Sunday, 30 October 2011

Capitalism is Dead.

The Monstrosity of Capital.

To report the death of capitalism is to exaggerate, to say the least, given we find ourselves subject to austerity measures as the global economy stumbles from one crisis to another in a little under 4 years. In the past capital has been likened to a vampire insofar as it is parasitic in its relation to labour. But it is no longer a suave count as capital is seemingly dead when it comes to the suffering of ordinary people. At the same time it is still capable of violent bursts of energy and it is mindlessly destructive in the pursuit of it's sustenance. So it seems appropriate to describe the current order as zombie capitalism, it requires a minimum of 3% compound growth in order to continue and that translates into a need for profitable investments of $1.5 trillion. In the future the system might demand even more, maybe $3 trillion in growth and we are struggling to find $1.5 trillion right now. One day the banking sector could be so big that it cannot be saved and we will be dragged into the abyss as it collapses. For us to gauge where we are today, and where we might be heading, it is important to remember the causes of the Crash of 2008.

A Popular Capitalism?
As David Harvey has noted, this crisis can be understood if we go back to the crises of the 1970s when organised labour posed a threat to capital. To the extent that the workers' share of GDP peaked in 1967. The unions had demonstrated a capacity to undermine the Establishment in Britain with the fall of the Heath administration in 1974. So the need for a broken labour movement emerged, which gave rise to Thatcher and Reagan to impose such discipline on the working-class. With the full-on assault on organised labour and its political allies came the mobilisation of a global labour surplus; the development of labour-saving technology and increased competition as neoliberalism emerged. The consequence was a sharp decline in the share of wages in total GDP almost everywhere, an enormous disposable labour reserve emerged and survived under marginal conditions. In fact some of the biggest wage-cuts in the world were endured in the US in 1985 and the UK in 1990 which was a direct consequence of the way trade unions were crushed.

The structures of monopoly power was undermined, with the state-monopoly capitalism being displaced in the meantime as the system was opened up to fearsome international competition. Ultimately the intensity of global competition led to lower corporate profits in non-financial domains. The early signs of a hegemonic shift of power towards East Asia came as uneven geographical development and inter-territorial competition had become key factors in capitalist development. The most fluid and mobile form of capital was utilised to reallocate capital resources at a global level, which led to the deindustrialisation in traditional heartlands of industry whilst new forms of industrialisation and resource extraction began in emergent markets. The character of these new forms might be labelled appropriately as ultra-oppressive, for instance in the Congo around 4 million people have been killed for the extraction of coltan. The ultimate aim was to enhance the profitability of financial corporations, thus the need for new ways to absorb risks through the creation of fictitious capital markets.

There is No such Thing as Society.
Accumulation by dispossession became a means to increase class power for the ultra-rich and so a new round of primitive accumulation - against indigenous and peasant populations - was in order to augment the asset losses of the working-classes in the developed world. We have only to turn to the African-American victims of the sub-prime housing crash. The mass-privatisation of social housing in Britain, which took place in the 1980s, appeared as a gift to the working-classes as it enabled them to convert from rental ownership at a relatively low cost to the control of a valuable asset which might make them rich. Speculation soon took over the housing market, eventually pushing low-income earners out to the outskirts of cities. David Cameron is about to further this process as part of a bid to recreate the property boom. It used to be that the capitalist invested in production. But for the last 30 years the economy has underwent financialisation as the capitalist has invested heavily in making money out of money rather than out of anything productive.

The increase of sagging effective demand was accomplished by pushing the debt economy - in governmental, corporate and household spheres - to its limits. This became standard method in the West, so it should be no surprise that in the US the household debt relative to income doubled from 1982 to 2007. By 2007 the ratio of financial assets to GDP had doubled since the early 80s. Incidentally the household debt in the UK was around £1,560 billion in 2010 and may rise to £2,126 billion by 2015 as a result of the cuts. The compensation for anemic rates of return in production came in the construction of a whole series of asset market bubbles and culminated in the property bubble that burst around 2007. Each of these asset bubbles drew upon finance capital and were facilitated by extensive financial innovations, specifically derivatives. The control of assets and resources at the heart of international finance became central to the system in the last 30 years. We no longer make things, we just make money out of money.

There is no Alternative.
The way that the crisis of the 1970s was circumvented led to nearly 16 years of growth in Britain from 1992 to 2008. It led to Gordon Brown claiming that Boom and Bust had been abolished. The current crisis has to be circumvented somehow, in the past that has required the enforced destruction of productive forces, the conquest of new markets and an even more thorough exploitation of old ones. So British manufacturing went into a decline from which it has yet to recover under Thatcher, employment in that area plummeted by 30 years from 1979 to 1990. The very means by which the system regenerates itself typically paves the way for even more extensive and destructive crises, as the means whereby crises are averted are diminished in doing so. The financialisation of the economy led to the financial crises of the last 30 years. The infinite capacity of capitalism to regenerate itself at the expense of the majority of the population should not be underestimated, but with each recovery the foundations for another crisis are laid.

The pressure is on for the ruling class to crank out profitable investments for $1.5 trillion, so it can meet that minimum of 3% growth for the time being. The state's reaction to the crises has opened a door which we're being led through and we don't yet know what is on the other side, it is just a mysterious darkness to us right now. This is nothing new, with the Crash of 1929 came such an opening and we all know what happened in Europe as Germans were marched into the darkness. Then there was the crisis of 1973 in Britain as a result of the oil crisis, which led to the collapse of the Heath government then the pathetic reign of a weak Labour government and then the emergence in 1979 of Thatcherism. This is not cheap fear-mongering, it doesn't seem realistic that either of these will emerge but we have to keep in mind what is possible. We might take comfort in the fact that when the Americans were marched into the same abyss it was the New Deal which emerged and not National Socialism. But it is not necessarily the case that history is on our side.

We're All in this Together.

A Crisis of Ideology.

Apart from the dire socio-economic consequences of the ongoing crisis the endemic contradictions of capitalism has led to a crisis of the prevailing ideology and the dust has yet to settle. As Terry Eagleton notes the tendency of market rationality runs towards the rationalist and materialist, as well as secular plurality, relativism and pragmatism. Naturally the forces of the market exert a subversive force on the metaphysical and ideological superstructure. Rather than question whether or not what we're saying meshes with what we're doing we might have to invoke the Virgin Mary at the World Bank. In the same way that Alan Greenspan took refuge as the crisis hit in the claim that it all down to human frailty, predatory instincts and so on. It is true that it was human behaviour which led to the crisis, but Greenspan resorted to this explanation only to protect the immaculate conception of free-market capitalism. The irony being that Alan Greenspan is an Objectivist dinosaur - a devotee of Ayn Rand - who buys into the virtues of selfishness.

The criminal assault on Vietnam and Indochina was a case in which there was an enormous gulf between the political justifications of the war and the grotesque details of the actions undertaken to devastate a country. It was claimed that the war was to combat and contain the spread of Communism, as the red flag was flying in North Vietnam and so the US embarked on a noble mission to fend off the tentacles of Communism - it then began bombing South Vietnam. The US had blocked every attempt at a peaceful settlement in the 1950s and installed the Diem regime in South Vietnam. As the Diem regime aroused resistance to it as it slaughtered around 70,000 people and in reaction to the resistance the Kennedy administration invaded South Vietnam. Even though he knew better Lyndon B Johnson continued with the line that "We have to stop the Communists over there [Vietnam] or we'll soon be fighting them in California." This was not enough after so many years spent bombing the country the ideological fissure was torn open with the wave of student activism.

A ideological crisis can emerge in the midst of a performative contradiction between what you're doing and how you explain those actions to yourself. To account for the gap there is a need for a new discourse complete with a theoretical understanding of the situation and the potential to establish a new orthodoxy. As the system requires new theories to justify itself and strengthen the ideological apparatus it seems to be struggling in it's desperate search for any such means of defence. The media has yet to find a narrative which could fill the void which has been opened up as political power came to the rescue of the financial colossus to which David Cameron and Barack Obama are bound almost as slaves. It was unthinkable that the banks should be allowed to collapse, it was a forced decision which no one can rightly oppose. But it seems that the system has lost it's sheath of market fundamentalism out of its own pragmatism. The utopia of the market has been stripped down for all to see, it is difficult to see how the system could ever double back on itself.

Today it is still rare to hear of the horrific details of the Vietnam War in spite of the memory of the demonstrations against it lives on. The objectives of the war will never be acknowledged in the media. The virus of independence and development in Vietnam had to be killed, and the region had to be inoculated, in order to preserve the accomplishments of the US in the Second World War. The virus might have spread to Thailand and Indonesia, then Japan might have to accommodate to an independent East Asian bloc and would no doubt become it's industrial heartland. The US aimed to maintain the Japanese empire under American control, the rise of Communism in China and Korea undermined these aims. The wars in Vietnam and Korea were fought for the same reason that the US installed Suharto in Indonesia. There are no apologies for the crimes, certainly no reparations and not even any recognition of the barbarism unleashed upon Indochina. Rather it has been swept under the rug as a noble quest which went awry and possibly an atrocity necessary in the Cold War which we will not repeat in this post-political world.

The system has lost the automatic claim to legitimacy, as Slavoj Žižek points out, the field is open in this time of crisis as the prevailing ideology has been disturbed. The limitations and perversions of the system can be seen publicly, we can see the desperate need for an alternative and we know not of an alternative. But this is not the basis for the system's legitimacy as the Thatcherites claimed. The greatest utopian belief is that the system of capitalism can go on indefinitely. Infinite growth in a world of finite resources is a fantasy even if you believe global warming is a liberal hoax cooked up to sell carbon credits to corporations and make you pay the congestion charge. There is a need for another kind of utopianism, not in the sense of the ideal society which ca never be realised but as a new space created out of the innermost urgency for survival. It is the way out we are forced to imagine by the impossibility of circumstances, which cannot be resolved within the coordinates of the possible. As Lenin said "There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen." Right now, we need to make decades to happen!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gaddafi is Dead.

As the old order has been obliterated in Libya it appears the country is passing through a zero-level of violence onto which the bourgeois framework of law and order can be constructed. The term 'law-creating violence' was used by Walter Benjamin to signify such instances of violence which underpin the enforcement of laws later on. In the battle to take Sirte, Muammar al-Gaddafi has been captured and killed. Before that it was clear there had been numerous civilian casualties and the killing of black men suspected of being mercenaries working for Gaddafi. Perhaps we should bare in mind that each advance made in civilisation is an advance in barbarism, as such an advance arrives head-to-foot in blood it heralds new possibilities of emancipation. The real problem is whether or not the enormous suffering was worth it in the end. It seems thoroughly doubtful that the effects of colonialism, slavery, genocide, war and capitalist exploitation can ever be compensated for in Africa. So we might be best to note a profound historical sense of tragedy here.

The new regime defines itself by its exclusion of Gaddafi, this is a basic aspect of the state as sovereignty constitutes the political body in its inclusion of people. The state holds the monopoly over the power to declare an exception, to suspend normal legal guarantees and deny basic rights to people. The situation might be extended across an entire society in the case of a state of emergency and even a civil war as the expectations of normal everyday life no longer apply. The state divides the people into those who qualify as fully human and those with the lesser status of bare life. The qualified life of politically recognised people is adorned with forms of meaning derived from political recognition and representation. This is what the bare life is devoid of, in fact the difference might be aptly described as the difference between being a human bodily organism and being recognised as a citizen or a person in the moral sense. These are the people who can be carted off to be tortured in Uzbekistan, as well as be killed at home in the middle of the night.

The Roman Empire had a word for an outlaw who could be killed and their property seized legitimately by anyone - homo sacer. The life of a homo sacer cannot be taken in ritual as a sacrifice, as the person has been expunged from society to a realm where all civil rights and civil religious functions are in suspension. To be more specific, the homo sacer resides on the boundaries of political and religious law which means the homo sacer is at once included and excluded from law. Only in the way that the individual has been excluded by law does that individual continue to be included. It is not law but the realm of valued life that the individual is excluded from when they become homo sacer. These people can't be sacrificed to the Gods because they belong outside the recognised terrain of valued life and there is nothing left in them worth sacrificing. To sacrifice such an individual would be sacrilege and for that reason they can be killed with impunity.

The power to distinguish between bare life and recognised life arises from the sovereignty claimed by the state. We'd like to think that the establishment of a liberal society of law based on rights and freedoms would inoculate society of these practices. But it seems that, at best, it just means everyone is potentially a sovereign as well as a homo sacer. It may be that in any state everyone is at risk of being declared a homo sacer. It is interesting that the Western media reached for the old label "mad dog" to describe Gaddafi, as states have traditionally relegated groups of people to bare life by rendering them to the level of animals with labels such as savages, feral, scum etc. It is quite a leap for Gaddafi to go from sovereign to homo sacer, from qualified life to bare life as he was deprived of his political status and reduced to a hunted man. This came about as the Transitional National Council laid claim to sovereignty as Berbers in the West of the country sought revenge against the regime which had brutalised them.

The death of Gaddafi, as homo sacer, is convenient for NATO and the Western governments that supported him even as he helped maim, mutilate and murder 1.2 million people in Sierra Leone. We can go back to moralising about the Lockerbie Bombing with the Colonel out of the way. The Left can theorise about what could have been in Libya if the revolution had not been "corrupted" while the Right will bask triumphantly in the light of a country set ablaze by over 30,000 bombs. The revolution in Libya might herald a bourgeois democracy in North Africa or at least a moderated form of the old regime. Potentially Libya could become a wonderful holiday destination for white people, whether or not that would lead to less poverty and injustice in the country is another matter. The fact that the rebels initially called for economic justice as well as freedom and democracy has been lost amidst the media hype over yet another "humanitarian intervention". Coverage of the Arab Spring shifted to the Libyan Civil War as it provided a normal narrative for the West, so who cares about what's going on elsewhere?

See also:

Gaddafi's Greatest Hits

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Man of Gonzo.

The words of Dr Johnson which mark the beginning of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas are highly appropriate "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." The image of the swaggering obscene paternal figure comes to mind, Raoul Duke stands as an obvious figure which Thompson equated himself with in a way which he never really did with Paul Kemp. It is worth keeping in mind, when he wrote The Rum Diary Thompson had yet to dabble in psychedelics but he was a seasoned drinker and went on to garner a reputation as an "impervious man" when it came to drugs and alcohol. When he had dinner with George McGovern, who was running for the Presidency in 1972, Thompson ordered three Margaritas and six beers in one sitting. This is the man who became a beast in order to continuously purge himself of an unending source of pain. Are we talking about the burden of masculinist norms here? Perhaps we are talking about masculinity itself? The beginning of The Rum Diary is marked with an eye-opening sentiment from Eileen O'Connell from 1773:
My rider of the bright eyes,
What happened you yesterday?
I thought you in my heart,
When I bought you your fine clothes,
A man the world could not slay.
There is something defiant about the figure conjured up in O'Connell's words, the world could not slay this man. This is not the normal paternal presence, whose symbolic authority is derived from a phallic insignia. Keep in mind that the phallus facilitates the articulation of desire, simultaneously a symbol of sexual difference - the lack of the signifier in the Other - and the object of desire. Desire in the Lacanian sense of the longing which persists even after needs have been satisfied. It is not a case of the wish to simply possess an object, it is a lack of being which signals the split at the heart of the subject. The phallus is symbolic, so it cannot be possessed as an attribute of sorts. In a way desire is an appeal to receive from the Other the complement to what it lacks, so desire is a longing for the desire of an other and so on. It is tempting to designate the figure as not merely wearing the phallus, rather the man is the phallus. But if we accept that to be slain is to be possessed then we can't hardly hold onto this position. Really then it is about the dissatisfaction of desire which is consequent of the unattainable and fleeting quality of the object of desire - objet petit a.

We could continue along this psychoanalytic line for answers to the "bestial" indulgences of man that Thompson advocated as a kind of release from a great pain which seems to be connected with existence itself - perhaps in Schopenhauerian vein. Freud might have designated the bestial drives of man as the Id (to put it in rather crude terms). Think of Harpo Marx as the Id, which is just as ambiguous and silent as him. The strange antics of Harpo were childlike - in the pursuit of mindless fun - but gripped by a primordial evil at the same time. Here we should turn to Nietzsche who reserved great praise for the grand passions, which have often been treated as bestial and animalistic drives in the past. Passion brings meaning to life, it can bring insight, understanding and orientation. This is because of the attachments that are born out of a passionate life: the friendships and relationships we forge, as well as the ideals we hold dear and the creative powers we can exercise through art. The acceptance and love of life is the highest passion, as well as the highest virtue, for Nietzsche. To unleash the passions might be to "make a beast" of oneself.

The passions which gripped Thompson in life ranged from Freak Power and Fitzgerald to motorcycles and mescaline, there were plenty of attachments made to art, music, friends and lovers. He experimented greatly in his life, the indulgence in drugs and alcohol was not just a form of hedonism it was part of the persona he worked to create. The same goes for the passionate lives led by the protagonists of Thompson's books, though the lives they led have been crystallised in fiction for us to enjoy. Most tragically Hunter S Thompson ultimately chose to end his life partly in reaction to the political climate of America. It was a most un-Nietzschean end, Thompson had become a hostage to the persona he had built over the years. It would be easy to paint him as a simple hedonist, but look at the Wave Speech and it is not simply a celebration of hedonism (though there is an element of that involved). Rather it is a joyous eulogy to the 60s zeitgeist, the immense explosion of energy which would prevail over the old politics. Take his words in The Proud Highway "Hopes rise and dreams flicker and die. Love plans for tomorrow and loneliness thinks of yesterday. Life is beautiful and living is pain. The sound of music floats down a dark street."

Male Mythology in Gonzo.

The Americans based in Puerto Rico as journalists, businessmen and soldiers are depicted as a horde of corrupt, perverted and sex-crazed sociopaths. There is Moberg who is obsessed with cannibalism (a twisted form of the unfulfilled longing) and Zimburger who is described as "more beast than human". Then there is the reckless Yeamon and the inexplicably unfuckable Sala, between them we might situate Kemp as a kind of "moderate witness" who is never as passive as Sala nor as rebellious as Yeamon. Paul Kemp participates and observes the mayhem, but manages to pull-back from the edge and gets to walk off towards the sunset as it were. This is a standard lesson of literature, the passive will destroy themselves and the rebel will be destroyed by the system. It is being able to participate and pull back from the edge just in time that makes for a great story. Especially when we're talking about Gonzo journalism, the journalist is a participant in his story in the full subjective sense. With all of this mind we should look at when Paul Kemp finds himself on a beach after a night of festivities with a woman called Lorraine:
We talked for a while, drying off as best we could, and suddenly she reached over and pulled me down on top of her. “Make love to me,” she said urgently.
I laughed and leaned down to bite her on the breast. She began to groan and jerk me around by the hair, and after a few minutes of this I lifted her onto the clothes so we wouldn’t get full of sand. The smell of her body excited me tremendously and I got a savage grip on her buttocks, pounding her up and down. Suddenly she began to howl: at first I thought I was hurting her, then I realised she was having some sort of extreme orgasm. She had several of them, howling each time, before I felt the slow bursting of my own.
We lay there for several hours, going at it again when we felt rested. All in all I don’t think we said fifty words. She seemed to want nothing but the clutch and howl of the orgasm, the rolling grip of two bodies in the sand.
Paul Kemp promised to call Lorraine - the lie we all know so well - and never does, as far as we know, whereas Kemp later returns to the US where Chenault waits for him. She had left Yeamon for Paul soon after she reappeared after the incident at the carnival, in which she was almost certainly gang-raped at a party - a trauma never fully explored or resolved in the book, it just happened. After turning up at Kemp's place Chenault asks Paul Kemp to get in the shower with her and then comes a flash of impure Gonzo "I heard a gong somewhere in the back of my brain, and then a melodramatic voice saying, 'And this concludes The Adventures of Paul Kemp, the Drunken Journalist. He read the signs and saw it coming, but he was too much of a lecher to step out of the way.' Then there was organ music, a sort of feverish dirge, and then I was stepping out of my shorts and into the shower with Chenault." It is clear that our hero did not go celibate between the chapters, but the sex scene with Chenault is significant in its difference to the earlier tryst on the beach.
I felt totally defeated. For a while I paced around the apartment, barely hearing her happy chatter, then I gave up entirely and went over to the bed and took off my clothes. I fell on her with such a violence that her smile quickly disappeared and it became a desperate business.
She kicked her feet in the air and shrieked and arched her back and she was still trying when I exploded inside her and collapsed with exhaustion. Finally she gave up and locked her legs around my hips and her arms around my neck, and started to cry.
I leaned on my elbows and looked down at her 'What's wrong?' I asked.
She kept her eyes closed and shook her head. 'I can't,' she sobbed. 'I get so close, but I can't.'
We might reach for the term 'courtly love' to denote the way in which Chenault was pursued by Paul Kemp simply because she was forbidden to him as Yeamon's girlfriend. It began on the plane over to Puerto Rico where he was desperate to see to it that she could sit next to him and ended up getting into a fight with an elderly man over his seat. Keep in mind that the perpetuation of the 'courtly love' structure hints at the ongoing attempts of man to compensate for his reduction of women to mere vehicles for his fantasy.In turn woman comes to inhabit this fantasy as her 'femininity' and she is deprived of her particularity as a woman. As the pursuit moved beyond 'loving' her (for lack of a better phrase) for something in her more than herself - as an object - to seeing her as a subject of lack. If we continue along this Žižekian line we find that this leads us to the conclusion that sexual difference retains the Real which cannot be symbolised and lovers are fated to settle for a relationship that is a "non-relationship".

Then again we might be tempted here to accept the conclusion that the point of the tryst on the beach with the "dark skinned" Lorraine was to stand as the exotic Other with a certain authenticity in contrast to the anemic and inhibited whiteness of Chenault. A racism turned on its' head where Lorraine was an exotic and wild lay on a beach by comparison with Chenault. So the only point of Lorraine was to point us towards Chenault's deficiency, once she has served her purpose on the beach she can disappear. It is only after Kemp beds Chenault that the narrative can reach a conclusion - the return to home - so we might designate Puerto Rico as a vanishing mediator on it's own. But then what might we read into Chenault's disappearance as she heads onwards to New York? A rendezvous in the Big Apple remains a genuine possibility for Paul with Chenault. It is never fully resolved what happened at the carnival, through Paul's eyes it is as if Chenault was "asking for it" in the standard misogynist contours of rape as in some way the fault of the woman.

As Žižek has pointed out there is a sense in which the excessive desire of female fantasy and male fantasy fails in a bid to overcome such an excess. It poses a threat to male identity and the woman has to be erased as it were. One way to escape from the excessive Real encountered in fantasy is to 'make love', not to reenact the fantasy but to escape from it. Perhaps this is the reason that Chenault has to 'disappear' from the narrative in order for it to be able to reach any conclusion. What might that say about her appearance in the narrative as a whole? Effectively she was only present as her desire for phallic enjoyment. In the note she leaves for him to find Chenault writes "I can't stand it anymore. My plane leaves at six. You love me. We are soul-mates. We will drink rum and dance naked. Come see me in New York. I will have a few surprises for you." This is the only space which opens up for Chenault's subjectivity, yet she can only express what we already know and expect of her. There is no active part to play and in actuality woman "therefore does not exist" in the Lacanian formula.

A voyage into Gonzo.

"I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger: A man on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident." - Hunter S Thompson

The Rum Diary is not a piece of Gonzo journalism, for it was written in the late 50s when Hunter S Thompson was in his early 20s. But what is Gonzo? The particular brand which Dr Thompson dabbled in was as strenuously subjective and participatory as it is wild, this is where flat-out fantasy meets accurate reportage. The good Doctor filtered reality through a freakish mania sustained or possibly endured with the help of copious amounts of (both legal and illegal) substances. For Gonzo the claims of 'objectivity' which permeate American journalism are false and absurd, the blind-spots of which provide room for people such as Richard Nixon to slither into public office. Instead Gonzo wallows in its own subjectivity, it oozes provocative opinion as well as hard fact and comment meshed together with just the kind of sordid thoughts that will shock the squares. For Thompson journalism is nothing more than "a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage."

Going by the trailer of the film adaptation it would seem that the director Bruce Robinson (another seasoned drinker) had sought to extrapolate the Gonzo style throughout the story from the early hints of Gonzo lurking in the work. Undeniably there are the early signs of Gonzo in the piece, the drunken adventures of Paul Kemp in Puerto Rico carry the same filthy and sinister tones to them as in Thompson's later works. The language is simple, as well as wild and precise on the important details. Just as in The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved the reader is left waiting for the major event which never actually comes. Instead the almost masturbatory run-up to the event becomes the central focus of the piece. The derby is never covered in the sports article Thompson wrote. The Gonzo style of the narrative is complimented with the ultra-surreal and grotesque illustrations of English artist Ralph Steadman, who was out of his face on psilocybin at the time. The assignment was botched and Thompson saw it as a brutal failure, until he received wave-after-wave of positive feedback.

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas the reader only sees the beginning of the motorcycle race that Thompson was sent to cover in Nevada. Instead the depraved duo of Hunter S Thompson and Oscar Acosta became Raoul Duke and Dr Gonzo, the mad trip through Las Vegas which followed was likened to a "savage journey to the heart of the American dream". The American Dream does not seem to be covered in any way other than some abstract analogy between all-American ideas and the cultural revolution of the 60s which had died by the early 70s. Perhaps it is the journey itself which falls short of finding the Dream. In The Rum Diary there is no sidekick for Paul Kemp, at least not to rival Oscar Acosta and Ralph Steadman. The role of the foreign compatriot in these instances is not to provide a domesticated semi-by-standing assistant to the character arc of a white man, rather Acosta became a full participant in the story just as Thompson did. Oscar Acosta was a radical lawyer who went on the road with Hunter S Thompson to Las Vegas where their antics were immortalised in Fear and Loathing.

The hints of a politically conscious youth can also be found in The Rum Diary, there are references to the "rise of communism", discouraging events in Cuba and the brutality of capitalism. The McCarthyite atmosphere of the day is captured as the newspaper is owned by a man named Lotterman, an ex-communist who attacks anything remotely left-ish to prove himself as a reformed character. Power is consistently portrayed as sleazy, amoral and self-interested. The politics of Thompson were one part ultra-leftist sentiment, one part Democrat and three parts Freak Power. As a man of contradictions Thompson was at once facing the liberal establishment and the radical strand of American populism. So he can support JFK and Jimmy Carter at the same time as he launches into vociferous attacks on Richard Nixon. In his dedication to George McGovern he set out to destroy all Democratic opposition with his typewriter, before moving on to do the same to the Republican candidates. In the end it was all or nothing for the good Doctor, he gave up the ghost before he got to see the first African-American walk into the White House as President. In the end it was all fear and loathing...

"The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but to those who see it coming and jump aside." - Hunter S Thompson

Saturday, 8 October 2011

A Criminal Decade for Afghans.

A toast to Freedom?

We have been in Afghanistan for 10 years now, though the US has interfered in Afghan affairs for closer to 30 years. It is almost common knowledge that the US intervened in the 1980s and backed the Mujahideen to fight the Russians who had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Actually it was the Carter administration that put together $500 million to set up the Mujahideen in 1978 to counteract the Saur Revolution. The fundamentalist regime of General Zia-ul-Haq was more than welcome to assist the Americans in the bid to prevent Afghanistan from falling under the Iron Curtain. The support for General Zia-ul-Haq went as far as to support the radicalisation of Pakistani society, Jihadist manuals were actually printed at the University of Nebraska before being distributed throughout Pakistan. The consequent sympathy for Islamism in Pakistan combined with bureaucratic incompetence and institutional corruption is what kept Osama bin Laden safe in the country for so long. The horrible war which has now touched Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, for lack of a better word, cannot be understood without this context.

The Poodle's reward.
In the beginning we were told this is the "fight for freedom" and we were told "we will see freedom's victory" in the end. There is little mention of the facts about the people who run Afghanistan now. It is a narco-state where 50% of the economy is "black", which means that the cultivation and trafficking of drugs accounts for half of the Afghan economy. The war lords who cultivate and smuggle drugs out of the country are the same people who slaughtered 50,000 people in a 4 year bid to takeover Kabul in the 1990s. The war lords were won over to "our side" with truckloads of cash and guns. For years now these thugs have gotten away with the mass-rape of women, girls and boys. There is no serious commitment to the reconstruction of the country, instead the Karzai government is allowed to wallow in corruption while the ordinary Afghan goes without universal health-care and education. The Afghan people are only permitted a role of ratifying the position of President Hamid Karzai as the country is occupied and trashed.

The purpose of the invasion was never to overthrow the Taliban, the US had supported the Taliban for years and had provided billions of dollars in support of the regime. Then after 9/11 came the demands from George Bush that the Taliban has to hand over Osama bin Laden to the Americans. The Taliban agreed provided that the US put forward evidence (which is normal procedure for an extradition) and the US then proceeded to bomb Afghanistan without any international authorisation in October 2001. Ironically, the following year Bush and Blair were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is worth noting that there were 5 million Afghans on the verge of starvation in the country at the time and, as the bombing commenced, it looked as though the number could rise to 7.5 million. Thankfully the war has not led to starvation on a huge scale, but that does not excuse the immoral nature of the war. Unless we think that it was a sensible idea for Russia to station nuclear missiles in Cuba and point them at the US because it didn't lead to a nuclear war.

The Long Ride to a Free World?
The attacks of September 11th 2001 provided an opportunity for the US to drive a wedge into the Islamist movement, which was actually highly critical of the "new approach" al-Qaeda had taken to attack the far enemy rather than one of the many near enemies. If there had been a serious operation to apprehend the suspects then a wedge could have been driven into the Islamist movement, Osama bin Laden would have been isolated and the threat of terrorism could have been decreased. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief strategist of al-Qaeda, wrote then that the aim of the group was to lure the US into an over-reaction in which it would "wage battle against the Muslims." So that the US would be left vulnerable in a horrible drawn-out conflict while the long divided Islamist movement could be brought together against the West. The plan worked out as the US and UK jumped at the opportunity to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. There have since been attacks against cities across Europe, from Sweden to Spain.

It is difficult to ignore the strategic value of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the battle for control of energy resources in the region, which has yet to conclude and we have to bare in mind the superpowers in waiting (e.g. China and India). Logically any pipeline from India would have to pass through Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to reach the nearest sources of oil and gas in Iran or Turkmenistan. The problem is that India could feasibly turn to Iran for oil and gas, but the US wants to isolate Iran and would prefer it if the Indians turned to Turkmenistan. Afghanistan is situated close to major energy producers in Central Asia and the Middle East, it shares a border with Iran and therefore could be used to "contain" it's independent neighbour. The possibility of a Central Asian energy network which would exclude and isolate Iran is quite appealing to the US. To the chagrin of the Americans, Iran has managed to extend its influence in Iraq and Afghanistan in spite of the continued efforts to marginalise Iran in world affairs.

Talking Tough, Talking Bullshit.
Only when some of "our lads" are killed in battle are we allowed to criticise the war. So the deaths of over 40,000 Afghans would be fine so long as no American or British troops died along the way. The assumption is that this is a noble war against terrorism, which has to be fought to secure the West from further terrorist attacks. The line goes "If we don't fight them over there, we will be fighting them over here." The same argument was used by the US government to defend it's war against the Vietnamese, President Johnson stated "We have to stop the Communists over there [Vietnam] or we'll soon be fighting them in California." This is perverse because American and British troops are effectively dying in Afghanistan to raise the threat of terrorism in the US and the UK. As the war has been escalated it has spilled over into Pakistan, so now the possibility of a state with nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamists has increased. Protection of Western civilians and prevention of the spread of terrorism has nothing to do with the Afghan War.

The war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with freedom, democracy or anything as sanitary as self-defence. Not so much as a thought of the Afghan people has ever passed through the minds of the war-pigs and chickenhawks who decided to start this war. We are only allowed to question the war because "our lads" are suffering, which might explain there is little ink and camera film used to cover the slaughter of thousands of Afghan civilians. The vast majority of the people who have been killed in Afghanistan were the victims of the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, not the defenders of Osama bin Laden. We have to concede that the backlash has come from the victims of war, the Taliban now represents a small element of the armed opposition to the occupation. The war itself has made the West hated even more than it was before 9/11 and neither George Bush nor Tony Blair will have to live with the consequences of such hatred. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who said "When rich people fight wars with one another, poor people are the ones to die." Think Bush. Think Blair. Think of Obama and Cameron. Forgive none of these bastards.

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Master and Medvedev.

So, it looks like Vladimir Putin will be President of Russia by March 2012 due to a convenient arrangement with Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in 2008 though Putin stayed on as Prime Minister. By 2008 Putin had served two terms as Russian President and had to allow someone else to take office for at least a term because of a constitutional technicality. So Medvedev stood for the Presidency and Putin became Prime Minister for 4 years. In return Medvedev will serve as Prime Minister and lead United Russia. This is not a surprise to anyone familiar with the highly cynical and corrupt nature of Russian politics. It has reached the point that there is not even a whiff of shame to be found at such scenes anymore. It was in front of an audience of dutiful bureaucrats that the decision was announced, then came an embrace which the bureaucrats were keen to welcome with applause. Then it was openly stated that Putin and Medvedev had come up with this arrangement several years ago. The obvious had been admitted.

The possibility of 12 years of Vladimir Putin draws the inevitable comparison with Joseph Stalin in the Western media, e.g. if Putin retains power until 2024 he will be Russia's longest serving ruler since Stalin. When faced with a Russian authoritarianism the Western media can only refer us back to the shibboleths of the old Communist Party. Sadly it doesn't go without saying that the rise of Putin cannot be understood without context. The Economist would have you believe that it is Putin who has undermined Russian democracy before it got a chance to flourish; created a "Mafia state" of crony capitalism via the Kremlin and poisoned the benevolent experiment with liberal capitalism. The conclusion being that the West should adopt a tougher policy towards Russia, e.g. to support Ukraine and Georgia. There is no room for a deeper look at the roots of Putinism, because we might find that the post-Communist world is not just an orgy of consumerism where the sky is the limit when it comes to free-choice and rates of growth.

For the journalists at The Economist it was Putin's failure to shirk from liberalisation of the economy which will lead Russia into future crises. According to The Economist these "weaknesses may make Russia unstable and nationalistic, which will make it harder for foreigners to deal with." Even though nationalism has been a strong tendency in Russia for a long time and the economy was plunged into a deep crisis in the 1990s as a result of reforms. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the advice and support of the US, Boris Yeltsin initiated economic "shock therapy" - a wave of spending cuts, removal of price-controls, deregulation and a spree of privatisation. It was "creative destruction" as millions were plunged into poverty, prices shot through the roof and ruthless businessmen grabbed as much as they could. The country was effectively looted as the state became increasingly ensnared by the oligarchs that had managed to seize large chunks of Russian industry in the chaos. Ultimately the structural adjustments of the Russian economy provide the pretext and create the conditions for a figure such as Putin to emerge on top.

There is no attempt to even reflect on this point in the pages of The Economist. Of course, what really bugs the squealing pigs at The Economist is that the new Russia has yet to join the World Trade Organisation and that the rampant corruption in the country has a disruptive impact on the market. This is not a fundamental critique of Putinism. Primarily The Economist is displeased with Putin's specific choice of Prime Minister and would prefer it if he had chosen Alexei Kudrin over Medvedev. The reason: Kudrin stands for "fiscal responsibility" which means spending cuts for the plebs. The fact that Kudrin can balance a budget means more to this lot than the fact he's just another crony. Kudrin has an affinity for civil liberties, human rights and political pluralism, so he is much more appealing than Medvedev. But he is even more appealing as a "martyr" to liberal values in a barbarous land, it feeds into the self-serving narrative in the Western media. If Alexei Kudrin was Prime Minister under Putin then he would no doubt walk the same line as Medvedev.

The Economist notes that the swap between Medvedev and Putin "opens a new chapter in Russian history - one that may well end in crisis." The fact that it was a crisis in 1998 which allowed Putin to slither into the Kremlin in the first place. The "new chapter" began with the fall of the Berlin Wall, after which Fukuyama heralded the "End of History" and a pisshead named Boris Yeltsin became the President of the new Russia. The collapse of Communism left a void, it was as if all ideologies had failed and the world had entered a post-political age of managerial governance which fed into a climate of cynical anti-politics. Since then an ultra-nationalist populism has emerged, as well as anti-Communist hysteria and even a conservative nostalgia for the Cold War. In a similar way to Berlusconi in Italy Putin stands as a bulwark to the chaos of the marketplace which is conveniently situated at the apex where ultra-politics and anti-politics collide. The only "alternative" permitted by the Kremlin is the Russian Communist Party, everywhere the politics of Russia is riddled with ultra-rightist and proto-fascist groups such as the National Bolsheviks. All the while the Western media is only capable of liberal day-dreams about the new Russia.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Luck of the Irish.

The Blood Never Dried.

It was on October 3rd 1981 that the Irish Hunger Strike came to an end, it was the culmination of a five-year protest by Republican inmates at Maze Prison. For the Thatcher government it was a Pyrrhic victory as the protest came to an end and Sinn Féin became an established party of the mainstream in the wake of the protests. Margaret Thatcher became a Republican hate-figure as she maintained "We are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime, it is not political". So the British refused to budge on the withdrawal of Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners as 10 inmates starved to death. When Bobby Sands died Thatcher had to comment in Parliament "Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims". Naturally Thatcher has since been hated almost as much as Oliver Cromwell, who expropriated Irish land and allotted it to officers and soldiers in his army.

The IRA reacted with violence and in 1984 bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton where Thatcher stayed to attend the Conservative Party Conference. In the aftermath the IRA issued the statement: "Mrs. Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war." Bare in mind that the British government introduced internment in order to detain suspected terrorists without charge. The intention being to crush the IRA but it actually turned into a major recruiting pitch for Republicans. Then came Bloody Sunday in 1972 in which British soldiers fired on unarmed protestors and bystanders, hitting 26 and killing 13 on the spot. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry of 2010 concluded that the shooting was unjustifiable and came without any warning. None of the dead posed a threat to the British soldiers. Finally David Cameron issued an apology for the massacre which was long overdue.

Let's not forget about Irish history. The Easter Rising led to the War of Independence and then to the Irish Civil War of 1922-24, a very savage affair, fought between Irish nationalists on the issue of the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the British, which established dominion status for Ireland (a self-governing Free State, but still part of the British Empire) with the right of exclusion (to be left out) for loyalist Northern Ireland. The partition was established in a desperate political compromise with the Irish to save some face before the country could be sufficiently humiliated once more. The seemingly age-old antagonism between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland was instigated by the British in collusion with land-owners looking to exploit religious sectarianism. The division remains a source of great strife in Ireland, while class is pushed aside as an issue of debate at all. Republicanism remain the official means by which the Catholic working-class is supposed to express its' interests. The great irony being the role of Protestants in the roots of the Irish Republican movement.

Back in 1867 Karl Marx noted that the Irish needed self-government and independence from England, to achieve an agrarian revolution it would be necessary to implement protective tariffs against England. From 1783 to 1801 the Dublin Parliament, which represented the Protestant land-owners and bourgeoisie, maintained protectionist measures to insulate Irish industry from England. These measures were possible because the Dublin Parliament was able to attain a degree of independence from England in 1782. Then came the Irish Rebellion of 1798, after that the Dublin Parliament was abolished and the measures it had introduced were reversed. Free trade was established once more between Ireland and England in 1801. All industrial life in Ireland was destroyed, with the exception of a small linen industry, in a manner reminiscent of the measures imposed under Anne and George II to suppress the Irish woollen industry. As Marx pointed out, Canada and Australia had achieved independence only to go protectionist and maintain economic independence from England. The same can be said of the United States.

By the time that WB Yeats was writing the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy had failed to provide any meaningful leadership at the political level and had resorted to a cultural leadership in order to revive the Gaelic culture that they had previously repressed. It was the possibility of a cultural common ground on which all the Irish could head for and leave behind the old politics. What came before the Reformation was the ancient myths which were conveniently excluded from sectarian enmity, the project of the enlightened Anglo-Irish tradition, while it remained an opponent of conservatism. This is where a marginal element of the Protestant elite became fused with Catholics through Celtic revivalism, nationalism and idealism. As Terry Eagleton notes the irony of the Anglo-Irish who dismissed the Catholics as superstitious only to flounder in the supernatural and the spectral, from Bram Stoker to Oscar Wilde. The occult and strange magic served the Irish Protestants as a substitute for Catholic doctrine. But then Dracula could be seen as an Irish landlord deprived of the sustenance of his soil.

In the aftermath of the Rising the British soon put to death the seven, and eight others, who had signed the proclamation of an Irish Republic after the General Post Office in Dublin was seized. This is what Patrick Pearse described as the "blood sacrifice" of the Easter Rising, which was necessary in order for the War of Independence to be fought. The so-called "progressives" of the time in the British Parliament declined to issue a certificate of support for the Irish rebels. The survivors went on to shape history, the 'Big Fella' Michael Collins became leader of the Free Staters and Éamon De Valera went on to help establish the Republic. Incidentally, De Valera had escaped death because his mother was an American and the British government feared alienating the US, whose entry into the First World War on the British side was of top priority in Westminster. De Valera went on to become a cultural conservative and founded Fianna Fáil in 1926 - which has since degenerated to the point that it has signed away Ireland's future to European bankers. By the mid 1920s the small country had been left devastated by civil war and a war of liberation from Britain.

Over the course of the Civil War the same men who had stood shoulder to shoulder in the War of Independence. It began with the antagonism consequent of the establishment of the Irish Free State. From one perspective it might have been seen as the "freedom to achieve freedom", but it was also seen as a betrayal of the movement. As Michael Collins signed the Treaty with David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to seal the deal in 1921 he remarked "I tell you, I have signed my death warrant." And so it was the following year, in the early months of the Civil War, the 'Big Fella' was murdered by Republicans in a roadside ambush in Cork. The people who had fought together for Irish independence then turned their guns and bayonets on one another. The Free Staters set about shooting their prisoners without mercy and the Republicans soon sought revenge. Out of all the slaughter the Free Staters emerged victorious but it would be the Republicans who triumphed in the long-run.  The Irish Civil War left a bad taste behind in the country, as civil wars tend to do even without the kind of partition Ireland has had to endure. Since then it has been sang by some:
"Take it down from the mast, Irish traitors,
The flag we Republicans claim.
It can never belong to Free Staters.
You brought on it nothing but shame…
You've taken our brave Liam and Rory,
You've murdered young Richard and Joe.
Your hands with their blood are still gory,
From fulfilling the work of the foe.
For we stand with Enright and Larkin,
With Daley and Sullivan bold.
We'll break down the English connection,
And bring back the nation you sold…"
Easter, 1916.

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

W.B. Yeats