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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Crime Pays!


We live in fictitious times where Thatcher and Reagan are a lot like Gods for the present-day conservatives of Britain and America. It was demonstrated well when Reagan gave up the ghost in 2004 and we could see that the Republicans had succeeded in their efforts to elevate Ronald Reagan to almost deified heights. Of course, the death was just what George Bush needed to take the heat off the administration as the horrors of Abu Ghraib shook the world. The Reagan administration had some great tacticians, who had the sense to wage war on Grenada just as the US Marine Barracks in Beirut had been bombed. But the timing of Reagan's demise was a masterstroke that not even the Reaganite tacticians could have pulled off. It came at just the right moment. As if the funeral had not demonstrated just how far the deification had gone - how deeply the termites had feasted - Obama marked the 100th year since Reagan's birth with the words "President Reagan helped as much as any President to restore a sense of optimism in our country."

Perhaps it was the moment when Reagan added Nelson Mandela to the terrorist list (where he would remain until 2008) that restored so much optimism in America. The South African government only murdered 1.5 million people in their African neighbour-states. No wonder the Hoover Institution noted that Ronald Reagan is revered as a colossus whose "spirit seems to stride the country, watching us like a warm and friendly ghost." It can barely be muttered today that Reagan was perched as ornament to a criminal government. You might be called a conspiracy theorist for recalling that they gave the CIA permission to deal in guns and drugs in the funding of terrorist groups in Latin America. And if not then you will be called an extremist for recognising Reaganomics for what it was - a monumental disaster. For the reactionaries on both sides of the pond the post-war period was the real disaster, with its steady rates of growth, development and productivity. The crises of the 1960s and 70s opened up a space for the life to be snuffed out of this model.


The post-Thatcher period in which we are currently held captive holds that the time before the Iron Lady was a time of stagnant mediocrity. There were plenty of problems in Britain that had been a product of the post-war settlement. But we can't seem to see the mediocrity of what we're currently living in. The average growth rate of the 1980s was 2.4% which is what it was in the 1970s and even less than it was in the 60s. Supposedly Thatcherism rejuvenated sickly Britain and restored Greatness to its shores. Even though the same pathetic worries lingered around such topics as European integration, immigration, anti-social behaviour and crime alike. The English mind was still obsessed with the decline of status it had endured since the Empire fell. And in many ways, we the British are still in the fits that inevitably come with a disordered understanding of the past. It was actually decades of steady growth and significant development which were brought to a close in the 1980s. The golden age of capitalism was no more.

We now endure the society that the Thatcherites have laid waste to and the people who have done so well out of the devastation now tell us that the real problem are the immigrants and the dole queue. The old aim of full employment was dumped and the government effectively acted to increase unemployment in order to smash the trade unions and pacify the working-class. Before there had been a time when we were close to full employment and the wealthy paid a rate of tax which was relatively progressive. Incomes for workers had tended to rise alongside productivity which was partly driven by a strong labour movement. The bedrock of institutional power for the working-class could be found in a variety of industrial sectors and the extraction of natural resources. The Thatcherites embarked upon a savage deflation which destroyed a fifth of the industrial base in two years and oversaw a 30% decline in employment in manufacturing. The unions were blown away one by one, most famously with the mines shut because it was cheaper to import.


Since the Thatcher government smashed the unions the workers' share of national income has either stagnated or declined. With the defeats of trade unions in the 1980s the right-wing mutation of the Labour Party easily picked up pace. The socialist codger Michael Foot was soon replaced with the Welsh windbag Neil Kinnock, under whom the Labour Party served as an incompetent and hopelessly complicit opposition to Thatcherism. There was no serious opposition to take over the government, just as there wasn't in the Blair years and today under the Coalition. And yet these governments have each played the populist game, the Thatcherite mantra was "power to the people" as British Telecom was sold-off for £3.7 billion. In that decade the government transferred £14 billion from the tax-payer to the investors and paid banks £3 billion to handle these transactions. The programme consisted of giving away state assets to private companies at a reduced price to ensure maximum profits and to safeguard the interests of the private sector.


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 Noam 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 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.

Looking back on it all, its clear that it was just the beginning. We shouldn't forget the real content of such policies when David Cameron talks the same way about hospitals and schools. The same goes for the talk of selling off the woods and the exposed plans to sell bits of the police even. The first decision of New Labour was to abandon the last lever of the state to the markets, the Bank of England became 'independent' of the government. It was clear that there would be no dramatic shift from the post-Thatcherite line that has been safely established to stand its ground. The pillaging and the pig-out for the rich has yet to cease, the same can be said for the pains of the poor. We may live to see the state reduced to a slither of what it once was before we see a change in paradigm. It isn't clear just how far this model can be pushed before something has to give, but it can be said that this is not the final crisis of neoliberalism.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

One Cheer for Interventionism.

 
There have been many attempts over the years to define neoconservatism and in his attempt Francis Fukuyama summarised the distinct features of the neoconservative persuasion. The first is the position that the foreign policy ought to be the embodiment of the body national's internal character, values and ideals. This should mean that American foreign policy instills the liberal democratic values on which the American Republic was founded. There is truth in this because there are many bones in the foundations  of the American Republic, its ideals then are a veneer that covers the horrors of the past. It isn't simply that the neoconservatives are strictly traitors to classical liberalism in their support for torture and so on. Rather these democratic revolutionaries stand for the underside of the classical liberal tradition. To be specific, that the means to defend liberal values amount to the adulteration and ultimate destruction of those same values. This is in the same sense that the neoconservatives look to install a democracy, only in the form that will ratify the ideology to which they subscribe.


It is often said that just because we can't do everything doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything. Usually by these words come from the chops of a man with an arrogant bone-structure, think Niall Ferguson's jaw. But it could be said that just because we shouldn't do everything that there is something we can do. Don't forget Jimmy Carter, who now criticises Israel but he actively exacerbated the suffering of oppressed peoples in the world as President. Carter's critical remarks about Israel came too late and only served to reaffirm notions of Western "superiority" as no responsible action towards a settlement are pursued from these remarks. Instead of the racist "White Man's Burden" - that as the superior race we are obligated to "civilise" the inferior races - we reassert our own "superiority" by insisting on our guilt without acting to redeem ourselves and correct past injustices. Meanwhile the people we claim to be in "solidarity" with are butchered.


For years Muammar al-Gaddafi stood as the mirror-image of an American neoconservative as he saw a moral obligation to intervene where necessary on the side of the victim against the oppressors of the world. Of course, the side of the victim can be chosen selectively in accordance with the geopolitical value of fending off a particular oppressor. The same is true of the neoconservatives who wanted to fight the Communists in Afghanistan in the name of "freedom", but quietly supported Ceaușescu in Romania at the same time. We find similar contradictions in Libyan foreign policy, Colonel Gaddafi was on board for war crimes in Sierra Leone but backed the ANC at a time when Nelson Mandela was smeared as a "terrorist" in the US and Britain. The same reasoning was deployed to justify sending Libyan agents across into Egypt with the stated purpose of "subversion", even though Gaddafi was an admirer of General Nasser and wanted to emulate him as a "strong man".


It was a great irony to see the regime that had ruled Libya for forty-odd years come to an end in the midst of NATO airstrikes. During the debate around whether or not the West should intervene in Libya it was debated in Britain whether or not the revolutionaries should be given the funds from Gaddafi's assets in the country. There was even talk of organisations in Britain forging links with the rebels in Benghazi to provide not just funding but equipment. This demonstrated that there isn't an anti-interventionist position. It has to be noted that inaction is a form of intervention insofar as it has an effect on the situation. The blocks kept in place on the flow of arms into Bosnia left Muslims vulnerable to the onslaught from the Serbs. If anything this talk of a Live Aid style bid to save Benghazi confirmed the need for a kind of intervention by way of support for the rebels. It would have been easy to cheer on if there had been a revolutionary government in Cairo to batter down Gaddafi's regime.


We might as well just revert back to the most overt form of comfortable resistance and start calling for "world peace" and "universal love". Resistance is not supposed to be comfortable, responsible decisions have to be made and there has to be accountability for the consequences. There needs to be a serious preparation for what it means to play with power. If there was a revolution in the West could the Left as it is really form a government? I doubt it given the shoddy state of affairs it has been in for so long. There was a time when the Left could muster thousands in organisation, millions in unions and talk seriously about alternative models. Sectarianism has always been there on the Left and in some ways it has been diminished over the years, but it's too little too late. The tendency to take a simple and cheap moralistic position which is distant from power can't be taken as anything less than problematic. This is vital for a deeply fractured and weakened movement.

Dr Cornel West saw reason to call for a military intervention in South Africa to overthrow the Apartheid regime. The struggle against Apartheid went on for decades with non-violent means exhausted as the racist state proved that it could not be simply reformed. Not only that, but that the Western relationship with the Apartheid regime was profoundly sordid. The reason that the ANC had to found the Spirit of the Nation to launch a campaign of sabotage to paralyze the state was that the non-violent means were no longer viable. There is a level of duty, the obligations of solidarity in the struggle for black liberation and then there is the need to respect the wishes of the people actually in the situation. The consequences of bombing South Africa would be different to opening up the flow of arms to the ANC. This is all within the context of the anti-imperialist struggle. The particular context of the struggle is vital, as that would determine whether or not it is right to intervene in a sovereign nation.

It is necessary that the radical Left develop a criterion by which we can determine what should be done in crucial situations of foreign policy. It can't simply be that there is nothing we can or should do, that there is no such thing as a just war that the capitalist state should fight. There are deontological and consequential aspects to take into account, in the sense of what we may be obligated to do and what the consequences of say a no-fly zone could be in the end. There could even be situations when it is inappropriate to evaluate in terms of duty or the consequences. It has to be clear that the lives of the vulnerable are enhanced to the extent that they can determine their own destiny. There are times when there is good reason to stay out as it were and then there are times when something must be done. What is to be done can range from small efforts to violence. This seems like a workable trichotomy, though the real difficulty is in the determination of which course to embark upon.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

In Saddam's Shoes.


Some of you might've watched David Aaronovitch lock horns with George Galloway on Question Time back in April. It was a refreshing sight, George Galloway insisted that the unpopularity of New Labour comes down to the Party's responsibility for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq which caused the deaths of over 1 million people. He went further to denote the trilateral consensus on foreign policy as well as on domestic economic affairs. It was a welcome sight to see Yvette Cooper being put on the spot over Afghanistan and Iraq. That being said it was quite something to see Mr Galloway trying to outdo Aaronovitch in a bout of mudslinging over Abu Qatada. Gorgeous George even slagged off Aaronovitch for the years he spent as a Communist. This spectacle reminds one of Galloway's flaws. But I suppose it's too late to rise above the tide of sewerage flowing through the streets of Whitehall. Aaronovitch is one of a few journos to leap across the chasm between the anti-establishment Left and the Right over questions of humanitarian intervention.

We owe to Rousseau the republican notion of freedom as non-subjection, but freedom comes in three forms for Rousseau. Natural freedom is simply the absence of impediments that people experienced in the state of nature, the only possible restraint being the forces of individuals. Then there is civil freedom which comes out of the association that does away with natural freedom insofar as it introduces limits. Freedom guaranteed by unfreedom. The limits imposed safeguard the individual's freedom in a certain way, which is the reason that the civil state is formed. Out of this convenient arrangement comes moral freedom as a by-product of it. This is the freedom which ix experienced in the submission to laws prescribed to oneself. Rousseau seems to presuppose a democratic system in his conception of moral freedom. It isn't a teleology, the social contract is not forged in order to generate moral freedom but to secure civil freedom. The advent of moral freedom is really accidental, but it is only possible after the establishment of civil freedom. 

Imagine taking on the project of setting up moral freedom under conditions that had yet to see civil freedom. There is a similarity with the dilemma that the Russian revolutionaries were confronted with just before the October Revolution of 1917. The Mensheviks argued that the end of Tsarism in Russia would have to be followed by a period of bourgeois democratic capitalism in order for socialism to be attained later on. The Bolsheviks thought that an alliance of workers and peasants could hasten the development of capitalism in a democratic framework. It's easy to take a side here and even easier to forget that Karl Marx had been willing to support democratic nationalism. You can find this when Marx expressed support for Abraham Lincoln, the abolition of slavery and ultimately the bid to maintain the American union. Another instance of democratic nationalism was when Marx supported the reunification of Germany for the cause of opening the passage to socialism by strengthening the capitalist system. He later backed off of this position.


Perhaps in the hope that socialism was a historical inevitability Marx had held that there had to be a period of bourgeois rule before the working-class could triumph in Germany. The inevitability of capitalist decline would open up the space for political agency and revolution. This could be taken as though injustice now may be necessary for justice later. We should resist such a teleological reading, Marx was neither a cold determinist nor a teleological snake-charmer. He acknowledges that history could culminate in the "common ruination" of all classes and provides an excellent description of human freedom in the Brumaire. Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget Marx in the moments when he praises free-trade and the middle-class legacy of human rights and civil liberties. In his mind a democratic culture is a vital precondition for socialism. By contrast, in Aaronovitch's mind, to hold free-elections was the reason to bomb Afghanistan as well as the justification for and ultimately the function of the intervention - democracy by airstrike.


For Aaronovitch the interventionist promise of democratization opened up the possibility for social democratic achievements like universal health-care in Afghanistan. This is what Oliver Kamm calls 'liberal democratic internationalism'. It is a view that has more in common with the Chinese Communists who foster capitalism in China with the stated purpose of nurturing the proper conditions for socialism. As Marx saw it the end and the means are eschew, the process to attain communism requires misery and injustice for most members of the human race. This is because capitalism is the system which amasses the surplus to provide the material preconditions of communism. Freedom is the fruit of unfreedom. Socialism is inseparable from exploitation and violence insofar as it required the fruits of the accumulative processes of capitalism, which is in turn indebted to slavery and feudalism. There is no teleology here, not in the sense that class society can't provide the material precondition for emancipation but in that socialism is not inevitable.


Before his death Christopher Hitchens wrote that the fall of Saddam Hussein inspired elements within the pro-democracy movement that had swept the Middle East in 2011. He argued that the Arab Spring would not have come about if Saddam Hussein had remained in power. Apparently the crippled regime had the capability to hold down demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Not to mention the yet to be successful revolts all over North Africa and the Middle East. Saddam Hussein would have been a great threat to the people within Iraq's border and perhaps nearby neighbours. In the same way that the Assad regime is the principle threat to Syrian citizens. We shouldn't forget that Iraqi society had been almost destroyed by the economic sanctions that had been imposed and this had strengthened the isolated Hussein regime. Hitch is eager to mention that the fall of Saddam was an inspiration for the pro-democracy movement in the region, he neglects to mention that their enthusiasm for Saddam's departure was not an enthusiasm for occupation.


It could just as easily be claimed that Saddam would've been overthrown by the Iraqi people in the Arab Spring given the crippled state of the Iraqi military. That's not something Hitchens was ready to concede. It's interesting, Hitchens told his friend James Fenton that Iraq will become is an American protectorate - overtaking Saudi Arabia in this role in the Middle East - and the base for the export of democracy. This comes out of the Jeffersonian vision of an imperial America which promotes freedom and democracy at every turn. To export the American Revolution was reason enough to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the primary justification and function of the intervention (until the wars got under way at least). There is no third camp between Islamism and Americanism. Only a democratic strike against totalitarianism can be made to defeat the forces of nihilism and take the side of the victim against the oppressor. Notice, this is compatible with his view that Indian democracy was a necessary by-product from the period of British colonial rule.

It's not as easy to remember that the British had no intention of establishing a democratic India independent of the empire complete with a socialist constitution. The same goes for the instance of the demise of European Fascism and the emergence of democracy in Germany and Italy. The outcome slotted neatly into the imperial ambitions of the Allies, the British were looking to takeout the Continental rivals to secure India while the US was looking to wipe-out the European competition. The elections in Iraq were a by-product, not the creation of a benevolent strike to build democracy through "shock therapy". Rather the elections were a means to legitimize a series of illegal economic reforms imposed soon after the invasion. The best outcome, for the Americans, would have been a Sunni military junta but in the end Washington had to compromise. But that was not guaranteed from the outset. It was the horrors of the war that were easily foreseeable from that stance.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Ugliness of the Beautiful Game.


The cult of football is alive as ever, especially in Britain where the English pride themselves as the inventors of the beautiful game. It is unclear, at least to me, what is so beautiful about the sight of over twenty millionaires chasing a bladder around a field. Chomsky would remind us of the role sports play in training us to be submissive to authority as well as the tides of irrational jingoism. This shouldn't be taken lightly as it was George Orwell who noted "The nationalist does not only not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." The rampant flag-waving and patriotic chanting emanates from the delusion that the England team embodies the spirit of the nation. Indeed many are left intoxicated by the ecstasy of these non-events. The power of the mass event should not be understated. It's forgotten that the concerts and music festivals we enjoy today come from the same model of the mass rally which Hitler used in the 1930s.

Peter Hitchens has compared it to Pagan cults, and for good reason, but we shouldn't take football as a Pagan exploit entirely as it is essentially prolefeed. And the aristocratic fans of Paganism are too often forgotten. It used to be that Christianity was for the poor while the ruling-class remained largely Pagan until the 19th Century in Britain. The aristocratic radical Nietzsche wanted to undo Christian values in order to return to the life-affirming polytheism of Ancient Greece. If anything football is not elitist even if it is particularist rather than universalist, it is open to all and for all. And it is the particularism of football - the preference for us over them - that holds a great link with Paganism. The loyalty to the team matters most, it can get you beaten up in some places. The worship of heroes, special clothing, the celebration of "seasons" and singing are all symptomatic; another particularist deed is racism. It isn't a coincidence that the neo-völkisch movements of Scandinavia are Pagan and call for white supremacy and a return to Odin worship in the same breathe.

The emergence of football hooliganism is not a coincidence, the fact that these hooligan elements are typically racists and right-wing extremists is also not a coincidence. The primary base of recruitment into the EDL were these thugs, the ex-BNP leadership itself comes out of hooliganism. This isn't to say that the sport of football is inherently fascistic. For 20 years Kick It Out has campaigned against racism in British football now, which is something that Eastern Europe and a lot of other places lack. But it is the case that there are a great many people who were whinging that the England manager Fabio Capello at the time was not English. There is plenty of talk about the high presence of foreign players in our teams. There is undeniably an element of nationalism that has been harnessed as part of the base of support for football teams. The shirt you were aligns you with a specific team in the same way that the flag links you with a nation, the glory of which reflects back on you.

The race relations of football have been on blunt display recently. Hodgson thought it appropriate to leave Rio Ferdinand out of the Euro 2012 Squad for "footballing reasons" and include John Terry. Even though it was John Terry who called Anton Ferdinand a "fucking black cunt" and will soon be in court for doing so. Kick It Out might condemn Hodgson's handling of Rio Ferdinand. There was the time when Ron Atkinson described a player as a "lazy thick nigger" with Jimmy Hill coming to his defense on the grounds that the comment is just harmless fun in the football culture. We don't like to remember the days when fans lobbed bananas at black footballers. Today in Poland the fans can be seen waving banners with such slogans as "Death to Hook Noses!" For many it matters that England is finally managed by an Englishman. No doubt some will think that the English team will finally be victorious after 46 years, even though we didn't actually win in 1966 - an unacceptable fact to be uttered in the pubs of our weary little island.

Roy Hodgson played for Berea Park FC as part of a white-only league in the years before Apartheid was brought down in South Africa. Of course, Hodgson has since "come out" as an admirer of Nelson Mendela in the years since the end of Apartheid. He states that he played in South Africa for footballing reasons rather than political reasons. This isn't inconsistent as the sport is an institution of continuity around which the masses can huddle while the establishment remains largely the same. It is a part of society's wallpaper, an investment for the business class and a source of national pride for the masses. The managerial function in society to regulate the passions of the masses. The need for an identity marker to derive a higher meaning had to be sated to dull the rages of class instinct. It is no coincidence that the counter-revolution has come to Egypt around the same time that there was an explosion of ultra-violence at a football match. Similarly as social democracy began to be torn apart in Britain in the 1970s and 80s there was a great wave of football violence.

As Terry Eagleton observes "If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football." The game provides mediocre forms of solidarity for the masses who gather around particular teams. This can't be said for high culture, the prolefeed excludes no one in its particularity. The teamwork can be seen as selfless for the most part, though this is undermined by the celebration of the obscene wealth accumulated by the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. The sport combines intimacy with Otherness in celebrity form, the hero we worship is just like us really and so we could be him one day. The game may have a place carved out for "experts" but it transforms its viewers into experts too. This is why my understanding of the subject is limited to the political and the theoretical. Eagleton goes on to add "Football offers its followers beauty, drama, conflict, liturgy, carnival and the odd spot of tragedy".

Friday, 8 June 2012

Shame, Pride & Virtue.


We forget that Churchill was a maverick despised by many in Britain in his day and that he came to power by chance. Once Churchill took over from Chamberlain he had to contend with the faction that had sought to secure the British Empire through 'appeasement', a shallow euphemism for selling Europe to Hitler in a most cowardly manner. The Nazi plans to cleanse Europe of Jews and Slavs did not enter the imperial mind. The crowd aligned with Churchill were looking to preserve British hegemony over the East, especially the Suez Canal and India. The suggestion of a German dominated Europe posed a threat to this in the long-term. These fears later came to fruition with the Fascist invasion of Egypt, where the Italians sought to seize the Suez Canal. By then Mussolini had already seized Malta and Somaliland, the North African campaign was underway. If Mussolini had taken over Egypt then the oil trade through the Suez Canal could have been taken out of British hands entirely. That would have been a huge blow to the British empire.


Before this there was still a significant chunk of the British ruling-class that hoped to secure the Empire through a deal with Hitler. The Halifax faction of 'appeasement' junkies were pushing the government for a deal when the Germans pushed the British back towards Dunkirk. The terms of such a deal would've been a humiliation for Churchill and he was determined to fight on. So Churchill called a meeting at which he faced down his opponents with a speech in which he stated "I am convinced that every man of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground." Notions of 'virtue' and 'honour' can barely encapsulate the moral weight of the stand Churchill took. The emotive language Churchill used had some members of the cabinet looking away in embarrassment. These same mesmeric tones of heroic rhetoric would inspire the masses during the Battle of Britain.

By the time we invaded Italy in 1943 it was part of the same aim of trying to reinstate British hegemony in the Mediterranean. The Italian resistance had effectively liberated the country, then the Allies came in to destroy hit two birds with one stone: namely destroy what was left of Fascism and to destroy the Italian resistance because it was left-wing. The Partisans in Greece and Yugoslavia experienced the same attitude from the Allies. Churchill had refused to open up a second front in France and left the real fighting for the Russians. It wasn't until 1944 that Churchill pledged with Roosevelt and Stalin to open a second front on the Continent. This wasn't the only instance that Churchill had allowed imperial interests to take priority over the war effort. Around 3 million Indians fought on the side of the Allies, but Churchill refused to grant India independence and was determined to hold onto India. As Russians and Germans were slaughtering each other in Stalingrad there were British troops killing demonstrators in India.




In the 1930s the popular desire for peace converged with the imperial interests of the British ruling-class, the outcome was 'appeasement' for a long time. The British ruling-class were looking for a way to preserve the empire, specifically the power held over the Middle East and India. There was the view that the British empire could be maintained with a Nazi dominated Europe. Hitler called our bluff when he invaded Poland and foresaw an easy victory against the French, with a settlement drawn up with the British promising not to touch the empire. The important pre-condition of this was the decision to sell Czechoslovakia to Hitler and allow Poland to become a German satellite, which had been made by 1938. The British and the French reluctantly struck at Germany after the invasion of Poland and only went as far as to evacuate Polish soldiers. By then the section of the elite aligned with Churchill came to the view that the Third Reich would inevitably threaten the empire as it would expand into the Balkans.

At that time Churchill was not easily budged when it came to matters of anti-Communist pragmatism and had gone as far as to express sympathies with Fascism along those lines. As late as 1937 Churchill said in the House of Commons "I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazism, I would choose Communism." He was not alone in his view in 1935 that "One may dislike Hitler's system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as admirable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations." Of course, this isn't to situate Churchill amongst the Germanophilic prime-mover of 'appeasement' known as the Cliveden Set. He was an opponent of 'appeasement' when the rot of Hitlerian sympathies had spread to the Royal Family. But it does demonstrate just how compromised the British ruling-class were. It isn't a pleasant thought just how easy it would have been to set up a Nazi puppet government in Whitehall after a successful German invasion.

This is partly what made Churchill so impressive when he came to view Hitler as a monster with an insatiable "lust for blood and plunder". Perhaps this was best demonstrated when he reacted to Operation Barbarossa with the words "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." In retrospect we can see that Churchill was right about the need to destroy Fascism and wrong that the British Empire could be maintained in this way. But it was probable by then that the Empire would collapse given the inevitability of war with Hitler. There could be no peace with National Socialism as the gang of psychopaths who took power in 1933 were met with enthusiasm from German industrialists. Expansion offered the prospect of new resources to be extracted, such as the goal of Poland and the oil of Romania. It was a last-ditch attempt at a time of enormous crisis to reinvigorate German capitalism.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Saying Yes!


There has been a lot of talk of referenda lately. We will soon have the results of another referendum in Ireland this week. The same can't be said for the prospect of Scottish independence, even as the campaign for a ‘Yes’ to Scottish independence in 2014 has just started. Then there is the usual talk of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership, which will remain as long as there is enough ink to waste on Euromyths in the gutter press. The option without competition is austerity has relevance to each instance of referenda as the Irish had to consider the neoliberal agenda of the EU. The Scots took have to choose how they wish to relate themselves to the austere doctrines of Whitehall and Brussels. Meanwhile there are a vast number of British people who think that the European Union are a threat to British sovereignty. The fact that Angela Merkel is as conservative as David Cameron doesn't enter into the picture as the libertarian tendency would have you believe the EU is just another left-wing exercise in utopianism.


At the same time the people are excluded from the decision-making process in the spheres of economics and foreign policy especially. The people are practically just there to reaffirm the status quo in various respects, not just at the ballot box but in polls too. Every state on earth seeks legitimacy, even to fake legitimacy and create the appearance of a democratic mandate. It is part of the long-term triumphs of the Enlightenment. There was never a referendum on whether or not Britain should hold onto nuclear weapons as part of the American nuclear command system. There was never a referendum over whether or not Britain should invade Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not to be taken as a reason for direct democracy, but it is clear that the democratic machine needs to be reinvented and deepened in a variety of ways. There would still be a place for vertical structures of power in order to maintain and coordinate horizontal developments of workers' democracy. There is a place for instantaneous decisions whether we like to admit it or not.


John McAllion put forward the socialist case for an independent Scotland in Red Pepper. The idea is that nationalism sets the pre-conditions for internationalism as Scottish independence would undermine Britain as a state-capitalist nexus and mercenary of the US. Still it seems to be divisive, even as McAllion notes that the Scottish working-class  have had to pay for the chaos caused by an unregulated banking colossus in London. And they are lucky to hold onto the social services that the UK government would like to destroy. He argues that Scottish independence could open up a space for an end to austerity and privatisation in Europe. He goes further to hold that independence could upon a space for a relaxation of laws against trade unions, giving workers greater power in the workplace just north of the border with England. There is some truth to the view that a country can break out of the neoliberal order. But it can only secure itself by reaching beyond its borders. The national is dependent upon the international sphere, just as the local relies on the national.

Its clear that the opening up of a space for better working conditions, rights and higher pay would undermine the anti-union measures in Britain. There could be a coordinated effort by the labour movement to strengthen workers’ rights and power across the mainland. It could also be used by the right-wing, to stew resentment and anger against the pampered Scottish workers. This would definitely be the case if Scottish independence led to disaster for the fledgling republic. The workforce may want to move north for better pay but the businesses might move south for a more vulnerable workforce. It would take state intervention to rejuvenate the manufacturing sector in Scotland, the matter isn't really whether or not this could be accomplished without the British military as a market. The real worry should be that the EU with its addiction to austerity would look to limit any attempts to raise public expenditure in Scotland. The EU could replace the UK in this way, leading to a shift towards economic nationalism and possibly even autarky in Scotland.

It isn't outside of the coordinates of the possible as manufacturing has a predisposition towards protectionism. It is compatible with anti-union measures in the private sphere because it has the most to lose to rising wages. Even with the financial colossus in London there may be more chance of progressive leaps as banking can live with unionisation and higher public spending. It is taxation and regulation that the financial sector fears, but it was banks that backed the New Deal in the US in order to buy-off socialism in the long-term future. When David Cameron stood up to the EU as a "bulldog" months back to protect the banks he resisted the limits that the EU wants to set on public spending. It may be possible to reconstruct industry and the labour movement in an economy which has undergone financialisation. But it will take a great push from below to initiate this change. Even if Scotland struck out on an independent line of development, it could not accomplish the level of public investment let alone redistribution that Britain can as a union.


David Mitchell recently wrote an article on the Strasbourg decree to extend voting rights to the prison population. It was a u-turn from his endorsement of the proposal when this was a major issue last year. The European Court of Human Rights is commonly seen as an extension of the European Union, a foreign force which interferes with the internal matters of a sovereign island. It just so happens that the proudest of islanders, who won't yield to a foreign court, feel more American than European. The illusion of nationalism is that we can stand as a proud and strong nation, free of international determinants and hegemons, in a position of glory not seen since the 19th Century. You might claim that it is better for the British to side with the Americans because of the obvious power the US still holds in the world. On the other hand, you might argue that the European Union is the only road left for a country aligned with an ailing superpower. Whatever the case it has to be noted that the issue of human rights as dictated from Strasbourg is not a pure matter of integration.

It does raise interesting questions of sovereignty. This was a case where Strasbourg infringed upon the coordinates of British sovereignty and that just intolerable for the Eurosceptics. The sovereignty of the state comes down to its capacity to exclude and include people in the realm of rights and freedoms. Only the state holds the monopoly - in its sovereignty - over the power to declare an exception, to suspend normal legal guarantees and deny basic rights to people. The state has sovereignty insofar as it can divide the people into those who qualify as politically recognised and those who don't. The former are adorned with the meaning that comes from recognition and representation in political society. This is what the latter is deprived of, it's the difference of being a human being and being a citizen in the moral sense. But sovereignty isn't just about prisons. This goes for states of emergency declared, for the suspension of habeas corpus in civil war, for assassination and for the torture of 'terror suspects'.

The normal expectations of life no longer apply in these instances. Prison may just about fall within in the framework of sovereignty, which is why there are calls for the return of the death penalty. This isn't the case with 'terror suspects', asylum seekers and gypsies who are just on the boundaries of sovereign power. We see this in 'renditions', in the detainment of asylum seekers and when Dale Farm was brushed away. It was act of American sovereignty that put Osama bin Laden to death and it was religious sovereignty that put a fatwa on Salman Rushdie's head. There was the more recent instance of the Libyan revolutionaries excluding Colonel Gaddafi in killing him as to establish the sovereignty of the new order. It's significant that the constitutional monarchy, which you fetishise, originates in the restoration - when Charles II had republicans gutted in Charing Cross and their guts burned in front of them. Then Oliver Cromwell was unearthed and his body decapitated. This is what established the monarchy until it took on a constitutional guise after 1688.


The financial crisis has hit Ireland hard and has blown away Fianna Fail, the old party of the Free State, with its 14 years of precarious coalitions with Progressive Democrats, Greens and independents. Now the country is in the hands of a coalition between the Labour Party and Fine Gael, a party of far less noble origins than Fianna Fail. The sight of social democrats climbing into bed with cultural conservatives is an old story in Ireland. This came only after the Fianna Fail had signed away Ireland's future to the bureaucrats of financial liberalism in Europe. There was the usual nativist noise in Britain at the prospect of bailing out Ireland at the time and the UK government maintained its commitments to Ireland anyway. To be more accurate, the UK as part of the  EU sought to safeguard banking interests in Ireland and ram austerity measures down the throats of the Irish people soon afterwards. Of course, the tendency towards self-pity will continue to see the British as the real victims of bailing out feckless hordes abroad in Ireland, Greece and elsewhere.

The British don't like to remember the crimes committed against the Irish and the brutish manner of occupation that the island was subjected to for far too long. Back in 1867 Karl Marx noted that the Irish needed self-government and independence from England, to achieve an agrarian revolution it would be necessary to implement protective tariffs against England. From 1783 to 1801 the Dublin Parliament, which represented the Protestant land-owners and bourgeoisie, maintained protectionist measures to insulate Irish industry from England. These measures were possible because the Dublin Parliament was able to attain a degree of independence from England in 1782. The rebellion of 1798 gave the British the opportunity to ensure impoverishment in Ireland, the Dublin Parliament was done away with and its decrees reversed. By 1801 the Irish had become subject to free trade that had been imposed over their country. The life of industrial life was quickly suffocated, with only the small linen industry surviving.

It was certainly the case with Australia, Canada and the United States that independence had turned to protectionism against the British Empire. Ireland didn't strike out on an independent line because of its unfortunate proximity to Britain. The island would only move to independence once the popular sentiments converged with the decay of imperial Britain. It could be argued that the reunification of Ireland may be a pre-condition for recovery and development in the country. From the same line of thought we could argue that Ireland really needs reunification coupled with independence from Europe. But this would leave a poor country vulnerable to foreign investment that can't be influenced in the Parliamentary systems of Europe and Britain. The case for a united Ireland as well as for European integration are really political, we should avoid economism here and stick to the political. What the referendum result may have proven is that there is a desire for security and that the EU, as it is, is incapable of providing that to the Irish people.