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Thursday, 13 December 2012

On Moderation.

 
In the midst of the current economic slump it's worth keeping in mind that we've been here before. This recession is not all that different from that of the 1930s, which began with the stock market crash of 1929. The recovery was slow and painful because necessary steps such as financial regulation and government stimuli weren't taken earlier. This time around we bailed out the banks and had a go at stimulus by way of quantitative easing under Brown. Although, we're currently embarking upon a tough austerity, - that has taken us back into a recession from a very brief incursion into a recovery - it's worth noting that we did not enact serious measures to confront the depression head-on in the 30s either. David Lloyd George took the view that we would do better to emulate the model presented by the American government. It wouldn't be until after the war that the Keynesian model of a mixed economy would prevail in Britain and Europe. Today it remains a viable and modest alternative to the international austerity.

In the midst of the recession brought on by the collapse of global financial system in 1929 the Republican President Hoover resorted to the politics of austerity. The Democrats ran Franklin D Roosevelt. The incoming administration was welcomed by a veterans' march on Washington, President Roosevelt arranged to greet the protestors with his aides and coffee. Despite appearances and this gesture Roosevelt shared the same goals as the austerity junkies he had defeated, namely to safeguard American capitalism and prevent further violent outbursts in the street. The best way to do this, in the eyes of FDR, was to reform the system to constrain the destructive tendencies of the market and to address the grievances of people marching on Washington for a decent life. This was nothing radical, it was effectively a means of 'buying-off' socialism in a world where the Soviet Union posed the only standing alternative to a decaying capitalism. Early on Roosevelt sought to craft greater coordination over the economy, to this end he put together planning sessions between government, trade unions and private companies.
 
 
Later a trade union leader would sit down with Roosevelt to discuss the conditions endured by black people and white working-class. The President listened intently and then told the trade unionist "I agree with everything you have said. Now, make me do it." The point Roosevelt made is that the President can't simply enact whatever policy they like. Rather the conditions have to be so that the Congress has to acknowledge a problem and then change can be implemented. In the same way that the Russian Revolution scared the British government into give up the vote to working-class men, and to women a dozen years later. It was the acknowledgement of a hard-nosed realist. He understood that to achieve reform the country had to be shaken up. That might explain why Prohibition was the first act to be thrown out under FDR. But at a deeper level the conditions in the US demanded certain reformist measures be implemented. So in 1934 Roosevelt put together the Wagner act to secure workers' rights, to make way for higher wages and improved working conditions. It's no coincidence that there were huge marches and strikes in 1934.
 
It shouldn't surprise anyone that there was a harsh police repression of strikers supposedly for fear of Communist subversion. Yet Roosevelt took a markedly different approach when the Flint sit-down came around in 1936. That was a strike where hundreds of workers occupied a General Motors factory for 44 days. As the police and hired thugs tried to violently break up the strike Roosevelt supported Governor Murphy and had the National Guard sent in to protect the workers. It was this battle that led to much improved living standards in Flint and ultimately the creation of a now non-existent middle-class. This is a famous instance of the liberal credentials of FDR. However, it wasn't the President who defeated the bosses at a Firestone rubber plant in Akron earlier that year in which the management caved to a sit-down strike in a matter of days. The same can be said of a following strike at Goodyear. These successes were not handed down from above, the pressure came from below and the major achievements were won in this way.
 
Typically the Democratic administration adjusted its policies to subdue the labour movement in areas where it was most active. Repression wasn't the best tactic to be undertaken in a situation of dire economic stagnancy. So it was logical for the US government to concede ground to particularly strong strikes. The strikers in Flint were privileged by comparison to other workers across the country. A fine demonsrtation of this came later, when the US government established the minimum wage, along with the forty-hour week, and a ban on child labour. The minimum wage was set at twenty-five cents an hour and excluded a great number of the workforce. Even still, it was enough to cool the tensions between workers and bosses. Similarly the housing programmes only provided abodes for a small percentage of the population. But the gesture of federally subsidising housing projects, playgrounds and the construction of clean apartments was not insignificant to the beneficiaries.

Then came the establishment of social security and unemployment insurance, state-funds were matched for mothers and dependent children. The reform excluded farmers, domestic workers and old people, it also offered no health insurance. Comparatively the social security system offered much more security to Big Business in terms of pacifying a portion of the workforce. Though it should be noted that the wealthiest Americans barely get anything out of social security, the benefits are insignificant to them and so they don't see why they should support it. It would be more valuable if it were privatised and handed over to the rapacious forces of financial capital. The social security system also undermines the individualist tenets of American ideology, in that the system potentially fosters a social consciousness that might seek justice and solidarity. Like the NHS in Britain the establishment of social security in the US has been extremely difficult for the wealthy to erode and destroy. Thus, it remains one of the few pillars of the New Deal left standing.
 
 
During the Second World War the Roosevelt administration centralised the economy and created millions of new jobs at higher wages, in doing so, the militancy of the labour movement was undermined significantly. The New Deal had only managed to cut unemployment from 13 million to 9 million, while the war economy had almost achieved full employment. At the same time, the country was overtaken by a patriotic fervour that instilled national unity over the apparent sectarianism of classes. The combination of the New Deal reforms and the war effort effectively saved American capitalism. There is an important lesson for social democrats to take from this. The liberals of Rooseveltian ilk acknowledge that the dream of a mixed economy complete with a far-reaching welfare state cannot be achieved without tremendous struggle. Furthermore, this is not a struggle fought by liberals, to the contrary, it is the radicals who fight against capitalism who provide the impetus for the system to be reformed.
 
In his vision of the post-war world Roosevelt articulated four essential kinds of freedom to underpin the new world order: freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want and fear. The principles FDR articulated would influence the foundation of the United Nations after the war had ended. Later, Roosevelt would propose a second Bill of Rights to the US Constitution, it was a set of economic rights which would guarantee not only universal health-care and education, but a liveable income, a job and a home. Roosevelt argued these measures would guarantee security, well-being and prosperity for all, as well as lasting peace abroad. President Roosevelt was dead before the war was over and the Bill of Rights would not be implemented. The Marshall Plan would later help to rescuscitate European capitalism, which ultimately eventuated in a social democratic mode of economy, that would safeguard many of the economic rights Roosevelt wanted to implement. It was these post-war achievements that have been eroded in recent times.
 
See also:
The Untold History of the US -

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Founding a State.


The news of an outbreak of violence in Gaza with the Israeli Defence Forces was not much of a surprise for anyone. It mobilised some to protest outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington, while others joined the counter-demonstration further down the road, the vast majority of people probably languished in passive ignorance to the history of the crisis. The wars waged to establish and expand the state of Israel surprise no one with a modicum of knowledge of the history of the nation-state. Like childbirth the memory of the founding of a state is repressed precisely because it’s so traumatic. The majority of states in the world were either founded in violence or have been perpetuated through violence in some way. So it should surprise no one that the state of Israel was founded out of a theft - what Palestinians call the Nabka - in which 700,000 people were expelled from their land and their villages were destroyed to make way for a new country. And we can safely say, in retrospect of six decades, that expansionism is inherent to the state-founding project.

Expulsion from the land was the only way that the state could be established. It was necessary given that at the time Mandate Palestine consisted of a population that was 95% Muslim and Christian Arab. Today the millions of descendants of those Palestinians who were first displaced in 1948 are scattered around the world. The largest concentration outside of Israel and the occupied territories is in Jordan, where Israeli nationalists argue the Palestinians really belong. Part of the problem is the ambiguity of where Israel’s borders actually end. If the international borders are disregarded (which they are inside Israel) then the eastern frontier of the country reach across the Jordan River and that would mean Jordan can be absorbed as well. This is the irony of the nationalist line that the Palestinians should go live in Jordan. Originally the border was meant to be at the Alawi River in the middle of Lebanon. Until the borders are clarified and set at the internationally recognised limit, which is at 78% of what was once Mandate Palestine, then there won’t be peace.

The UN vote to bestow non-member observer status on Palestine demonstrates that the Palestinians are hungry for a peaceful settlement. Incidentally, Palestine now shares the same status of statehood as the Holy See. This is contrary to the picture that the Israeli Right put forward of murderous rabbles of Arabs too bloodthirsty to settle for anything less than the demise of the Jewish state. Yet it is the Israeli government that won't budge on the question of settlements and 60% of the West Bank already consists of Jewish settlements. That's a major obstacle to a two-state settlement if Palestine is meant to be constituted by 100% of the West Bank. Then there's the wall of annexation that has been extended around arable land and resources in the West Bank. This wall is called a 'defensive barrier' in Israel, which is what the Berlin Wall was called in East Germany. It gets even more absurd, in the US media the wall is called a 'fence' and it's longer than the Berlin Wall.

This is somewhat appropriate as the US was itself born out of a revolt on America's East Coast only for the colonies to expand westward into Indian territory. It isn't often discussed that there may have been as many as 18 million, possibly even 25 million, people living in North America when European settlers first arrived. The fact that the US would consist of a narrow slither of land if it weren't for genocide, war and slavery was long suppressed by historians. This denial of these origins was nothing exceptional. In the same way that the trauma of childbirth is suppressed in all of our minds, the horrors of nation-building are quickly wiped from the national memory. What follows then is the creation of a national mythology, the shibboleths of American exceptionalism were crafted by English colonists quite early on. Ronald Reagan liked to describe America as "a shining city upon a hill"; well it was Puritan colonist John Winthrop who coined that phrase in 1630 and along with it the notion that America is a nation with a divine purpose.

The new world was a venture first pursued to escape the horrors of European nationalism and in a way Israel was a similar project. Yet it would seem as though the nation-state, a European invention itself, has brought with it all the destructive tendencies of the old world with it. This isn’t just the violence inherent to the project, it’s racism as well. Not just towards Arabs, who are victims of discrimination on all fronts. In May race riots broke out in Tel Aviv a Likudnik at the Knesset commented that black immigrants are a ‘cancer’ on the Jewish state. Keep in mind the black immigrants are Sudanese refugees fleeing the slaughter in their own country. Racism is never too far from nationalism, wherever it hangs its hat. The violence of founding states pukes it up almost automatically. Now Bibi Netanyahu has made it clear he is running with Avi Lieberman – a man who believes in segregation and loyalty oaths – at the upcoming elections. We can take all of this as a sign that Israel has yet to really finish its ‘founding’, and that means this could go on for much longer.

This article was published at the Heythrop Lion on December 11th 2012.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Apartheid, Analogy and Disanalogy.

 
"Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." - Nelson Mandela
 
The analogy between Israel and South Africa is often drawn when it comes to the question of the occupied territories and the Palestinians. There are good reasons for making this analogy, as well as serious differences between the cases that would mean the analogy is dubious. The problem of a Palestinian state is innate to Israel in the same way that racial equality is a problem innate to South Africa. The creation of nation-states out of the processes of European colonialism comes with the brutality of expansionism and war. South Africa was a principle aggressor in Southern Africa in its role as a counter-revolutionary force it slaughtered over a million people in neighbouring states in the 1980s. By comparison, Israel has been at war almost constantly for most of its existence and it serves the US as a "cop on the beat" in the Middle East. This is well demonstrated by the worrying tensions between Israel and Iran. I don't think I will be able to settle this matter in just one article, so I'm only going to go over a few points about the comparison.

The network of roadblocks and checkpoints which regulate the daily lives of Palestinians has been compared to the Apartheid rule of South Africa. Though it is worthy of condemnation even if we dismiss the comparison as a disanalogy. After all it's a system which has left pregnant women to give birth in the street only for their newborn babies to die in the heat, all in the name of Israel's national security. There is even a segregated highway system, roads on which only Jews are allowed to travel. This highway system was established on the pretext of counter-terrorism.  Actually this has nothing to do with counter-terrorism. Instead it is a part of the maintenance of the occupation of the West Bank, where the Israeli government supports (directly and indirectly) the settlements which hold 60% of the land. To this end the Israeli government are busily constructed a wall of annexation in and around the West Bank to snatch the major concentrations of resources and water from the Palestinians. This wall is called a 'defensive barrier' in Israel, which is what the Berlin Wall was called in East Germany. But the West Bank wall is longer than the Berlin Wall.

It's clear that the Israeli government is not too comfortable with the prospect of a Palestinian state. The continued encroachment into and domination of Palestinian territory has the potential to reduce the possibility of a free Palestine to a Bantustan at best. This isn't an accident of history. As Noam Chomsky would remind us Moshe Dayan's recommendation to his colleagues shortly after the 1967 conquests was that we must tell the Palestinians in the territories "You shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads". This is not the last of the ugly words spewed over Palestinian territory. Almost 30 years later the Director of Communications and Policy Planning David Bar-Illan who said in 1996 that "the Palestinians can have a state if they want, or they can call it fried chicken". And that's when the Israeli establishment talks peace. The establishment is aware of the situation on the ground, the need for a two-state settlement. It's just that there is no reason for the Israeli government to seek out peace.

It would seem that the Israeli elite are for a peaceful solution, whereas the more economically deprived and zealous Israeli citizens - particularly Mizrahi Jews and refuseniks - are much more hawkish. The ruling-class have been busily eroding the civic institutions and welfare state of Israel in recent decades. The neoliberalisation that the Israeli economy has undergone is another point of fair comparison with South Africa. Israel was once a quasi-socialist state with a significantly slim gap between the rich and the poor. Today it is one of the most unequal countries in the world. This is what comes with expanding a state by force and creating a country out of thin air. The apparent abnormality of Israel by world's standards today is exactly what makes it normal in historical standards. The very same process of aggressive expansionism was carried out in North America to a much more genocidal degree. And the founding of the American Republic provoked a desperate resistance from the likes of Geronimo.

"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq." - Benjamin Netanyahu

There are good reasons to suspect that the Israeli ruling class is well aware of the consequences of their actions. In an interview with Gideon Levi Prime Minister Ehud Barak said "If I were a Palestinian at the right age, I would have joined one of the terrorist organizations at a certain stage." By the way, everyone should know that Nelson Mandela was officially listed as a 'terrorist' in the US until about 2009. This isn't to say that by analogy Hamas are the Palestinian version of the ANC. Sadly the picture is much more complicated than that. The concept of 'terrorism' really designates the use of violence to achieve goals of a political, religious or ideological nature. That would certainly include all of modern warfare. So it could be that the notion of 'terror' lacks any weight in terms of moral condemnation. When the US shoots down an Iranian civilian airliner, it's an accident and not an act of terror. So it might be better to talk about specific forms of violence. For instance, in his years as 'terrorist' leader Nelson Mandela argued against car-bombing as a tactic. This wasn't a rejection of violence, rather it was about scale.

Christopher Hitchens observed the similarity of the theological justifications of Apartheid in the dogma of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Church adhered to a variety of Calvinism that enshrined a strict separation of white and black in holy design. Its presupposition was racial inequality, for the white man shares the bodily form of Christ. The ravings at the pulpit spewed forth its own blood myth of a Boer Exodus and in what Hitchens describes as an "Afrikaner permutation of Zionism" awarded the whites exclusive rights in a promised land. It should be no surprise that the National Party had an appalling record for anti-Semitism and took the side of Hitlerism in the Second World War. The end result was a pariah state where the rights of non-whites were nonexistent, in fact the people were confined to open prisons with boundaries defined by pigmentation. The state exercised its monopoly on violence to maintain this system for as long as it could. But the justifications were not simply theological.

Apartheid justified itself further as a separation which protected African culture from being drowned in white civilisation. Earlier in the 20th Century Jan Smuts formulated a holistic philosophy to justify British colonialism. This holism took the world to be composed of wholes, each together constitute a grand system while each can sustain and stabilise themselves. The stability of the system was guaranteed by the arrangement of wholes, provided each whole remained in the right place the system could be maintained. Every whole is made up of small wholes which are evolving and will inevitably come together to form larger wholes until finally becoming part of a single unified whole. This was the beginning of what would become Apartheid. South Africa further justified its brutal methods of repression in its claim to be an outpost of freedom fighting against Communism. Although Israel does not have the same kind of racial mythology as South Africa, its government often claims that the country is an outpost against radical Islamism.

No wonder then Israel and South Africa entered into a pariah's pact in 1975 to trade in weapons of mass-destruction. The end of Apartheid might actually signal how the occupation might end and Palestine might actually be established as an independent state. It was almost inevitable that the Apartheid system would undermine the future possibility of survival of the state. So the Afrikaner business elite began meeting with the ANC in neighbouring countries in the late 1980s. By then a campaign of sanctions and boycotting had done its damage on South Africa's economy and body politic. Around this time the Priests had a 'revelation' regarding racial equality. The fate of the regime was settled before the National Party goons even knew it. South Africa had been significantly isolated in the international community by that point. It was when the US started to withdraw its support for Apartheid that the Botha government started to cave. But this came after decades of struggle in spite of extreme violence and rejectionism.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

America's affinity with Israel.

 
The leading supporter of Israel in the world has long been the United States. This is somewhat appropriate as the US was born out of a revolt on America's East Coast only for the colonies to expand westward into Indian territory. It isn't often discussed that there may have been as many as 18 million, possibly even 25 million, people living in North America when European settlers first arrived. The fact that the US would consist of a narrow slither of land if it weren't for genocide, war and slavery was long suppressed by historians. This denial of these origins was nothing exceptional. In the same way that the trauma of childbirth is suppressed in all of our minds, the horrors of nation-building are quickly wiped from the national memory. What follows then is the creation of a national mythology, the shibboleths of American exceptionalism were crafted by English colonists quite early on. Ronald Reagan liked to describe America as "a shining city upon a hill", well it was John Winthrop who coined that phrase in 1630 and not surprisingly it was a Bible reference.
 
So the notion of America as a nation chosen by God to spread its ideals actually predates the Revolution. Winthrop viewed America as ordained by God and received the charter of Massachusetts Bay from King Charles I. The charter stated that the principle purpose of the plantation was to save the indigenes from a pagan fate - in other words, it was a mission civilisatrice. The humane mission of spreading Christianity amounted to a systematic programme of extirpation and extermination. John Locke viewed America as the land where the world began and defended the theft of Indian land.  The heinous nature of the policies undertaken against the indigenous population was understood well by the Founding Fathers. Even the brilliant Thomas Jefferson made the case for the Native Americans to be forced into starvation if they didn't accept an existence as free-holding farmers. Jefferson went as far as to plan to drive the tribes into Canada, only to invade Canada and ensure that the job was finished. And so, civilisation came to America.
 
This was nothing out of the norm. To the indigenous population George Washington was known as the Town-Destroyer and for good reason. By the late 1770s Washington had set out to, in his own words, extirpate the indigenes from the country in a bid to expand westward to the Mississippi. As a punishment for resisting the Iroquois tribe was forced to cede their territory to compensate the butchers. Later John Quincy Adams would lament the "hapless race of Native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty". Expansionism soon acquired the designs of self-defence. The Jackson administration would conquer Florida in order to maintain the security of the American Republic. There were repeated attempts to annex Canada, where the British held-off the Americans. Instead the US took on the Spanish empire with much more success, succeeding in stealing away half of Mexico, Puerto Rico and Guam. This allowed the US government to buy the Philippines from the Spanish.
 
This was the period of so-called American imperialism. Yet if we look closely we find that the constant expansionist aggression that the US had demonstrated since day-one, we would find that the US has been engaged in colonial violence for much longer. In much the same way that Israel seems to go to war every 3 or 4 years these days. One minute it's Lebanon, then it's Gaza, Iran next perhaps! It's bound to be the case with a highly militarised economy and an irrationally right-wing establishment. It can't be ignored anymore, with Likudniks calling black immigrants a "cancer" on the Jewish state, - and talk of Hiroshima as the model for Israeli policy on Gaza - there's a problem that has to be acknowledged. Sadly it seems unlikely that Israel has any reason to even consider a position that would change the bloody stalemate that the region has to live with. The US isn't going to withhold its veto at the UN any time soon, that's for sure. Meanwhile the next election is due in January and Bibi Netanyahu is running with Avi Lieberman, the worst of worse scenarios.

It's just a fence!

 
The news of an outbreak of violence in Gaza with the Israeli Defence Forces was not much of a surprise for anyone. It mobilised some to protest outside the Israeli embassy in London, while others joined the counter-demonstration further down the road, the vast majority of people probably languished in passive ignorance to the history of the crisis. The wars waged to establish and expand the state of Israel surprise no one with a modicum of knowledge of the history of the nation-state. Like childbirth the founding of a state is repressed precisely because it's so traumatic. The majority of states in the world were either founded in violence and have been perpetuated through violence in way or another. So it should surprise no one that the state of Israel was founded out of a theft - what Palestinians call the Nabka - in which 700,000 people were expelled from their land and their villages were destroyed to make way for a new country. And we can safely say, in retrospect of six decades, that expansionism is inherent to the state-founding project.
 
Expulsion from the land was the only way that the state could be established. It was necessary given that at the time Mandate Palestine consisted of a population that was 95% Muslim and Christian Arab. Today the millions of descendents of those Palestinians who were first displaced in 1948 are scattered around the world. The largest concentration outside of Israel and the occupied territories is in Jordan, where Israeli nationalists argue the Palestinians really belong. Part of the problem is the ambiguity of where Israel’s borders actually end. If the international borders are disregarded (which they are inside Israel) then the eastern frontier of the country reach across the Jordan River and that would mean Jordan can be absorbed as well. This is the irony of the nationalist line that the Palestinians should go live in Jordan. Originally the border was meant to be at the Alawi River in the middle of Lebanon. Until the borders are clarified and set at the internationally recognised limit, which is at 78% of what was once Mandate Palestine, then there won’t be peace.
 
 
The UN vote to bestow non-member observer status on Palestine demonstrates that the Palestinians are hungry for a peaceful settlement. Incidentally, Palestine now shares the same status of statehood as the Holy See. This is contrary to the picture that the Israeli Right put forward of murderous rabbles of Arabs too bloodthirsty to settle for anything less than the demise of the Jewish state. Yet it is the Israeli government that won't budge on the question of settlements and 60% of the West Bank already consists of Jewish settlements. That's a major obstacle to a two-state settlement if Palestine is meant to be constituted by 100% of the West Bank. Then there's the wall of annexation that has been extended around arable land and resources in the West Bank. This wall is called a 'defensive barrier' in Israel, which is what the Berlin Wall was called in East Germany. It gets even more absurd, in the US media the wall is called a 'fence' and it's longer than the Berlin Wall. I guess you must be a Nazi if you don't see an enormous concrete wall as a white picket fence.