but so far there has been no move against Mubarak. The army command is still presumably banking on gradual transference of power within the regime, perhaps to the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Stratfor's analysis suggests that army chiefs are basically managing the situation behind the scenes according to directions from the US State Department. This would explain why they're limiting potentially damaging and counter-productive violence against protesters, but also insulating Mubarak for the time being. Such would seem to be supported by some of the army's moves, such as despatching troops to guard the Rafah crossing and prevent any spread of this insurgent spirit into Gaza. If this is the case, then any political advances will be limited without a split in the army between the commanding officers and the lower ranks. It's clear that the protesters aren't going to just give up, and the refusal of the army to simply butcher hundreds of people means that they will continue to have an effect. Apart from the protests, tens of thousands of workers are effectively on strike, hurting ruling class interests and potentially compelling them to yield some concessions. But whether this becomes more than a managed transition to a slightly more benign regime will depend on just how cohesive the army is.

Update: Al Jazeera reports that leading officers have received orders to use live rounds on protesters yesterday. They have not done so yet, but are now threatening to come down hard on protesters who defy the curfew. The military top brass may have reached a deal with Mubarak. The protesters aren't going anywhere, so the question now is whether soldiers will disobey their orders.

Further Update: Tahrir Square is filled with protesters, and air jets are flying low over the square, buzzing the demonstrators in a very threatening way. Live footage shows the square thronging with noise, chants demanding the end of the regime, interrupted by the searing sounds of fighter jets flying overhead. There are also rumours that the army is about to announce Mubarak's departure, but scepticism would seem to be indicated here.

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Aaron Porter is running out of excuses posted by Richard Seymour

NUS president Aaron Porter can't go anywhere without being faced by angry protesters, it seems. He's faced no confidence motions, vocal public criticism, and angry meeting halls since he responded so spinelessly, as he put it, to the wave of student protests. Recently, he was pelted with foodstuffs (eggs and custards) after refusing to debate the subject of tuition fees with students at Oxford University. The reply of Porter and his supporters when something like this happens is usually to blame the hard left, the Trots, the SWP, or whomever. They say it's left-wing sectarianism which is undermining a broad movement, just because a few troublemakers disagree with Porter's nuanced position on this highly complex matter. (Lately, that position has included complete surrender on the issue of fees.) In the run up to yesterday's protest, he wrote an article for The Guardian which some have characterised as sectarian, but which I would say was standard red-baiting.

Yesterday, having refused to back the main students protest in London, he turned up at the protest in Manchester and was literally chased off the protest by what I hear was about half of those who had thus far gathered. He was escorted by police into the NUS building, where he remained holed up. Later the NUS Vice-President was pelted with oranges and eggs (another variation on the foodstuffs theme). This resulted in a refinement of the usual script. With the help of the Daily Mail, Aaron Porter's supporters have put it about that he was physically intimidated, threatened and subject to antisemitic abuse. Porter himself said: "Just before the march started, I was surrounded by a particularly vicious minority of protesters more intent on shouting threatening and racist abuse at me rather than focusing on the issues. Instead of standing together and fighting the cuts, they instead chose to pursue me along Manchester’s Oxford Road and drive me away from the start of the march. As a result, under the strong advice of the police, I had to withdraw myself from the rally." It is alleged by the newspapers that Porter was called a "Tory Jew", or even "Tory Jew scum".

A few things, then. If this happened, then it's a hate crime, and it would be appropriate for Porter to report it to the police. As members of the public and police officers were present, they can bear witness on his behalf if the allegations are correct. However. The extraordinary thing is that so far there is absolutely no evidence for it. The sole source quoted in any article on this is an unnamed photographer. You will search in vain through the raw footage for any evidence that such a thing was said. This does not mean that it wasn't. There can always be one or two idiots. But I have waited a day since first seeing the first, sometimes contradictory and nebulous allegations, and no evidence has been produced. On the contrary, most of those who were in fact there assert that what was chanted was "Aaron Porter, we know you/We know you're a Tory too". Another extraordinary thing is that the NUS Black Students campaign has apparently felt compelled to issue a statement denouncing something that may not have happened. This is, to my mind, an unwarranted capitulation to what may well be a dirty tricks campaign to spin what was clearly otherwise a very bad headline for a very unpopular Aaron Porter. Labour apparatchiks have a long history of this. Luciana Berger famously resigned from the NUS national executive alleging that the NUS was tolerating antisemitism in its ranks. This was later debunked by an independent inquiry, but she established a reputation on the basis of this and was later parachuted into a safe Labour seat. Similarly, Oona King used accusations of antisemitism against her opponents in Bethnal Green & Bow, though witnesses like Jonathan Freedland disputed her version of events. So, a dirty tricks campaign is hardly out of form.

Alex Andrews recommends that students go to the Press Complaints Commission if this is proven to be a lie, as Climate Camp activists were able to do when they were smeared by the Evening Standard. So, can I just say that this recommendation looks like a safer bet to me than issuing knee-jerk statements denouncing something that may not have taken place?

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

In the insultingly bad propaganda category... posted by Richard Seymour

This in the Daily Telegraph, more for the spin than the unremarkable 'disclosure’:


Here is the secret document sent from the US Embassy in Cairo to Washington disclosing the extent of American support for the protesters behind the Egypt uprising...

As you'll discover upon looking at the document, the 'extent of American support' for these protesters is nil. The document is a State Department memo describing, in terms dripping with condescension and contempt, the claims of a coopted member of a pro-US 'April 6' group who is obviously on the outside of the opposition mainstream and who they regard as a bit of a Walter Mitty. The US supplied Mubarak and his security forces with at least $1.5bn last year.  Egypt is the second largest recipient of US overseas aid, not only in the region but in the world.  This is mostly military aid, used primarily for internal security.   The weapons being used against protesters, which have killed dozens – an estimated 95 people - so far, are produced in and supplied by the United States.  Even today, when the protests are on, the US is not claiming to support the overthrow of the man whom they have so lavishly spoiled.  Anyone – and I do mean anyone - who believes the Telegraph’s propaganda is a pure sap. 


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Friday, January 28, 2011

Israel rallies to Mubarak posted by Richard Seymour

The official says the Jewish state has faith in the security apparatus of its most formidable Arab neighbor, Egypt, to suppress the street demonstrations that threaten the dictatorial rule of President Hosni Mubarak. The harder question is what comes next.

"We believe that Egypt is going to overcome the current wave of demonstrations, but we have to look to the future," says the minister in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel enjoys diplomatic relations and security cooperation with both Egypt and Jordan, the only neighboring states that have signed treaties with the Jewish state. But while it may be more efficient to deal in with a strongman in Cairo — Mubarak has ruled for 30 years — and a king in Amman, democracies make better neighbors, "because democracies do not initiate wars," he says.

"Having said that, I'm not sure the time is right for the Arab region to go through the democratic process."

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How the Egyptian revolt was planned posted by Richard Seymour

Well. Hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, police and security apparatus overwhelmed, police stations taken over, television stations taken over, ruling party's headquarters on fire, soldiers refusing to butcher protesters, curfew ignored... And this is how it was planned.

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The imperialist remedy for Egypt posted by Richard Seymour

Joe Biden:

Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?" Biden answered: "No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some... of the needs of the people out there."

Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

Tony Blair:

In the interview, Blair also said Egypt should "evolve and modernise", but in a way that ensured stability.

"The challenges have been the same for these countries for a long period of time," he added. "The question is how they evolve and modernise, but do so with stability. The danger is [that] if you open up a vacuum, anything can happen.

"All over that region, there is essentially one issue, which is how do they evolve and modernise, both in terms of their economy, their society and their politics.

"All I'm saying is that, in the case of Egypt and in the case in Yemen, because there are other factors in this – not least those who would use any vacuum in order to foment extremism – that you do this in what I would call a stable and ordered way."

Blair said the west should engage with countries such as Egypt in the process of change "so that you weren't left with what is actually the most dangerous problem in the Middle East, which is that an elite that has an open minded attitude but it's out of touch with popular opinion, and popular opinion that can often – because it has not been given popular expression in its politics – end up frankly with the wrong idea and a closed idea."

Egyptians, long-suffering under a dictator and his torturing, murdering security apparatus, should not have to listen to this contemptible shit. It will be a deliverance when these wretched monsters have to sit and sweat and squirm and bark out fake wisdom as that outpost of US imperialism is overthrown. Today is the biggest day of protests so far. It's not easy to see Mubarak get overthrown as quickly as Ben Ali was. He is much more entrenched, and (I am led to believe) his social base is much wider. As a result, his security forces may feel more at ease with butchering a few dozens or hundreds of protesters. But there doesn't seem to be any turning back either. Perhaps the only thing, the last thing, that could save Mubarak and the comprador regime that supports him is a platoon of US troops. And the final barrier to that would ultimately be unrest in the imperialist countries.

Update: Oho... "It is white with gas, but the protesters are pushing the police back," ... "The police have now given up fighting the protesters. The police and protesters are now talking, with protesters bringing water and vinegar (for teargas) to the police. Afternoon prayer has just been called and hundreds are praying in front of the mosque in east Alexandria."

Further update: The revolution is being televised, on Al Jazeera.

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Europe, immigration and the Right. posted by Richard Seymour

For interesting reasons, some parts of the Left, who are otherwise consistently anti-racist, are amenable to the argument that migration drives down wages and, perhaps, places a burden on welfare systems and the public sector. This is an argument that many in the Labour establishment, and its supporters in the media such as Polly Toynbee, have been trying to popularise. It is accepted by Ed Miliband, and Ed Balls sank his leadership campaign early on with a stance on immigration that allowed the Tory leader to characterise him as Labour's Alf Garnett. The fact that Labour is behind many of these arguments means that they become much more widely accepted than they would among working class communities.

While most leftists would not accept the argument put out by some that migrant workers are today's equivalents of industrial scabs, helping the bosses break the 'indigenous' working class, there is a seemingly powerful motivation for (usually white) leftists to accept parts of the right-wing orthodoxy about immigration. Unfortunately, what this does is externalise a problem that is constitutive to capitalism: that being the necessity for a reserve army of labour*, and enforced competition for resources among workers**. It misreads symptoms of neoliberal capitalism as effects of migration. As it is particularly bound up in the British context with EU expansion, and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of workers from A8 and A2 countries, it also involves a particular mis-reading of the EU itself, which has to be understood as part of the global regionalisation of capitalism which is also evident in North America and south-east Asia, for example. That regionalisation, its institutionalisation (the EU Treaty), securitisation ('Fortress Europe') and militarisation (through NATO expansion and various attempts at building an EU defence force to suitably manage crises like that in the former Yugoslavia), has been the basis for all of the elegiac tributes and militant screeds concerning Europe and its Enlightened legacy.

What has happened in the UK is that those frequently at the margins of the capitalist system have made for timely scapegoats for acute crises in employment and local services that in fact express chronic stresses. Though the evidence is overwhelming that migrant workers bring added growth, added value and thus greater tax receipts to any local economy, there have been attempts by politicians, locally and nationally, to blame an increase in the local migrant worker population for failures in service delivery.

In fact, the added demand on local services that is blamed on immigration has been vastly over-stated. A combination of legislative hurdles and reluctance to claim means that in the case of housing and benefits, most migrant workers don't claim. At the height of migration from A8 countries in 2006, less than 1% of social housing lettings went to those migrant workers - this belies the claims that immigrants are being placed at the front of the queue for such services. To the extent that the demand for public goods did increase in certain areas, the government had more than enough opportunity to anticipate what was coming and then adjust for the difference. The evidence shows that the increase in funds resulting from migration was more than sufficient to meet the challenge. The vast majority of immigrants, over 80%, are of the ages 18-35. They do not tend to bring dependents, and they offset problems posed by the ageing of the UK population. Were they to not here, the resources available for public services would be less, or national insurance contributions or other taxes would have to rise. Where there were acute problems, whether there was local immigration or not, this was the result of systemic under-funding produced by the endemic problems of capital accumulation and the reluctance of social democracy to add to the tax burden. The attempt to square that circle with the use of PFIs only stored up further fiscal problems.

By some, usually right-wing populist, accounts, it would seem that the EU just is a scheme to reduce labour costs by allowing unimpeded free migration and thus increasing the demand for jobs. But there are good reasons why migration does not simply increase the reserve army of labour. First of all, as I've argued before, migration can increase total employment in a country because the lower costs of reproducing labour mean it is feasible for an employer to open up a job that would otherwise not be available, and also because the increase in growth tends to result in an increase in investment. Secondly, migration in the EU does not flow in one direction. What happens is that people move where the jobs are, where their skills are most needed, and thus the employment of available labour is maximised within the constraints of efficient capital accumulation.

This is the whole point: the EU is a regionalised accumulation system, and the effect of immigration within it will not be greatly different from that of migration between Glasgow and Sunderland, which no one finds objectionable. The fact this spatial re-organisation of capitalism took place under a neoliberal regime where the aim was to reduce the bargaining power of labour, hold down public expenditures (and thus corporate taxation) and increase the rate of profit, means that there will be attempts to organise the system in such a way as to weaken labour. But there is not much evidence for any profound distributive effects of migration. Such effects as do exist are sectoral, not significant, offset by countervailing effects elsewhere, and contingent on a host of other factors such as the strength of trade unions in an industry and the enforcement of regulations like minimum wage laws. (See here, here, here and here). The growth effect, however, is significant, and all workers benefit from that. In fact, the erection of barriers to the movement of labour is the most effective way to undermine those advantages.

The blaming of immigrants, usually accompanied by scaremongering about there being too many people, is precisely a way of racialising a social problem produced by capitalism. This goes much deeper than the distribution of resources, and the rising level of unemployment required to make capitalism efficient. Rather, these are attributes partially of the hollowing out of parliamentary democracy, the whittling away of the franchise and of the ability of the working class to impose some of its interests on capital. Neoliberal capitalism was designed to exclude certain political options, to exclude much of the working class from the electoral system, and coopt its leadership on new, subordinate terms. What is happening is that this disenfranchisement is culturalised, expressed as the cultural and identitarian emasculation of this spectral 'white working class'. This gives the Right the opportunity to rephrase its political slogans. Its hostility to the EU is based on its preference for a national capitalism hitched to US-led 'hyper-globalisation' (Andrew Gamble's phrase) which, if anything, entails an even weaker position for labour. But it can articulate its demands in terms of democracy (usually interpreted as 'sovereignty') because the EU, while it isn't the cause of Britain's democratic nadir, is a profoundly undemocratic set of institutions. It can appear to offer something to the working class because while the EU did not produce high unemployment and low public spending, it has supported and bolstered this particular capitalist praxis.

The attacks on immigrants by those evincing concern for the working class, and often 'the white working class', are themselves an attack on the working class and the Left. It is tried and tested, effective right-wing political mobilisation. People on the Left, even the centre-left orbiting Labour, should not be tempted to reproduce the assumptions of the Right in this argument, because if they do they will lose. The most effective response is to mobilise within the working class, particularly the organised working class, to defend immigrants and combat the racism which aims at their marginalisation and subjection.

*This is variously called the 'natural rate of unemployment' (Milton Friedman), the 'non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment', or 'structural unemployment'.
**This is called relative scarcity.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

How the leitkultur got its groove back posted by Richard Seymour

Jonathan Githens-Mazer mocks the efforts by the ruling parliamentary parties to dictate the terms on which Muslims can enter into political organisation and debate. He rightly characterises this obsession with 'integration', with regulating the internal lives of Muslim communties as authoritarian busybodying which displays a 'lack of faith in' (read, complete contempt for) democracy. Such racist paternalism, just for clarification's sake, is what 'leitkultur', or leading culture, actually means. (If and when this term is used, by the way, you may wish to reflect on who's going to be doing the leading.) But the question is why this, and why now?

In part, what's playing out, through columnists like David Goodhart, and poetasters of the 'white working class' such as Michael Collins, is a noxious nostalgia for a form of social solidarity that they blame black people for having undermined. The 'white working class', the object of this nostalgia, is nothing but a biscuit tin and teatowel memory, a tacky bit of commemoration merchandise, not even a museum piece. That this wistful pining for a racially (near as possible) monotone, culturally conservative island society ruling over millions of grateful subjects, should masquerade as empathy for and solidarity with any part of the working class is replete with ironies. The cataclysm that hit the organised working class, tore up the post-war compromise, slashed welfare and left communities isolated and atomised was, after all, prepared and popularised by the first generation of Powellites. It was they, bemoaning the liberal elite, posing as allies of the British worker, who first popularised the neoliberal route to a strong nation. It is their successors who now capitalise on its effects to promote the fabled 'crisis of multiculturalism', and thus plead with the state to involve itself more fully in the regulation and disciplining of minority communities.

What the attacks on Islam do, therefore, is culturalise (racialise) a series of increasingly urgent social and political questions. These would include the distribution of the social product, the backlash against the liberation movements, the prolonged breakdown of the imperial consensus, and the crisis of parliamentary democracy. Each of these issues can be, and is, interpreted through the sickly prism of racist and anti-immigrant ideology. Immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia ostensibly occupy different points in the racist spectrum, the former being directed toward 'outsiders', the latter toward established British citizens. But to leave it there would be to miss how the category of 'immigrant' always tends to expand to include not merely today's 'guest workers' and refugees, but also several generations of British citizens whose roots go back to nations once bloodily bound to the empire. In short, however much anti-immigration arguments seem to base themselves on worries about the burden on public services, or the shortage of resources and jobs, the logic always implies that the descendants of (non-white) immigrants are also a resource-drain, occupying jobs and hospital beds that white workers could make use of. This logic is never explained, is even denied as long as its conclusions are embarrassing, but it remains obvious for all that. And this leads us to yet another irony of the neo-Powellites. Having worked so hard to culturalise/racialise social questions, they then work extremely hard to conceal the fact and to insist that their racist baiting is nothing but un-fazed engagement with pressing social questions.

It is true that, for opportunistic reasons, Baroness Warsi is trying to do something slightly different with this subject. Having availed herself to the neo-Powellites as a loyal, moderate Muslim in the past, Warsi is now offering a slightly ambivelent defence of multiculturalism and some shy, diffident criticisms of Islamophobia. Presumably, this is the Tories' half-hearted attempt to push out a small boat to Muslim voters, whose political loyalty to Labourism has been severely tested in the last decade. But it won't last. The logic of austerity capitalism demands an ever more intense securitisation of daily life, an increased policing of the poor, and a careful cultivation of strata and divisions among the working class. That logic will prevail over electoral logic, as indeed it always has so far.

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US: Egypt is a 'model', not ready for democracy yet posted by Richard Seymour

Oh, okay then:

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Will the real patriarchy please stand up? posted by Richard Seymour

Every day, literally every day, there's some new signpost on the backlash against women's struggles, and some reminder of just how much malice and misogyny is out there. Recently, there was the spectacle of a couple of sportscasters nattering and sniggering like a couple of Alan Partridges about women, one of them going so far as to sexually harass a female co-worker. But even more interesting than these sad sacks has been their pathetic defenders, enraged by the suffering of the male. Another near coterminous example was Tory MP and ex-corporate lawyer Dominic Raab's expostulations about "feminist bigotry" and male oppression. Those are just a couple of instances that have grabbed headlines recently. There's a near constant sewer-flow of this invective. The target is usually, explicitly, feminism. The implication, with little variation, is that men are harmed by feminism, that they have lost something as a result of its achievements. Who is the audience for this? Who is intended to receive the message? Plainly, me. And other men. It's almost as if it's somehow necessary to innoculate men against feminism. Why would that be?

"Anti-feminist backlash exists because the movement was successful at showing everyone the threat patriarchy poses to the well-being of females and males. If feminist movement had not offered a true accounting of the dangers of perpetuating sexism and male domination, it would have failed. There would have been no need to mount an anti-feminist campaign. While patriarchal mass media continues to spread the lie that males are not welcome in the feminist classroom, truthfully more males are studying feminist thought and converting to feminist thinking. It is this significant change in feminist movement that makes it more of a threat to patriarchy. As has been stated, had the movement only focused on women, the patriarchal status quo would be intact and there would be no need to severely bash feminism." - bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, South End Press, 2000, pp 116-7

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Egypt posted by Richard Seymour

About Egypt, you may be interested to know that: officially, 860 protesters have been arrested across the country; Jack Shenker was among them, and can describe the brutality of the Egyptian police up close; the protests have been the largest for a generation, involving tens of thousands in a scale of revolt not seen since the bread riots of the 1970s; finance capital is panicking over the protests, because they may culminate in the overthrow of a pro-US dictator ("Barclays Capital argued in a recent report that the risks of Tunisia’s turmoil spreading to other Arab regimes were “not negligible”..."); and die-hard rumours say Mubarak's son, the dictator-in-waiting, has fled to London.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Neither Germans nor Jews (but international socialists) posted by Richard Seymour

We who uphold abstract multiculturalism, must be self-critical. We who decry the racist lurch of Europe toward 'Leitkultur' and its troublesome apparatus of state surveillance, deportations, police violence, pogroms and so on, must acknowledge that we have helped to create this problem. We must accept that our abstract multiculturalism was itself always-already a particular version of 'Leitkultur', to which they - a referent as ubiquitous as 'we' - have been invited to submit. We should have been explicit about this. We should have embraced it. We have been foolish in delaying this solution for so long. Our 'Leitkultur' must be radical, emancipatory, just like Europe of old. We must revive Europe.

The above, by repetition, becomes familiar, almost intuitive - its loaded terms and assumptions are easy to internalise, the historical ignorance it requires easy to assume or feign, for the sake of argument. Yet it remains unsettling, because you can't help noticing that you're being press-ganged for a role that you may not want to occupy. You are a 'we' or a 'they', a German or a Jew - Zizek prefers to use the analogy of 'Greeks and Jews', but I think this one works better - and your we-ness (or they-ness) resides in your ownership of, and belonging to, a discrete, monochromatic cultural bloc. And if you are a 'they', it's hard not to feel there's a certain amount of anxiety and suspicion toward you, as if your presence is inherently problematic, brings up all sorts of defensive reactions, and demands that something be done about you, to you - evidently not what has been done, which may even have been too tolerant. You would be hard-pressed to see where your interests come in, since it is implicitly a problem for 'we' to be resolved by 'we' and no one else. You are not the intended audience, that much is clear, and you may not wish to be coerced into the role of the troublesome minority.

And even if you're a 'we', then suppose your experience doesn't conform to those expectations? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you live in New Cross, or Whitechapel, or somewhere else that you can identify as a place where mixed-race marriage, multicultural workplaces and schools, and so on, are quite unremarkable? (In fact, I can't speak for elsewhere in Europe, but Nissa Finney and Ludi Simpson have demonstrated fairly conclusively that such inter-racial, multicultural relations are the norm in those parts of the UK where there is significant cultural, ethnic, or 'racial' diversity). So put yourself in that position, and suppose you've never had this problem of worrying over how much to tolerate your brother, your lover, your mother, your friend, your comrade, your work mate, or your neighbour? Wouldn't you find this attempted interpellation ominous? Maybe you have feelings for one of 'they', but leave that to one side just for a second. Just think about what you're expected to be, implicitly, in this drama of uneasy tolerance and mutual suspicion. Somehow you, though you've probably never been one before, are expected to become a European (a white European, obviously - this is implicit). Only by means of this racist interpellation do you become in some sense the same as Tony Blair, Philip Green, the Pope, Jacques Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi, and Geert Wilders, to select but a few of that Enlightened continent's luminaries. This offers you what, exactly? Nothing, if not a brutal simplification of your experience as a human being. Nothing, if not a sense of superiority, of chauvinistic pride. Do you want it? Is it enough to make up for the personal loss involved in such a role, the loss of complex, easy, loving, or just amicable relations with people around you? Is it enough to make up for the wider loss, as a nosy, bossy cultural bullying undermines actually existing social solidarity in the name of Europe? Probably not. So, who is left to be the target audience here, to accept this role? Apart, that is, from certain professional layers, including the vast majority of politicos, journalists, think-tankers, and probably a lot of academics?

And I raise this not because I want to start one of those interminable Zizek debates, what with the exhausting sequence of bad tempered snarks and decoys that usually follows. He's an example and, because he never stops banging on about the same obsessions, he's easy to make an example of - but the territory he is staking out is not exactly deserted. I raise it just to pinch myself, and remind myself that I live in 2011, not the 1950s. And that there is a way of talking about culture which does not submit to the racist political ontology of Europe, or any other imagined white community; which does not believe that culture can or should be the subject of some sort of national policing operation in the interests of cohesion; which does not see culture as a property, or a territorial entity, or as anything other than a manifold sequence of parallel, multilinear processes that could never adequately be captured in any amount of dichotomising concerning Europe and its Others. Allow me to give you an example of a place where such arid binaries still dominate. In Northern Ireland, there are only ever 'Protestants' and 'Catholics'. The growing number of people who say they are of neither or no religion in the census tends to be ignored. Instead, we hear constantly of how the Catholics are outbreeding the Protestants (it's a 'race' race, and they're winning!), of how eventually there will be a nationalist majority brought about by a papist conspiracy using the simple expedient of avoiding contraception. This has literally been the basis for much paramilitary violence against Catholics - we have to beat them now, or they'll have us under their thumbs soon enough, so the logic goes. But one does not have to be either a Protestant or a Catholic, either a German or a Jew. There are other, much preferable ways of being.

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Egyptian revolt posted by Richard Seymour

After Tunisia, they kept asking, where next? Algeria? Jordan? Albania, even? All of those places, yes, but the crown jewel of America's regional comprador oligarchy is in Cairo. Protesters planned that today would be a day of wrath, a day of revolution. The state warned that there would be arrests and worse if anyone dared to make good on this threat. The protesters, undeterred, have showed up in number - perhaps not unvanquishable number, but hardly cowed either. Armed police have resorted to every weapon in their arsenal from shock-sticks to "more potent weapons", but they look decidedly on the defensive in some of the footage. Portraits and posters of the dictator Mubarak have been torn down in public. As ever, check in at Arabawy for updates and links on this.

Update: apparently, bullets are being fired at protesters in downtown Cairo.

Jack Shenker reports:

Downtown Cairo is a war zone tonight – as reports come in of massive occupations by protesters in towns across Egypt, the centre of the capital is awash with running street battles. Along with hundreds of others I've just been teargassed outside the parliament building, where some youths were smashing up the pavement to obtain rocks to throw at police.

We've withdrawn back to the main square now were thousands more demonstrators are waiting and a huge billboard advertising the ruling NDP party has just been torn down. Security forces are continuing to use sound bombs and teargas to disperse the crowd, but so far to no avail.

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The primitive accumulation of bodies posted by Richard Seymour

Somewhat tangential to the last post, I know, but worth posting up:

Marx, too, sees the alienation from the body as a distinguishing trait of the capitalist work-relation. By transforming labour into a commodity, capitalism causes workers to submit their activities to an external order over which they have no control and with which they cannot identify. Thus, the labour process becomes a ground of self-estrangement ... Furthermore, with the development of a capitalist economy, the worker becomes (though only formally) the "free owner" of "his" labour-power, which (unlike the slave) he can place at the disposal of the buyer for a limited period of time. This implies that "[h]e must constantly look upon his labour-power" (his energies, his faculties) as his own property, as his own commodity

... But only in the second half of the 19th Century can we glimpse that type of worker - temperate, prudent, responsible, proud to own a watch ...

The situation was radically different in the period of primitive accumulation when the emerging bourgeoisie discovered that the "liberation of labour-power" - that is, the expropriation of the peasantry from the common lands - was not sufficient to force the dispossessed proletarians to accept wage-labour. Unlike Milton's Adam, who upon being expelled from the Garden of Eden, set forth cheerfully for a life dedicated to work, the expropriated peasnts and artisans did not peacefully agree to work for a wage. More often they became beggars, vagabonds or criminals. A long process would be required to produce a disciplined work-force. In the 16th and 17th centuies, the hatred for wage labour was so intense that many prolearians preferred to risk the gallows, rather than submit to the new conditions of work.

This was the first capitalist crisis, one far more serious than all the commercial crises that threatened the foundarions of the capitalist system in the first phase of its development. As is well-known, the response of the bourgeoisie was the institution of a true regime of terror, implemented through the intensfication of penalties (particularly those punishing the crimes against property), the introduction of "bloody laws" aginst vagabonds, intended to bind workers to the jobs imposed on them, as once the serf had been bound to the land, and the multiplication of executions. In England alone, 72,000 people were hung by Henry the VIII during the thirty-eight years of his reign and the massacres continued into th late 16th century. In the 1570s, 300 to 400 "rogues" were "devoured by the gallows in one place or another every year" (Hoskins 1977:9). ln Devon alone, seventy four people were hanged just in 1598 (ibid.).

But the violence of the ruling class was not confined to the repression of transgressors. It also aimed at a radical transformation of the person, intended to eradicate in the proletariat any form of behavior not conducive to the imposition of a stricter work-discipline. The dimensions of this attack are apparent in the social legislation that, by the middle of the 16th Century, was introduced in England and France. Games were forbidden, particularly games of chance that, besides being useless, undermined the individual's sense of resionsibility and "work ethic." Taverns were closed, along with baths. Nakedness was penalised, as were many other 'unproductive' forms of sexuality and sociality. It was forbidden to drink, swear, curse.

It was in the course of this vast process of social engineering that a new concept of the body and a new policy toward it began to be shaped. The novelty was that the body was attacked as the source of all evils, and yet it was studied with the same passion that, in the same years, animated the investigation of celestial motion.

Why was the body so central to state politics and intellectual discourse? One is tempted to answer that this obsession with the body reflecs the fear that the proletariat inspired in the ruling class. It was the fear felt by the bourgeois or the nobleman alike who, wherever they went, in the streets or on their travels, were besieged by a threatening crowd,begging them or preparing to rob them. lt was also the fear felt by those who presided over the administration of the state, whose consolidation was continuously undermined - but also determined - by the threat of riots and social disorder.

Yet there was more.We must not forget that the beggarly and riotous proletariat - who forced the rich to travel by carriage to escape its assaults or to go to bed with two pistols under the pillow - was the same social subject who increasingly appeared as the source of all wealth. It was the same of whom the mercantlists, the first economists of capitalist society, never tired of repeating (though not without second thoughts) that "the more, the better," often deploring that so many bodies were wasted on the gallows. - Silvia Federici, The Caliban and the Witch, pp. 135-7.

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Too many people posted by Richard Seymour

This is just a sort of bookmark, a place to return to when this subject comes up again, as it assuredly will. On a par with climate change, soaring food prices, overproduction and recession, it is apparently a global catastrophe of world-historical significance: overpopulation. To be more precise: excessive breeding among the poor. The link merely contains a recent example of what is routinely available in the mass media - after having been prepared by academics and thinktanks. Imagine the horror:

Friendly governments may be pushed out of power because they were unable to grow their economies to keep pace with population increases; wars between countries over food and land in strategic regions of the world will test our will as peacekeepers; and catastrophic weather events hitting over populated countries are certain to create desperate calls for American assistance. This may indeed be what the world of 2050 looks like when the population hits 9 billion.

Is it just the capitalist crisis, or was it always normal for a new version of this ruling class propaganda to be pumped out every week? This was supposed to be a Swiftian satire on the ruthlessness of capital and its solutions to its production problems, but it now seems redundantly obvious. Because this argument about population is, and always has been, nothing other than a prophalyxis, intended to deflect radical left-wing critique. Such as:

"Capitalist development has always been unsustainable because of its human impact. To understand this point, all we need to do is take the viewpoint of those who have been and continue to be killed by it. A presupposition of capitalism's birth was the sacrifice of a large part of humanity - mass extermination, the production of hunger and misery, slavery, violence and terror. Its continuation requires the same presuppositions." - Mariarosa Dalla Costa

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Snow business posted by Richard Seymour

The economy shrank by 0.5% in the last quarter of 2010. If that continues into the next quarter, then the feared 'double dip' recession is on. So, what does the government do? They blame the weather. As Chris Dillow points out, the implication is that the bad weather stopped service sector workers from getting to work, but didn't inhibit industrial workers on their commutes. It's bollocks, in other words. The fall in the construction industry was particularly bad, but I wonder if, rather than being due to very bad weather, this wasn't in part because of 1) the cancellation of major public works by the government and local councils, and 2) the slump in the housing market resulting in a decline in house-building? The Federation of Master Builders, representing small-to-medium sized construction firms, puts it like this:

The construction sector has still not reached the bottom of the most savage recession for the industry in living memory. Cuts in government expenditure are making matters worse with more than half of building companies reporting falling levels of work in public repair and maintenance work. Our survey shows a sharp increase in those expecting workloads to contract once again in the first quarter of 2011.

The Government is pinning its hopes of economic recovery on the creation of new jobs in the private sector but its policies are having exactly the opposite effect in the building sector. The increase in the rate of VAT earlier this month will cost the construction sector nearly 7,500 jobs this year alone. Cuts in public sector spending on social housing are having a particularly adverse impact with nearly half of building companies reporting that work in this sector had fallen.

The construction sector has the potential to build Britain out of recession and we know that for every £1 spent on construction output generates a total of £2.84 in total economic activity. If this could be coupled with expenditure on infrastructure projects as well as tackling the growing housing crisis the Government would be building the real foundations for a sustained economic recovery.

There are some in the ruling class who aren't very happy. Though the CBI has generally been approving of the government's 'austerity' programme, its outgoing chief has said that: "It's not enough just to slam on the spending brakes. Measures that cut spending but killed demand would actually make matters worse." Like many of the bosses, he seems to want some sort of magical remedy whereby the government could cut spending and stimulate growth at the same time. Finance capital is also gravely murmuring about the "stunningly bad" GDP data - but they fucking asked for this, and it can't be long before they'll be demanding more money from the public purse, then pushing for another austerity budget to pay off the bankers and keep the financial assets of the rich afloat for another few months before the whole thing collapses again.

Despite the denials and the absurd, utterly feeble attempt to pin this on the weather, these figures represent a political problem for the government - especially if they're starting to lose sections of business and the petit bourgoisie on account of it. I expect the medium term effect might be to see more businesses swing behind Labour and its quasi-Keynesian remedies. For its part, Labour, in a bid to remain in capital's orbit, will constantly feel a gravitational pull to the right. Unless, of course, the student rebellions and the strike ballots being prepared in the public sector become a much more power countervailing force.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

The end of the Palestinian Authority? posted by Richard Seymour

JamieSW's comprehensive summary of the Palestine Papers asks if the comprador regime's pandering to Israeli rejectionism means it is finished:

Most of the Arab world’s anger so far has been directed not at the Israeli government but at the PA. This makes sense: Arabs take Israeli rejectionism for granted. Unlike many liberals in Europe and America, they cannot afford the luxury of delusions about our ally’s role in the region. The PA’s collaboration has also long been clear, but the extent of the betrayal revealed in the documents is nauseating. They record Abbas greeting Condoleeza “birth pangs” Rice with, “[y]ou bring back life to the region when you come.” “I would vote for you”, senior negotiator Ahmed Qureia told Livni; Ariel Sharon was my “friend”, Abbas enthused. We already knew about the PA’s collaboration with the US and Israel to overthrow Hamas; its support for the Gaza siege; its close cooperation with the Israeli military; and its diplomatic manoeuvres to bury the UN inquiry into the 2008-9 Gaza massacre. These new leaks promise to reveal how PA “leaders were privately tipped off” in advance about the Gaza massacre – something previous leaks have already confirmed.

Again, none of this should come as a surprise. The PA is a product of the Oslo process, which was designed, as former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami put it, to groom a Palestinian leadership class to act as “Israel’s collaborator in the task of stifling the [first] intifada and… [cut] short what was clearly an authentically democratic struggle for Palestinian independence”. The aim, another Israeli minister explained, “was to find a strong dictator to ... keep the Palestinians under control.” The PA is “almost wholly dependent upon American, European and Arab political and financial support, as well as security and economic cooperation with Israel” and so can only operate within limits dictated by Israel and its international backers. This was dramatically illustrated when Palestinians elected a government that didn’t enjoy the backing of their occupiers in 2006. The US, Europe and Israel responded by starving it of funds, isolating it diplomatically, kidnapping a third of the cabinet, killing hundreds of Palestinians, destroying Gaza’s only power station, and training and arming Fatah militias to overthrow it. It is a mistake, then, to focus overly on the corruption and venality of Abbas, Erekat, et al. The more important point is that the PA is structurally incapable of serving as an instrument of Palestinian liberation. Our takeaway lesson from the documents should be the need to end our government’s support for Israel’s occupation and Abbas’s quasi-police state in the West Bank.

The PA’s strategy as revealed in the documents is delusional, on the (perhaps unreasonable) assumption that its objective is to secure a negotiated settlement to the conflict. It appears to be under the impression that if it just offers Israel one more concession, cedes one more bit of territory, compromises on one more basic Palestinian right, then the U.S. will force Israel to accept a settlement. The reality of the American role hardly needs elaborating here; it is encapsulated well enough in Rice’s response to the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948: “Bad things happen to people all around the world all the time.” The gaping yawn wasn’t transcribed. When Palestinian negotiators objected to Israel’s insistence on annexing yet more Palestinian territory, Rice was blunt: “You won’t have a state… your children’s children will not have an agreement.”

It is still too early to predict how reaction to the leaks will play out. The PA is denying everything on the grounds that, paraphrasing Erekat, ‘we can’t have offered Israel virtually all of East Jerusalem, because if we had then obviously Israel would have accepted it’. What is the Arabic for ‘facepalm’? “We don’t hide anything from our brothers”, Abbas insisted as the PA threatened to shut down Al Jazeera. Abbas has accused Al Jazeera of declaring “war” on the Palestinians – Erekat is presumably drawing up an agreement to cede East Jerusalem to Riz Khan.

The popular legitimacy of the PA, already damaged, is surely now destroyed. In the long-term – possibly sooner - this could spell its demise. Certainly Palestinians will not achieve their liberation under its auspices.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The global ruling class posted by Richard Seymour

The annual Merrill Lynch Cap Gemini World Wealth Report is a serious study of liquid, investable wealth held by the richest people on the planet: the High Net Worth Individuals who have at least $1m liquid wealth, and the Ultra High Net Worth Individuals who have at least $30m, both "excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables". As such it constitutes an invaluable starting point for understanding who the ruling class are, where they live and how they hold their wealth. This is from the 2010 wealth report (I'm afraid there doesn't appear to be a working online file):

The world’s population of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) grew 17.1% to 10.0 million in 2009, returning to levels last seen in 2007 despite the contraction in world gross domestic product (GDP). Global HNWI wealth similarly recovered, rising 18.9% to US$39.0 trillion, with HNWI wealth in Asia-Pacific and Latin America actually surpassing levels last seen at the end of 2007.

For the first time ever, the size of the HNWI population in Asia-Pacific was as large as that of Europe (at 3.0 million). This shift in the rankings occurred because HNWI gains in Europe, while sizeable, were far less than those in Asia-Pacific, where the region’s economies saw continued robust growth in both economic and market drivers of wealth.

The wealth of Asia-Pacific HNWIs stood at US$9.7 trillion by the end of 2009, up 30.9%, and above the US$9.5 trillion in wealth held by Europe’s HNWIs. Among Asia-Pacific markets, Hong Kong and India led the pack, rebounding from mammoth declines in their HNWI bases and wealth in 2008 amid an outsized resurgence in their stock markets.

The global HNWI population nevertheless remains highly concentrated. The U.S., Japan and Germany still accounted for 53.5% of the world’s HNWI population at the end of 2009, down only slightly from 54.0% in 2008. Australia became the tenth largest home to HNWIs, after overtaking Brazil, due to a considerable rebound.

After losing 24.0% in 2008, Ultra-HNWIs saw wealth rebound 21.5% in 2009. At the end of 2009, Ultra-HNWIs accounted for 35.5% of global HNWI wealth, up from 34.7%, while representing only 0.9% of the global HNWI population, the same as in 2008.

The total liquid wealth of the rich in 2009, at $39 trillion, was actually more than two-thirds of world GDP in the same year, almost triple the GDP of the US, and nearly ten times that of China. Another way of looking at it is that the increase in liquid assets from 2008 to 2009 held by the rich was about $6.5 trillion, more than 10% of total GDP in 2009. This was in a year in which world GDP actually shrank by 0.8%.

The distinction between "economic and market drivers of wealth" is very important, and very telling. Most of the new wealth held by the rich was, as you can see, not produced by economic growth, but by stock market capitalisation. In other words, market relations, sustained by state intervention, facilitated the transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich at a time when most of the world's economy was such that the direct exploitation of labour could not sustain high profit rates. That's what the bail-outs did; it's what they were intended to do. Another intended consequence is that there were not only more high net worth individuals, 10 million of them globally (0.014% of the world's population), but the 'ultras' did far better at increasing their share of liquid assets than mere millionaires - thus wealth became even more concentrated than it had been, among a mere 36,300 people, or 0.0005% of the population. The corollary of this has been, and will continue to be, a general decline in the living standards of the working class in most of the advanced capitalist economies: at the same time as the wealth of the richest grew, global unemployment rose by 14.4%.

The role of finance-capital in surplus-extraction varies considerably, of course - and here, China's contribution to the reproduction of the world's ruling class stands out. While financial bail-outs (temporarily) solved many of the problems of the rich in Europe and North America, growth driven by unprecedented spending commitments in China (and, to a lesser extent, India, whose stimulus actually began before the crisis) kept the rich from the Asia-Pacific region in dough, and contributed to the wealth of the US ruling class. This could happen partly because China's growth rates were, like those of many 'newly industrialising countries', already robust. This meant that China's per capita stimulus was greater than that of any other country, and as such accounted for 95% of economic growth in the first three quarters of 2009. But it was also in part because state ownership of the financial and banking sector in China has enabled the government to have more control over the coordination of its stimulus and its effects.

Much has been made of the regime's policy of driving up wages. In fact, what has happened is that China's stimulus enabled an increase in the total amount of surplus value, both by increasing the total employment of labour and by increasing the productivity of labour. Productivity growth has offset wage growth, thus allowing an increase in working class wages and living standards to take place, while continuing the long term strend for wages to decrease as a share of GDP [pdf]. The result is that the top 0.4% of the population controls 70% of the country's wealth. Chinese growth has actually depended on wages sliding as a share of national wealth, and the world capitalist system would be a lot worse off if that hadn't continued to happen. Indeed, according to a World Bank economist, China's stimulus alone contributed 1% to world growth in 2010 - an extraordinary figure. Its GDP by purchasing power parity is already larger than the US by some calculations. China's growth is enabling its ruling class to dramatically increase its demand for luxury goods, accounting for 49% of luxury market growth as the rich spoil themselves with the usual array of jets, mansions, and yachts. But it has also substantially paid for US growth, through direct investment and sovereign debt purchases.

The role of China's working class, the largest in the world by far, in the reproduction of the world's ruling class has, of course, been steadily growing since 1978. The interesting question now is whether this can continue. The World Wealth Report expects future growth to be led by the Asia-Pacific region, "excluding Japan" - despite the latter's substantial stimulus. This obviously means the rich expect China to continue to drive growth and thus profitability. During the last thirty years, China's growth rates have been significantly ahead of its record following the 1949 revolution, and more than double the world average. Its share of world manufacturing rose from 2 to 18%, picking up the slack as manufacturing jobs were lost in Europe and the US. Its expansion fuelled a regional growth surge, eg allowing Japanese capital to increase profits by outsourcing to Chinese labour, and was a significant driver of world growth since 1982.

But the Chinese economy is accumulating tremendous spare capacity as a result of its stimulus package, adding to a global problem and endangering its future ability to produce sustainable growth. It has constantly had to counteract overheating, and may have to substantially reign in growth just when the rest of the world's economies are doing exactly the same, thus undermining its ability to lead a new phase of capitalist growth. The tendencies toward over-accumulation and declining profitability are already evident. Despite the hype about wage increases, real wages are already so low (manufacturing workers in China get less than 5% of the average in the US) that they can't go much lower. Even if they could, the effect may be to contribute to global deflation, thus harming the economies on which China depends for its export markets. China may thus be closer to the end of a long-term wave of growth than the beginning - that growth having been predicated on a now expired global wave of neoliberal expansion based on 'primitive accumulation' and the subsequent record expansion of the country's working class.

Whether and however the ruling class succeeds in overcoming the present barriers to further accumulation, it's hard to see future waves of growth proceeding in this self-same way. Instead, for the foreseeable future, it looks like there will be heightened competition over a diminishing share of surplus value. And Obama has just announced that America's approach in this will be a revamped 'open doors' policy, advised by a new panel headed by the chief executive of General Electric. This will basically involve coercing other economies into accepting US exports at whatever cost to the national or regional economy being thus prised open. It probably presages a new wave of aggression in the global south, especially where popular movements succeed in establishing governments that are interested in independent development based on some concessions for the working class. One would also expect things like this to happen more often, as white supremacy in its various forms is a well-established praxis for weakening the bargaining power of labour and breaking the political threat from the Left. And, especially in a period like this, when growth is thin on the ground and profits have to be wrested through acts of accumulation-by-dispossession, that is how the ruling class makes its money.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Anticommunism, white supremacy and southern capital accumulation posted by Richard Seymour

I'm just posting this up as a way of somehow systematising my jumbled thoughts on this subject. Your criticisms would be most welcome.

First of all, the two major growth industries in the South in the period 1945-65 are the textile and oil industries. These are also among the most segregated, though in different ways. In textiles, segregation was mainly felt through exclusion, as African Americans tended to be hired for low-key menial labour, away from the shop floor where possible. In the oil industry, it was expressed through different payrolls, in which black workers were denied access to more skilled, better remunerated work. In response to Title VII (1964 Civil Rights Act) suits, employers sought to re-code these forms of discrimination as meritocratic, following market logic.

While the Southern oil industry was internationally oriented, and thus tended to export its labour structures, the textile industry tended to be more regionalised and when it did grow it sought to do so while maintaining local managerial control of the labour system. Similarly, while the oil industry was susceptible to national political pressure, because most of its contracts were with the federal government, the textile industry was far more capable of resisting such pressure. Lastly, there was a status differential in the two industries. White workers in oil were better educated and well-paid, while in the textile industry they tended to be refugees from failing farms, were poorly educated and had low status.

In both industries, white supremacy was complementary to the strategy of paternalism. The bosses, by providing amenities and services for their white workers, also exerted a degree of influence and control over their lives, promoting a kind of folkish cross-class solidarity that undercut unionisation and contributed to the failure of the CIO's organising drive, Operation Dixie. Black workers' lives were controlled but less intimately regulated by the bosses, and thus they tended to be a lot more open to unionism. That, alongside an exaggerated fear of communist influence in the CIO unions, was used to arouse hostility toward unionism among white workers.

The textile industry's racially exclusive practises tell against the expectations of split market theorists, in which employers would be expected to source the cheapest labour, and thus to employ more African American workers. Given that employers were not compelled by law, except in Southern Carolina, to impose segregation in the same way that restaurants, schools and public transport were, one obvious conclusion would be that these employers believed in the racial system on grounds besides those of efficient capital accumulation. But while is true, it cannot be disarticulated from the wider effort by capital to suppress and contain the labour rebellions that had swept the South first in the period from, and then in the 1930s. Incorporating white labour was a key strategy for capital as a whole, and it was by far preferable to those systems of welfare and social democracy which obtained in Europe.

This was a real terror among the Southern capitalists. The Southern States Industrial Council (SSIC) represented a broad cross-section of that class, formed precisely in response to the labour rebellions of the early 1930s, the better to devise appropriate political and managerial responses. Its research director and prolific writer, Thurman Sensing, visited the UK in 1950 to get a sense of how 'socialism' was working out in Britain, and reported to his fellow industrialists that things were as bleak as could be - diets worse than in the wartime, than in Germany even, unproductive industry, nationalised utilities running up deficits, crippling rates of taxation, and a free NHS that left hospitals crowded and doctors overworked. Indeed, such was the absurd state of British socialism that in addition to free medicine, the people could expect "free wigs, free hot bottles, free corsets for the ladies even. If her doctor will certify that it's for her health and well-being, an English lady can get a free corset". This appalling state of affairs was in stark contrast to the South's can-do bootstrap-pulling after its defeat in the Civil War, where people never dreamed of going communist despite their immense poverty, but rallied all the more fervently to free enterprise.

Indeed, the SSIC consistently positioned itself as a beacon of 'free enterprise', of true Americanism. It tended to avoid taking an explicit position on race matters, beyond opposing "civil rights propaganda" and declaring that the issue was a "temporary and typical national vagary". In part, this was because some sections of southern industry and finance were sympathetic to Northern Republicanism, conservative and racist but uninterested in explicit supremacism a la the White Citizens' Council. There was strong support among some layers of capital for the more 'pragmatic segregationism' of politicians like Mississippi's JP Coleman, which sought to conserve the basic racial structure without provoking a social conflict or wasting energy on a futile battle with the federal government.

Among the SSIC's lesser known products was its one time vice president Anthony Hart Harrigan, a conservative 'free market' activist who did much to promote the ideas of Milton Friedman and connect different elements of the American right in a broad coalition against the Keyenesian consensus. His blend of 'free market' conservatism, Cold War anticommunism and 'practical segregationism' - wherein he consistently extolled the southern way of life, linking its conservatism and racial hierarchy with free market cosmopolitanism in a key National Review article in 1958 - was typical of a major pole in the SSIC.

Thus, the SSIC's attacks were focused primarily against the 'socialists', the 'liberals', and the 'welfare staters'. Other sectors of business, such as smaller agrarian capitalists represented by bodies such as the National Cotton Council, the American Sugar Cane League, the Peanut Growers Association, the Peanut Shellers Associations, the Tobacco Growers Associations and industry journals like 'The Farm and Ranch', were just as explicitly hostile to socialism, were not altogether fond of 'Big Business', but reserved their greatest contempt for big government, big spending and most especially 'Big Labor'. In practise, small agrarian capital was heavily dependent on big government in the form of federal subsidies and quotas, so that the commitment to 'free enterprise' mainly took the form of opposition to unions driving up the wage bill.

Anticommunism helped bind the different fractions of capital in the Southern states together in a shared political project, so that differences over the handling of race and the civil rights challenge were subsumed into a broader hostility to federal government intervention and unionism. Anticommunism also overcame the cleavage between the dying 'isolationists' of the Old Right and the aggressive Cold Warriors of the New Right, the latter represented most vociferously in the National Review. The 'isolationists' were not, it should be said, in any sense 'anti-imperialist'. They supported the colonial powers, and tended to cite the 'chaos' of post-colonial rule to justify their Jim Crow structures.

But empire was most problematic in situations where imperialism might involve the extension of institutions of self-rule to races deemed 'unfit' for it. Just as some segregationists had opposed imperialism in the Philippines on the grounds that it would logically lead to the Philippines being ruled as US territory and thus subject to the bill of rights and the constitution, the incorporation of Hawaii and Alaska into the US was opposed for bringing non-white people into the polity and thus risking "mongrelization". Indeed, the campaign against Hawaii's annexation spread well beyond the 'isolationists'. The SSIC, the southern Democratic leadership, and a number of mainstream right-wing organisations campaigned against annexation on the grounds that it would create an "Asiatic state" in America. Opponents of annexation also mobilised anticommunist fears, tying their belief that "Asiatics" were predisposed to despotic forms of government with the claim that communists already effectively ruled in Hawaii, and that the ILWU leadership ran the place like a dictatorship.
There was also unity on wider dissatisfaction with some of the institutions of Cold War liberal internationalism. The SSIC was not isolationist. It was supportive of the anticommunist struggle in Korea and Vietnam, and vociferously joined the attacks Senator Fulbright who supported peaceful coexistence with the USSR, and who had written a memo attacking the military elite's conniving with the far right to produce a more reactionary , and calling for the military to be forced to accept civilian control. But it vehemently opposed other aspects of US imperial stategy, such as the Marshall Plan for Europe. It also favoured withdrawal from the UN, and engaged in some of the more febrile scaremongering about UNESCO attempting to "destroy the patriotism and influence the homes in the lives of American youth", due to its campaign for equality in education. The SSIC would also throw its weight behind a conservative campaign against Nixonian overtures to the PRC.

Post-segregation, it was southern industrialists and their political allies who would be decisive in leading a New Right to power, defeating the old Keynesian class compromise. Uncovering the intersection between specific regional patterns of capital accumulation and differing global orientations of various southern capital fractions would help account for the stances taken by businesses and their right-wing allies on domestic Jim Crow structures, the integration (or not) of labour unions, and the global struggle against communism. It would also help explain the peculiar intensity of what Joel Kovel calls 'black hole' anticommunism in the South ('black hole' because everything that is not aggressively American and free market is crushed into a single communist entity), and its role in conserving segregation.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tunisia's revolution and the Islamists posted by Richard Seymour

Soumayya Ghannouchi, the Guardian columnist and daughter of the Tunisian An-Nahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, argues for a coalition of socialists, liberals and Islamists to overthrow the Tunisian state. Rachid himself argues for exactly this approach in his interview with the FT:

We cannot bring out a democratic system out of this corrupt, dictatorial system. We have to put an end to the authoritarian system and start a new one. Basing this transition on Article 56 or 57 is a continuation of the old system. The constitution was a tyranny, the state was reduced to one man, who had in his hands the executive, judicial and legislative powers and was not accountable to anyone. How can such a constitution point towards building a democratic system, even as a starting point.

The first step of building a democratic system is to build a democratic constitution. For this we need a founding council for rebuilding the state, one in which political parties, the trade unions and the civil society join. This council will rebuild the democratic constitution and will be the basis for building the democratic system.

Now, the fact that Ghannouchi is speaking from exile is not irrelevant here. Most of the leadership of the An-Nahda party is exiled in London, following from a period of repression in the early 1990s. Indeed, there's an article in Foreign Policy almost gloating about the Tunisian revolution being "Islamist-free". So, there's a real question of just how much influence the Islamists can really have. At one time, they were a serious political force in Tunisia. In the 1989 general election, their candidates - standing as 'independents' - officially received 14% of the vote. According to Francois Burgat and William Dowell's study, (The Islamic Movement in North Africa, University of Texas Press, 1993), the real figure was plausibly closer to 30-32%. The regime rigged the elections, of course, so there would no way to know for sure. Subsequent repression, combined with a period of sustained economic growth that diminished the social base for the Islamists among the petite bourgeoisie and the rural poor, reduced the weight of An-Nahda as a serious opposition force so that today it's tempting to dismiss them. But is the revolution "Islamist-free"? Can it be?

Before going any further with this, it's worth saying something about who the Islamists in Tunisia are and how the came to prominence in the first place. The origins of Tunisia's Islamist movement are in the crisis of the Seventies. In that period, a movement among the intelligentsia toward reviving Islam as a basis for politics and culture, against the alienating Euro-secularism of the Bourguibist regime, found expression in a review called Al-Ma'rifa, and at the Zaytuna University. This coincided with a similar sense of dissatisfaction among the rural poor, where Islamic traditions were not as cheerfully downplayed as they were among the regime's elite.

The material background was that Israel's humiliation of Egypt and its allies in 1967 had raised serious questions about Arab nationalism, while economic crisis was de-legitimizing Bourguiba's corporatist progressivism. The state's turn toward economic liberalisation in the same period saw a sudden sharp increase in returns for private capital, while the incomes of the public sector salariat stagnated. For the Islamist intelligentsia, some of whom had been on the Left previously, all of this betokened not merely a material problem that they could struggle over - as the radical Left was doing at just that time. It was a profound spiritual crisis. Somehow the influx of cultural influences form the imperialist world, the economic crisis, the turn toward neoliberalism and its corrupting effects, the defeat of the Arab countries, the authoritarianism of the state, and their own diminished status were related to the decline of Islam in public life. As far as Tunisia went, the root and cause of the problem was that Bourguiba's state was built on an attempt to impose on a Muslim population a template of secular republican nationalism drawn from Europe. Indeed, the convulsions that had engulfed France in the late Sixties and early Seventies proved that its model could hardly be one worthy of emulation.

By the end of the Seventies, a coherent Islamist movement had emerged, the Mouvement de la Tendance Islamique (MTI) - the tendency which Ghannouchi co-founded. It did not seek to bring about an 'Islamic state', if such a thing could exist. This is not to say that such a goal might not come to the fore if the movement acquired a mass base, but it has not been a goal of the MTI, and its successor, the An-Nahda party, since its inception. Rather, it saw its remit as being to effect moral and social change. To accomplish this, it sought to ally with the nationalists and even integrate itself with the trade union movement - unlike the majority of Islamists groups who disapprove of trade unionism as a mode of organisation based on class struggle. This position seems to have been genuine and consistent argued, but it was also forced on the movement to some extent. While the MTI articulated a moral and spiritual argument about the sources of Tunisian decline, the 1978 general strike and riots over straightforward class issues marginalised the tendency somewhat, and compelled them to engage in such issues more forthrightly. Ghannouchi himself was insistent that it was "not enough to pray five times a day and fast ... Islam is activism ... it is on the side of the poor and the oppressed".

Aside from its dialogue with the poor and oppressed, the movement maintained a consistently pluralist approach to Tunisian politics. Nazih Ayubi's study, Political Islam, argues that unlike the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, the MTI did not "put itself in the position of the exclusive actor with the rights of moral tutelage over society at large", and that this approach enabled the tendency to accept a political pluralism that was inclusive not only of secularists but also of communists. The MTI collaborated with socialists in, for example, organising protests against US and Israeli aggression. The movement constantly assailed the lack of political liberty in Bourguiba's regime, and called for "the end of single-party politics and the acceptance of political pluralism and democracy". Later, Ghannouchi called for a mobilisation of civil society against the state:

"There is no place for dominating society in the name of any legitimacy - historic, religious, proletarian, or pseudo-democratic ... Bourguiba put forward the slogan of the state's prestige, but its real content was the monopoly of the party, of the capitalist interests within which power in the country was located, and the monopoly which Bourguiba exercised over this state. The time has come to raise the slogan of the prestige of society, of the citizen, and of the power which serves both."

Ghannouchi has also made an attempt to articulate a version of womens' rights consistent with Islamist beliefs, opposing this approach to the "obscure theories of Sayyid Qutb". However, his criticisms of the Personal Status Code, which includes various rights for women, point to the limits of any claim to gender egalitarianism on the part of the MTI. That stance allowed the movement to develop into a serious challenge to Bourguiba's regime, and it came to occupy a disproportionate amount of the ageing dictator's energies. Repression included arbitrary arrest and detention of MTI activists, but also a wider series of measures to curb expressions of religiosity. Insanely Ataturkist laws were passed banning civil servants from praying, excluding women who wore the 'veil' from universities and workplaces, rescinding the licenses of taxi drivers suspected of being Islamists, and so on.

Repression against the movement was one of the factors which won it sympathy on campuses, so that it overtook the left among students. Indeed, in this period the typical adherent of the Islamists was below the age of 30, and usually below the age of 25. Moreover, this student layer overlapped with the support from the rural poor, as the youths who supported the tendency typically came from the south and interior, away from coastal Sahel and Tunis. As the movement developed, it did pick up support in urban areas of Tunis, and among some of the professional types that the regime considered its core base.

Rashid Ghannouchi was himself to become a target of Bourguiba's drive to "eradicate the fundamentalist poison", as he ended up on trial for plotting with the connivance of the Iranian government to overthrow the Tunisian state. Linda Jones' profile of Ghannouchi for Middle East Report at this time noted that while the MTI was not the "fundamentalist" sock puppet that Bourguiba had demonsied, it had profited indirectly from Bourguiba's war on trade unions and the Left. Nonetheless, Ghannouchi was jailed and sentenced to a life of hard labour on evidence that was persuasive to no one, only to be released by the subsequent Ben Ali dictatorship in its early, liberalising days.

In 1989, the movement changed its name to Hizb an-Nahda (Renaissance Party), and contested the elections staged by Ben Ali as part of his promise of liberalisation. The elections, fixed though they were, did disclose a trend which is consistent with what was happening elsewhere at the time. As Fred Halliday explained, again in Middle East Report: "Despite their failure to win any seats in parliament, the Islamist 'independents' won around 17 percent of the vote, displacing the secular left, who won around 3 percent, as the main opposition. Given that around 1.2 million of those of voting age were not registered, and given the almost complete control which the ruling party has in the rural areas, the real Islamist strength is no doubt considerably greater than 17 percent: in the Tunis area, the figure was around 30 percent." However, the Islamists' support was broader than it was deep. As a movement, it was a relatively new arrival compared to its equivalents in North Africa and the Middle East, and its handling of religious and moral issues, though in one light relatively open and progressive, could also characterised as cautious and timid. A subsequent wave of repression in 1991 and 1992, centred on legal witch hunts for 'terrorism', decimated the Islamists' organisation and sent much of the leadership into exile.

This was followed by a series of economic transformations. Among these was the restructuring of class relations in the countryside. For example, following the advice of the World Bank, the government turned over state-owned agricultural cooperatives to large landowners. While this tended to concentrate wealth among the agrarian rich, it did unleash a wave of capital accumulation and growth that undercut support for the Islamists. The privatization of public services also reduced the scale of the public sector salariat, and profoundly altered the class structure in those newly private industries. The tax codes were restructured to give the bourgoisie a lift, and entice foreign direct investment with the promise of more repatriated lolly. This combination of reforms not only enhanced the power of the ruling class, but it also gave some middle class layers a sudden income boost while also producing sufficient growth to persuade some of those who lost from the process that they had a stake in preserving the neoliberal compact. In other words, the same combination of political repression and ensuing class restructuring, did for the Islamists as had done for the Left.

Contrary to what has sometimes been implied, the An-Nahda did not subsequently disappear as a movement. Its activists continued to be convenient scapegoats, continued to suffer repression and were to be the bearers of the 'Al Qaeda' stigma once the 'war on terror' was under way. But just as the secular left has been almost invisible in Tunisia for a generation, so the An-Nahda's influence has been much diminished, and practically subterranean since 1992-3. The current revolt is not hegemonised by parties of the Left or by the Islamists. At its heart is the trade union leadership, whose outlook is social democratic. But, like it or not, An-Nahda leaders have been returning to Tunisia to participate, and will in all likelihood gain some sort of audience. As they are less sectarian than some of the cretins in this country who denounce them as far right totalitarians, (and whom it is my vocation to wind up when they start woofing and foaming at the mouth), they will probably find willing allies as well. Just as they did when they were able last able to organise as a tendency in Tunisia. To describe the revolt as "Islamist-free", therefore, is almost to miss the point. The revolution, if it advances at all, is going to have to at minimum include a general amnesty toward political exiles, which means the An-Nahda will return. As Marc Lynch points out, it's hard to see what kind of genuine democracy could obtain without this step. And if the regime, entrenched as it has been since 1956, is to be defeated, then in all likelihood it will involve some configuration of the broad coalition that both Ghannouchis, pere et fille, are calling for.

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