Doomsday Scenarios.

November 28, 2015

A mildly fascinating question: how close are we to global thermonuclear war?

This is not a jocular question. In South Africa we are obsessed with the failings and foibles of our own government (though these are often covered up by the press, who single out very specific failings and foibles and deploy them for the purposes of their controllers). We are also, sort of, aware of the potential global economic crisis, and are growing increasingly aware of the undeniable global environmental crisis. But the fact that we might be killed off by a war, either vapourised by igniting lithium deuteride or frozen in the ensuing global winter (rather ironic that it would sort out the global warming problem) is out of our consciousness.

This question is raised by the shooting-down of a Russian Su-24 strike aircraft by the Turkish Air Force over northern Syria.

Is this going to lead to a world war? Informed sources closely connected with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the countries under its ambit say, “No, the Russians wouldn’t dare” in various ways. Obviously war can only be started by Russia, since NATO countries, by definition, do not start wars — they engage in humanitarian interventions, as in Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Iraq, etc., etc., etc.

So, let’s put the question another way. Is this going to lead to a world war in the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world in which the Western politicians and their bought media live? The answer is that we really don’t know yet. It could have been said that when Kaiser Wilhelm sent the gunboat Panther to Agadir, it didn’t start a world war — but the First World War was partly provoked by French fears of German meddling in what it considered its own affairs, so yes, that action did in a sense start the world war, or at least contributed to it. So, if there’s going to be a global thermonuclear war within the next couple of decades, if there are any subsequent historians, they would certainly say that the Turkish shootdown was a major contributing factor.

What actually happened is fairly simple and clear. The Russians were giving close air support to the Syrian Arab Army, which is taking over the area between Aleppo and the Turkish border so as to cut the supply lines of the Wahhabi guerrillas who control half of Aleppo. This area is partly occupied by Turkmen guerrillas linked to the Al-Nusra Front, which in turn is part of the Army of Conquest funded by Saudi Arabia. These guerrillas are from Central Asia, and are associated with the Islamic extremist movements in that region; they were presumably recruited there and trained in Turkey, and the Turks are pretending that they are Turks (they have some ethnic connections, although the territorial links have been broken for half a millennium) and supposedly under Turkish protection.

The guerrillas in question are connected to al-Qaeda and are in an informal alliance with the “Islamic State” guerrillas, so in theory the United States is at war with them, and NATO is at war with them, and therefore, Turkey is at war with them. In practice, the guerrillas were brought there by NATO countries, and could not survive without Turkish support, including aerial reconnaissance (this was what a Turkish RF-4 was doing over Syrian territory when the Syrians shot it down) but providing aerial fighter cover for the guerrillas is a step much further than the Turks have taken before.

The big question is whether the Turks did it on their own, or whether this was part of a NATO (for which read, of course, American) project to raise the stakes in the fight.

The same question can be asked about the bomb which blew up a Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula. This was claimed by the Islamic State, and it’s perfectly possible that the Egyptian authorities at the Sharm-el-Sheik airport were so sloppy as to allow Islamic State guerrillas to smuggle a kilogram of high explosive connected with a barometric-pressure fuse (the airliner exploded when it reached cruising altitude, exactly like the Lockerbie airliner which was bombed with a barometric-pressure fuse) on board. After all, the Egyptians are only fighting a massive war in the Sinai Peninsula, part of their massive war against political dissidents everywhere, they are only a police state, they are only utterly dependent on foreign tourism to prop up their ramshackle dictatorship — how unsurprising that the first attempt to bomb an airliner in the area should succeed!

Or else we might ask if the Saudi intelligence services, or the Israeli intelligence services, or even the American intelligence services, might have been involved, with the goal of making the Syrian intervention unpopular with the Russian public. It’s the kind of exceptionally stupid thing they would do. (Using a barometric-pressure fuse instead of a time fuse is also a hint; the Lockerbie bomb was set by the Iranians in revenge for the shooting-down by the Americans of their airliner the previous year, and the Russian war in Syria is in support of Iran, and in alliance with Iran. A message from the Godfather, like a horse’s head in your bed.)

Of course IS might have acted alone, and the Turks might have acted alone (although NATO has backed them to the hilt and denounced the Russians for having an aircraft in a place where the Turks could shoot it down, and pretended to believe all the transparent lies the Turks have provided to excuse this incredibly provocative behaviour). The point is that nobody has acted to calm the tensions (except the Russians, who responded very cautiously to the airliner downing, in contrast to the excited yelps of joy coming out of the Western media on the subject, and who have responded to the Turkish action by simply beefing up their air defenses in Syria and imposing economic sanctions against Turkey — by any standards a proportionate reaction).

The thing is that the Russians are supposedly acting in an informal alliance with NATO, and yet it was a NATO country which shot the aircraft down while it was engaged in combat with the “extremist terrorists” whom NATO politicians are forever denouncing verbally. And yet despite these denunciations, NATO countries (and their allies, such as Australia) are major sources of recruitment for these Wahhabi guerrilla forces in Syria. Somehow, thousands of young disaffected Muslims manage to leave Britain and France and Australia and travel to Syria, and nobody stops them. After they have been trained and experienced combat, some of them come back, and of those, some proceed to try to shoot up trains with automatic weapons, or shoot up concerts with automatic weapons, or blow up bars with explosive belts.

Where do they get the guns and the explosives, and how is it that the most intensive political surveillance in the world is incapable of noticing either the weapons, the training, or the willingness to use them? Or is it that the surveillance notices them and the political control behind the surveillance is quite happy to see it all happen, because it can be used politically to justify more complete political repression and panic the public into blind support for the ruling class and racist endorsement of xenophobic and imperialist policies? Or is it that the surveillance notices them and the political control encourages it all to happen?

None of this is certain, except that no NATO country can be trusted to tell the truth about what is going on. (And Syria can’t be trusted much more, and Russia only a little more.) However, one minor point is that China stands with Russia in its Syrian policy, while the Chinese are very uneasy about the Islamic fundamentalist guerrilla movement in its Central Asian provinces, and are worried that the Americans seem to be supporting this movement — so the Turkmen receiving training and combat experience in Syrian Wahhabi guerrilla forces might ultimately be used to destabilise China, as the Chechens receiving the same things in the same forces might be used to destabilise Russia. China also sent a small naval force to support Syria when the Americans were trying to invade Syria in 2013 over the fake chemical weapons crisis. It does, then, seem that some sort of global bloc is forming.

The trouble is that NATO has been on the march since it invaded Serbia in 1999, and as NATO becomes economically weaker it becomes more and more dependent on military strategies. Its leadership, to put matters politely, lives in la-la land; one of its current propaganda tropes is that the Syrian government is backing ISIS, which makes exactly as much sense as the notion that Francisco Franco was backing the Spanish anarchist movement in 1937 (the claim then made by the Stalinists).

And as a result of floating on an ocean of fantasy pumped out by their public relations consultants (some of whom go under the name of intelligence agencies) the ruling class of the NATO countries has decided to launch a cold war against Russia and China (and incidentally to promote political turmoil in Brazil and economic sanctions against South Africa — of the BRICS countries only India is exempt from assault because it is so very, very right wing that the NATO ruling class hasn’t the heart to hurt it). But this cold war hasn’t been very effective; Russia wouldn’t give up its military bases in Crimea, and wouldn’t knuckle under when sanctions were imposed as if Russia were Equatorial Guinea. And then Russia went and decided to offer support to Syria, and coordinate the military and political cooperation between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, far more effectively than America was able to coordinate the cooperation between Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia. And so Russia must be punished, and so the Su-24 was shot down.

But all that does is piss off the Russians and trouble the Chinese (who aren’t keen about the Americans muscling in on their turf, although the Trans-Pacific Partnership which is allegedly aimed against the Chinese will probably damage the economies of the participating countries, and the Americans are incapable of doing anything effective in the South China Sea except irritate the Chinese military and Chinese big business). It also creates the impression that the NATO countries are both heavily armed and slightly crazed, and possibly desperate.

The last time the situation was like this, in the early 1980s, everybody in the world was scared, and as we now know, the most scared people of all were sitting in the Kremlin, nibbling their nails up to the elbow and jumping whenever a fresh radar blip showed another NATO combat or missile testing their defenses. Putin and Xi don’t give the impression of being frightened — but the NATO leadership scamper in circles on a regularly choreographed basis. “The Russians are coming! The Chinese are coming! ISIL/ISIS/Daesh are coming! The anti-semites are coming! Jeremy Corbyn is coming! We officially call for public panic and amok-running!” As a result, the Russians and Chinese (and the Indians) are all boosting their militaries quite substantially.

And these maniacs, and these more measured but quite clearly worried people, are the people with their fingers on the nuclear buttons, and there is no way of snipping those fingers off, or taking the fuses out of the nuclear warheads. If we get through the next decade without mushroom clouds in all directions, we will be exceedingly lucky. Maybe the Malagassy lemurs will survive. Maybe they will make a better job of it than we did.

Je Suis Going To Be Sick.

November 28, 2015

Recently a bunch of hooligans with guns and bombs murdered a bunch of people. However, that happened in Yemen, the hooligans were employees of the United States, and the victims were dark-skinned people, and no Western imperialist press was present, so nobody noticed or cared.

However, another bunch of hooligans with guns and bombs murdered a bunch of white people in Paris, and the fucking heavens must fall because of this. Every imperialist government has instructed every puppet government in the world to pee in its collective panties in fright at the horrid fact that brown people can kill white people. Everybody is instructed to improve the situation by expanding secret police powers, suppressing the rights of minorities, controlling the free movement of individuals, and eliminating what remains of freedom of speech, for only thus can we preserve what Barack Obama calls civilization.

The most nauseating expression of this is the “Je suis” movement, in which we are supposed to identify with Parisians who got blown up or shut down (but not, of course, with any brown or black-skinned people who get blown up or shot down, or even with white people if they are not authenticated as worthy victims by the NATO High Command). This is modelled on the “Je suis Charlie” movement, in which everybody in the world was urged to identify with a bunch of racist journalists who got gunned down in Paris for writing viciously anti-Muslim screeds and scrawling viciously anti-Muslim cartoons. Granted, nobody should be gunned down for such things, just as Muslim clerics should not be blown to tatters for making viciously anti-American speeches, but nobody official in the West bothers about such latter things.

Why did those people get killed in Paris? Impossible, actually, to say what the motive of the attackers was, because we don’t actually know who was responsible. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility, which means very little even if you think that the Islamic State is a simple homogeneous entity, which it isn’t.

However, the French state is violently Islamophobic, imposing petty insulting restraints on Muslims seeking to display their religion’s cultural side and more serious restraints on Muslims criticising those cultural restraints and the political agenda of the French state in Africa and the Middle East. It’s been this way ever since the eight-year genocidal war against the Algerian people, during which Algerians in Paris were murdered by the French police and dumped into the Seine with very few of the kind of people currently engaged in French elite politics going “Je suis un harki”.

More to the point, the French state’s foreign policy is unambiguously supportive of NATO imperialism; it attacked and destroyed Libya, it invaded Mali to suppress a popular uprising, it has fomented mass murders of Muslims by Christians in the Central African Republic which it also invaded, and it has fomented mass murders of Shi’ites by Sunnis in Syria in pursuit of the American political agenda of imposing an American-compliant regime in that luckless state. All this seems like an extension of domestic Islamophobia, and creates the impression that France is a violently anti-Muslim country, although in practice this is probably not the case (the French government simply wishes to do whatever the Americans tell it to do, and whatever the French electorate can be fooled into thinking is a good idea, and doesn’t think responsibly).

So does this mean that open season can be declared on French civilians? Obviously not — they may be predominantly Islamophobe, they may have voted for a government which is brutally repressive at home and virulently aggressive abroad, they may be greedy and selfish and foolish, but shooting or blowing them up is not going to change any of this.

Assuming that the Islamic State, or some element of it, was responsible for the attacks in Paris, what was the purpose? To discourage the French state from attacking Muslims? This is hardly likely. Indeed, the immediate response of the French state to the Islamic State’s violation of international law in an attempt to discourage French involvement in Syria was to attack Muslims by violating international law, bombing a city in Syria (and probably killing lots of Syrians, but there is of course no “Je suis Raqqa” movement). This was as predictable as the consequences of blowing up the Russian airliner earlier in the month, or the terrorist bombings in southern Lebanon. Why bother to do such things? Unless you are attacking someone who is at a tipping-point, like the Spanish when al-Qaeda blew up some railway trains and persuaded the Spanish to stop supporting aggression against Iraq, any such attack can only be part of a long-term attempt at regime change, as in South Africa, and there is no prospect of that in France. Otherwise you are just walloping a wasp’s nest.

More to the point, since France is quite sympathetic to the goals of the Islamic State (destroying all vestiges of democracy in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon), is one of Saudi Arabia’s big supporters, and has done what it can to help them get what they want, France is the last country that the Islamic State ought to be attacking; attacking Russia and Hizbollah makes some sense politically although given the steely resolve of their governments it’s a complete waste of time, but attacking France is politically incomprehensible.

However, it’s entirely possible that the attacks in Paris (and, indeed, the Russian airliner bombing) were not actually carried out by the Islamic State — thought of as a state, that is. It doesn’t take much to launch such attacks, assuming that you aren’t afraid of dying or spending the rest of your life in a horrible prison. It’s perfectly possible that many Muslims are unaware of the real interests of the Islamic State just as must Westerners are unaware of the links between the Islamic State and the Western secret services and covert governments. Therefore some people might have run off and attacked Paris without much more agenda than the desire to blow away a couple of Crusaders. Moreover, since they, like so many of the “jihadis”, were recruited by Western intelligence agencies to support their war to overthrow the Syrian government, they might actually have been acting, wittingly or unwittingly, on Western orders.

But the pretense is, of course, that These People are All Out To Get Us, whoever”these people” or “us” may really be, and therefore we are all supposed to stand tall, and stand with France as it bombards Arab civilians, suppresses civil rights in France, and generally behaves exactly like a caricature of Russia in The Guardian, except that The Guardian is immensely impressed with France and wishes to remind us that absolutely nothing that is happening in the Middle East has anything to do with Europe or America.

It’s all a pretense. The French are apparently trying to use this situation to suck up to America by bombarding Syria and pretending that they are going to help take down Assad. But the Americans are increasingly realising that they aren’t going to be permitted to take down Assad or Hizbollah or Iran or, in fact, do almost any of the things that they want to do in the Middle East. The French don’t have the power or the political will to do any of that, either. So in the end all that will happen will be to put a few more “anti-terrorist” laws on the Western European statute books which will be used against leftists (those same leftists who are trying to suck up to Western European governments by making anti-Syrian propaganda) and a few more billion euroes and pounds will be spent on useless armaments and incompetent secret policemen. In other words, nothing of substance will change anywhere.

And our ruling class wants us to side with these horrid, incompetent, deluded scum. Include me out, comrades. If ISIS was a real organisation and not simply a front body for Western imperialism in the Levant and Iraq, it would be tempting to support them. As it is, all that needs to be done is to remind everybody that all this has been done already by Israel in its terrorist and aggression campaigns in the Middle East. For the moment that has still turned out all right, at least for the Israeli political and economic elite. Considering most of Israeli society, however, it hasn’t turned out any better for them, than it’s going to turn out for the NATO countries who are consciously imitating them.

Slightly Less Ignorant Observations About Trotskyism.

November 28, 2015

The Creator isn’t massively well-informed about Marxism, and about Trotskyism hardly at all, so it’s been quite useful to read some Deutscher and Callinicos, not to mention some late Trotsky himself, and this has helped to account, perhaps, for the deeply problematic nature of Trotskyism, the way in which Trotskyites are inclined to systematically fool themselves, and their horrific inclination (one which on the whole Trotsky did not share) to betray their principles in support of agendas pursued by colonialism, imperialism, plutocracy and neoliberalism.

The thing about Trotsky was his inclination to come up with ideas which sounded as if they challenged the foundations of whatever was going on at the time in the revolutionary Marxist movement in Russia and elsewhere. Good examples of these are “permanent revolution” and “uneven development”.

Far as the Creator understands them, these are actually much simpler terms than these deeply value-laden and profoundly Hegelian titles claim for themselves. The original idea of Marxist revolution was that the war of class against class under capitalism was only really possible once capitalism was wholly in the saddle, meaning that there had to be a bourgeois revolution to put the big capitalists in power and get rid of feudalism or the “Asiatic mode of production” (i.e. bureaucratic family dictatorship in the manner of the Chinese and Japanese empires). Only then would you have sufficient development of an industrial proletariat to set a powerful proletariat against the bourgeoisie and, ultimately, have a revolution which would bring about socialism and, eventually, communism.

Trouble was, though, not everybody developed equally across the world, or even across regions, or even across individual countries. Sometimes people were ready for revolution early, in which case they might go off half-cocked. Sometimes people weren’t ready for revolution at all even while most others were. Not everybody was proletarianised under capitalism, and not everybody who was proletarianised was equally able to respond in the manner desired by Marx.

Particularly this was true of Russia, where, except in a few industrial areas, there just weren’t enough proletarians to make a revolution happen. Uneven development, then, is a reality, and a real problem — because do you just sit around waiting patiently for the proletariat to arrive (and if they do, will they trust you, and will you be in a state to make a revolution after sitting around all those decades) or do you try to make a revolution anyway, and hope that the peasantry and the lumpens will join in?

This was where permanent revolution came in. It means that instead of just having a bourgeois revolution, you have a revolution which seeks to revolutionise the country in an ongoing way, and create a revolutionary, conscientised proletariat by force if necessary. This was roughly what Trotsky had tried to do in 1905, and more or less what Lenin did after the October Revolution. So, although it sounds really cool — revolution all the time, wa-haay! — permanent revolution actually is pretty dull; it’s just about building society up to the point at which it’s ready for the transition to socialism. It’s more or less what Trotsky and company were all up to in building the USSR and the Bolshevik Party in the 1920s, however cool it sounds.

This, then, leads to the next problem of Trotskyism, which is “socialism in one country”. It follows completely logically from “uneven development” and “permanent revolution” that you might end up trying to build socialism in a society which an orthodox Marxist would say was not ready for it. Meanwhile, you would be surrounded by societies which might be more advanced in terms of capitalist development, but where revolution hadn’t happened — and if revolution happened in a relatively underdeveloped society, capitalists in the more developed societies around it would do their damnedest to make sure that revolution didn’t happen in their societies and was stamped out wherever it had gained ground. Hence the counter-revolutions in places like Hungary and Finland, and the Western interventions against the Russian revolution, and the refusal of the West to offer any investment assistance to Russia’s shattered economy. All this was perfectly natural, and Trotsky, like Lenin and Stalin and everybody else, had to accommodate themselves to it. Socialism had to be build in the USSR, and the rest of Europe was not going to help.

So then socialism in one country is inevitable, but Trotsky complained that it means Great Russian chauvinism, and it also meant abandoning all hope of making revolution outside the USSR. Both these claims were partly true in the sense that the USSR rapidly became a nationalistic society, even if it was nominally socialist, and in the sense that the government of the USSR was prepared to coexist, on occasion, with capitalist societies which were not conspicuously in revolutionary situations — although whenever the USSR could it tried to encourage revolution, or export revolutionary societies on the bayonets of the Soviet Army.

Trotsky couldn’t acknowledge this because he was dealing with his political opponents within the Bolshevik Party — Bukharin, Zinoviev and Stalin — and was convinced of their bad faith, in part because he was always convinced that everybody except him was wrong. So he denounced them for pursuing a policy which he himself had pursued when in power, and which was also the only policy which the USSR could pursue — that of industrial development combined with political education of the nascent proletariat. Trotsky was hustled off the scene shouting against policies to which he had no real objection — it wasn’t the policies which he was really protesting against, but the fact that he was not there to implement them. So Trotskyism, as an alternative to Stalinism, was born in bad faith and opportunism.

Then came the question of what the Marxist attitude towards the USSR ought to be. Trotsky’s attitude was that it was a “deformed workers’ state” — that is, it was a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat which had somehow lost its way due to not being led by people like Trotsky. This, in a sense, is plausible, for in the late 1930s it was obvious that the USSR was not a pretty place to be, and after the 1960s it increasingly became a highly bureaucratised and militarised state with little organic culture. It did not move towards Communism, nor was it democratic. There was something wrong with it, and arguably this was something which Trotsky, or someone like him, could have given it.

However, the fact that it was a “workers’ state”, according to Trotsky, meant that it deserved to be supported. Trotsky always called for the defense of the USSR and never sought revolutionary defeatism, neither against capitalism nor against fascism. Others who came out of the Trotskyite movement, and others who came out of similar traditions on the revolutionary left, took a stand which was similar but dramatically different. Basically, this stand entailed saying that the USSR was a bureaucratic dictatorship, and therefore nothing to do with socialism at all, that it had developed a new kind of class stratification which entailed an undesirable turn in relations of production (since working for a bureaucracy meant essentially working for a new, but not different, exploiting class) or that the USSR was not different at all from the capitalist system which the Bolsheviks had overthrown, but was simply “state capitalism” and hence to be fought against by socialists just as every other kind of capitalism was to be fought against. These different positions led to various kinds of splits in the socialist and Trotskyite movement, and also justified all kinds of posturing on the far left (including the Maoist left, which borrowed a good deal from this once the China-Soviet split was an accomplished fact.)

After Trotsky’s death, the “deformed” or “degenerate” “worker’s state” idea was mainly dropped. This allowed various people who termed themselves Trotskyites to declare not merely that there was something wrong with the USSR’s path to socialism — which was obvious — but even that the USSR was not led by, and had never been led by, people with anything to do with socialism. Some of these people, from James Burnham to Paul Wolfowitz, rapidly moved rightward into the camp of extremist reactionary imperialism, about as close to fascism as one could get in the West while remaining in good standing with the media and the political establishment. This seemed to confirm what Trotsky had implied about how those who disagreed with him on the subject were doing so not out of a desire to generate a better socialism, but simply out of envy, spite and a desire to suck up to the Western bourgeoisie.

However, those who remained more or less revolutionary, at least in theory, in this tradition were not much better. Their line was that the USSR simply had to go; that it was an obstacle in the path of socialism, setting a bad example and discrediting the movement. Therefore, it was possible to argue that revolutionary socialism required that the USSR be overthrown — more or less Trotsky’s line, of course, but Trotsky insisted that it had to be overthrown from within, by the Bolshevik party which Trotsky claimed to represent in a case of classic self-delusion. (In reality, after the mid-1920s, Trotsky’s support within the USSR was insignificant even without the intervention of the Stalinist secret police, and his power outside the USSR was still more minimal.) The post-Trotsky Trotskyites were not so scrupulous; they believed that the USSR had to be fought against, that its agents had to be discredited, its supporters undermined, and if this happened to benefit imperialism and plutocratic capitalism, that wasn’t a problem.

The problem with this standpoint was that the USSR did eventually come to an end. When it did, all the support which the USSR had offered to anti-imperialist movements across the world came to an end, which led to a huge surge in Western imperialist control across the planet. The fear that the example of the USSR might be followed in other areas of the world, which had restrained plutocratic capitalism’s excesses, went away, which led to a huge surge in neoliberalism, in inequality, in the looting of the state by the elite, all over the world. Within the former USSR and Eastern Europe, the end of what the Trotskyites called “state capitalism” did not lead to an improvement in conditions for the workers (as it should have, since state capitalism was assumed to be the ultimate in monopoly capitalism), nor did it lead to no change at all (which would make sense, assuming that the USSR was a capitalist country and therefore the move was from capitalism to capitalism). Instead, the consequence was gigantic immiseration and deterioration of conditions for the working class plus a surge of power and wealth for a new and irresponsible bureaucratic elite. These had not been predicted by the post-Trotsky Trotskyites, who had essentially nothing to say about them, even though these events showed that post-Trotsky Trotskyism’s political standpoint was defective.

Instead, Trotskyism found itself without an enemy on the left any more, as Communist parties disintegrated, and therefore found itself without a reason to exist. Unless Trotskyism had taken the place of the Communist parties and become the vanguard of the working class seeking revolution against plutocratic capitalism — essentially admitting that the Bolsheviks had been right and that the post-Trotsky Trotskyites had been wrong — they would have no purpose. They did not do this, because it would have been too difficult a project. Instead they contented themselves with whining about other leftists wherever they existed and modest criticisms of the increasingly demented behaviour of neoliberal plutocracy. And when resistance arose against that neoliberal plutocracy, the Trotskyites did their best to attack that resistance, saying (as they had said about the Communists) that it was not good enough, that it was not socialist, not trustworthy, would betray the workers — and therefore they often aligned themselves with the imperialists against vulnerable countries which the imperialists wished to loot, or against less vulnerable countries which the imperialists saw as a challenge.

All this is perfectly historically and psychologically explicable. But it means that Trotskyites are an obstacle in the path of socialism, setting a bad example and discrediting the movement. They need to be driven into the sea.

The Two Stooges.

November 28, 2015

An apocalyptic battle, an Armageddon indeed, is looming for the soul of the ANC.

That’s a joke, if you didn’t guess. The battle is between two contenders for the Presidency of the ANC, namely Cyril Ramaphosa, who was installed as Deputy President at the Mangaung Conference to the surprise of almost everybody except the business community, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, erstwhile Minister of Health and current Chair of the African Union Commission.

On the face of it the two are uncontroversial. Ramaphosa was ANC Secretary-General during Mandela’s elected term of office. Dlamini-Zuma was Minister of Health at the same time, but was shifted to Foreign Affairs under Mbeki. There appears to be not a lot to choose between them.

Yet the ominously nicknamed “Premier League” of pro-Zuma provincial premiers have declared that they don’t want Ramaphosa to succeed as President of the ANC the way that Zuma succeeded Mbeki and Mbeki succeeded Mandela. They have thrown their support, which incidentally surely means Zuma’s personal support, behind Dlamini-Zuma. On the other hand, the South African Communist Party have come out staunchly in support of Ramaphosa. What is this apparent conflict all about?

Obviously, it isn’t about competence. On a purely technical level, both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma are able people. Ramaphosa was an early financial supporter of Zuma, although never as enthusiastically so as someone like Sexwale. Dlamini-Zuma, meanwhile, was Zuma’s wife, although she divorced him on grounds which are murky but reflect little credit on Zuma. Thus, if it comes down to loyalty, one might expect Zuma to back Ramaphosa rather than the reverse.

What is Zuma’s agenda? Not to carry on the Zuma legacy, for there is no Zuma legacy. His agenda is to ensure that, once he has withdrawn from the scene, he is able to ensure that he will not be sent to prison for his crimes. The problem is that any future President faced with the problems which Zuma is leaving behind will be sorely tempted to blame it all on Zuma — which is quite deserved. In which case, the best way to blame Zuma would be to attack him directly for his corruption, and in order to prove that corruption it would be easy to have him hauled into court.

This, presumably, is what Zuma is afraid of, and it is certainly something that Ramaphosa is capable of. As a managerial bureaucrat in the private sector, there is nothing that Ramaphosa does not know about blame-shifting and double-crossing. But why would Zuma assume that the consummate political operator, Dlamini-Zuma, would be incapable of screening herself with Zuma when she gets into trouble, as she undoubtedly will? It could be that he believes that Dlamini-Zuma’s family ties with Zuma would prevent that. In that case he is probably mistaken, but it is at least a more plausible option than the notion that Ramaphosa would ever show any gratitude for the man who allowed him to be installed in power.

What, though, are these two people doing there? Ramaphosa has done nothing of substance since leaving politics in 1997 — his career since he was stuck in the Deputy Presidency has been a tour de waffle. Dlamini-Zuma’s time in the African Union Commission has been little better; she has basically served as a groom of neocolonialism and a useful stooge for the imperialists — reversing any anticipation which might ever have existed that her support for Mbeki’s policies meant that she had any of Mbeki’s principles. So neither of them has a record of substantial accomplishment within the ANC.

Meanwhile, however, both of them have records of substantial service to forces outside the ANC, and indeed outside anything really to do with the interests of South Africa or its people. Ramaphosa, of course, has been a servant of the mining industry and the white ruling class virtually since the ANC was unbanned. Dlamini-Zuma once seemed more impressive as a minister under Mbeki – which is the main argument used against her by her enemies – but on the whole she has accomplished very little since leaving office. Indeed, her activities within the AU have largely served to legitimate Western imperialism in Africa, largely in the interests of the NATO countries.

So the rise of this particular pair to prominence within the ANC possibly has nothing much to do with the value either for the elite of the ANC or with their popularity with the rank and file.

Of course, to the extent to which the rank and file has anything to do with it, given the choice they probably would not select Ramaphosa. At least Dlamini-Zuma hasn’t been demonised to the extent that Ramaphosa has, both by such forces as the EFF and by Ramaphosa’s supporters whose uncritical and ludicrous praise makes him look exactly like the toady of power that he is. And it’s just possible that Dlamini-Zuma has enough pride in herself to be prepared to take some kind of independent action. She might surprise us. She can hardly be worse than Ramaphosa, at least.

The argument that we need a woman for President is, of course, pitiful and should be discarded. It’s as loathesome as the argument that the psychopathic crook Hillary Clinton should be elected President of the US because she has ovaries. (Most of the women making this argument in Hillary’s case, and probably many making this argument in Nkosazana’s case, are probably making it because they like the fact that these women are problematic as human beings. Not that Nkosazana is anywhere near as hideous as Hillary)

All the same, however, nobody should assume that either of these stooges represents a substantial improvement on Zuma. No Messiah is coming to rescue us from the crises we are in. If we are to be rescued, we must rescue ourselves.

The Privileged Demand More Privileges.

November 12, 2015

#FEESMUSTFALL is, by no real coincidence, a product of the 1% — the proportion of the population who actually go to university, and whose access to university provides many of them with employment (often thoroughly unproductive employment, but who’s asking such questions any more?).

Most of these protesting students are, relative to the rest, privileged; they are at worst the cream of the working class, but more often they are petit-bourgeois. They are studying towards degrees which qualify them to serve the exploitative, neoliberal capitalist system, which they intend to do.

Their campaign, then, is that their families should be more extensively subsidised towards their privileges and towards their goal of becoming servants of the bourgeoisie, by reducing how much they have to pay. There are other demands, but these are essentially smokescreens which are insignificant, as is shown by the disintegration of the movement the moment that they received a promise of financial incentives to stop.

All this is not to say that it would not be a good idea to reform the university system. However, there is not the slightest prospect of sustainably reforming the university system while the national socio-economic system is in its current state. If that were done, it would not last, for the plutocrats control the academic institutions and would mould them to serve their private gain, as they have been doing over recent decades. So at the very least the universities must be placed institutionally outside the capitalist system — which is probably impossible — or else the all-pervasive dominance of neoliberal plutocratic capitalism must be removed, which is what the EFF wants, or at least claims to want.

But there is no plan for this, nor should anyone expect the students to plan for this, because the students are not remotely interested in such planning. Why should they be? They are not being paid to improve the institutions in which they are being badly educated. They have no special interest in instituting improvements which will only bear fruit long after they have left. So therefore, allowing the students to lead the transformation of the institutions in which they are being abused is problematic – especially because the students themselves are not a united body; within each institution there are rich and poor students, and there are rich and poor institutions, institutions which have privileges within the privilege enjoyed by all universities. The students have no capacity to work together in eliminating the special privileges of the elite universities, nor do they desire to, since these universities provide the royal road to the neoliberal social privileges which the students aspire to.

Therefore, the whole student protest movement is a chamber-pot full of diarrhoea. No doubt most of the students are well-intentioned, but they are ignorant, unskilled, politically uneducated, led by morons and misled by charlatans. Their public statements display a moneyed arrogance and a bubble-dwelling insouciant disengagement from the realities of South African working-class or even lower-middle-class life which is naturally to be expected from the protected children of petit-bourgeois families whose political education is provided by Mmusi Maimane and Business Day.

This is not, however, a tremendously bad thing. On the contrary, it is the best which can be expected under the current terrible circumstances. At least a handful of students have come out and said that they are not happy with the way things are happening. Like the inept and co-opted service delivery protests, like the incompetent and often ludicrously mismanaged anti-COSATU trade union movement, it is not much, it is not good, but at least it is something.

Far more worrying, however, is the way in which the ruling class has responded to the student protests.

More or less from the beginning the ruling class media, the SABC radio, the neoliberal press and the corporate-managed blogs, as well as the horde of corporate-sponsored pundits who pretend to be independent commentators and have usurped the position of the intelligentsia, has supported the student protests with a fervour ranging from obscene (SAFM, for instance) to psychotic (the Mail and Guardian). This is very strange given that the students are, supposedly, left-wing, and are calling for more money to be taken out of the fiscus and given to public institutions – universities, that is – and some of them are also calling for universities to hire and manage their support staff directly instead of doing so through outsourced companies, as is the all but universal practice. These ruling-class media normally demand lower public spending and, of course, greater privatization and casualisation as a matter of course. Why should they change their tune regarding universities?

They badly need left-wing credibility. This is because they are speaking to a left-wing audience, an audience which has grown increasingly cynical about its right-wing government. If the corporate propaganda tools are too ostentatious about being corporate propaganda tools – and usually they are – then the public will tune out. On the other hand, they are the self-declared voice of the ruling class, since all others are censored and silenced. Therefore, when they speak, if they speak in a way which seems remotely tolerable, given that they have money and power, people listen. Therefore they need an issue on which to sound leftist, and thus disarm their critics.

So the support for the students is exactly the same as the reason why right-wingers pretend to support other left-wing causes – and sometimes even do support them if they are completely devoid of principle and lacking in support from anywhere else.

But unfortunately this situation is more sinister than the ruling class offering tacit support to powerless leftists. By supporting the students’ demands, the ruling class are waging a form of class warfare against the working class and on behalf of themselves; there is a strong chance that they can ensure that money is shifted from services which the working class use, to the universities which are virtually only used by petit-bourgeois and bourgeois people (and those children of workers who are sponsored to get there are aspirant petit-bourgeois and bourgeois people, however much they may deny it – which accounts for NUMSA’s bizarre statements on the issue; NUMSA’s leadership is petit-bourgeois however much they might pretend otherwise).

There’s another side to it which is more difficult to discuss. However, the press has raised it by comparing the student protests to June 1976 – a bizarre comparison which has almost no merit other than the fact that the students, like the scholars of Soweto, have no power to enforce their demands and therefore depend on the goodwill of the government (which in 1976 was absent, unlike now). The point about those protests was that although they were supposedly about getting the government to stop imposing Afrikaans on black education, they were actually about getting rid of the government – and only the abject weakness of the scholars and the nonexistence of effective political organizations at the time prevented them from directly raising the issue. The courage of the scholars was undeniable; their efficacy less so, and to talk about students scampering about on their campuses in the same breath as the scholars shot down on the streets of Soweto is to deface the memory of the anti-apartheid struggle – a handy plus for the South African ruling class, which dislikes that memory.

It’s interesting that the press is refusing to compare these protests with the campus uprisings of the 1980s, which are in some ways similar – except that those uprisings came out of a highly coherent political tradition, were more or less disciplined, and were directly and explicitly linked to off-campus struggles with which the students sympathized. These are things which the South African ruling class definitely doesn’t want to encourage. What they want is indoctrination and, failing that, incoherence and chaos which can be exploited.

Even more alarmingly, some are comparing the protests with the Arab Spring and hoping that they will lead to something similar. Given that the Arab Spring was a disaster in which corrupt global powers installed tyranny and chaos in the Middle East by brutal force, leading to the current hideous state of affairs there, this is not altogether inappropriate. But this is their vision for South Africa? Apparently, some of the right wing in the ruling class hate the ANC so much that they would be prepared to hand the country over to odious foreign despots rather than see it rule any longer.

Meanwhile, virtually no capital has been made out of any of this. The students are not accomplishing anything of substance, none of the opportunistic fake-leftists have really made any capital out of it apart from the usual temporary hyped “victories”. The scary revelation is how little political significance universities have any more.

What Is The Ruling Class Agenda?

November 12, 2015

What is the ruling class out to do in respect of Jacob Zuma’s shenanigans?

Since the ruling class don’t telegraph their punches, and since their control of the ideological state apparatus means that this apparatus doesn’t cover the ruling class qua ruling class, it follows that all one can do is monitor what the ISA does tell us and then try to figure out what it means.

The Mail and Guardian has a headline about Zuma being “off the hook” regarding Nkandla. Meanwhile, the Mail and Guardian‘s “Thoughtleader” website carries a syndicated article by William Saunderson-Meyer about how it is perfectly understandable that principled journalists are entitled to change their minds when they feel they have been wrong. This article concerns the editor of the Citizen, who wrote a mea culpa article about how he had conspired against Zuma, along with various other unnamed journalists, and now wanted to come clean. And the Sunday Times has had an article about the odiousness and childishness of the Economic Freedom Fighters in Parliament.

Perhaps these are unconnected. Perhaps not.

Zuma was never actually on the hook regarding Nkandla. What appears to have happened was that Zuma rather astutely organised that a quarter of a billion rand would be spent on “security upgrades” at his private residence — without leaving any fingerprints of his own, so that those who authorised the expenditure would be at pains to conceal what had happened, or at worst, could be sacrificed if a sacrifice were needed. Meanwhile, the money appears not to have been spent, but rather, to have been laundered, either going into Zuma’s purse through devious means or into the accounts of Zuma allies for unknown purposes.

The interesting thing about this process is that the Public Protector, who supposedly looked into the matter, did not actually notice that the bulk of the allocated money had not been spent on what it had supposedly been spent on. The jerry-built and absurdly overpriced structures concerned passed her by, somehow. She made no attempt to trace where the money had gone; essentially, her task was to attack President Zuma, on behalf of her friends in the Democratic Alliance, and not to attack big businesspeople who might have benefited but whose hostility the DA definitely did not need. Of course, she believed that this would harm Zuma, which would work only if the DA took the matter in hand.

Unfortunately, Zuma managed to delay and distract matters, being a consummate politician and good at procedural wrangling. As a result, everybody is now heartily sick of Nkandla, and meantime, a raft of prominent people have come out in support of Zuma’s right to have all the public money spent on his private residence that he pleases — meaning that a large number of people would go down with Zuma if Nkandla took him down, and they don’t want to go down.

Of course, Zuma accepted the money, for his own personal use in his private residence, and he should not have done so since it was misspent and he knew it was misspent because he could see it being misspent every time he went home, so he should pay back the money — but not even the Public Protector actually claimed that (she said “a portion of” the money, and you can argue that zero is actually a portion even if infinitely small).

But for that to be an issue, it has to be made into an issue, and the DA in Parliament, from the moment they decided to serve on the second Nkandla Committee, have been temporising and moderating their language and generally making it seem that they don’t think it’s such a big deal after all. It’s the EFF which has taken a stand, and the EFF which has tried to go to court to demand that the money be paid back — the DA is simply calling on the report of the second Nkandla Committee to be declared unconstitutional, which will probably turn out to be a no-hoper, in which case the DA is giving itself an excuse for letting the whole matter drop. And meanwhile the Public Protector, who has been putting on airs and throwing weight around which she doesn’t actually possess, is being hung out to dry, discovering now that it’s too late that the DA are not trustworthy friends if you don’t have money and are not white.

The Saunderson-Meyer article is interesting only because Saunderson-Meyer only produces stuff which is received wisdom for the right wing of the plutocratic elite, and makes them laugh because the plutocratic elite has no sense of humour at all. His article is, however, fairly serious; it praises a journalist for declaring his undying shame about having been nasty to Jacob Zuma. A couple of years ago, even a few months ago, such lickspittle behaviour would have aroused contempt in everybody, and the fact that Saunderson-Meyer stands up for the editor of the Citizen suggests that there has indeed been a sea-change.

The return of the repressed is what it is — the deservedly, and rightly, repressed. What the editor said was that he was very bad to criticise Jacob Zuma over the Shaik judgement, back in 2005. He shouldn’t have done it, he said. He was influenced by other foolish journalists! He was wrong! Jacob Zuma was innocent!

No, Jacob Zuma was not innocent. Judge Hilary Squires found Schabir Shaik guilty of soliciting bribes for Deputy President Zuma from the French company Thint. The bribes were duly paid, and Zuma carried out services in return for the bribes, by arranging for Shaik’s company to get the contract for credit-card driver’s licences, although the actual work would be done by Thint who would get the lion’s share of the money, but via Shaik’s company, which was incapable of fulfilling the contract itself. In other words, simple fronting, plain corruption for all to see, and Zuma was guilty, guilty, guilty, and the editor of the Citizen is a corrupt bullshitter, peddling bullshit which was last peddled in about 2008-9 when this bullshit had to be peddled in order to distract attention from the charges being dropped by a corrupt Director of Public Prosecutions. And Saunderson-Meyer is supporting this corrupt, much-discredited bullshit. Presumably it is being trotted out to distract attention from Nkandla and so forth.

So it would seem that the ruling elite has turned around and decided that Zuma is to be protected — or, at least, is not to be attacked as violently as before. Nkandla, like the bribery, and like so many of the other criminal activities which Zuma and his friends have undertaken, is to be swept partly under the carpet — it will remain, no doubt, rhetorically in the public eye, but it will no longer be represented as a tool which might remove Zuma. Perhaps it was already not such a tool — the ruling class is not homogeneous, and perhaps some of them decided not to use the judiciary against Zuma and therefore he cannot be charged with anything.

Meanwhile, after all the fuss which has been made about the former Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and her perjury and fraud, and being put on trial for perjury and fraud, and accused of many other shenanigans, and basically held up as the main thing which is wrong with the DPP (although there is a hell of a lot wrong with it, and wrong with the whole South African legal, judicial, and criminal justice system) — suddenly everybody is soft-pedalling the fact that charges have been dropped by Zuma’s new Director of Public Prosecutions. What’s the big fuss? Hey, everybody — over there — look, it’s Oscar Pistorius! With no sign of a locator cuff padlocked to his blade! Pay attention to that, and to whatever else we tell you, but not to the crimes of the Zuma administration, we’re going to draw a line under those — for now.

What’s going on? Why row back? Zuma can’t actually hurt members of the ruling class, he is too afraid of them and they are too powerful, so why not attack him? Why not use him to undermine the ANC, and perhaps to install Cyril Ramaphosa in power a couple of years early, ensuring that a fully neoliberal figure is in office and ready to serve the elite? Only a couple of months ago it was the end of the world, Omar al-Bashir had escaped from the clutches of the torturers and murderers of the imperial elite and the local elite who serve the imperial elite were screaming blue murder — but now the tumult and the shouting has been artificially suppressed, as if the conductor has turned on the illuminated SILENCE sign.

The Sunday Times attack on the EFF (alongside the general attack on the EFF launched not only by the press but also by the DA itself) is suggestive. The article basically says that a few months ago it was acceptable to have the EFF attacking the ANC, but that this is no longer desirable and now such attacks, and the EFF’s criticism of Parliament as being no more than a front for state power, are childish and undesirable and to be condemned by everybody who is anybody — that is, by those who serve the ruling class. And, just to make the parallel plainer, the Saunderson-Meyer article also denounces the EFF and points out that the press used to uncritically support them, and that this was wrong, but that now the press has seen the light and is attacking them, as it should, just like the Citizen now realising that Zuma must be supported at all costs. Which is complete balderdash because the press has always attacked the EFF except for momentary periods when the EFF’s attacks on the government happen to coincide with ruling-class interests. But it casts a glaring light on what is going on.

It would appear that the ruling class has belatedly realised that in their adoption of campaigns like the Nkandla issue and the Marikana issue, they were furthering the aims of the EFF, who were much more sincerely concerned about such issues than the neoliberal parties, and whose constituency was much more sincerely incensed about such issues. When the DA preached about such matters, their audience blinked, but the EFF’s audience heard, and cheered, but did not decide to vote DA on that account — instead, they were delighted that the EFF’s stance was being confirmed even by their class enemies, and that the DA was going along with them. Hence the DA’s decision to support the repressive new Parliamentary rules which will facilitate the arrest and expulsion of MPs who dare to expose the misconduct of the Zuma gang in ways unseemly to ruling-class eyes. The idea is to settle the EFF’s hash, however much it makes nonsense of the DA’s pretense to support democracy and the rule of law.

What makes this urgent, probably, is the 2016 municipal elections. The ruling class was expecting to see the DA make big gains there, and perhaps issues like Nkandla were supposed to facilitate that. The assumption was that the EFF’s accomplishment in 2014 would be a momentary lapse, like CoPe’s success in 2009, and the DA would be able to swiftly collar their support. This doesn’t seem to be happening; installing a black dressmaker’s dummy as supposed head of the DA hasn’t been the triumphant success which was hoped for, and the attempt to wreck the EFF by using PAC entryists like Mngxitama to disrupt it has failed. Instead, the EFF may be using its PR gained through Parliament to set up some modest structures and, perhaps, get some more support — in which case it might actually do better in 2016 than in 2014, especially in areas of the Eastern Cape where it ought to have done well in 2014.

The DA’s big hope for 2016 is Port Elizabeth, and if the EFF does reasonably well there and gets, say, 7%, it might be able to prevent the DA from getting an overall majority. This is rather horrible for the DA, for it would then mean that it could only govern in collaboration with the ANC (since governing in collaboration with the EFF is unthinkable). In which case the DA’s supporters have to be prepped for the inevitable collusion with the ANC, and have to be weaned away from the automatic anti-ANC perspective which they’ve held for some time. So it’s necessary to make nice with Zuma again, for fear that otherwise some kind of radical leftist or liberal organisation might succeed.

And that’s our ruling class in a nutshell — bungling, opportunistic, corrupt political ignoramuses. Just the people into whose hands we should all put our lives!

An Ambiguous Tribute.

November 12, 2015

Picking up a Ken McLeod novel for the first time was a remarkable and delightful experience. McLeod is a “politically engaged” science fiction writer (of course all science fiction writers are politically engaged, but in this case he is consciously and intelligently so) and was the subject of a series of acute and largely laudatory analyses on the Crooked Timber politics/philosophy website. Coming across a copy of Descent was thus a challenge difficult to pass over.

What was even more pleasurable was to find that the book was not only dedicated to Iain Banks, who had been a friend of McLeod (who helped edit two of Banks’ earlier books) but was also rather plainly an attempt to write a Banks book, and one which comes off tolerably well. It is a book arranged around a central conceit which is also a puzzle (standard science fiction trope, but one which Banks specially foregrounded). There is the usual dreadful male Banks central character, whom we follow from his self-absorbed and sexually inept adolescence all the way to his self-absorbed and socially inept young adulthood, and a plethora of gorgeous trim fit brilliant Banks women (mostly, however, dressed in technicolor frills and flounces rather than skin-tight black leather) surrounding him, some of whom he pursues and some of whom pursue him (shades of Crow Road). And there are dreadful moral ambiguities and sinister political implications, as in Complicity. What-ho! We have a Pope, and we know it will please you!

Except — well, this isn’t Banks. In some ways this is a relief, for Banks was in a dreadful rut long before he was diagnosed with the cancer that killed him (and which, again, he anticipated via Complicity). The book lacks the slovenly structuring which defaced much of Banks’ work, and reads both easily and luminously — there is almost none of the pretentious look-at-me-i’ve-got-a-good-thing-here which makes Banks intermittently irritating to read. McLeod is out for the euthanasia of the hipster, and in this book he very nearly succeeds in dragging irony to the berm and having a duly appointed agent of the State shoot it in the back of the head.

Yes, but.

Och, ah’m just a wee bairn whan it comes tae th’ Scots, but nevertheless it’s apparent that there are problems with the tropes of the book. They are brilliantly handled, but intrinsically there are enormous problems with them.

The central trope is that there are aliens among us. Of course, this is the conspiracy theory which is repeatedly debunked in the book — first by the central character, who is a teenage ironist and knows that everything of this kind must be bullshit. But then (after his alien abduction which is so standard that it cannot possibly be real and is obviously a teenage wet dream) he meets a sinister Man in Black, as well as being confronted by evidence that the Greys were among us in medieval times. And then he looks into the matter again and finds out that all the debunking he knows about is a cover story. But then the debunked truth is debunked. But is the debunked bunk itself a cover story for the real bunk? And is the real bunk itself debunkable, or is it a slam-dunk?

The core evidence is that British Aerospace (British Aviation Systems, in the novel, presumably to avoid being sued since their representative in the book is a ghastly and odious figure — whose name, intriguingly, recalls a rather conservative British science fiction writer) has got hold of some fantastic materials and forcefield technology with which it is able to build things which look very like flying saucers. The trope is that maybe this tech comes from the Greys, who are represented as (in the Internet mythos, anyway) a pottering bunch of not tremendously advanced aliens who have been spying on the Earth from the Moon since we were hominids, using primitive space ships made of the equivalent of balsa wood and Mylar.

Of course, this correlates very precisely with the mythos of the Roswell incident, as presented by Whitley Strieber and others. The spaceship turns out to be alarmingly simple — albeit completely incomprehensible. But assuming that America was able to down an alien spaceship, how would it be able to make sense of what it found? Space technology would probably look very simple when based on a million years of exploring reality, but how, without that million years of exploration, would we discover it? What would Australopithecus have made of the smashed shards of a broken smartphone?

Well, problem solved, for McLeod brings in the Philadelphia Experiment. The United States has had interstellar flight since 1943, thanks to Albert Einstein, Robert A Heinlein and L Ron Hubbard, as a by-product of trying to make a destroyer invisible using the Unified Field Theory. The Greys only had little puttering ships which hobbled from star to star at a few thousand klicks a second, so they traded all their tech, and especially their displacement tech (with which they could use forcefields to facilitate abductions — though actually that was what the Philadelphia Experiment was supposed to be about in the first place) for the ability to go home in jig time thanks to the U.S. Navy.

And that’s why every fit young lassie is wearing a crinoline which doesn’t need whalebone hoops and doesn’t ever get dirty; everybody’s got a dress made of flying saucer fabric. It’s amazing they don’t all get airborne.

Now, does all this strike you as tremendously plausible? Not the thing itself — it’s perfectly possible that such technologies might exist, that aliens might possess them. But it’s incredibly implausible that the United States would have made a breakthrough such as interstellar flight as a by-product of trying to develop invisibility and teleportation, and that aliens, after a million years, would still know nothing about such matters. It’s still less plausible that the United States, given such omnipotence, would not display such omnipotence in its policy towards the rest of the world. Actually, the rest of the universe. The home planet of the Greys would be occupied and we would seen be seeing Greys carrying CEOs’ briefcases, or perhaps Greyskin rugs in front of the 1%’s fireplaces. If we were allowed to see anything at all in a world where the USA could zap anybody they didn’t like into vacuum and control every planet around every star for hundreds of lightyears around. No, things would be very different if Uncle Sam could do that. And, definitely, Uncle Sam wouldn’t hand even a smidgen of that tech to their friends in Britain, let alone to the Scots. (Remember how the Americans tried to stop the British from getting the A-bomb? And that was obvious tech based on physics which everybody in the world understood.)

OK, so that trope is problematic. Another trope — the gradual speciation of the human race — is also plausible up to a point, but McLeod’s notion of incorporating this with having a touch of Romani blood in you, so that those with the right touch of Romani blood can’t interbreed without that touch — this doesn’t seem much like the way speciation operates in the real world. Most likely McLeod is upset at the way the Romani are being treated in contemporary Europe, and good for him. Also, the notion that the Romani are part-Neanderthal doesn’t really correspond well with what little we know about both the background of the Romani and of the Neanderthalenses (who were, let’s not forget, and even McLeod admits it, of our own species). That’s a sideline (although a sideline that really fucks up the central character’s life and ultimately turns him into an even more horrible person than he is before the big fuck-up takes place).

But the Big Issue of the book is politics — of course, given McLeod’s predelictions. The beginning of the book is the good old New Bad Future — everything’s in decay, everybody’s dissatisfied, there are tiny acts of rebellion and sabotage everywhere but no hope whatsoever for this independent Scotland or those horrible barmpots down south either. The War on Terror continues with the Americans in occupation of Iran and various other places and naturally getting their bums kicked, and nobody can do anything about the loonies who are in charge.

There are, however, the revolutionaries. But nobody knows who they are. You can’t get in touch with them. They do distribute leaflets, but nobody reads them because they are boring bilge. Yet somehow they are said to be responsible for everything that goes wrong everywhere. So do they even exist, or are they just a creation of the government who are constantly ramming through new repressive legislation to suppress them? It’s all rather as if the government were deliberately fostering fear of the Greys coming to abduct us so that they could spend more money on anti-flying-saucer artillery. The parallel isn’t exact, but McLeod is obviously aware of it.

Hold on, though. Not even the Socialist Workers’ Party was that dim-witted. If there were a revolutionary movement they would be out to win some support, and under the circumstances such as McLeod describes would probably manage it, too. These revolutionaries don’t behave like revolutionaries — maybe McLeod’s general disillusion with Trotskyites (or at least Cliffites) is coming through here, but still, he should make a more plausible set of figures than that.

Anyway, one day the government decides to act. Not against the revolutionaries. The world’s governments suddenly act against finance capital. They nationalise the world’s banks and they invade the world’s tax havens and shut them down. Oh, all the banksters get gigantic payouts, but from now on credit comes from the State and from nowhere else, and the mobility of money depends entirely on State permission — more or less the way things used to be in the People’s Republic of China. Initially the revolutionaries perk up and say “Woo-hoo! Chaos! We just need to exploit the chaos, and the ruling class will collapse!”. Then, when chaos doesn’t come, the revolutionaries say “Fuck it.” and announce that they’re going out of the revolution business. In fact, they’re all going to run off and set up start-up companies instead.

This is rather less plausible than the United States having the power to exterminate all its enemies with no comebacks and then not using that power. Why in the world would a global political system very largely controlled by finance capital decide to turn off the money spigot, shut down financialisation and return to manufacturing capital as the sole target of investment? Or, putting it another way, why didn’t they do that when finance capital fell on its arse and pulled the whole planet down with it in 2007-8? McLeod’s “Big Deal”, the crucial part of his political trope, is a depoliticised fantasy, a wet dream wetter than anything dreamed by his central character (who “wanks himself raw” over a Space Sister in a Star Trek uniform he meets in one of his visions).

But even this is more credible than what happens next. The “New Improvement” is the bullet McLeod is saving for irony; masakhane, we are building, everybody has a job but the new metamaterials use no raw materials, no pigs were harmed in the making of this metabacon, the cranes are going up and the superballoons and superspaceships are going up even higher, soaring ever more, towards our limitless future — and apparently all thanks to a few crumbs of technology dropped upon us by aliens.

But no, not only the aliens are involved. Also, the revolutionaries who have gone into business are all Steve Jobs/Richard Branson types, in control, with focus, fully capable of ensuring a planned society which transforms the world into this humming hive of happy workers. They have steered the Big Deal into the New Improvement and now things can only get better. There’s a lot to the book which is being left out because why spoil it, but the insistently repeated image is of the ramjet-powered spaceplane which initially rises high, but then must plummet again from the balloon, but don’t worry, long before it hits the ground it’s moving fast enough for the ramjets to ignite and then it can rise again, soaring forever. Like the future. Just as the aliens want. Just as the businesspeople, or are they revolutionaries still, want.

What McLeod is killing off here is not just irony, it’s also consciousness of how the world is working. It’s a bland Popular Mechanics vision of the future — no wonder that McLeod explicitly compares it with a 1950s image. It’s desirable, but it’s also completely implausible, unfortunately, because there is no political backing for it, no indication of how the current socio-economic system which would never tolerate anything like that could be swept aside. Perhaps as South Africans who remember how the plans for making a workers’ paradise out of post-apartheid South Africa were first watered down by COSATU, then compromised and stalled by Mbeki, and finally killed off altogether by Zuma. That didn’t happen by accident, it happened because the ruling class didn’t want it, and the ruling class wouldn’t want what McLeod wants.

Oh, what the hell. The book’s a book for a’ that. Go read the flipping thing.


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