Friday, September 30, 2011

Syria's opposition and 'intervention' posted by Richard Seymour

There has been some talk in the broadsheets of Syrian intellectuals supporting a US-led 'intervention'.  I've seen recently that the opposition has formed a Syrian National Council from exile to represent all the domestic opposition groups.  Initially it was reported in the Telegraph that the group opposed foreign intervention.  Now it is reported that they are discussing sanctions and a no-fly zone with overseas powers.  According to the Syrian activist and writer Michael Kilo, this pro-imperialist stance is one reason why the council isn't supported within Syria:


Anti-regime activists inside Syria oppose the Syrian National Council, an opposition body formed in Turkey last month, because it favors foreign intervention, prominent activist Michel Kilo said on Thursday.
"The opposition within the national council are in favor of foreign intervention to resolve the crisis in Syria, while those at home are not," Kilo claimed in remarks to Agence France Presse at his home in Damascus.
"If the idea of foreign intervention is accepted, we will head towards a pro-American Syria and not towards a free and sovereign state," he said.
"A request for foreign intervention would aggravate the problem because Syria would descend into armed violence and confessionalism, while we at home are opposed to that."
Kilo, 71, a writer who has opposed the ruling Baath party since it came to power in 1963, was jailed from 1980 to 1983 and from 2006 to 2009.

It's interesting to see how the opposition divides over 'intervention'.  While the SNC represents a coalition of liberals and Islamists, the National Committee for Democratic Change (NCDC), of which Kilo is a member, is organised around Arab nationalists, Marxists, independents, Kurds, etc.  This represents a broadly left pole that wasn't present in Libya (and still isn't, as far as I know). Also worth noting that the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), the pro-'intervention' group now working in Washington, supposedly represents the Muslim Brothers among others. 

The formation of a pro-imperialist exile lobby is a worrying and potentially dangerous development following on from Libya.  While I still have my doubts that such a war is coming, it's only fair to recall I had similar doubts at the beginning of March that Libya would be bombed.  In these circumstances, despite the fact that the administration has thus far been very cautious, it makes no sense to rule anything out.  And one important condition for any US-led invasion or bombing of Syria would be, I think, the formation of a clear, pro-'intervention' contingent among the opposition.  So, I'm just putting it out there: keep your eye on this story, see where it goes.

Update: this remarkable statement, apparently from the Local Coordinating Committees in Syria (the grassroots basis of the revolt), is worth quoting in full:


In an unprecedented move over the past several days, Syrians in Syria and abroad have been calling for Syrians to take up arms, or for international military intervention. This call comes five and a half months of the Syrian regime’s systematic abuse of the Syrian people, whereby tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have been detained and tortured, and more than 2,500 killed. The regime has given every indication that it will continue its brutal approach, while the majority of Syrians feel they are unprotected in their own homeland in the face of the regime’s crimes.
While we understand the motivation to take up arms or call for military intervention, we specifically reject this position as we find it unacceptable politically, nationally, and ethically. Militarizing the revolution would minimize popular support and participation in the revolution. Moreover, militarization would undermine the gravity of the humanitarian catastrophe involved in a confrontation with the regime.
Militarization would put the Revolution in an arena where the regime has a distinct advantage, and would erode the moral superiority that has characterized the Revolution since its beginning.

Our Palestinian brothers are experienced in leading by example. They gained the support of the entire Palestinian community, as well as world sympathy, during the first Intifada (“stones”). The second Intifada, which was militarized, lost public sympathy and participation. It is important to note that the Syrian regime and Israeli enemy used identical measures in the face of the two uprisings.
The objective of Syria's Revolution is not limited to overthrowing the regime. The Revolution also seeks to build a democratic system and national infrastructure that safeguards the freedom and dignity of the Syrian people. Moreover, the Revolution is intended to ensure independence and unity of Syria, its people, and its society.
We believe that the overthrow of the regime is the initial goal of the Revolution, but it is not an end in itself. The end goal is freedom for Syria and all Syrians. The method by which the regime is overthrown is an indication of what Syria will be like post-regime. If we maintain our peaceful demonstrations, which include our cities, towns, and villages; and our men, women, and children, the possibility of democracy in our country is much greater. If an armed confrontation or international military intervention becomes a reality, it will be virtually impossible to establish a legitimate foundation for a proud future Syria.
We call on our people to remain patient as we continue our national Revolution. We will hold the regime fully responsible and accountable for the current situation in the country, the blood of all martyrs – civilian and military, and any risks that may threaten Syria in the future, including the possibility of internal violence or foreign military intervention.
To the victory of our Revolution and to the glory of our martyrs.
The Local Coordinating Committees in Syria

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Police attack Wall Street occupation posted by Richard Seymour

Odd how you get these spaces for dissent in the US capitalist media. You rarely see anything like this in the UK:

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Zero Authors' Statement on Gilad Atzmon posted by Richard Seymour

  We are writing to express our concern that Zero Books, a vibrant, radical publisher, has made a terrible error of judgment in publishing a manuscript by the Jazz musician Gilad Atzmon.  The book, entitled The Wandering Who?, is a discussion of ‘Jewish identity’ in the light of global issues such as Israel-Palestine, and the financial crisis.  But the nature of Atzmon’s political engagement on ‘Jewish identity’ makes him at best a dubious authority on such matters.  His central concern is to describe and oppose “Jewish power”, as he sees it.  Thus, in one piece complaining about the presence of Jews in the Clinton and Bush administrations, he argues:
  “Zionists complain that Jews continue to be associated with a conspiracy to rule the world via political lobbies, media and money. Is the suggestion of conspiracy really an empty accusation? ... we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously … American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the elder of Zion' are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.”[1]
  This ‘control’ is, Atzmon argues, quite extensive.  “Jewish power” is such that legitimate research into the Nazi judeocide (by which he means Holocaust denial) is impossible.  The established history of the Holocaust is a “religion” that “doesn’t make any historical sense”.  But Jewish power has “managed to prevent the West from accessing one of the most devastating chapters of Western history”.[2]  Moreover, he blames the global economic crisis on Zionism and Jewish bankers:
 “Throughout the centuries, Jewish bankers bought for themselves some real reputations of backers and financers of wars [2] and even one communist revolution [3]. Though rich Jews had been happily financing wars using their assets, Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States, found a far more sophisticated way to finance the wars perpetrated by his ideological brothers Libby and Wolfowitz...”[3]
  Elsewhere, he relates that Marxism is merely an expression of Jewish tribal interests, “a form of supremacy that adopts the Judaic binary template”.[4]  Thus, Jews are held responsible by Atzmon for war, financial capitalism and communism.  Being born to an Israeli Jewish family, he does not identify the problem, as he sees it, in terms of blood or DNA.  Rather, he identifies a “Jewish tribal mindset”, a “Jewish ideology”, as the animus behind Jewish attempts “to control the world”.  Yet, racist ideology has never been reducible to its ‘biological’ variants.  It has often taken a ‘cultural’ form, predicated on an essentialist reading of its object (Islam, ‘Jewishness’) which is held to represent a powerful, threatening Other.
  Atzmon’s assertions are underpinned by a further claim, which is that antisemitism doesn't exist, and hasn’t existed since 1948.  There is only “political reaction” to “Jewish power”, sometimes legitimate, sometimes not.  For example, the smashing up of Jewish graves may be “in no way legitimate”, but nor are they “’irrational’ hate crimes”.  They are solely “political responses”.[5]  Given this, it would be impossible for anything that Atzmon writes, or for anyone he associates with, to be anti-Semitic.  This shows, not only in his writing, but in his political alliances.  He sees nothing problematic, for example, in his championing of the white supremacist ‘Israel Shamir’ (“the sharpest critical voice of ‘Jewish power’ and Zionist ideology”[6]), whose writings reproduce the most vicious anti-Semitic myths including the ‘blood libel’, and for whom even the BNP are insufficiently racist.[7]
  The thrust of Atzmon’s work is to normalise and legitimise anti-Semitism.  We do not believe that Zero’s decision to publish this book is malicious.  Atzmon’s ability to solicit endorsements from respectable figures such as Richard Falk and John Mearsheimer shows that he is adept at muddying the waters both on his own views and on the question of anti-Semitism.  But at a time when dangerous forces are attempting to racialise political antagonisms, we think the decision is grossly mistaken.  We call on Zero to distance itself from Atzmon’s views which, we know, are not representative of the publisher or its critical engagement with contemporary culture.

Robin Carmody, Dominic Fox, Owen Hatherley, Douglas Murphy, Alex Niven, Mark Olden, Laurie Penny, Nina Power, Richard Seymour & Kit Withnail.  (Others to follow).


[1] Gilad Atzmon, ‘On Antisemitism’, Gilad.co.uk, 20th March 2003. This article has been edited so that the author has placed "Zionists" were he had written "Jewish people".  This quote is true to the original.

[2] Gilad Atzmon, ‘Zionism and other Marginal Thoughts’, Gilad.co.uk, 4th October 2009; Gilad Atzmon, ‘Truth, History and Integrity’, Gilad.co.uk, 13th March 2010

[3] Gilad Atzmon, ‘Credit Crunch or rather Zio Punch?’, Gilad.co.uk, 16th November 2009

[4] Gilad Atzmon, ‘Self-Hatred vs. Self-Love- An Interview with Eric Walberg by Gilad Atzmon’, Gilad.co.uk, 5th August 2011

[5] Gilad Atzmon, ‘On Antisemitism’, Gilad.co.uk, 20th March 2003

[6] Gilad Atzmon, ‘The Protocols of the Elders Of London’, Gilad.co.uk, 9th November 2006

[7] See Israel Shamir, ‘Bloodcurdling Libel (a Summer Story)’, IsraelShamir.net; and Israel Shamir, ‘British Far Right and Saddam : responses of Robert Edwards and LJ Barnes of BNP’, IsraelShamir.net, January 2007

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Review of 'Chavs' by Owen Jones posted by Richard Seymour


Guest post by Callum:

Since its publication earlier this year, Owen Jones’ Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class seems to have caught the mood. Longlisted for the Guardian first book award, the book has gained positive write-ups in publications as diverse as the New York Times and Socialist Review. Media interest in the book and its author spiked in the aftermath of the riots, taken by the Right to be the surest sign yet of the existence of a pre-social class beyond all redemption.  Jones’ front-row seat to David Starkey’s meltdown on Newsnight was one unfortunate outcome of the increased demand for his insight.
The thesis of the book is one readers of the Tomb will be familiar with and sympathetic to. It goes something like this: on the back of its institutions and communities being decimated by 30 years of neo-liberal class warfare, the working class has been turned into an object of ridicule for Britain’s triumphant rulers. The vision of working class life dominant among political and cultural elites is of a thick, violent, criminal, over-sexed and proto-fascist rump whose ‘social problems’ are all of their own making. Robbed of the collective identity and sense of power that came with a strong trade union and Labour movement, the working class has been rendered defenceless to an onslaught launched by a media and political establishment dominated by the well-heeled.
The first reaction provoked by the book is one of anger. The author does an excellent job of building up evidence of the class bigotry that infects British public life. Given the invidious task of wading through the shit emanating from a variety of sources, from the detestable website ChavTowns, to the editorial pages of our newspapers, both broadsheet and tabloid, Jones convincingly demonstrates the hatred and bile that poor people have been on the end of in the last decade or so. Careful not to let his study become an account of ‘cultural oppression’, the author is always quick to relate his vignettes of mockery to political and economic processes. In a public discourse desperate to convince itself of the reality of Blair’s feted ‘meritocracy’, the poor had to be made responsible for their own poverty. The figure of the chav rump helped to feed the lie that ‘we’re all middle class’ and justify the gradual elimination of working class voices from the political debate.
Chavs is at its strongest when debunking this myth of the middle-class majority. While honest about the real damage and social disarticulation caused by the collapse of industry in some areas of the country, it paints a picture of a working class that has been transformed rather than abolished. Jones points out the grim reality of the ‘weightless economy’ for tens of millions of working class people. Whereas jobs in traditional industries were relatively well-paid, secure and high-status, the labour market that has replaced them is largely filled with badly paid, unsecure and low-status jobs in retail and ‘customer service’. The trade unions have struggled to reproduce the strength they had in the ‘old’ industries in the call centres and supermarkets that employ millions of working class people. This has had the effect of a creating a class that “objectively” is as numerous and economically vital as ever but “subjectively” experiences the world as a collection of isolated fragments, with no way to express politically its common interests. Chavs paints a picture of a working class that has been dislocated from its traditional strongholds in the trade union and socialist movement and is sorely lacking political representation.
This political weakness, Owen claims, lies at the heart of the cultural beating the working class has taken. In earlier days, our rulers were afraid of the ‘resolute mass brandishing red flags and carrying dog-eared  copies of the Communist Manifesto’ and this sense of working class power was reflected in relatively favourable, if patronizing, depictions of working class life in popular entertainment. With the trade unions smashed (one issue I had with the book is that it tends to slightly exaggerate the scale of the defeat of the trade unions) and the Labour Party reduced to a neo-liberal husk, ruling class fear of the proletarian mass has given way to derision.
The problem of working class representation is central to the book’s political message. While the author is no doubt correct to emphasize the effects New Labour’s dismissive attitude to the party’s working class supporters, to have the question of ‘representation’ as the main focus seems to miss the point somewhat. Jones, a left-wing member of the Labour Party, seems at certain points to assign the working class a purely passive role in its potential re-awakening. He appears to see the working class as an abused ‘constituency’ of potential Labour voters who need to be mobilized by the right messaging and policy portfolio.
Those of us from a different socialist tradition would instead stress that a new working class movement with a strong sense of collective interest and identity can only emerge through a process of class struggle. Simply waiting, as Chavs sometimes seems to suggest we ought to, for some Labour MPs (or even Ed Miliband) to break ranks with the neo-liberal orthodoxy and speak about working class life is, to put it comradely, not sufficient as a political strategy. The strikes proposed for November 30th could be set in motion a process in which the question of working class representation is posed concretely. If so, our political horizons will hopefully extend beyond putting pressure on E. Miliband to release some conciliatory press statements
In a chapter of the book entitled ‘Backlash’, Jones broaches the subject of the recent return of class into the political debate in the form of reactionary invocations of the so-called ‘white working class’. Again, regular readers of this blog will be aware of the debates surrounding this term. At this point, the author seems to lose some of the admirable single-mindedness that marks the rest of the argument. On the one hand, he gives  short-shrift to the idea that the so-called ‘white working class’ are a bunch of drink-fuelled bigots who are just gullible fodder for fascist snake-oil salesmen. The working class, as he points out, is multiracial and multicultural. In a trip to Dagenham, a BNP stronghold before they were wiped out at the last election, the author meets anti-racist campaigners and ordinary locals disgusted with the fascist presence in the borough. He also meets worried locals airing what we have come to know as ‘legitimate grievances’ about the effects of immigration on the social housing stock in particular. (Jones points out that non-British nationals occupied just 5 percent of the council houses in the borough).
At this point however, the book veers into uncertainty. A discussion of the problem of fascism in economically depressed boroughs of London quickly morphs into a rather lazy attack on the contemporary political Left. The BNP’s support, the book suggests, results from a successful strategy of ‘community politics’ that the Left could learn from. BNP action on issues like ‘litter’ and ‘anti-social behaviour’ gave them a root in working class communities in which the political Left is largely missing. While the far-right were listening to the concerns of local working class people, the Left is charged with retreating into ‘identity politics’ and being more interested in ‘manning a stall about Gaza outside a university campus’ than in the “bread-and-butter” issues.[1]
Jones admits that things like war and widespread Islamophobia are important issues, and points out for instance that opposition to the war in Afghanistan in higher among poorer people, but, he says, the ‘problem comes with the priority given by the left to international issues’. Many working-class people care about these issues but not ‘above housing and jobs’. In other words, we can talk about what is going on in Helmand province or the treatment of the Palestinians but only after Mrs. Smith down the road has had her leaky drainpipe fixed.
No doubt to some readers Owen’s position will strike a chord, and maybe even come off as reassuringly “practically-minded” to others. Socialism focussed on local issues perhaps sounds “authentic” compared to abstract denunciations of crimes going on far away. Unfortunately, as soon as one interrogates this separation of bread-and-butter “class” issues from “international” issues, it becomes clear that there is nothing to it.
Take the issue of war: I do not want to be silly and make the clichéd polemical points, but they seem necessary. Firstly, it is an army disproportionately drawn from working class communities that is fighting and dying in the British state’s wars. I don’t suppose that there is an issue more ‘bread-and-butter’ for working class people than whether their sons and daughters should risk be risking their lives in ridiculous imperialist adventures. (I say this as someone whose cousin is currently posted in Afghanistan). Secondly, the argument that the billions spent bombing other countries could have been spent more productively on public services here is the most simple and easily understandable argument in the world to make to ordinary people. It also happens to be true.
More fundamentally, however, you cannot separate these issues because the political and cultural conditions created by a decade of war directly feed into the anxiety and division that prevent the emergence of working class unity. As Jones himself admits in the book, there is a connection between the traction gained by Islamophobia in this country and the fact that Britain is ostensibly fighting ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ abroad. In this sense, it is just not practical to say that we can sideline the “international” issues until we have a new class politics. Rather, a new class politics is only possible if it has a critique of Britain’s imperial ambitions at its centre. Sacrificing the construction of an anti-war movement in an effort to found a new class politics makes both things less likely.
One other major weakness with the book lies with its sheepishness when it came to identifying the class enemy, so to speak. We get much talk of elite politicians and journalists and the ‘middle classes’ and so on, but we get almost no mention of capitalists. The book’s index contains precisely zero entries for ‘capitalism’ or ‘capitalist’. (It also contains very little mention of socialism, except to slag off existing groups). You could pass this off as a meaningless terminological difference. It is clear where the author’s political allegiances lie.
It must be true, however, that if the left is to direct the anger created by the crisis and now austerity at those responsible, we are going to want to know who they are and give them a name. It could of course be ‘politicians’ or the ‘middle classes’, but unfortunately these categories are too diverse to form a stable enough referent for an oppositional political movement. It is also clear that having ‘politicians’ as such as a political enemy can quickly detour in a reactionary direction. The movement of the ‘indignant’ in Spain seem to have progressed slightly and has spoken of the ‘system’ as the enemy, but even this misses something. The value of the term capitalist is that it gets to the root of the division in our society –  between those who own and tell others what to do and those who do not  own and must take orders from others.
These political differences aside, I would recommend Chavs to readers. The enthusiasm with which the book has been greeted reflects, I think, a desire to put to bed the obscurantism of the New Labour era on the question of class. In an age when the working class is rendered either invisible or is invoked only as a repository of an ugly ressentiment, the book reminds us of the potential political and economic power that exists largely untapped in British society. While I think the solutions to the current state of class politics offered by Chavs are limited, the author ought to be thanked for creating a space in which discussion of this topic is again possible.


[1] As a side note, I have always been slightly puzzled by the claim that the far-right talks about ‘bread-and-butter’ issues that the Left ignores. At a time when the Left and the trade unions are mounting a campaign against the biggest assault on working class interests and communities in a generation, what is the main issue for the so-called ‘populist’ far-right? Whether Nando’s chicken is Halal.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Breivikism in the Daily Mail posted by Richard Seymour

This is an example of an aspect of Breivikite ideology in the Daily Mail:

Most of us may not realise this but the ideological Left certainly does, for it has long been part of its grand plan to destroy Western civilisation from within. The plan's prime instigator was the influential German Marxist thinker ('the father of the New Left') Herbert Marcuse. A Jewish academic who fled Germany for the US in the Thirties, he became the darling of the Sixties and Seventies 'radical chic' set.

He deliberately set out to dismantle every last pillar of society – tradition, hierarchy, order – and key to victory, he argued, would be a Leftist takeover of the language, including 'the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care etc'.

In other words, those of us who believe in smaller government or other 'Right-wing' heresies should be for ever silenced.

I recently finished writing a chapter on Anders Breivik's manifesto, '2083: A European Declaration of Independence'.  It is a document that is notable for many things, among them its extensive plagiarism, copypasta, and sprawling, barely structured polemics on a bewildering variety of subjects.  It draws together a number of elements in contemporary reaction into a prospectus for a very contemporary fascism.  The core of it is a fabulation concerning attempt by "cultural Marxists", whose influence extends from Gramsci and Lukacs to Marcuse and Adorno, through 'deconstruction' and 'political correctness', to take control of culture, thought and language and thus 'silence' conservatives and patriots.  This theory is what mandates the war against "category A and B traitors".  Now, this is not typical mainstream media fare, albeit the gripes about political correctness and left-wing domination of culture are commonplace.  As far as I know, Delingpole is the first to bring this Breivikite conspiracy theory right from the margins into the mainstream press - not long after the blood has dried in Utoya, at that.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Yemen's revolution and declining US power posted by Richard Seymour

I am sorry not have to kept up to date with the inspiring resistance in Syria and Yemen. I note that David Cameron's speech at the UN used the example of Libya to argue for more interventions, citing both these countries as being in need of 'reform'.  For what it's worth, it presently seems unlikely that Britain will be able to drive further military interventions, as the conditions that made a relatively low cost and low commitment intervention in Libya possible aren't likely to be replicated elsewhere.  However, the adoption of the language of 'reform' is very interesting, and signals that the strategy of the dominant states has shifted from simply backing the ancient regimes to looking for a managed transition to more liberal societies.  The spirit of this was, I think, summed up in Blair's panicked remarks upon the Egyptian revolution:


"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."

Cameron would not be as crude as Blair, since he is an opportunist while the latter is an out and out bampot, but I think he shares essentially the same idea.  As regards Yemen, it's been obvious for a while now that despite Washington's backing for repression and involvement in killing opposition leaders dubbed 'Al Qaeda', they're no longer content to leave Saleh in charge.  The scale and endurance of the resistance, coming as it does from fractured sources and with different motives, combined with internal plotting against Saleh, has forced Washington to change tack (see Obama's UN speech).  As Sheila Carapico points out in MERIP, they have done so reluctantly, and with a clear lack of sympathy for the protesters.  In April, when they thought a face-saving deal might be reached, the US embassy in Sanaa issued a press release urging "'Yemeni citizens' to show good faith by 'avoiding all provocative demonstrations, marches and speeches in the coming days'."

The ongoing UN negotiations over a power transfer concern the terms of Saleh's departure, and constitute an effort by the US to engineer a settlement it can live with.  Meanwhile, as the regime continues to use live rounds, tear gas, sewage water cannons, artillery and tanks to suppress the opposition, it is so important that the opposition has not been demobilised as the Obama administration would like it to be.  This is a mass rally in Yemen today following a week of repression:



This suggests that, despite the very intelligent, cautious and successful intervention in Libya, US power has still taken a very significant regional knock, and its ability to control events is in question. Look at what's happening with Palestine. Egypt relaxing Rafah crossing restrictions, and supporting Fatah-Hamas peace talks, the Israeli embassy beseiged, Turkey continuing its historic break with Israel, and now the Palestinian statehood bid which, with all caveats noted, has left the Israeli leadership manifestly rattled.  Obama has just sent Israel more weapons, and he will almost certainly instruct his ambassador to the UN to veto the bid.  Susan Rice, the administration's uber-humanitarian-interventionist, threatened the UN with the withdrawal of US funding if member states backed Palestinian statehood.  Still, a majority of states may approve the bid, and that would be a defeat for the US and Israel.  As importantly, the Palestinian leadership has decided to sidestep America as the key mediator in the process.  Both the US and Israel insist that there can be no talk of statehood outside the 'peace process'.  But Mahmoud Abbas, after all these years, is acting as if he knows that the 'peace process' is intended to suffocate the very possibility of Palestinian statehood, which is not a small thing.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

The lynching of Troy Davis posted by Richard Seymour

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Monday, September 19, 2011

The 'white working class' again posted by Richard Seymour

Shall we ever tire, I wonder, of dignifying racists and fascists with the mantle of oppression?  They, the pitiable, neglected "white working class".  They, the underdogs, oppressed in their own nation, by the politically correct, the educated, the middle classes and (sotto voce) the uppity minorities.  No matter how many faces they kick in, no matter how many people they stab, no matter how many times they pose with guns as if in tribute to their co-ideologue Breivik, there will always be those who entertain a patronising sympathy for these primitive oiks and their native moxie.  

For example, here is the knuckle-dragging bore, Brendan O'Neill, late of the RCP, explaining to his rich, white audiences that opposition to the EDL is the behaviour of a rich, white clique motivated by class hatred.  Here, he is followed by the Telegraph's leader-writer Damian Thompson, an Islamophobic reactionary who takes up the same theme while bringing his historical acumen to bear on it: "The street battles between the Anti-Nazi League and the National Front in the 1970s pitted white middle-class students against white working-class thugs: in both cases there was a sense that the ethnic minorities they were fighting over were almost irrelevant."  (Here, just for reference, is a picture of white middle-class students seeing off the National Front in the 1970s).  Why do I bother with these idiots?  Only because there's a sort of interesting story behind this.

After the recent success for anti-fascists in Tower Hamlets (again, here is a picture of the white middle-class students protesting against the EDL), there was a video that was circulated supposedly involving two UAF supporters giggling like schoolboys over a humiliating kicking allegedly inflicted on a female EDL member while their bus was caught in the middle of Whitechapel Road.  I do not know whether the assault took place.  But let us just say that from my perspective it would be indefensible if it did, as it would not appear to involve self-defence but merely a brutal beatdown.  Further, the two men laughing about it on the video appear to take a misogynistic glee in seeing a 'dog' beaten like this.  That is one reason why I instantly distrusted the video upon viewing it.  They don't sound like anti-fascists.  I know of no one in Unite Against Fascism or its periphery who thinks that misogynistic violence is a tactic of anti-fascism.

Still, the reason Brendan O'Neill decided to write about the subject is that he reads Laurie Penny's columns.  And Laurie Penny had written this frankly strange piece attacking 'class snobbery' against the EDL, in response to the Youtube video.  She wrote:

It's not just the incident itself which is shocking, but the attitude the video bears out, a smug, nasty condescension replacing real political analysis. The video was posted on EDLRaw – a pro-EDL YouTube channel – and its source has not yet been verified. However, when I shared it on social media, asking for confirmation, a handful attempted to excuse the jeering with the mantra "a fascist is a fascist".  The implication was that violence, class prejudice and misogyny can be tolerated on the left as long as its targets have attended a terrifying racist intimidation parade.

Now, having been involved in that social media conversation, I know that the argument "a fascist is a fascist" was not made by someone defending "the jeering".  Rather, the person claimed (wrongly in my view), that it made no difference whether the victim of the assault was male or female.  This issue should be judged, the person suggested, not as a case of potential misogynistic violence, but rather as an understandable, if tactically misguided case of someone lashing out at a fascist who had come to beat up Muslims.  This was poor, but it was also the closest anyone came to 'defending' any part of it, and no one defended "the jeering".  However, in the discussion a number of people did make the claim, which Laurie Penny also makes in this article, that said jeering reflects "a distaste for the far-right's working-class base that is as much about prejudice as it is about politics ... Class snobbery is part of the reason that the EDL are on the streets in the first place."  I will return to this claim in a moment.  

To her credit, Penny acknowledged that "the jeering" reflected nothing about UAF, or any other anti-fascist organisation.  O'Neill and Thompson were not as scrupulous.  While O'Neill used the issue to incriminate the left and anti-fascists in general, Thompson went further and asserted falsely that UAF describes EDL supporters as "chavs", and had no problem declaring the two men on the video to be "middle class [sigh] supporters of United Against Fascism".  Making up quotes and playing fast and loose with the facts is roughly the sort of behaviour that this weaselly scribe was lambasting Johann Hari for not long ago.  So, before going any further, it is worth noting that the men behind the video have nothing to do with Unite Against Fascism.  The charming personality on-screen is that of comedic hopeful, Anthony Richardson.  He, in a public apology for the video (to the best of my knowledge, this is genuine), explains that "We were bystanders and had not been actively involved in either side of the protest."  He goes on to say that: "I can categorically state that I am not part of any political party or particular leaning".  The pair were not anti-fascist protesters, middle class or otherwise.  Nothing they did or said, and nothing about how they did or said it, tells us anything about why people protest against the EDL.

So, let us return to this business about the EDL, the far right and their "working class base".  There are a number of things to say here.  First of all, just as a rule of thumb, any organisation that aspires to have any degree of political success, will develop some sort of working class support.  It is not possible to build an organisation that entirely excludes the class making up the majority of the population.  Even the Conservative Party has a sizeable working class electorate.  This does not make it a working class organization.  Secondly, the research on the far right is limited.  What research there is suggests that fascists do not identify themselves in class terms - it is not an idiom they are overly concerned with.  They are not motivated by class snobbery.  Far from it, they seem to be highly sensitive to minute hierarchical differentiations, particularly to ways in which they are superior to their neighbours.  (True, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon claims to represent the 'white working class', but as a wag put it, the guy is a small business man who owns a tanning salon - he actually represents the orange petty bourgeoisie).  Further, they tend not to be class-motivated voters abandoning Labourism for some nebulous fascist proletarianism, but rather tend to be traditional right-wing voters - people shifting their votes from Tories, UKIP and other right-wing parties.  And inasmuch as there is any research on their class basis, it concerns the BNP's electoral bloc.  And that shows that the BNP's working class supporters tend not to be the poorest of the working class, but rather is concentrated in the posher end of towns and estates.  Moreover, their acquisition of significant working class support is recent.  Like most fascist outfits, the BNP began with a largely lower middle class electorate, as the Democracy Audit survey published in 2005 suggested.  Later, they expanded into working class areas.  There is no such research into the EDL's base, or even any sure sign that they yet have much of a base beyond the extant far right, racist and hooligan fringe.  

Thirdly, it follows from the above that no one who identifies the EDL or far right as having a working class base is doing so on the basis of the evidence - for such evidence is thin on the ground.  How, then, do they identify this salt-of-the-earth working class volk?  Laurie Penny's article is clear on where the class contempt lies - the two buffoons in the video refer to the woman whose assault they describe as a tattooed "scrote", implying that she deserved a good kicking for being just that.  But how do we know what class this woman, or indeed any of the assorted weirdos, thugs and quacks accompanying her on the bus, belonged to?  How do O'Neill and Thompson divine the class location of EDL supporters?  How do they know so much about what estates they live in, and with whom they share those estates?  How, in short, do we divine what their class base is?  Did these writers simply look at the EDL dirt, the rabble, the scum, the ordure, and think "this is what working class people look like?"  Because, if so, it would seem that the snobbery is entirely on their side.*

* I mean this in a very precise way.  There is a conception of class implicit in this argument that has nothing to do with class as a category of political economy.  It is not even the old status-culture model of class that underpins official statistical classifications.  It is a chimera, a purely sentimental, pseudo-ethnic model of class, in which a working class person is defined by certain sumptuary and sartorial habits, attributes which make for convenient genre markers but which by themselves yield no sociological insight.  It is an object of nostalgia and melancholia, the deus ex machina of reactionary polemic that strictly does not coincide with the working class as it actually lives and reproduces itself.  That working class, the 'actually existing working class' for want of a better term, has anti-fascists and anti-racists in it.  And leftists, and trade unionists.  And students, and autodidacts, and other educated people.  And people who dress well.  Once this is clear, the identification of the working class as the natural home of the far right cannot but appear as a patronising slur; and talk of the 'white working class' a sleight against the actual working class, which stubbornly resists colour-coding.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Johann Hari debacle posted by Richard Seymour

Why should I have anything to say about Johann Hari's disgraceSplintered Sunrise has already dealt with this in two elegant posts, perfecting a more-in-sorrow-than-in-delicious-glee tone that makes me giggle. I can't possibly top this.  And yet, I do have some claim to speak on this topic.  Firstly, because my encounter with someone who, accompanying one Johann Hari esquire, identified himself as David Rose at a debate in 2005, has caused no end of confusion.  You see, someone using the identity of 'David Rose' was editing entries on Wikipedia in ways that were malicious to some journalists but convivial to Johann Hari.  It was suspected that this 'David Rose' might be a sock puppet used by Hari himself.  'David Rose' told readers to contact me, as I had met him and could confirm his existence.  The vast majority of queries I received on this came during Hari's recent vow of silence, as Twitterers and email correspondents pursued answers that they couldn't get from the cherubic fibber himself.  I dutifully explained that I had in fact met someone called David Rose and that he seemed to be friend of Hari's.  Now it turns out the real David Rose is likely to be this guy, who doesn't resemble the person I met, and hasn't known Hari for ten years.  So, the question I'm now asking is: who the hell did I meet?  (The matter of who left those fiercely defensive comments on this blog using the 'Rose' identity, and who e-mailed me as recently as 2009 using the same identity to plug one of Hari's articles, is perhaps less of a mystery).

Secondly, while the right-wing pundits and papers are just now getting up to speed on this, I had noticed Hari's propensity for plagiarism and fabulation long ago.  The arch-reactionary and Islamophobic left-footer Catholic writer, Damian Thompson, is leading the Torygraph's gloat-fest, but they are well behind the times as far as I'm concerned. Allow me to elaborate.  Private Eye reported fabrications on his part regarding quotes from Iraqis pleading for invasion back in 2003.  I pointed out some very serious fabrications regarding Galloway's memoir in 2004.  Chris Brooke first drew attention to Hari's plagiarism in his Negri interview back in 2004. I pointed out several of his distortions, including a pretty nasty slur on Eric Hobsbawm, in 2005.  So, you see, the problem has been noticed well before now, and largely not by the right.  More recently, before this drama blew up, several of us pointed out Hari's falsehoods about Muslims in the East End - with the result of inducing a quite spectacular huff on his part, in which he blocked all of his critics on Twitter and unfriended several on Facebook (yes, including me).  Granted, some of the accusations now current - for example, the fabrication of evidence regarding atrocities in the Central African Republic (which Hari still denies despite what seems to be compelling evidence) - are actually much more serious than the above.  But that's saying something.  The nadir of Hari's professional standards has been evident to many for a long time.

And this is not a case of a Jayson Blair, exactly, though fellow staff members are reputed to have considered Hari "our Jayson Blair".  True, if the Blair comparison holds, it would mean that The Independent's managers and editors had ignored repeated warnings about Hari's behaviour, protecting him because his copy was good for advertising revenue.  Still, Hari's untruths and distortions have been at times far more politically toxic than anything Blair invented.  Alhough, as an opinion journalist, he has never had the status of a Judith Miller, he could nonetheless do some real damage - as his mea culpa over Iraq acknowledged.  But what is at issue here is the media itself.  

Hari has been defended robustly by The Independent, which has invested heavily in his reputation.  It tried - lucklessly, in the end - to save his Orwell Prize, which must be a source of some of the paper's advertising revenues.  Editor Simon Kelner was out there firefighting on Hari's behalf, insisting that he's really, really sorry (I bet he bloody is), and that the paper believes in him.  I daresay even the lawyers, who have certainly been deployed on Hari's behalf before, were working overtime during this fiasco.  Now, it's clear from Hari's mea culpa that the paper intends to keep him on staff, though he will use some of his accumulated earnings to take a few months holiday while he attends a journalism course.  While constituting a tacit admission of the laxity of professional standards in the media, wherein a university graduate could go far and fast with minimal training, it also confirms the paper's commitment to their star writer.  The fact is that the liberal media likes the sort of 'colour' journalism that Hari provides - the telling quote, the saucy detail, the heart-wrenching testimony.  The Hari-Brockes school of falsification is a lucrative form of infotainment.  Ideally it wouldn't be completely riddled with fabrications, but that style of writing does lend itself to embellishment, exaggeration and invention.  And it's simply impossible that the editors and managers of The Independent don't know that.  But then, as we learned from Richard Peppiatt, and above all from the profusion of explosive revelations known collectively as 'Hackgate', truth is at best a secondary value in the capitalist media.

As for Hari himself, any temptation I had to feel sorry for him evaporated when I read his self-serving apology.  No one could feel more sorry for Hari than he does for himself, and he acknowledges none of the serious charges made against him, no matter how strong or irrefutable the evidence is.  The people I feel sorry for are those talented journalists starting out on their careers, anxious to provide good copy, packing that colour in, maybe tempted to embellish, exaggerate, or be overly generous with the detail.  Had Hari been hung out to dry, they would have had an example to be wary of.  "There but for the grace of Simon Kelner...", they would think, and delete whatever nonsense was just tripping off their keyboard digits.  By protecting him, as The Independent seems to have done, they have given notice that the consequences of falsification, of plagiarism, and of slander, aren't all that severe.  And that... well, that isn't true, is it?

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Libyan divisions, and a mirage of revolution posted by Richard Seymour

Oh, and while I'm here, this criticism overlaps with something I'm doing at the moment, so I may as well just deal with it now:


Richard Seymour has a more hardline anti-interventionist post on Libya which, while it makes a number of important points, nevertheless seems to me like it strikes rather the wrong note. Seymour observes that “The rebel army is commanded by someone who is most likely a CIA agent”, and goes on to predict that the US and its allies will quickly move to set up a pliable regime pro-Western “liberals” who will go along with the designs of neoliberalism.
I agree with this, as far as it goes. But Seymour goes on to say that “I don’t think we’re witnessing a revolutionary process here.” This strikes me as far too simplistic. The leadership of the TNC may not be revolutionaries, but they appear to have only the most tenuous control over the forces that actually defeated Gaddafi, like the Berber units in the Western mountains and the dozens of privately organized militias. Recall that it was just a few weeks ago that the rebels looked to be too busy assassinating one another to make any military gains. The usual bourgeois foreign-policy types are warning of splits and “instability” on the rebel side, because what the US and NATO want most is a stable and cooperative regime. But the fractiousness and disorganization that so terrifies the Western foreign policy intelligentsia is precisely what may yet allow a revolutionary dynamic to emerge.

A few quick points, then.  First, tellingly, the author does not say that there is a revolutionary situation in Libya, merely that a "revolutionary dynamic" may emerge from the current chaos.  So, although I may be accused of striking the wrong note, I am not accused of being wrong.  Secondly, if there is a danger in striking the wrong note, at least part of that danger comes from wishful thinking.  If a revolutionary situation is to emerge from the fratricidal chaos among Libya's elites today (which is real), we have to ask where it would come from, who would lead it, what would be its dominant political thrust, etc?  If we're talking about something that is on the cards and not merely a distant hope, it should be possible to specify what sort of alliance and what sort of political leadership might be involved.

I grant that the divisions in the leadership reflect the difficulties that the dominant neoliberal clique have had in incorporating a wider array of social forces under their leadership.  Even so, the basis for these divisions appears to be largely over fiefdoms, and very little over popular demands.  On the other hand, there appears to be shockingly little dissent over the ongoing matter of racial cleansing which, far from abating, is intensifying.  Put the hollow expressions of regret from the transitional council (NTC), regarding "a small number of incidents" for which they bear primary responsibility, to one side.  Scapegoating 'Africans' is just how a neoliberal elite in alliance with former colonial powers preserves its 'national' legitimacy.  Yet it is unlikely that this would work as effectively as it does if the opposition had a left-wing, or an organised labour contingent.  As yet it has neither. 

It is also true that there is a certain amount of fluidity in the situation and, in the interregnum, a limited space for localised grassroots initiative.  Yet, for this to become a revolutionary situation, masses of people would have to not only break with the NTC, but also identify with a rising alternative leadership.  The fact is that the Libyan uprising, from inception, has had no alternative leadership.  (This is not unrelated to there being no left-wing, and no organised labour contingent).*  The NTC's weaknesses do not, therefore, add up to strength on the part of potential popular rivals.  And the NTC does now have the immense resources of imperialism backing it up.

So, where is this revolutionary potential?  Is it anything other than a shibboleth at this point?

*This isn't an immutable fact, but it is the reality at present.  And it happens to be rooted in a couple of facts about Libya's development under Qadhafi.  First, the Jamahiriyya didn't allow political parties or independent trade unions because, in theory, it didn't need them.  It was supposed to be governed by popular committees and workers' self-management (outside the crucial oil and banking sectors, of course).  In practise, Libya was a national security state like its regional equivalents, in which the old ruling class - particularly those sections integrated into the state - saw its power consolidated, and even legitimised under a seemingly radical new regime.  The only sustained opposition that could develop took the form of armed Islamist insurgency.  Unsurprisingly, the only potential opposition to the neoliberals today are the Islamists who, contrary the scaremongering of some pro-Qadhafi opinion, are not in a position to take over the country.  Secondly, the social basis of the dominant faction of the opposition derives from Qadhafi's re-orientation toward the US and EU since the late 1990s.  This meant further integration into global capitalism along neoliberal lines as part of the price of relaxing sanctions, which had cost the economy billions.  

The arrival of platoons of lobbyists, oil industry flaks, economists, statesmen and neoliberal technocrats, epecially in the latter half of the 2000s, did a great deal to accelerate the development of a private sector capitalist elite.  Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter played an important role in a programme designed to "create a new pro-business elite", with dozens passing through a 'leadership' programme run by the Boston consultancy firm, Monitor Group.  Porter, along with Saif al-Qadhafi, helped launch the Libyan Economic Development Board which pushed privatization policies.  This was then headed by current chair of the National Transitional Council, Mahmoud Jibril.  Vice-chair Ali al-Issawi also helped develop the same policies as a minister responsible for the Economy, Trade & Investment.  Thus, only when a strategic cleavage opened up within Libya's ruling class - I would characterise it as one between a relatively conservative state capitalist elite cautious about reform and a neoliberal elite impatient for reform, a fissure accelerated by the region's uprisings - was it possible for a viable mass political opposition to emerge.  It's precisely because of the ruling class split that the Libyan rebels were able to so quickly achieve an advantage that the Egyptian revolutionaries lacked - dual power, centred on the control of major urban centres.  Yet it's quite logical in these circumstances for a section of the ruling class to be politically, ideologically and even institutionally dominant within that opposition.  This is what happened.  The alliance with NATO consolidated that dominance, after the revolutionary dynamic had been crushed by Qadhafi's forces.

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The mass strike comes to Britain posted by Richard Seymour

You'll have gathered that I'm immersed in work at the moment, but it's definitely worth pausing to notice this.  The leaders of every major trade union in Britain, from Unison and Unite to the PCS, GMB, NUT, FBU, and others have reportedly said they will back coordinated strike action on 30th November.  They have named the day.  This could result in 3 million workers on strike, the biggest single day of strike action in the UK since 1926.  My article on the previous strike a few months back put it like this:

If Unison did join national strike action in October, and Unite participated along with the smaller unions, it would constitute a sea change in the culture of industrial relations in this country. Such co-ordinated action would be as close to a general strike as we've seen in Britain since 1926. It would have a much bigger impact in the UK than in the continent, where general strikes are a more regular occurrence. It would shock the government to its core.

That remains the case.  Stuart Hall, writing in The Guardian the other day, warned that "popular thinking and the systems of calculation in daily life offer very little friction to the passage of [the Tories'] ideas".  There is a great deal to this, and this is why people need a sense of their collective power.  Importantly, a number of union leaders are talking about defying anti-union legislation, which has been one of the factors inhibiting militancy since the Thatcher era.  It would, of course, be foolish to assume that what union leaders promise at conference will materialise without a struggle.  The ballots are still to be held.  Even if they are passed, union leaders can wobble and call off strike action.  The government, if it panics, may offer the major unions just enough concessions to cause them to back off.  The success of the strike ballots as well as the success of the action on the day depends on the arguments had, and alliances forged, between now and November. 

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Hackgate and the British ruling class posted by Richard Seymour

Explaining the Murdoch scandal and what it reveals about the British ruling class:


Soon, anyone who had ever had their picture taken with Murdoch was disowning him and the whole clan. Murdoch's friendship had dropped in value quicker than Colonel Gaddafi's. His clout within the government dried up instantly, and his bid to takeover BSkyB collapsed. Newscorp shed a number of senior executives, then shed its most profitable UK newspaper, as News of the World was closed in disgrace. It made sense to close the paper, once the scandal was revealed: its turn to such corrupt methods reflected the desperate need to stay ahead in a newspaper market where profit rates were tumbling. Deprived of the competitive edge that such illegal behaviour produced, and with a 'toxic' brand, the paper could only be dead weight thereafter. The cosy relationship that News International executives had always enjoyed with Scotland Yard also rapidly became toxic, costing a number of senior officials their jobs, ultimately including Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. It emerged that five officers alone had received bribes from News of the World totalling 100,000 pounds, with payments routinely being made to officers in exchange for information. In short, what seems to be emerging is a criminal enterprise reaching into not only the top of News of the World, not only the highest echelons of Newscorp, but actually the highest levels of the British state.

Yet, it isn't enough to call it a criminal enterprise. When politicians and flaks dined with the Murdochs, when police wined News of the World executives, they were acting as a class. In what way?...

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forlorn Hope: Lost Dreams of American Renewal posted by Richard Seymour

American liberals who supported the ‘war on terror’ did so on ostensibly humanitarian and democratic grounds. Yet, underlying those soothing bromides was a fantasy of American regeneration through violence. Commentators as diverse as Frank Rich, David Brooks and George Packer had contended in the wake of that an era of decadence and frivolousness had just drawn to a close. 

Judith Shulevitz wrote in the New York Times that ‘tolerance for people with dangerous ideas seems frivolous compared with the need to stop them’. Her new ‘sense of seriousness’, as she chose to call it, allowed her to understand the ‘urgent patriotism’ of Stephen Spielberg’s ‘Band of Brothers’. The invocation of Americans in a collective struggle with fascism was not incidental: Spielberg’s focus on World War II, seen by many as a good ‘liberal’ war, had arguably been an effort to overcome the trauma of Vietnam and resuscitate liberal nationalism. Shulevitz continued: ‘Somewhere deep in my heart, I have always longed for a catastrophe like the present one’, as it would produce a ‘collective purpose’ comparable with World War II or the ‘Velvet Revolution’. It would sweep aside all triviality, such as ‘petty political squabbling’ and ‘enervating celebrity gossip’. An op-ed in the Washington Post mused that the hijackers ‘decided to attack the symbols of American empire, financial domination, military hegemony, strangely ugly buildings housing the people who rule a strangely ugly world despite our soft hearts.’ It was this softness, the failure to make this strangely ugly world beautiful, that had brought about such bloody consequences in Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon and Somalia.

On the day that the attack on Afghanistan began, former New York Times editor James Atlas told the paper’s readers that ‘[o]ur great American empire seems bound to crumble at some point’ and that ‘the end of Western civilization has become a possibility against which the need to fight terrorism is being framed, as Roosevelt and Churchill framed the need to fight Hitler’. The alarming ease with which ‘Western civilization’ was conflated with the American empire was matched only by the implication that nineteen hijackers from a small transnational network of jihadis represent a civilizational challenge, an existential threat comparable with the Third Reich. But this was precisely the argument of liberal interventionists. Thus, the polemics of Paul Berman, shorn of the language of empire, nonetheless held that both Al Qaeda and the Iraqi Ba’ath regime updated the ‘totalitarian’ challenge to liberalism that had been represented by Nazism and Stalinism. For Ignatieff, the ‘war on terror’ was an older contest between an empire whose ‘grace notes’ were free markets and democracy, and ‘barbarians’. And for Christopher Hitchens, nothing less was at stake than secular democracy, under threat from ‘Islamic fascism’. This challenge demanded both a censorious ‘moral clarity’ and support for extraordinary measures to abate the threat.

Anatol Lieven, in his study of American nationalism, compared the post-9/11 climate in the United States to the ‘Spirit of 1914’ that prevailed across Europe on the outbreak of World War I. It is a perceptive comparison. As Domenico Losurdo illustrates in his Heidegger and the Ideology of War, that era also generated a striking martial discourse (Kriegsideologie), which insisted on civilizational explanations for war. It was then mainly thinkers of the German right who elaborated the discourse. Max Weber, though politically liberal, argued that the war was not about profit, but about German existence, ‘destiny’ and ‘honour’. Some even saw it as ‘a religious and holy war, a Glaubenswieg’. Then, too, it was hoped that war would restore social solidarity, and authenticity to life. The existentialist philosopher Edmund Husserl explained: ‘The belief that one’s death signifies a voluntary sacrifice, bestows sublime dignity and elevates the individual’s suffering to a sphere which is beyond each individuality. We can no longer live as private people.’

Nazism inherited Kriegsideologie, and this was reported and experienced by several of those closest to the regime as a remake of the ‘wonderful, communal experience of 1914’. In Philosophie (1932), Karl Jaspers exalted the ‘camaraderie that is created in war [and that] becomes unconditional loyalty’. ‘I would betray myself if I betrayed others, if I wasn’t determined to unconditionally accept my people, my parents, and my love, since it is to them that I owe myself.’ (Jaspers, though a nationalist and political elitist like Max Weber, was not a biological racist, and his Jewish wife would fall foul of Nazi race laws). Heidegger argued that ‘[w]ar and the camaraderie of the front seem to provide the solution to the problem of creating an organic community by starting from that which is most irreducibly individual, that is, death and courage in the face of death’. For him, the much-coveted life of bourgeois peace was ‘boring, senile, and, though contemplatable’, was ‘not possible’.

These are family resemblances, rather than linear continuities. The emergence of communism as a clear and present danger to nation-states, and the post-war conflagrations of class conflict, sharpened the anti-materialism of European rightists who were already critical of humanism, internationalism and the inauthenticity of commercial society. Their dilemma was different, and their animus was directed against socialist ideologies that barely register in today’s United States. Yet, some patterns suggest themselves. The recurring themes of Kriegsideologie were community, danger and death. The community is the nation (or civilization) in existential peril; danger enforces a rigorous moral clarity and heightens one’s appreciation of fellow citizens; death is what ‘they’ must experience so that ‘we’ do not.

The hope that a nationhood retooled for war would restore collective purpose proved to be forlorn. The fixtures of American life, from celebrity gossip to school shootings, did not evaporate. By 2003, Dissent magazine complained that ‘a larger, collective self-re-evaluation did not take place in the wake of September 11, 2001’ – not as regards foreign policy, but rather the domestic culture that had formed during the ‘orgiastic’ preceding decade. An angry New Yorker article would later mourn the dissipation of ‘simple solidarity’ alongside the squandering of international goodwill by the Bush administration. Yet, it was through that dream that the barbarian virtues of the early-twentieth-century German right infused the lingua franca of American imperialism.

Excerpt from ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder’, Verso, 2008

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cameron's immigration calamity posted by Richard Seymour

In The Guardian on the immigration figures and Cameron's troubles with the Right:

So why did Cameron make a futile promise that he knew would cost him politically? Partly, he is torn between his business allies, who favour a relaxed approach to immigration, and the lower-middle-class Tory bedrock, who would ideally like to inhabit the sort of all-white chronotope of modern Britain purveyed by Midsomer Murders. Cameron has attempted to manage this by triangulating. Thus, his cap on non-EU migration partially made up for his reneging on the "cast iron" guarantee to hold a referendum on the EU treaty. Similarly, he has made concessions to alarmism about immigration threatening "our way of life". Yet, under pressure from big business, he has relented, even promising last year to relax the cap on non-EU migration. Thus, while tending to give business what it wants, Cameron engages in strategic rhetorical tilts to one or other element in an unstable Tory coalition, in an attempt to prevent the whole from collapsing into fragments as it did over Europe in the 1990s.

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