Thursday, November 29, 2012

Egypt and the changing calculus of Palestinian liberation posted by Richard Seymour

We know by now the extent of Israel's bluff over Gaza; why it didn't win; why it could not execute a Cast Lead-style massacre (this is not to deny the mass killing it did perpetrate); and why the US didn't back its client's stance in the negotiations.  

Israel undertook this mission in part to test the waters after the 2011 revolutions.  It wanted to gain a sense of the possibilities, warn surrounding peoples and states that things hadn't changed that much, and reverse the trend of setbacks and defeats it faced in the last decade despite its brutal punishment of the Palestinians.  It also wanted to reinforce Gazans' sense of their complete helplessness, to underline the futility of resistance.  The reality is that the assault, bloody as it was, sputtered to a halt.  Israel's elites couldn't risk an invasion, and continued bombing was becoming pointless.  It was forced in the end to accept a peace settlement whose wording was far closer to that sought by Hamas and the Muslim Brothers (because it imposed a ceasefire 'on both sides) than by Israel.  And this was a serious win for the Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, who not only gained popularity for rebuking Israel symbolically (despite barely a whiff of material support for Gaza), but was also praised to heaven by the 'international community' for his diplomacy.  Israel discovered that not only did it lack two of its traditional allies, Egypt and Turkey, but even its sponsor was wary of another shitstorm - caused by Israel.  The barbaric utterances of Israeli politicians, the cries of 'Death to Arabs', the blood-curdling threats: all this yielded little of strategic value to Israel.

On the other hand, it might have strengthened Morsi immensely had he not then attempted to convert this political capital into executive power.  Partly, this was an attempt to use the plaudits garnered from Gaza to consolidate the Muslim Brothers' position within the state, strengthening their situation with respect to the military.  The power struggle between the Egyptian military, SCAF, and the Muslim Brothers settles into a difficult equilibrium for a time, then erupts suddenly with remarkable reversals.  But its rhythms are dictated by the wider struggle of classes.  This struggle is one that is partially carried on within the Muslim Brotherhood itself, which is divided between its dominant business wing and its popular base of students, workers and lone traders. The business faction probably seeks a road to 'normal' capitalist democracy, with robust links to the United States, and profitable global trade agreements facilitated by its profile within the Egyptian state.  It seeks to contain popular struggle, and put an end to the flourishing of working class organization, and for that reason been willing to coalesce with SCAF at key points.  Indeed, insofar as SCAF would share power with them in a meaningful way, allowing them to hold parliament and share the presidency, the leadership of the Muslim Brothers would have been quite open to consolidating that alliance in perpetuity.  

As we have seen at several points, however, they have not always been at liberty to do things just exactly as they would have wished.  During last November's upheaval, for example, the Brothers asked their rank and file supporters not to attend protests against military rule.  Had their rank and file supporters listened, Morsi might not be where he is.  The scale of these protests, in part thanks to the involvement of Muslim Brothers, partially expunged the recent setbacks inflicted on the revolutionary and democratic currents, and expedited the transition to civilian rule.  In a smaller example, one recalls how a leading member of the Muslim Brothers sought to witch hunt the Revolutionary Socialists, but was then compelled under pressure to backtrack.  It's difficult to explain the actions of this party either before, during or after the overthrow of Mubarak, unless you grasp its internal antagonisms and its resulting vacillations.

But aside from that, SCAF have not always been happy to share power with the Muslim Brothers.  It is trying to conserve its domination, and fears the new situation in which traditional authoritarian rule can no longer be made to work.  It has relied on the Muslim Brothers to contain the most destabilising potentialities of democracy, but the armed forces can't be at ease with a situation in which they rely on a party with a popular base which it can summon, and whose members they used to torture.  This is likely one of the reasons why cooperation between the two forces broke down, why the army stood its own presidential candidate, Shafiq, who stood an openly counter-revolutionary ticket, and why when that failed they attempted to effectively restore military rule.  The presidency is the strategic lynchpin of Egyptian state power, and for the army to have to either share this or lose it to what they see as a rabble is a real defeat.  I think they also wanted to neutralise the threat that the Muslim Brothers effectively dangled over them (however reluctantly), and to do that they felt they had to mount a frontal assault on the gains of the revolution.  But their past hesitations and defeats, their unpopularity, and the strength of the Islamists put a stop to that.  Morsi, with a clear electoral mandate and a mass based organisation bolstering his position, faced the military down in August, sacked the top generals and took back the powers they had attempted to usurp.

Now that the Muslim Brothers, in the form of the Freedom and Justice Party, have achieved unchallenged executive and parliamentary power, and with Morsi's stature enlarged by Israel's bungle, the thinking must have been that there is a unique moment of opportunity before the new constitutional order is settled, to inscribe the Islamists' desideratum in the new state architecture.  Morsi attempted to place himself and the actions of the Constituent Assembly, dominated by the Muslim Brothers, outside of judicial review until the next election.  He shrouded this in populist concessions, such as impeaching the reactionary prosecutor-general, who had been protecting the Mubarak-era officials while hunting the revolutionaries.  However, the ramifications of dictatorial power were evidently clear enough for hundreds of thousands to turn out to protest in Tahrir Square, and for the Muslim Brothers' headquarters to be burned out.

Of course, it's hard to sympathise with those rallying to the defence of the Brothers.  The people who usually attack them from the right, the salafists, are the ones defending them now.  Meanwhile, the opposition mostly consists of those who are consistent in supporting democracy.  However, this opens up a new situation, in which the 'feloul', the wretched remnants of the old regime, are trying to creep back into legitimate politics by claiming the mantle of secularism.  They have been seen, the likes of the old Mubarak stooge Amr Moussa, hanging around the protests, but declining to enter Tahrir Square in the knowledge that they will be chewed up and spat out.  Even the scumbag Shafiq has tried on some revolutionary apparel.  

In this situation, it's important to work out what the Muslim Brothers are actually up to. I think the Muslim Brothers leadership most likely still looks to the development of a 'normal', neoliberal capitalist democracy over the long term.  I think what they want is the space to a) engineer the new constitution to favour the Freedom and Justice Party's dominance as much as possible, and b) force through a number of measures that will hurt popular constituencies but win the support of the IMF and allow them to get loans.  Possibly, they also envisage some socially conservative changes, such as to personal status law, that would be controversial but placate forces to their right.  Morsi's power grab is thus profoundly authoritarian, profoundly undemocratic, and poses a direct threat to the gains of the revolution.  That said, I think the stuff about 1979 all over again, a new clerical dictatorship and so on, is missing the point and actually could give cover to the felouls.  

The Muslim Brothers are probably not going to win this fight.  I don't really see the chopping blocks being wheeled out for the leftists and secular opposition.  What I see is the Muslim Brothers running scared from a confrontation over Tahrir Square, the symbol of the revolution.  What I see is that their attempt to place their stamp on the revolution itself, and to claim that the opposition is counter-revolutionary, is floundering.  The left looks more confident, the right less so.  And the real question now will be whether a section of the Muslim Brothers base splits over this to support the revolution.

Now, with all that said, it's clear that there are still months and years of high stakes battles to be had in Egypt.  The struggle there is far from settled.  It's also clear, despite the carping of some Egyptian liberals, that Palestine is an extremely resonant issue in the Egyptian revolution.  The alliance that brought down Mubarak was initially consolidated around the Second Intifada.  Many of its elements rushed to Gaza to try and show solidarity during Cast Lead, only to be restrained by the Egyptian military.  During Pillar of Smoke, many Egyptian revolutionaries travelled to Gaza to break the blockade, and succeeded.  Morsi really had no choice but to denounce Israel, to withdraw the ambassador, and to use the Egyptian state's clout to force an unhappy ending on Israel's warmongers.  This was the least that could have been expected of him in the circumstances: a genuinely resistant regime would have been giving material aid to Gaza.  And that changing situation is part of the reason that many of the global powers that tend to take a pro-Israeli position have either backed Abu Mazen's statehood bid, or abstained.

It seems to me that one important strategic conclusion follows from this.  The route to Palestinian liberation is one that must be plotted through the region as a whole, not the respectable drawing rooms of nice American liberals or the hallowed chambers of international law.  The old system of necrotic dictatorships, whether pro-US or nominally resistant, has been the greatest alibi of Israeli interests.  New, genuinely popular regimes, will be the best ally of the Palestinians.  It's not just that they can provide the means of military resistance, though they can certainly do that.  It's that they can change the whole regional balance of power.  If even Erdogan and Morsi, two relatively conservative Islamist figures, can weaken Israel's position so, then consider what a more radical configuration of power would mean for Palestine.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The British ruling class are not stupid. Just complete bastards. posted by Richard Seymour

This week's Guardian piece, on why the ruling class sticks with austerity despite its seeming dysfunctionality:

A slight drop in GDP growth compared with last year is a cause for celebration. The "fastest rate of quarterly growth in five years", enthuses the Telegraph. This is a sign of how our standards have been recalibrated by the recession. The lavish 0.9% bounty of GDP growth was reportedly made possible by the unusually high household spending prompted by the Olympics.
But if that doesn't get your juices flowing, you are not alone. Business investment remains sluggish, as companies are hoarding cash rather than investing. After all, if this growth was facilitated by an extravagant Olympics boondoggle, how can it possibly be sustained?
Even supposedly encouraging employment statistics harbour trouble, as underlying signals show businesses are pulling back from creating jobs and focusing on cost-cutting. Forget the "double-dip recession" – the "triple-dip" is on its way. Simply put, businesses aren't investing, because they have no confidence that any investment will return with a profit. And if capitalists aren't investing, then capitalism isn't working...

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Lord Freud on welfare posted by Richard Seymour

I forgot to post this piece last week about how much I despise, really really detest, Lord Freud and all his kind:

Every once in a while, politicians take the time to remind us of the duties of the poor. The latest to take the pulpit is the Tory peer Lord Freud, a former city banker who has since advised both New Labour and the Tories on "welfare reform". This time, the poor are told they must take more risks, abandoning the "lifestyle" of welfare for the adventure of enterprise.
Before assessing this claim, it is worth asking who it is that is taking risks with the livelihoods of the poor. Freud began his work on welfare reform knowing, by his own admission, nothing about welfare. In fact, it seems fairly safe to say that he continued in this vein, as he continued to make utterly ignorant claims about the system in order to justify government cuts.
Foolish they may be; Freud's views have not been inconsequential. As an adviser to the New Labour government, Freud played a critical role in arguing for single mothers to be forced into work, and in persuading the government to turn over aspects of welfare provision to the private sector...

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Eliminationism posted by Richard Seymour

According to The Daily Beast's Emily Hauser, these Israeli students spontaneously broke into chants of "Death to Arabs" after singing the national anthem. She points out that this is at Haifa University, where there is a relatively large body of Palestinian students. Oh, they'll be just fine.

This in a country where it is normal to speak of Gaza being 'reformatted' (meaning, in a sense, erase its contents); where a national newspaper can run this Nazi-style drivel calling for a Hiroshima-style blitz in Gaza; where politicians can threaten to bring a 'Holocaust' to Gaza, or threaten to bomb it back to the Middle Ages; where the majority favour apartheid (whatever polite euphemism Ha'aretz chooses to give it) if not worse; where the government can pass a 'loyalty oath' bill demanding that non-Jewish residents of Israel swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish State (meaning that Israeli Arabs must foreswear their right to oppose this racist settlement). The few Israeli Leftists and peaceniks trying to resist this deluge are brave, but one wonders what chance they have. Israeli imperialism is a constant pressure to the Right; toward fascism, in fact. Even the promise of the Occupy movement seems to fade in light of the extraordinary recrudescence of hysterical barbarism in Israel every time they get a taste of Palestinian blood.

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"The people demand..." posted by Richard Seymour

Colonial populism in Israel.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Israeli psychopath posted by Richard Seymour

Hamid Abu Daqqa was playing football in his Real Madrid shirt when he was shot through the stomach by IDF troops several weeks ago. This was significant for the Palestinians and the wider Middle East, but not for anyone else. Not a single UK broadcaster knows his name. But do they know Muhammad al-Hums, Ranan Arafat, Omar Mashharawi, Isam Abu al-Miza, Hiba Mashharawi Turk, Mahmoud Abu Sawawin, Marwan Abu al-Qumsan, Walid Abadla, Hanin Tafish, Faris Basyouni, or Muhammad Iyad Sadallah? These are but a small sample of the children, pregnant women and elderly Palestinians killed in recent days by Israel. Not a single UK broadcaster knows a single one of these names.

Anyone with an internet connection can hear live feed of the airjets, drones and helicopter fighters strafing the Gaza sky. If you want the sonic experience of airborne death, it's available to you. Not a single UK broadcaster will trouble you with it. Anyone can see the pictures of the destroyed buildings, of ambulances wrecked. But not courtesy of a UK broadcaster. Anyone can find out how many of Gaza's ambulances were actually functioning before the bombing began, because the blockade has led to fuel shortages. But you would have to seek this out on your own initiative, because a UK broadcaster will never tell you. You can find out how frequently a thunderous explosion would strike nearby if you were in a densely populated area of Gaza - roughly every fifteen minutes. That's four times an hour you would narrowly miss death, without even leaving your house. You could work out how much sleep it's possible to get with that on your mind. You can find out from Paul Danahar of the BBC that half of the casualties taken to Shifa hospital from the last aerial attack in the north of Gaza city are children - but ironically not from the BBC. You have to look at his Twitter account to find this out. You can find out how Palestinians are coping - families of seven moving into single rooms, avoiding exposure as far as possible, huddling together for an illusory sense of security, waiting to see if they'll be the next smoking crater with an English-speaking journalist standing next to it. Not a single UK broadcaster will tell you this, but you can find out.

Now, here's the thing - and it's a small thing, but in many ways it is symptomatic. In the event that you know all this, know how the IDF routinely shoots random Palestinians like rabbits, know about the 'medieval-style' torture facilities in which Palestinians are detained, know how much lethal material is being unloaded on densely populated Gaza, as much to terrorise as to actually murder, know how much infrastructure is being wrecked, know how little escape there is, then you know something else: the leaflets dropped on Gaza signify extraordinary sadism on Israel's part. This is what the leaflets say:

"For your own safety, take responsibility for yourselves and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities and those of other terror organizations that pose a risk to your safety. Hamas is once again dragging the region to violence and bloodshed. The IDF is determined to defend the residents of the State of Israel. This announcement is valid until quiet is restored to the region. Israel Defense Forces Command."
It is not simply that every word of this vile little pronunciamento is a lie - or rather, is concentrated ideology. That is to be expected. The state speaks no language other than ideology. Nor is the practice of dropping leaflets from thousands of feet in the air to the effect of 'why we are bombing you' anything new in the history of colonial missions. In a sense, the medium (the 'leaflet bomb') is the message, literalising the ideological dominance of the colonial power, just as incendiary bombs literalise its politico-military dominance. But this is an antiquated technique of psychological warfare.

In this context, the leaflets are dropped on Gaza, but the IDF doesn't expect or require that its victims believe in its thoroughly just motives. It doesn't really believe it will undermine the political unity of Palestinians against Israeli domination, or split Gaza residents from the Hamas leadership. Indeed, it expects anything else but this outcome. It's hard to believe they think anyone will believe it's a 'humanitarian' step either, as some apologists have claimed - having no idea how grotesque they make themselves. (Isn't it interesting, by the way, that these apologists increasingly come in the guise of a 'voice of reason', even though they look and sound utterly insane?)

The authors of this leaflet know there is no escape. They know that no resident of Gaza is safe. There is no building that cannot become a Hamas 'facility', no person that cannot be deemed a Hamas 'operative', or at least be deemed to have been negligently or culpably close to one. There is nothing anyone can in Gaza can practically do to be sure that the IDF will not vaporise them. And as tanks and reservists gather on the border, pending an invasion, there is nothing that the average Gazan can do to avoid being in a neighbourhood that is sealed off and shelled for hours and hours, humanitarian agencies prevented from reaching the wounded, starving survivors for days afterward. The authors of this leaflet know what they are capable of doing to people in Gaza, because they have done it before; and they know Gazans know.

This leaflet is like the sadistic taunt of a bully who is really enjoying himself - "stop hitting yourself", in the context of mass murder. I think it is this surplus enjoyment more than any utilitarian calculus that is really at work behind this low tech leaflet bombing. This has also been evident in the witticisms coming from IDF Twitter feeds - the #hamasbumperstickers meme providing the occasion for predictable jokes along the lines of "my other car is..." or "if you can read this...". Tellingly, the IDF chiefs were shocked and dismayed by the criticisms of this: indignantly grousing that they couldn't even have a little joke while their opponents cheered on Hamas terrorists etc. People were just trying to tell them: Don't be so openly thrilled by what you're doing, by your fleeting, giddying sense of omnipotence, by what you are getting away with. Don't so explicitly revel in torturing your captives. It sits uneasily against your own claim that every civilian death is a tragedy to you, that your highest priority is to protect life. It's obscene. But Israel's military best could only see this as at best a weird injunction from outer space, at worst an antisemitic double standard.

Alexei Sayle characterised Israel's rationalisations during Cast Lead as evincing 'the psychology of the of the murderer, of the rapist, of the bully'. He said it acted like a spoiled psychopathic child. And indeed Israel, accepting the anthropomorphism of the state for the sake of this discussion, does give the impression of being a psychopath (in the colloquial as opposed to the diagnostic sense). I think this has to do with the image that the Israeli state has of itself in relation to the world. Israeli state ideology is predicated on the conceit that it is the organised self-defence of a Jewish people who are permanently at risk of antisemitic reflux. In a world of nation-states, the best self-defence is to 'normalise' one's relations to others by achieving statehood, as opposed to remaining a dispersed minority within other states. To be an effective self-defence, then, Israel must be the strongest state, the biggest state, the most militarily powerful state it can be, or simply risk reproducing Jewish subordination on an international scale. Its borders must be, as Ben Gurion insisted, potentially as fluid and expansive as those of the US in its colonial phase. As importantly, it must seek and obtain the indulgence and protection of the major imperialist power, if it can be obtained. And finally, it must compel, through an iron wall of overwhelming violence, the acquiescence of those indigenous people, those barbarians who could never make the desert bloom, and who would never be grateful to those who did. All of this was consonant with the standards of colonial state building up to the mid-to-late twentieth century, and thus consistent with the dominant ideology in the imperialist societies whose support Israel needed. There was no problem getting the support of imperialist societies for such a project in that era. The trouble is that the anticolonial movements and the revolt against colonial ideology came just as Israel was being birthed and its power consolidated.

Now Israel is attacked by reference to standards that it was never able to adapt to or internalise, because the repressed would not stay repressed. It is attacked as a racist, colonial power when everyone had previously agreed that this was how state-building was done. It's so unjust; so unfair. It's antisemitism. It's a genocidal conspiracy. And the more Israel is criticised by reference to what one might call these anticolonial standards, the more it defiantly exhibits its fidelity to the colonial ideas on which it was founded. The more the indigenes refuse to simply disappear as a people, as a political entity, the more it yearns to inflict the decisive final defeat, the Wounded Knee Massacre that will facilitate the final closing of the frontier and the establishment of Israel as an unbeatable regional power. The Israeli state pragmatically surrenders this pleasure, knowing it can never get away with this as things are, knowing it must take its time, act gradually, or risk losing its privileged alliances, losing everything; but it deeply resents the sacrifice and takes every opportunity to get compensation for it. Its sense of victimhood is as limitless as its demand for satisfaction, for revenge. This is why its bloodlettings are never enough, why it must always extract something extra, why it must revel so much in the supererogatory element of its punishments, and why it always nonetheless feels short-changed. Israel's dilemma, as a colonial state-in-the-making, attempting to finish the job but always prevented from finally doing so (even if it is never clear what such consummation would actually mean), is what makes it unique, and makes its behaviour uniquely symptomatic.

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How will Gaza arm? posted by Richard Seymour

Because one can't discuss the Israeli assault on Gaza as if nothing has happened. As if between Cast Lead and Pillar of Smoke there hasn't been a tumultuous rupture in Middle East politics. One whose main effect has been to weaken Israel's regional position and destroy many of the certainties upon which Zionist statecraft has been conducted for some decades. Israel had already been weakened by its defeat at Hezbollah's hands, but the loss of its ally Mubarak, the uprising in Syria, the revolt in Bahrain, even the germinal tremors in Jordan and Kuwait, all make Israel's future bargaining position uncertain.

Israeli politicians warn about an "Islamist winter", of "Tehran 1979" all over again. But as when American and European politicians fulminate about 'Al Qaida', one gets the sense that 'Islamism' is just a convenient name for all their fears - Arab democracy, Palestinian liberation, that sort of thing. Israeli officials claim that it may take decades for democracy to 'set in' and thus allow Arabs to accept Israel. Translation: it may take decades for the effects of democratic revolt to be neutralised and contained, and thus for Arabs to be forced to accept the apartheid state. In that time, who knows, Israel might actually lose its privileged alliances with Egypt and Jordan. Saudi Arabia may implode. The Gulf States may be transformed.

This is a serious fear, and Egypt is the sharp end of this fear. When the Muslim Brothers were winning in the polls against the SCAF candidate, Ehud Barak deemed it "very, very disturbing" - probably not because he sees the Muslim Brothers as anything but a conservative, cautious force, but rather because he fears the erosion of SCAF's traditional power to control the Egyptian population. As pathetic as Morsi's response has been to the Israeli assault thus far, the fact is that the Egyptian masses have proven themselves to be a serious historical force, capable of transforming the whole future of the region. The Egyptian military, for so long the exclusive ruling bureaucracy, has been forced to accept a parliamentary system and a limited degree of popular government. If it is characteristic of the Muslim Brothers to seek a quietist, compromising path with the imperialist states (and one can add that this tendency will be reinforced many times over by the demands of running a capitalist state), they also have a tendency to vacillate under pressure due to their popular roots. The protests already taking place in Egypt are capable of being the start of a movement to force the Morsi government to move beyond calling for arbitration, and start to give material assistance to the Palestinians.

It is predictable that Morsi will fight to avoid losing the grants from the US that adhering to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel entails. And SCAF will fight to ensure he doesn't deviate from that path. But the fact is that there are other paths that Egyptian capitalism could take, other alliances. It isn't bound to the US in perpetuity, even for $1bn a year. Sufficient popular struggle could change the strategic calculus of the ruling class. And if that happens, Egypt is a major industrial state in the region, a 'natural' regional leader, which is capable of transforming the whole dynamics of the conflict. Israel's panic at this prospect is palpable.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Arab Spring should become the Gaza Spring posted by Richard Seymour

'The Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt said, “Today the Zionist enemy is preparing a ground attack on Gaza. But Egyptian gas still flows to Israel, the Rafah border crossing is still closed—and the Camp David agreement remains in force.

'“Why are Morsi, his advisers, ministers and organisation waiting? They should put in practice what they always preached before coming to power—cutting all ties with the Zionist enemy, abolishing the Camp David agreement, deploying the Egyptian army in Sinai and permanently reopening the Rafah crossing.”'


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Friday, November 16, 2012

Defend the BBC! posted by Richard Seymour

Fair and balanced.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Israeli assault on Gaza posted by Richard Seymour

There has been, for some while now, a pattern of provocative strikes by Israel against various targets in Gaza.  They killed six civilians in the process.  Routine iniquities in and of themselves.  Israel makes periodic bloodshed, punctuated by eye-rolling acquiescence in 'peace' negotiations, a business and hobby.  Its whole form of state organisation is dependent on this constant hunt.  It would almost be bored if there was no frontier to test, no problem population to molest, no moral red-line to cross.  Lacking this raison d'etre, it would atrophy and die of malaise.  But this time, they sought a definite response: rocket fire, hopefully in abundance, with the usual ineffectuality.  It's not that they really care, they just need the pretext.  Israeli propaganda reels off the list of rocket 'incidents', with resulting psychologically traumatised sheep and car alarms, with impatient listlessness.

Now, a full-scale bombing campaign, with a threat of invasion, appears to be afoot.  We know what this means, and for whom.  The news coming from residents is of constant bombing, electricity being lost throughout Gaza City.  The IDF twitter account brags of the bodies it has already captured - they brandish the head of Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas leader who, they grin, has been 'eliminated', just as his son was when the IDF bombed Gaza in 2008.  And they warn that any Hamas members, however high up or low down in the organisation, had better keep out of the way in Gaza for the next few days.  Without succumbing to the murderous logic according to which Hamas membership is grounds for execution by the bullet, the bomb or the chemical burn, we remember how Israel unilaterally adjusts the concept of Hamas membership to fit the exigencies of its bombing campaigns.  Aha - going to school are you?  That's a Hamas stronghold.  Death. 

Russia Today reports that IDF reservists are being called upon for an invasion.  At this point, the excuses for yet another sadistic gorefest in Gaza are looking care-worn.  The same old tired, robotic half-sense: Hamas.  Rockets.  Sderot.  Terrorism.  Something something something, dark side.  Something something something, complete.  There will be some barbarous, nonsensical, infuriating things said in news broadcasts over the next few days.  All uttered in that exaggerated American accent that high Israeli officials seem to learn. 

Rather than waste time attempting to construct something coherent out of the by now traditional Zionist melange of hysteria and sniggering sadism (waaah look at their rockets, ha ha ha look at their bodies) something that can be addressed as a semi-rational argument, we should just focus on reconstructing what has happened to Israel's position since Operation Cast Lead, and particularly since the Middle East revolutions began.  Just as importantly, we need to trace the links from this venture to the reconstitution of American power in the Middle East, which Obama's Pentagon is now attempting to secure by proxy.  (Leaving aside, for the moment, the argument as to how successful they have been in their attempt to annexe national rebellions).  For it is a crucial question how much the timing and nature of this assault is driven by domestic politics, (viz. the germinal threat posed by the Arab Spring within Israel itself, and the Israeli state's attempt to consolidate its political control over the population), how much by regional politics and Israel's need to recoup some of its losses through a demonstrative beating, and how much the tempo of the war on Hamas and Palestinian resistance is driving it directly.  One part of this question can be answered immediately: Obama gave this venture the green light

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

SKYFALL: conformity, rebellion and the British post-colonial trauma, c. 2012 posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by Richard Drayton:


Skyfall, like all Bond films, has as its central secret subject the decline and fall of the imperial version of the British nation. Most of its predecessors dealt with the problem of loss, disappointment, what Paul Gilroy calls 'postcolonial melancholia', with forms of denial, compensatory consumption and flashy technology, with the British agent imagined as physical superhero, and with the Americans providing back up. Skyfall instead confronts the loss-- there, in a Hong Kong, whose return to China in 1997 marked a poignant coda to decolonisation, here in the old ancestral home in a cold, irrelevant Scottish wilderness, that old house, now almost abandoned, now to be obliterated in a confrontation between two bits of the self, in which the ego is physically diminished and mentally weak. It tries to negotiate a new kind of British (masculine) self, a new kind of patriotism and loyalty. Literally and metaphorically, the ceramic union jack bulldog piggybank is passed clumsily from one generation to another, with the recipients not quite sure what to do with the legacy.

At the centre of that enterprise, for this film, is a renegotiation of the relationship of the child to the mother. Skyfall, whether its writers were conscious of it or not, is a dramatization of the psychoanalytic ideas of Melanie Klein. We have 'M', Judy Dench, at once an avatar of the Queen (repeatedly addressed as M'aam) and of the mother, with her two sons: the loyal golden Bond and the angry disloyal older brother Silva, he who is masked in foreignness in order to alienate his shameful rebellion as much as possible, a self actively repressed in the memory, but now rising up to find a kind of revenge.

Bond and Silva are really the same person, representing the personae which constitute themselves relative, first, to feelings of contentment and need and loyalty to the 'good breast' mixed with shame about dependence, and second, to other shameful feelings, but within which lie the beginnings of an ego autonomy, of anger, intense desire, disappointment, and frustration towards the 'naughty breast' which denies the milk of love. The trauma of teething, imagined by the infant, who correlates it with weaning, as caused by the changed relationship if not abandonment of the mother, is represented in the moment when Silva accusingly presents his ruined mouth to M who did, indeed, abandon him at the moment of China taking over Hong Kong, because of his covert dealings with the Chinese 'other' (the infant imagining itself being punished for its first projects of relationships of desire to objects outside of the mother). Bond himself is punished, in a way, for his relationship with “the other woman”, the beautiful young african-caribbean woman who is the antithesis of mummy, M's desire to punish naughty Silva leading to a shot, and a deep plunge into the watery unconscious for Bond, a moment of deprivation of self. Silva, on the other hand, abandoned by mother, now turns to the compensation of technology and of power at a distance through machines. Bond's father and mother died when he was very young, something about which he feels an inarticulate discomfort--- an echo of the child assuming narcissistically that its own episodes of rage to mother and father have had lethal effect (remember Silva late in the film, confronting the tombstone with their names, and chuckling mirthlessly). Now, this time, gold boy is instead going to rescue M(ummy) from Silva, who wants to kill her, and win her love, by taking himself and her in a journey 'back in time' to the original scene, the childhood home.

The confrontation in the ancestral home makes some interesting allusions to the current negotiations of the British imperial self. When Silva rides in – to do what, is it to kill or to capture M? - he does so, apocalypse now stylee, on helicopter, blasting with heavy machine guns, and loud music from the air. Afghanistan and Iraq, anyone? The plucky British guerilla fighters on the ground then resist! Bond himself, going home with M(ummy), is surprised by gamekeeper/dad proxy, who is going to equip him with his (real) Dad's rifle, and with a dagger. Yes, Bond is going to be entrusted with Daddy's dagger: the Oedipal crisis is going to be resolved through and with the Kleinian one. The infant house with all its tensions is obliterated, and the three key characters have their final confrontation in a chapel- a place of baptism or funeral, you might say, but also one of marriage. The final confrontation is about sex as well as death, which self gets M, and it is with Daddy's dagger that Bond finally kills Silva, and has this longed for, but deeply embarrassing (witnessed by gamekeeper Daddy, who's still got a weapon and means of revenge!) moment of exclusive intimacy with M. Fortunately, to save embarrassment M conveniently dies at that moment, and the libido may now be invested where it “should” be in the father figure who is the new M, and in the anti-mother figure of the african-caribbean British Moneypenny, with Bond back in his resolved location. Patriarchy and patriotism both safely back in the saddle.

Skyfall offers not only a post-industrial, but a strangely post-economic world. Britain is a country without production, there are no workers, if you forget gamekeepers and policemen. The Austin Martin is a relic of the 1950s, itself to be destroyed in the final confrontation. Shanghai is clearly the climax of contemporary capitalism, and Macau of contemporary high consumption, but even in China the only visible economic activity is art dealing or gambling. The new Q supplies Bond with tools which depend, we all know, on things imported from that mysterious hidden world of China's industry. What survives however from British capitalism is class privilege, but its reason for being is not made clear.

But Skyfall offers glimpses of another Britain, the democratic non-hierarchical world of public transport, the underground – that radical egalitarian unconscious – in which there are public ideas of justice, for which the police uniform is an ambivalent symbol. Silva in a critical episode wears those robes of public justice, and comes to confront the political overground, that establishment, so disconnected from the public, with guns and with those mysterious crowds of supporting rebels who arrive with him both in Whitehall and in Scotland. There is a confrontation of hierarchy, unreasoned dominance, with a rebellion, the meaning of which is left enigmatic. But that rebellion is well enough rooted in the urban spaces of England, such a seething many-headed-hydra of danger, of unknown enemies who are part of the self, to make necessary a retreat to the pre-industrial, pre-urban spaces of Scotland.

Parenthetically, I'd like to suggest that M, as Judy Dench, is not only an avatar of the Queen. There is also the shadow of Margaret Thatcher. This should not surprise, for when Margaret Thatcher was being readied for market in the 1970s, her hair was carefully styled and her clothes chosen, so that she might echo visually the Queen, who had just celebrated the Silver Jubilee. The Thatcher political persona was created, in psychoanalytic terms, to be that of the “strict mother”, she whose discipline must be submitted to, who will restore order in a turbulent home. It was a symbol to which all those who were in shock from the immigration and culture change of the 1960s and early 70s, and from Britain's “decline”, could attach themselves. The casting of Dench as M in 1994-5, like the real life appointment of Stella Rimington as head of MI5 in 1992, was an echo of the Thatcher ascendency, taking on both its form and substance, and linked to its compensations for loss through pluck and leaning on the Americans. The death of M as Dench, in this film, is a declaration that the mind world of Thatcher, the ways in which the post-colonial crisis was negotiated in the 1980s and 90s, is also dead. The new black Moneypenny is not just the anti-M, she is that which was unacceptable in the Thatcher moment. Miscegenation is one of the hidden themes of the film, the possibilities of racial exogamy for which Sévérine in Macau, as much as the new Moneypenny, is a signifier.

The film ends with Bond accepting his subordination to Gareth Mallory (Rafe Fiennes), who we were told is a veteran of 'the Hereford regiment' in Northern Ireland, a wounded symbol of the post-colonial civil war of the late 20th century, so strangely absent from the Bond films of that era. His arm is wounded, but Bond is, of course, its extension. But outside that chamber, the city still seethes with that unresolved challenge of the public to hierarchical privilege. Rebellion, unspoken, is still alive. And that desire for the other, envy, possibly even sympathy for the Chinese devil, is its expression.


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Friday, November 09, 2012

A small minority of rich white men posted by Richard Seymour

Let's be clear about this. David Cameron is not wrong that a paedophile panic can be turned into a witch hunt. However, until he mentioned it, as far as I know no one was making a connection between the child rape scandals - implicating much of the senior Conservative Party, the police, the BBC and some clapped out celebrities - and gay people. David Cameron was the first to insinuate that association into the public conversation. Now it's on the front pages. Now it's being debated. Now it's being joked about in comedy nights. It doesn't take long, once the Prime Minister decides to make an issue of something, for it to become an issue. Cameron claimed to be worried about a 'gay witch hunt'. If gay people are now witch hunted, he will bear primary responsibility for that. And it must be inferred that this is exactly what he intended, using gays to deflect attention from the ruling class and the Conservative Party.

This is, from a purely cynical point of view, understandable. If you thought Hackgate was toxic, and the follow-up Hillsborough revelations, this is potentially a career-killer for anyone within a short radius of suspicion. Forget about 'de-toxifying' the Tory party if Tom Watson is right, and there's an establishment conspiracy, and it all comes tumbling out. The Tories have tried various ways of deflecting this. Theresa May recently suggested that the scale of child abuse across Britain is shocking. Indeed it is. But we're talking about child rape at a very high level, with a sickening degree of institutional complicity. Now presumably the hope is, as Watson implies, that a series of localised investigations will slow up the pace of revelations, muddy the watters and prevent the whole truth from emerging.


The conspiracy

This scandal began with a series of revelations about the late Jimmy Savile. He was a creepy right-wing sociopath, this much was obvious. He was a friend of Thatcher and the royals, and a pal of the serial killer Peter Sutcliffe (this reportedly led police to investigate any role he might have had in Sutcliffe's rape murders). And he was widely believed to be a child rapist. (If you will excuse me, I'm trying to exclude the term 'paedophile' entirely from this discussion. It is too enmeshed in the reactionary politics of moral panics and folk devils. It identifies the problem as a particular type of sexual desire which is then neatly confined to a small deviant subset, rather than as the rape of children. It avoids the reality of paedophilia in culture and marketing - what is what is usually referred to stupidly as the 'sexualisation' of children. It avoids the reality that most of those who rape children are not disturbed strangers, but people called Daddy, Uncle, Brother, and so on.) Journalists used to laugh when Savile answered the phone saying "she told me she was over sixteen". This is how rape culture works, is it not? People who make jokes about it often aren't entirely joking: they're telling you how they see the world, how they feel about things.

It turned out that not only was this belief widespread, and not only did Savile crack jokes about it, and boast about his power to damage anyone who acted on it, but that senior BBC personnel had good reason to hold this belief. People had witnessed some of his activities. People had reported his abuse. The BBC didn't just not listen to this. They suppressed the evidence. This was especially serious, since the BBC made Jimmy Savile's career, promoted him for decades, and paid lavish tribute to him on his death. He was treated as an eccentric royal, his funeral procession appropriately cultish and garish. His reputation in the corporation was so immense that Helen Boaden had felt compelled to eulogise him as the "great son of the north" in a BBC planning meeting devoted to organising wall-to-wall funeral coverage.

Soon the revelations became ever more bizarre, but not necessarily less plausible. Savile had access to care homes, to mental hospitals, even to mortuaries. The bodies he raped and defiled could be the bodies of the young, the mentally unwell, or the dead. But as the claims grew more gruesome, the net of suspicion began to spread. For there seems to have been institutional complicity with Savile right along the way. It wasn't just the BBC, and it wasn't just those running the care homes and schools. It was also the police, who refused to investigate allegations of rape. By the time they actually decided to act, there were four hundred lines of enquiry, 200 witnesses, and allegations reported to thirteen police forces. (Reportedly, similar cover-up tactics were deployed when it was alleged that Cyril Smith had raped at least seven boys at a care home that he himself set up. Special Branch stepped in and squashed the investigation.) Now there are a string of senior Conservatives who are alleged to have been somehow involved either in raping children or in assisting the rape of children.

Ken Clarke is supposedly implicated, having allegedly been somehow involved in granting Savile the keys to Broadmoor while he was in office. But the allegations come from the Murdoch press, and he is threatening to sue those who repeat these claims. The senior Tory Lord McAlpine was also implicated as someone who had repeatedly raped a boy at a Wrexham care home. He, though, is being put in the clear by the press today, and BBC Newsnight which broadcast the allegations but not the name of the person accused, has just grovelled and eaten dust. They got the victim on to apologise for mistaking the identity of his abuser. He states that when originally questioned by police about his abuse allegations, he was shown a picture of a man that the police led him to believe was Lord McAlpine and identified the man in the photo as his rapist, but that he now realises this was not in fact Lord McAlpine. McAlpine's statement, presumably drafted with the help of his solicitor who is interpreting it for the news, denies that he is "the senior Conservative party figure from the days of Margaret Thatcher's leadership who is guilty of sexually abusing young residents of a children's home in Wrexham, north Wales, in the 1970s and 1980s." Now, McAlpine is threatening a series of legal actions to deal with the spread of accusations on the internet, which can only involve targeting some of the more prominent sites and giving them a demonstrative going over.

The other alleged Tory child rapists are not being named in the papers, but anyone can find out who they are. Every single one of them might well be innocent of the charges made about them. We cannot afford to speculate about their guilt or innocence, and we should try to resist the allure of infotainment, of intriguing morsels of gossip, of the spectacle. The point is not to assume guilt and then spread it as far as it will go, but to take the allegations seriously enough not just to demand an inquiry, but to inquire as far as we can into the forms of power and culture that would make things like this possible.

The problem is that even legitimate self-defence by members of the ruling class and the Tory elite who might be falsely identified as child rapists can now not be disentangled from the organised fightback that is visibly being orchestrated by the government and its supporters. It seems quite likely at this point that the Tories will use Newsnight's blushes over McAlpine to deflect all the allegations, not just the ones that have been specifically rebutted. The counter-offensive against the websites and newspapers carrying damaging allegations about senior Conservatives will now be channelled through McAlpine, paraded in the guise of an elderly man's perfectly reasonable attempt to salvage what is left of his life.

Yet the lineaments of a terrible conspiracy remain in place. The clear indication of press reports is that there was an organised group of people at high levels of power, using that power to facilitate the rape of children and coopt or intimidate people into silence. And as people on the Left, we can't simply impose a self-denying ordinance, agreeing to 'responsibly' await the outcome of inquiries before reaching some conclusions. For one thing, no one else will. The issue is already politicised.


The politics

To satirise a familiar way of speaking, one might say there is a problem with the culture and values of a small minority of rich white men, whose habitus and socialization have inclined them to see preying on the vulnerable, children or the mentally ill, as simply a part of their way of life. It is a culture of entitlement, the ability to dispose of others simply a part of their birthright. This might even sound vaguely plausible, more so than when the pseuds were offering glib insights into the quirks of Pakistani culture to explain the Rochdale child abuse scandal. But it doesn't really tell us anything.

'Paedophile' scandals in this country are strangely both hysterical and complicit. By this I mean, they often add garish embellishments, target innocent people, totally mislead the public about the real nature of the problem, exaggerate, racialise, etc. And yet the real underlying problem, which is that most rape and other abuse of children takes place in the context of the family, is neglected or repressed, and thus perpetuated. The problem is presented as one of individual weirdos, Mac-wearing loners loitering outside school gates, strangers who persistently seek out and prey on vulnerable children. This has led to all sorts of real witch hunts, as people seek out this obscure figure: windows being smashed, people being hounded and burned out of their homes, or killed - anyone who seems a bit 'weird', whether because they're mentally ill or just seemingly a bit odd. It certainly wouldn't be out of character for people in this country to target gays under the self-righteous guise of purging nonces, beasts, paedos, and so on.

Moreover, there is a certain strand of right-wing politics in the UK, sometimes with a decidedly Ickean flavour, that is always bellowing about paedophile rings in the heights of power. They now stand 'vindicated' to a certain degree, like the proverbial stopped clock. The only social structure they are interested in is the network of conspiracy and, insofar as it segues into this, the institution. Institutions and networks of power are exactly what are most palpably collared here, so cases like this give these reactionaries a fresh wind. Of course, the details of illicit networks and institutional complicity must be investigated and understood, but this has to be distinguished from and articulated with structural causation.

The question then is whether, instead of hysterical and complicit, we can have an approach that is historical and literate. Instead of infotainment, which reinforces moral panic, repression and witch hunts, can this particular scandal be pushed toward a more adequate structural analysis, a focus on power relations - not just in their institutional embodiment but in their systemic logic?

Feminist analysis offers some ways forward here. I referred to the concept of 'rape culture'. This has always seemed to me quite nebulous, incorporating an incredibly diverse array of practices and significations that contribute to the normalisation, rationalisation, and implicitly justification of rape, under one indeterminate conceptual canopy. It is perhaps a concept 'under erasure'. It stands in for something else more definite, something for which we don't yet have a term, so we must use it. And the advantage of it is that it doesn't identify its problem as individuals or institutions, but by addressing practices governed by social structure, it adverts to social relations. It identifies rape, in this respect, not as an isolated moral offence, but as a form of terror within a systemic context of subordination and domination (in this respect it is "like lynching", Catherine Mackinnon suggested - albeit most rapes are not collective or public symbolic actions). It identifies the axis of domination as patriarchy, a concept that I think historical materialism is quite right to annexe.

Why patriarchy? We understand that classes are reproduced not only in workplaces, but in communities and homes. The domestic space is as critical to reproducing labour as the market place. The sexual reproduction of labour takes place in families. There, gender ideology is conveyed as the primary form of socialization. There, patriarchy is experienced in its most direct form as the political, economic and ideological control of women and children by husbands and fathers. I am not saying that this adequately characterises how all families work today. Molecular economic change, social democracy, neoliberalism, the feminist movement, and so on, have all transformed the nuclear family unit and relationships between men and women in various ways. And families look very different in different class contexts. Moreover, while capitalist production relations prohibit other family types, they do not actively encourage the traditional nuclear family. The wage system cannot provide the security needed to support such families. This is where political and ideological superstructures come in, and where the social wage is indispensable. The point is that patriarchy is a paradigm of sexist oppression (not the only type) rooted in the family forms and gender ideology of capitalism, and it is involved not only in sexist oppression but in the organisation of families as productive units and property forms, the formation of gender roles in children, and so on. The concept of patriarchy thus grasps conceptually the relationship between families and rape which the empirical data already supports.

The extended reproduction of gender roles, of gendered labour and gendered property, necessarily takes place outside of families, in what one might call the 'ideological state apparatuses' - schools, media, political parties - and to a lesser extent in the 'repressive state apparatuses' - police, courts, armed forces, etc. Each of these apparatuses are sites of struggle to different (very different) degrees, but the dominant ideology within them so far as women and children are concerned will reinforce and abut patriarchy. The social categories produced in official statistics, policy documents, media representations, court judgments, law statutes and so on would consistently reproduce the extant gender relations except to the extent that ongoing struggles inscribe their effects (which they constantly do).

Even within such a general way of talking about the subject, however, it would be a mistake to ascribe too much unity to state discourses. At a certain level, the state is a 'centralised unity', inasmuch as the executive is in a privileged position to unify and cohere fissiparous apparatuses. But a degree of relative disarticulation, and room for internal struggle (produced by the social division of labour within the state, by its hierarchies, and dysfunctions), localised initiative, illicit action and so on, must be included in this picture. Some apparatuses of the state, some 'social categories' working in it, (say police, judges, etc) will have quite a different role in the reproduction of gender, and the socialisation of children, than others (say nurses, teachers, etc). The upholding of a general discourse and ensemble of practices that subordinates women and children, then, allows for quite different implementations depending on the context.

But it also, in various sites of power (as we have seen, hospitals, schools and care homes), reproduces that subordination in such a way as to facilitate the organised sexual coercion and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable. And this vulnerability is not chiefly physical, though it may seem to be. It is not even mental, where the victims are cognitively out-matched by the predators. It is mostly a 'status' vulnerability. These are people who are accorded a low esteem in our society, whose word means little even when they can speak up, whose suffering is of little importance to those in charge of them. Their disadvantage is not just physical or mental, but based on class, gender, race, ability and so on. They lack social power, and this is what makes them potential victims. A corollary is that although most child rapists are not senior politicians or celebrities, with policemen and other politicians abetting them, or journalists indulging them - as I say, it is mostly family members using the social power over children at their disposal condensed within the family form - those who can systematically organise to rape children over a long period of time will tend to have a great deal of social power.

This social power would do a lot of their work already: yielding 'consent' where it is sought, ensuring the silence of the victims, gaining complicity from others who could have said something (one thinks of the family who have reacted so bitterly to one of their relatives complaining that 'Uncle Jimmy' was allowed to molest her in their presence), extracting purblind ignorance from some (the headmistress of the school who is now bitterly lambasting former students as troublemakers for alleging abuse at Savile's hands), gaining the benefit of the doubt or jovial indulgence from some, and so on. This social power is sometimes alluded to in the language of privilege. I have reservations about this - it doesn't seem remotely adequate on the one hand, and on the other doesn't seem sufficiently differentiated. Nonetheless, the concrete effects it is alluding to, the intersectionality of class, gender, racial and other power relations, are important and account for some of its resonance. And this is how we have to see the power of the rapist, and particularly the child rapist. The esteemed 'family man' may have patriarchy on his side, but you have to be Jimmy Savile or someone like him to have the police, journalists, politicians and others covering up your trail of sexual violence.

So, this is not just about 'paedophilia' and 'paedophiles'. That way of talking about the problem won't do any more; the language is too corrupted, even if it might mean something as a clinical category. Nor is it just about an elaborate (endlessly entertaining in its disclosure) conspiracy. It is about the organisation of society in ways that reproduce such subordination, that legitimise it, and that empower people to exploit it.



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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Obama wins; Right loses; mayhem ensues. posted by Richard Seymour

I'm going to give up on predictions. Not that one didn't expect Obama's win, and I think the win was in the bag before Hurricane Sandy, but I thought it would be a much weaker mandate with a weakened Democratic presence in Congress and a low turnout. The signals since 2010 seemed to support the thesis of a crisis of expectations, with a demoralised Democratic vote staying at home, and an energised right-wing base making something of a Republican comeback possible. Obamamania was finished.

The fact is that Obama's margin of victory is only about 1.5-2%, which has (as of now) translated into a 4% lead in college votes. From what I hear, this reduced lead is because turnout was depressed for the Democrats in certain core states, but shot up for the Republicans in certain of their target states like Indiana, which went back to the GOP after going for Obama in 2008. Romney also took North Carolina back for the Republicans. And he gained the support of about 60% of white voters (we'll have to wait for the breakdown by class, but it will probably just show the obvious - a heavy preponderance of middle class and wealthier white voters going for the GOP). There was unquestionably a degree of racist backlash here, which has been registered by the polls. But it would be a mistake to ignore the disappointment and contempt that ensured at least forty percent of voters, the majority of them Democrat supporters, just stayed home.

But there the story must change. Because the Republicans fought for this campaign, and fought hard. They spent a lot of money. One had thought, with the primary debacles, that they were going to throw this fight. They didn't. Their candidate may have been an establishment moron, but he was the least suicidal pick of a repellent bunch, and they spent a lot of money on him. And they mustered their base. Yet, Obama kept Virginia, reclaimed Colorado, and seems to have kept Florida. The complaint of the day among Republicans is that Romney couldn't win his home state, his second home state, or his vacation home state. Notwithstanding a racist reaction, Obama assembled the same multi-racial coalition of largely working class voters - black, white, Latino - that backed him in 2008. And this in an election where the overall turnout seems to have been relatively high.

On balance, I think some of the popular energies from the Occupy movement and the general ideological shift this signalled helped Obama despite his thorough imbrication with the 1%. In addition, most voters still blame Bush and the Republicans for the ongoing economic crisis, and thus give Obama the benefit of the doubt over their worsening conditions, the decreasing share of national income going to workers, the decline in the fortunes of black America, and so on. Moreover, the material concessions the administration offered its base may look like pitiful in comparison with past eras of Democratic reform - the New Deal and LBJ's anti-poverty programmes - but when you've been recently lived with the Bush administration for eight years and its consequences for longer, you can be grateful for even a mild palliation. No wonder the American Right are beginning to look like a collection of well smacked arses. Trump is howling gales of stupidity into his Twitter feed. Sarah Palin is uncharacteristically declaring perplexity. Bill O'Reilly senses a profound change coming over America, as black people, Latinos and women "want stuff". The Right's sense that 'America is changing', that it is becoming a socialist-minded melting pot of people who aren't bourgeois white men is, of course, tragic, deluded stuff. (How I wish it wasn't.) But it's also quite funny to see them boxed in by their own paranoia and stupidity.

Whatever one thinks of Obama - and it is a welcome sign that there has been more debate on the Left about the Democrats than I recall in previous campaigns - there's a lot to be cheerful about with these results. The two rape apologist Republican senators were defeated. It looks like Michelle Bachmann has been knocked out.  [Sadly, she seems to have hung on by a narrow margin]. Support for same sex marriage was registered in several local ballots. In a number of local ballots, voters supported the decriminalization or legalization of cannabis: an encouraging beachhead against prohibition.  Probably, the defeat of the Republicans will give the left a bit more space to organise than if Romney and his Randian sidekick had won. At the very least, the most aggressive reactionaries have endured a serious kicking, and that is always welcome.

But there is still a profound problem. For all that there was a healthy debate in parts of the Left, none of the third party challengers had much to show for their efforts. The Green Party, as the most likely challenger from the left of the Democrats, got a fraction of a percent. There was no serious momentum for the Greens or any other left candidate, although some long established activists like Joanne Landy backed the campaign. Most left liberals, people like Michael Moore, rallied behind Obama rather than risking a repeat of 2000 and the ensuing Bush presidency. Lesser-evilism won the day. This means that much of the left's energy has gone into producing this result rather than organising to force a popular agenda on the White House whoever its inhabitant might be. This means that the Democrats' political control of the working class isn't going to be challenged in the near future. This means that the dominance of the 1% isn't going to be challenged in electoral terms. This means that the reconstruction of the US empire continues, with Obama's supporters thus far largely not taking to the streets. And it's a vicious circle. The longer the Democrats' monopoly on the left-of-centre vote continues, the more the idea is perpetuated that any attempt to break this monopoly is a pointless indulgence, a propagandistic idea that will at best waste time and at worst let the Republicans in.

The rational kernel in this harangue is that a third party alternative can't just be declared; the election results show this. Electoral realignment is invariably a product of a profound politicisation in the base of society, generalising from a number of concrete struggles and antagonisms, whereby people learn in practice that they need to break from their dominant party. There have been several high profile struggles in the US in recent years, but these have either tended to reinforce the dominance of the Democratic Party in the working class, or they have been defeated (often both, as in Wisconsin). So, absent the outbreak of a series of unpredictable social conflicts, popular fights over repossessions, racism, reconstruction after Sandy, jobs, public sector 'reform' and so on, any third party challenge is unlikely to get very far. This rational kernel is, of course, what gives a respectable sheen to what is otherwise reflex loyalty and bullying.

One can only hope that the customary election and post-election interval, during which the majority of the US Left shuts down its activities and campaigns in order to get Democrats elected, will be mercifully brief on this occasion.

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Carry On the Brits posted by Richard Seymour

My latest for the Guardian deals with what is marketed as a light-hearted, satirical look at all the countries that Britain has invaded, and with the culture of empire nostalgia and nationalist reflux that it participates in:

The other countries must feel so left out. New research shows that practically everyone has been invaded by British troops at one point or another. A "staggering 90% of the world's nations" have been overrun by the turbulent Brits – Sweden, Mongolia and the Vatican City are among the 22 to have been tragically overlooked.
If you think this is a facetious tone to adopt, it is nothing compared with the knockabout, what-a-larf tone of some of the coverage that has been lavished on this new book. In a way, this is what the book set out to accomplish. As its author says, it is lighthearted fun, and it claims not to take a moral stance on Britain's empire.
In fact, that latter claim is not quite true. To begin with, the very posture of lighthearted satire implies a certain perspective on events that most people might find questionable. Imagine a gentle farce on the Rwandan genocide, and you see how incongruous it is. Moreover, when the author claims that there is much in Britain's imperial past to be proud of, and some aspects that would make one less proud, this is an explicit moral stance. It just happens to be a stance of, at best, moral ambivalence. Such just is the evasive register of empire nostalgia and apologia these days.

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Friday, November 02, 2012

Tories defeated on Europe posted by Richard Seymour

Having seen some of the inane reactions to the Tories' defeat yesterday, I don't mind having written something like this:

In yesterday's parliamentary debate, Ed Miliband pointedly compared David Cameron to John Major. He knew what he was doing. In a few hours, Labour would opportunistically join forces with the Tory right to inflict a damaging blow to Cameron's authority in parliament, and compel him to seek a cut in the EU budget. Labour is trying to relive the mid-1990s, recalling that it was Europe that shattered Tory unity and alienated its centrist voters.
In fact, things are potentially much worse for Cameron. Unlike Major, who positioned himself as a centrist on European monetary union, someone who could hold together a divided party, Cameron has always been a Eurosceptic. He stood for party leader and for prime minister as such. As a result, his bland, managerial approach to the EU is severely alienating the Tory base and backbenchers, whose rebellions exceed those faced by Major...

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Weighs Like a Nightmare - Historical Materialism - 9th annual conference posted by Richard Seymour

Has Marx been reanimated once again? From mainstream media to academia, this question hangs in the air. The old ghosts of revolution appear to be shaking off their shackles and getting agitated. What is this spirit?

Who are the militants haunting this ramshackle capitalism? Are these new spectres – stalking the streets of Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, Greece, Spain and Wall Street and beyond – direct descendants of socialist and communist ones? How does the past haunt the present? How might the present spook the future?

Whatever answers crop up, the old questions refuse to go away: What type of organisation is needed to sharpen the conflicts, if any? Who is the agent of history and change? Is the scope of political action national or international? What is the political value of alliances and fronts? Does history cunningly work a progressive path through and around the contingencies of struggle? Are the same mistakes to be made, the same failures repeated?

The ninth HM annual conference focuses on the returns and the persistence of political forms and theoretical problems, on the uses and abuses of the history of Marxism in this turbulent present and on the ways and forms in which an inheritance of various Marxist traditions can help us to organise and to act in this turbulent present.

The conference is organised around two plenary sessions (the Deutscher lecture by Jairus Banaji and the launch of the Socialist Register 2013), an HM plenary and panels in parallel sessions dedicated to specific themes and debates. The conference is self-funded and we will depend on voluntary donations by attendants and participants to support the organisation and running of the event. The suggested donation on the door is £75 for waged and £35 for unwaged.

For logistical and other support, Historical Materialism would like to thank the School of Oriental and African Studies. For their collaboration, thanks to the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences at SOAS, Brill Academic Publishers, the Deutscher Memorial Prize committee and Socialist Register.

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