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Monday, 21 May 2012

The Politically Incorrect.

We used to live in a society where you could enjoy the sight of white actors "blacked up" and take in the verbal diarrhea of a meat-head like Bernard Manning. The jokes of the day were at the expense of ethnic minorities, the disabled, gays and women. These were the days before political correctness, which as Stewart Lee says, has been little more than a clumsily institutionalised form of politeness. Today we are a lot more civilised than we were once and political correctness has been conducive to that process. There could never be a political campaign with the slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Liberal or Labour." Unfortunately, we're in a period of transition in this sense and every so often we have to listen to some idiot like David Starkey about how Enoch Powell was right. There is plenty of ink for criticism of political correctness just as there is for multiculturalism, let alone of immigrants and asylum seekers. But there is an irony here.

The Right routinely attacks political correctness out of a dedication to freedom, which the Left apparently lacks. In this view political correctness is nothing less than an assault on free-speech combined with mollycoddling of the undeserving. You can't fly the English flag because it might offend nor can you shout the n-word - it's political correctness gone mad! And yet we find that the Right has sort new ways to safeguard its agenda with political correctness. The English Defence League has set up divisions of gay, Asian and Jewish members, which it will refer back to as evidence of its modern pluralist stance on race. You'll hear plenty of talk about multi-racialism as opposed to multiculturalism. Sameness with a centre, rather than sameness without one. This fails to notice that there is only one race, a suspicious mistake. The EDL goes as far as to arrange LGBT protests, quietly, and wave Israeli flags at their demonstrations. The organisation is predominantly white but it is open to minorities that can be brought together by a hatred of Muslims.

The supposed devotion to the defence of free-speech on the radical Right conveniently destroys the distinction between private space and public sphere. This is easy to do in a society where we lack a real public sphere today. We lack any meaningful political engagement beyond voting every few years and maybe our involvement in unions at work. So we look to circumvent the blockages to the smooth-running of our busy lives. There is no real time nor need for politeness in a society where the strong are meant to rise and the weak fall. The aims of the radical Right are permissive in that they want to do away with political correctness in order to free us from being polite to our co-workers. Well, it's probably to the archetypal foreigner we've never met that we would reserve our true rudeness to be fair. There are plenty of polite racists in Britain, we should have no illusions about that. And this is the brutal irony, the only means for the radical Right to succeed, in its regeneration of British nationhood, are politically correct.

Now there is the British Freedom Party with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon as its Deputy Leader under the much more respectable Paul Weston as Leader. It was founded with the aspiration of being a part of the International Freedom Alliance with Geert Wilders as its head. The Party seeks to protect freedom and democracy from Muslims and the European Union. It was formed as it broke away from the BNP, the group had given up on ethno-nationalism and decided that multi-racialism is here to stay. The real battleground is cultural. The leadership is ex-UKIP and EDL, the body of the organisation is ex-BNP. The gloss is modern and much more sophisticated than the BNP, the Party borrows its logo from the Obama campaign. You can spot black and Asian models in the photos on their website. And yet British Freedom pledges to create a US-style First Amendment to safeguard free-speech, no doubt with the PC brigadiers on the hit-list. Its opposition to immigration is specified as non-Western, e.g. strictly Muslim.

This push towards modernisation came with Nick Griffin in his bid to transform the British National Party into a party of new nationalism. Griffin was keen for the party to shift focus onto Islam with the advantage being that Islam is not a race and then it becomes a matter of culture. The EDL is a major outgrowth of this approach, which has taken on a life of its own. The EDL and the BNP have discovered animal rights when it became a convenient way to call for the banning of halal meat. The grounds being that the animal is subject to barbaric suffering in the method of slaughter, as it isn't stunned before it is killed. The gutter press has joined them in their bid to ban halal and kosher meat, just to make sure they can't be accused of Islamophobia. Of course, what a lot of people don't know is that around 90% of halal meat in Britain is slaughtered with the use of the stun. This level of politics has taken on a sadistic form in France where Bloc Identaire set up soup kitchens where only pork is served in order to exclude Muslims and Jews.

Rest assured that British Freedom is tiny, but it has a pact with the EDL, the BNP has imploded and it seems this new group has better funding. This is another instance where the ultra-political fervour of the radical Right converges with the anti-political purism of libertarianism. It taps into the work ethic and moral outlook of the working-class while it displaces the class struggle as a fight between natives and foreigners. The state as just a mantlepiece of failed experiments, which we would do better to strip down rather than empower it any further. Taxation is just a robbery, a redistribution from the hard-working to the work-shy. This mindset divides the poor between deserving and undeserving, but can always finds fault with the claim of a deserving poor. The European continent is a sinister harbinger of everything from multiculturalism to soft-on-crime justice. This is a freedom-loving nationalism for today's world, deliberately churned out to feed the masses who are desperate for a Hitler without the swastika.

Culturale Hedonia!

Take your Desires for Reality.

In the mid 1960s Herbert Marcuse had reached a conclusion about capitalist society which went against the position he took in Eros and Civilization. He had reached back to utopian socialism for an alternative to the models of bourgeois capitalism and Soviet communism. In the work of Charles Fourier he had hoped to find a way of unlocking the instincts of human beings as part of the transition to a post-capitalist society. It was Fourier's view that capitalism compounds sexual repression in society with exploitation, driving down wages generating poverty. It's a fine system for the few, but it's disastrous for the many. The repression of sexuality is what led to perversions, if the passions were unleashed then we would be able to create a harmonious society. Fourier wanted to build a utopia with love and sex as the primary mechanisms of this new order. This is the origin of the leftist penchant for sexual liberation and the opposition to repressive norms.

Of course, there are various different variations on this cause. Fourier dreamed of a utopian society based on a primary unit, a communal block known as a phalanx in which as many as 1,800 people could live together. It would be a community built on solidarity without any of the repressive taboos of capitalist society. There would be complete sexual freedom and people would be able to change partners frequently. Radical stuff in the 18th Century. The family would be done away with as the phalanx would take its place as the centre of loyalty and affection. Fourier thought that entire countries could be organised in this way with these set up as councils where all participate in decisions. The phalanxes would form chains of councils across nations and coordinate through cooperation grand civil projects with volunteer armies. This was the material base of a vision that came with a metaphysical superstructure, a new religious order where priests advised congregants on sex.

At the heart of this utopian vision was the idea of Love, in which sex is just one aspect, the priests who would manage the dynamics of Love would 'cure' you of your unhappiness in the midst of rejection. We can see how this vision may have tapped into the hedonistic utopianism of the 1960s. All the different impulses of human beings require a diversity of roles suited to the variety of human nature, even potential murderers will be welcome and be put to work as butchers to work-off their own homicidal urges. Of course, Charles Fourier was written-off as a lunatic in his day. He conceived of a theory of history comprised of 32 stages, each ordained by God, beginning in savagery before passing through civilisation to socialism and Harmony. The advent of Harmony would herald an age of 70,000 years which would end in savagery as humanity approached the end of times. Civilisation could be shortened to bring on socialism much earlier and Harmony could then be extended in its duration.

Live without Dead Time.

As you might expect Fourier was an opponent of the authoritarianism and moral righteousness he detected in the Jacobins. He had little faith in governments and preferred a grass-roots oriented approach to socialism. Change was to be achieved from the ground-up and not from the top-down. After first entertaining the tenets of utopian socialism Marcuse had become pessimistic by 1964 when he wrote One-Dimensional Man. As part of his thesis Marcuse rethought the revolutionary project of socialism. The proletariat could not be relied upon to overthrow capitalism in Marcuse's view. The tensions were mounting to the point that the black under-class would be a better revolutionary agent. The capitalist system had no real focus on the manipulation of their desires at the time. The same goes for the exploited workers of the Third World. Then there are the student radicals of the West who have the power to see beyond false consciousness. We can see how both works related to the 1960s zeitgeist.

In the authentic socialist society women and men could live without fear and without being compelled to spend their lives in alienated performances. Marcuse thought that this element had been lost in the 20th Century with the advent of the Soviet Union. The Soviet project of socialism in one country necessitated Stalinism due to the material conditions of Russian society. The New Left sought to carve out a new project to do away with the old conventions that bound women to men as well as crushed gays and ethnic minorities. To some extent this was the beginning of identity politics and the post-materialist Left. But the line was drawn from the imperial adventure in Vietnam to economic exploitation at home in America. The early 1970s were an optimistic time for the American Left and there were a lot of radical ideas around. The commune movement sprung up as part of a utopian attempt to build an alternative model for society devoid of hierarchy, authority and power. It was a retreat in part from what the participants saw as the failure of the student movement.

The communal ideal was of nature, which they saw as a self-stabilising eco-system. It continues to serve as an effective means of organisation on the Left, but it fails to provide a positive vision. It was one of the biggest migrations in American history with over 500,000 participants. There were no alliances and no politics inside the communes, but there were sessions in which the communards would express themselves. This was meant to be the source of stability in the community, a sort of feedback system for the organism of many who act as one. In a set up without any factions allowed soon the strong bullied the weak. All of the communes failed, most lasting less than 3 years. Power could not be abolished and the self-organised system removed any obstacles to the domineering personalities of a few. So new hierarchies sprung up out of the egalitarian model, patriarchical power returned without any leashes at all. This is where Feminism emerged as a reaction to the catastrophic failures of the commune movement.

Enjoy without Chains.

The communal model spread to Europe, where the same failures were even more realised. The avant garde artist Otto Mühl set up the Friedrichshof commune as a kind of anti-society. The central aspect of this is a war against monogamy, he sought to replace fidelity with promiscuity in the extreme. This is where the tendencies towards sexual liberation going back as far as Fourier seemed to converge with the commune movement. The communards were forbidden to have sex with the same partner more than once a week and yet each were obligated to have sex five times a day. Fourier had developed a card-indexing system that would have facilitated casual sex for his communards - it would've been handy in Vienna! The commune outlasted its American precursors as it lingered for nearly 20 years when Mühl was thrown in jail for sex offences against children. A hierarchy had sprung up where the most attractive extricated themselves from the ugly herd, while Mühl laid claim to the virginity of the young members.

The commune had descended into the abusive exercise of power through desire. It was an extreme failure that came out of the one of the leftist modes of a politicization of sex as identified in Nina Power's book - it mistakenly took sex to be innately emancipatory and egalitarian. Desire isn't fair at all, inequality, hierarchy and anxiety are more normal than not. Certainly not all members of the commune were desirable and desire became literally tyrannical. There were other attempts at a sexual critique of bourgeois morality among the radicals. The Weather Underground had sessions where members were required to have sex with comrades they were not attracted to. Boyfriends were expected to watch other men sleep with their girlfriends. There was to be no more romance, only a destitution of the subjective and the sexual. This was the darker side of sexual liberation, the underbelly of the counter-cultural revolution of '68 which has been victorious in the destruction of stuffy conventions and rigid traditions.

As Badiou points out, one of the ways that a revolutionary movement can fail is to be defeated in its own victory in that it only takes over the old mantle of the enemy it vanquished. The utopian hedonism of the 1960s did fail in its youthful triumph over the old, it now constitutes the prevailing culture and there is barely anything left to rail against. The irony is that after this great liberation we find any lack of desire impermissible and intolerable. And yet we may live in a time of greater impotence and frigidity than we like to admit. The real problem seems to be love rather than lust. We can screw around as much as we want but the real difficulty is in long-lasting relationships. This is really what is behind the emergence of dating sites. The conservatives have no answer here, but to reinstate the old superstructure and hope that we enjoy cheating on the partners we pretend to love. There doesn't seem to be a clear answer here. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the Japanese invention of love colleges will catch on in the West.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Back to Lockerbie.

As far as we are concerned the Lockerbie bomber has just snuffed it, the reaction of many was the same as to the death of Gaddafi: good riddance. The man killed 270 people, 189 of them were American and it was the biggest terrorist attack on British soil. The media has acknowledged there is a split of opinion over whether or not Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a mass-murderer. There was overwhelming opposition to releasing him in 2009 with the presupposition of blood on his hands. The obsession was over how this might affect the special relationship, which only exists on the Queen's side of the pond. The other concern readable in the main stream was over the cost to the reputation of British law. Of course, the mistake is to assume that this country has such high repute overseas in the first place. Furthermore it was evident then, as it is now, that the indictment and trial of the accused was not a fair one. There are reasonable doubts to be had at the allegation that al-Megrahi was involved in the atrocity of question.

To accept the label of 'guilty' stamped on al-Megrahi's corpse would be to turn a blind eye to gaping holes in the narrative. The "damning" testimony in the trial came from the Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who claimed that al-Megrahi bought clothing from him which were later found in the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103. Gauci gave false descriptions of al-Megrahi on 19 different occasions and failed to recognise him in court. The other testimony came from an anonymous witness, a CIA informant, who claimed he saw Lamin Khalifa Fahimah loading the bomb onto the plane in Frankfurt. Fahimah was found not guilty incidentally. For this Tony Gauci and his brother Paul received payments of over $3 million from the US Department of Justice - as part of the "Rewards for Justice" compensation programme - while the CIA informant received $4 million upon the conviction. This is precisely the reason that David Cameron was wrong to rejectcalls for an independent inquiry. It gets murkier and murkier the more you look at it.

What about the backdrop of the bombing? We forget that a few months before the Lockerbie bombing Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down over the Persian Gulf by the USS Vincennes. The Americans insisted this was an accident, the Iranians disagreed. You might be a tad disagreeable if an "accident" left 290 of your fellow citizens dead. When Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie there were those who speculated that it was revenge. American officials, most of which were working at the US Embassy in Moscow, had reserved seats aboard Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt, but cancelled their bookings at the last minute. It’s also the case that South African Foreign Minister jumped on another plane instead of Flight 103. You could draw all kind of theories from this, but it’s safer to say that we really don’t know what happened. If an independent inquiry for Pan Am Flight 103 then it follows that there’s no chance of an inquiry into Iran Air Flight 655. Yet we are reminded to remember the victims of one flight, but not another.

The indictment of al-Megrahi and Fahimah came through in November of 1991. By then Thatcher had already shot down an attempt at an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing before it could even get off the ground. Then a report surfaced in 1990 that concluded the attack had been orchestrated by the Iranian government and carried out by a "free-lance" Palestinian group, probably the Popular Front for theLiberation of Palestine. The motivation: revenge for the 290 people killed by the USS Vincennes. Thatcher looked to keep this revelation low-key before she was dethroned by popular demand. This was just before Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait and the US sought to build a coalition to break the backs of the disobedient Iraqi regime. The Gaddafi regime in Libya refused to support the American intervention and instead backed Iraq. It suddenly became a lot more convenient to go back to the old scapegoat, the mad Colonel in the desert.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Forever on the March.

It was Ho Chi Minh's birthday yesterday, it slipped by unnoticed except by the few Communists of course. The US has little time to remember the cause of Vietnamese national liberation, for them the only crime is that total victory was never achieved. It is ironic that Ho Chi Minh was working in the States about a century ago, he worked at the Parker House Hotel in the kitchen and then worked for General Motors as a line-manager. He later went on to work at hotels in London before he was politicised in Paris. This isn't what people immediately think of when they hear the name of a long dead revolutionary. That's if they even know who Ho Chi Minh was, he might be remembered just as another dead commie and one of the few to humiliate the Americans. We don't look back enough on the great national struggle of the Vietnamese and this is a good enough opportunity to do so. There are great ironies in history to be found, here we find the words of the Vietnamese declaration of independence are a bit too familiar.
"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.

The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: "All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights."

Those are undeniable truths.

Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow­citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice.

In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty.

They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center, and the South of Vietnam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united.

They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots; they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood.

They have fettered public opinion; they have practised obscurantism against our people.

To weaken our race they have forced us to use opium and alcohol.

In the field of economics, they have fleeced us to the backbone, impoverished our people, and devastated our land.

They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials. They have monopolized the issuing of bank­notes and the export trade.

They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty.

They have hampered the prospering of our national bourgeoisie; they have mercilessly exploited our workers.

In the autumn of 1940, when the Japanese Fascists violated Indochina's territory to establish new bases in their fight against the Allies, the French imperialists went down on their bended knees and handed over our country to them.

Thus, from that date, our people were subjected to the double yoke of the French and the Japanese. Their sufferings and miseries increased. The result was that from the end of last year to the beginning of this year, from Quang Tri province to the North of Vietnam, more than two million of our fellow citizens died from starvation. On March 9, the French troops were disarmed by the Japanese. The French colonialists either fled or surrendered showing that not only were they incapable of "protecting" us, but that, in the span of five years, they had twice sold our country to the Japanese.

On several occasions before March 9, the Vietminh League urged the French to ally themselves with it against the Japanese. Instead of agreeing to this proposal, the French colonialists so intensified their terrorist activities against the Vietminh members that before fleeing they massacred a great number of our political prisoners detained at Yen Bay and Caobang.

Notwithstanding all this, our fellow ­citizens have always manifested toward the French a tolerant and humane attitude. Even after the Japanese putsch of March 1945, the Vietminh League helped many Frenchmen to cross the frontier, rescued some of them from Japanese jails, and protected French lives and property.

From the autumn of 1940, our country had in fact ceased to be a French colony and had become a Japanese possession.

After the Japanese had surrendered to the Allies, our whole people rose to regain our national sovereignty and to found the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

The truth is that we have wrested our independence from the Japanese and not from the French.

The French have fled, the Japanese have capitulated, Emperor Bao Dai has abdicated. Our people have broken the chains which for nearly a century have fettered them and have won independence for the Fatherland. Our people at the same time have overthrown the monarchic regime that has reigned supreme for dozens of centuries. In its place has been established the present Democratic Republic.

For these reasons, we, members of the Provisional Government, representing the whole Vietnamese people, declare that from now on we break off all relations of a colonial character with France; we repeal all the international obligation that France has so far subscribed to on behalf of Vietnam and we abolish all the special rights the French have unlawfully acquired in our Fatherland. 

The whole Vietnamese people, animated by a common purpose, are determined to fight to the bitter end against any attempt by the French colonialists to reconquer their country. 

We are convinced that the Allied nations, which at Tehran and San Francisco have acknowledged the principles of self-determination and equality of nations, will not refuse to acknowledge the independence of Vietnam. 

A people who have courageously opposed French domination for more than eight years, a people who have fought side by side with the Allies against the Fascists during these last years, such a people must be free and independent. 

For these reasons, we, members of the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, solemnly declare to the world that Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country-and in fact is so already. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their independence and liberty.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Debtors of the World, Unite!

With City Hall in the hands of Boris Johnson, an anti-political clown if there ever was one, it would seem that the intransigence with which the state opposes the demands of trade unions. There has been talk for a while now of taking the workforce out of the tube completely, replacing them with automated machines. It would be a popular move in the London City-State, where any kind of inconvenience equates to an outright assault on one's basic liberty. The tube unions are the last bastion of working-class power left in this country and this is precisely the reason that the forces of reaction are out to destroy them. No doubt it's part of the same process that has rolled back the state in public services and even more so today. After all the tube is mostly to get people out there to be rinsed at work and in the shops, think surplus value. Thatcher could only dream of doing what Cameron is doing today. The Tories themselves have been caught saying this, though we all know it.

The Tories handed over a lot of public money to banks from 1992 onwards as part of the Public-Private Partnership, which sold-off public aid and gave greater power to bankers. As Michael Hudson wrote "The financial giveaway had the effect of increasing prices for basic infrastructure services by building in heavy financial fees – guaranteed for the banks, who lent the money that banks and property owners used to pay in taxes in more progressive times." The theory goes that the banks will create jobs as they invest the funds in British infrastructure, specifically public transport, but it was really a way for real estate speculators to get even richer. The extension of the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf cost £3.5 billion as it raised property values along the route by £13 billion. The public investment in transport could pay for itself simply with a tax on the higher rent-of-location and the site value. But the government would rather the banks rake in the cash.

As Chomsky has pointed out when politicians prefer to talk about 'jobs' than even utter the filthy word 'profits'. The allies of the super-rich then moved to sell-off British Rail and saw to it that the railways carry an over-flowing gravy train for the wealthy. It is standard practice in a privatisation for the state to make sure the buyers are well served with comfy pillows stuffed with the taxes of working-class people. Last year that blond gannet Richard Branson gobbled up £18 million of tax-payer's money as the system underwent a multi-billion state upgrade. The privatisation opened up a space for private ownership safeguarded by public investment and, even as standards of service have slipped, there has been no attempt to re-nationalise the railways. The government contributes £4.6 billion to the railways as the private sector pays just £459 million into the set-up, most of which goes towards stock rather than anything in the real world.

Since the 70s we have seen a process of de-industrialisation and financialisation. Thatcher sold-off an awful lot of things and broke the backs of major unions as part of a policy that amounted to the destruction of entire industries. Production was taken abroad where there was a ready workforce desperate enough to work for a $1 a day or whatever. The businesses of the country began invest overseas and import much more from abroad. The back of the industrial working-class was smashed in the 1980s leading to a massive unemployment level. So the threat of unions to the power of the wealthy had been significantly diminished. The people were left in a position where they could easily be squeezed dry by businesses, working-class people suffered some of the biggest wage-cuts in 1990. You would've thought that this would've held down the ability of people to spend, spend, spend. But a lot of credit had been freed up as the constraints that had kept banks in check were removed.

The shock of the assault on the living-standards of the working-class left them in an increasingly dependent position on debt. To make up for the loss in wages people turned to their credit cards, there was a much greater need for loans and mortgages than ever before. This is the basis of the explosion of household debts in the last 30 years. A lot of these debts are concentrated in housing markets because the system is pushed to find profitable investments in order to grow. We're talking about a minimum of 3% compound growth. The desperation to find new investment opportunities for over a trillion dollars has led to greater investment in the control of assets. We might want to think that the banks take unused funds from our bank accounts and use them to help some family to buy a home somewhere. Instead, what we've seen is the emergence of a huge property bubble and the concentration of enormous sums to feather the nests of a very few.

The banking system is built on the knowledge that not everyone will come into the bank and want every last penny of their money. Of course, when a run on the bank happens it's newsworthy for this reason - remember Northern Rock. The odds are calculated in the favour of greater lending and accumulation. The presupposition is that there being enough money to keep the bank going, so that there is enough there for people to pay the bills and put food on the table. The tendency here is to lend out more and more money to accumulate in order to cover itself. This is how the system pushes itself at the ground level. Everyone knows that banks aren't what they used to be. There used to be a time when the pound sterling was symbolic of a pound of silver somewhere. Now that's gone with the advent of fiat currency much to the chagrin of nostalgic right-wingers. It's much more important that the financialisation of the economy has made financial crises likely.

The household debt in Britain is set to rise from £1,560 billion to £2,126 billion in this time of austerity. I would assume there is something similar going on with household debts around the world given the attempts of government to patch up the system as it is. Household debt in the US was at 115% in 2011 down from 135% in 2008, the dip is probably the result of the crisis. In the years of the bubble, 2000 to 2007, households doubled their debt to almost $14 trillion while personal consumption shot up by 44% from $7 trillion to nearly $10 trillion. Over a period of 5 years American households ringed $2.3 trillion of home equity loans and cash-out refinancing from their homes. That's an injection of nearly $500 billion into the economy every year. So you can see why Obama's so-called "stimulus package" was a cop-out, $787 billion for 2 years doesn't cut it! Especially when it's left to the sort of self-glorified bureaucrats who would rather cut than spend.

There is actually an opportunity in this. It might seem that the working-class movement is finished because it has been de-industrialised and, at this point, unions have been reduced to xenophobic suspicions of anymore foreign rivals coming over here. That extends to the opposition of trade unions to European integration, these are supposed to be organisations that are internationalist. It's fine to propose unionisation of workers on a European scale. We're wrong to confine the prospects of unionisation to traditional industries that have been wiped out. Follow the money, grab the vampire by the balls before you drive in the stake! The formation of debtors into unions on a cross-continent scale could potentially give the working-class a way to yank at the banks. A straight refusal by the majority of people with debts to make the payments unless the rates of interest are cut could work. It could also be a way to repudiate the debts altogether.

There are flaws here, but it is a way forward. It would definitely need to be well organised and coordinated to ensure that it was a mass-scale action that would have an impact. Generally the major flaw of the trade union is that the relationship between capital and wage labour can be taken for granted. The priority is to improve the conditions for workers within that relationship, which is fine but the relationship is the fundamental problem. The capitalists have the upper-hand to the workers in this relationship, so victories can only be temporary. It's true that the debtor union would only be active in pushing for a better deal for people who need to fall back on credit cards, loans and so on. But it's striking at the centre of the system and we forget that banking is actually more susceptible to social democratic compromise than labour-intensive industry was. If the bankers think they have to pay-off socialism that's exactly what they'll do.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Only a God can save us.


For Heidegger the gods will save us once we welcome them back into our world, when we've gotten past this technological stance which stifles us. You could take this as an expressed acceptance of the futility of all struggle. There can be no way out of the hegemony, all we can do is wait for an outburst of ‘divine violence’. Thus ‘only a God can save us.’ Žižek sees this as one of many reactions by the Left to the hegemony of global capitalism and its indestructibility. The capitalist system can't help but tend towards moral relativism and secular pluralism, but this goes further as value is just commodity and purchase the system is totally atheistic and nihilistic. In these terms capitalism is insufficient for Being, it has no real space for it other than as a thing to be commodified and exchanged at a price. All the while capitalism denies our essence and fails to even understand itself. It has to hide behind words like free-enterprise and democracy for fear of being recognised for what it is.

It was Rosa Luxemburg who predicted that the capitalist system would collapse once expansion and growth ad infinitum had become an impossibility. The only possible limit to the infinite growth paradigm could come in its most thorough dominance in the world. If the world went capitalist then the parasite would soon have to face the real possibility of its own demise. With this in sight, it would take a global push to tip the system over. Today we find, as Bauman put it, capitalism has learned to create host organisms and onwards the parasite strives. This is nothing unusual, Karl Marx never foresaw the possibility of the capitalist system buying-off socialism with social democratic reformism. For Heidegger the answer to the technological nightmare, which engulfs us, was to be found in neither capitalism nor socialism. Notoriously Heidegger joined the Nazi Party after Hitler was rushed into power in 1933 and went on to betray his former mentor Edmund Husserl.

In his day Martin Heidegger drew a distinction between National Socialism as it existed at the time as opposed to the idealised vision which had not been realised. Heidegger may have been indulging in the far-right equivalent of ultra-leftist position which retains a certain distance from power and real decisions in its criticism of the established order. The farthest Heidegger went, in later life, to renounce National Socialism was to point to its “failure” to emerge as a genuine Third Position to American capitalism and Russian communism. In an interview for Der Spiegel, Heidegger makes it clear that he regards each of these systems as determined by ‘planetary technology’. The implication being that there has not yet been a thorough attempt to provide an answer to the nihilism of modern man as technological, value-creating and subjectivist. After all Fascism was something of a last-ditch attempt on the part of capitalism to purge itself of immense contradictions.

In Living in the End Times Žižek writes about the poetico-military complex with regard to Radovan Karadžić in Bosnia and the anti-Tutsi writer Hassan Ngeze in Rwanda. These were sincere and terrible poets, not simply corrupt politicos, who held up material to be manipulated as part of the riling up of jingoist sentiments. It this which was so instrumental in Yugloslavia as nationalism first began to appear on the scene in the 70s and 80s. Karadžić as a kind of parallax, homicidal poet from one angle and spiritual healer from another. Dragan Dabić provides the ideological key to Karadžić. Žižek reminds us of Lacan's thesis "truth has the structure of a fiction". The talk of setting free the individual's cosmic energies that link us all to the cosmos leads us to the Pagan conception of life as cosmic and its sanctity - which means that the blood of innocents will soon be flowing in the streets.

To convey the way Karadžić saw Bosnian Muslims, Žižek refers us to a favourite Chinese proverb of Karadžić's "He who cannot agree with his enemies is controlled by them." But this does not adequately capture the postmodern brand of nationalism to which Karadžić subscribed. And so he goes onto include a telling excerpt from a poem Karadžić wrote called 'For Izet Sarajlić'. It features the line "People nothing is forbidden in my faith" and this is the permissive spirit of postmodern nationalism, which seeks to liberate us from political correctness and multiculturalism. In this post-political era, there is no other way to mobilise the masses for a public cause and the only dominate calls are for us to enjoy ourselves. The majority of us are 'moral' in that we cannot slaughter each other out of disgust at such conduct and so a 'sacred' Cause is necessary to render killing acceptable to us.

It is in such poetry and violence that we regress from the Christian love of the neighbour to the Pagan past of putting our tribe before all the others. It may be presented as a defence of Christian values, but it is the greatest threat to the Judeo-Christian legacy in Europe. As Žižek notes it goes against the universalism of the Holy Spirit, to which we each have immediate access to as individuals irrespective of their place in the social order. Who else may we add to this catalogue? There is, of course, the Austrian writer Peter Handke, who gave a speech at the funeral of Slobodan Milošević. We might even include DH Lawrence, as he was on the radical Right and moved from Christian theology to Pagan mysticism. Then there's Eduardo Limonov who founded a neo-fascist movement in post-Communist Russia. In the bombardment of Sarajevo, Eduardo Limonov visited with Karadžić and was filmed taking a turn firing into the streets below them with a rifle.

The poet Eduard Limonov had returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union having spent almost 20 years in exile in America. Limonov was appalled to witness the reign of Boris Yeltsin as the Kremlin sought to impose Western-style capitalism with "shock therapy" as the means to this end. This would be a disaster as Limonov was convinced American capitalism was no different than Soviet totalitarianism, it was just more sophisticated in its oppression. He decided to take drastic action and founded a political party to recapture the original aims of the Bolshevik Revolution and integrate it within a modern nationalism. It would be the National Bolshevik Party that is now the embodiment of the resurgent nationalism which have sought to put a stop to the Russian process of 'modernisation' since the 1990s. The drink-sodden Yeltsin and the gang of free-marketeers around him practically destroyed Russia only to give way to Putin in the end.

Then there is Heidegger who had planned to lecture on Nietzsche and Hölderlin in 1944-45 but the trajectory of the war demolished these plans. Before that he had lectured on Hölderlin already at the beginning of the Nazi era when he himself was a member of the Party. The hymns selected were Germania and The Rhine, note the obvious nationalist connotations. For Heidegger the dilemma of Western existence had manifested itself in Germany, the land of the middle. He saw the question of Being and the matter of German identity as entwined. The Germans are the most metaphysical people in these terms and if Europe isn't going to go down the path of annihilation then this decision can only come through the development of new, spiritual forces from the centre. Nietzsche had diagnosed the condition, Hölderlin had the cure for it. The way to open the question of Being and the new and deeper way of being German. This is could very well have been the way Heidegger had wanted to be the philosopher of the Third Reich.

What undermines this neat pattern is that National Socialism may have found Pagan blood myths useful at times Hitler did condemn Pagan cults in 1938. This is because Fascism has few consistent and universal characteristics other than a reactive spirit and a pathological Judeophobia. More generally, this may just be the instances of that Fascist tendency to aestheticise politics. We shouldn't forget that our concerts are modeled on Nazi rallies. This tendency remains alive and well in the National Bolshevik Party that Limonov has led for the last 20 years in Russia. Many of its members came out of the Russian avant-garde music scene which had resisted communism as it scoffed at the West. Originally the avant-garde was on the side of the revolutionaries in 1917 until it was suppressed at the appearance on the scene of socialist realism under Stalin. It only resurfaced in the 1960s during the Khrushchev thawing period, then it became an expression of resistance under Brezhnev and when the Wall fell the artists prescribed Nazism as a positive vision.

In 1917 Rosa Luxemburg reflected that the time of pogroms against Russian Jewry has been brought to a close - principally by the October Revolution - before adding "I can sooner imagine - pogroms against Jews in Germany." At the time of Luxemburg's death, at the hands of the Freikorps, Heidegger was working under Husserl at Freiburg. By then the First World War had ended, with millions slaughtered and Germany left vanquished. Heidegger had served, albeit in a limited capacity, as a soldier and this he shared with the future Fuhrer along with the year of his birth. Luxemburg had been incarcerated for her firm opposition to the imperial bloodbath and amidst the confusion Rosa reached out to Benito Mussolini, who she assumed was still the socialist editor of Avanti! - little did she know that Mussolini had been kicked out of the Italian Socialist Party by then for his support of the war. This is where the defeats of the Left converge with the opening for Fascism.

It would be tempting to go off on a tangent about the relation between Heidegger’s philosophy and the politics in which he engaged personally, specifically National Socialism. That would be pushing things as Heidegger at most leaves the door open to fascism, there is nothing inherently fascist about his philosophy. As Robert Solomon notes, it might be more constructive to engage with the world as it is today. There is a sense in which everything is reduced to the same level in consumerism, as with technology and money, whereby human beings are cut-off from the world and each other. Ultimately, this leaves human beings diminished as technology and money reduce the world in its immediacy - a leveling effect which has become the primary source for alienation in the modern world. In a way Heidegger returned to the pessimism of Schopenhauer in his last days.

Heidegger's last writings are dominated by his own particular notion of releasement, which could be seen as a way of thinking and living that has turned away from willing. This comes across as Schopenhauerian, though it may have been the Taoist influences on Heidegger by that point. When it came to the return of the gods, Heidegger found Nietzsche's programme for overcoming nihilism unsatisfactory. Nietzsche wanted to place the Übermensch where God once stood as a central pillar of values. Once the old myths underpinning our superstructure begin to give way, we must find new ideals in order to advance beyond what humanity has been thus far. In this Heidegger sniffed out the Will to Power which has been responsible for the destruction of values in the first place. It was not new forms of domination that can save us, but rather a humbling to power as we await the return of the gods. Maybe what we need is a bit more Nietzsche than Heidegger in this regard.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Condemned to Freedom.

No Excuses.

As we will see the Sartrean conception of freedom is quite distinct, even from the rest of the existentialist line of thinkers, from its psychological starting-point to its moral outgrowth. The starting-point Sartre takes with consciousness marks him out from his precursors, Nietzsche saw consciousness as quite overrated.1 There is an interesting convergence between the particular route Sartre would eventually take on moral questions and the critique of traditional morality Nietzsche had put forth in the late 19th Century. Not to mention the highly different ideas of selfhood which emerge from Sartre's framework and from Nietzsche's thought-processes. To both the authentic self is something that has to be created through a rejection of the inauthentic, which may be constituted as a set of social norms or moral values.2 We will explore Sartre's view of human freedom with critical reference to Nietzsche where the conception seems to fall short of its aims.

The notion of consciousness as freedom is the vital element of Sartre’s existential phenomenology.3 It fits in with his general project that places freedom as the central dimension of human existence. This is where the existential themes of responsibility, commitment and notions such as bad faith and authenticity fit into the picture as well. The modes whereby we may relate our being to Being can be authentic and inauthentic. For Heidegger there was more truth in authenticity as it was a self-directed rather than a moral ideal. This is where freedom enters with the existentialist focus on the actions we undertake and, by extension, the way we choose to undertake them. Sartre went as far as to claim that the actions which we undertake can have consequences that we did not foresee and which we are responsible for insofar as we are solely responsible for own actions. The motivations we may hold are irrelevant insofar as they may provide ‘excuses’ which allow us to avoid our own responsibility. This is the reason that we fear and often shirk from the acceptance of our condition as radically free.4

When we look at Sartre’s conception of freedom we have to keep in mind that his body of work was a reaction to Heidegger’s hermeneutical phenomenology. As part of Sartre’s reaction to Heidegger he reverts to some extent back to Husserl – in that the focus of phenomenology should be consciousness – and brings with him modified vestments of Cartesianism which Heidegger wanted to ‘throw out’. This conception of freedom is predicated on consciousness as nothingness because freedom is consciousness it is detached from the causal forces of the external world. At the same time, there is literally nothing which traps the self ‘inside’ consciousness because there is nothing there.5 Nietzsche had noted that this particular kind of selfhood is detached from the world of causes and that it meshes well with the purposes of morality for this reason. Sartre may not have disagreed, his notion of consciousness precluded it being determined.

The Ethics of Ambiguity.

It may even be that this version of selfhood was put forward to generate a particular kind of moral conduct. It certainly led Sartre in a particular direction. In an attempt to craft an evaluative moral code Sartre reached out to Kantianism with which he was very familiar. The aim was to get away from the instability inherent in the radical subjectivism that seemed to be built into existentialism. Even as Heidegger preferred authentic modes of being over inauthentic modes. It's all too clear that authentic behaviour can have consequences of the moral and immoral kind. The amorality of authenticity in Heidegger’s work meant that there was nothing about it which ruled out Heidegger dabbling in the politics of the Third Reich at a moral level. This was something that had to be rectified for the philosophers who emerged on the other side of WW2. Especially for the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who had been embedded in the French resistance.

Sartrean thought seems far removed from Kant at the outset. It may testify to the need for a kind of moral realism, even as Sartre rejected Christianity and traditional modes of morality he found that he had to go back to Kant in the end. It was the categorical imperative which interested Sartre, it stipulated that there are objective demands on us. It is an impersonal moral duty which takes two forms and we have access to it through reason. Firstly, that we should "act only on a maxim or rule that you can will to be a universal law". And secondly that, we should "treat others as an end in themselves, as opposed to a means to an end".6 The imperative is relentless in its universalism, cutting through all wants, desires and circumstances. This may seem completely at odds with Sartre's framework. But the emphasis in his conception of freedom on responsibility is compatible with Kant's insistence on universality.

To put it simply, when we act as individuals we act as we would expect others to act and this is the key to morality for Sartre.7 This is consistent with the Sartrean notion of freedom insofar as it can be seen as an extension of the claim that we are responsible for the extent that we act in accordance with our evaluative capacities. It could be seen as built on Sartre's idea of radical choice, which comes out of Nietzschean influences on his thinking. It was Nietzsche who put forward the suggestion that we create values. There aren't actually any out there for us to latch onto as the myths which supported our values are destroyed in nihilism. The only way out is to put man where God once was.8 For Sartre we have to choose rather than create our values and this begins with a radical choice, the act which opens up a new space of moral conduct. But it seems that the universality Sartre wants to go for would have the effect of instituting conformity at a self-directed level.9 This would seem to be too tight a constraint on Sartre's radical notion of freedom. Then again it has always been the case that this tradition has given preference to certain behaviour and attitudes, we can see this in Nietzsche's own favouritism for master-morality.

The Radical Self.

Perhaps then the emphasis on universality is what's wrong here and not the framework itself. Instead morality may be about particularity, it always boils down to a matter of interest.10 But it's unclear where this takes us, if anywhere else other than a return to the instability of moral subjectivism. It may be more in accordance with the creation of values rather than the simple choosing of them. Nietzsche would prefer to confront us with the idea of the Eternal Return of the Same than a set of duties.11 The Eternal Return functions as a test for one's attitude towards life and our ability to live as ourselves without any evasive behaviour. The test is to imagine that you would have to live your life as it has gone so far and as it will go on over and over again indefinitely. So any moment of life is one which we could dwell on for all eternity. To meet this test is to affirm life and to failure is something quite pathetic. In part this functions to push us. Eternal Recurrence can force us in part to accept life as imperfect it is, so that we can 'become' who we are.

Although the alternative to moral universality seems flawed and impractical, much more in line with being-toward-death than any code of conduct, it seems clear that the venture into Kantian ethics may have been a poor manoeuvre on Sartre's part.12 Freedom may be the primary dimension of human existence for Sartre, but its symptoms include abandonment and responsibility. Existence itself is factical because we are transcending beings, the way we exercise our freedom can transform the circumstances under which we live. We can remake the world and ourselves in accordance with our ideas, in doing so our facticity is recreated. And yet we are condemned to restlessness where we are never satisfied with our accomplishments. Each instance of facticity cannot be taken on its own to represent who we are, for we still have the capacity to act once again and redefine ourselves. The real problem may lie with the elements of Cartesianism that Sartre brings into his framework.

As it's not clear that the certainty which Descartes attributed to consciousness characterises it at all. For Nietzsche knowledge involves a finite entity with finite abilities engaged with a world of infinite becoming. The extent to which 'I' can refer to something autonomous and total is highly suspect, as Cartesian selfhood relies on an unsustainable dualism which cuts mind from body. Similarly Sartre cuts the world from consciousness. Descartes would have placed consciousness at the centre of his notion of selfhood and we can pick up an element of this in Sartre too. But Nietzsche did not reject the notion of a self. For Nietzsche the self is indistinguishable from the person and the body, which are in turn embedded in a socio-cultural context and inseparable from all sorts of contingent natural forces.13 Thus the importance of culture in Nietzschean thought. The self is always contextualised and cannot be broken-off from the world, to pretend it can be completely detached is illusory.14 The self is not 'I' rather 'I' is just the development of the self.

1 Solomon, RC; Nietzsche on Freedom, Fate & Responsibility 2/3:
2 Wartenberg, Thomas: Existentialism (Oneworld Publications, 2008) pg.125-145
3 Solomon, RC; Sartre’s Phenomenology:
4 Wartenberg, Thomas: Existentialism (Oneworld Publications, 2008) pg.37-46
5 Solomon, RC; Sartre’s Phenomenology:
6 Kant offered four examples of the categorical imperative in play: we should not commit suicide, we should not break our promises, we should be lazy but develop our talents and we should not ignore the happiness of others but help them.
7 Wartenberg, T; Existentialism (Oneworld Publications, 2008) pg.140-143
8 Richardson, J; Heidegger (2012, Routledge) pg.324-325
9 It could be argued that Sartre never really found an easy way to adapt existentialism for the moral and the political. Simone de Beauvoir may have come closer to a practical ethics, the ambiguous condition of the human being as a part of a world that their consciousness is not. It is this ambiguity which makes ethics difficult for existentialists, de Beauvoir's answer was to insist that 'every man needs the freedom of other men and, in a sense, always wants it, even though he may be a tyrant'. Human freedom presupposes the possibility of inter-subjectivity, taking the individual to the social realm.
Wartenberg, T; Existentialism (Oneworld Publications, 2008) pg.143-145
10 Sedgwick, PR: Nietzsche, The Key Concepts (Routledge, 2009) pg.69-72
11 Solomon, RC; Nietzsche on Freedom, Fate & Responsibility 3/3:
12 Wartenberg, T; Existentialism (Oneworld Publications, 2008) pg.40-46
13 The limits of knowledge are what give it meaning and concreteness to knowledge. It is absurd to claim that ‘I think’ has any immediate identification with thought. The neglect of human capacities for creativity by this conception is intolerable, such capacities are not extensions of a ‘pure intellect’ above the body. Rather the self and the intellect can be best grasped in the drives of the body. The individual as a nexus of drives, instincts and passions is central to Nietzsche’s vision, with the self as the realm where such drives can be refined.
Sedgwick, PR: Nietzsche, The Key Concepts (Routledge, 2009) pg.137-142
14 The talk about free-will confuses causes and effects, we shouldn't talk about our behaviour as though there is first an act of will (cause) and then comes an action (effect). As every effect must have a cause we might say that the preceding cause is a mental one to action, but for Nietzsche there is just action. We just do things most of the time, it is only every so often that we have to push ourselves and will something. Most of our lives are not so reflective and deliberative, we just do things because of the kind of creatures we are. It is a matter of necessity. This is consistent with Nietzsche's attitude towards consciousness, which Sartre seems to elevate by contrast. Nietzsche puts aside the focus on justifying actions in favour of explaining actions in terms of motivation and who we are. Character is constituted by a set of automatic actions which we cultivate.
Solomon, RC; Nietzsche on Freedom, Fate & Responsibility 2/3: