Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bastards in Bahrain.

Well the Grand Prix maintained its record of holding races in horrible regimes. The little island of Bahrain is just the most recent example, but there were the races in Apartheid South Africa and Fascist Spain of yesteryear. It was good to find updates in the mainstream, just a glimpse at the courageous pro-democracy movement: particularly the ongoing hunger strike by Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. The most recent protests and deaths at the hands of the police forces have received much more attention than they would have otherwise. The repression in Bahrain now has John Yates, once a candidate for the top job in the Met, to defend the House of Khalifa. Well, you've got to pay the mortgage somehow! On top of this, King Hamad has been invited to dine at the celebrations of the Queen's Jubilee. All of this comes over a year since the Saudi intervention in Bahrain was waged. The intervention embodied the West's anxiety at the prospect of democracy in the Middle East.

First it was Bahrain, then it was Libya. By then, Ben Ali and Mubarak had been swept away by the revolutionary contagion spreading rapidly from country to country. You can say it was oil in Libya, but you can't simply say that about Bahrain. The island isn't simply a major oil-producer unlike it's neighbours. There is a reason that the US Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain, it is well situated to defend the status quo. In the West the fear was that the uprising would establish a Shi'ite dominated state in the Gulf. This would go far to undermine the Arab facade of US client-states which keep a friendly hand on the oil spigot. It could mean a new ally for Iran, not to mention give ideas to the Shi'ite dominated eastern province of Saudi Arabia. This is at a time when the Iraqi government is looking to avoid another war with Iran and instead wants stable relations. Meanwhile a civil war rages in Syria with the Ba'ath Party just about clinging to power, its talons bloody as ever.

As with the violent repressions in Syria and Libya, the reason given in Bahrain was to defend the nation from 'foreign interference'. Similarly, in Egypt, Mubarak had anti-Semitic propaganda distributed as he called on Bibi Netanyahu to send the IDF into Tahrir Square. By then it was too late to save the tyrant, the military shunted Mubarak out of office hoping to buy-off the opposition. Meanwhile the Israeli political class watched with great unease as the US gave up on blocking elections in Egypt after it became impossible to save the dictator. And for good reason, Egypt has been a vital US proxy since Sadat dragged the country into a tacit alliance with Israel in the 1970s. By then Sadat had already imposed market reforms which destroyed the country's middle-class and opened the door to corruption. After the rebellions of 2011 suppressed, the serious question for the House of Khalifa is how to reformulate the old order.

Ironically, it was in eastern Arabia that a esoteric Ismaili sect set out to build a society based on reason and equality. By 899 the Qarmatians had established a utopian republic in what is now Bahrain. Its system of governance consisted of a council of six with a chief who was the first among equals. Out of a millenarian fervour the Qarmatians sacked Mecca in 930, stealing the Black Stone and dumping dead pilgrims in the Well of Zamzam. The Qarmatians may have first attempted to redirect the pilgrimage away from Mecca before holding it for ransom. Whatever the case, over 20 years later, the Black Stone was left shattered in the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq. The opportunity to seize control had come for the Qarmatians from the aftermath of the slave rebellion in Basra, which raged from 869 to 883 and had left Baghdad diminished in power. Hundreds of thousands of slaves participated as the rebels held that the most qualified man should reign - even if he is a black slave.

Even in recent history, Bahrain has seen uprisings and significant protest over the last 20 years for democracy with the state managing to fend-off each successive wave of opposition. Given that Bahrain is an important artery to the heart of capitalism in the Middle East, it may mean that the GCC itself has to been shaken up sufficiently to bring about democratic change. This would mean serious change in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE.  Notice there has been no regime change and no reform in any of these states. The repression was swift to prevent any serious opposition from even appearing on the streets. This is where most of the power in the region is concentrated, the epicentre of capital accumulation from an unsustainable energy trade. The Arab Spring has shaken a rotten status quo in the region to its core, but has yet to fundamentally change the Middle East. This isn't to say that it has been a failure, far from it, it means that it has to go further.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Debt of Self-Made Men.

An American Mythology.

It was an interesting sight earlier this year to see Newt Gingrich rail against the "vulture capitalism" of Mitt Romney. The insinuation is that the Massachusetts moderate was in on gobbling up the profits gained out of laying-off thousands of American workers in the 1980s. It was a welcome criticism frankly. But it was also bizarre to hear this coming from a prominent conservative Republican. A Democrat could not take such a stance on a Republican opponent and be left standing without being dubbed a 'socialist'. Certainly the Republicans do not oppose such rapacious market forces that allowed Romney to enrich himself. Not just because the notion of a free-market is what flows through the veins of American conservatism. But it has to be stressed that each of the candidates for the nomination are essentially parasites. And this is actually representative of the primary constituents of the Republican Party - specifically, the filthy rich.

You have to remember that the United States of America would not exist if it weren't for a process of genocide, slavery and war which laid the groundwork for capitalism. The apologists of the free-market paint a picture of a society of self-owning individuals who earn in proportion to their own merits. So the capitalists are the people who have risen to the top of the system through their own efforts. This is a picture which conveniently excludes a lot of history. The system of private property was established through theft and violence. This is what the supposed market society of meritorious men is built upon. The legitimate right to property is predicated on an illegitimate and immoral act. No account of the exchange and accumulation of private property can justify the transformation of what was unowned into what can be owned. If the system was established through theft, rape and murder how can decent conduct justify that system later on?

The expropriation of the commons laid the ground for the accumulation of wealth. The workers are the creators of wealth which is then expropriated through the capitalist system, accumulated in far fewer hands and concentrated in property. This is the process which enriched Mitt Romney and has been defended by every Republican and Democratic administration. The average worker is effectively rinsed dry by these people over the course of a life time spent slaving away at work. It is in the workplace where they slave away to amass the revenue which will eventually compose the profits for the boss and the wages of the workers. This is exploitation at the fundamental level, the workers toil so that the bosses don't have to. You'll find this demystifies the notion of 'job creation' that politicians often talk about, really the word they're looking for is 'profits'. The worker will be lucky to hold onto something worth saving as they are rinsed further through passive consumerism.

You will know the justifications for all of this off by heart. You might tell yourself that this is just the way the world works, it's human nature. Supposedly, after thousands of years we discover our nature is best expressed in a system we've only just discovered in the last 200 years. You will tell yourself that if the poor didn't have to work then they wouldn't. If this were true, as Karl Marx would remind us, "bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work." The workers must work for a wage, so that the rich don't have to. Capitalism requires poverty then, not to make sure people work hard but to keep one class working for the gain of another class. The system is indebted to feudalism and slavery, which provided the material conditions for its prosperity. Even if the capitalists are 'self-made' the end of capitalism and class are still justified.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Contradictions of Christopher Hitchens.

In one of his last interviews Christopher Hitchens insisted that he remains a leftist, but that he sees no socialist theory of an alternative economy to replace global capitalism. What are we left with then? The export of the American Revolution is the best we can do, with Hitch putting emphasis on the radical current of Jeffersonian thought.  There is no third camp between liberal capitalism and nihilistic Islamism, just us or them. Only a bulwark to totalitarianism is preferable and the bloodshed is worth it. It's the lowering of expectations in another sense, we couldn't bring down capitalism so let's just knock out all the dictators and make sure it's democratic. In a world beyond the monotheisms of the desert we can only hope to build a secular, multicultural and democratic version of the mess we're already living with. Furthermore the only way to assert human rights is through kidnapping, torture and killing. The best we can do, as it turns out, isn't very much at all.

What are we left with then? Not much in principles and not much to defend. We're dealing with an array of contradictions. At first hand, there is the gap between what we do and what we say we do as well as the means by which we seek to meet our ultimate objective. It looks more like Hitch was embedded in that disjunctive synthesis of passive and radical nihilism, the politics of security and terrorism. And to think Christopher Hitchens was once a garden-variety creature of the leftist culture of the 20th Century. He was well-versed in the work of George Orwell and easily drifted from Trotskyism to democratic socialism in later years. What was his Kronstadt? At first, the reaction of the SWP to the Portuguese Revolution, then it was the leftist opposition to intervention in the Falklands, the Balkans and, most infamously, Iraq. For the likes of Ian McEwan he was a man of the democratic Left still, while Richard Dawkins saw him as beyond left and right.

If Christopher Hitchens stood as the post-Marxist spirit of the democratic Left then he likely demonstrated its poverty of principles. The position he took may have just been social democratic in trajectory, as socialism no longer provided an alternative to global capitalism in his thinking. He took from the fall of the Berlin Wall that human nature is incompatible with dictatorship and slavery. Hitch would point to the French role in the American Revolution to throw-off British rule and nurture democracy. So in his mind it remained possible to spread democracy by armed force. Democracy in India came as a by-product of British colonial rule, it was not an indigenous invention. The destruction of European Fascism is what led to the emergence of democracy in Germany and Italy. This still falls short of a justification for the criminal invasion of Iraq, as British rule in India was hardly about nurturing a democracy with a socialist constitution.

You might go with the line that the deaths were necessary to produce a democratic society. But that would assume it was the aim to churn out a democratic Iraq. When it was actually the Americans who sought to oppose elections for as long as possible. The aim was originally to reconstitute the old order in a new guise that was more acceptable in appearance. The best outcome for the Americans would have been a Sunni military junta aligned with them. The battle to do so was lost and it is a credit to the Iraqi people that they fought valiantly for elections and against the occupation. The transformation of Iraqi society was at its most radical and utopian at the level of economic reform, an attempt build a perfect market economy. It was "shock therapy" like nothing seen before, not even in Yeltsin's Russia. Ultimately, the elections were allowed only to legitimate a series of illegal economic reforms that the Americans rammed down the slit throats of Iraq.

How then could these contradictions be harmonised? You know, Chairman Mao had a few words for us on contradiction. The major point that Mao made was that the principle contradiction does not overlap with the contradiction which should be treated as dominant in a particular situation. It is in this particular contradiction that we find the universal dimension. In every situation the particular contradiction is predominant, in order to resolve the principal contradiction one should treat a particular contradiction as predominant. All other struggles should be subordinated to this predominant contradiction. So when the Chinese Communists encountered the Japanese Fascist occupiers, the only option was to take the side of the Chinese Nationalists in a display of 'patriotic unity' as a necessary means to victory. If the Communists opted to engage in the class struggle it would ultimately be fighting against class struggle itself.

It's clear that Hitch held the Ba'athist regime in Iraq to be totalitarian with all the fascistic connotations included. No doubt the same applied to Islamism in his mind. This is the crux of the matter. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a monster, the same can be said of Osama bin Laden. This is not to agree that the only means to deal with dictatorship and terrorism is to back the military doctrines of the Bush administration. If the economic sanctions against Iraq had been withdrawn, but the military sanctions left in place then it would've opened up the possibility for the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam. The US invaded Afghanistan after it refused to provide evidence to warrant the extradition of Osama bin Laden for trial. Instead, we've seen the deaths of Saddam and bin Laden but at a huge human cost which has yet to be fully counted. The possibility of greater nuclear threats in the region has been raised, with Pakistan destabilised and Iran surrounded by American proxies.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Kick the Glass Bollock!

Until Victory, Always!
A little over a year since the March for the Alternative, George Galloway caught everyone off guard and was rushed into office in Bradford West. The execration could soon be heard. It came howling from the open jaws of the Labour Party machine with its entitlement to squat over the post-industrial North ever ready to defecate! The liberal commentariat managed to lower itself from the heights of mud-slinging to the lows of booing and hooting at the victor. How distasteful it was that the electorate had rejected the established Left? For almost 40 years Bradford had been a 'safe seat' for Labour and Ed Miliband was embarrassingly on his way to celebrate victory. This humiliation is not something the political class will take likely. And this is more reason to think that the Establishment will want to save face in the London Mayoral. It is a perfect opportunity to send a clear message to David Cameron: Fuck You! But it is unclear where an alternative figure would come from in the Mayoral.

We face a choice between Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone and Brian Paddick. But really we just have two choices: more Mayor BJ or a return to Red Ken. There's no point pretending that the third party matters anymore after this government. Voting may not just be a right, but a civic duty that demands of us and makes us participants. And yet it is impossible to be enthused at the prospect of the same choice we had 4 years ago. Ultimately, the London Mayoral is a test for the Coalition and victorious Boris would certainly provide a much-needed symbolic vindication for this government. If the glass testicle fell into the hands of Ken Livingstone, once again, then we might hear talk of a coming Labour administration in 2015. The rejection of a softened version of what we're getting will be interpreted as a loving embrace of what we're enduring already. Only less or more austerity are viable, no real yes or no for us to choose from on the question of cuts.

The Genital of Patronage.
There is room for protest votes, as always, the BNP and UKIP are there to soak up the rage like the miserable sponges they are. Probably the best left-wing alternative to Ken Livingstone is the Green candidate Jenny Jones. You may hear that little voice inside that inquires rhetorically "How could she ever win?" No doubt people said the same of Gorgeous George. On the other hand, it is undeniable that the Green Party lacks the same potential to unify a mass-base as RESPECT had done in Bradford. It was a populist tidal wave formed by the white working-class, the Muslim community and the student population upon which George Galloway surfed. It's difficult to see a repeat of that in London with the line-up we have. At least at the level of appearances, the possibilities opened by Galloway's victory for the Left could be slammed shut by another term of Boris.

With all of this in mind Ken Livingstone is not the worst of Labour, far from a disgraced Blairite, even if we take into account his most cynical and opportunistic moments. Putting aside the hysterical attempts by the Right to vilify Ken. He remains one of a precious handful of politicians, like Tony Benn, who understand what is at stake when social democracy is being eviscerated before our eyes. And it is the preservation of social democracy which we, as citizens, should be concerned with most at this juncture. We have to keep in mind what this country could have been had it been kept out of the hands of people like Margaret Thatcher and her loyal successors. The welfare state won't save itself and the liberals have proven incapable of defending it. This is a time for pragmatism, not a detached anti-political purity of character.