Sunday, 27 February 2011

Liberalism with "Muscles".

 The Multicultural Dream?

In Britain the debate over multiculturalism has once again been jump-started by David Cameron, while the EDL protested against Islamism in Luton and just after the Oldham by-election was secured through flat out race-baiting on the part of Jack Straw. Notably Jack Straw was on Question Time, alongside Sayeeda Warsi, the same night as Nick Griffin and the programme quickly degenerated into a hour of narcissistic anti-fascism on the part of the establishment which gave Griffin a soap box to stand on and rail against the elites. No mention of the glass ceiling in the Lib-Lab-Con establishment which maintains it as a predominantly white, male and wealthy Parliament. It was Jack Straw who began the debate over "Britishness" and has since brought other xenophobic worries into the mainstream media. Warsi was also given a pass for her homophobia. The political class ought to ask itself why the BNP exists in the first place, for it is in part a creature of social deprivation which has been spawned by the economy and raised by a debauched political discourse.

David Cameron has called, presumably in the place of multiculturalism, for a "muscular liberalism" which does not tolerate extremism but has room for the Other. This comes from the neoconservative wing of government embodied in the presence of Michael Gove and Liam Fox. The intolerant brand of liberal values peddled by this wing is similar to the platform of the UKIP, which might be best summed up as a right-wing fruitcake of conservatives and ultra-nationalists brought together by Euroscepticism. Individual freedom is important to this kind of liberalism but with strict limits, which come in the form of bans on specific clothing in the case of UKIP. As for Cameron's "muscular liberalism", we have seen it has room for control orders in all but name which would make it no different to the supposedly "state-imposed multiculturalism" of New Labour. In this sense liberalism is being put on a pedestal as a neutral framework for all other cultures, but in order for this to work we must all be liberal and not impose our values on others.

The Conservative Party have long stood for a kind of liberalism that adheres to an idea of freedom which is tied to free-market principles. For the Tories, freedom is to be guaranteed by stripping away all constraints on the individual - but only in economic terms. So away with regulations and taxes for the sake of individual freedom. In the Thatcher years we saw the rise of unconstrained freedom in the market place along with Victorian moralising about permissive society.  We might describe this as a division between the private vices and the public benefits reaped through such vices, private meaning the market place and public meaning society as a whole. Freedom is acceptable so long as it is an economic doctrine, but in society as a whole it can be curtailed for the sake of "nationhood", "security" etc. So there are calls to "Ban the Burka" for the sake of "English values". The Tory rhetoric against multiculturalism should be understood in this context. A nationally defined leitkultur, as the Germans would say, which would constrain the multiple cultures in Britain whilst individuals are granted greater freedom in the market place.

In the 1970s the Tory alternative to the post-war settlement could be summarised as a restoration of national competitiveness through liberal economic reform, defence of British sovereignty in Europe; maintenance of national identity and the national state through a rigid public order. The Atlantic alliance with America was justified as a way of maintaining the standing of Britain in the world, though the alliance is certainly contradictory as the position is supposedly nationalistic whilst also a liberal hack for the Washington Consensus. Instead of providing a welfare state the Party would provide a nationhood for the masses. This is the tradition of which David Cameron is a representative and that would put his beliefs at odds with the consistently illiberal conservatism of Phillip Blond, the origins of the "Big Society" idea. As that vision adheres to a view of Britain as an organic society, in which socio-economic change ought to be slow for the sake of cohesion, held together by community and cooperation as opposed to the state or the market. Cameron has opted for a "muscular liberalism" as an alternative to multiculturalism because it doesn't exclude the economics of dispossession.

Relativism versus Chauvinism.

The right-wing commentariat have been cheering on Cameron for his critique of "state-sponsored multiculturalism". Multiculturalism, like political correctness, has been abandoned the established Left formerly known as the Labour Party and now it is openly attacked by one and all. The hard Right defining the rules of the game and positing the Left as a spectral source of a "cultural Marxism" determined to erode our freedoms. Now we hear David Cameron talking of "British values" as he invokes the failures of multiculturalism. This is nothing unusual and we have heard the same from the Blairites about tackling "militant Islam". The debate over "Britishness" and the veil are symptomatic of this type of discourse. The reactionary press have an agenda and there's plenty of room to pander to it in Cameron's hollow pragmatism. New Labour pandered to the 'little Eichmanns' in a similarly shameless display of opportunism and a deep contempt for the public.

It is no coincidence that the most dedicated exponents of US-led globalisation, from the Blairites to UKIP, have also been critical of multiculturalism along chauvinist lines, which might be summed up as a covert form of racism, positions itself as the working-mans' voice against the Establishment. It is a liberal elite posited as the engineers of multiculturalism out of a destructive experiment with cultural relativism. This elite of "do-gooders", often conjured up by the chauvinists, as the enemy of the working-man is an invention of the right-wing media. Supposedly there is an elite who want to see Shariah courts in Britain and halal meat in the supermarket, when in actuality the elites of this country are deeply critical of multiculturalism. The Conservatives and New Labour have both criticised multiculturalism over the years. Immigration has always gone on, there have been openings but always with enormous opposition along racist lines. There was even opposition to letting Jews come to Britain as the Nazis came to power, our reason was that Jews are too "left-wing". After the Jews and the Irish it was black people from the West Indies and then it was Asians.

It was only last year that the conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Man-Woman of Hamburg, declared that multiculturalism had "utterly failed". Months before the Rat Man banned the veil in France in a disgraceful display of poujadism and went on to expell the Roma from the country. Even before that a state of emergency was established in Italy in 2008, partly to defend the country from illegal immigration as well as sexual deviancy and organised crime. Before that a spate of racist attacks against the Roma in Northern Ireland shocked the public. These are not the cure to a state-sanctioned disease, multiculturalism was never been implemented as an official state doctrine in Britain and in a sense we have merely flirted with a particular kind of multiculturalism in Europe. In Eastern Europe we can see the Roma are still waiting for equal standards of education and remain the subject of frequent abuse. The liberals condemn this as racism, and rightly so, whilst the nationalists reflexively play the freedom card.

In the postmodern nationalism of today there is a "You may!" quality which presents itself as permissive in the sense of "You may use the n-word because they use it!" Freedom of speech and expression become umbrellas for racism, misogyny and homophobia. Meanwhile the liberals who actually defend multiculturalism are found "guilty" of trampling on such freedoms for the sake of "anti-British" agenda. The origins of this permissiveness can be seen clearly in history as the "Know Nothing" movement of the US campaigned against Catholic immigration, particularly from Ireland, on the grounds that it could undermine American democracy and lead to the rise of a Catholic state run by the Pope. This nativist movement called for severe limits on immigration from Catholic countries and restrictions on languages other than English. This is not so far away from what the EDL are doing to "defend" the country from Islamisation. Though the EDL, like the Tea Party and UKIP, are all effectively hacks for neoliberalism and globalisation led by the US through war. All under the guise of defending the values and sovereignty of Britain.

We are One!

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not so much a name for a country as indicative of an expired compromise. There is no such thing as a "British nation", the tribes of the United Kingdom are English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. So we should know what to think of the talk of "Britishness" and we should not be surprised we have no idea what it means to be "British". We know that "Britishness" is the sense of nationhood and culture shared by all. But the best we can do to define British identity is to make a risible list of football teams, brands of tea and take note of widespread binge-drinking. The words "Britishness" and "anti-British", or even "anti-English", are in the "blut und boden" lexicon of totalitarianism. Only in states like the Soviet Union were such concepts, e.g. anti-Soviet, used to stifle debate and clamp down on dissent. Only demagogues with a quasi-fascist agenda speak in such terms to divide and conquer the white working-class by pitting it against the minorities, who are in the same boat as white working-people. 

The real danger of multiculturalism is that it is a "benign" form of apartheid in itself. The official ideological justification of apartheid in South Africa was that it was necessary to put the African tribes into bantustans in order to prevent them from being "drowned" in the white civilisation. Of course the racism of the regime was barely concealed by the "official reason" for this separation of the African tribes, Indians and "coloureds" from the white Afrikaner. This is the logical conclusion of multiculturalism in it's liberal form, it is hegemonic as liberalism is itself and it clouds a whole array of inequality and prejudice. So the claims by nationalists that multiculturalism is racist to white people are utterly absurd. For the liberal defenders of multiculturalism the Other should be included, but only so long as the Otherness is strictly non-invasive and can be easily contained into a community. Note that the cultural chauvinists make a similar point, that the immigrants who integrate into our society are not the problem and it is just radical Islamism which is the "problem".

It is not that the EDL only targets Islam in it's most reactionary and violent manifestation, it is simply the old school rejection of the Other on the behalf of Western values. This is the reason that the EDL oppose Islam, which they constantly remind us is not racial, but actually only target Asian Muslims and chant things like "We love the floods!" in reference to the recent floods in Pakistan. The likes of Stephen Lennon, Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage latch onto the failure of the Left to adequately condemn homophobia and misogyny in the Muslim community to strengthen a reactionary platform. In the Netherlands nationalists have tapped into the anger of the gay community against homophobia among Muslims. In defence of freedom, women's rights and gay rights etc. the EDL calls for bans on veils, halal meat and mosques all the while chanting "We've fucked all of Allah's wives!" While it is true that homophobia is prevalent within the Muslim community, the EDL are not giving the answers and the Left must step in to take the side of the victim. 

For the alternative to cultural relativism, as manifested in multicultural rhetoric, which is actively opposed to racist populism we should turn to the recent events in Egypt. We have seen mass protests across the Middle East and the fall of Mubarak in Egypt where hundreds of thousands poured into Tahrir Square. Not only was the movement secular and democratic, it was grass-roots based and called for social justice. The most sublime moment of the protests in Tahrir Square were when Muslims and Coptic Christians were brought together in prayer and chanted "We are one!" In a common struggle against tyranny the oppressed came together regardless of religious and ethnic "divisions" to fight together. The "muscular" liberality offered by Cameron would have been insufficent, as would the liberal variety of multiculturalism. A common project is what is needed to bring us together, it ought to be constructed along the lines of universalism and militant egalitarianism. Of which the liberals and the fascists are both ideological enemies.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

No Exit for Gaddafi?

 Mad Dog in Free-Fall.

At an alarming pace - alarming for Western leaders, ultra-nationalists in Tel Aviv and neocons everywhere - the revolutionary contagion has spread across North Africa and the Middle East. First taking down Ben Ali and then Mubarak, as demonstrations popped up in Jordan, Iran, Algeria, Yemen and Syria among other places. To compare this to the breakdown of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 would not be outlandish, though there is no Gorbachev and the West has only an old principle to cling to. The principle which holds that democracy is only favourable when it conforms to objectives of the socio-economic and strategic kind. Thus, the "fear" that the Muslim Brothers might rush to power if Mubarak was to be removed and free elections held in Egypt immediately. Really there is no chance of an Islamist state emerging in Egypt from the democratic process as the base of the Brotherhood accounts for 20% of the population at most. The real fear is that the Egyptian people will pursue independence, as Nasser had in the 1950s and 60s. It looks like the revolution has hit Libya and the regime led by the Colonel has been significantly weakened by it.

Oh the irony as it was the shamelessly extravagant Colonel who was so eager to condemn the uprising in Tunisia. It is even more ironic considering that Colonel Gaddafi had once dreamed of a pan-Arab state consisting of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. The state could not rely on the police and the military to crush protesters, instead opting to deploy the most vicious forms of counter-revolution. The internet, landlines were cut-off and foreign journalists banned to try and keep the slaughter a secret. The death squads have led hundreds slaughtered, including women and children. Nevertheless Benghazi was lost to demonstrators who quickly began flying the flag of pre-Gaddafi Libya, the country's second city had fallen as government officials defected. Pilots sent to carry out air-strikes to suppress the revolt have refused and some have landed in Malta. At a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London, the staff of the embassy joined the protesters. It would appear that the regime is in free-fall and the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" will be the first to hit the ground.

Soon police stations in Tripoli were burning and the Colonel had fled to a military base in the South of Libya. The dictator's son Saif al-Islam, a friend of Prince Andrew and Lord Mandelson, issued threats through the media and warned of a "civil war" if the protesters did not hault. There were rumours that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela or even France, so in an appearance lasting less than 30 seconds the "Mad Dog of the Middle East" assured everyone that he was still in Tripoli. The move was as impotent as all the anti-imperialist rhetoric he has pumped out in recent years. Just as the use of death squads, referred to as "militias" in the press, is in part a sign of desperation. These squads are made up of armed killers contracted from places like Niger, Chad and even Serbia. As the military is not totally reliable anymore, Gaddafi has had to hire "foreign help" whilst still calling on the cops and the soldiers to crush the revolt. It is notable that Mubarak spent 3.12% of GDP on the Egyptian army and in Libya the military receives just 1.2% of GDP. Most of the weapons being used against the people of Libya have been gained through arms deals with the US and Britain.

 A Reformed Revolutionary.

The rise to power of Gaddafi is reminiscent of the Egyptian revolution in 1952 in which a group of Free Officers seized the state from King Farouk. Similarly Gaddafi was a member of a similar coterie of military officials who removed a pro-American monarchy in a bloodless coup in 1969. Muammar al-Gaddafi quickly began to rail against the European colonial powers, the United States and Israel. The young Colonel, at the time he was only 27, acted to craft his regime on the Egyptian model of pan-Arabism and secular nationalism. With the slogan "socialism, freedom and unity" one chapter ended and another began for the people of Libya. Before his death in 1970 Nasser said "I rather like Gaddafi. He reminds me of myself when I was that age." Gaddafi had admired General Nasser since childhood, he would try to fill Nasser's shoes and converted Tripoli's Cathedral into the Gamel Abdel Nasser Mosque. In 1975 Anwar al-Sadat, the man who succeeded Nasser, would later describe Muammar al-Gaddafi as "100 percent sick and possessed by the devil." Thanks to Sadat and Gaddafi, Egypt and Libya are both corrupt autocracies.

In 1970 the new regime had expelled somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 Italians who had settled there during the colonial decades from 1911-1941. Military bases for the US and Britain were closed and sent home. Gaddafi led the country into an abortive invasion with Chad in 1972, which he would later "re-attempt" in 1980 only to abort once more. During the oil crisis of 1973, as OPEC cut production and raised prices Gaddafi supported the oil embargo on the US. Throughout the 1970s Gaddafi would propel himself forward with anti-imperialism and welfarism which he claimed was part of a system of Islamic socialism. With the use of Libyan oil reserves to construct a welfare state to provide free education, health-care and affordable housing as part of a "cultural revolution". All the while the Gaddafi regime supported radical Palestinian groups, the IRA and Muslim secessionists in the Philippines. Libya soon became a pariah state as the US led the way in implementing economic sanctions against the state, which would be intensified over the years.

Not long after Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981 the "War on Terror" was declared and Libya became a "punching bag" for the US. In that same year, Libyan fighter-jets were shot down in disputed waters by the US military. Before the year was out the Reaganites led the American people to believe that the Colonel's killers were in Washington looking to whack the President as well as George HW Bush. Not that the regime was not responsible for real crimes, the 1984 shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher by a gunman in the Libyan embassy immediately comes to mind but Gaddafi has also had Libyan dissidents murdered. A climate of jingoism was mobilised by the US government to justify an aggressive foreign policy. For Libya it culminated in 1986, when the bombing of a West Berlin disco packed with American servicemen was "linked" to Gaddafi. The chickenhawks at the Pentagon leapt on the opportunity to bomb Libya and the poodles of Whitehall quickly gave Washington permission to launch the attack from British military bases.

Since then it looks like it was Iran or Syria that was behind the regime, not that it would have justified an air-strike on either of those countries. In the case of the Lockerbie Bombing of 1988 it also looks as though the bombing was retaliation by Iran for the "accident" earlier that year, in which the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air Flight 665 over the Persian Gulf and killed 290 passengers. It would be an "accident" which President Bush rewarded the ship's captain for in 1990. It has been theorised that the real culprits were not al-Megrahi but a free-lance Palestinian group contracted by Tehran. If the Colonel falls and the regime caves in we could see the Libyan side of this story and compare it to the accepted version prevalent in the Western media. A collapse of the Libyan regime is not a "welcome" result of the Tunisia Effect in the West. For as Gaddafi has become a "reformed" figure in recent years and increasingly friendly to the powers, which he still lambasts from time to time as imperialists. Thus, the black and white picture of Omar Mukhtar with the Fascists who caught him appeared on Gaddafi's military garb in Italy not too long ago.

 Escape to Hell.

Around the same time that Bush was rewarding murderers, with the Medal of Legion, the Eastern bloc fell apart and soon the Soviet Union also fell. A major source of support that Gaddafi had fallen back on in the 80s was gone as Egypt became a client state for the US. In the 1990s Gaddafi's Libya became isolated and an easy target for economic sanctions. Eventually relations with the West began to "thaw" as Gaddafi jumped to condemn al-Qaeda after 9/11 and urged Libyans to give blood for the victims of the atrocity. Gaddafi was soon on board with the redeclared "War on Terrorism", which he used to crush the threat of Islamism to his regime. The Colonel was soon rehabilitated in the Western media as al-Megrahi was put on trial and billions in compensation was paid out to the families of the victims of the Lockerbie Bombing, large-scale arms contracts and oil deals worth billions would follow. Tripoli was soon flooded with European capital as the state imposed neoliberal structural reforms whilst hanging "radical Islamists" in public.

Over the years the Colonel has become increasingly excessively ostentatious to the point of farcical displays of anti-imperialist rhetoric and impotent spectacles, let alone the ridiculous costumes and titles. This narcissist is not only the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" but also the King of Kings in Africa and Imam to all Muslims apparently. The oppression and brutality on which Gaddafi has sustained his megalomania over the years has gone on long enough for the Libyan people. The erratic behaviour of the "Mad Dog" does not have many allies left in the world, he won't be joining Ben Ali in Saudi Arabia any time soon. The Libyan elite has been split over the recent massacres, which is the reason that some military personnel, government officials and even important tribes have abandoned Gaddafi. As the isolation of the Colonel increases and his options continue to dwindle, one cannot help but feel this man is most deserving. After all he has killed around 700 people in recent days to stop the movement from seizing the East and liberating Benghazi.

Libya has a per capita income of $12,000 which is the highest in Africa, though the regime favours the West of the country where the majority of capital is concentrated. The revenue from the 1.7 million barrels of oil exported every day accumulate in Western Libya, while a third of Libyans live in poverty. Tripoli has yet to fall to the movement for a free Libya, but a nearby city has reportedly fallen. Days ago at the Presidential Palace, Muammar al-Gaddafi blurted out "I am the one who created Libya, and I will be the one to destroy it." In his most recent speech he has talked of martyrdom. Hopefully this means he is up for being fired out of a cannon aimed at Silvio Berlusconi, especially as he evoked the resistance of the Libyan martyrs to the Italians. From where Gaddafi stands, with nowhere to flee, would it be better to burn out than fade away? A nihilistic stand-off by the Colonel would look more like a parody of the last days Hitler spent in the Führerbunker determined to take Germany with him. As Libyans are being killed in the streets of Tripoli and elsewhere.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Raiders of the Public Good.

Private Vices reap Public Benefits. 

Since the resurgence of market liberal thought in the late 1970s, we have seen the rise of neoliberalism as social democracy was "rolled back" toward the end of the Cold War by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. This served at first as an answer to the failure of institutions, public services and the welfare state to provide people with a better life. The ultimate aim being to tear down old bureaucracies, hand over the parts to the people and the forces of the market in order to liberate the individual and to produce a highly competitive market which automatically responds to the demands of the individual. Not society you notice, but the individual. For society did not exist according to the Thatcherites and in effect the Reaganites bought into this as well. The theories underlying the radical transformation of society that followed were based on a pessimistic view of human nature which it sought to predict through rational equations. The assumptions of human nature were a product of the paranoid climate of the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s.

In the late 1980s Thatcher sought to fundamentally alter the National Health Service and overhaul the medical establishment before replacing it with a brand spanking new system of efficient management. It would be a system in which all subjective values, which may corrupt the system, are stripped away and replaced with strictly rational methods along with mathematically defined performance targets and incentives to reward efficiency. The system was designed to push public servants to strive for efficiency and compete with one another by engineering the conditions of the free-market within organised medicine. Competition was created within the NHS through incentives combined with performance targets to recreate the pressures of the free-market. This would "liberate" the public servants from the control bureaucrats and mobilise self-interest in public health. The Thatcherites saw to it that the health-care system underwent a thorough process of marketisation, which would initiate the stealth privatisation of the NHS.

At the expense of society as a collective whole and notions of the public good were thrown out of the window with a cynical ferocity that identified all idealism as naivety. In the place of society a utopian vision was to arise, it would be an atomistic arrangement of free individuals interacting in the market place out of self-interest and whereby the flaws of democracy would be supplemented by market forces. In theory the market, as a medium of consent, would adjust to the consumers and produce what the public demanded. This would make the captains of industry not cold-hearted capitalists, but men of the people who had been "chosen" above the masses to such privileged status by the market. It would be the meritorious man and woman who would be elevated in this way. Just like the corporate raiders of the 1980s the Right acted to tear apart the post-war settlement and take us back to the halcyon days of the free-market in the 19th Century for the sake of Hayekian progress.

Alain Enthoven was the principle architect and theorist behind the early reforms to the NHS. Though Enthoven's ideas had first been applied in the US military-industrial complex at the height of the Cold War. Robert McNamara overlooked the transformation of the Pentagon which Enthoven initiated to replace patriotism with an analytical system of rational understanding rooted in mathematics. The view of human nature on which these equations depended originated in game theory as drawn up by John Nash, who worked at the RAND Corporation. By relying on the assumption that all human behaviour is embedded in the Cold War, the self-interest of each individual could be balanced in an equilibrium as the actions of every individual is perfectly adjusted to the actions of others. Nash was a paranoid schizophrenic at the time and believed he was part of a secret group sent to combat a Communist conspiracy. According to the analytical system McNamara attempted to run the Vietnam war with performance targets that led to American troops killing civilians and lying about the number of dead to sway the Body Count - a measure of the success of the war.

John Major took power after the fall of the Iron Lady in 1990 and the Grey Man promised the British people "nothing less than a revolution in the way public services are delivered, it will be the most comprehensive quality initiative ever launched." At the heart of Major's reforms was the same cynical liberal wisdom that saw the human being as a self-interested and manipulative unit. All the noise about the public good in the old institutions of the welfare state was hypocrisy, for Major it needed to be transformed into a strenuous and dynamic form of service. Major sought to utilise the public servants "liberated" by Thatcher and harness the power of self-interested individualism with the understanding that "private vices reap public benefits". To accomplish this the Major government set additional mechanisms to ensure a high standard of service and such standards were raised. All of these mechanisms and "tougher" standards were based in mathematical equations which were presupposed by the simplistic and dark view of human beings that came out of the RAND Corporation.

These market reforms were intensified under Tony Blair and were applied to every area of public service and government. As in the case of war the market reforms have proven to be unsuccessful in always resulting in the desired outcome. When targets were introduced to slash waiting lists the management of hospitals began to hire consultants to perform the easiest operations first whilst complicated operations were no longer prioritised. In some cases the management would even time an operation at a time when a patient were not present, this was done purely to cut waiting lists. The job of the "Hello Nurse" was invented to greet patients in casaulty which officially meant that the patients had been "seen" and could be removed from the waiting list. When the government then set a target to cut the number of patients waiting on trolleys, hospital management swiftly redefined trolleys as "beds" and the corridors as "walls" to justify removing the patients from the list. This kind of behaviour was incentivised as pay was attached to performance.

On both sides of the Atlantic the conservative and liberal administrations of the last 30 years have "rolled back" the welfare state in the name of unleashing individualism and the forces of the market. Power has been transferred from public servants to unaccountable bureaucrats in private companies for the sake of efficiency. The pressures of the markets were recreated within the internal market of public services through performance targets and incentives, which were calculated according to equations that were based on a simplified and bleak vision of human nature. The shift to supply-side economics and monetarism led to a mixed economy in which costs are socialised and profits are privatised. Finance became a central aspect of the economy and taxes were slashed for the wealthy whilst regressive taxes raised in many cases. Ultimately the ratio of public spending to GNP has increased since the 80s and all of these administrations have not actually decreased the size of government. The actions of these administrations are similar to that of the corporate raiders, who would buy the majority of shares in a company only to fire the workforce and sell it off bit by bit.

The UK coalition government are currently implementing a set of reforms, on top of the spending cuts, to public services and health-care. These reforms will transfer greater power from the state to the market, whilst new pressures are introduced into public work to drive for greater efficiency and competition. Public spending is being cut in the UK in order to cut taxes and taxes are being cut in order to cut spending in the US. The NHS is not being ring fenced, the reforms are not only about enhancing the marketisation of the Service and a stealth privatisation is underway. Just as there was talk of a Community Vibrancy Index under New Labour there is similar talk of a Happiness Index under the Con-Dem Coalition. David Cameron wants to end the state-monopoly on public services by giving the private sector the power to bid for the bulk of public work. These reforms amount to a "battering ram to break open monopolies" to quote the Prime Minister. If the market reforms to the NHS are allowed to pass the Service will be subject to greater pressures and the state bureaucracy will be replaced with an unaccountable bureaucracy in the private sector.

Related Links:

The Trap:
Fuck You Buddy!
The Lonely Robot
We will force you to be free

The Century of the Self:
Happiness Machines
The Engineering of Consent
There is a Policeman inside all our heads, he must be destroyed
Eight people sipping wine kettering

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Free the Weed!

For most people maintaining a prohibition on certain undesirable substances (e.g. cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis etc) just seems common sense. Even though after 40 years of a "War on Drugs" such illegal substances are now cheaper and stronger than before this so-called "war" was declared. In the early 70s the shift from the hippie pseudo-spiritualism to a strenuous hedonism was emerging. A bi-product of the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which is often looked back on as a spontaneous explosion of civil disobedience and sexual liberation that eviscerated the rigid traditions that had lingered on from the Victorian era for too long. This aspect of the 60s counter-culture has been assimilated into the dominant ideology, which might explain why drugs are cheaper and more potent today than they were 40 years ago. But this is also why today we have access to legal highs and cyber sex, only a step away from pornography and illicit drugs, the successes of the "War on Drugs" are easy to see.

The availability of drugs has increased, along with the potency of the substances, it's commonly accepted in nightclubs and at parties. Not to mention the black market that has been built by the criminalisation of such substances, the only forms of regulation and intervention in these markets are the police and in some parts of the world the drug trade has become a substitute for a welfare state. Still we hear the drug warriors argue against decriminalisation, usually with the help of tall straw-men and very slippery slopes. Take the common defence of marijuana illegality, that it's a "gateway drug". Ironically the criminalisation of cannabis has driven people from mild drugs to hard drugs. As cannabis is bulky and smelly, it is easier for the authorities to intercept which has inflated the price of cannabis along with the "risk factor" for criminals. Drugs like cocaine is worth more per ounce than cannabis and is easier to smuggle. Raids on dealers create "marijuana droughts" which can drive people onto harder and more addictive substances. Cannabis was not a "gateway drug" originally, but has become a gateway through criminalisation.

The impact on the developing world can be seen in that the drug trade alone accounts for 25% of the Mexican economy and over 50% of the Afghan economy, a lot of the revenue made from heroin trafficking undermines and corrodes civil society and the state itself. In such narco-states, the drug trade exists as an underground capitalist economy and partly serves as a substitute for welfare measures which are often lacking in such countries. The way drugs have been criminalised in these countries contain the drug trade as a black market monopolised by cartels who compete for control of the market. This leads to violence, which in turn leads to tighter policing of the lives of the poor and in turn generates extreme violence - as seen in Mexico where the bloodshed has been reaching new heights in recent years. The criminalisation of drugs in this way provides a "justification" for an interventionist police state, rigged with pretexts to detain and imprison unruly members of the superfluous population. A situation which has given the Colombian government "justification" to send death squads into slums as part of social cleansing.

The answer to the problems of narco-states are more complex than calls to simply legalise drugs, but we in the developed world do not face the same problems. For instance, it would be preferable to use the opium crops in Afghanistan to develop the pharmaceutical industry as opposed to the doomed policy of trying to eliminate the crop. The same argument can be made in regard to Mexico, where the "War on Drugs" has done nothing but penalise farmers. In a country like Britain it would preferable to decriminalise heroin as part of a rehabilitation programme, whereby heroin is prescribed to addicts who are then weaned off the drug gradually. The result of this would be to kill off the black market for heroin, as addicts would have access to a better quality of heroin for free and a route to a better life. No doubt the reactionary press would start foaming at the mouth "Why should I pay for their addiction?!" These hypocrites would try to engineer a moral panic whilst standing by a solution to drug addiction reminiscent of the gulag, at a huge cost to society.

The class aspect of banning a substance is too often overlooked. In 18th Century England there was a ban on gin, in those times it was cheaper than water and was drunk compulsively by working-class people. Whiskey was a rich-man's vice in those days and so gin was banned while whiskey was not. In the 20th Century racism came into play in drug laws, marijuana became a target in the US as it was smoked by Mexican and African-Americans.  In the US if you are convicted of possession of cocaine you will mostly spend a year in prison. But if you were convicted of possession of crack cocaine you could spend 10 years inside. There is a correlation between class and race, but the principle difference is that cocaine is snorted by rich whites and crack is smoked by poor blacks. As a result of the financialisation of the economy, not to mention lousy schools and a racist criminal justice system, African-Americans fall into the superfluous population of the US. The "rolling back" of welfare provisions has forced many impoverished black people onto crime, particularly drug crime, as a substitute for the loss in welfare as well as work.

Drug consumption does transcend class boundaries, it's usage among working-people is part of the reason for it's illegal status. Furthermore the illegal status of cannabis goes a long way to protecting the business interests of drug lords and cartels, just like the bootleggers and rum-runners of the Prohibition era, who make billions a year tax free from trafficking in cocaine and heroin. The legalisation of cannabis has progressive potential as the conditions for it's production can be created anywhere, it would be difficult to monopolise, low prices could be maintained and that would provide jobs for people. It's even possible to structure production and distribution along cooperative lines, without bosses and space for workers' democracy. It could be taxed and regulated, which could constrain the use of certain chemicals, restrict it's consumption to adults as well as to provide consumers with objective information on the effects of the drug.

The US government banned marijuana in 1937, after Congress declared that there is a link between marijuana use and mental illness. The declaration was based on the testimony of Dr James Munch, a pharmacologist working at Temple University, who testified that when he gave marijuana to dogs they went "insane". This was after a representative of the American Medical Association who claimed that there is no evidence that cannabis is harmful to the health of humans. Naturally it was the testimony of Dr Munch that was taken on board by policy-makers. Today the debate on cannabis legalisation has been thoroughly obfuscated to the point where many people believe that there is a clear link between cannabis use and schizophrenia. Firstly, schizophrenia is a rare condition so it is difficult to determine its causes. What we do know is that if you smoke cannabis excessively you are 2.6 times more likely to suffer from psychotic experiences than a non-smoker. Whereas, if you smoke tobacco you are 20 times more likely to develop lung-cancer than the average Cheech and Chong.

As for the claim that cannabis use would increase if it were legalised, and the problems it "causes" now would be exacerbated, during the Prohibition era in the United States there were higher levels of alcoholism than there was prior to the Volstead act. The flirtation with prohibition was a disaster in the US. It led to an unprecedented crime wave, thousands were left dead from gangs or from rotgut alcohol and nurtured a contempt for law among the population. Back then it was the divine mission of saving the people from "Demon Rum" that the Congress was embarking upon. Now the classification of cannabis is supposed to protect us from ourselves, to stop us from descending into a load of Zombies - to paraphrase Gore Vidal - and in our endless search of Doritos whilst constantly murmuring "groovie". Decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs, even as soft as cannabis, seems to be the last taboo, as gambling, alcohol, tobacco and pornography are readily available for every citizen - all of which can be addictive and destructive. For we are still deeply puritanical in some respects, though not puritan enough to be enraged at the depiction of women found on Page 3.

Related Links:
Estimating Drug Harms: A Risky Business?

Evidence Not Exaggeration
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937
Gore Vidal - Drugs: Case for Legalizing Marijuana
Milton Friedman - Why Drugs Should be Legalised?
The Six Groups who Benefit from Drug Prohibition

Monday, 14 February 2011

Long Live the Egyptian Revolution!

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
- Epitaph on a Tyrant, WH Auden
The original "day of departure" came in Egypt 11 days into the revolution and a massive demonstration gathered in Tahrir Square. Alas, Mubarak managed hung onto power much to the chagrin of the Egyptian people for another week. A 30 year dictatorship and the prospects of a family dynasty have been derailed for Hosni Mubarak after less than 20 days of protest. It looks as though Mubarak has been biding his time to see to it the loot can be secured - estimates of which range from $25 billion to $70 billion - and a successor can be found. Of course the Obama administration favoured an "orderly transition" from Mubarak to a "temporary" government headed by Omar Suleiman, a transition which would be purely symbolic and leave the neoliberal project unscathed. Suleiman is another military hard man and has served as the Chief of Military Intelligence. A closer reading of such a credential reveals Suleiman helped run the kidnapping and torturing ring, casually referred to as "rendition" in the West and sanctioned by the US in the name of the "War on Terror".

In the end, Hosni Mubarak was forced to leave without his dignity after attempting to bribe the people with pay raises and risible concessions to sustain his rule. Power has effectively been handed over to the military. The streets were soon filled with chants like "Egypt is free!" The endemic torture of civilians by the state is intolerable and has gone on long enough, without a peep of opposition or criticism in the West. This is a criminal regime which had children electrocuted in front of parents. But for Melanie Phillips at least Mubarak is "our nasty piece of work" and Glenn Beck has compared it to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, insinuating that Mubarak's fall will lead to World War III. Everyone from Islamists to gays has been persecuted by the ruling party, some held for decades in prisons like al-Gihaz. But for the Right the uprising is really about destroying Israel and undermining the greatness of the white man. This attitude is racist for it assumes the Arabs are incapable of a spontaneous mass-movement to pursue positive change in the Middle East.

The demands of the January 25th Leadership are as follows:
1. Repeal of the state of emergency, which suspends constitutional protections for human rights, immediately.
2. The immediate release of all political prisoners.
3. The setting aside of the present constitution and its amendments.
4. Dissolution of the federal parliament, as well as of provincial councils.
5. Creation of a transitional, collective governing council.
6. The formation of an interim government comprising independent nationalist trends, which would oversee free and fair elections.
7. The formation of a working group to draft a new and democratic constitution that resembles the older of the democratic constitutions, on which the Egyptian people would vote in a referendum.
8. Removal of any restriction on the free formation of political parties, on civil, democratic and peaceful bases.
9. Freedom of the press.
10. Freedom to form unions and non-governmental organizations without government permission.
11. Abolition of all military courts and abrogation of their rulings with regard to civilian accused.

Where are the neocons now? There is a dead silence from these people, no word of human rights or the promotion of democracy abroad. Instead these chickenhawks, who were so eager for us to invade Iraq for the sake of "freedom" and "democracy", are running with the line that a democratic Egypt will enable the Muslim Brotherhood to rule. Neoconservatives like Tony Blair described Mubarak as a "force for good" and Douglas Murray basically called for a "revolution without a revolution". Independence not Islamism is the real worry of these people. For these people a democracy ought to exist in Egypt, but only if American-Israeli interests in the region are not opposed by the elected government. Even though the Brotherhood has the support of less than 150,000 people in Egypt. The revolution is not just secular and democratic, it is calling for social justice. The "virus" has already spread, to paraphrase Kissinger, are protests in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and Syria. The Obama administration and the Cameron cabinet are currently pretending they were always on the side of the Egyptian people against a vile dictator, it's enough to make you sick.

There are still pro-democracy demonstrations being held in Egypt calling for free elections, the military regime should hold elections soon and prepare to hand over power. A democratic Egypt would not necessarily give birth to a new Islamic Republic, a broad coalition of opposition parties was formed in 2006 which is commonly ignored by the press. From the liberal Ghad Party and Nasserist Karama Party to the Revolutionary Socialists and Kefaya, not to mention the National Alliance for Change recently formed and the Tagammu Party. The worries about the Muslim Brotherhood are a disguised form of the fear of an independent state in the Middle East, which could set a positive example to neighbours as well as an organised opposition to Israel and maybe even a bulwark against neoliberalism. The main priority of the US is to secure the flow of 2 million barrels of oil a day through the canal, but also to ensure the tacit alliance between Egypt and Israel remains intact. As the revolution spreads across North Africa and throughout the Middle East, the likelihood of a violent counter-revolution is raised.
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquisable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fall'n on you:
Ye are many - they are few
- Mask of Anarchy, Percy Shelley
With Shelley's great poem in mind we can note that the lions have risen in unvanquisible number and have shaken their chains to earth like dew but still the West wonders "What are we to do?" It took a full on revolutionary convulsion to vomit Mubarak all over Uncle Sam's carpet in Egypt, but it is not over yet as Egypt is still waiting for it's first free elections. The transitional government has relaxed the curfew and has banned government officials from fleeing the country. The neoliberal project is under threat and the Israelis are still worried about "stability". Since the fall of Mubarak - who ought to be tried on Egyptian soil by Egyptians - the army has dissolved Parliament and the Constitution, which were both compromised to the interests of the NDP, but we can't overlook the fact that the military is dependent on the US for equipment and training not to forget $1.5 billion in funding. The presence of Suleiman in the shadows is a source of comfort for Washington and Tel Aviv, whereas the public presence of General Tantawi reassures the Egyptian people with his nationalist credentials.

It is possible that the counter-revolution is underway and that the Egyptian army are a willing participant in it, though it is hard to say at this point. What is definite is that the struggle is not over yet. Substantial political change can only come out of democratic change which can only be produced by revolutionary means at this point. Reform will not necessarily produce democracy and even if it does it will only be a shallow kind of democracy seen in the Philippines and Chile after the fall of Marcos and Pinochet. The fact that half of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day will not be changed by the "orderly transition" yearned for by the chickenhawks in the US and Britain. Democracy in the Middle East is only favoured in the press when it is beneficial to American-Israeli interests. People have not fought for centuries across the world for the right to vote only to see it rendered impotent. This is the reason that the way Egyptian elections were rigged in 2010 was such a travesty. All the while Western newspapers were more concerned with shark attacks off of the Egyptian coast.

It is still hard to believe that this grass-roots movement began in Egypt on Facebook in 2008, originally to support industrial action and the right to strike, following the arrest of Israa’ Abd el-Fattah. Both Facebook and Twitter were vital in the early days of the revolution, until the internet was blocked by the state. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be tweeted apparently. Though Juan Cole agrees that the base of the revolution is indeed the labour movement, Cole adds that the alliance between blue and white-collar workers (which has been vital to the pro-democracy movement) emerged in 2006. This solidarity eventually brought together not only textile workers and lawyers, but united the most militant sections of Egyptian society together with the most moderate against the ruling elite. The billionaires, a lot of whom have taken refuge in Dubai, will return and see no other alternative for capital accumulation than a close relationship with Western interests. The battle for political change may have been won, it's not clear yet, but the class war has yet to be.

Without pissing on the "strawberries" of this revolution let's look at the three possibilities of the consequences of the collapse of the Mubarak regime as seen up by Juan Cole. First of all, the Egyptian bourgeoisie and military nomenklatura around Mubarak survives him to retain more or less in power, and further protests over time are repressed. Secondly, new elections which are set upon by the Establishment and capital dominates these elections whilst the military remain a power behind the scenes. Thirdly, a genuine social and political revolution wherein substantial amounts of wealth and power are redistributed from the elites to the masses. In the time being, let's stand in solidarity with the people struggling for democracy in the Middle East and salute the victories thus far. May the revolution which began in Tunisia spread, as it has to Egypt, sweep away all the dictators of the Maghreb and the Middle East. It has been long enough and the region is in dire need of real change, economically as well as politically speaking.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Plato's Cave.

In the Republic Plato not only uses the sets out his vision of the ideal city-state, which would be the equivalent of drawing up a utopia today, which was an organic conception segmented into three parts that we might liken to castes or classes. Plato saw the state as organic in the way that it mirrored the tripartite model of a human being – reason, spirit and desire. The ideal society would be stratified into three classes along the same lines. The workers being desire, the guardians are spirit and the ruling class are reason. Plato had a specific idea for the rulers of this utopia, it would be a ruling class made up entirely of philosophers who would be able to steer society in the right direction.[1] The model for the ruling class in the Republic was the Spartan oligarchy (a stark contrast to the Athenian democracy) who had achieved a degree of unity through austere discipline, military training and communal living.[2]

In order to fully understand the notion of philosopher-kings and eventually the specific qualities which qualify such thinkers to rule, it’s vital to first understand the underlying theory – the theory of Forms – as well as the simile of the cave. According to the theory the senses can only inform us of a poor copy of reality, and not what the world really is like, only through reason can the world be understood for all it is. Everything is a shadow of its Form and each horse is a lesser version of a perfect horse, such a horse exists in a world of Forms which can only be perceived through reason alone.[3] In the cave there are prisoners who are being held in place with chains preventing them from escaping. In between them and a wall is a fire, the light of which projects shadows onto the wall. Everything from people to objects is understood by these people through these "projections" – who have been held captive here since childhood. The prisoners only really see the shadows of the world, but they think they are looking at the world as it is. When the chains are broken and one of these prisoners is liberated, the compelling light shining into the cave will initially distress him and the transition will be painful.

At first the freed prisoner will be unable to see the world as it is, because their eyes will have adjusted to the darkness of the cave, after the transition the prisoner will experience an “upward progress of the mind” and may eventually see the Form of the Good which is essential for rational thought. But an enlightened person breaking the chains of the prisoners to lead them out of the cave and into the real world might be killed by the newly freed prisoners. For the prisoners might be so embedded in the shadows of the cave that they will not want to be liberated. For this reason the prisoner, who is enlightened, may not be so willing to return to the cave especially after seeing the real world which might make him prefer to live, as Homer put it, like "a serf in the house of some landless man" than in the cave. This is the primary qualification of the philosopher to rule in the cave, the unwillingness to return to the darkness of the lower levels where the prisoners are still enthralled by shadows.[4] A similar sentiment to all of this was later expressed by Gore Vidal "Any American who is prepared to run for President should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so."

The philosopher is somewhat obligated to “return” to the lower levels and rule in the “cave”, regardless of their own unwillingness which is in itself a qualifying factor, because philosophers were “bred” and are “fully educated” to lead. In other words, their education and background has ensured a level of expertise and Virtue which enables them to govern in such a way as to benefit society as a whole. The Spartan oligarchs had been anti-intellectual, oppressive and militaristic. Plato thought these aspects could be avoided through such a political system which placed power in the hands of philosophers. Every citizen is a part of society and each belongs to one of the three parts of the hierarchy. No class of people, nor any particular individual, should be the focus of special treatment over the rest of society and it ought to be society as a whole that is the focus. Therefore philosophers can’t be left to live in perpetual contemplation and must lead as they have seen the Form of the Good. Though, the implications of the qualified philosopher-rulers are unsettling today as we know too well about authoritarian regimes.

It has been argued that the Republic is a philosophical precursor to forms of authoritarianism in the modern age, particularly as the philosopher-king is similar to the concept of a benign dictator. The complete absence of checks and balances on the edicts of the philosopher-kings and -queens would concern any liberal today. Karl Popper went as far as to claim that the Republic was the progenitor of 20th Century totalitarianism – even more fundamental than Nietzsche or Marx as others had claimed – from which Communism and Fascism were eventually spawned.[5] Ironically, Karl Popper was a member of the Mont Pelerin Society alongside prominent libertarians such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, both of whom were defenders of authoritarian states in Europe and Latin America along far less scrupulous grounds than Plato.[6] In theory a ruling class consisting of philosophers would be virtuous and not oppressive. It would be beneficial to the common people, whilst maintaining an orderly hierarchy, ensuring harmony through expertise and unity. Whether or not it would turn out like that in practice is another matter, especially as philosophers are not perfect figures and could easily advocate a disastrous measure.[7]

It’s important to note the circumstances of Plato’s life, we will assume what we know of his life is accurate of him in order to explore what influenced his philosophical opinions, especially when it comes to politics and the kind of society Plato had in mind in the Republic. Plato was an aristocrat, had he not been a philosopher he would have probably been a politician as he was related to various political figures linked through his uncle Critias and cousin Charmides to the ‘Thirty Tyrants’ who were installed through a coup supported by Sparta. The family ties to Sparta may explain Plato’s admiration for the oligarchy. As a young man he saw Athens defeated in war and may well have attributed the defeat to rise of democracy. As if Plato’s position in Athenian society was not reason enough to despise democratic principles Plato witnessed these same principles applied to condemn Socrates to death.[8] The disposition towards a benevolent authoritarianism in his work is easily understood within this context. It is not simply the case that Plato favoured a form of oligarchy, which placed not the rich in power but those rich in knowledge in power, over democracy. Both oligarchy and democracy had failed in Athens, leading either to oppression by the ‘Thirty’ or senseless results like the death of Socrates, Plato opted for an oligarchy with a high benchmark that would exclude almost all despots.

In regards to democracy, for Plato, it is not simply that the masses will make the wrong decision because they do not truly know what they want, but a cynical resignation which creates a gap between what the people actually want and the way the people vote. Take the 2005 General Election which Tony Blair came out as Prime Minister, even though he was regularly voted the most unpopular man in Britain, New Labour won the election because there was no way for the political discontent to be effectively expressed and ultimately turned into disillusionment. There is an awareness of this in the Platonic critique of democracy, the plurality of interests given representation in a democracy and the negotiation between such private interests leaves no room for Virtue. For Plato it was a matter of privileging Virtue above such a plurality. Similar instances of this have been seen in the Republic of Virtue that the Jacobins tried to create in France as well as many socialist revolutions that have sought to replace liberal democracy with a dictatorship of the proletariat.[9]

As Plato saw it the philosopher was qualified to rule because of an unwillingness which would prevent the power hungry from gaining power, the expertise philosophers had gained through a high standard of education and noble backgrounds would ensure a virtuous and harmonious rule in the Republic. Though this is a utopian vision, which Aristotle diverged from greatly and went on to argue that democracy was preferable to the other systems (oligarchy and aristocracy) and it would function best if inequality was eliminated.[10] The elimination of such inequality could resolve the problems Plato saw in the plurality and negotiations of democracy which left no room for Virtue. With this in mind it might be best to advocate freeing the prisoners in the cave.

[1] Plato, The Republic, Melissa Lane, Introduction (Penguin, 2007) pg.29-32
[2] Plato, The Republic, Melissa Lane, Introduction (Penguin, 2007) pg.14-17
[3] The Philosophy Book, W Buckingham, D Burnham, C Hill, PJ King, J Marenbon, M Weeks (Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2011) pg. 50-55
[4] Plato, The Republic, Melissa Lane, Introduction (Penguin, 2007) pg.240-248
[5] Plato, The Republic, Melissa Lane, Introduction (Penguin, 2007) pg.13-14
[6] Mises served as an economist for the Fascist regime of Austria in the 1930s, providing a theory of the 1929 Crash which held state intervention responsible, and praised Mussolini “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilisation. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.” Richard Seymour, The Meaning of David Cameron (Zero, 2010) pg.32-35
[7] For example, when Maoist China developed nuclear weapons and detonated its first atomic bomb in the 1960s it was a philosopher, namely Karl Jaspers, who was quick to advocate a large-scale atomic assault on China to prevent it from becoming a threat to world peace. Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (Verso, 2010) pg.10-11
[8] Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy (1946) pg.122-124
[9] Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (Verso, 2009) pg.136-137
[10] Aristotle, The Politics (Penguin, 1981) pg. 361-375