Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Persian Problem.

There has been a lot of talk about war with Iran lately as a British embassy was attacked by protesters, the subsequent expulsion of Iranian diplomats from British soil and then Iran had shot down an American drone (as well as an explosion near the British embassy in Bahrain). The reasoning here is that the Islamic Republic is hostile to the West and Israel out of nothing more than anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. It is secretly developing nuclear weapons and has long-standing ties with Hezbollah. The same people who are not the defenders of gay rights and women's liberation will refer you to the record Iran has on the rights of gays and women. There is no space in a theocratic state for democratic procedures except in a castrated form to ratify the decrees of the Islamist establishment. It is nothing less than the "clash of civilisations" Samuel P Huntington warned us about. This is the view of the situation crafted through the media and supported by members of the political class in the US, UK and Israel.

What's wrong with this picture? We should keep in mind that Saudi Arabia makes Iran look like the most flamboyant Gay Pride parade through San Francisco and no commentators are calling for Riyadh to be bombed into the stone-age. The Saudi Kingdom remains a major client-state of the US in spite of the religious superstructure which helps legitimate the House of Saud. The same goes for the criticism that the Islamic Republic is not a democracy, but a theocracy which aligns itself with the forces of militant Islam in its march against the West. It wasn't the Iranian government who lent billions of dollars to the Taliban, that was the work of Saudi Royalty and the American elite. Even more shockingly it was the Israeli government, not Tehran, which covertly financed Hamas many years ago to undermine the secular Palestinian Left. It was the University of Nebraska, not the University of Qom, which printed Jihadist manuals to be distributed throughout Pakistan in the 80s. The radicalisation of Pakistan took place under General Zia ul-Haq.

The particular form of political Islam in practice in Iran lacks any purely Qu'ranic origins, rather it is a hybrid which was developed in the 20th Century. It comes out of the works of Ali Shariati and the Islamist thinker Sayyid Qutb as well as Abul Maududi. Qutb called for an Islamist vanguard to rise above the corrupt influence of the West and lead the masses to the light of Islam. Maududi introduced the idea of an Islamic democracy, at the same time that he admired the Fascist movements of the 1930s. The most important figure for Iran is certainly the work of Ali Shariati which has since been compared to Catholic Liberation Theology. For in his work he fused the anti-imperialism of Frantz Fanon (a student of Jean-Paul Sartre) with the Shi'ite tradition, which had been apolitical for much of its history until then. It was then that the political Islam, we know all to well today, emerged in Iran as the old dictatorship melted under the heat of popular passions in the country. Shariati died before the revolution and never saw the established vision of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Christopher Hitchens made a brief reference to this in his talk on the "Axis of Evil" when he noted that there are 'discrepant' views of the relation of religion to the state in Shi'ite theology. It remains a serious theological discussion even after the rise of theocracy in Iran. It is worth noting that the Islamic Republic was established in reaction to the coup of '53 and stood on the back of a popular rebellion against a brutal regime. The Shah overthrown in 1979 had been installed by the CIA in 1953 to protect the interests of British Petroleum after the Iranian government sought to nationalise the country's energy resources. As Hitchens explained, in the new Islamist Iran, the Guardianship of the Jurists (normally an umbrella held over the vulnerable, mentally ill and so on) was extended to include the entire population under its protection. The central authority was from then on manifested in the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council.

The media prefers to pick and choose from history rather than acknowledge the origins of the nuclear issue in Iran. It was the Shah who argued that Iran should have nuclear weapons because the US and Russia have them. Once Ayatollah Khomeini came to power the Iranian initiative to develop nuclear weapons came to an end. It was only as Iraq, with the support of the US, declared war on Iran that the Islamist regime decided to reopen the facilities. Incidentally, the reformist President Khatami wanted to lead Iran into the invasion of Iraq 20 years later alongside the US in order to "improve relations". The Bush administration then abruptly placed Iran on the "Axis of Evil". The invasion came in 2003 and the US then maintained occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which share borders with Iran. In fact Iran is surrounded on all sides by American client-states which could easily support or even be used as a base for an invasion some day.

There are signs that a covert war is already underway, it would seem, with the US and Israel as major aggressors supported by Britain and France. In the words of Seamus Milne at Stop the War "Covert support for armed opposition groups has spread into a campaign of assassinations of Iranian scientists, cyber warfare, attacks on military and missile installations, and the killing of an Iranian general, among others." Even the propaganda wing of the GOP has acknowledged that there may be a covert war being waged against Iran. It remains a real possibility that the US will trap itself into an all out war with Iran, which would undoubtedly be long and bloody. As the combination of harsh sanctions and growing threat of an attack on Iran from the American base on Diego Garcia could converge with the worst tendencies of American-Israeli foreign policy. Iran is perceived as a threat because of its independence from Washington as it stands as an alternative model for the Shi'ite masses which are oppressed in major oil providers such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iraq.

The Death of a Stalinist.

So Kim Jong-il has died at the age of 70, going by Russian records, and the hermit state of North Korea is in transition to another leader and this time the successor seems to be a man who has yet to enter his fourth decade on this planet. The country descended into 10 days of mourning as it had when Kim Il-sung died in 1994. It was out of respect to the wishes of the "Great Leader" that Kim Jong-il was allowed to become the Chairman of the National Defence Commission. But it was not automatic, Kim Jong-il took 3 years to consolidate his power within the bureaucracy of the Workers' Party. It was decided in 1998 that the Eternal President of the Republic would be Kim Il-sung and so Kim Jong-il is technically not the President of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. So the notion of a President for life has been taken one step further, perhaps we should deem North Korea a "thanatocracy" as Christopher Hitchens suggested.

Now it looks as though Kim Jong-un will takeover the party-state apparatus in a similar manner, there have already been purges to undermine potential rivals for power. This was a surprise to Western commentators who predicted that the military establishment would not continue the Kim dynasty given the horrific state of affairs in the country. The importance of the Kim dynasty to the ruling ideology in North Korea cannot be understated. If the family goes then it is likely that the entire regime will have little to hold itself together. After all it was Kim Il-sung who fought the Japanese and oversaw the reconstruction of the country after the horrors of the Korean war, in which over 2 million were slaughtered. Even though the war was sparked after Kim Il-sung talked Stalin into backing an invasion of South Korea in 1950. But the Korean People's Army consisted of the same forces who had fought the Japanese and to this day the regime relies on this record of anti-colonial struggle.

As with figures such as Tito in Yugoslavia, Hoxha in Albania and Ceaușescu in Romania when Kim Il-sung died in 1994 commentators looked for signs of a coming collapse. It is likely that the military establishment tightened control of the population as Kim Jong-il consolidated his power. No doubt the privileged position of the military comes down to the interdependent relationship it enjoys with the Party. The military cannot rule nakedly and therefore requires some kind of justification and in turn the Kim clan fall back on the military for power. It is worth noting that the most recent amendments to the constitution have removed all references to communism and even Marxism-Leninism, instead old ideas of Juche (self-reliance) and Songun (military first) have become central. The old communist slogans have little appeal to the profoundly conservative establishment, no wonder then that the regime has become staunchly nationalist in character under Kim Jong-il.

As a consequence of the succession from father to son and now to grandson there has yet to be a process of de-Stalinization in North Korea. The personality cult around the family remains elaborate and in full swing as it was started by Kim Il-sung in the 1950s. But the Stalinist model became increasingly isolated as the Soviet Union underwent a brief period of liberalisation under Khrushchev. Then came the mutation of Maoism into a unique form of authoritarian capitalism and the collapse of really existing socialism in Eastern Europe. The mock Stalinism of Albania and Romania melted in the face of popular rage, as goulash communism ran dry in Hungary and the Berlin Wall came down in Germany. Tito’s death gave way to ethnic tensions which would eventually tear apart Yugoslavia in the most horrific manner. No one in the West saw it coming and the US took credit for it all, even though it came about as a result of internal tensions. The fallout left North Korea isolated and dependent on a now rationed flow of resources.

No doubt the power structure of North Korea and the scarcity of oil led to the food crisis of the 1990s. In Cuba the Soviet collapse prompted the decentralisation of agriculture, to prevent the shortage of fuel from creating a food shortage which could in turn create a famine. By contrast, North Korea opted to maintain the old structure of centralised control and even sought to intensify the Songun doctrine as the regime relied even more on the military establishment for its strength. The brutality of the regime apparently reached new heights. The intense militarism which came as Kim Jong-il took power exacerbated the famine, which came out of the centralised control of the state and the decline of ready access to oil. The military and scientific elites were given priority in the allocation of resources. In the consequent famine over 2 million people died as Kim Jong-il retained power and enjoyed a life of excessive indulgence.

The countryside became a source of great shame to the regime, which still seeks to conceal the disgraceful conditions from the outside world. The constraints on farming from a fuel shortage exacerbated by the Songun doctrine have left the countryside picked clean of vegetation as the military is given priority. The preference is to keep its tourists to the cities where the illusion of a workers’ paradise can be maintained. In the midst of the famine came rumours of cannibalism and the sight of people grazing on grass like cows. Since then there have been small openings for market forces in North Korea since the collapse of really existing socialism around the rest of the world. The relations with Russia and China descended into exploitative arrangements, with North Korean workers sold to chop wood in the Russian East as increasing numbers of Chinese entered the country to sell food and clothing. Most recently footage of women picking grass to sell has been smuggled out of the country.

The fears of a power struggle sparking violence on the Korean peninsula are not outlandish as North-South relations are at a low point. There was a power struggle in the 1990s between the old guard and the reformists who wanted to mimic the Chinese model of ‘capitalism with Asian values’. We don’t know the details of the tension, but it is clear that Kim Jong-il had taken over the Workers’ Party with his father elevated to Eternal President. It was clear that the few openings made for markets were the only concessions that would be made as the military establishment formed the base on which Kim Jong-il sat. The principle of Songun made it sure that the military was privileged over the rest of North Korean society. But it is likely that the regime has been preparing for this succession for a while. There have been purges throughout the year and it would likely be a method of securing the succession to Kim Jong-un. Any sign of an uprising against the regime remains to be seen, but when the collapse comes it won't be seen coming from afar.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Путин and il Cavaliere.

The Cult of the Strong Man.

Putin and Berlusconi have more in common than we might assume at first. The pair of them are thoroughly reactionary, the latter standing for a combination of liberal technocracy and right-wing populism while the former stands on a ruthless oligarchy and the tide of Russian nationalism. At the apex where ultra-politics (nationalist populism) converge with anti-politics (small state liberalism) Berlusconi managed to hold his balance for on-and-off 17 years. But the same can be said of Putin in Russia for the last decade, albeit in a more refined form of authoritarianism and on a much larger scale. The total cynicism with which this pair have governed may have no other match in this day and age. Putin was shameless when he announced he would be running for the Presidency once again, he openly admitted the arrangement he had forged with Medvedev. The two of them agreed, many years ago, to take turns running the state as President and Prime Minister. It is almost as though there is no need for illusions and facades, the erosion of democracy is bluntly acknowledged in public life.

The pair of them are creatures of the supposedly post-political age which holds us hostage. It was the fall of the Berlin Wall which set the wheels in motion to elevate Putin and Berlusconi to high office. Both of them have been active in the reduction of politics to a mere spectacle, which is not engaged in and no one really cares about. The cynicism takes a postmodern turn as Berlusconi became a parody of the cynical opportunist and self-serving scum-bag. The same can be said of Putin's particular brand of permissive nationalism, freedom from constraint joined with the strong-arm of the state. The crackpot populism of Berlusconi collides with technocratic liberalism, effectively it's rule-by-bankers and the only opposition comes from the immigrant-loving Communists who have infiltrated the Establishment. The same can be said of the criminal state in Russia which has exiled the oligarchs not aligned with Putin's inner circle. The only opposition permitted within Russia comes from crypto-fascists to which Putin stands in balance with the Russian oligarchy.

When Communism fell apart Boris Yeltsin destroyed civil society with economic reforms, Putin emerged at the end of the decade as the strong-man with the answer to Russia's illth. Once the Cold War ended then the Americans withdrew support for right-wing campaigns against the Italian Communist Party as it disintegrated, but then an enormous corruption scandal obliterated the major parties. As the dust settled Berlusconi emerged from the rubble with a political party named after a football team, it was composed of disillusioned liberals and self-described "post-Fascists". For a long time it looked as though the age of Berlusconi may only end with his death in public office. Thankfully the forces within the government converged amidst the economic crisis with popular discontent and Berlusconi was forced from office. Now we can see protests in Russia over the rigged elections, it would seem that the Russians are not simply barbarians who do not care for democracy and would leave Putin's gang to run amok in Moscow.

Good Riddance.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Blizzards of Shame!

How long must this go on?

You may have heard of the recent discovery the long lost Bulldog spirit has been found finally as it was manifested in Mr Cameron when he said "No!" to Merkozy. It was not national interests David Cameron was defending, it was the interests of banks who don't want to be taxed or be regulated that he was defending. The revolting servility this filthy Tory has shown has nothing to do with patriotism, though it is symptomatic of the whorish relationship between the Conservative Party and the financial colossus in the City of London. The fact that this can even be considered patriotic is the sign of the crass state of the political discourse in this country. The nationalist Right are experiencing something of a resurgence amidst this economic turmoil, so there's nothing to lose in a bit of flag-waving especially after a round of shit-flinging on the Continent. The choice we face is between Brussels and Washington, but European integration cannot be anti-democratic as it is right now. Cameron is no democrat for standing in opposition to the treaty, the politics of Cameron have a great deal of commonality with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy.

David Cameron seems to embody the Progressivism of Victorian liberalism, at once a creature of the market forces as well as a cultural puritan and a proponent of history as progress. The crisis is just a cyclical phenomenon to him, in the long-term it is a blockage to the path of the march towards a utopia of the free-market. The theoretical doctrines of monetarism have been replaced by a pragmatism which cuts through theory to the reality, where the old state system of health-care and education has to be discarded. The debt has to be managed through a deficit reduction which will thereby enable us to circumvent this obstacle. The key elements here feed into one another: the market is perfect so the crisis is cyclical not structural and will pass in time, therefore there are no grounds to justify state intervention to create jobs and the deficit is the real issue. The regulation and taxation of financial institutions has to be stopped then, as the problem will pass as the structures of finance are adjusted through the reforms being implemented already.

In the light of Mr Cameron's transformation from Etonian Toff to British Bulldog, the talk of Christian values is quite interesting. David Cameron has listed the following as Christian values: responsibility, hard-work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, pride in working for the Common Good and honouring the social obligations to family and community. This is where Mr Cameron's edge in public relations (which used to be called 'propaganda' in more honest days) comes across in his presentation. The man knows how to dress an agenda and not just the monkey he keeps for a deputy. Cameron can spin the line on it's head and roll out commonsensical rhetoric at just the right moment. No one opposes the basic concepts Cameron endorsed and for this reason they do not require endorsement. What matters most about the endorsement relates to the standards he has set in office already. For instance, the banks clearly are not about "self-sacrifice" as made evident by their refusal to tolerate even modest levels of progressive taxation and regulation.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Cameron is looking after the principle constituents of the Conservative Party. This cultural conservatism is superstructural to the economic base which it has the potential to undermine and may be threatened by itself simultaneously. In other words, the endorsement of Christian values amounts to an outgrowth of market liberalism. The particular appreciation of charity in Cameron comes out of the harsh Victorian hatred of the undeserving poor as it posits a deserving poor, which should be helped and has been shafted by the welfare state. Compassion should be rationed then. Humility too, only applies to the poor who should know their place. Of course, the banksters have no time for responsibility and any hard work which actually produces things has largely declined in this country. And yet the masses are meant to be committed to sacrifice themselves for the super-rich. These supposedly Christian pronouncements by Cameron reveal a profound hatred for the working-class in this country.

Can you taste the Irony?

The liberal philosopher John Locke provided a theoretical justification for private property, market relations and bourgeois conceptions of freedom. But it was the Whig circles in which Locke moved that would eventually bring down the King and in turn provide the incentive for Locke to provide such a justification in the first place. Locke was a close friend of Lord Shaftesbury who founded the Whig Party, though Locke did not share the Paganism of Shaftesbury and a number of the aristocrats of the day. The ruling-class feared that the Catholic King was loyal to the Vatican, so there would be a forced rival of Catholicism in the country which would mean violent upheaval. The violence that it would take to the reverse the process which established the Church of England and Protestantism would inevitably undermine the power structure. So the Pagan ruling-class conspired to overthrow a Catholic King in order to install a Protestant King and maintain the status quo.

Shaftesbury's friend John Locke was eager to provide a philosophical justification for the replacement of King James II with William of Orange. The foundations of liberalism were laid with a Christian gloss in the defence of the interests that the English ruling-class had vested in property. Christianity was for the poor and the ruling-class remained Pagan in Britain until the 19th Century. The liberal pronouncements of John Locke gave the coming market system a language of natural rights and freedoms. After feudalism had crumbled it ceased to be the 'natural order' and from then on capitalism would be considered in accordance with human nature. The irony is that the nationalism behind Cameron's veto comes from the old Pagan logic and not any kind of Christian value. Here we find a return to the Paganism of the British ruling-class as opposed to the Christian poor. In Christian love there is no hint of the Pagan logic that we must privilege our own clan above the rest.

An even greater irony is that the decision to veto the treaty may have actually maintained the limited democracy we endure in this country. The move was made to secure the interests of banking and finance, not out of any Bulldog patriotism. So the enemies of social democracy may have saved the possibility of a return to Keynesianism in Britain. As the treaty enshrines balanced budgets, near zero-deficits and has effectively abolished expansionary public spending in doing so. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone as the European Union was a right-wing project from the very beginning. This was just the latest attack on social democracy and a testament to the appalling state of affairs in Europe. We have only to turn to the unconscionable vandalism of Greece - a country which should have been allowed to default - to find an even more telling instance. The European elites are stopping at nothing to use this crisis to tear apart the welfare states created after WW2.

Not only would it seem that this is a time of creative destruction, but the social democratic model of yesteryear cannot save itself. We are caught between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, to borrow from South Park, in that we face a choice between Washington and Brussels. The reason that European integration should be pursued along lines which are democratic and offer an alternative model to that of predatory American capitalism. Meanwhile the Right will continue to shout as though the choice is between Whitehall and Brussels. There can be no referendum on the capitalist system and so we have to take a stand together as Europeans. There is a long way to go in this area, as we have yet to establish trade unions which can represent the European workers as a whole of entire industries. The kind of national discourse available in the United States is not available in the European Union yet. Complete withdrawal is just a nationalist delusion that has already been ruled out by globalisation. The more fundamental struggle is a fight against capitalism.
Solutions for whom
We cannot abandon Euroscepticism to the Right

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Umberto Eco on Eternal Fascism.

In the essay Eternal Fascism: Fourteen ways of looking at a Blackshirt, Umberto Eco outlines a list of features that are typical of what he calls Eternal Fascism, it is a force which remains in plainclothes today and won't necessarily come out sporting a Swastika for us to spot easily. It could easily take a far more innocent guise. The world is too complex for history to repeat itself and we have to uncover Eternal Fascism for all to see wherever it may hide. He stresses that the features cannot be organised into a single coherent system and there are contradictions between the different features. Eco also notes that the features are typical of other kinds of authoritarianism. Even one of these features is enough for a fascism to coagulate around it, so we find the reason that there are various differences between the Fascist movements which have come and gone. There are differences between the neo-fascist groups of today and the Fascist movements of the 1930s, the English Defence League is not the same as the British Union of Fascists though it shares certain features.

Umberto Eco rightly refers us to the words of FDR in 1938: "If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land." It should be noted that the democratic system was never betrayed in the US, as the liberal critics of George Bush accuse him of the destruction of the Constitution. There is some truth to the claims of a debasement of old-fashioned liberal principles of freedom and rights. But the political system in the US was designed not to be democratic, nor to be autocratic, rather it was constituted as a polyarchy. This is what Alexander Hamilton called "moderate government" as the Golden Mean between dictatorship and democracy. To be more exact, the political parties can take turns running the state in the favour of the particular interests in which they are ensnared. It was James Madison who held that the government "ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." The stagnation of American politics combined with economic turmoil leaves the population angry, fearful and confused - this is ripe territory for Blackshirts!

First comes the cult of tradition. Traditionalism long precedes fascism, it was typical of counter-revolutionary Catholicism in the aftermath of the French Revolution and it first emerged in the Hellenistic era in reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of the faiths accepted by the Roman pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. The revelation had long been concealed in forgotten languages, from Egyptian hieroglyphics to the Celtic runes and beyond to Asia. We can only persist in the interpretation of the obscure messages. The primeval truth could be procured from these ancient messages, each with a sliver of wisdom, and help compose a new culture. It would be a syncretistic culture in the sense of a combination of different forms of belief and practice, which would require a tolerance of internal contradictions. This is where the combination of Paganism, Christianity and race myths come together in Fascist states. It's also the reason that Fascism seeks to posit itself as the Third Position between capitalism and socialism.

So there can be no advancement of knowledge as truth has already been spelled out once and for all. Umberto Eco takes the example of Saint Augustine, not a proto-fascist at all, but points out that it would be symptomatic of Eternal Fascism to combine Augustine with Stonehenge. From a Marxist perspective we may note the importance of traditionalism to Fascism as superstructural to the economic conditions which fostered the regimes of the 1930s. As Terry Eagleton argues, Fascism is a last-ditch attempt on the part of monopoly capitalism to abolish the contradictions which have become intolerable. The traditionalist feature may imply a rejection of modernism, but the Fascists did not regard technology as a negation of tradition. Rather the Fascists were focused on the construction of an alternative modernity beyond the class struggle with a narrative of blood and soil. The Third Reich was proud of its industrial achievements, though the praise for modernism was only the surface of an ideology based on blood and soil. The emphasis is really on the master race, the sublimity of death and self-abnegation.

Umberto Eco notes that the Fascist finds action as beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection because thinking is a form of emasculation. Action is placed above thought. To be more precise it is reaction rather than action. One of the principle differences between a socialist and a Fascist is that the former acts whereas the latter can only react. This is where the propensity for political violence comes from, it takes the reactive form and often seeks to justify itself along such lines. The violent reaction is always justifiable to defend and secure the fatherland. This is the logic which remains in the background of the kind of 'protests' that the former football hooligans of the English Defence League hold. Originally the EDL were the violent wing of the British National Party and it remains in line with the tradition of fascist groups since the British Union of Fascists took to the streets and raised havoc. It is out of this irrationalism that culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with academics, critical attitudes and intellectualism in general.

So the entire educational system underwent a Nazification in the Third Reich, with the employment of major academics such as Martin Heidegger to purge Jewish teachers and implement the desired curriculum. This suspicion of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Eternal Fascism. Hermann Goering was fond of a phrase borrowed from Hanns Johst "When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun" as well as expressions such as "degenerate intellectuals", "eggheads", "effete snobs" and the description of universities as "nests of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in an attack on the rampant decadence of modern culture and charge the liberal intelligentsia with the betrayal of traditional values. The point of Fascist propaganda was to tap into the irrational drives of the masses and utilise them against particular groups. The propaganda techniques to do so were picked up from the American public relations industry, which was based on the ideas of Sigmund Freud as applied by his nephew Eddie Bernays.

To make distinctions is a sign of modernism and to give into the current of depravity which began with the Enlightenment. The rejection of the modern world was dressed up as a kind of anti-capitalism, but it is the Enlightenment which is the source of decay in the modern world and Eternal Fascism rejects it on such ground. The Nazi slogan "Think with your blood!" comes to mind. The scientific community praises disagreement as a way to further pursue greater knowledge, but the disagreements we may have are treasonous for Fascists because it is a sign of diversity. We should remember the nationalist emphasis on unity and purity which opposes such liberal pluralism as a subversive or destructive influence on the nation. Thus the strange fixation on Pagan rituals, leader worship and Nordic blood myths. The rejection of the Enlightenment in Fascism is what distinguishes it from Stalinism. By contrast, Stalinism considers itself a part of the Enlightenment tradition comes in the form of the show trials held as part of the purges. The suggestion of shows trials for Jews in the Third Reich is unimaginable because there isn't even a semblance of a just society in Fascism.

Eternal Fascism seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the fear of difference and of the Other. The subversive influence of an alien race or culture becomes the principle target of Fascism. The point is to stamp out the forces which have undermined the nation and unity in society. It is racist by definition. The Nazi schoolbooks founded an impoverished vocabulary as well as an elementary syntax in order to limit the instruments of critical thought and inquiry which could undermine the regime. Even boardgames and children's books were produced to further anti-Semitic attitudes among the population. George Orwell invented Newspeak in 1984 as the official language of English Socialism. The elements of Eternal Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. Newspeak can even take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show today. With the shock jocks of the Right we find that the words 'socialism' and 'National Socialism' have been emptied out so that Obama can be called a socialist and a Nazi. The meaning of words are intentionally blurred and we see the same thing in Fascism.

The most typical feature of Fascism is the appeal to a frustrated middle-class, which had suffered through the crises of capitalism and intense feelings of political humiliation as in the Weimar Republic. The threat of working-class movements such as trade unions and leftist organisations is also a source of agitation in this instance. The possibility of revolution becomes genuine and the capitalist class begins to get desperate. Eco holds that once the proletarians are petty bourgeois and the lumpenproletariat are marginalised totally from politics then fascism will find its audience in a new majority. The audience have to be humiliated in socio-economic terms as well as political terms, it could be a war but not necessarily. The wealth and force of the enemy is defined in such terms. The Fascist is convinced of his ability to overwhelm the enemy through harsh measures, violence is never out of the question. A continuous shift in rhetorical focus maintains that the enemy is at once too strong and too weak. The inability to evaluate the force of the enemy clouds the capacity of Fascism to win wars.

To people who have been deprived of a social identity, Eternal Fascism offers a clear privilege that we were born in this great country. This is where nationalism comes into the picture, which we might be described as palingenetic (as Eco does not recognise) in that Fascist Italy was the reincarnated second Roman Empire and the Third Reich was the First and Second Reich realised as an alternate modernity. The idea of a rebirth is common, it feeds into a self-pitying and disordered view of the imperial past of the European powers. The nation can only define itself through the exclusion of the Other and the same can be said of the national identity. The Fascist mind is obsessed with an international plot which is taking place and must be stopped for the good of the nation. The people have to feel besieged and under attack in order to flock around identity-markers such as religion and nationality. The plot has to appeal to race hate, the most base instincts of hatred and it relies on the gullible cynicism of the individual to buy into a conspiracy theory in the first place. The plot must be insidious and almost invisible, which is why Jews are perfect given that they are inside and outside at the same time.

Permanent warfare is an inevitably given the nature of Fascism. Life is lived for struggle, pacifism is treason. The consequence of this is an Armageddon complex as enemies have to be defeated, so there must be a last battle or final stand to make and then the movement will have total control of the world. This implies an era of peace and unity afterwards, which stands in contradiction to this doctrine and no Fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this problem. This doctrine of perpetual war fits in with the popular elitism of Fascism, as it is fundamentally aristocratic and militaristic to the extent of holding contempt for the weak. Each citizen belongs to the best people in the world, but the members of the Party are the best of the citizens and each citizen should join the Party. There can be no patricians without plebeians. The leader knows that the position he holds was stolen and not given to him through the democratic process (though there are exceptions, Hitler being the most infamous), it was the weakness of the masses which allowed him to seize power - this applies even to cases where the Fascists came to power via the ballot box.

The masses need a ruler in this conception, so the view of people differs greatly from the liberal view of human beings as having rights and freedoms - and by extension the political impact of the citizenry in quantitative terms. So the individual often falls in line with the community, as we see with so-called 'safe seats'. Of course, Eternal Fascism rejects the claim of individuals to such rights and the People are a monolithic entity which expresses the common will. No doubt the liberal protection of individuals and minorities from the whims of the majority feeds into fascistic conspiracy theories. No large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Fascist leader becomes their interpreter. As marginalised from the political process, individuals no longer act as citizens but take on the role of the People as a theatrical fiction. Umberto Eco foresees that the future internet version of this populism may take the emotional response of a selected group of individuals as the accepted Voice of the People. The masses are manipulated under Fascism, not disdained as they are in conservative thought.

Out of a qualitative populism, Fascism takes a stand against the "rotten" Parliamentary model and the governments which have been formed as a result of them. There are hints of Eternal Fascism in the doubts raised by politicians of the Parliament's legitimacy, that the government does not represent the Voice of the People as Umberto Eco puts it. Richard Seymour notes that for the Fascist the political system is vulnerable to viruses. So the problem is not capitalism as such but super-capitalism, as Mussolini noted, which should be contrasted with the heroic capitalism of the 19th Century. Of course, heroic capitalism became super-capitalism eventually as it grew decadent. The explanation for the inherent contradictions and destructive capacities of capitalism can be displaced onto a cabal of some kind. It could be the Jews, the Freemasons, the Communists or even a bit of all three as in most cases. This is a very similar logic to the claim that there is a liberal elite which has poisoned American society.

Everyone is taught to be a hero in a strict sense, as the exceptional being which becomes the norm in Fascist ideology. The cult of heroism is joined at the hip with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Spanish Falangists was "Viva la Muerte!" which means "Long Live Death!" This motto may have been borrowed from the Iron Guard in Romania led by Corneliu Codreanu who considered Hitler "soft" when it came to the Jews. The view of death maintained by the Fascist is in contrast to the standard views of death, that it is to be faced with dignity and it leads to a better place etc. The Fascist hero craves a heroic death, to the point of impatience, because it is the best reward for having led a heroic life. In this impatience then the Fascist will send other people to die in droves. As a consequence of the impracticality and difficulty of ceaseless war and a heroism based on death the Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.

The cult of the masculine leader and the heroic death retreats to the bedroom. This is the origin of chauvinist machismo complete with misogyny, as well as intolerance of sexual habits which do not fit into a certain set of standards (from chastity to homosexuality). Mussolini famously said "War is to man what maternity is to woman." Ultimately, even sex is a difficult game to play - the Fuhrer was a masochist in the bedroom who left behind a string of relationships which ended in suicide - and so the Fascist tends to games with weapons as Eco notes "doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise." Plato maintains that the tyrant lives the life of dreams, where there is no conceivable 'crime' that we can commit and we can follow our desires to their end without consequence. The tyrant becomes what he was in his dreams, eating forbidden fruit and killing at a whim. Nothing is off the table, from incest to mass-murder. Dreams become reality for the tyrant. Perhaps these words were prescient of the indulgences of Fascist dictators.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Hitch is Dead, again.

Requiescat in Pace.

So Christopher Hitchens has given up the ghost, to borrow a Biblical turn of phrase, for the second and final time as it was around a decade ago that Hitch died intellectually. He was a gadfly so contrarian he eventually became conservative. The transition from revolutionary soixante-huitard to heartless war-mongerer was not a sudden one. When Hitchens first became a journo he was an international socialist, which might be understood as a heterodox Trotskyist, the shift began as Hitch turned democratic socialist in Orwellian vein, no doubt, a position as oppositional to the Communist Party as it was to the Conservative Party. He supported the Falklands war, as well as the intervention in the Balkans, before the notorious defences he gave in favour of the criminal invasion of Iraq. The worship of a particular kind of masculine hero is constant in Hitchens' thought. Even though he admired great radicals like Rosa Luxemburg and Decca Mitford it was Leon Trotsky who he nominated as a subject for discussion on Radio 4.

It's hard to believe that he's actually pro-life as he rails against the Vatican on issues of family planning, contraception and birth control. But after that realisation it isn't a surprise that he has a problem with women in the workplace. Then we find Hitchens calling the Dixie Chicks "fat sluts" and claiming that it is only unattractive women who need to be funny. The way in which Hitch lambasted Diana Spencer carried the tone of sexism, she was a "gold-digger" comparable to a landmine in that she was "easy to lay" as well as "dangerous" and "expensive" to get rid of. It may even be said that Hitchens picks on what he considers to be "lesser" men, that his fixation with the sex life of Bill Clinton came down to the view that he was not a real man. No wonder feminists are suspicious of the Hitch for his shallow attacks, which repeated what we all knew already, on the likes of Mother Teresa with the title Missionary Position which he picked over Sacred Cow. Apparently the latter was in bad taste, which Hitchens would never sink to.

As wonderfully righteous Hitch was as he cast aspersions on Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger, Hitchens was never that left-wing when Alexander Cockburn knew him and always foresaw he would jump ship to become an "insider". Even in the critique of Clinton and Kissinger he only ever repeated what was already known, but it had to be articulated in a clear and concise manner which would captivate, entertain and persuade. The list of the crimes Henry Kissinger committed had to be put together and by the late 1990s it was well overdue. As for the "horrible primate" William Jefferson Clinton, the point that the man may be a serial rapist had to be pulled into public view by someone as the mass-media was too compromised to do so. The defences he gave of George Bush and attacks on God were not so much contrarian as complicit and shallow. Noam Chomsky was right to characterise the media as a parade of "independent minds", as it was Christopher Hitchens posed as a "free-thinker" as  he endorsed the Republican Party platform and bought into American exceptionalism. Not to mention the shift from the Bolshevism of Russia to the classical liberalism of America.

It should be noted that the Hitchensian idiolect, as Richard Seymour calls it, was nothing original as Hitchens never broke the intellectual mould. The form of the argument was the main attraction and not the content. We get the feeling that it was the same for Hitchens himself, at least to some extent, when he said that he wouldn't rid the world of religion if he could because there wouldn't be anyone else left to argue with. But he had difficulty in handling complex ideas, as Seymour notes, which was matched by his ability to spew an emotionally potent tirade. We find this may be the case when it came to Hitch's eventual abandonment of socialism. Hitchens points out that there is no international working-class movement nor a socialist alternative (at hand) to the market economy, as for the anti-globalisation movement it is frightfully conservative insofar as it yearns for a pre-industrial world. He never engaged with the view that the Left needs to "begin again", as Slavoj Žižek would advise, nor did he attempt to solve these problems and instead retreated into a strange mission indeed.

To be more precise, the collapse of Communism had convinced this former Trot of nothing less than the mission to export the American Revolution. Everything else had become reactionary, no "excuse" could be made for Islamo-fascism nor could it be "accommodated" and it could only be annihilated. This is when Hitchens became a chickenhawk. And so it was, the radical Hitchens was long gone and now arse-licker Christopher Hitchens dedicated his energies to the values of the Enlightenment as best manifested in the establishment of the United States. Here we should turn to the prescient words of GK Chesterton: "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." As Hitchens sought to secure the Enlightenment values of the West he supported the invasion of Iraq and, in doing so, helped make al-Qaeda the most successful terrorist organisation in history.

We might detect the fumbling Hitchensian egomania in the background of this most destructive endeavour. As Hitch himself notes in the aftermath of 9/11 "I should perhaps confess that on September 11 last, once I had experienced all the usual mammalian gamut of emotions, from rage to nausea, I also discovered that another sensation was contending for mastery." He went onto add "All my other foes, from the Christian Coalition to the Milosevic Left, were busy getting it wrong or giving it cover." Before finally spilling for all to see: "Other and better people were gloomy at the prospect of confrontation. But I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost." The fight was guaranteed to go on and on because the fight regenerated the opponent in the very act of confrontation and would do so endlessly. We can bomb Muslims to stop terrorism and in doing so create more terrorists which leads us to bomb more Muslims and in turn create more terrorists...

It was with the rise of New Atheism as the Iraq war descended into a bloodbath that the Hitchite cult emerged, it proclaimed itself beyond Left and Right as it voted Republican and ranted about Muslims. This was the low-point of Hitch's career in journalism and writing, it became evident that he would never rise to the heights of Gore Vidal whom he had set out to ape out of a self-described "penis envy". It is difficult to ascertain to what extent the lurch to the Right Hitchens took in public, and not just behind closed doors, may have been a careerist publicity stunt. We may never know. Noam Chomsky said 10 years ago "Since Hitchens evidently does not take what he is writing seriously, there is no reason for anyone else to do so. The fair and sensible reaction is to treat all of this as some aberration, and to await the return of the author to the important work that he has often done in the past." Of course, we wouldn't have want him back after everything he had done to ingratiate himself with power and massage his ego.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The General Will?

A great number of liberal critics have charged Jean-Jacques Rousseau as one of the progenitors of totalitarianism insofar as Rousseau inspired GWF Hegel and Karl Marx thereby setting some of the wheels in motion towards really existing socialism. It is true that Rousseau was a critic of equality before the law and the notion of private property. The interventionist state implied in the opposition to the market society of individual property-owners seems at odds with fundamental ideas of liberalism.[1] The blunt advocacy of ‘force’ to compel people comes across as authoritarian. Let alone the distinction between the general will and the will of all seems to posit an opposition between what people might decide and what they should decide. The insistence on the indivisibility of sovereign power seems to eliminate any possible system of checks and balances which are given in a liberal democracy. We are lead, by this view, to see Rousseau as at least on the slippery slope towards authoritarianism.

If we follow on this line of thought we might take Rousseau as a proponent of positive liberty on the grounds that he holds happiness and freedom lies in the individual setting aside their own particular wills and finding their true freedom by aligning themselves with the general will of the people. It may be necessary to ‘force’ people to be free, specifically the people who did not realise that their best interests were in line with the Common Good.[2] It has been said that Rousseau’s outlook is much more complicated for the reason that the particular notions of freedom evoked in his work do not fit easily into the distinction between positive and negative liberty.[3] The rejection of slavery comes out of an adherence to a notion of freedom as non-subjection to the particular will of others and this seems in line with the liberal tradition of negative liberty. But Rousseau goes further to the claim that the basis of legitimate authority is ‘agreed convention’ and rests on this same basis of non-subjection.[4] The aim of The Social Contract was to uncover a ‘form of association’ in which each individual is as ‘free as before’.[5]

In The Social Contract Rousseau makes a distinction between three forms of freedom: natural, civil and moral.[6] Natural freedom is the absence of all restraints people experienced in the state of nature; the only possible impediments are the forces of the individual. Only the physical power of others could impede such a freedom, the only form of ownership was a form of physical possession but there were no obligations to others. When we become citizens of a society we forfeit natural freedom as to attain civil freedom. We can understand civil freedom as the freedom guaranteed by its limits, or more specifically, the general will. The limits imposed are the reason to associate in a civil state, the bi-product of this association rather than the reason for it is moral freedom. This kind of freedom should be understood as the submission to laws prescribed to oneself. It might be broken down as a formula: each person only obeys himself and remains as naturally free as before; each person only obeys himself and remains as civilly free as before; by these means each person remains as morally free as before.

It is important to note that moral freedom seems to presuppose a democratic system whereby we can prescribe laws onto ourselves. This is a bi-product of association in society rather than its ultimate aim, whereas civil freedom is the freedom maintained through the limitations set by the general will. This may seem dangerously close to the suggestion that the agreement we set into is not in itself a guarantee of freedom, but it might lead to a greater freedom by accident. But the general will arises out of the will of each individual, it is where we find our true interests, so submission to the general will is not subjection in the way Rousseau understood it. All of this seems to presuppose a democratic system and is in accordance with Rousseau’s emphasis on autonomy over subjection. It was the dependency of the poor on the rich, and vice versa, which was created and sustained by inequality. It would seem the idea here is that the citizenry should be bound by the laws forged in democratic participation, which they have participated in making, even if a citizen does not agree with them.

The point being to prevent the laws from being undermined by a particular will. The laws would apply to all and arise from all. There are no exceptions and any opposition to the laws would be intolerable as it would undermine the whole framework at a fundamental level. The law has to be enforced and since these laws have been self-prescribed there is no violation of freedom, at least in Rousseau’s terms. This seems to run against the individualism of liberal thought, if the law is one we prescribed to ourselves through collective decision-making then the opposition to it is not just ‘individualistic’. It is ideological because it is more so about the egalitarian order Rousseau advocated rather than the framework which is meant to guarantee such order.[7] Rousseau thought individuals might have to be ‘forced to be free’ in order to guarantee the conditions whereby individuals could coexist freely and equally. This is down to the trajectory of history, particularly in the last century, which saw the rise and fall of socialist states around the world. The need to refute Marxism in the Cold War went as far as looking to uproot the ‘seeds’ of totalitarianism to Rousseau and even as far back as Plato.[8]

As sovereignty is based on the citizenry through which the general will is expressed, it is directed towards the Common Good by the general will and cannot be shaken by the particular wills of individuals – which are preoccupied with preference rather than aimed at equality. Sovereignty is indivisible and inalienable; it derives its being from the sanctity of the contract into which the people have entered. The general will cannot be ‘delegated’ nor can sovereignty be transferred as it is the only legitimate form of representation.[9] The general will is the will of the body of the people, the will is either general or it is not. It holds legal authority because of its vital role in the establishment of sovereignty. This is where Rousseau states bluntly that the division of sovereignty, of power from will, of legislature from executive. The power to raise taxes, declare war and so on must rest within reach of the people, this is the application of sovereignty rather than the thing itself.[10] Sovereignty is really about the capacity of the people to deliberate and direct the state.

The establishment of society is only possible when the interests of individuals converge rather than stand in opposition. The Common Good is essential to the foundation of society and from there it is easy to see why society should be governed in the common interest. We are subject to no one’s will but our own in the sense that the laws enforced are those which we have willed. This is the reason that the general will is not a violation of autonomy and a notion of freedom as non-subjection can remain. Rousseau holds that once the citizenry become servile to a ‘master’ then sovereign authority comes to an end and the body-politic is destroyed. Consent remains important as the decrees handed down by a ‘master’ could pass for the general will, but only if the sovereign authority does not oppose them even though it is free to do so. The government is not the sovereign itself, rather it is the intermediate body between subjects and sovereign, whereby mutual correspondence is ensured through the practice of law and the maintenance of freedom.

Clearly there is a tension in the work between the democratic conception of general will as what the citizens of the state have decided together and the transcendental conception where general will is the incarnation of the citizens' common interest in abstraction from what any of them actually wants.[11]   We might be led to interpret the argument as specific of the right conditions and subject to the right procedures whereby citizen legislators may converge on laws that correspond to the common interest. The state lacks legitimacy whenever these conditions and procedures are absent. So the theoretical state, which Rousseau stood for, may exercise authority over its citizens even though really existing states fail to meet the criteria for legitimacy. This is where Rousseau might be tied in with the anarchist tradition. But it has to be noted that the transcendental conception seems to be more in accordance with Rousseau’s view that the best kind of government is an elective aristocracy. This has even more in common with the liberal system of representative democracy, where elected officials hand down decrees.[12]

It is difficult to say definitively whether or not Rousseau stood for an authoritarian state. It might be said that the conception is an authoritarian one insofar as it doesn’t affirm classical liberal doctrines of individualism, that the state may be a tool for shaping society, institutions and even people. There are problems with the institutions that Rousseau advocates and there are indeed illiberal aspects of his thought. But there are also similarities between Rousseauian ideas and the liberal tradition, we also shouldn’t lose sight of the anarchist strain running through Rousseau’s work. To some extent whether or not the supposed authoritarianism of Rousseau is problematic comes down to the political leanings we hold. Therefore it becomes a matter of whether or not egalitarianism as an end is worth so-called "authoritarian" means. If we are to take ideals such as liberty, equality and fraternity seriously then it means (to the chagrin of liberals everywhere) we may have to embrace the means as justified only by the end.

[1] Bertram, C: Rousseau and the Social Contract, Routledge Philosophy Guide to, (2004, Routledge) pg.190-203
[2] Thompson, Mel: Understand Political Philosophy (Hachette UK, 2010) pg.143-144
[3] The particular understanding of liberty is important here. Isaiah Berlin drew a highly influential distinction between negative and positive forms of freedom. The negative conception of freedom is defined by the absence of constraint on actions and aims which we can choose to pursue without such impediments. This is the standard conception originally defined by Thomas Hobbes and typically embellished in liberal thought. The positive conception is focused on the capacity of the agent to set their own goals and pursue what they wish to do with their lives.
Thompson, Mel: Understand Political Philosophy (Hachette UK, 2010) pg.131-153
[4] The possibility of an ‘agreed convention’ of slavery is dismissed by Rousseau on the grounds that a man does not ‘give himself’ but sells himself in such a scenario. Anyone who does so should not be considered sane, as Rousseau argues to give up freedom is to give up our humanity in terms of morals, rights and duties.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: The Social Contract, A new translation by Christopher Batts (Oxford University Press, 2008) pg.48-53
[5] In simple terms, communism is an egalitarian order which emerges on the basis of the material proper material preconditions generated by advanced capitalism and after the development of socialism via the dictatorship of the proletariat. Communism has been achieved once a common ownership of the means of production has been established, where there is no exploitation of man by man and the state has "withered away". It is the ideal which anarchists strive for in the immediate breakdown of capitalism, whereas Karl Marx held that there has to be an intermediate phase. By contrast, Rousseau is out to draw up an alternative social contract to the ones put forth by Hobbes and Locke. This vision of a new society is not made to include the transition from society as it is to a new system. Instead the contract is posited in a kind of alternative universe, where what should have been is possible. Consequently Rousseau has had a great influence on the traditions of communism and anarchism, for the reason that the ultimate aim is a free and egalitarian order.
[6] Bertram, C: Rousseau and the Social Contract, Routledge Philosophy Guide to, (2004, Routledge) pg.190-203
[7] It is hardly allowed in a liberal democracy for people to decide not to follow the law and to step out of the political system of rights and liberties to establish a competing system. Theoretically, in a liberal society there is no space an exception as every individual is equal before the law in terms of rights and freedoms. We have to keep in mind that even at the origins of liberal thought with John Locke such an exception in order to justify slavery, slaves were not equal in terms of rights and freedoms because slaves were not counted as human beings. A much more relevant and befitting analogy is in the work of JS Mill, the ‘tyranny of the majority’ is specifically about an exception. The idea is that the majority cannot impose discriminatory or threatening laws on a minority, who are less powerful by the fact of being a minority.  The problem is that there are powerful minorities in society, whether they are politicians, intellectuals or economic elites. A Marxist would be keen to point to classical liberalism as superstructural to the economic base, with the privileged class falling back on the doctrines of property rights and individual freedom to insulate itself.
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: JS Mill, Social and Political Philosophy –
[8] Bertram, C: Rousseau and the Social Contract, Routledge Philosophy Guide to, (2004, Routledge) pg.82-89
[9] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: The Social Contract, A new translation by Christopher Batts (Oxford University Press, 2008) pg.56-65
[10] Bertram, C: Rousseau and the Social Contract, Routledge Philosophy Guide to, (2004, Routledge) pg.97-127
[11] Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Rousseau, the Idea of the General Will –
[12] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: The Social Contract, A new translation by Christopher Batts (Oxford University Press, 2008) pg.91-117