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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

American 'Fascism'.


We shouldn't use the word Fascism lightly. The US certainly isn't fascist today but the crisis has opened the door to political uncertainty. We can't see where things could go and that's worrying enough. That being said Fascism, as it was in the 20th Century, is not simply going to spring up again. It will come in a very different form, don't forget Fascism doesn't really have any universal or coherent set of characteristics (except maybe an extreme reactive tendency of nationalism). The similarities between America and Germany in the 20s are quite worrying because we know what happened in the Wiemar Republic. This isn't unique to America at this time, a poll found that 48% of Brits would vote for a far-right party if it wasn't fascistic in imagery. It's not unusual to see a rise of anti-immigrant nativism and nationalist populism in recessions, but this isn't just another recession. Walter Benjamin seems to have it right when he deemed Fascism to be the product of a failed revolution.

The United States is effectively the only society on earth founded as a federal capitalist republic. There is no monarchical feudal backdrop as there is in Europe and this means that American conservatism tends to be quite different from traditional conservatism in Europe. It's not that the Europeans don't have a long history of extermination, slavery and war (if anything Europe has a longer history) but the Americans have a 'blanking out' point in a much clearer way. You can pin-point the 'beginning' as it were, which is the basis of the American national mythology. This will become a basis of an ideologico-spiritual crisis with American decline, as it was for the British who have yet to fully accept what happened in 1945. There are upsides in American ideology that Europe lacks. Don't forget that Jefferson wanted a revolution every 20 years including a reassessment/revision of the constitution. The idea is of a permanent renovation of 1776.


If we're going to carry out a strict comparison of the US and the Fascist states of the 1930s then there are problems with the analogy. For one thing American nationalism tends not to sever itself from the values of the Enlightenment, it at least has to maintain the pretence of standing for and defending those values. Fascism was always about the destruction of the whole Enlightenment project of rights and freedoms. This is what separates Stalinism from Fascism, can you imagine the Nazis putting Jews on trial before the Holocaust? This is the reason that there were show elections held in Tito's Yugoslavia and Stalinist Russia was officially a 'people's democracy'. Even the erosion of individual rights and liberties in the US has yet to sever the cord to the Enlightenment totally. In fact it's often the case that this encroachment on the individual is accomplished within the same framework, under the umbrella of 'security' and so on.

The promise of an alternate modernity devoid of class struggle is completely missing for one thing. You have to keep in mind that the Fascists promised a 'Third Position' beyond socialism and capitalism. There is no racialised populism rooted in notions of 'blood and soil' that displaces the class struggle into a fight to preserve an organic society from a Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik cabal. There is definitely scapegoating, racism and red-baiting, but it's not on the same scale at all. The racial myths that the Nazis adhered to came out of England originally and were predominant in the US for a long time. Now it's only the KKK and other fringe lunatics that adhere to the myth of a master race. As for militarism and civil authoritarianism, these things are not unique to Fascism but are not new to America either. The US has possibly killed in excess of 10 million people since the end of WW2, Nazi Germany set out to exterminate about 40 to 50 million Europeans and set off a chain of events that left 60 million dead.

I'm not sure that there is a word which neatly sums up the US situation. It is a business run society devoid of any safety net with an authoritarian state and bloated military. It's clear that really existing democracy is decaying in front of our eyes, but it seems unlikely that there will be a dictatorship in America tomorrow. It's not always easy to sum up an entire political system with one word, luckily Hitler and Mussolini named their system - while in the US there is officially no ideology and no system. The widespread attitude is a suspicion of politicians, parties and the government rather than a worship of any of these things. Even the radical Right in the US seems to be in the grips of an anti-political purism, the theoconservatives and neoconservatives have been marginalised by a libertarian push that the GOP are trying to use to destroy what's left of government programmes. I'm not saying that there aren't things that we should be worried about and that there could never be an American fascism. But let's try not to use the word loosely.

Monday, 30 July 2012

To the Immoderate and the Abstemious.


Although my own inclination is abstemious it cannot be denied that the hostility to popular recreation is bourgeois. It isn’t my place to sneer at the decision of vast swathes of my fellow citizens to go out after work on a Friday night and get hammered. It’s certainly the case that the working-class needs an outlet in a system which increasingly is not to their benefit. Alcohol is the one constant in working-class life that has outlived many governments and political orders. It was once the social lubricant that accompanied quite a variety of recreations, from blood-sports to fairs. It has retained its close association with football, which the pub holds onto as the central gathering where the beautiful game can be watched. You pay for the atmosphere and not just a drink, so it's not really public space but private space which appears public. It was once the case that the pub and the music hall were the hangout of only working-class men, women were excluded from pubs for a long time.

The elites had their own drinking arenas, rituals and standards. The pub was a space where the bourgeois standards of sobriety would not be adopted. It is possible that the public house is a declining phenomenon, it is clear that pubs are closing all across the country. Some are being bought by oligopolies that can afford to cross-subsidise in an effort to prop them up. Around 300 pubs closed between September 2011 and March 2012. This is nothing new, but it does dull the weekend for many people in this country. There isn't much to say about the politics of alcohol, if there is such a thing, we might be able to take down a few worthwhile observations. It has been noted that the level of inequality correlates with high rates of drug and alcohol dependency. This would be because of the amount of deprivation which comes with living in a crookedly unequal society. There is also nothing new in alcoholism, or the plague of "binge drinking" that seems ineradicable on this dreary little island. Clearly there is a lot of sorrow to drown in Britain.


In retirement Churchill once remarked as he stared into the fireplace "I know why logs spit. I know what it is to be consumed." Today Churchill would be labelled a functioning alcoholic in his constant attempts to fill his inner abyss with a near endless river of brandy, wine and whisky. He shared vodka with Stalin and compared his first meeting with Roosevelt to the uncorking of that first bottle of champagne. Goebbels opted to depict Churchill as a depraved drunkard who loved war mainly because it was quite true. As for people who know how to drink for fun, Karl Marx knew all too well as Liebknecht recollected: "Now we had had enough of our 'beer trip' for the time being and in order to cool our heated blood, we started on a double march, until Edgar Bauer stumbled over a heap of paving stones. Hurrah, an idea! And in memory of mad students' pranks he picked up a stone and Crash! Clatter! A gas lantern went flying into splinters. Madness is contagious - Marx and I did not stay far behind, and we broke four or five street lamps." 

If we're talking about the drinking culture of America it might seem apt to single out the Irish who fled famine at home for a better life. The cultural whole of America has been constituted the near-constant flow of immigrants into its great cities. So it's fair to say that the Irish aren't the only people of drinkers to settle in the US. There was the great swathes of Germans, a people whose influence on American culture is often overlooked. Benjamin Franklin had worried that the German immigrants of his day weren't taking up American customs. It was the German-Americans who organised the kindergartens, supported the Republican Party in its bid to abolish slavery as well as stood for votes for women. Many American breweries were established by Germans. This united beer with radical politics in a way which had been out of reach for the American strain of puritanical radicalism - a most English of imports - with its combined support for abolitionism and temperance. As it was with creationism the marriage between prohibition and radicalism wasn't meant to be.

Then after the Civil War and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan the temperance cause became a plank in the platform of the racist terrorist organisation. The anti-Catholic nativism to defend a white America of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic peoples converged with prohibitionism. The Klansmen were violent defenders of prohibition once it was established in 1919. The repeal of the Volstead act and the end of prohibition came in 1933 with the Roosevelt administration. In the Great Depression with millions unemployed and impoverished the US government may have decided to get the people out of the streets and into the bars. The counter-culture then took up the sword of the German settlers in a bid to maintain a varied quality of alcohol in the new world. As the late Alexander Cockburn noted "The back lot brewers who began Sierra Nevada beer in Chico, California, who ultimately beat back Budweiser's efforts to destroy them and thus sealed the victory of the microbrews, came out of the Sixties' alternative culture."

The Cult of Free-Choice.


Liberals have a lot of sacred cows worth taking to the abattoir. The fetish of free choice, the cult of progress and its place at the shrine to individualism. Fortunately not all of this has to be served for dinner after the slaughter. The battle for secularisation is the last mission of liberalism. This has taken the form of going after everything from 'In God we trust' on the dollar bill and the availability of funds for Christmas trees to Muslim headscarves and veils. The liberal values of secular pluralism, progress and freedom are often the lynchpin for these campaigns. Similarly the advent of political correctness and the collapse of competing political systems to liberal democracy (don't mention the c-word!) has led the old forces of reaction to try and undermine the few protections for minorities on the grounds of 'sameness'. There is only the liberal framework of rights and liberties, anything beyond that is illiberal. No one is special and no difference can be acknowledged.

Infamously the French have banned the Islamic veil, known as a 'burqa' though it's actually a niqab, out of the secular principles of republicanism. Out of the French Muslim population (estimated at 5 million people) only 2,000 women wear the veil. The opposition to the veil is supposedly derived from a concern for women's rights and the secular values of French society. Even though it could be argued that the bill is unconstitutional. There is no such legislation on the veils worn by nuns, but that could be because the majority of the masses are Catholic. It's not necessary for France to have a Christian state precisely because it is predominantly Catholic. This is the sales pitch of secularists in the Middle East incidentally. Thankfully the use of legislation against a religious minority to soak up the racist vote couldn't save the Rat Man from electoral oblivion. Yet the West remains enthusiastic with chatter of criminalising Muslim life.


The Swiss have banned any further construction of minarets. It would seem that the notion of secularism as conceived by St Augustine has been lost. There is no room at all for religious influence or institutions in a secular society under the new conception. It has gone further now to ban male circumcision in Cologne and there are now calls to impose the ban over the rest of Germany. The case was not made along the lines of secularism this time. Instead it was the rights of the child, who could not give their consent to be circumcised. These are not calls from brownshirts, but from the liberal guardians of the Enlightenment legacy. This particular ban has brought greater controversy (and rightly so) because it strikes at a fundamental tradition of Jews. Once the secular line to ban minarets and veils runs dry then the accusation of child abuse can be hurled at Muslims. Not content with limiting the choices open in society the Right can stress free choice opens a new front of persecution.


The target is not Judaism, but Islam. It is a slant against Jews too because it would be too crude to stipulate that Muslims be barred from practicing their religion. Giles Fraser has written a defence of circumcision in relation to Jewish identity. It was the Holocaust survivor and philosopher Emil Fackenheim who added the 614th commandment: thou must not grant Hitler posthumous victories. This mitzvah insists that the abandonment of one's Jewish identity was to do Hitler's work for him. Fraser adds "Jews are commanded to survive as Jews by the martyrs of the Holocaust." It's not really about the harm principle, the liberal framework only has room for an individual and not for an identity that reaches beyond its confines. The condition of consent functions to break apart a community into individuals who each must choose from a set of lifestyle options. The liberal society doesn't really know how to deal with categories beyond atomised individuals.

Similarly, there are calls from reactionaries to ban halal and kosher meat because it's cruel to animals. This agenda has led to French proto-fascists have been setting up soup kitchens that only sell pork-based slop to drive away homeless Muslims. As Mehdi Hasan has pointed out that 80-90% of halal meat sold in Britain comes from animals that were stunned before being slaughtered. So much for the claim that it's really about the harm inflicted on the animals. The gutter press continues to pursue this campaign against the savagery with which Muslim (and Jewish) customs are practiced. Of course, there isn't a word about animal rights in other spheres. The media loves to stir up moral panics about the "foreign" menace eating away at our society. Now they're looking to get people worried about the meat in their fridge. Throw out the cruelty argument and you're left with the free choice argument. The real point is that halal meat should be labeled so that an informed choice can be made.

In his polemic against liberal individualism Giles Fraser writes "Informed consent lies at the heart of choice and choice lies at the heart of the liberal society. Without informed consent, circumcision is regarded as a form of violence and a violation of the fundamental rights of the child. Which is why I regard the liberal mindset as a diminished form of the moral imagination. There is more to right and wrong than mere choice." The idea of a cohesive community which is more than an arrangement of self-interest and bound by more than consent has no place in the liberal society. Fraser is correct in his assertion that the religious threatens liberalism because it suggests that it's not all about the individual. Any doctrine which makes such a suggestion could be a totalitarian in the liberal mind. And the moralists are just prudes clinging on in the permissive society, a clogged pipe to flushed clear.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Barbie Doll feminism.


In a debate earlier this year on feminism Louise Mensch responded to Laurie Penny's suggestion that she may be a feminist but she's not the right kind. Defence for right-wing feminism was fought from the trenches of relativism. There are just different feminisms as opposed to a correct feminism. This is the force of the market on show, the limit of equality is 'sameness' and meandering populist strikes against institutions such as the BBC. The Mensch formula for a feminism of feminisms corners the convergence of class and women's rights in a convenient blind-spot. This helps to sustain a much narrower conception of women's liberation within capitalism. It's less fine to talk about women's rights with class war in mind. It might even get scarier when we start to talk about oppression with its multiple fronts - what about race? You can forget about Africana womanism! The irony is that the leftist Laurie Penny has since reverted to relativism on a different case.

With the explosion of Fifty Shades of Grey onto the shelf of literary history there has been a great deal of thundering criticism against the book. In reaction Laurie Penny found the time to pen a defence of Fifty Shades as porn for women. She made it clear that she couldn't care less about snooty liberal critics who seem so enraged at the prospect of millions of women masturbating. It's just a defence of the likeability of the likeable. There are over 2.3 million women reading Fifty Shades of Grey in Britain, so it's easy to play populist firebrand against the cultural elites. Elsewhere Victoria Coren observes: "Romantic heroes have always been stern and bossy, for obvious reasons: their autocracy relieves the female fantasist from any responsibility for the filth that's going to ensue. She can remain nice, sweet, ladylike and marriageable. If she ends up naked over a tree stump with her pants between her teeth: not her fault! Just following orders!" Thus the appeal of Christian Grey and Edward Cullen.

Sylvia Plath's poem Daddy comes to mind in which she writes "Every woman adores a fascist." Especially as Grey seems to be the poster boy for dangerous signs to look for in a boyfriend: jealous, controlling, stalking, sexually sadistic behaviour, hypersensitivity to any perceived slight, mood swings and relationships with less powerful women. Given that Fifty Shades grew out of Twilight fan fiction, it could be that it is the repressed filth beneath the Mormon veneer of Twilight's chastity. The bondage of Grey is the implied side of Edward's abusive relationship with Bella. It would be ideal for Robert Pattinson to play Christian Grey for this reason, this would swiftly lure the target market of the Twilight films to the Fifty Shades films. For Penny there is no issue here, it's just a matter of defending the fantasies of women - even if that amounts to being spanked by a multi-millionaire. The critics are simply prudes looking to make women feel guilty about their fantasies, about sexual pleasure and masturbation. This fits in with Penny's odd thesis that capitalism hates women's bodies.


The fact that the line "My very own Christian Grey-flavoured popsicle" may soon be one of the most read sentences in history does not confine it to the greats of the literary canon. This is not a position that Laurie Penny would have a problem with. But she seems unaware that the problem is not snobbery, but that this work should be taken for more than it is. If it is just pornography for millions of dissatisfied married women with children, why should it be made into a Hollywood film? It's not a matter of equivalence that the archives of RedTube are not about to be transformed onto the silver screen. The question of what counts as art is totally absent from Penny's argument, never mind what constitutes 'good art'. Instead there is only a reactive position to the critic who yearns for a great novel. Bentham's famous words come to mind "Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry."

The defence of this book is a highly bourgeois fixation for a feminist. Especially as we live in a world in which women remain largely subjugated in one form or another. There hasn't been much progress in this world. The practice of wife-selling is long gone in Europe along with the advocacy by doctors of female genital mutilation of the late 19th Century. In many of American prisons women have to give birth in shackles, meanwhile the soldiers of God are still fighting to place more and more limits on the right to choose. It seems everywhere women are still waiting for economic justice, which means more than equal pay. It shouldn't be forgotten that the working-class has long been predominantly female since proletarianization. This is what we might call 'Menschian' feminism - or Barbie doll feminism - can never acknowledge let alone put right. Feminism can be embraced as a liberal populist means of flushing clear the clogged pipes of capitalism. But it is stunted from the beginning.

To be exact Barbie doll feminism is at its core about an equality of 'sameness', a process of colour-blind transcendence which subsumes every group - race, gender, sexuality etc. - and overcomes every boundary by eliminating difference. The only 'difference' which can never be overcome, or even acknowledged, is that of class. The populist battering-ram of bourgeois liberalism emanates as relativism from the mechanisms of capitalism. This process of relativisation is partly what constitutes capitalist ideology, its nihilism is found in its capacity to negate any set of values within reach. The capitalist system can function with a shift away form old forms of chauvinist domination. The machine thrives not just when the cogs are well oiled but when the cogs are actually cleaned to run smoothly. The means of overcoming each barrier secures the system from its overthrow. The ruling-class knows full well that the best way to hold off revolution is through reform.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Adam Smith's Nightmare.


The bourgeois media tends to see these people as either evil cynics or incompetent fools. It seems that there isn't necessarily a dichotomy, this lot can easily be both. We should stay away from the language of 'reality' because ideology and reality are really mixed up together. There is no non-ideological position, just an ideologically charged space where you are involved/excluded. It seems increasingly plausible that David Cameron believes that what he's doing is for the good of the country while at the same time adhering to a 'small government' liberalism and behaving as a cynical pragmatist to that end. The possibility of pumping money into the economy to create jobs is already closed from this worldview, exorcised from the realm of the possible. There is no major contradiction to be found here, not even a whiff of double-think. There is room for exceptions to the rule, but the rule holds firm in the minds of Cabinet ministers.

It will be heralded as a victory even though the average rate of growth under Thatcher - around 2% - was the same as it was in the 'mediocrity' of the 1970s. In the meantime we find that the anti-recovery has had strange effects on the commentariat who are meant to be its primary apologists. Charles Moore has written that the Left are basically right in their view that the free-market is a cover for the interests it serves, namely that of concentrated economic power. He goes on to write that "The global banking system is an adventure playground for the participants, complete with spongy, health-and-safety approved flooring so that they bounce when they fall off. The role of the rest of us is simply to pay." Moore doesn't then give up on right-wing politics but looks to recover the old principles. He is concerned that the system he seeks to defend seems as though it was created by a "Left-wing propagandist as a satire of how money-power works".

The case Charles Moore really makes is for the reaffirmation of the old principles of free-market capitalism. The economic system has become a parody of left-wing propaganda, in his view, so we must reinvigorate the free-market system in order to emancipate the many and not just to feather the nests of the few. Moore takes comfort knowing that "conservatism will be saved, as has so often been the case in the past, by the stupidity of the Left." He has reiterated and clarified this position more recently and it is a fundamentalist one in its continued faith in the free-market. Ron Paul comes to mind. Capitalism remains the revolutionary batter-ram with which the bourgeoisie can rid the world of obstacles. This was true of the aristocracy and the trade unions, now it's true of the system itself as it has been hijacked. Rhetorically he asks of the reader "Did Adam Smith’s invisible hand, far from making the public rich and free, simply pick their pockets?"

We all know that Adam Smith was taken to be arguing against state-intervention in the economy on the grounds that it could be harmful. The emergent order of capitalism - as distinguished by the advent of profit - was natural in Smith's eyes. If individuals were allowed to pursue their own interests freely this would bring about an economic equilibrium. Supply would equal demand and all resources in society would be used fully. The implied view is that the forces of supply and demand will balance out inevitably, which would establish a natural price for all goods. The natural rate in turn provides income for capitalists, workers and landowners in the form of profits, wages and rent. If we follow this view to its ultimate implication we find that the equilibrium produced will prevent all future crises. This is the old classical economic reading of Adam Smith. It loses sight of the important subtleties of Smith's Philosophy of Society, of which economics is not the main focus.

It's actually a myth that Adam Smith was an opponent of government intervention in the economy, in fact he doesn't rule it out, for he welcomed the Navigation act. Interestingly, that act was passed to give British capitalists a monopoly over colonial trade. Similarly fascinating is the way that the Founding Fathers of the US rejected Smith's free trade doctrine in favour of the unabashed economic nationalism advocated by Alexander Hamilton. The US is just another cliche in the history of economics, that the state can boost growth and development. But more importantly, Adam Smith saw the market as instrumental - he was an Aristotelian - to the realisation of human fulfillment in conditions which allow perfect liberty to tend towards perfect equality. Wealth is not only composed of products, for Smith the word 'wealth' referred to everything that contributes to the quality of life. This would include equality as well as poetry and music. Furthermore charity, the preferred conservative means of the elimination of poverty, is an insufficient tool in wiping out poverty in Smith's eyes.

It is somewhat ironic that the process we have endured over the last 40 years was actually anticipated by the classical economists including Adam Smith. The fear was that the merchants and manufacturers would conspire to shape public policy in their favour, that they would do business abroad - investing abroad and importing from abroad. It would rake in enormous profits, but England would have been ruined. Smith argued that the merchants and manufacturers would give priority to their own country, as if by an "invisible hand" England would be saved in this way. Since the 1970s we have witnessed deindustrialisation at home combined with off-shoring of production abroad and the shift to financial management over industrial production. The causes of the crisis are barely discussed, we just have to look forward to the way out. We're not far from the nightmare of classical economists. But it's been pretty awful for a lot of ordinary people and it could easily get worse before it gets better. There is no "invisible hand" in sight.

The recovering Thatcherite John Gray has pinned the preconditions of global capitalism as well as for communism on monotheism because of its universal claim to Truth. This claim was unthinkable until polytheism with its implied relativism in a plurality of gods could be left behind with the predominance of the Abrahamic religions. The laws of economic science replace the Ten Commandments. But what Gray overlooks is that the capitalist system is not simply universalist. On this point he has yet to shake-off the old illusions of Thatcherism. Capitalism is universalist in scope but particularist in its structural needs. This is the reason that the system can tend towards an unregulated banking sector and free trade treaties as it seeks to close its increasingly porous borders. The markets are forces of moral relativism, cultural pluralism and political pragmatism; yet there is the need for the state and other institutions as a lifeboat in crises. But it is market forces which are principally responsible for the subversion of these institutions.

It may be more accurate to say that the markets are the gods with a claim to Truth than to pin the blame on monotheism strictly. For this carries the whiff of Paganism. We accept that the markets will react with extreme disapproval of a shift in policy towards expansive fiscal measures to create jobs. The view that the market actually acts consciously in its exertion of power over the economy is a form of faith. This is the implicit position when George Osborne claimed that the economy isn't recovering because of bad weather. The definition of fundamentalism: the rot is just a disturbance, it's not the system itself. And this brings us back to Charles Moore. As Gray points out, the moral code of the Christian tradition hasn't made us better people but it has enriched our vices. The cultural conservatives aren't looking to reinstate the old superstructure just to reassert traditional moral values, the real point is to give meaning to our sins. In the same vein, the free-marketeers are only looking to rescue the old principles of the material base in order to give their violation meaning once more.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Making the Possible impossible.

 

It’s nearly two years after the student protests shook the country, particularly the capital. This was a rare moment where the toy-box politics of the universities converged with the national politics of the time. For once the politics of the student body were a part of the politics of the body national. The hung result of the General Election had produced a coalition government formed by a political class that could not regroup in the midst of mass disillusionment with New Labour. Even after 13 years of Labour the Conservatives couldn’t forge a majority in Parliament and only succeeded in increasing their vote by 3% in 5 years. The indignity for David Cameron of standing in a bed factory to talk about ‘change’ wasn’t enough. The coalition deal proved that the progressive smorgasbord of the Liberal Democrats was a ploy of a party that had never expected to be in government. The promise of an end to tuition fees was quickly scrapped by Liberal Democrats who demonstrated that they are no better than yellow Tories.

The student protests that swept across the country in November 2010 were bigger than the student protests of 1968. It began with small gestures by activists. In one outing less than 30 people turned up at Lib Dem HQ shouting through loudhailers only to provoke the locals into shouting “This is a residential area!” out of their windows. The smirking police officers at the scene made for positive contrast to the officers who led a charge of horses on students at Parliament Square in cold December. Not to forget the officers who dragged Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair and put Alfie Meadows in hospital with brain damage. The schismatic burst of sectarianism came in the aftermath of the demonstration organised by the NUS. Over 50,000 students turned out to march past Parliament and listen to speeches by activists. Then the rage boiled over and Conservative Party HQ ended up being smashed up and occupied as the police kettled the crowd around the building. The dividing point for a great many opened up that night with the clash between Aaron Porter and Clare Solomon on Newsnight. There was an immediate collision on camera for the student movement.

The division is an old open wound between liberals and radicals over the politics of conviction and of responsibility. The Leninist acceptance of violence and its consequences at odds with the liberal call for a hero with a beautiful soul to save the day. This sunk to its lowest level in toy-box form, impotent posturing versus self-applauding passivity. The conservative response to the shattered glass of Millbank was in the same mode as Roger Scruton’s reaction to the events of ’68 in Paris: “I suddenly realized I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans... That's when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.” Most students decided to push on, it was clear that there were serious gains to be made from a constructive unity to regroup after Millbank. In the end the proposals were passed through Parliament by a little more than 20 votes while there were 20,000 people outside protesting. It was befitting that the kettled students were led across the bridge, welcomed by the counter-terrorism unit before being let out in spurts – the possible had become impossible.


The fact that the student protests of 2010 were bigger than those of ’68 is really a testament to just how small Britain’s student movement was in 1968. Unlike the French we’re not so much haunted by the spirit of ’68 as trapped by the chaos of a passive existence. Too often it seems that the British love business as usual too much to confront the Establishment. Sometimes it’s even a problem for us to even engage with the problematic question, thus the paucity of the Anglo-Saxon mind in its aversion to theory and preference for practice above all. This is even the case with the Establishment as the Coalition has no theory to justify its cuts agenda only an appeal to pragmatism – the view is that if we cut our way through this deficit then we will hasten the return to boom times. Fortunately there are times when the desire for business as usual converges with the forces of progress that open up a space for change. The realm of the possible can be widened by this process, but it can also be narrowed as we have seen over the last 30 years.

The General Election of 1979 solidified the road that Britain would be pushed down in the next decade. The preconditions for Thatcherism were actually laid with the IMF bailout of 1976 and the cuts stipulated in the deal. The class interests of the elite clustered around the Conservatives had converged with the crises of the 1970s in the opening of an opportunity to erode the old institutions of social democracy. This amounted to the mass-privatisation of public assets to ensure a profit for the private sector and a policy of mass-unemployment through the deindustrialisation of the North. The aim was theruination of the trade unions and the end of the post-war settlement that had brought unprecedented rates of growth and development.The average rate of growth in the 1960s went from 3% to 4% and the average rate by the 1980s was 2%. But the golden age of capitalism that stretched from 1945 to 1975 was itself a product of a convergence of interest. The space opened for the welfare state after the war because the British ruling-class needed a way to secure its interests in an increasingly uncertain world.

Today it is unthinkable to go back on the road that we embarked upon in the late 70s. In classic Anglo-Saxon style there is no theoretical justification, only the gloss of economic pragmatism. This was the case with the tuition fee hike and if we prod deeper we find that there is no economic justification for fees at all. The truth is that the costs of higher education only add up to a minuscule amount in public spending – less than 1% of GDP to be exact. Yet the politicians dare not make the case on political grounds, there is no ideology and no alternative apparently. The coordinates of the possible are now so narrow that it is unbelievable that the rate of tax on the highest earners was over 90% in the 1950s. The idea of free education is now increasingly absurd, at least when it comes to higher education. The student protests were an attempt to hold onto what was left of the system that had been established decades before and vandalised in recent years. The aims of the students ranged from a progressive graduate tax to a free university system, placing them firmly within the social democratic consensus after WW2.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Bad-Looking Narcissists.

"A narcissist is someone better looking than you are." - Gore Vidal

It was quite something to open The Evening Standard on the day that the Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness and find columns penned by Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Bob Geldof. Blair stands as a living monument to everything wrong with British politics, one of the few pimps to be his own prostitute complete with the moral fibre of an open sewer. And then there is Clinton, a wretched primate standing atop the post-politics of personality and nothing more. Both men are the end products of a process that has hollowed out the discourse in countries where there was barely anything of political substance to desecrate in this way. Thrown into this mix is the white Knight, a mediocre musician, who saved the deserving and left the undeserving to die for our redemption. These spurious progressives know the
Third Way
to rape the developing world. Naturally they write with worry of the Arab’s push towards democracy against the old dictatorships and temper this anxiety with feel-good stories about the steps forward the black African has made.


Don’t forget when Mr Blair praised Mubarak as a ‘force for good’ just before he fell; thoughthe Clintons had always regarded Hosni as family. At least there was never a famine in Egypt, so Sir Bob never had to pose as the redeemer of mankind and toss millions into the mouths of leathery generals swimming in the Nile. And yet Blair has plenty of words to pen, with the blood under his fingernails, when it comes to lecturing ‘barbarians’ on how to run a democracy. He has no time to go into the details of the soft coup that has been carried out to neuter the officials elected to high office. It was seen early on that the outcome of the elections would be a marriage between felools and fanatics. But Blair seems blissfully ignorant. Really the stage is set for democracy in the Middle East, Blair salivates at the possibility of it all falling apart. If it ends up as a military junta “We told you so!” If it ends up as a theocracy, even better!
Of course, Blair has to pat the Arabs on the head for dethroning his friend – a man who held ‘terror suspects’ kidnapped by the CIA in chambers where their children could be tortured – what else would we expect of him? He’s too proud to concede defeat, let alone failure or wrongdoing. The poodle is always in the right, even when he says he’s on the Left. He reminds us “People often say: learn the lesson of Iraq. Actually, I have.” He says so only to draw an analogy between the bombing of Baghdad and the uprising in Cairo. He knows no shame in his capacity for self-love. Now he warns of a religious obstacle in the pathways to new heights of progress for Arabs. Oh he’s aware that Washington is perfectly happy to foster a marriage of convenience between the corrupt military establishment and Islamic conservatives. The idea is to buy-off the Egyptian masses and secure the status quo, namely a tacit alliance with Israel. And Tony Blair is most definitely preoccupied with the affairs of the Jewish State.
Blair wants nothing more than to hold a ‘special place’ in history and make a lot of money in the process. He’s already working to finger Palestinians out of oil found off of the coast of Gaza. It’s clear that Blair was anointed to the Quartet in order to look out for Israeli interests in the Middle East. This was the conclusion drawn by Tory journalist Peter Oborne. As Blair insists that he has visited the region 86 times and has an office in Jerusalem (that he barely uses) he maintains that the only workable solution is “an Israel secure and recognised by the region, and a viable independent State of Palestine.” It’s not common knowledge that the Arab states (with the support of the PLO) accepted the right of Israel to exist within secure and recognised borders. This was part of a platform for a two-state settlement in 1976 with Palestine confined to the occupied territories. The US vetoed the UN resolution and it was wiped from history.

 

Bob Geldof exudes a sense of great achievements when he writes of the “unprecedented effect of connectivity as the largest mobile phone market in the world took off”. A pattern seems to emerge as Bill Clinton has words of praise for mobile phones too.Apparently all over “cell phones are being used for banking, helping refugees find lost relatives, and allowing small producers such as fishermen find the prevailing market prices commodities.” Neither of them mentions the possibility that African countries could well do with major infrastructural investment. The construction of a landline network of phones could potentially create a lot more jobs than what precious little good banking does for Africa. The more it would seem Bob and Bill are just spewing sentimental guff crafted to fill the reader’s head with a soothing warmth. We don’t have to worry about changing the world, just wait for the moment for a feel-good shout. Surely poverty is a gift from the heavens. After all it gives us something to make us feel better about living in a society of moral degenerates.
Never mind what Oscar Wilde said about the beggar you encounter, if you don’t want to be bothered by him then you need a system that can end homelessness. Look on the bright side of the Chinese running the gamut when it comes to ringing Africa dry of any profit that the white man might’ve forgotten to soak up. You can forget about Mugabe and the US bombing of Somalia! Listen to Bob’s statistical bragging and swallow it for the pablum it is. Who wants to know what the great white Knight means when he says that Africa is ‘open for business’? Did you know that out of ten of the fastest growing economies there are six African countries? The International Monetary Fund, that beloved friend of the black man, predicts the African continental economy will grow by 5% in 2012. Perhaps it’s time to drag Geldof down to Golgotha and nail him to the cross. Surely it would raise a package big enough to choke the reptiles who pick at the bones of the famished African.
All the while Geldof barks on about a ‘new Africa’ as he reassures us that we can all prosper from its newfound exuberance. He just barely resists the urge when he notes that the majority of Africa’s people are under 16. Someone should tell Nike where these young  and energetic workers can be found. Perhaps Gap and Primark have already had a go at them, Shell has probably hung a few of them. The truth is Geldof needs black Africa to remain an impoverished basket-case for his career. What else can a musician of his calibre do? Back to the pressing issue, the Chinese creators of ‘jobs’ and ‘wealth’ for Africa. It’s true that Chinese investment leaped from £30 million to £1 billion, with Chinese-African trade leaping from £5 billion in 1998 to £53 billion in 2008. Chinese investment in Zambia is just as suspect as the interest Tiny Rowland showed in the country’s mines decades ago. Overall the influence of China in Africa is a malign one, plenty of dough for the kleptocracy in Zimbabwe and genocide in Sudan. Soon that’ll be the tip of the iceberg.