Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Protest, a Tragic Tradition.

"Kings and political leaders are remembered for the ideas they imposed on those they governed, but all real progress comes from ideas that begin at the bottom and force their way to the top." - Tony Benn

Why bother protesting? It won't do any good and nothing will change. Nothing ever changes and you best not to focus on meaningless attempts to bring about radical change. It's just a waste of time and effort. Those who commonly hold this position include potential fellow-travellers, the people who would be marching but don't see the point. It is a self-defeatist position in which the amount of change failed to be achieved is equal, regardless of whether or not we march and then from here it jumps to the conclusion that we might as well not bother. If people had not fought for the rights we enjoy today, such as the right to vote, we would not enjoy such privileges. This is the reason that voting is not just a right, it is a civic duty because it was gained after centuries of struggle and to not vote would be to trivialise the suffering to which we owe the vote. Radical change comes from the organised masses and rises to the top, it's true that this is not easily accomplished but it is the only way forward. To sit in apathy and avoid protest would be to assume the inherent goodness of history, that attempts to push for change are unnecessary.

It is not that there is never progress but that progress comes at a horrifying price and an even greater debt, to the struggles and misery of the past. There is nothing inherently good about history and it is not a tale of progress, in fact we move from one form of exploitation to another. But without pain and without sacrifice we would have nothing. Whilst this is not a case of "the ends justify the means", every advance made by civilisation which lead us to new possibilities of emancipation. We ought not forget that each step forward is also an advance in barbarism, let alone that these advances often arrive drenched in blood and gore. The capitalist system pushes this to a surreal extreme and so demands a dialectical analysis of it's detractors. To arrive at a positive outcome we have to be dragged through hell first, kicking and screaming. Resistance is not comfortable but uncomfortable. For the benefits of individual freedom and rights we pay in blood and sweat. This is the reason that activism and civil disobedience are part of a tragic tradition, in the same vein as Marxism.

Through the tremendous toil and misery of millions in past centuries the material resources, which may provide a pre-condition for socialism, are refined and accumulated. The amassed material resources are the fruit of slavery, the price of progress is suffering and injustice. The liberal order of rights and freedoms is predicated on a past of slavery and feudalism which had to be transformed, often through ultra-violence, into a neutral framework for free individuals to compete in the marketplace. Though it is not clear-cut, if you look at the US slavery lingered on into the 20th Century. Similarly socialism is predicated on the surplus amassed under capitalism, gained at the exploitation and oppression of human beings. This is not to say that socialism is guilty of the crimes committed under capitalism, nor are those crimes justified by the advent of socialism. Whether or not the price of such immense suffering in history would be worth the end is debatable. After all the blood spilt by countless generations that had to be forced brutally into subservience is irretrievable.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Thoughts on 26th March.

Ye are many - they are few.

The demonstration organised by the Trade Union Congress with the Coalition of Resistance on March 26th was far higher than expected. Initial expectations were for 100,000 but it looks like there may have been over 500,000+ on the demonstration. It was a grand spectacle which symbolises the potential for the working-class to act in it's interests and as a class for itself. It consisted of trade unionists, students, feminists, Greens, socialists, Labourites, anarchists and sympathetic religious groups. There were also unaligned leftists (like myself) and people who do not usually march, like librarians, teachers, railway workers, bin-men and even single-mothers. Nearly 1,000 coaches were booked and people from across Britain came to demonstrate against the cuts. The huge march came through Whitehall and culminated in a rally in Hyde Park, at which Ed Miliband spoke and compared this movement with suffragism, civil rights and the anti-apartheid struggle. This ignores the fact that all of those struggles were won through committed civil disobedience.

In Trafalgar Square there was a lively atmosphere, a great deal of optimism due to the size of the protests and the spectrum of opinion represented on the day. From where I was stood it seemed like a predominantly union-based march, in terms of banners at least. The members of various leftist organisations congregated and leafleted in the Square, at which point something rather strange occurred. A lone protester waving around a sign that read "Socialism is Theft" and as we found out when we spoke to him that he was an anarcho-capitalist opposed to all forms of government, deeming any form of state to be "socialist". We left him to the many socialists circling him. The sign soon disappeared and he moved on, later claiming to have been spat on repeatedly. Later we saw a procession of activists in black, faces covered and waving anarchist flags heading through Trafalgar Square towards Oxford Street. Later I ran into Greg Philo, a professor at the University of Glasgow who claims to have come up with a better alternative to cuts.

In a media frenzied masturbate-a-thon over the havoc reaped by anarchists on Oxford Street, the worry about the damage done to the Queen's beloved marmalade and the broken windows of banks. But it is always maintained that there is a "violent minority" which spoils it for the peaceful majority. The press needs a "violent minority" to focus on and skim over the issues, in this sense the actions of anarchists were a harmful distraction. If it was not a "violent minority" it would be something else that the press would fixate over in order to dismiss the goals of the demonstration as utopian. This is especially true of the right-wing press, who depicted angry chants at Aaron Porter as anti-Semitic. If the demonstrations can't be dismissed face on the media will act to ignore the march completely. We often want the thing itself without the harsh element, so we buy decaff coffee and Bibles with all the misogyny censored. Here a chunk of the movement wants demonstrations without the acts of vandalism to public property and clashes with police etc.

The violence on Oxford Street was subjective violence, in that it disturbs life as we know it. It is not even close to the scale of the objective violence of cuts, which will dispossess millions of people, or the slaughter of Afghan civilians - both of which are totally ignored. This is the violence which the Con-Dem Coalition stands for, not smashing windows but shooting Afghan farmers. Yes, the anarchists trashed fancy shops and sadly police officers were hurt. But who will be hurt by the decline in standards of health-care and education in this country. The standard of living will be lowered for a great deal of people, opportunities removed, a greater gulf between rich and poor explodes and even life spans shortened. The only reason that violent acts are condemned by the Establishment is because it is violence against the system and not on the behalf of the system. Accordingly, smashing windows at Millbank to defend the welfare state is more violent than bombing dozens of children in Afghanistan in the name of counter-terrorism.

The original plan was for an occupation of Trafalgar Square over night, though 4,500 police officers went in and "dispersed" the hundreds still in the Square after the vast majority of activists had moved. Though some would say it was more like a party than an occupation. A similar protest was held by UK Uncut on Oxford Street, though for the good of consumerism it was soon cut short by the police. According to Laurie Penny, the police crackdown began with an attempt to arrest a man suspected of defacing shop windows and a scuffle followed on into a fight. The reaction of riot police was to swarm in, batons and shields first! The situation quickly deteriorated, with both sides panicking and resorting to force - mind you, the police were best prepared for it. Soon the Square is closed off before arrests can be made. We should keep in mind the stories of Jody McIntyre, Alfie Meadows and many others when we hear the press telling us that the police were outnumbered and injured by activists. At the same time, we should note the student protests seem to have led to greater momentum in the anti-cuts movement and we have to keep going. The government can be defeated.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Britain is not Broke.

 A Note on an Alternative to Cuts.

During the national demonstration organised by the TUC I ran into Greg Philo, the man behind a very interesting alternative to austerity measures. Philo offers a tax-based alternative to the slash and burn solution of the Coalition. After all we do live in the sixth richest country in the world, so it would seem strange to say that "all the money has run out." The richest 10% of Brits have accrued £4 trillion in wealth, with an average of £4 million per household, it is mostly concentrated in paintings, antiques and pensions. Not to mention in property and financial assets, both of which might be linked to inflated property prices and the financial crisis. Keep in mind that the total personal wealth of the UK is £9 trillion and the bottom half of society has less than 10% of that wealth. Funnily enough, a visitor to this blog implied this proposal was "something similar" to what the National Socialists initiated in Germany. Apparently Hitler was clearly trying to combat a national debt when he was persecuting the Jews. But I digress from right-wing hysteria to the details of the proposition.

It would be a one-off tax of 20% on the wealth of the richest 10% could rake in an estimated £800 billion. The tax can be paid off over time, a lot like a student loan for riches, with a low rate of interest or even make it a charge on their property after they have passed on (if they wish to do so). With calls to "Tax the Rich!" it is not surprising that this proposal would be particularly popular. According to YouGov, 74% of the population would support such a tax and only around 10% are strongly opposed to the idea. No doubt the proposal has the disapproval of politicians and the commentariat, with Labourites differing and Conservatives shouting about "death tax". It would have the TaxPayers' Alliance foaming at the mouth, let alone the 18,000 people who support and donate to the Alliance. The common argument against the proposal would be that it will drive away Britain's best, while it's true that some people could leave it seems unlikely that 6 million people would flee to Belize to avoid the tax.

Interestingly, it was the high earners sampled in the YouGov poll who were slightly more supportive of the policy than the poor. The reason being that the social disorder which may result from cuts could have negative consequences on the stock market. The country's resources have been directed to inflated property values, which is where fat cat bonuses end up. A tax of this kind could help recirculate this "dead money" and that would stimulate economic growth. The people who would pay this tax will not miss the money, in fact the 20% paid could be regained in the long-term from a consequently stabilised stock market. Note that the Conservative Party only have 3% more votes than they had in 2005, which was the year when Tony Blair won an election on less votes than Joe McElderry. So the mandate of the Coalition to initiate cuts is highly questionable, especially given the unpopularity for the complicit role of the Liberal Democrats. Economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz are wary of the austere craze sweeping the West at the moment.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Hitch is Dead.

By Hitch is dead, I mean that the Hitchens who was once wrote alonside Alexander Cockburn for The Nation and stood with Noam Chomsky at conferences is no more. In this sense Christopher Hitchens has been a zombie for quite some time. In death he is, what he dreads so much, a cliché. As the soixante-huitard turned chickenhawk known as Christopher Hitchens may not live to write the obituary of Henry Kissinger. Recently Hitch (his new nickname) was in a debate with Tony Blair on whether or not religion is a "force for good". Ironically Blair thinks that Mubarak was a "force for good", but still we're too overlook the criminal and immoral nature of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. A debate over whether or not Blair is a "force for good" would make the supposedly 'radical' Hitchens appear as he is, thoroughly and blindly conservative. That reminds me, before we get our trousers off, to point out that the above picture is inaccurate as Christopher Hitchens is actually pro-life and is only permissive of abortion out of pragmatic reasons.

I have meant to write an article on Mr Hitchens for a while, especially since he charged Gore Vidal as a conspiracy theorist in his usual modus operandi in February of last year. A great irony considering Hitch modelled himself on Gore Vidal, going as far as to compare his admiration for Vidal to "penis envy". But as a result of my busy schedule at the time I put off the article to summer about the time when Hitchens discovered he had cancer. This put me off, as Alexander Cockburn pointed out that Hitchens "waited til his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly". Then again I've never bought into the idea that we shouldn't speak ill of the dead and dying just out of courtesy. This is on top of the fact that Hitch has kindly pointed out that his "attack" on Edward Said was actually a critical review of Said's work and was released with the 25th year since the publication of Orientalism - not with Said's ill health.

If we want to talk seriously about Hitchens we must take note: it is no coincidence that the liberals are increasingly fixated with secularism, while the radical Left becomes interested in theology. Nor is it coincidence that Christopher Hitchens has drifted to the Right over the last 20 years. Both of these have come after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War which heralded the end of history as Fukuyama put it. The old ideological struggles were over, the power of the market and liberal democracy had triumphed over all other systems. By 1989 CHitchens, who was in Romania at the time, had been involved in Third Camp politics of the Left for over 20 years. Originally aligned with the International Socialists which stood in opposition to Really Existing Socialism as well as capitalism. Later Hitch turned towards democratic socialism. Note the prominence of leftist men of action, as well as of the pen, namely Trotsky and Orwell.

In spite of giving a pep-talk to the Bushites in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and actively defending Bush as a viable alternative to the Democrats, on issues like Palestine, he still insists that he is a radical leftist. Hitchens reserves the label of "cliché" to pin on those who accuse him of becoming a conservative. It would seem as though Hitch can't stand the idea of being looked back on as a socialist who became a reactionary in later life, a cliche if there ever was one. So out of desperation Hitchens tries to hold together a "leftism" of sorts. To clarify this version of "leftism" that Hitchens buys into, it is so vacuous and hollow that it is possible to be conservative and adhere to it. For Hitchens there is no chance of a working-class movement developing, that could replace the international movement of the 20th Century. At the void where there should be a conspicuous socialist alternative to the market economy Hitch points and shouts that Karl Marx underestimated the "revolutionary" nature of the capitalist system.

All the while he labels the anti-globalisation movement conservative for it's nostalgic for a pre-industrial world. There is a ring of truth to such claims, but the conclusion drawn by Hitchens is not entailed by them. Revolutionary America has replaced the October Revolution for him, the jump has been made from Leon Trotsky to Thomas Jefferson. The admiration for George Orwell still lingers on, one of the more conservative figures in socialism. As Richard Seymour has pointed out Hitch still buys into a scholastic type of Marxism which singles out the US as the major force of historical progress, as the USSR is gone, against the forces of reaction. In this struggle against reaction, e.g. al-Qaeda, Hitchens has adopted the language of 19th Century imperialism. Recall the words of Mill "Despotism is a legitimate form of government in dealing with barbarians, provided that the end be their improvement." The same thought-process is in Hitchens' support of atrocities in Iraq.

Rather than taking these problems as reason for the Left to "begin again", as Slavoj Žižek argues, Hitchens offered no solution and opts for identity politics. Specifically New Atheism, which is an endless intellectual war against religion in the name of Progress. Note Progress, in the Herbert Spencer sense, with a capital 'P' that holds all those Victorian connotations of liberal interventionism and free enterprise. The faith in historical Progress is a major part of the identity politics which Hitch now prescribes. In his endorsement of the "War on Terrorism" he went as far as actually delivering a pep-talk to the Bushites. To paraphrase Terry Eagleton, he's gone from dining with repulsive fat cats and giving them a piece of his mind to just dining with repulsive fat cats. Hitch has criticised the Bush administration in retrospect, as "impeachable" and "incompetent", whilst expressing modest regrets over Iraq (that the conflict strengthened Iran). But these are meaningless gestures, that have been brought on only by the misadventure itself, ignorant of the conditions under which the invasion was pursued.

It was GK Chesterton who said "Men who begin to fight the church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the church… The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them." The same is true in vice versa, that the fanatical defenders of religion have ruined religious things. The terrorists are prepared to destroy this world for love of another world, the warriors on terror are prepared to do away with democracy out of a rejection of the Judeo-Islamic civilisation. The ultimate paradox being that some of them love human dignity so much that they are even ready to legalise torture to defend it. In other words, to defend Western values we must infringe upon those values relentlessly. This could not be demonstrated more clearly than when Fallujah was virtually torn apart, killing 6,000 and forcing 150,000 to flee, Christopher Hitchens remarked "the death toll is not nearly high enough... too many [Jihadists] have escaped."

Out of his enthusiasm to invade Iraq to fight dictatorship and fundamentalism in the name of democracy and freedom, Hitchens has flung away such values and ideas. Free and democratic elections were only held after a great deal of resistance to the occupation from the Iraqi people, the aim of regime change was not to hold elections but to install a softer Saddam. Freedom and human rights are hardly flourishing in the "fledgling democracy", which is why Muntadhar al-Zaidi was tortured. Before free elections could be held the economy was overhauled, mass-privatisation and deregulation handed over the country's public services to the forces of the market without a mandate from the people for such policies. 80% of the oil was divided up, not by the "invisible hand", between American and British companies. Corporation tax was slashed and loopholes prepped to allow multinationals to transfer all profits out of Iraq untaxed. All the while companies like Halliburton and Bechtel lined up for multi-billion dollar contracts handed out by executive order.

This is the intellectual death of Christopher Hitchens, it converged several years ago with the beginning of an unjustifiable slaughter in the Middle East, the bloated corpse has been floating around face-down for quite some time now. The corpse has drifted so far to the Right it can no longer be turned from this trajectory and can only decompose along the way. It is ironic that a former Trotskyist cannot see how one can oppose both American imperialism and Islamist terror, you simply have to take a side and it better be the right one. The events of 9/11 tore apart the fantasy of American immortality and invulnerability, someone else must die and for the sake of public relations the Other slaughtered is always the bad guy. The Other being the hundreds of thousands of innocents dispossessed and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hitch has secured his special place in the commentariat as a cheerleader for war and oppression. A contrarian so contrarian he hardly realises he is a right-winger even after voting for George the Anointed.

The Narcissist Chef and the Oliver Army.

The Messiah is Back!

Cower, brief mortals, in the face of Jamie Oliver, the kitchen-dwelling Messiah who will lead you away from your life of sinful indulgence and into the promised land of raspberry vinaigrette and shaved ginger in everything. After smiting the Turkey Twizzler from our school kitchens, Jamie has set his shoulder to the wheel to rid the world of fat people forever. And he’s absolutely right to do so. Those fucking fatties, who needs them? Wasting space, sweating profusely, clogging up malls, encouraging rogue parts of the brain to visually speculate on their sex life, I hate those fat bastards. And Jamie’s got help; David Starkey, an arsehole with horn-rimmed glasses, taking a break from taking massive liberties with history and annoying everyone with even the vaguest knowledge of the Tudors, has decided to join the crusade against the well fed.

So we’ve got not one, but two celebrities telling us that lard-arses need to slim down or risk a trip to the fat-gulag, and they’re damn right to do so. If any of our readers are fat, then we want them to put down this paper and go be fat someplace else. Now. NOW! SCHNELL! The one word that keeps echoing inside the cranium whenever Jamie Oliver does anything these days is “Masturbation”, of a vigorous and mightily offensive variety (except for Jamie’s ego). He just jerks and jerks and jerks until his great pillow-like face is puffy and red and the nation is on its knees lapping up his ejaculate and crying for more, because it’s as delicious as one of his runny meals.

Really, there’s so much wrong with his “Dream School” (bearing in mind that dreams aren’t real, and can be extremely harrowing) that we would need a flow chart rather than an article to show all the ways. For one thing, it’s cropped up at a bad time for education, and the government, rather than funding a proper school with real teachers for a year, is blowing just as much money on a weeklong school with celebrity teachers touted as “brilliant minds”. Ellen Macarthur sat on a boat that sailed itself, eating muesli bars and intermittently bursting into tears for a few weeks, and now she’s a brilliant mind. I spend all my time in my apartment eating Pot Noodles and having intermittent psychotic breaks. How long is it until I’m declared a “brilliant mind” by the middle-class twat brigade? Or perhaps you’d prefer Alistair Campbell, architect of New Labour, spin doctor and professional goat-fuck? Perhaps Simon Callow, a shrieking ponce masquerading as an actor. Still not satisfied? We’ve got Cherie Blair, who I just can’t look at anymore after the descriptions of the filthy Catholic sex she shared with our erstwhile Prime Minister. This immediately leads us back to that little man with blood on his hands who still hasn’t learnt that you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it suck you off. But we digress…

So, we’ve assembled our rogues gallery of “brilliant minds” we proceed to browbeat kids into swallowing the ideals that Oliver espouses. And it’s utterly, utterly harrowing to watch. The sheer moral presumptuousness of it all is enough to make us spit out our Turkey Twizzlers, compounded with the horrific bigotry against people who are more heavy-set than the national average which curdles the blood. Jamie Oliver isn’t doing this out of goodness. He’s doing it because he’s a zealot. He knows better than you, and he’s going to make you follow his ideals because you’re a moron. There’s also the aforementioned self-glorification. His masturbatory ideals aren’t marketed to the people he’s trying to convert, they’re made for all the upper-middle class mothers with small children called Jake, driving around in Chelsea tractors with the radio perma-locked to The Archers, who can nod sagely whenever Jamie declares that fat people should be locked up until they learn, the stupid fat cunts.

The Oliver Twizzler.

What Mr. Oliver and the Twat Brigade have missed is the fact that people have every right to be fat. More than that, the fact that the working classes can afford to be well-fed, and can afford to have a constant supply of food, is a sign that our society is truly successful. Jamie Oliver is doing what Morgan Spurlock did in the USA; having a smug little laugh behind his sleeve at the lower classes, and he should be ashamed of himself. While people of all incomes can afford the occasional McDonald’s or KFC meal, not everyone is able to afford fresh imported ginger or cilantro dressing to drizzle over their noisettes of goat’s cheese and beetroot quiche.

Jamie’s oft-touted line that “people in Africa eat better than we do” is either grossly misinformed at best or a fucking insult at worst. He’s living the celebrity lifestyle as the Yuppie Messiah, and has seemingly forgotten that people just can’t relate to the kind of ideals that he’s spouting. At the same time Oliver seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that in more unequal societies there are higher obesity rates, which we’re all aware of whenever we picture the average Yankee though Jamie’s head seems to be devoid of such imagination. Celebrity chefs are on TV to turn cooking into a spectator-sport that can fill in the innumerable gaps between adverts – which are what really matter to the producers – they’re not there to save us all from the horrors of cholesterol. The famous school dinners campaign which “liberated” our generation from the Turkey Twizzler (which were delicious by the way) and in the end it only succeeded in driving people to ingenious lengths of smuggling junk food into the glorified factory farms for little robots, otherwise known as primary and secondary schools. Just like with obesity there are real problems in education, which cannot be resolved through nutrition and narcissistic feel-good trips.

In education there is a contradiction between jumping through hurdles, by memorising what is just needed to pass exams and then regurgitating on command, versus the kind of critical thought essential to education. Many good teachers try to stimulate thought and creativity, which is often incongruous to the rigid curriculum of ideas of a few “brilliant minds” that we must dutifully ingest. Rather than looking to resolve this contradiction, which often produces conformity on mass, Jamie Oliver emerges with a “quick-fix” solution to massage his ego. Note that this is at a time when pressures of intellectual conformity are being intensified by the government. Funding for the humanities is being cut whilst science and maths are being prioritised, because innovation and creativity in science and maths will contribute to the running of the economy whereas sociology just might lead to greater criticism of the economic order. In the midst of this Jamie Oliver affectively jumps on the Tory bandwagon to have kids swallow the ideas of the ‘brilliant minds’.

At the risk of sounding cold, callous and malicious, which we are, we would not hesitate to say that this whole Dream School project has only redoubled our desire to see Jamie Oliver lowered into a gigantic meat grinder and then moulded into an enormous Oliver Twizzler (please, sir, I want some more) after which we can have David Starkey fired out of a Napoleonic cannon into the side of the HMS Victory, Ellen Macarthur can be placed in a death maze, and Alistair Campbell can be repeatedly kicked in the crotch to the tune of ‘Things can Only get Better’. All of which would conclude with Robert Winston being sawed in half in the name of making science ‘fun’ for kids. We hate to be less eloquent than normal, but Jamie Oliver, you can fuck off.

Note: Originally written by JT White and Josh Ferguson for the Heythrop Lion about a week ago.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

In the Temple of Stanley Kubrick.

Kubrick's filmography spans many genres and themes, from horror to comedy and war to costume drama. A multitude of themes and messages can be found in these films, often concealed through semiotics and steganography, in Kubrick's works. Kubrick's first big hit Paths of Glory which, as  noted by Žižek, was a pacifist film in that soldiers are depicted as exposed to suffering and death without meaning as sacrificial lambs slaughtered for "an obscure and manipulated Cause." Contrast this with Spielberg's Schindler's List in which the Nazis represent the material rage of the paternal superego and Schindler is the paternal figure of the Jews, who are helpless children for which Schindler has be transformed into a responsible father. As Hannah Arendt pointed out that there is nothing fundamentally evil about the character of bureaucrats like Adolf Eichmann. The psychological and personal profile of Eichmann tells us nothing of why he committed such atrocities against Jews. Similarly the attempt by Spielberg to investigate Amon Göth as a person and not a cog in the most homocidal regime in history.

The work of Kubrick is far less simplistic and can actually convey fascinating ideas to the audience. Just take 2001: A Space Odyssey which begins with the dawn of man, the apes handling bones and encircling the monolith. Near the end of 2001 we encounter the imponderable X, which Lacan would describe as objet petit a, when the view penetrates the monolith and an intense abstract visual sequence follows. It soon turns to a hyper-realist representation of fantasy-space. As Ager pointed out, the monolith of 2001 is actually symbolic of the cinema screen and correlates with the fetishisation of art that Walter Benjamin identified within culture. Originally art became fetishised out of the way it exists in one place and can be seen only in that place at any one time. Through its own uniqueness in space and time, the work of art resists becoming truly available to the rabble. This is captured by the incomprehensible nature of the monolith and it's unexplained fetishisation by apes and spacemen alike, which is constant throughout. In a sense it is a meta-fictional aspect of the film, it's presence an insightful joke about art at the expense of the viewer.

On this blog I intend to review in depth specific films and novels, in the past the works of Chuck Palahniuk and JG Ballard been the subject of articles. There will no doubt be many more analyses on this blog, especially when it comes to artists of Kubrick's calibre. So far I have looked in depth at The Shining and Full Metal Jacket so far, both of which are adaptations of books and great examples of the two genres of war and horror:
This is Vietnam, the Movie!

These two articles look at the films in socio-political terms. In The Shining the "founding crimes" of the American Republic emerge from the elevator as a river of blood, whilst Kubrick ignores the perspective of the victim in his take on Vietnam - with unsettling implications. The critical look at Full Metal Jacket is appropriate as it is devoid the bravery shown previously to fill The Shining with hints and themes related to the genocide of Native Americans. A general suspicion of all forms of authority runs through Kubrick's work, although his earlier films are more liberal than his later movies. From lampooning a campaign by the John Birch Society against fluoridation in Dr Strangelove. Though this suspicion of authority led him to permit the atrocities committed against the Vietnamese in the name of anti-Communism. The mockery of the red fear rampant in America throughout the Cold War is almost totally absent, except in the form of the drill instructor's absurd jingoist rhetoric.

It also may be the reason for the conspiratorial themes throughout many of Kubrick's films, which were displayed most overtly in Eyes Wide Shut. In a scene reminiscent of the widespread rumours of orgies, organised and attended by the KGB, in Stalinist Russia the super-rich and powerful meet to engage in ritualistic sex. The faults of the system cannot be a result of a systemic flaw that inevitably produces certain consequences over time. Instead, there must be some meddlesome entity which disrupts the system and must be stopped. For Kubrick is the authorities, who are responsible for nuclear weapons and indulge in orgies at an obscure estate in New York. At the same time, The Shining reflected the emergence of the angry white male phenomenon which would dominate American politics years later. It would represent a new take on the right-wing authoritarianism Kubrick mocked in Dr Strangelove. Except it was Timothy McVeigh who learned to love the bomb in the 1990s.

The Time for Resistance.

On Saturday 26th of March there will be a national demonstration in London led by the TUC in opposition to the austerity measures that are being imposed by the Con-Dem Coalition. It will be a massive demonstration led by trade unions, modest estimates of how many people will turn up range from 100,000 to 250,000. Though it has been in preparation since November and could be much bigger. The dust has yet to settle since the economic crisis, which led to the collapse of New Labour and the Right quickly tried to reconstitute itself as a Liberal-Conservative coalition. But the dust still has yet to settle from the economic crisis and the attempt by the government to reaffirm the system is still ongoing. A rise in racist populism could lead to a successful reconfiguration in the political class, which might push through the cuts whilst playing the poor against one another. But there is a genuine opportunity for a left-wing realignment to defend the welfare state, public services and trade unions against the Coalition.

Despite the party-line accepted in the media there is an alternative to spending cuts and regressive taxes. There are numerous facts that are absent in the press and for if these facts were widely available there would be no hope of the cuts being imposed. Here are 5 reasons why the cuts are unnecessary and ideological:
1. In 2010 government debt amounted to about 70% of GDP, whereas the budget deficit is 11% of GDP, just compare this figure to 1945 when the debt was 260% of GDP. Note that in the late 1940s the welfare state was established and the NHS was founded. From 1920 to 1960 the debt never fell below 100% and it was only in the 1970s that it dipped below that. Under the Thatcherites government debt was shrunk to 35% in 1990, whilst wages stagnated, inequality exploded and social democracy was "rolled back". The debt is not enormous by historical standards.
2. According to  the IMF World Economic Outlook Database, in April 2010, the UK has the lowest government debt as a proportion of GDP amongst the G7 countries: the US, Canada, Germany, Britain, Japan, Italy and France. So it is not true that the UK is in one of the worst situations, in terms of debt, in the world.
3. The examples of Greece and Ireland as a "warning" of what might happen, if we don't cut, are inappropriate. As the British situation differs greatly, for instance the majority of the UK's debt is internal to the country and not owed to foreign financiers. The government debt has a maturity rate of 12 years, which means the debt is long-term not short term unlike Ireland, Greece and Portugal where the debt maturity is around 6 years. This means that the UK is capable of financing its debt on a sustainable basis.
4. The increase in public spending seen in the early years of New Labour, as well as a surplus early on, but this was from historically low levels of spending for around 20 years. The biggest lie is that spending was out-of-control under New Labour, spending as a proportion of GDP was far lower in the 2000s than at any time in the 60s.
5. Economic growth is generated by exports, investments, consumption and public spending. In the UK exports have been in decline for decades, consumption is driven mostly by various forms of credit as wages have slowed in growth. Investments and public spending are vital to maintain economic growth. To fill the holes created by a recession governments traditionally provided stimulus packages to increase public spending, to facilitate the increase of investment and consumption. There is little evidence that households and businesses are ready to fill in the holes left by the recession, note this is essentially what all the talk of the "Big Society" amounts to.

The deficit is the consequence of the recession, as the collapse of companies led to an increase in unemployment and government revenue from taxes went into decline. As a result the rate of public spending, which had risen steadily with growth and inflation, became temporarily unsustainable. Normally tax-revenues increase as public spending rises, but the collapse of tax-revenues in a recession creates or exacerbates a budget deficit. Though at the current rate of taxation billions are being lost through loopholes, estimates range from £30 billion to £125 billion. The cuts will lower the rate of public spending to the unusually low level of tax-revenues in a recession. A more tried and tested approach would be to increase the rate of expenditure to create jobs, which would boost demand as well as lead to an increase in tax-revenue that would effectively pay for the deficit over time. There is no crisis, there is a problem and that problem can be resolved over time. This is not a radical proposal, but a Keynesian alternative to the slash and burn policy offered by the Coalition. For more information on alternatives to cuts see Can't Pay, Won't Pay!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Intervention without Illusions.

Imperial Arrogance.

The history of Western imperialism could be chartered as a series of humanitarian missions gone "awry" and adventures of liberal interventionism. Every war is supposedly a war of self-defence or of noble intention. The calls to intervene in Libya are hardly any different here. After so many years of economic support to Gaddafi the West calls for intervention once the regime lost control of the country. The conflict affected the flow of Libyan oil, at a time when there was growing concern of a potential oil shock, the rebel forces have agreed to respect old relationships with oil corporations. This is the same reason that the French were quick to recognise the coalition based in Benghazi. Gaddafi had outlived his usefulness and had become a blockage to the neoliberal project, the sooner the regime in Tripoli is toppled the sooner that the oil trade can resume business as usual. The only hope Gaddafi has of keeping power is to crush the uprisings in oil rich areas of Libya. Only then might, and that's a big might, the support shift in favour of Gaddafi and against the rebels.

The West has an ignoble record of military intervention, whereby the soldier and the policeman hold the "native" down while the businessman rummages through his pockets. This is imperialism, whether old or new, it has not changed much. The 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was illegal as well as immoral. The slaughter, displacement and dispossession of millions in Iraq are the result of such intervention. It has to be pointed out that there are numerous differences between the situation in Libya and the imperialist invasion of Iraq. In Iraq there was no grass-roots based democratic movement pushing for social justice that could be empowered by a benign intervention. Let alone the crusade for oil that took place in 2003, which opposed to democracy and social justice. The country and the regime had been crippled by war and economic sanctions. It is true that if there had been no invasion Saddam Hussein would have remained in power, though the recent uprisings could have overthrown the regime.

The Arab League supports intervention, though it should be noted that these Arab states are dictatorships backed by the US. These regimes are actively trying to crush the uprisings which threaten the established order. These are not the friends of democracy and neither are they the friends of Gaddafi. King Abdullah has a personal hatred for the obnoxious Colonel, who tried to have him assassinated in 2010 and represents a secular nationalist model that is the traditional enemy of Islamist monarchy. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are actively helping to stifle an uprising in Bahrain, no doubt with the full support of the US, but there are no calls to intervene in Bahrain. The logic of the Arab dictators is to snuff out any alternative political systems which might stir up the people against them. In regards to Bahrain, a predominantly Shi'ite country ruled by a Sunni elite, the repression is to avoid a revolution which could seize hold of oil reserves. This is the reason for the general hostility towards Iran, Tehran offers an alternative to the Shi'ites living in oil rich east of the Saudi Kingdom and other states.

However, we should not ignore the fact that the West has consistently backed illegitimate and authoritarian regimes in order to secure economic and strategic interests. The French government supported Ben Ali in Tunisia, as well as other regimes in North Africa. The support given to Libya was reciprocal in this case and Sarkozy received campaign funding from Gaddafi in 2007. Britain has retained a close relationship with Egypt since the 1952 revolution, with British investment amounting to £10 billion. Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Uzbekistan (among others) have all been stations to which the US has sent "terrorists" to be tortured with the sanction of the regime. This is on top of the amount of support given to the Arab dictatorships and Israel, who are tacitly aligned against the Palestinian people as well as Kurds and religious minorities like the Ahmadiyya. The people of the Middle East have legitimate grievances with those who govern them and by extension the West. Ideally the intervention would be made by an Arab state, like Egypt which is sending weapons to the rebels in Benghazi but that alone is not enough.

 Potential for Disaster.

Because of the intimate relationship between Gaddafi and the West, that the arms being used to massacre the Libyan people are mostly Western in origin and that the funding which the regime is reliant on came out of oil deals. The arrangement between the coalition in Benghazi and energy corporations might indicate that the best scenario possible is a liberal democracy complete with greater freedoms and rights. It is unlikely that the influence of multinational corporations would not set limits on the democratic system which the rebels are fighting to establish. The calls for economic justice might also be played down, steps forward might be made but with great flaws and limitations. In a sense the revolution has been diluted already, though it is still the alternative to the Colonel. With Gaddafi in power there is no hope of a democratic system emerging in any form, nor is there a chance of economic justice with the exception of the bribe of civilians in Tripoli.

On the other hand, there is a possibility that the UN sanctioned air-strikes could escalate and lead to a full blown invasion. In the worst case scenario this could lead to the partition of Libya along tribal lines to create a NATO enclave positioned perfectly to suppress any further uprisings and strangle any further revolutionary developments in the region. Inaction is itself a form of intervention in itself which brings the possibility of a successful counter-revolution, which would not only sustain the power of Gaddafi but send signals throughout the Middle East and these signals would not be progressive in any sense of the word. The Arab states might easily opt for similar methods of counter-revolutionary violence in order to retain control. In both scenarios the tacit alliance between the Arab dictators and the Israeli government would be secured, with US power left relatively unscathed by the uprisings. Though Israeli interests may be maintained even if the revolution in Libya is successful.

It is likely that the intervention will be used by Gaddafi to play the anti-imperialist card against the rebels and rally support for himself along nationalist lines. The problem here is that the anti-imperialist card is already being played, along with every other card available, to crush the uprising. In a sense there is a ring of truth to the claim that behind the revolt are imperial interests, as the coalition in Benghazi has made deals with oil companies and out-manoeuvred Gaddafi on that front. It is possible that the masses of Western Libya and some officials might be deterred from defecting by the intervention, particularly the air-strikes. The regime has proven it will use any ploy to stay in power, even going as far as to bribe citizens and to hire out death squads from Chad. Even if we opted for the minimal amount of intervention, e.g. selling off Gaddafi's assets to fund the revolution, this card would still be played and it would be played if there was no agreements between energy corporations and Benghazi.

Remember Jimmy Carter, who now criticises Israel but did nothing to help the Palestinians and, during his time in office, effectively exacerbated the suffering of oppressed peoples in the world. In his "heroic liberalism" or "virulent anti-Semitism", depending on your political disposition, Carter's critical remarks about Israel only serve to reaffirm the "superiority" of the West as no responsible actions are pursued from these remarks. Instead of the racist "White Man's Burden" - that as the superior race we are obligated to "civilise" the inferior races - we reassert our own "superiority" by insisting on our guilt without acting to redeem ourselves and correct past injustices. Meanwhile Libyans, Sudanese, Rwandans and Slavs are left to be butchered as we claim to be in "solidarity" with them. We might as well just revert back to the most overt form of comfortable resistance and start calling for "world peace" and "universal love". Resistance is not supposed to be comfortable, responsible decisions have to be made and there has to be accountability for the consequences.

Body Bags for Peace.

In the case of Afghanistan the conditions under which the decision to invade was made included the knowledge that the invasion might exacerbate a famine in the country. It was predicted that this could lead to the deaths of 7 million people. Whereas in the case of Libya we do not have such knowledge, but we do know that Gaddafi's forces have pledged to "cleanse" Benghazi. There is a distinction between the imperialist intervention and the kind of intervention which might enable the revolutionaries to topple the Gaddafi regime. The invasion and occupation of Libya should be opposed, as that would no doubt be imperialist, but a no-fly zone would not be inherently imperialist. It may even be too late for a no-fly zone and we have the crimes of Srebrenica, committed long after a no-fly zone had been established over Bosnia, to keep in mind. Though the variables differ and any "cleansing" in Libya would be political or tribal, not along explicitly racial lines.

It is undeniable that in the past the United Nations have supported interventionism in order to expand the American empire, protect Israeli interests and maintain the established order. But it is also undeniable that in the cases of Rwanda and Sudan (along with lots of other places) the West effectively stood back and watched as the violence reached new heights of depravity. Similarly it is undeniable that the Western powers are considering intervention out of economic interests. The West fears a long drawn out conflict and for that reason there might not be an occupation of Libya in the works. If Gaddafi was allowed to commit a major massacre, e.g. far worse than the massacres he has already orchestrated, an embargo on Libyan oil would have to be imposed and this would keep oil prices high at a time when the US and other countries are recovering from a major economic crisis.

In the mantra of the SWP "No to intervention in Libya! Victory to Arab revolutions!" conceals a certain perversity. In order for the revolutionary ideal to be achieved in it's purest form, it must fail to be "saved" for the Left as this radical ideal. Though this is ignorant of the fact that the Libyan revolutionaries have already made deals with the oil corporations. So the best outcome, e.g. if the revolution succeeds without Western interference, might only be bourgeois democracy. To "save" ourselves from this inconvenient truth we need Gaddafi to crush the rebellion. Similarly the Soviet intervention in Prague '68 "saved" the myth for us that there could have been democratic socialism in Czechoslovakia. We needed the Tiananmen Square protests to be repressed in order to preserve the ideal of Chinese democracy, missing the point that a democratic China might well be chaotic. Let's not dwell in these safe illusions, where we are comfortable in resistance and welcome failure.

We should have no illusions about intervention, let alone the interests of the Western governments, of which we must remain fiercely critical. The fall of Gaddafi is only preferable to them because he has outlived his usefulness as a "reformed despot" and a freed up political system will be less of an embarrassment now. Gaddafi might just be replaced with a softer, and more insidiously pro-American, version of himself and therefore even harder to drive out. But that is contingent and does not justify Gaddafi's regime as life under even a bourgeois democracy, which is a possibility, would be an improvement. Intervention to enable the rebels to overthrow Gaddafi is the lesser evil, no form of intervention is a bloodless solution to the conflict. The revolutionaries are right to hold a sceptical view of Western military power, especially in regards to an occupation, but a no-fly zone is a necessary evil.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

This is Vietnam, the Movie!

First to Go, Last to Know.

After 20 bloody years of US military intervention in Vietnam, the war ended and the country was united. The understanding of the war is that it was undertaken to prevent the spread of Communism from North Vietnam. However it was South Vietnam that was the major target of US aggression in the early years of the war. The Diem regime, which was installed and supported by the Eisenhower administration, was overthrown at the behest of the US in 1963. Even still it is the only war which the US did not come out of officially the victor. But it was a success in that the currents of independence in the region were crushed and Vietnam was prevented from emerging as a positive model of independence. To help soothe the wounds of this loss Hollywood has pumped out flicks like The Deer Hunter and Platoon which depict the American experience of the war. Oliver Stone tells us the first casualty of war is innocence, not the Vietnamese who died first, whilst Michael Cimino tells us that the Vietnamese liked to force American POWs to play Russian roulette - a lie of proportions fit for the Third Reich. These films take the side of the aggressor, not the victim.

Full Metal Jacket is in part a deviation from this trend. It is not a tissue of lies rarefied by the American national anthem, a tear sodden tale of lost innocence or a roid-pumped theme park for the white man to go "wild" in. Essentially the range goes from the jingoist celebration of violence to the shibboleths of liberal cinema, which see the need for thousands of deaths for the sake of a character arc. But it is still a film which takes the view point of the aggressor and, in doing so, inevitably sides with the oppressor. Where the Vietnamese perspective should be, there is only the American experience. The central focus of Full Metal Jacket is the process of training and indoctrination through which civilians are turned into killing machines - complete with nom de guerres like Cowboy and Joker - which is a way for the soldiers to be humanised for the audience. By contrast the Vietnamese are presented as faceless drones all too deserving of a death at the hands of American troops. The only real appearances made by the Other are of Vietnamese women, again only as prostitutes and killers.

The work of Stanley Kubrick is far too complex and so polysemic that to write it off so soon would be to ignore his ingenuity, greater discussion is required. Rob Ager argues that the scenes set in Vietnam are a satirical take on pro-war propaganda. Joker is writing for Stars and Stripes and in one scene the Chief Editor bluntly instructs the team on how to distort the coverage of the war. Behind him a banner reads: first to go, last to know. Joker and Rafterman enter the field to cover a platoon in battle, but they are part of a propaganda outlet and therefore we get a biased take on the story. Take the first battle of the film. It is an unbridled display of firepower and machismo, which quickly subdues the invisible enemy, which necessitates a piece of 1960s surf-rock soon after. The surf-rock continues to play as we see Joker's camera team filming the platoon in battle, the soldiers are lying down as if using concrete rubble for cover from enemy gunfire. But the camera men are not shot and are undeterred to carry on filming, there was no danger from enemy fire and the platoon was putting on a show for the press. A soldier even shouts "This is Vietnam, the movie!"

The "verfremdungseffekt", a distancing effect, which keeps the audience aware that the story is not of reality but an artefact of it. It keeps the audience in a state of heightened awareness, that prevents a emotional attachment with the story and keeps the theatrical set up from "naturalising" what appears as so unnatural. The dialogue of the soldiers is risible, particularly evident in a set of mock-interviews, contrasted with the serious and tragic nature of warfare. Before all of this we have observed the indoctrination process and not to mention the cynical instructions to rewrite a story and give it a "happy ending, say one kill". The satirical battles of previous scenes are cut away to make room for real combat as the squad descends into cowardice when faced with a sniper - who picks them off, one by one. After Cowboy's death the remaining members of the Lusthog Squad seek revenge on the sniper. Joker is caught off guard as his weapon jams and the sniper turns around - it's a woman! But she is swiftly gunned down before she can do him any harm and Joker puts her out of her misery.

The Shadow of White Men.

In the scene in which Joker and Rafterman cover a recently unearthed mass-grave, an atrocity committed by the Vietcong, a Colonel states "We are here to help the Vietnamese because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out." The depiction of the Other in the film is not just a simple case of "faceless drones" but of shadows which represent what the American troops have repressed as part of their training. This is down to the Jungian influence on co-writer Michael Herr, which made way for the concept of the Shadow - consistent of repressed weaknesses and instincts . The enemy is almost always to distant to see in battle, and when the enemy can be seen they are depicted as faceless silhouettes. It could be that the silhouettes of Vietcong killed in the film represent the weaknesses and instincts that the American soldiers have repressed as part of military training. Back at the mass-grave, the bodies of the deceased have been covered in lime and have been laid out in a similar symmetry to the recruits sleeping in their beds in previous scenes.

The objective violence of war is absent and filled by the subjective violence suffered by American soldiers. The suffering of the Vietnamese remains in the background and only occasionally comes to the forefront of Joker's story. The unearthed mass-grave is a crime committed by the Vietnamese against other Vietnamese, but similar crimes are absent in the film or only arise in allegorical forms. As is the case with the shooting at the end in which it is still Joker's perspective which matters and, like the prostitutes, she was asking for it and her death will be his burden to bare. We should build on the interpretation of the Vietnamese as a kind of Shadow for the Lusthog Squad and conclude that the women in the film are the realisation of man's guilt. This radical anti-feminist theme goes back to Adam and Eve, woman is conjured up out of man's desire and so if man "cleanses" himself woman will cease to exist. This is man's lowest mythology. In killing the Shadow the Lusthog Squad "purge" themselves of such desires and thus absolve themselves of guilt. 

There are plenty of Vietnamese who die at a distance in the film, but Vietnamese women are given greater screen time (out of the victims). Out of these women two of them are prostitutes and the third is a soldier who wastes three marines before being killed herself. Three soldiers killed for each appearance of women, one of whom is also killed, the cost of their sins is implicit and we might even interpret the sniper's killings as a form of violence which differs from the objective-subjective distinction. Similar to the Biblical locusts which comes seemingly out of nowhere, a means without an end, the divine punishment for man's sins - divine violence. The Benjaminian divine violence should be understood not as the vengeance of the People's Will, but as a sovereign decision to act made on the assumption of absolute solitude. The decision to risk one's life and strike blindly against the oppressor, enacting the point of non-distinction between vengeance and justice. It is Judgement Day for all the rape and carnage so flippantly indulged in by the Squad. Tragically the swarm of locusts is cut short as the sniper is wasted.

We could view the sniper as a vanishing mediator for Joker, a necessary even in his arc and we might generously note that in the context of a satire on pro-war propaganda the kill is necessary. The kill is the "happy ending" demanded by the Chief Editor, it is the inhumanity of Joker's institutional role - that of a war correspondent - revealed by Kubrick for the viewer to judge. So the death of the woman was a necessity in the narrative. In the ending we watch as Joker and the Lusthogs march onwards and childishly sing, oblivious to the depravity of their actions. Joker's mind turns to fantasies of a home-coming fuck with a "Mary Jane Rottencrotch". It does not seem as though this conclusion required the killing and that might be a testament to the meaningless and absurd nature of war. But it still feels too generous to Kubrick, the indifference of Joker at the film's conclusion is hardly noteworthy. Though Kubrick was interested in the indoctrination of young men which turns them into killers, it cannot be glossed over, this is not the side of the victim.

Ablution of the Oppressor.

When Joker encounters the first of the two prostitutes he remarks that half of Vietnamese prostitutes are members of the Vietcong. This comment is not meant seriously but hides a certain truth which is expanded on later. In the scene in which another prostitute is encountered, this time by the Lusthogs and we might infer that the death of the sniper is actually an allegory of the gang-rape of this prostitute by the soldiers. In war sexual deviancy and gang-rape are not uncommon, for instance in the Second World War Russian soldiers committed mass-rapes in Eastern Europe. The Vietnam war was no different and so we can make the assumption that the prostitute was subject to gang-rape by the Lusthog Squad. The sniper is taken by surprise, but Joker's weapon jams  and he can't fire and has to take out a smaller handgun while taking cover from her retaliatory gunshots. It is then that the sniper is cut down in a blaze of gunfire by Rafterman. When viewed as an allegory this scene changes and becomes particularly despicable.

We can see as Joker is about to pull the trigger, the peace symbol on his jacket is concealed behind his collar as he turns slightly. The shot fired is on the surface a crime which he has participated in, at the same time it symbolises his part in the sexual humiliation of the Other and the merciless destruction of Vietnam. In defence of Joker we might point out that he is a reluctant participant in this crime, there is nothing inherently monstrous about him nor malicious about his intentions. It is just a by-product of the indoctrination process and so on, which of course may well be true. There is still the troubling mystification of the victim, a killer yearning to be killed as a prostitute yearns to be fucked. Joker is devoid of a basic level of decency in the end, there is no grand reflection on his part in all of this. The juxtaposition of the sniper sequence and the scenes involving prostitutes may be an intentional hint on Kubrick's part, it is impossible to tell, that the sexual degradation of the Vietnamese in this way is equal to killing them. Again, this feels too generous but it is a possibility.

We could also read the sniper's death at Joker's hands as an allegory for the role he played in Pyle's descent into madness and eventual murder-suicide during the training scenes. It might even be a direct allegory of the scene in which Joker takes part in the beating of Pyle with soap bars. Out of the guilt for his conformity in beating a fellow cadet emerges the Other - a Shadow of this guilt that must be "cleansed" - which functions as a vanishing mediator. Once it has challenged Joker and he rises to that challenge, it can cease to exist. The challenge is the divine violence of luring the Lusthogs one-by-one to a drawn out death. But just as he failed to disarm Pyle, and "stomp" his guts out, Joker also fails to waste the sniper when it finally comes down to it. There is a sense in which Hartman took Joker's place in the murder-suicide which Joker was unable to prevent. We might go further to say that the sniper took Joker's place in being killed and that is the greatest humiliation for Joker. Note that the focus is still on the suffering of oppressor, even as he commits murder or fails to do so.

From this only a fractured normality can be restored, things will never be truly the same, in the aftermath. A reversion to youthful memories of Disney cartoons and immature sexual fantasies, coupled with the indifference to the magnitude of war crimes, is ultimately where the American troops are left. The indifference is all that is left over after the guilt has been "cleansed" and the Vietnamese, in all forms, no longer need to exist. A lot like the flushing of a toilet, shit is problematic only when there is a blockage and once this blockage is gone we can continue as normal. This is the horror of war cinema. The Other is just the filth conjured up by the American desire to fight Communism, promote democracy and freedom etc. The consequent guilt can only be "purged" with a full bucket of fake blood, strident imperial arrogance and persistent self-pity. The crimes can be recognised only to reassure us that we were the true victims all along. The Other can then be flushed away, it is no longer needed once it has served it's purpose in the narrative.

Monday, 7 March 2011

When War Pigs Fly.

The revolution in Libya has "stalled" as the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries are battling it out. The point of no return has been passed in Libya, it's live free or die, Gaddafi is clinging onto Tripoli and some areas which are dominated by his tribe, but the revolution snatched over 90% of Libya from his manicured fingers in recent weeks. The vehemence of the Colonel's death squads procured from Chad, Niger and Serbia have failed to restore Gaddafi's power. The "passionate" support for Gaddafi in Tripoli is really the result of a recent bribe and a concentration of wealth in the capital. Though the Libyan elite has been split down the middle by Gaddafi's actions, which has been reflected by the defection of numerous officials and soldiers, out of megalomania the Colonel thinks he can hold on. But Uncle Sam has other ideas, the Obama administration have taken the first steps to funnel cash and weapons to the revolutionaries in liberated Benghazi.

The middle-men are the House of Saud of course, who hate Gaddafi for ideological as well as personal reasons. The secular model offered by Arab nationalism has been the traditional threat to the Saudi Royals, who rely on a fundamentalist establishment to prop up their corrupt monarchy. This is without the constant insults Gaddafi has hurled at King Abdullah and the attempt to assassinate the King last year. The surface reasons for an intervention in Libya are that Gaddafi has resorted to brute force in the face of a democratic uprising. But at another level the West is worried about the flow of oil and the impact of the upheval on oil prices. The concern that we might see another oil shock amongst the British elite was reflected in Cameron's hubristic talk of a no-fly zone and funds for rebels. For which the Obama administration slapped David Cameron on the hand, opting for a more subtle approach. Notice that the British government only condemned Gaddafi after the US and began talking of intervention soon after the American neocons turned up in revolutionary garb to call for a US-led strike on Libya.

The mistake made by the pro-American administration in Whitehall was that they attempted to dutifully follow pre-empted decisions made in Washington. The Prime Minister then had to back away from calls that Washington believes in, but will not pursue so openly which is why the US has deployed four warships for "humanitarian" purposes and "military objectives". At the same time, £1 billion of the Gaddafi fortune has been frozen in Britain. An occupation at LSE is calling for the return of every penny of Gaddafi's investment in that institution and has succeeded in prompting a resignation... Sadly, the British government continues to follow dutifully on behind Washington, in foreign as well as domestic affairs. From the Iraq war to paying for nuclear weapons, which are a part of the American nuclear command system, let alone shipping off numerous wanted"terrorists" around the world sometimes for a trial over a burst condom and sometimes simply a spot of waterboarding.

The coalition government formed in "Free Libya" has made agreements to respect old arrangements with oil giants. The uprising and counter-revolutionary violence has caused oil prices to rise. Britain has a great deal of assets and invested interests in Libya, as we have in Egypt. If the military had struck against the demonstrations in Tahrir Square there would have been a similar schism as seen in Libya and Egypt would have been torn apart, the British and the Americans may have even invaded in such a scenario. It would seem that the Colonel has outlived his usefulness to Western powers as a "reformed" dictator, who might one day transform Libya into the Norway of North Africa as Anthony Giddens hoped. At this point it is practical for the Americans to supplant the old Arab nationalist order with a new regime that would have the enthusiasm of the people behind it - for now at least. The little embarrassment over selling arms to Libya felt by the British and the Americans seems to have evaporated. The traditional means of redemption are being sought, ultra-violence.

There are good reasons to oppose neoconservatives on the issue of military intervention, as there is a long and ignoble list of atrocities. The Reagan administration turned a blind eye to CIA-sponsored trafficking in drugs and guns in order to arm the Contras, a group of right-wing terrorists in Nicaragua, though this actually armed the Iranians and created a crack epidemic in California the spectre of "Communism" had to be defeated apparently. The Contras ended up killing thousands. Similarly in Afghanistan the US poured money into arming the Mujahideen, who would later carry out mass-rapes and slaughter 50,000 people in the 1990s. The preference of the Democratic Party for sanctions kept the Iraqi people under the heel of Saddam throughout the 1990s, while a no-fly zone was set up Saddam was still given the opening to crush an uprising through air-strikes. So we are right to be worried about where the sanctions against Libya and a no-fly zone may lead.

The wave of sanctions imposed under Clinton led to the deaths of over half a million people through starvation. The less "subtle" method of the Bush administration, favoured by neoconservatives,  ended up killing 1 million more people and left 4 million displaced. This leaves out the countless millions who have been dispossessed by the economic "shock therapy" Iraq was put through, which privatised and deregulated all public services over night. Efforts were then made to ensure that multinational corporations would not have to worry about paying any taxes in Iraq. All rammed through by a coterie of unelected bureaucrats and officials, mostly American, who also redrew the Iraqi Constitution. The occupation of Iraq stood in firm opposition to democratic elections for 2 years before finally giving in. Notably the artful oik (our current Chancellor) and Michael Gove both fawned over Blair, Gove declared "I love Tony Blair" in The Times just prior to the war.

Intervention in such cases as Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Nicaragua (among a lot of other places) was immoral. But the Libyan revolutionaries are not the Mujahideen nor are they the Contras. It would seem that to support the revolution would be to oppose Gaddafi's counter-revolution. There are parallels between Libya and Iraq. The old nationalist order versus an uprising, sanctions are pursued. In the case of Iraq it was a disaster and we have yet to see what will come of the sanctions against Libya. Importantly, there is a distinction between the kind of intervention led by hawks, in Washington and Whitehall, and the kind of intervention which might actually help the revolution. A no-fly zone could keep Gaddafi's forces on the land, apart from helicopters, and give the rebels a good chance of victory. Without a no-fly zone Gaddafi still has the capability to launch air-strikes against the rebels.

Although there may be a case to be made for a specific kind of intervention, an ideal no-fly zone, as there was in the Balkans in the 90s or in Iraq when Saddam gassed the Kurds. It must be conceded that the rebels do not want foreign interference and that there is a convergence of self-interest behind the calls for intervention. To support the attempt by the SAS to meet with rebels or the deployment of warships by the US on these grounds would be idiotic. We should have no illusions about the intentions behind American and British policy-makers looking to topple Gaddafi. The fall of Gaddafi is only preferable to them because he has outlived his usefulness and a freed up political system will be less of an embarrassment. But it could only be a softer, and more insidiously pro-American, version of Gaddafi and harder to drive out. But that does not justify Gaddafi's rule, the Colonel has to go, it should be for the Libyan people that he go and not Western economic interests.