Saturday, 31 May 2014

The scarred language of race.

It's interesting how racial language lingers to this day. Sometimes it is the case that the words we employ fail to keep pace with the progressive strives we have accomplished.  The rise of feminism in the 1970s and subsequent shifts in attitudes and lifestyles has led to a state of affairs where we increasingly fixate on what kind of language is most appropriate. Many couples I know have debated to themselves how appropriate terms like 'girlfriend/boyfriend', 'partner', 'spouse', 'my other half', are today. The decline of marriage and increasing prevalence of cohabitation and the emergence of non-monogamous relationships has led many to find such terms estranged from their own lives. The same is true in other areas.

On the racial front we find the idioms of scientific and cultural racialism remain with us. In census forms 'white' and 'black' are used as identity-markers abstracted from any historical context: the events of Bacon's Rebellion, where European indentured servants and African slaves fought side by side, only for the legislative moves towards instituting white privilege. The word 'white' was first used as a racial term with laws passed to prevent Europeans from marrying Africans in the Thirteen Colonies. The European workers were bound to the slave-masters even as they had much more in common with the African. This was how the white race emerged. It was not biological, yet it is objective, - as Theodore Allen told us long ago - it came about in the late seventeenth century as a formation of social control.

With the nineteenth century came the intensified biologisation of racial classifications. Racism became scientific and anthropological. It increasingly became about skin-colour, but not totally over night. For a long time, the Irish were not regarded as equals to 'white' American and Englishmen, they were regarded as racially inferior, often marginalised to the same quarters as African-Americans, and attacked as 'monkeys' in such outlets as Punch. Once the Irish were accepted as 'white' then they campaigned against German immigrants on the grounds that the new settlers were not 'white'. This was going on throughout the nineteenth century. The classifications of race were certainly flexible and highly relative. Its relativity and ambiguity reveals the absurdity of such classifications.

The use of the word 'coloured' to describe Africans, South Asians, and 'mixed-race' people, is somewhat revealing. It's a floating signifier with multiple applications, but it's clear from the outset that those who are 'colourless' are 'white' people. In South Africa a sudden shift in classification could move one's relatives to another part of town and deny them freedom of movement and a whole array of other rights. Of course, neither white nor black is a colour. Perhaps the terms of race sets its own rules by which we are one or the other. Many progressive Americans use 'people of colour' to refer to African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, unifying Black and Brown; while 'coloured' has been properly relegated to the past along with its cousin term 'negro'.

Both terms could serve to further reinforce the status of white people as colourless, but only in negative relation to those who are coloured. In the same way as John Derbyshire writes of 'non-blacks' when he means 'white people'. It makes sense that the origins of the 'white race' lie in the slave trade and the type of power structure necessitated by class society. The displacement of class consciousness by racial consciousness facilitates class society to reproduce itself. The promise of a harmonious and organic social order in conjunction with a thriving capitalist economy has been the dream of conservatives for centuries. The 'white race' finds itself situated as multi-class formation against those who are external to this collaborative relationship. The 'non-whites' are conceived as a disruptive presence in what should be a harmonious social system.

Then we have the way in which we talk about miscegenation. The term mixed-race is derivative of miscegenation, a word which was coined by anti-abolitionist propagandists in 1863. It was used in a pamphlet accusing the abolitionist movement of pursuing 'race-mixing'. This is a persistant trope on the Far-Right to this day. It used to be acceptable to describe someone as 'half-caste' for having a white parent and a black parent. It's a sore point for the generation of those who fail to understand the term, its history, and implications. It literally translates to half-pure. Setting aside the obvious implication that the person is 'halved', and somehow incomplete, it has far from an immaculate past to put it lightly. Half-caste was originally a term in Australian law. The children of European and Aboriginal Australians would be seized by the state under the auspices of this law and forcibly assimilated into 'white' Australian society.

All of this just goes to show the extent to which the language of race is itself highly problematic. We can't decode every term we use before we use them and yet we cannot dispense with them either. Without the proper historical perspective we can easily take such terms to be constant, unchanging and timeless. Can we do any better right now? The primary alternative to talking of race has been to talk of culture. We have gone from the era of multiracialism to multiculturalism since the late 1980s. There are those on the Right who push back against multiculturalism as they insist that their problem is not with multiracialism. The banal and toothless language of culture does more to obscure and gloss over than to illuminate and challenge. In multiculturalism race is left intact as a disavowed category while in multiracialism the categories are reinforced and left unexamined.

Monday, 26 May 2014

My First Encounter with Racism.

I must have been about five or six at the time. I was a late start at primary school as my mum had dawdled over whether or not to send me at all (she contemplated homeschooling). My first real friend came from a similar family background as I did. We were both children of unemployed family units, I came from a single-parent family, whereas he had seen his parents split early on and his mother later remarried. Neither his father nor his stepfather worked (as far as I knew), just as my mum survived on benefits and credit cards. She attended college while I was little and went on to study at university and she looked for work wherever she could. The media campaign against single-mums and their children had been under way for many years by this time.

We had a lot in common as shy sons of the under-class so maligned by middle-class journalists. Then one day we were in the playground and he turned to me and said "These Asians are going to take over". It perplexed me. I didn't know what he meant. I had never heard anything like this before, or at least I hadn't noticed it, certainly not at home. He was convinced that there were so many Asians in Britain that they were going to "take over". This was long before 'Islamization' became the new buzzword of the Far-Right. Over the next few years my friend and I played video games, collected Pokemon cards, and stuck together in tough times. Still, it bothered me when he complained that Sikhs are allowed to carry knives and other such petty concerns. He often said the Asians (when he used technical language) should've been "wiped out".

My mother was blunt when I asked her what to think about my dear friend's comments. She told me it was racism. Pure and simple. No doubt the press had a big role in shaping my friend's perceptions. His family swallowed a lot of it on face value. He was on board with the 'War on Terror' and was destraught over Kevin Bigley's death because his mother was. "We're helping them!" he said. He was signed up to all the rightward trends. When UKIP was on the rise in the early part of the last decade my friend's family took to putting up UKIP campaign materials in their front room window. It was common-sense for him that we should leave the EU before we're swamped with Poles. England was a beleagured nation in his mind, dislocated, broken, and infected with undesirables.

The strength of the nationalist narrative is in its appeal to real grievances in the North and the Midlands. The national industries are gone, the old lifelines of working-class people have been decimated, and everywhere jobs are even more scarce. These were the blank slate years of the Nineties. Blairism was on the rise as John Major's 'Back to Basics' disappeared down a whirlpool of sleaze and hypocrisy. Thatcherism had wiped out the labour movement and fed public assets to the private sector. The most convenient way to explain away the problems of society was not to analyse its systemic contradictions (who has the time for this?) but to externalise them. The EU is running our country. The foreigners took the jobs and the benefits and even taking over our football teams.

Of course, the media has done a wonderful job of demonising asylum seekers and the benefits system and the EU. Not to mention the way they have set out to undermine the term 'racist' and its tone of condemnation. My friend insisted he wasn't 'racist', all the while insisting that the blacks all look the same, the Asians are taking over and should be exterminated, everyone who isn't 'white' should be deported and the government should stand up for the 'white' English. He later moved on to voting BNP and had little idea that the Party represents everything the British fought in Nazi Germany. He was more concerned by the losses of the England football team than by D-Day. He insisted that the people who died on the shores of Normandy did not die for him or his country. Not that he was pro-Hitler. I don't think he was aware of all the implications of what he thought.

That's ideology for you. It's not what you think, it's what you do. In the world he lives in there are only racial formations and he has to take the side of his own kind. Class is abstracted away, only ancestry and skin-colour matter. It breaks my heart that there are still working-class people who think like this. It merely enforces their predicament and closes down any possibility beyond the existing order. It keeps the working-class in its place. As Noel Ignatiev put it "We cannot say it too often: whiteness does not exempt people from exploitation, it reconciles them to it. It is for those who have nothing else."

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Who is to blame?

The media have helped to build up UKIP into a 'fourth political party'. Even though the Party still doesn't even control any councils in the entire country and have no representation in the House of Commons. The Green Party has representation in Parliament. Yet it is UKIP who are the 'fourth party' championed by the press, whether explicitly or in frantic fear-mongering. The facts that the Party has within its ranks types who want to do away with universal suffrage and universal health-care barely comes up. Caroline Lucas of the Green Party is a non-presence in the media, yet Farage is asked onto BBC Question Time more than any other politician.

Now the press are looking for a scapegoat. The blame has fallen on Ed Miliband in some quarters. Actually the truth about the UKIP 'revolution' and the reasons for it are less simplistic. My friend Chris Horner took this from The Guardian:

Ukip's share of the vote went down this week, not up. Yes, it scored impressively well, in the high teens of vote share according to BBC projections, but it did not come close to dislodging Labour and the Conservatives as the two frontrunner parties, while the Liberal Democrats remained far behind in the low teens. The 2014 elections, in short, look less like the eruption of a new political order than the partial solidification of the one that erupted a year ago. The earthquake was last year, not this.

This point was echoed by Dan Hodges and by others elsewhere. The media wants this to be a threat and they want it to hurt Labour more than the Conservatives. The entire establishment are to blame for their inability to deal with the nuisance of Farage. The reason why Nick Clegg couldn't win the debate with the UKIP leader was because he has already conceded the major issues. The same can be said of Ed Miliband and David Cameron. All of them accept Thatcherism as their starting-point. Only an outsider can tackle Farage and only an outsider can tackle Lib-Lab-Con.

Why Nana Didn't Vote UKIP.

"I'm the only politician keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive." - Nigel Farage

The night of Thursday 22nd of May I got a phone call from my nana. She told me, "I was going to vote UKIP, but then I read what they were for..." She referred to a spread in The Daily Mirror where the party's positions on issues other than immigration were presented. Farage was much less appealing as a Thatcherite, who wants the privatisation of the NHS, the abolition of maternity leave, sick pay, and redundancy pay. Tooth and nail libertarian ideas hardly appeal to a bread base of voters and for good reason. In the end my nana voted Labour, saying "I always used to vote Labour..." and adding "they used to be for the workers". That's the crux of the matter.

My nana was interested in voting for UKIP because she wants a referendum on EU membership and, in her own words, UKIP are "against asylum seekers". This is where the party appeals to a broad base of voters. Only on these grounds could an ex-banker and former Tory, like Farage, market himself as a man of the people. Relatives of mine have voted UKIP in the past out of opposition to the European Union and mass-immigration. But these are former Labour supporters. The media closes in on issues like immigration, benefits, and the EU, to steal away the core support for social democratic measures. It has been a successful campaign in many ways - there is widespread opposition to immigration and widespread support for benefit cuts - while failing in other ways - opposition to universal health-care remains insignificant.

How can people who have voted Labour all of their lives, and in the case of my relatives, even voted Green in the past, turn to a party of right-wing spivs. The extent to which UKIP has succeeded in stealing Labour voters is debatable, but it is the key to any long-term electoral strategy. It is not enough to compete with the Conservatives. Even though the raison d'etre of Faragisme is to force the Conservative leadership further rightwards. The current austerity isn't enough. The stealth privatisation of the NHS isn't enough. Anti-immigrant campaign vans aren't enough. Cuts to disability benefits aren't enough. The tax-cuts for the rich aren't enough either. It should be clear what these people are about.

The facts of UKIP's prejudices are not amazing to anyone on the liberal-Left. Never mind the core base of support for anti-immigrant policies. What does amaze people are the policies which Farage would implement if he had real power in this country. When asked by Norman Smith whether he would ringfence the NHS the UKIP leader said "No, I want to see us getting better value for money." Need I say anymore? Yet that wasn't plastered on every headline throughout the country. The media demands the debate on immigration because it can only move between two poles: liberal internationalism in one corner and populist nationalism in the other. It's convenient for a discourse which doesn't do serious politics and peddles easy answers to complex problems.

Friday, 16 May 2014

James O'Brien kicking Farage's ass.

People like to say Nigel Farage is a hypocrite as leader of UKIP, calling for limits to immigration, all the while he has a German wife, and bilingual German-British children. Well, if you want to maintain advantages for Western European economies over their Eastern European counterparts (at the expense of the working-class everywhere) then it's perfectly consistent. Romania was practically destroyed by Ceausescu's austerity (which has continued to this day) and now people like Farage want to put up a wall to stop them from settling here in search of work. Farage supports the conditions which destroyed the life chances of those workers in Romania, just as he supports Thatcherite policies in this country.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Israel turns towards Russia.

On March 27th 2014 Prime Minister Netanyahu abstained from the vote at the UN General Assembly on a resolution on Crimea. It was de facto support for Russian aggression.  The significance of this event may not have hit the mainstream just yet, but it may soon outpace it in its own trajectory. It’s not the first time the Israeli government has looked eastwards with fond eyes. When Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 the Israeli government set a moratorium on arms sales to the tiny republic and in return Medvedev cancelled a delivery of missiles to Iran in 2009.  There’s even talk of a free trade deal between Russia and Israel now.

It would seem that there is a hand full of very exact reasons why the Russian government would seek out a relationship with the Israeli government at this time. Firstly, the Russian repression of the Chechen bid for self-determination has been severe and has engendered a Chechen resistance. Secondly, the need for international legitimation of Russia’s military campaigns in its backyard and, in general, a new pretext as the Cold War is long over. Thirdly, there is the necessity of non-Arab actors as allies in the Middle East. Israel is a top candidate for all of the above. It’s a state that has long understood what it takes to grind a people into dirt. But the Israeli government knows full well that it couldn’t do so without its patron-state.

The US has long played the role of patron-state to Israel’s aggressive expansionism. There are signs that the Netanyahu administration can see far enough to perceive a potential break with the American hegemon. Even Washington cannot support Israeli aggression indefinitely. It has seemed, for a long time, completely incomprehensible that the US would ever abandon Israel and with good reason. The US does need a strong military outpost capable of policing the region and it has built Israel into an armed force greater than any standing NATO power. It has created a strong force at hand in a region ridden with crises and oil fields. The empowered outpost has the capability to pursue its own strategic agenda. The story won’t end there.

This is an excerpt of an article to be published at Souciant where it can be read in its fully edited form as presented on May 14th 2014.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Slavoj Žižek on Fascism.

I very much enjoyed The Pervert's Guide to Cinema and its follow-up The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. Žižek uses the movie Jaws of all things to explore Fascism and its essential character and objective. It has become all too fashionable to claim an equivalence between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, as if to imply the US and UK should have sat it out and let the Germans and Russians slaughter one another. There are even those on the Right who try to argue that the Third Reich was identical to Stalin's Russia. Here Žižek drives home the difference:

Long before Solzhenitsyn, as Christopher Hitchens wrote in 2011, ‘the crucial questions about the Gulag were being asked by left oppositionists, from Boris Souvarine to Victor Serge to C.L.R. James, in real time and at great peril. Those courageous and prescient heretics have been somewhat written out of history (they expected far worse than that, and often received it).’ This internal dissent was a natural part of the Communist movement, in clear contrast to fascism. ‘There were no dissidents in the Nazi Party,’ Hitchens went on, ‘risking their lives on the proposition that the Führer had betrayed the true essence of National Socialism.’ Precisely because of this tension at the heart of the Communist movement, the most dangerous place to be at the time of the 1930s purges was at the top of the nomenklatura: in the space of a couple of years, 80 per cent of the Central Committee and the Red Army leadership were shot.

As Žižek points out, in The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, the promise of Fascism was always a conservative revolution, to transform the whole of class society and to, ultimately, bring about an alternative modernity devoid of the class antagonism. The aim is a society wherein a traditional hierarchical social order stands in harmony with a highly efficient and innovative economy. The problem resides in the inherent capacity for crisis and class conflict in the capitalist system. To circumvent the class antagonism and leave the class society intact is impossible. Therefore, the assertion of a racial identity is a necessary means of reconciling the working-class to conditions of exploitation and binding them to the ruling-class. It attempts to forge a collaboration of the classes through a shared racial consciousness. The array of social ills inherent to class society are then externalised onto the Other as an infection to be rooted out.

Here I would wheel in the work of Allen on white racial identity. If we look at the Theodore W Allen thesis on white racial consciousness we find that it is not a neutral social construct it is objective and it is a formation of social control. The white race is, ironically, colourless and yet defined as a distinct social category in this way. Perhaps the white race could only be constituted as a multi-class bloc against the Other which would in turn be defined as non-white. In this way the class struggle can be offset against the immediate need to build class collaboration. This is the promise of a harmonious capitalist society. It is conspicuous in its absence from not just the present, but the past as well. As Noel Ignatiev writes "We cannot say it too often: whiteness does not exempt people from exploitation, it reconciles them to it. It is for those who have nothing else."

Why the Jews?

Earlier this year I reproduced Lenin's speech on anti-Jewish pogroms in Tsarist Russia. It has always been my view that the reactionary mind needs racism to bound together the system and externalise its systemic flaws onto an intrusive presence - an infection of sorts - which we are invited to purge. It is no coincidence that the proto-fascists of this world equate anti-racism with leftism, 'political-correctness' with Marxism, and Communism with Jewishness. Of course, there is nothing Jewish about Communism, just as anti-racism is not inherently left-wing. But it is the case that there is nothing progressive in racism. This is understood, at some level, by the majority of Far-Righters. It is their cause to safeguard capitalism by asserting race-consciousness over class-consciousness.
In an interview with Worker's Liberty Moishe Postone emphasises what he regards as the unique characteristic of anti-Semitism to other forms of racism. He explains "The way in which anti-Semitism is distinguished, and should be distinguished, from racism, has to do with the sort of imaginary of power, attributed to the Jews, Zionism, and Israel, which is at the heart of anti-Semitism. The Jews are seen as constituting an immensely powerful, abstract, intangible global form of power that dominates the world." We see this underlying a lot of cultural criticism put forward by traditional conservatives. It is surely no surprise that the traditionalists so often verge on and foray into the fields of anti-Semitism harvested in Europe for centuries.
Postone is dead clear in his words "Anti-Semitism is a primitive critique of the world, of capitalist modernity. The reason I regard it as being particularly dangerous for the left is precisely because anti-Semitism has a pseudo-emancipatory dimension that other forms of racism rarely have." Everyone should read Postone's article Anti-Semitism and National Socialism for a non-functionalist account of the phenomenon.

The point to be made here, however, is that a careful examination of the modern anti-Semitic worldview reveals that it is a form of thought in which the rapid development of industrial capitalism, with all its social ramifications, is/ /personified and identified as the Jew. It is not merely that the Jews were considered to be the owners of money, as in traditional anti-Semitism, but that they were held responsible for economic crises and identified with the range of social restructuring and dislocation resulting from rapid industrialization: explosive urbanization, the decline of traditional social classes and strata, the emergence of a large, increasingly organized industrial proletariat, and so on. In other words, the abstract domination of capital, which—particularly with rapid industrialization—caught people up in a web of dynamic forces they could not understand, became perceived as the domination of International Jewry.

The relation between the material base of class society and its overarching superstructure becomes lost easily as it would require a detailed analysis. The impetus for such an analysis was never there for the kind of people who tend towards anti-Jewish hatred. This is more like an ideological filter through which reality can be comprehended. All other possibilities are dismissed from the outset.

According to this interpretation, the Jews were identified not merely with money, with the sphere of circulation, but with capitalism itself. However, because of its fetishized form, capitalism did not appear to include industry and technology. Capitalism appeared to be only its manifest abstract dimension which, in turn, was responsible for the whole range of concrete social and cultural changes associated with the rapid development of modern industrial capitalism.
The Jews were not seen merely as representatives of capital (in which case anti-Semitic attacks would have been much more class-specific). They became the personifications of the intangible, destructive, immensely powerful, and international domination of capital as an alienated social form.
Certain forms of anticapitalist discontent became directed against the manifest abstract dimension of capital personified in the form of the Jews, not because the Jews were consciously identified with the value dimension, but because, given the antinomy of the abstract and concrete dimensions, capitalism appeared that way. The “anticapitalist” revolt was, consequently, also the revolt against the Jews. The overcoming of capitalism and its negative social effects became associated with the overcoming of the Jews.

This is what Postone rightly calls "pseudo-emancipatory". The fascist mission to defeat the Left is twofold: firstly, the working-class social base has to be stolen away and, secondly, the opposing progressive elements must be stamped out by force.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Blair on Putin.

Every now and then Tony Blair pops up out of nowhere and reminds us all he’s still out there on his private jet. It’s almost routine now. This time Blair tells us the West needs to focus on radical Islam. No surprise there. It’s an old message now. We’ve heard it all before. He ranked it alongside the environment in importance. Of course, it should go without saying that the politicians like Blair have never been as interested in combating climate change as they have been in waging wars in West Asia. For years all we’ve heard about has been radical Islamism and the threat it poses to liberal democracies. Yet in Blair’s mind it’s as if the West suddenly stopped focusing on radical Islam.

All of this is to be expected from Tony Blair given his record. What stands out is one of the suggestions Blair makes to this end. The former Prime Minister asks that the West put aside their differences with Russia over Ukraine. Of course, by Russia we know that the former statesman means Putin, as all statesmen see governments and countries as one in the same, just as when he refers to ‘the West’ he doesn’t mean the populations of America, Britain, and Europe. Usually ‘the West’ would only refer to North America and North-Western Europe, but since he has defined ‘the West’ in relation to Russia we can include Eastern Europe in this category as well. Like everything about Blair’s world we can only see it in its proper context.

In the ‘War on Terror’ the Russian Federation was a notable member of the coalition forged by the US with countries around the world. Back in 2001 Putin was fighting to put down an insurgency in Chechnya having flattened most of the country since the conflict first started. It was vital to the consolidation of his power in Moscow that the regions remain as Russian provinces. To some it was clear what this meant at the time. As Chomsky said in 2001 “We should look very carefully at this anti-terrorism coalition and who is joining it and why. Russia is happily joining the international coalition because it is delighted to have U.S. support for the horrendous atrocities it is carrying out in its war against Chechnya. It describes that as an anti-terrorist war. In fact it is a murderous terrorist war itself.”[1] Certainly, Blair and Putin understood this then just as they understand it today.

The tussle over Ukraine is a non-issue for Blair in his private jet. He has more pressing issues to concern himself with, such as advising the Nazarbayev regime in Kazakhstan, the al-Sabah family of Kuwait, and King Abdullah II of Jordan. For Blair the personal is political and we should never take him as a neutral agent. He stands as the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet formed by the backing of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and the Russian Federation. Blair works closely alongside John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov. The Quartet was set up in 2002 in the still warm aftermath of the Second Intifada and the Israel’s war with Lebanon. The point of the Quartet has been to back ceasefire arrangements and try to bring about a peace settlement. But it’s long been clear what the arrangement is really about.

In his capacity as peace envoy Blair spends a week out of every month in Jerusalem and maintains warm relations with the Netanyahu government. He was conspicuously absent during Operation Cast Lead and chose to extend his holiday rather than comment on the unfolding bloodbath. Just as Putin has worked to build strong relations between Russia and Israel and continues to hold together the relationship in spite of the Ukrainian crisis. If there were any doubts that the Israeli government would fall in line with its American patrons those doubts were swiftly put to rest last month. On March 27th Netanyahu abstained from the vote at the UN General Assembly on a resolution on Crimea. No doubt, Netanyahu has the old refusenik voters to consider as his coalition with Avigdor Lieberman bids to hoover up as many of them as possible.

It doesn’t stop there. Israel looks forward to a free-trade deal with Russia. The Israeli government held a moratorium on arms sales to Georgia and turns a blind eye to Putin’s rampaging in the Caucasus; and in return Medvedev cancelled a delivery of missiles to Iran in 2009.[2] In its own aggressive expansionist designs Israel cannot help but find common cause with states which have traditionally sought to expand their boundaries. Of course, this is a relationship not uncomplicated given Russia’s support in weapons of Assad and, by extension, the Hezbollah. The main objective for the Israelis is to prolong negotiations in order to give them more time to expand even further. The Russians have no objection provided they can rely on Israeli and Western support for its operations to thwart the Chechen bid for independence.

Like everything about Middle East policy in the West it all comes down to Israel. So when Ariel Sharon finally died it wasn’t too surprising to see Tony Blair at the funeral service. There the peace envoy spewed forth about how the Bulldozer brought ‘iron determination’ to diplomacy as he had to the camps of Sabra and Shatila.[3] The Israeli government were more than displeased by the last minute change in policy towards Mubarak in the US. Netanyahu wanted total support even after it had become impossible to prevent Mubarak from being removed by his own goons. The reasoning was obvious. Israel does not need a rejuvenated Arab powerhouse on its border with the reins of government in the hands of its populace. Blair and Putin couldn’t agree more. This is what realists mean when they talk about ‘regional stability’.

Not many commentators seem to recall, or perhaps they don’t want to, Blair’s remark that Hosni Mubarak is “a force for good”.[4] As the military were displaced from power and democratic elections were held in Egypt the crusader was clear. He told the readers of the Evening Standard “democracy is not just a way of voting but a way of thinking”.[5] He emphasised the need for proper institutions and pluralism and individual freedoms and a modern economy. When the Muslim Brotherhood were dumped by military putsch last summer Blair reiterated these same words as a justification for the coup. The Arab masses weren’t ready for the democracy and, as always, need a strong leader, in his mind, the kind of man General al-Sisi looks for in his mirror every morning.

If the Quartet is a roadshow for the negotiations then we should know how to frame the importance of Russian support for it. All the states involved in the ‘peace process’ declare solemn support for the two-state settlement, the matters of when, where and how remain conveniently mysterious. As part of the Quartet, only the UN has been a serious forum for international opposition to Israeli aggression and support for a two-state settlement. The UN routinely votes through resolutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict and it votes unanimously in favour of a two-state settlement. The US uses it privilege on the UN Security Council to veto all resolutions and has done consistently for over thirty years now. Meanwhile the EU has been striking in its timidity to the US until recently when the Europeans passed a modicum of sanctions against Israeli settlements. It’s clear that the Russian Federation stands with the US to counterbalance any opposition which might creep out of the UN and the EU.

This article was originally written for Souciant on May 2nd 2014.