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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Social Networks, Resistance and the New Capitalism.

Genealogy of Systems.

Adam Curtis has churned out an article on the history of the 'ecosystem' in relation to the protests against cuts. The notion is linked closely with the idea of a universal equilibrium in all of nature. The central problem with the idea is that it can be manipulated by the powerful and utilised to serve other ends. It can be used to justify and enforce a particular view of the world, in order to maintain power structures of authority and domination. The idea of an 'ecosystem' was used by the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s as thousands of young Americans formed communes in order to leave behind the old forms of control - political, hierarchical, sexual and so on. A new order would be forged out of a network of communes throughout which information would flow freely in house meetings and a kind of stability would emerge as a result. In actuality, house meetings turned into sessions in which the strong would bully the weak and everyone else could only stand back and watch.

It was Arthur Tansley who came up with the concept of an 'ecosystem'. He had done so after he read Freud in search of answers for a disturbing nightmare he had in which he murdered his wife. Tansley actually underwent psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud. He took the Freudian idea of the brain as a kind of electrical machine - a network throughout which energy flowed - and applied it to nature. For Tansley the complexity of the natural world conceals an array of interconnected systems around which energy flowed and he coined a name for them - ecosystems. From here Tansley went on to claim that there is a universal equilibrium in nature, everything from the mind to nature and society tend towards a state of equilibrium. Essentially Tansley had projected mechanical qualities onto nature, in order to make sense of the complexities of it, without any real evidence to do so. Then Jan Smuts came along with an even grander theory of nature, Tansley hated it.

Jan Smuts was one of the most powerful men in the British Empire and he ruled over South Africa. When the Hottentots refused to pay their dog licenses Smuts sent in planes to bomb them. Smuts found time to get away from bombing black people to go up into the mountains, get naked and contemplate the natural order of things. Smuts came up with Holism, which held that the world is composed of wholes which are each a part of a giant system that would find its own stability if all the wholes were in their right places. Each of the small wholes are evolving and coming together to form larger wholes until all come together into one big whole. As critics pointed out, Smuts was merely providing a justification for imperialism as well as racial segregation. It was clear that the Empire could be seen as a giant self-organised and regulated system in which wholes are kept in the proper place: blacks should stay in their natural whole and not disturb the order of the system.

The Hippies used a hybrid of the ideas of Arthur Tansley and Jan Smuts in combination with cybernetic theories drawn from recent innovations in computer theory in the 1960s and 70s. The dream of a better world which could regulate and stabilise itself failed time and again, whether the ideas were applied for radical or conservative ends. It is incapable of dealing with power, as there could be no sides to take nor alliances to forge in a totally self-regulated and stabilised system. It leads to that same managerial style of political engagement, which has become prevalent since the end of the Cold War in this post-political era. Today the anti-cuts movement has adopted the same idea of how to reorder society through systems organised through autonomous networks, literally the social networks of the internet. Though it is a very effective way of organising demonstrations which are creative and expressive, it is not an effective method for changing the world. The concentration of power must be confronted.


The New Capitalism.


The article was controversial as it linked the libertarian approach of UK Uncut, and by extension the other anti-cuts demonstrations, with the dominant ideology. In an interview, before even the first episode was shown, Adam Curtis explained that he supports the protests but believes that the form of the protests is deeply flawed. The cuts cannot be defeated by self-organised and regulated networks of individuals rallied through social networks like Facebook. Without adequate leadership or even a central vision the schismatic tendencies within the movement can explode. For Curtis the retreat to the idea of a self-organised resistance is a cowardly one made by the Left from confronting the concentration of power in very few hands. There is a great need for an inspirational alternative to unite and rally the people in protest against the cuts. There is some truth in that given there are alternatives to the cuts, but these alternatives are not articulated very well in protest because of the self-organised nature of the demonstrations.

We ought to note that Curtis refers to the figures of the counter-cultural movement, like Stewart Brand, who converged with the libertarian Right in Silicon Valley. The libertarian Right are opposed to old hierarchies and power structures which obstruct the forces of the market and the freedom of the individual. The central thesis of the free-market libertarians is that the capitalist system will flourish if it is liberated from all old constraints and obstacles. Similarly the counter-cultural Left held that through the construction of systems, outside of political power and away from the Establishment, we can build a new society without hierarchy where we are all free and equal in a system. This is where computers come in as a means of self-regulation through which risks can be removed and stability ensured. Government is redundant and so is the Establishment. Today we find the notion of systems as self-regulating is carried over from the reactionaries to the revolutionaries.


For him we are not living in a post-ideological era, the age in which we live is still thoroughly ideological and Curtis aims to explore politically loaded concepts like ecosystems which are commonly taken as apolitical and objective. The idea of a system composed of interconnected nodes which maintain the stability of the system, through the feedback of information, is profoundly ideological for Curtis. It becomes even clearer when we look at the role of the idea that the innovations in computer technology can rid a system of risk. This is the kind of thought which abolished boom and bust under New Labour. The rise of computers has given birth to the idea of a new kind of capitalism in which perpetual growth is possible and the system is not only capable of self-regulation but also self-organisation. The inherent risks and instability of the system can be abolished forever whilst competition and productivity can be enhanced.

Adam Curtis is suspicious of the suggestions that the web has distributed power just as he is opposed to the suggestion that the market has distributed power and that even the class system has been broken down by the meritocratic forces of capitalism. We have abandoned the belief that there could be a better world, that is not based on market principles, and have settled for a managerial approach to capitalism. There has been a shift from the Enlightenment view, that the human being is separate from nature, to the idea that we are each one node in a chain which constitutes the entire system. The system is too complex for a single person to understand, but it can be analysed and predicted by computers. It can remain stable through the flow of information. All of this underlies the view that there can be an economic equilibrium to the radical idea of autonomous cells of resistance to global capitalism. The recent demonstrations in Britain parallel a tenet of the dominant ideology which the protesters are fighting against.

Monday, 30 May 2011

125 Years of Coca-Cola.

A Sip of Capitalism.

You must have come across the new ads for Coca-Cola. When you can't buy a bottle of Coke you've passed the borders of civilisation, either that or you've been kidnapped and taken to North Korea where you'll be making films written by Kim Jong-il. The story of Coca-Cola might be understood as a microcosm of the rise of American corporate power and consumerism throughout the world. In global politics the company has carved out a history, which is unique and disturbing whilst also reflective of the level of power corporations have garnered over the past century. Since corporations were given the legal status of human beings, in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery in America, the power of the corporation has increased enormously. Except corporations are immortal and amoral in nature, only profit matters and the law requires them to place the financial interests of their owners above all other interests.

The way Coca-Cola has been marketed over the decades have been important in the development of public relations and advertising. As Žižek has pointed out, ideology does not work by saying "no" but by providing the masses with sanction to particular modes of enjoyment. The slogan of Coca-Cola "Enjoy!" is the most perfect demonstration of the way that consumerism buys the passive support of the people. Even in mainstream economics, the stimulation of demand through consumption is a part of the means to securing economic growth. There is no need for calls to maintain inhibitions, save money and resist temptation. The promise of Real enjoyment is the key. The shape of the Coca-Cola bottle was originally designed to remind male consumers of the curves of a woman's body. The constant and obscene injunction to enjoy, obligatory jouissance, comes from the superego. We experience this as a transgression when we indulge, as we worry about the sugar content of the drink, the affect it has on our teeth and son.

The Coca-Cola Company emerged in the early 20th Century just as Edward Bernays pioneered the use of propaganda on a corporate scale, whether it be for advertising or political subversion. By now the stern calls for self-denial by the paternal superego, the Protestant ethic of the Victorian era, has been superseded by a maternal superego which enjoins us to relax and enjoy ourselves. The short-circuit of this obscene injunction (which requires us to feel as though we are not being coerced in anyway) is depressive, self-punitive hatred and the anxiety that we have not enjoyed enough or that others have enjoyed more than us. In consumerism the position of agency is taken up by objective knowledge, which concern our health, appearance, sexual and social needs etc. The advertisers claim to have psychological insights into the target market, what the consumers truly want to become happy, well-adjusted and successful people. Thus, the phrase market Stalinism.

It all began in the American Civil War, way back in the 1860s, when the Yankee North battered the Confederacy of the South in order to abolish slavery. The rural South was torn apart in the process, one of the most prominent cities Atlanta was practically torched to the ground and there was widespread humiliation, along with melancholia, guilt and hysteria. The quack doctor would come around to offer potions of mysterious ingredients and promises of a better life with such potions. One such fellow was John Pemberton, a druggist and a veteran Confederate soldier, with his 'ideal brain tonic'. With the rise of temperance Atlanta went dry and Pemberton sold his 'brain tonic' as a soft-drink Coca-Cola off for $2,300. The tonic, which was part cocaine at the time, would be marketed as the symbol of American wholesomeness. At the time Coca-Cola was part cocaine and had just the right colour to disguise a slug of whiskey. So Coca-Cola became the temperance drink in the 1890s  as the South was in the grips of Christian revivalism and prohibition.

Coca-Cola first transcended the borders of the US after the Spanish-American war when Cuba was claimed by the US and Coca-Cola was soon on the island, with the first bottling plant open by 1906. At the time the formula could not be patented at first as that would have forced the company to hand over the product to the public domain after 50 years at the time. It was vulnerable to competitors, the company only maintained the product through strict secrecy as well as a systematic legal war against all the competition. Pepsi Cola being the only rival to survive, as it emulated the franchise model of Coca-Cola. By 1919 Coca-Cola had been bought for $25 million by Robert Woodruff, who also owned a consortium of Northern banks. The temperance movement turned against Coke after Woodruff snatched the company from the Christian Right. Woodruff led the company to infiltrate Pepsi with 'soda spooks' and took the company to court over the use of the word 'Cola' and lost.

Under Woodruff the company went even further to launch itself into foreign markets and penetrated markets in Britain and France, as well as Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s. The Second World War gave the company the chance to distribute bottles of Coke all over the world. As it marketed itself as the drink of patriotism in the US, it was being sold in Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s. Early in the War, Coca-Cola's man in Berlin Max Keith was made the Head of Soft-Drink Production by the Nazis. The company was given priority in distribution throughout all of occupied Europe, the Nazi state allocated the corporation trucks and petrol. Fanta was invented for the Nazi market when the Allies' embargo against Germany obstructed the company from importing Coca-Cola syrup into the country. There were bottling plants on both sides of the War, subsidised by the US War Department and the Third Reich.

There have even been Coke Presidents and Pepsi Presidents, which is indicative of the interests invested in the White House and the importance of business in policy-making. Typically the Democrats have been closer to Coca-Cola, from Franklin D Roosevelt onwards, whilst Republicans were closer to Pepsi. Dwight Eisenhower is a notable exception among Republicans, even Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon were Pepsi men in a sense. Coke was too "red" for McCarthy, who sat on the Senate Sugar Committee, who also received $20,000 from a Pepsi lobbyist and concluded that it was un-American to ration sugar. Richard Nixon worked as a lawyer for Pepsi Cola and as Vice President to Eisenhower he flew out to Moscow on a trade fair to meet with Nikita Khruschev. Before hand he had been taken aside by Donald Kendall, the future President of Pepsi. Kendall wanted to get a bottle of Pepsi into the hand of the Russian premier and Nixon was more than willing to do so. It was an instrumental moment in the introduction of Pepsi to the Soviet Union years later.

Pepsi would later be the first American product to be made and sold in the Soviet Union. Pepsi sought to profit by association with a possible future President as Nixon was traveling around the world in the 1960s. Pepsi-Cola partially financed the traveling as the company would later contribute to the Nixon campaign and on the campaign trail Tricky Dick flew in a Pepsi plane. Soon after his inauguration Richard Nixon was grateful and appointed Donald Kendall, by then the President of Pepsi Cola, head of National Alliance of Businessmen. In 1971 there was an American trade mission to Russia at which Donald Kendall met Alexei Kosygin, second only to Leonid Breznev, and secured a deal to flood the Russian market with Pepsi. It was part of a bid to combat alcoholism in Russia, but it only succeeded in turning Pepsi and vodka into one of the most popular drinks in Russia. This is the essence of detente, which was mocked by Ronald Reagan and the neoconservatives for that reason.

It was also under the shameless administration of Richard Nixon that Salvador Allende, the democratically elected President of Chile, was overthrown in a military coup on September 11th 1973. Allende was seen as a threat to American corporate power at a time when the US government was looking to establish detente with the Soviet Union. The socialist Salvador Allende was killed, General Augusto Pinochet seized power and began to reverse the reforms of Allende. All opposition was eliminated, trade unionists were dumped into the Atlantic from helicopters, thousands simply "disappeared", citizens were detained without charge and tortured. The military junta led by General Pinochet kept the Chilean markets open to penetration from American corporations and investors. In the run up to the constitutional crisis, which led to the coup, the bottler for Pepsi Cola in Chile was Augustin Edwards and he was also the publisher of El Mercurio. The newspaper became a front for the CIA and was instrumental in the coup which installed a dictatorship that would run Chile until 1990.

Jimmy Carter was a Coke President, he even appointed a Coca-Cola lawyer to Attorney General and Chairman Paul Austin shuttled secretly between the White House and foreign statesmen like Anwar Sadat. On the campaign trail, Carter brought on Tony Schwartz who had made over 300 adverts for Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola was banned in Portugal until Carter gave the state a $300 million loan. The product was introduced to China as the economy was opened up for the first time by Deng Xiaoping. Mao had kicked Coke out of China in 1949 and for years all the Chinese had was Happiness Cola. The alliance signed with Coca-Cola was announced publicly a week after it had actually been signed as to not embarrass Jimmy Carter. The President had just secured a trade alliance with China just after the company was welcomed back into China. It was a symbolic gesture to the Soviet Union, which had just forged a pact with Vietnam.

Today the company is known to take out "dead peasant" insurances on employees, so when an employee dies the company can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. Trade union leaders have been killed at bottling plants in Guatemala and Colombia where the organised workers pushed for better pay and better working conditions. Just like other corporations the Coca-Cola Company is defined by white privilege in its' upper echelons, in which women and black people are almost entirely excluded. In spite of all of this, it is practically impossible to boycott the Coca-Cola Company effectively without mass-organisation. As the strange history of a soft-drink corporation is indicative of corporations and the tendencies which guide them. So the only means through which the problems created by corporate structures are revolutionary in nature and at a fundamental level the battle against corporations is a battle against the capitalist system.

Crisis, Change and Progress.

"Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change." - Milton Friedman

In the midst of the revolutionary contagion currently sweeping Africa and the Middle East, the Obama administration actively opposed calls for new elections in Haiti. This is consistent with the neoliberal understanding of 'progress' as the constant and rapid accumulation of capital without an end in sight - or as described by Hayek change for the sake of change. In accordance with this understanding of progress, people have to be coerced into accepting privatisation, deregulation and huge public spending cuts. This is in line with Hayek's influences from the radical Right, from where an authoritarian regime can be seen as justifiable along pragmatic lines, which was the reasoning Hayek used to defend Pinochet. The values of civil society, moral values and civic duties can disregarded in the pursuit of self-interest. Through the blind obedience to the artificial rules of the marketplace - e.g. price signals - 'progress' can be ensured. In the name of such 'progress' the Austrian economists called for us all to embrace inequality, and so it is being enforced in the developing world.

So naturally the US jumped on the opportunity, the earthquake last year, to further it's influence over Haiti. The unofficial branch of the US Treasury Department, formerly known as the IMF, did not waste any time to offer a loan of $100 million to Haiti with some very interesting stipulations that included: raise the price of electricity, refuse pay rises to all public sector workers (except those making minimum wage) and keep inflation low. The funds were needed in Haiti desperately and the stipulations were accepted for this reason. The Haitian people have had to put up with these new economic changes, let alone the earthquake and an outbreak of cholera, and the new American military base being built on the island. The repression in the developing world is partly to crush any signs of independence, but also to secure economic interests as the system requires 3% compound growth every year in order to perpetuate itself.

The neoliberal project is global in scale and not confined to the developing world. We see similar instances in the West, with the US and UK beginning to pursue austerity measures after the Crash of 2008. To further globalisation as led by the US there requires even greater repression in the developing world, countries like Haiti are a prime target. There are concerted efforts to crush the mass-demonstrations which have sprung up across the Middle East. As the people have risen up in Libya and Gaddafi reacted with horrifying ultra-violence, the West responded with sanctions (which left Libyan banks exempt) and has stepped up to a full blown intervention in the country. Meanwhile the GCC is active in exporting Libyan oil from the rebel-controlled east, as well as providing the rebels with arms whilst crushing rebellions in Bahrain and elsewhere. The recent crisis of capitalism and the ongoing military 'misadventures' in the Middle East demand repression and violence in order to reassert the dominant ideology. It was the Falklands war which did so for Britain in the 1980s.

In this context we can understand that the US has seized on the opportunity to build a military base in Haiti and suppress the activities of trade unions, it is partly to prevent any currents of independence from succeeding and to beat back the tide of independence in the region. In the long-term it is about making a grab for resources in Latin America. So it should not be surprise us that the Haitian election in 2010 were rigged to produce a government submissive to these objectives. The US have blocked Aristide from returning to the country and  have let "Baby Doc" Duvalier return instead. The Duvaliers who ruled Haiti for almost 30 years with black nationalist rhetoric and vicious repression of all opposition. The dictatorship kept the republic in a state of subservience to US penetration and racked up huge amounts of debt. In 1990 a truly free election produced a government led by Aristide, but the US did not approve of the radical theologian who had once won 67% of the vote.

Haiti is the first and only case of a slave society which liberated itself from the Europeans. The Haitian revolutionaries had humiliated the French, though not by the standards that the French had humiliated the Haitian people through slavery. The French retaliated with demands for $21 billion in "reparations" to the former slave-masters. The "reparations" were paid by accepting loans from European and American banks, which led to a huge accumulation of debt in the country. Any attempt made by the republic to free itself of foreign interference have been crushed, with the US formally occupying the country and propping up the Duvaliers. The revenge of the white man on the first republic of freed slaves is evident today, which is the reason that Haiti is considered a "failed state" and often described as "cursed" in the media. The murky history of interventions in Haiti by the US are commonly ignored, along with the real reparations owed to Haiti. Instead the media prefer to tell feel good stories about Haiti and humanitarian efforts by the West.

Elsewhere in the developing world we find the same practices. The reactionary regime headed by Pepe Lobo was installed in Honduras in 2010 by the military in a suspect election last year. It was the military which "resolved" the constitutional crisis of 2009 and exiled Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected President of Honduras. Since then there have been infringements on the rights of Honduran citizens, which have gone as far as state-sanctioned rape and murder, used particularly against the opposition to the coup. Since he took office in January 2010, Lobo has initiated the process of smashing the teachers' unions and soon after seizing power, with the support of the US, $100 million was stolen from the teachers' pension fund leaving many on long waiting lists. Pepe Lobo signed an agreement with the IMF to secure a $200 million loan, the stipulations of which included a slashed education budget.

There were wage cuts for Honduran teachers by October 2010 and as the teachers began to resort to industrial action, the right to strike was suspended and the control of education has since been devolved to municipalities. The regime has been working to redirect funds from schools to the military and the police. This is a deliberate move to create the pre-conditions, a crisis of schooling, in order to privatise education later. A similar process destroyed the supply of drinkable water to the majority of Hondurans. Now a neighbourhood which cannot be provided with drinkable water at a profit it will not be provided at all. We have seen similar disasters of privatisation across the region. The response from the teachers have been further strikes and occupations across the country. Other sectors of society have also joined in the demonstrations against the government.

The Honduran government has declared that the strikes "illegal and has moved to repress the unions with ultra-violence that has killed and injured strikers. The repression of the strikes are imperative to the neoliberal project as the movement to defend education has become the backbone of resistance to the Lobo regime. The security apparatus of the state has ignored the laws which bar police and soldiers from entering university campuses, which was introduced to prevent the kind of 'disappearances' of student leaders seen in the 1980s. Students have resorted to hurling rocks at police officers trying to enter campuses. The media has become subject to an intense campaign by the state, with journalists sympathetic to the dissidents being threatened and even killed. In some cases entire media outlets have been shut down by the government.

All judges who opposed the coup have been fired and the regime has been keen to see that any teachers taking part in strikes are to be jailed for 'sedition' and denied bail after participating in a strike. The threat to fire all strikers on mass has led to strikes being called to a stop. The endemic corruption of the political class, a total disregard for human rights and civil liberties is nothing new to Latin America. In the 1980s over 200 people were 'disappeared' in Honduras by another US-backed regime. The return of Manuel Zelaya to Honduras, along with other exiles, should not be interpreted as a sign of the return of democracy to Honduras. It is the result of an agreement between Hugo Chavez, Pepe Lobo and Juan Manuel Santos. The regime that has killed around 100 dissidents and 40 leaders is still in place with the support of Washington. Let alone 8 homophobic murders and the killing of 11 journalists, with no sign of investigation from the police.


The teachers continue to protest against the effective privatisation of schools, suspension of hundreds of teachers and the theft of pensions. Some are now camped out in front of the National Congress on a hunger strike for more than 20 days in spite of harassment - which went as far as threats of rape - by the police and the military. Within hours that the agreement was signed by Lobo to secure the return of Manuel Zelaya to Honduras, the regime attacked a group of students who were protesting against the suspension of their teachers. The security forces used live rounds and tear gas against the students. But the resistance to the regime remains active and organised. Sadly the reactionary forces of the state are backed by the US and that would mean only a thorough overhaul of the regime would secure public services in Honduras. But it looks as though this could be the beginning of a repression on an international scale to defend further neoliberal reforms.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Newt Conservatism for 2012.

The Year of the Newt?


The sins of Newt Gingrich, who would remind us all that marriage is between one man and one woman, include: abandoning your wife riddled with cancer on her hospital bed to fuck the brains out of your next wife whom you later cheat on whilst moralising about the outrageous infidelities of President Clinton - which saved social security. The Newt has been "rehabilitated" in recent years, propelling himself forward on fiscal conservative rhetoric and the discovery of Catholicism. Ultimately this has led Newt to announce his new ambition to succeed Obama as President. Gingrich is the embodiment of the contradictions of American conservatism, strident populism against liberals and intellectuals whilst also a defender of liberalism for the rich. Market liberalism complete with the muscle to stamp on feminists and progressives everywhere. Newt conservatism is really free-markets for the poor and the vulnerable, 'Big Government' for the benefit of business and the mega-rich.

The recent scandal in the news about the $500,000 Newt Gingrich carries in debts to Tiffany's has given liberals room to challenge his "fiscal conservatism". Sadly the way Newt has run Georgia is overlooked, the huge amount of federal subsidies that are poured into Lockheed in Cobb County, Georgia are hardly a state secret. Incidentally Cobb County is almost the biggest recipient of federal subsidies in the US. It would seem criticism of Gingrich's maxed out credit cards is of high value in an age of personalised politics. Similarly the most damaging attacks on the Obama administration from the GOP have been made along personal lines, e.g. Obama is an illegal alien from Kenya and so on. It doesn't take a sophisticated analysis of any kind to support such vilification, merely a few quotes deprived of context, outright lies and crude historical analogies. The liberals will prefer to play the game of trying to stick the "hypocrite" label on the Newt, as if that is the only thing wrong with Newt Gingrich and his particular brand of conservatism.

Federal money on welfare, social security and health-care were fair game to be cut under these conservatives.  Just as in Arizona Jan Brewer and John McCain have cut funding for education and health-care, setting up "death panels" in the state of Arizona. At the same time Brewer has increased the funding for border security and pandering to racist fears with Arizona SB1070, a bill on illegal immigration that could have been drawn up by the American Nazi Party. Even if the Republican resurgence last November does lead to decreasing the size of the government it would only be the transference of power from the state sector to the private sector. In other words, greater power would be moved from bureaucrats and elected representatives in Washington to bureaucrats in corporate blocks of offices. All the while the richest citizens would be enriched even more through regressive tax-cuts, whilst the majority of the population has been hit hard by the recession and has yet to recover.

As part of the Republican resurgence in 2010, John Boehner has resurfaced and risen to Speaker of the House. We might think of Boehner as the sidekick to the Newt, though he could be summed up as just another brash hack for corporate interests. He actually went as far as personally handing out checks for the tobacco industry in Congress to sway an upcoming vote on tobacco subsidies. Boehner also represents the interests of Goldman Sachs, among lots of other companies, which might explain why he voted for the bailouts in 2008. The extent to which Boehner will act to cut public spending and shrink the deficit is highly questionable. Boehner has supported the Bush tax-cuts and the renewal of them by the Obama administration, effectively subsidising the wealthiest of Americans, providing a pretext for yet more cutting in the long term. This is the "starve the beast" mantra of the Republican machine, which would distinguish the Newt from a conservative like Barry Goldwater in that the aim is to increase debt in order to justify further cuts.

The Newt still adheres to the trickle-down theory and will initiate even more tax-cuts, especially for the rich, if he takes office in 2012. Apparently it wasn't enough that the richest 1% of Americans have seen taxes cut from 91% in the 50s down to 28% in the 80s, before they were raised to around 36% in the 1990s. Gingrich wants to eliminate the capital gains tax and abolish inheritance tax, as well as cuts to corporation tax and a shift to a flat tax of 15%. This would cost the Treasury billions, increase debt, hit the poor hardest and leave the fat cats even more bloated than before. Typically the language used by his PR team is vague, with references to a "balanced budget" with no clear laid out plans to make the cuts which will decrease the debt - e.g. defence spending. Instead we can read plenty of platitudes about helping Americans, keeping to national values and letting the fucking Muslims know how it is. Not to mention plenty of talk of 'reform' in regards to entitlements and health-care.

The American people are disillusioned by the hopeless state of the union and as a result the GOP has been able to mobilise a conservative base on family values and gun rights. As the low voter turn out converged with the interests of capital there has been a striking shift away from social democracy and the New Deal. In the mid-term elections of 2010 75% of the population made up 37% of the vote, these are the Americans who earn less than $50,000 a year and typically lean to the Democrats. Just compare this with the 26% of the vote which consisted of the 10% of Americans who make $100,000 a year and lean to the Republicans. Although it is true that a strong Democratic tendency does not necessarily mean that the US is a liberal or left-wing country, because the Democrats are a right-wing party and at best predominantly "moderate" conservative. In the simplistic worldview put forward by the media there is no room for the class dynamic of American elections.


New Gingrich is a part of the Republican tradition of right-wing populism which mobilises the South as a conservative Christian base against the bi-coastal liberal elites of the North. The way he has consistently ran on a platform of baiting the poor against one another, like the way he has called for poor children to be taken from their mothers and placed in orphanages. The way in which he has referred to Obama as a "food-stamp President" is a similar form of baiting, to utilise the racist imagery of black people as a bunch of free-loaders and dangerous criminals against the first administration led by an African-American. He has managed to rehabilitate himself since the sex scandal which scuppered his chances of running for President against the Democrats 10 years ago. His discovery of the Roman Catholic faith in 2009 was a major part of that rehabilitation. But it remains unclear whether such cynical gestures and self-serving spin will pay-off for him and there is still no clear forerunner for the Republican nomination right now.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Ayn Rand, Computers and Capitalism.


The first in the series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace was brilliant and marked with the intellectual characteristics of Adam Curtis. The focus of the series is the way in which machines have risen and led us to believe that we could create a stable world that would last forever. Admittedly it is a strange story, it all began with an even stranger woman called Ayn Rand and a philosophy she called Objectivism. The philosophy might be described simply as a highly rigorous form of individualism, essentially meaning that man should put his own happiness first and spend his time improving himself to his utmost potential. He should use common sense and reason in every instance, whilst finding motivation in his own existence. There is no room for altruism and charity in this philosophy. The ideological procedure of Objectivism is an identification with capitalism which is so stringent that it actually undermines the ruling ideology. So we must understand Ayn Rand as part of the tradition of over-conformist authors.

Rand's masterpiece was Atlas Shrugged (1957) was trashed by the critics, even conservatives like William F Buckley called it "ideological fabulism" and distinguished it from The Fountainhead (1943) which he considered to be an engaging book. In spite of this Atlas Shrugged became the bestseller of the century and the most influential book in America second only to the Bible. In the book Rand attacks the idea of altruism head on, she depicts an America in which all aspects of life are controlled and regulated by the government. But then all of the creative individuals who have made America great go on strike and hideout in a remote valley whilst American society collapses. The creative geniuses only emerge to rebuild society after political power has collapsed and the country has descended into an apocalyptic hellhole. The new world which would be born from this would be built without politics and would be based upon the virtue of selfishness.

For the book Ayn Rand returned to a moment from her childhood, when her father went on strike to protest against the Bolsheviks and she imagined the super-rich in America going on strike against the rate of taxation in the US on high-earners. At the time it was 91% on incomes over $400,000 and would be chiseled down to 70% within Rand's lifetime. Though she would not live to see it chopped down to 28% under Ronald Reagan. In her lifetime she saw the rise of social democracy in the US and Bolshevism in Russia, the latter of which left her in an almost permanent state of post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact it could be said that as an intellectual Rand developed in the footprint of the Bolsheviks and only to oppose the fundamental ideals of socialism in order to defend the status quo. Thus, the thorough rejection of equality and descriptions of the masses as "refuse". The influence of Ayn Rand runs deep in American society, her writing has shaped the politics of people like Rand Paul, Glenn Beck and Jimmy Wales. Many of the nouveau riche of Silicon Valley see themselves as Randian heroes and some even name their children after Rand.


In California the idea emerged that political power was no longer needed, instead with the help of computer technology we could all become heroic individuals and an order could be maintained through the networks established by computers. With each individual totally free to follow their desires and each a component in a intricate system. The feedback of information between all individuals connected through computer networks could lead to a system which can stabilise and regulate itself. The experiment by Loren Carpenter supported the thesis that stability and order could be maintained without hierarchy and interference. This meshed well with the Californian ideology which is a combination of the anti-authoritarianism of the Hippie counter-culture with Yuppie techno-utopianism. Nation-states were rendered meaningless as the world had become an interconnected system of individuals and governments should leave the system to spawn a new kind of democracy.

In the first episode it appeared that Adam Curtis is taking a good hard look at fundamental aspects of capitalism, as he has in previous films like The Trap in which he examined freedom in the negative and positive conception. In this series the partial focus is on the idea of a stable system which is self-regulating and has no need for government. The notions of stability and perpetuity are fundamental to capitalism, for it requires 3% compound growth forever and it requires a way of managing crises as it is crisis-prone. Similarly important is the theoretical equilibrium between supply and demand as a direct result of the inherent efficiency of markets. Though supply and demand are actually in a state of perpetual flux. So even if the economists could initiate a change in aggregate supply to balance with aggregate demand it would never meet a perfect balance because demand would have already changed by the time supply had been altered. There is always a disequilibrium in the system.


The future chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan was a devotee of Ayn Rand and a loyal member of the Collective - a carefully policed group of intellectuals which had grown around Rand. Years later as chairman of the FED Greenspan met with Bill Clinton and told the President that his election promises of social reform could not be carried out without increasing the deficit, which would lead to higher interest rates and lower rates of growth. Greenspan advised the Clinton administration to slash spending in order to lower interest rates and leave the markets to boom. A boom began in the 1990s and it was believed that it would not end because the rise of computers enabled banks to predict the risk of particular investments and loans. The chaos of the markets might finally be brought to a stable and instantaneous order characterised by unending increase in the rates of productivity and economic growth.

By 1996 it appeared that the US economy had lapsed into irrational exuberance, there was no increase in productivity but profits continued to increase and it appeared that a speculative bubble had been created. But Greenspan buckled to political pressure and argued that the computers were increasing productivity in ways that were so innovative that the data was not picking it up. Around the same time, under pressure from the US countries like South Korea and Thailand jettisoned all constraints on the flow of capital. From the flood of Western capital that followed a huge speculative bubble in property emerged and the capital would flee as the crisis began, leaving the countries devastated. Just as the bubble burst in 1997 and the 'Asian miracle' came to an end the sex scandal engulfed the White House. Here the forces of power and love converged, the dream of a stable world was assaulted. The IMF flew in to the affected countries and stipulated market reforms in the economies in exchange for loans.

After 9/11 and the Enron debacle Alan Greenspan took action to stabilise the economy by repeatedly slashing interest rates to bolster consumption. The consumers would be the mechanism by which the system would be stabilised. In the past such an influx of cheap money into the economy had led to inflation, but it did not in this case and there was a boom over the next several years. The illusory boom gave Western leaders reason to believe that the system can stabilise itself without state-intervention. The Chinese Politburo had come up with a way to manage America, the Politburo deliberately held the exchange rate at a low level to ensure that exports would remain cheap. America was flooded with Chinese goods whilst dollars flooded into China, which were then lent back to the US by buying American bonds. The flow of cheap goods and cheap money created a false stability in America, whilst an orgy of lending and speculation spiraled out of control. The vast property bubble which emerged in the US as a result led to the Crash of '08 and in doing so the dream of perpetual stability were revealed to be totally deluded.

Faith in computers had led the politicians and bankers to believe that the boom would just go on and on no matter what. The machines had brought stability to the system, risk had been removed entirely. The fantasies of Alan Greenspan were exposed as just that in 2008, fantasies predicated on a wave of speculation. The market democracy had not emerged from financialisation and stability had not actually emerged. The banks mobilised political power to receive bailouts and the price for the boom would be paid by the Americans who were least capable of doing so. This also generalises to the austerity measures in Britain and other countries. The total wealth of Britain adds up to around £9 trillion, with the majority of that wealth concentrated in the top 20% of the population and the richest 10% holding £4 trillion in wealth. The cuts will hit the affect of forcing the bottom of 50% of the population, who hold less than 10% of the total wealth, to pay for it. The bottom 10% have less than nothing, negative wealth in the form of debt.

In the midst of the crisis we found ourselves incapable of imagining a better world or even a different system, instead we have opted to recreate the system as it was before the Crash and we have handed our public services the bill to do so. Capitalist realism is the only phrase to describe this state of affairs in which we are embedded. Capitalism is the only realistic system for us and all we can do is adjust to it. A business ontology has become all pervasive, so all areas of social reality are to be reorganised along corporate lines and this extends to everything from forests to health-care. This might help us understand the reawakened fascination in Ayn Rand as the crisis hit in 2008 which, as Slavoj Žižek has noted, came about around the same time that social democratic thought was partially unearthed. We can't even begin to imagine a better world so we merely reinvent the current order in a more radical way, perhaps this is the only message Rand offers to us.

Thought Food for an American democrat.

 
You might say that the democratic process in the United States is deeply flawed, but I would go further to say that the American political system might be best described as a polyarchy. There are only two choices in a business-run system whereby the candidate who spends the most on advertising, and by extension receives the most funding from corporations, is the most likely to win the election. We saw this in 2008 when Barack Obama beat John McCain in the race to succeed George Bush. Obama had received over $745 million in campaign contributions, predominantly from the same corporations which backed Bush, whilst McCain received just $368 million. Similarly George Bush received nearly $40 million more than John Kerry in 2004 and about $70 million more than Al Gore in 2000. It is worth noting that Bush did not even need to win over the voters in 2000 to win, Corporate America backed him and that was good enough for him to take office.

It has been said that the United States is fundamentally a "conservative country" and furthermore that it is only the bi-coastal elites who are liberals. Similarly there is the notion of the liberal media and the contention that the Left is an elite operation reviled on Main Street America. The Republican Party has repeatedly reinvigorated itself by engineering populist rebellions of the white working-class against liberals in government and in the media. It is true that the most prominent leftists are intellectuals, but that is not necessarily a sign of the dissonance of radical ideas and the American working-class. On social issues the white working-class, who vote, tend to lean right-wards opposing same-sex marriage, gun control, abortion, immigration, secularism, political correctness and multiculturalism. It is typically the wealthy who vote according to the economic policy of the candidates. Though a crude version of economics is often presented to the working-classes in order to swing votes.

The assassination attempt and shooting spree in Tucson came just days after the GOP gained control of Congress from the Democrats on a torrent of right-wing populism against the state. The new speaker John Boehner made a point of reading the Constitution out loud to Congress. The fundamentalist and fetishistic reading of the Constitution is a way for Republicans to shoot down legislation which is "unconstitutional", e.g. health-care reform. Of course, subsidies to corporations and bailouts for banks are perfectly constitutional - that goes without saying. The Democrats pose a luke-warm opposition, at best, to the blatantly pro-business agenda of the GOP. But the Democrats have also been subject to a tremendous amount of lobbying from the health insurance industry, which might explain why "Obama-care" obligates Americans to buy health insurance and are fined if they don't do so. As a consequence the health-care reforms championed by Democrats are easily lampooned by Republicans and the populace is easily disillusioned by such mediocrity.

As the public is disillusioned by the meaningless and hopeless state of the union, the GOP has been able to mobilise a conservative base on family values and gun rights. A combination of low voting turn-out and the convergence of capital has led to a lurch away from the New Deal. 75% of the American population made up 37% of the vote at the mid-term elections in 2010, these are the Americans who earn less than $50,000 a year and lean to the Democratic Party. Compare this with the 26% of the vote consisting of the 10% of Americans who earn over 100,000 a year and typically vote Republican. The class dynamic of American elections is constantly ignored and the media resort to the view that the US is simply a conservative country. Although it is true that a strong Democratic tendency does not necessarily mean that the US is a liberal or left-wing country, because the Democrats have a strong conservative wing whilst liberals like Dennis Kucinich are left marginalised.

As the American people will once again be called to do their civic duty in 2012 it's worth noting that the Supreme Court squashed hopes of campaign finance reform and now it looks like campaign funding might rise to over $1 billion next year. Democracy as a concept has been corrupted to the point that Hugo Chavez could be considered a despot and George Bush a democratically elected leader. In the former usage democracy in a developing country is characterised by obedience to the interests of the US. In the latter usage the way people come out to vote for a leader, one of only two meaningless choices which has effectively been determined by a business-run system. Democracy has been lost as an ideal of mass-participation and self-rule. Everywhere we see signs that the American people are thoroughly enraged and for good reasons. The task at hand is how to articulate those concerns and act on them. To put it bluntly America is well overdue for a rebellion, which Thomas Jefferson thought the country should not go without for even 20 years.

Monday, 23 May 2011

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.


THE RISE OF THE MACHINES AND THE DREAM OF A STABLE WORLD WITH NOVELISTS, ANIMALS, THE WORLD WIDE WEB, PRESIDENTS, LOVE, CYBERNETIC PROPHETS, A BALANCED ECOSYSTEM AND A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS.

Good news fellow travelers, Adam Curtis is back with a new documentary series called All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, it's title was borrowed from a poem by Richard Brautigan, it looks to be typical of his style and quality. Apparently the "vertigo-inducing intellectual leaps, choppy archive material and disorienting music" will be included in the package. The central focus of the documentary is the way computers have not liberated us, contrary to popular belief and instead we have lost our vision in a disillusioned age of managerial post-politics. Engrained in computer systems are notions of a perfect balance in ecosystems, ideas which go back to the hippies but have made the leap to Silicon Valley and then onwards to Wall Street. With some contributions from Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins along the way of course, we know Enron couldn't have done without the selfish gene and free-market fundamentalism.


The pseudo-spiritualism of hippie counter-culture in the 1960s with it's communal living, free love, experimental psychedelia and emphasis on the balance of nature's ecosystems have had a great deal of impact over the trajectory of recent decades. It was a cultural revolution of sorts, the individualism of which has since been harnessed by the system. Some of the hippies went on to be major figures in Silicon Valley, the ideas of a natural equilibrium have been built into technology. Now we have social networks as the sign that we are all free and connected, even in love. The idea of a economic equilibrium is appealing to radical free-marketeers like Ayn Rand with her devotee the Chairman of the FED Alan Greenspan. Once we have made the links between hippies turned soft-ware capitalists, Objectivism and the economy we can easily greet Richard Dawkins with his ideas about the selfish gene. But these are just my thoughts on some of the issues Curtis looks at.



WE LIVE IN A DREAM WORLD CREATED BY THE MACHINES WHERE WE ARE ALL CONNECTED AND WE ARE ALL FREE. EVEN IN LOVE. BUT THE MACHINES BROUGHT WITH THEM ANOTHER IDEA, THAT WE ARE ALL COMPONENTS IN SYSTEMS – NODES IN A GLOBAL NETWORK. WE DREAMED THE SYSTEMS COULD STABILISE THEMSELVES, THROUGH FEEDBACK, AND CREATE A PERFECT BALANCE IN NATURE’S ECOSYSTEMS. AND IN HUMAN SOCIETY. AND IN CAPITALISM. WITHOUT POLITICS AND THE OLD HIERARCHIES OF POWER. BUT POWER HASN’T GONE AWAY. IT NEVER DOES.

Adam Curtis was "inspired" to make this documentary when he watched amateur footage of a mass experiment that took place in 1991 and was hosted by Loren Carpenter. Hundreds of people were given a paddle and told nothing, but when a big screen in front of them projected a game of Pong all of them began to participate. The people had to operate it together, spontaneously and without any preparation, in the end they succeeded in playing a game of Pong. Loren Carpenter saw the experiment as freedom and order manifested. For Curtis the people were not free at all, in the self-organising systems we are expected to be "happy components" in a machine and our only duty is to stabilise the machine. We are all just cogs in the machine, each important in a way though as a mass the individual cogs are irrelevant and only matter in relation to the machine working smoothly.

Katharine Viner was right to emphasise the focus on power in the documentaries Curtis has churned out over the last 20 years. With Pandora's Box (1992) it was the use of science to control society and shape human beings. Similarly The Mayfair Set was about the collapse of political rise and rise of corporate power. The Century of the Self looked at the rise of Freudian psychoanalysis and the appropriation of Freud's theories by the public relations industry to market goods to consumers. My favourite is The Power of Nightmares in which politicised fear is explored as the only way for politicians to mobilise people in a disillusioned age. Now Curtis has moved onto machines and the way that the idea of a self-regulating ecosystem in nature has been torn from the thoughts of hippies and has become engrained in technology. The idea of a natural equilibrium eliminates the reason for the state and automatically writes-off all possibility of state-intervention. In this sense, the commune is a model for social networking as it is self-regulating and non-hierarchical.

Adam Curtis has also worked with Charlie Brooker in the past and has recently written for The Guardian in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden. He argued that the death of bin Laden may herald the end of a grand narrative which has served American politicians, Western journalists and Islamists well in making sense of the world. It is only a question of what kind of narrative will open up to make sense of the world now, Curtis speculates that it may be the rise of China which will give America a reason to reassert itself in the world. This could be true as there has already been a great deal of emphasis on American decline and Chinese ascension in the mainstream discourse. Donald Trump made a big deal about imposing a tariff of 25% on imports from China. He might be right unless the Obama administration finds a way to maintain the current narrative of terror. As I am a fan of Curtis I will be making a post for each episode of his new series and I strongly recommend his work to all reading this article.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Race and Private Property in Clybourne Park.


Clybourne Park begins in 1959 just as Russ and Bev are selling their desirable two-bed room house in a respectable neighbourhood for a knock-down price. The low price offered by Russ enables the black family to move into a predominantly white area of Chicago, which alarms the neighbours and Russ finds himself arguing with Karl over what should be done. As the play was written in reaction to A Raisin in the Sun and that would lead us to conclude that the family about to move into the neighbourhood are the Youngers. The Youngers had come into a great deal of money and decided to move into a better neighbourhood, which just so happened to be white only to find they're not welcome. Clybourne Park then jumps forward 50 years to 2009 and the tables have been turned. Now it is a white couple, about to have a child, looking to move into the same neighbourhood, which is now predominantly black, with the intention of knocking down the same house to build their own family home.

America changed a great deal from 1959 to 2009, particularly in regards to race and property relations. In 1959 the conflict was still raging between the US and the Soviet Union and the "red scare" McCarthyist witch-hunts were still in the back of people's minds. Typically Karl invokes the Soviet Union when Russ tells him to leave. JFK, the first Catholic President, was about to be elected. The Civil Rights movement had just got started, segregation was still in place in the US and African-Americans were still deprived of the right to vote. Fast-forward 50 years and there is a black family in the White House, a presidential palace built by slaves. The references to the Korean war are swapped for references to the war in Iraq, from the Cold War to the "War on Terrorism". Kevin has three relatives fighting abroad and has a support the troops attitude to the war. Russ and Bev left Clybourne Park to get away from the house where their son Kenneth hung himself after coming home from the Korean war.

Since 1959 the US has become ever-increasingly unequal as the social democratic policies initiated under Roosevelt have been eroded. The brief opening of jobs and rights for African-Americans began to be closed in the 1970s when job opportunities dwindled as finance has replaced manufacturing in importance in the economy. Formally rights remain intact, but for millions of blacks these rights have been stripped away in the judicial system. The election of the first Black President has been construed to represent America's shift to a post-racial era. Thus, the elephant in the room in Act II of Clybourne Park is race and racism. The eruption of racist jokes represents just how real issues of race still are in America, whilst the patronising tone of liberals towards black people is depicted very well with hammed up acting, absurdly euphemistic language and the way characters generally avoid the elephant in the room. The flaw of liberal multiculturalism comes across clearly, we officially accept the non-invasive Other so we can go on ignoring the Other in our daily lives.




It is typical of American conservatives to advocate a meritocratic attitude of colour-blindness on matters of race, which provides a convenient platform from which affirmative action can be shot down as "racist" to white people. Note that the conservatives are colour-conscious enough to spot a black person calling for affirmative action or dares to remind white people of the injustices of the past. There are some conservatives would go even further to increase the constraints on Blackness, opposing the label 'African-American' and instead arguing that the label 'American' should be used to describe everyone. The invasive Otherness of slogans like "Black Power" unsettle conservatives, because it makes reference to black people and not coloured people, the immediate reaction is to pin the label "racist" on Malcolm X. The "colour-blindness" of the American conservatives like Ronald Reagan has space to revoke the Civil Rights act and place Nelson Mandela on a list of "terrorists".

The importance attributed to home ownership in American culture is related to liberal notions of meritocracy and private property. It's a contradiction of middle-class aspirations, colour-blindness and classlessness which collide in Clybourne Park. There is a correlation between race and class in the US: 50% of white children in the US will live on food stamps at some point in their lives whereas 90% of black children will live on food stamps. Discrimination hangs in the background of the American Dream, with the white urbanites act to "protect" the interests of the community when a black family move in next door. It was the aspirations of the family which led them to take up the opportunity of an affordable house in a respectable neighbourhood, it was a chance to make it up the ladder from one social class to another. American meritocracy was only intended to allow white people, if anyone at all, to rise up the ladder. It provides a retrospective justification for white privilege, a meritocracy in which the meritorious are almost all white by coincidence.

Interestingly, it is only after the explosion of racial tension into racist jokes and a full-blown fight that the spirit of Kenneth can leave the house. The suicide note he left for his parents remains a mystery to us. We might interpret the events in between as a vanishing mediator. From the black family moving into a white neighbourhood up to the white family moving back into the neighbourhood, which is now predominantly black, all of this had to happen in order for Kenneth's letter to be read and understood by someone. Though not by the audience. The letter is confessional in content and might offer up a catalogue of atrocities which he committed in Korea. From the thematic focus on race and private property we might surmise that the crimes in Korea may be a stand-in for a submerged history of violence in the US. Then we might infer that it is only after tensions, along the lines of race and class, have been resolved can Americans understand the past without the nostalgic filters of self-serving apple pie and freedom-loving rhetoric.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Red Ed, Blue Labour and other Bollocks.

Better Red than Ed.

The current leader of the Labour Party was elected on the basis of his centrist credentials, which contrasted with the Blairism of the preceding 16 years, which were welcomed by the labour movement who were imperative in his victory. The way that Ed Miliband was elected over his brother was not a victory for socialism or even social democracy, but it did signal the end of New Labour. If David Miliband was elected it would have furthered the right-ward shift of the Labour Party which began steadily in the 1980s. The transformation of the Party was taken to its fullest expression under Tony Blair in it's civil authoritarianism, interventionism and all-out market liberalism. In simpler terms, Blairism introduced killing Iraqis for oil to the Labour Party along with kidnapping "terror suspects" and sending them to be boiled alive in Uzbekistan at the pleasure of a regime no better than the Taliban. All the while New Labour only raised the bar on what Thatcher pulled off in the 80s.

The Labour Party is not active in the opening up a space into which the working-class can enter as a political agent for radical change, though the Party looks to pose as providing a means for the working-class to pursue reform of the system. This is more accurate of the Labour Party that was led by Clement Attlee, which achieved important reforms in the 1940s. But it is not true of New Labour and it definitely isn't true of Labour under Ed Miliband. There was a time when the Labour Party consisted of socialists, social democrats and Christian leftists. The particular form of hegemony which was New Labour might be understood as compromised of a neoliberal strand, with a subordinate strand of social democracy which is systematically transformed into neoliberalism. The objective being that the privatisation of public services can be defended as in line with the history of the Labour Party. The Right turn the process of transformation on it's head, neoliberalism becomes social democracy or even socialism, in order to label the leader "Red Ed".

Ed and David are the sons of Ralph Miliband, a committed Marxist intellectual of the New Left, who argued that there are tendencies within the Labour Party that will always betray the working-class and we now know just how right he was. Ralph Miliband stood for a kind of socialism predicated on self-emancipation, without a dictatorship or a one-party state. For the Murdoch press, Ed Miliband is 'red' because he demonstrates some social democratic sympathies when he called for Britain to adopt a "capitalism that works for the people". Even though "Red Ed" still endorses 'Blue Labour', which is not so much a movement as a small collection of intellectuals calling for the Labour Party to address the concerns of a more conservative working-class than it has done in the past. Maurice Glasman has argued that 'Blue Labour' is in line with the role of the Labour Party in British history, the way it has represented working-people and has asserted the role of the ordinary person in society.

The Conservative Socialist.

Maurice Glasman thinks that the Labour Party can defeat the Con-Dem Coalition if it follows the 'Blue Labour' line of becoming more conservative and heavily critical of financial capitalism at the same time. Apparently, Gordon Brown was not 'conservative' enough to secure a Labour victory in 2010. Even though Brown is supposedly an avid reader of Gertrude Himmelfarb, the neoconservative cheerleader of the Bush administration, who thinks that the West has been in a state of moral disorder since the 1960s when traditional values were torn apart by a frenzied youth. In office Gordon Brown was a market liberal and never differed from the orthodoxy established by Thatcher. Then there is Tony Blair, who has been described by Douglas Murray as the "ideal" neoconservative and has also been praised by Richard Perle. This is down to Blair's superb interventionist credentials. Glasman would no doubt argue that 'Blue Labour' was never fully tried under Blair or Brown.

The game Glasman is playing might be called comfortable reaction, it is a game played by the Right in general and also has parallels on the Left. Glasman can criticise Blair and Brown on the grounds that 'Blue Labour' was lost, the Party became ensnared in finance capitalism and ultimately abandoned patriotism. At the same time the values of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity were lost. For Glasman the Labour Party essentially became a liberal party which acted along utilitarian lines under Blair and Brown. Note the absence of any reference to civic authoritarianism and liberal interventionism. Though there is an inkling of truth in Glasman's thesis, the Common Good was lost or more accurately never advocated by Blair. Solidarity was traded in, along with liberty and equality, for an atomised interpretation of society which could easily be reduced to a spiritual and economic wasteland. Further problems emerge when Glasman advocates a "conservative socialism".

The dreaded s-word is only used to "domesticate" the concept, to reassure us that we have moved on and the ideal can now be discarded except in tame variants - e.g. aspirational socialism. The links between Glasman and Labour are at once tribal and parasitic, 'Blue Labour' is window-dressing to put it bluntly. The same can be said of the relationship between the Conservatives and Phillip Blond. Since the end of the Cold War we find that politics are increasingly about management, but there is a need for 'big ideas' in order to effectively manage society. The Establishment has grasped at the most malleable ideas around, there is room in 'Red Toryism' for cuts and room in 'Blue Labour' for race-based populism. The rift between Labour and the unions has been growing for decades, 73% of trade unionists voted for Labour in 1964; in 1974 it was 55% and in 1983 it had slumped to just 39%. Since then Labour has drifted further right-wards and Peter Mandelson has acted to stamp out the influence of unions even more.

Expect Failure.

Incidentally Gordon Brown is currently looking to become the head of the IMF, to the chagrin of David Cameron, it is hardly a leftist position of power in the world. Though Brown has called for financial reform at an international level, which is what is needed to bring the banks back into the realm of 'sanity'. A tempting hypothesis is that the Crash has made room for a tamed liberalism based on Keynesian theories to enter the world stage once more. From here we could be led to conclude that Brown could lead the IMF apparatchiks to challenge their own ideas. Though it could just be that Brown is looking to outshine Blair on the world stage, the war of ego between them have now moved onto the world stage. The fact that the politicians only dug up Keynes in order to save the economy from imminent collapse only to recreate the unsustainable boom of the preceding decade. Brown's pitch might be a capitalism with better management, but in effect it is only to defend the system as it is.


The joke about 'Blue Labour' is that the Party has not been left-wing for almost 30 years. Labour accomplished the most when Clement Attlee was in power from 1945 to 1951, even in defeat the Party went down with the votes of 48.8% of the electorate - the largest proportion ever won by a single party - and only lost because of the First-Past-the-Post system. Old Labour enjoyed such success as it had succeeded in establishing the National Health Service along with a system to provide benefits, care for the elderly and sick. Under Labour the Bank of England, coal, gas and electricity were nationalised. What Labour began in 1945 would last until around 1975 when the social democratic epoch began to be challenged. In those 30 years there was high economic growth, low unemployment and incomes increased alongside productivity. The workers' share of the GDP peaked in the 1970s and has been in decline since the rise of Thatcherism.

It looks like the country faces the usual predicament that there are no viable alternatives to takeover from the incumbents and the result could be a Conservative government in 2015. The Liberals are taking all of the flak for selling out, which is fair enough. But the effect has been to strengthen the position of the Conservatives. The only way Labour will be able to lead a charge against on the Coalition will be if the Party returns to it's left-wing roots. There is no hope of a more 'moderate' Blairism bouncing back. The Labour Party has to shake-off the tenets of Blair, whether it be torture, wars for oil, spending cuts for the poor and tax-cuts for the rich. Only the labour movement can salvage the Labour Party from the abyss and lead a successful campaign against the Coalition. That is the only way Labour can mobilise working-people again. In the meantime, we should bare in mind what Ralph Miliband taught us about Labour - expect failure and we will never be disappointed again.