Midrand Blues III: The Nation Enthralled, The Revolution Betrayed.

November 13, 2017

What naturally happened when Zuma and his allies sucked all the air out of the state was that, since nature abhors a vacuum, loads of fools rushed in. These fools almost all rushed in so as to make money, and the place they rushed in from was the private sector.

It was inevitable that the system should be taken over by big business, because big business had a clear communal agenda — to make money for the corporation — which the ANC and indeed the South African political culture itself had essentially abandoned. (Making money for yourself is an agenda, but it does not direct you in a particular political direction because there are so many ways to make money through corrupt practices.)

Now, it was long argued that this had already happened; that the ANC had been neoliberalised and therefore that everything which it was doing was enriching the rich and immiserating the poor. It was never productive to argue against people who held these views, because facts did not matter to them. It is, however, obvious that there has been a very substantial change between 2007 and now; that administration is less responsive to public needs, economic policy is less effectual, politics is considered less trustworthy by the public (and politicians almost completely deemed untrustworthy) and in general most people felt then that the government was at least trying to help, and now do not. Objectively, administration now is simply less capable than it was.

This is largely because those running the administration are not interested in improving capacity. They are interested, instead, in having either a good time at the public’s expense or making a lot of money without doing much work. This explains the incessant scandals which are periodically trotted out in the press to embarrass the Zuma administration, but also explains why nothing is ever done by anyone to change the circumstances which make such scandals inevitable.

To save money in the short run, the government outsources as much of its work as possible rather than spending money setting up structures to do the work. Thus government largely consists of drafting tenders to enrich the private sector. Inevitably this leads to corruption, and this corruption leads to further corruption when corrupt companies set up “anti-corruption” NGOs to use the existing corruption to empower themselves. Where possible, “public-private partnerships” are set up in which the private sector not only makes money out of the work, but consults around the drawing up of the tenders (and is thus in a position to insist that all the work done by the government must be work which their companies can perform, rather than the government trying to get things done which it could do itself).

All this is on top of the general tendency of administrators to do whatever big business wants them to do, either because their seniors are under the control of business, or because they have been bribed by big business, or simply because they were appointed to their position because they love big business and believe that it is the saviour of the nation (and there are lot of these cretins in positions of power, and an infinite number of potential replacements should the current mob need to be removed — as they easily are, because they get caught bending the rules on behalf of their saviours and then refuse to say anything which would annoy their beloved corporate bosses).

A lot of policy has been outsourced as well. Economic policy was handed over to the banks and the mining interests early in the Zuma administration, and financial policy to the ratings agencies. Foreign policy has largely been handed over to the United States, although the Zuma administration does its best to cover this up. Policing and secret policing are largely in the hands of non-governmental organisations funded either by local big business or by foreign governments (chiefly Britain and the U.S.) who have the power to remove police generals and national commissioners through their control of the judiciary. Housing has been outsourced to construction companies and real estate interests.

So the neoliberalised state exists to serve the interests of the people controlling it, who are businesspeople, and to a lesser extent the interests of the people carrying out their orders, the politicians who pretend to be servants of the people. The people who vote for the politicians have, basically, no control over what the politicians do; all they can manage is to compel the politicians to pretend to pursue the people’s interests (but those interests will never be served so long as the present system persists). Those who put Zuma in power were, of course, securing the neoliberalisation of the state, and if they didn’t realise this, it simply means that they are not any more competent than the most odious of Zuma’s failed allies.

The problem arises, of course, for the administration of the party and the government, when the businesspeople who are backing them want more than they are prepared to give. Or, for that matter, when the businesspeople believe that the administration is not serving them as they would like. This is the source of most of the conflict currently existing between the ruling class and the government, expressed through the ruling class-controlled media and the ruling-class controlled NGO sector.

The goal of the ruling class is naturally to enrich itself and secure that wealth through control of the government. No wealth can ever be enough, and no control can ever be adequate, so they constantly seek more. This undermines Zuma’s desire for a quiet life; essentially, instead of being allowed to steal a little along with the more that his political confederates are stealing and the enormous amounts that the ruling class is stealing, he suddenly finds himself denounced for stealing anything and unable to say anything in return, while the ruling class has drawn up plans for his replacement.

The main side effects of ruling class control are bad governmental management, shortage of money for productive activities, and governmental unpopularity. As an ironic result, the ruling class gradually has less money available for stealing, and therefore has to steal a greater and greater proportion of the money. But the more it steals, the worse the economic crisis, and then an even higher proportion of money has to be stolen and even less money can go into productive activities. Therefore it is always necessary to blame all the problems on the government — which is easy because the government is necessarily unpopular, and governmental mismanagement is manifest so that there are sound grounds for that unpopularity — in order to avoid criticism even of a mild and rhetorical kind.

So Zuma has, without meaning to, not only ruined the ANC and the South African state, but has also placed all power in the hands of the people who benefit most enthusiastically from this ruination — since the ruling class are not only interested in profit. They are also interested in revenge, and in furthering their self-image. Therefore, they want to punish the ANC for attempting to challenge their supremacy, and their goal is first to take over the ANC and then to destroy it. They also want to punish those who supported the ANC, by bringing about a semi-fascistic state under their control which will make the lives of former ANC backers a misery. Of course they will do neither of these things if it interferes with their profit, but they will do these things if they can.

This was all predictable. Marx called the government of a capitalist country the “Executive Committee of the bourgeoisie”, and he was more or less right about that. However, the ANC has never really understood how society functions and how to challenge those elements of it which oppose what the ANC wants; what it does is to act where it is safe, and surrender whenever it meets resistance from rich and powerful people.

So in that sense the collapse of the ANC’s state into an agency for rich people to further enrich themselves, although it was preventable, was inevitable; to avoid it, the ANC would have had to turn itself into an organisation genuinely wishing to have a developmental state which was supreme over the capitalist oligarchs, and it never did that; while the organisations which pretended to have that wish, the SACP and COSATU, have turned out to have simply lied.

If the South African people had wanted otherwise, perhaps we shouldn’t have believed all the hype.

 

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Midrand Blues II: What Jacob Did To Us.

November 13, 2017

The installation of Jacob Zuma in the Presidency of the ANC and the country is responsible for the situation which we find ourselves in. However, this does not mean that Jacob Zuma is the source of the problem; he is, rather, the damaged tool which was used to break the system and which could not be used to mend what was broken. The people who put him in power, whether one means the actual agents (big business and foreign intelligence agencies) or their dupes, stooges and whores, naturally pretend that Zuma is the sole source of the problem. By this pretense they avoid their responsibility for the problem, and they also make it possible for themselves to continue profiting from the problem — because they want to replace Zuma with another Zuma; their slogan is essentially “Kick the crook out, and kick the other crook in, and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”.

So, what was it that was done? Because it was not exactly done deliberately. It is absolutely certain that Jacob Zuma did not pursue the Presidency with the goal of stalling the economy, undermining the national administration, making himself and his party desperately unpopular and making it very likely that he would spend the last years of his life in a prison cell. His goals for all these things were the exact opposite — particularly his goals for himself, which were to stay out of jail, to make enough money to cover his costs, to live a comfy and irresponsible life and retire in peace and security to the end of his days, if possible as a respected statesman and Father of his Country.

That went wrong, and it’s worth asking why.

In order to get Zuma to Polokwane, it was necessary to block the charges brought against him — to pretend that the corruption case against him was not ironclad, to get judges to throw the charges out, to muddy the waters by using the secret services to manufacture fake e-mails and false accusations of apartheid links by those who were bringing the charges, to defame the woman whom Zuma raped and to bring the ANC into disrepute by proclaiming the merits of rapd and corruption in public, to provoke conflict within the ANC by pretending that the President of the party was conspiring against his Deputy President and pretending that the  Deputy Presidend was not conspiring against his President, along with the Secretary-General. All this turned the ANC into a hotbed of intrigue sponsored by business and by political chicanery artistes. But it also reduced the judiciary and the press to the level of lackeys of organised crime.

One may argue that this had always been the case. The press has always been corrupt, and so has the judiciary. However, what was happening with Zuma was that the corruption was manifest and impossible to ignore. At the same time, it was being ignored, because all the commentators were corrupt and were pretending that there was no elephant in the room even though the elephant was so large that nothing fitted into the room except the elephant. So by the time of Polokwane, South African politics had become surreal; only a tiny handful of people were telling anything like the truth, and the official line was that they should not be listened to. In a sense it was an expansion of the denialism evident at the time of the HIV/AIDS conflict between the South African government and the white ruling class and the pharmaceutical industry and its purchased politicians. The question was whether this degeneration could be reversed if Mbeki had won at Polokwane; it certainly would have been difficult.

In order to win at Polokwane, it was necessary to manipulate elections at branch, region and provincial level. It was also necessary to lie to the public in pretending that the Zuma administration’s policies would be left wing and anti-corporate. It was also necessary to purge the NEC of all Zuma opponents, because only a wholly docile NEC would be able to create conditions favourable to the looting of the state which Zuma’s corporate and administrative supporters desired. Hence everything which had been in any way positive about the ANC’s political processes had to be destroyed, and everything corrupt about those processes had to be immensely amplified.

But having won at Polokwane, it was then necessary to get rid of Mbeki and his administration, because at least out of pique (and perhaps also out of a serious sense that this would be the last way of preventing Zuma from becoming President) he and his administration were going ahead with the charging of Zuma and if it were fast-tracked to make up for the long and absurd delays which the corrupt judiciary had made possible, Zuma would almost certainly have been in prison by the time of the next national election.

But in order to do this it was necessary to get rid of the Mbeki-supporting provincial administrations, most particularly in the Western and Eastern Cape and in Limpopo. Therefore the parties in these provinces had to be purged of non-Zuma supporters (as the parties in particularly pro-Zuma provinces, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng, had previously been purged — except there it had been a minority, where in these three provinces it was a majority who were purged). This happened through the national leadership — Secretary-General Motlanthe in the vanguard — intervening by removing elected ANC members on trumped-up charges, disbanding ANC regions on trumped-up charges, and installing reliable Zuma stooges and SACP hacks in the place of those elected members. Everybody in the provinces knew it was a fake move, everybody knew what was going on, but nobody at provincial level could do anything because all power was devolved to the top.

Then came the great state purge when Mbeki and his cabinet and their administrators were removed from power on the pretext of lies told by a corrupt judge following the lying script drafted by Zuma supporters.

What all this had done to the ANC was calamitous enough. Everyone who had threatened Zuma’s position was, of course, removed, but in the process everyone who had seemed likely to threaten his position, and to threaten the positions of Zuma’s senior allies (particularly in the SACP, of course, but also in the business community) was removed. This meant the destruction of a lot of institutional memory; people who knew how things functioned were gone, and were replaced by people who didn’t know.

Obviously, not all of the people removed were competent or honest. However, in a situation where competence and honesty are irrelevant and the only thing which matters is expressing docility towards the leadership, the incompetent and the dishonest naturally had an advantage over the competent and the honest because the latter were liable to complain about what was happening — which was not docility, and which was a signal for removal. In addition, those who resented having been sidelined, or even being removed, for incompetence or disloyalty in the past, now found themselves in a position to seek preferment by simply doing whatever the people around Zuma wanted them to do. Unfortunately, a large number of these people were actually incompetent and disloyal, and restoring them to positions of power meant a flood of lazy, grumbling bunglers pouring into the party.

Loyalty to the organisation, let alone loyalty to the principles for which the organisation supposedly stood, ceased to exist — necessarily. The SACP people rose because they had such loyalty and therefore stood together, but they did not stand together with ANC members, they stood together with fellow SACP members, and this naturally bred resentment of that party given that it had no merits other than access to Zuma.

You might think, then, that this loyalty had been replaced by personal loyalty to individuals, and this has been claimed by some shallow-minded commentators trying to lard their propaganda with a pretended insight. In fact personal loyalty has also largely broken down within the ANC. It has all been replaced with private interest — what is best for me, and how can I make as much money out of this situation? That has always been the motive behind all political action, but it has been tempered by ideological, political and institutional checks and balances. The actions undertaken by Zuma and his allies have destroyed those checks and balances; all that remains is greed and spite; only greed tempers the spite, but nevertheless the immense amount of in-fighting within Zuma’s ANC is driven by envy and selfishness rather than any institutional or policy considerations.

All this helps explain why the ANC’s administration has collapsed and why policies are no longer implemented or even developed beyond the momentary interest of sloganeering. Simple matters like securing annual general meetings so that branches and regions can function properly are now complicated by the fact that such meetings can only receive recognition if they result in situations favourable to current leadership (which may be different in a month or a year, in which case the meeting may be retrospectively declared invalid). Membership is a matter of who happens to be in power in a particular place at a particular time, and who can make use of that membership to serve those in power; it has little to do with the people who belong to the ANC, who may be declared in good or bad standing regardless of their attendance of meetings, payment of dues, or even whether they belong to the organisation at all.

But this naturally also afflicted the state. When the Cabinet was purged, the new President was the Deputy President of the ANC, Motlanthe, a man who had risen by obedience and subservience. Naturally he ruled as a puppet either of the SACP or of Zuma. This meant that he did not have to take responsibility for running things. The Cabinet was almost doubled in size, meaning that almost every minister had a deputy minister, and some ministerial responsibilities were split, and all that meant not that work was made more specific, but rather that responsibility was spread and blame avoided. In consequence, even before Zuma formally took over, the running of the country at the very top was ineffectual, and particularly ineffectual at compelling subordinates to do what they were told. The same had already happened at provincial level, and this had a knock-on effect at municipal level. (In addition, municipal management depended heavily on the ANC being efficiently administered at branch and region level, and that had been destroyed, so municipal management was wrecked from above and below.)

So, in an important sense, under Zuma the state does not exist. Instead, there is a set of people with various degrees of power, working only for themselves (but occasionally cooperating with each other, sometimes under the auspices of more powerful people). There is no sense that people are working together towards a common goal, because there is no common goal. It is something like feudalism, but feudalism without any sense of aristocratic responsibilities, or fealties, or Christianity, or any other code of conduct except pursuit of the main chance and pursuit of money. It is the worst of all possible political worlds — and the consequences have, naturally, been dreadful.

 


Midrand Blues I: How We Got Zuma.

November 10, 2017

If you read the propaganda sheets (and who doesn’t?) you learn that the problems of South Africa were all caused by Jacob Zuma and that the solution to the problem is simple; get rid of Jacob Zuma. This is obviously a pack of lies, a conspiracy theory which panders to the prejudices and the simplistic assumptions of the ignorant and bigoted who make up the bulk of Our Glorious Opposition. In fact, nobody sits down and says “How can I destroy my party, my society and my country to the greatest possible extent?”; even Iago was motivated by spite.

So, what exactly happened? Obviously, some force put Zuma where he is, and some force or forces encouraged Zuma to do what he did, but also encouraged many, many other people to do what they did to get us where we are today. Also obviously, some similar forces have been acting on every other society in the world, for the whole world has been circling the same plughole that South Africa is going down, but let’s focus on South Africa for simplicity without forgetting that we are not unique.

How did Zuma become Deputy President, a job for which he was far from well equipped?

Zuma and Mbeki worked together to neutralise Inkatha in KwaZulu-Natal; Mbeki was an outsider there and found Zuma’s schmoozing skills extremely helpful. As a result, this ineptly scheming place-filler whose previous job had been mismanaging ANC Security was pulled up by his fake leopard-skin and turned into a major influential player within the ANC. KwaZulu-Natal was a major part of Mbeki’s plans for the ANC, and by placing a Zulu in a prominent position he believed that he could win Zulu tribalists away from Inkatha — which proved to be the case, especially after Inkatha lost the patronage it enjoyed under apartheid. Mbeki was the obvious heir apparent to the ANC Presidency, and when he became President it was natural for Zuma to be made Deputy President; Mbeki the intellectual planner, Zuma the impulsive but outwardly amiable actor, and both of them formidable back-stabbers.

But the relationship between them naturally changed once the ANC won KwaZulu-Natal. Under Mandela, Mbeki as Deputy President had practically run the country with Mandela as a ceremonial figure. Zuma, on the other hand, was a much less hands-on Deputy President. He was less central to the government; despite having loads of nominally central positions (in charge of arms procurement, in charge of HIV/AIDS policy) he was fairly disengaged from his responsibilities in a way that Rasool, who fulfilled something of the same position with regard to Mbeki’s plans for the Western Cape, was not. So it was evident that Mbeki once again viewed Zuma as a place-holder until someone more suitable could be found, and it was increasingly clear as time went on that the replacement was Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and therefore something of an insult to him as a Zulu tribalist and sexist.

None of this bubbling-under stuff was discussed in public. The ANC didn’t, in those days, wash its dirty linen in public. (Although that’s a good way to get the linen clean, the problem is compounded nowadays because the ANC and its allies tend to use shit instead of soap for its public washing ceremonies.) The ruling class was simply trying to get rid of Mbeki and therefore was not discussing anything he did, and also was trying to get Zuma on side, bribing him and schmoozing with him via bought-and-paid-for organisations like the Treatment Action Campaign.

It’s probable that Mbeki knew perfectly well that Zuma was a crook, although he may not have known the extent of his corruption. Most particularly he probably didn’t know how deeply endebted Zuma had become; Mbeki is far too cautious a person to get into that kind of trouble and probably underestimated the irresponsibility of others. To the extent to which corruption existed, Mbeki doubtless saw it as an opportunity, a tool to use against Zuma. This was his first major mistake, which was compounded when the Scorpions caught Zuma with both hands trapped in the cookie-jar over the corrupt deal he brokered under which his chum Schabir Shaik would front for the French electronics company Thales in supplying credit-card drivers’ licences, a tender worth hundreds of millions and from which Zuma trousered several million. The problem was that Thales had been involved in the arms deal, as had Zuma, and the investigation of the arms deal quickly flung up red flags all around them.

Legally speaking, Zuma should have been charged, so the fact that Shaik was charged and Zuma not must have been as a result of Mbeki’s interference. Why did he do this? Probably the most important reason was that putting Zuma on trial would have been damaging to the ANC (and to some extent to Mbeki himself, since Zuma was his right-hand-man). At least while the trial went on it was possible to pretend that, since Shaik might be found innocent, Zuma could not be held accountable.

Other matters relate to the nature of the judiciary. After the HIV/AIDS fiasco, Mbeki knew quite well that the judiciary was almost as much in the pocket of the ruling class as the media. If Zuma were put on trial, and if the ruling class decided to make trouble for the ANC, they could easily support Zuma by exploiting judicial corruption (as they later in fact did) and then Zuma would be found innocent and Mbeki would be tarnished and accused of misusing state resources. Shaik had no powerful supporters in the ruling class; their only reason for supporting him was making mischief for the ANC, and they could drop him as easily as they were later to drop the Guptas. Hence charging Shaik alone was a lot safer — and if Shaik were found guilty of corrupting Zuma, it would be much more difficult for the most dishonest judge to protect Zuma. Besides, after the HIV-AIDS fiasco, Mbeki was not eager to get into yet another fight with the ruling class.

But this also spun the process out, and this was Mbeki’s second mistake. In retrospect, charging Zuma might have solved the ANC’s problems right there, provided that he was found guilty — and if he had been let off, the situation could not have developed much worse.

Something else which Mbeki didn’t recognise about the consequences of putting Zuma on notice that he could face dismissal and possible prosecution, was that Zuma wasn’t simply afraid of jail. He owed immense amounts of money which he couldn’t possibly pay even from his salary as Deputy President of country and ANC. He desperately needed to hang on to his political offices in order to sustain his lifestyle, and if he did not, he would be ruined. What he needed, therefore, was someone to give him political and financial security against the threat posed by Mbeki — and towards that end he was prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone else. Mbeki created a desperate man with nothing to lose and with the enormous powers of the Deputy Presidency, plus the immense potential powers of the Presidency, and a willingness to promise anyone anything in exchange for financial or political support.

If Zuma could have been excised from the ANC, as Mbeki wished, well and good. However, the trouble was that there were immense forces within the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance who were prepared to cooperate with the kind of man that Zuma had become, and even to go further down the road of corruption which Zuma was treading.

The most immediately helpful forces were in the SACP, the most tight-knit body of people within the Alliance who had been allocated important but boring administrative positions in the ANC because they were considered hard-working and boringly loyal. The unrecognised problem was that they were principally loyal to their own party and only secondarily to the ANC. What many within the ANC, particularly Mbeki’s supporters, failed to recognise, was that the SACP was no longer particularly committed to socialism, in part because it’s only survival potential outside the ANC lay in the sponsorship which it received from business — sponsorship which was provided in return for the favours which the SACP could provide for business. But these favours depended on the SACP having government posts, which were only available through the ANC. Hence unless the SACP could sustain its power within the ANC, it was in danger of fading away. In this sense it was in a similar position, organisationally, to Zuma’s personal position; it could only survive by selling itself and betraying its principles, and therefore it had to do both things as much as humanly possible.

Meanwhile, of course, there was a large contingent of pro-business people within the ANC who had either been talked around into neoliberalism, like Trevor Manuel, or who had been corrupted by corporate interests, like Matthews Phosa. These people would be inclined to pursue the interests of their patrons and would therefore be happy to see a change of attitude within the ANC. They might not be directly supportive of Zuma, but they would be more satisfied with him in power than anyone else simply because he would be likely to leave them alone to pursue their agenda of enriching the wealthiest people in the country at the expense of everyone else.

There was also the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Obviously, the rank and file in these unions were not very interested in seeing rich people empowered and further enriched at their expense, but they were never consulted, only disinformed by their leaders. There were several reasons why COSATU leaders might support this, however. One was that union administration is notoriously financially corrupt and thus subject to simple bribery from business leaders. Another is that many union leaders are accustomed to working closely with business leaders and tend to see the world from their point of view — which would incorporate a Zuma Presidency. Another is that COSATU has historically tended to take its lead almost unquestioningly from the SACP, and with the SACP marching behind Zuma COSATU would be inclined to join the parade.

To this must be added the obvious influence of resentment against the way in which the SACP and COSATU had been sidelined by the ANC’s leadership, merely because they were dishonest, corrupt and deeply mistaken in their views, reasons which the SACP and COSATU felt were unfair (and in the SACP/s case self-evidently untrue since SACP members believe that the Party and the Leader is always right, that two and two make five and that black is white and rich is poor if the Party says so).

So, although Mbeki might have believed that Zuma would not betray the ANC to the white ruling class, and that the right wing  and the left wing would never combine against him, actually it was almost inevitable that this would happen, especially at a time when his control of patronage within the ANC was weakening.

This combination of Mbeki’s mistakes and misunderstanding (after ten years of tight-rope walking he seems not to have realised that he could fall) and deep-seated potential corruption within the ANC and its alliance, together with the eagerness of the white ruling class to corrupt the ANC and the alliance and the willingness of the media to hide the truth in the interests of rich people, all goes a long way towards explaining Polokwane. It’s easy to see how this was going to be a disaster. However, the extent of the disaster deserves much closer examination.

 


He Who Is Kept.

November 7, 2017

Jacques Pauw was a real journalist thirty years ago. But thirty years ago it was possible to be a real journalist because there were independent newspapers like the Weekly Mail and the Vrye Weekblad. Nowadays there are no independent newspapers and so it is impossible to be a real journalist, so now Jacques Pauw is a propagandist.

But not a very good one, although he obviously has some impressive backers to judge by all the fuss made around his book The President’s Keepers. It’s a rag-bag of a book, containing some genuinely valuable information scattered like corn mixed with polystyrene packing-kernels amid rehashed material, and strident, screaming commentary which often seems presented in place of substantiation.

The gist of the interesting stuff relates to Pauw’s deep-seated anger at the destruction vested on the spy and secret police service, which Zuma bundled together as the State Security Agency and placed in the care of the corrupt, lying corporate crook Moe Shaik who proceeded to stuff up as much as he could before he was replaced by someone even greedier named Fraser who invented projects through which to siphon off the cash. (This is the congenital disease of secret services; Len Deighton’s early-sixties Billion-Dollar Brain is all about how to rook money out of secret services, and it’s no accident that Deighton’s hero is a money-laundering specialist.)

But, in the end, does all that matter? The elements which became the State Security Agency were preposterously inept even before Motlanthe/Zuma took over; look at how badly Masetlha and company handled their attempt to smear Mbeki. Zuma was a lousy prospect for running the secret services. Zuma’s administration has been essentially incapable of properly controlling expenditure or overseeing effective performance management (not only because it is incompetent, but also because nobody in Zuma’s administration cares about such things).

What is, perhaps, more curious is why Zuma’s administration should have allowed themselves to be so poorly served by what should have been Zuma’s pride and joy, his secret police and his police detective services, between which (if he abused them shrewdly) he should have been able to keep himself out of trouble and in power without any other assistance at all. Allowing them to collapse into corrupt miasmas of rubble and excrement makes no sense if you believe, as Pauw (rightly) believes, that Zuma’s main agenda is to stay out of trouble by staying in power. You’d also expect Zuma to have a crackerjack legal team primed to defend the President at all costs, and to justify any action the President takes under all circumstances — instead of which, Kemp and Hulley and the rest of them appear like a bunch of autistic dingbats presiding over a team of zoo chimps. Zuma’s legal teams have just enough competence to delay the inevitable, but not enough to accomplish anything. It’s almost as if they aren’t really working for Zuma, but for someone else.

These are supposed to be the President’s keepers? More like the President’s losers; or, to be more accurate, the bottom-feeders who endeavour to suck up the crumbs which fall away from the mess which the President makes.

The real problem with Pauw’s book, though, isn’t simply exaggeration or a failure to analyse the substantive issues. Rather, the problem is that he simply believes, or claims to believe, that South African politics is purely a question of good versus evil; good being everyone who’s against Zuma, or whom Zuma is again, and evil being everyone who supports Zuma, or whom Zuma supports. Now, self-evidently most of the people who are tied in with Zuma are crooks, and a fair number of them are indeed filthy, odious crooks. But the trouble is, there are also people who aren’t tied in with Zuma who are nevertheless filthy odious crooks, and many of them are highly politically active — and often people who helped put the Zuma system in place today, and are now slaving away for Ramaphosa.

The consequence is evident in the incoherence of the book. There is, really, no order to it, because Pauw doesn’t have the kind of structuring value-system which he could employ when he was challenging the apartheid death-squads. Therefore he rambles all over the place, throwing in information wherever he finds it, neither chronologically nor organisationally coherent.

It is, of course, scary that cigarette-smugglers seem to get away with their crimes, presumably through bribing the people whom Pauw says are corrupt. Possibly the smugglers are indeed as influential as Pauw suggests — but it can’t simply be because they are cigarette-smugglers, for there are much richer people than them who might also want to see things happen. Indeed, one doesn’t know how many of the people who get away with their crimes are doing so because they are influential, and how many of them are getting away with their crimes because much more influential and wealthy criminals want every big crook to get away with their crimes. (And, incidentally, is the big focus on cigarette-smugglers motivated by the desire of big tobacco companies to protect their own profits?)

This sounds like “whatabouttery”, the practice of defending indicted criminals by pointing at other criminals who are not indicted. Of course, it is important that people like Pauw condemn people who are criminals. But what if they are doing this in order to protect other people who are bigger criminals? And what if they don’t even understand the issues around what they are doing?

Amusing evidence of this surfaces early in the book. Pauw had his laptop stolen and immediately assumed that this was the secret police after him, because that is what is said by everybody in an official or politically-motivated position who gets robbed. Eventually it turns out to be a street-kid, although Pauw did not check on the political opinions of the street-kind. Still, this shows the paranoid fantasies of which Pauw is capable; how much of the rest of the book is paranoid fantasy?

Secondly, when he goes to Moscow on a wild goose chase, he is startled to discover that in Moscow the signs are all in Russian! And in the Cyrillic alphabet! How dare these people not use Afrikaans and write everything in Roman characters? Furthermore, he learns to his horror that it snows in Moscow, and that sometimes the snow melts and his feet get wet — how can this be permitted when Pauw is a very important tourist?

So a very-far-from-worldly-wise fantasist is the author of this book. Either Pauw has changed since the old days, or maybe he was always really like this.

He goes through the usual suspects like Berning Ntlemeza, Tom Moyane and the rest, and the usual victims such as SARS and the Hawks, quoting from all the books and newspaper articles which have been written by people who were paid to write books and newspaper articles about these things — it’s like a scrapbook. Occasionally, however, odd things surface which suggest something different. For instance, although he’s not in the book’s index, in mentioning Zuma’s rape trial he mentions how Judge Van Der Merwe condemned Zuma for, essentially, raping the woman “Khwezi”. OK, then why did the Judge find Zuma innocent, and why doesn’t Pauw find the Judge culpable, instead proclaiming that all judges are superior life forms which will save us from all corruption?

Or he happens to mention that the head of HR at Lonmin was apparently an intelligence agent tasked with setting up a rival union to AMCU and NUM at Rustenburg, a project eventually shut down (because it failed, or because AMCU itself fulfilled the same function?). He notes that here the intelligence services and big business were clearly working together from the same script, and also notes that one of the big cheeses involved in the whole affair was Cyril Ramaphosa (curious how that name keeps coming up, eh?) but then hastily backs away, because this would rather undermine his argument that there is no such thing as white monopoly capital capturing the state.

In a related matter, towards the end when (evidently in a rush) he threw everything together, he mentions the glory of the former Public Protector in using her rightly limitless powers to expose the President’s malfeasances and call for rectification. Then he contrasts this with the disgrace of the current Public Protector in using her improper and excessive powers to expose the Reserve Bank’s malfeasances and call for rectification. According to Pauw it’s OK to take on politicians, unless they are politicians who serve the interests of rich people. Perhaps Pauw could be considered the Bankster’s Keeper.

All this stuff seems fairly problematic — and there is also the fact that he hardly looks into the records of the people whose interests he wishes to promote. Thus he skates around the remarkably murky past of his SARS hero Van Loggerenberg (and doesn’t pay enough attention to the man’s nefarious relationship with an obvious spook, Walker) and he simply ignores the odious past of his police hero Booysen (ex-Soweto riot squad, ex- Security Police). These are straws in the wind, since both of these people were undeniably shafted on odious grounds, but they suggest that Pauw is happy to look the other way when people whom he defines as good (or are they defined for him by others) get into bad deals.

An example of how Pauw exaggerates importance is when he prints a mysteriously-acquired tape of Glenn Agliotti, a minor drug smuggler involved in the Kebble case, boasting to some other junior gangsters about his awesome power and influence. Pauw admits that Agliotti is a fluent liar and fantasist, and yet insists that on this particular instance whatever he says should be taken seriously, because it serves Pauw’s pretense that minor gangsters are in charge of the Zuma administration.

He also notes how sinister it is that Agliotti got off on the Kebble murder charge. What he doesn’t say is that Agliotti got off because of a plea-bargain which he made with the Scorpions who were trying to use him to destroy Police Commissioner Selebi. And who was the sleazeball who made that sordid deal which went wrong (even though yet another dodgy judge eventually sent Selebi down on fabricated charges)? Who but another of Pauw’s heroes, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, now chief legal officer for a white supremacist movement. (And one doesn’t have to be PAC to notice that, to an even greater extent than demography would predict, Pauw’s heroes are white and his villains black.)

Talking about cops, it’s interesting that while Pauw exults in Selebi’s fall and in the orchestrated destruction of Commissioner Riyah Phiyega’s career (even though Pauw isn’t able to find much that she actually did wrong) he is much quieter about Bheki Cele, even though, unlike the others, he actually had to resign after being caught orchestrating a corrupt business deal worth several hundred million rand, and even though most of the problems with the police which Pauw identifies started on Cele’s watch. But Cele is now a big supporter of Ramaphosa; can this be why Pauw flushes away all the excrement he left behind him?

The core of Pauw’s hero-list is, of course, all those wonderful journalists like himself who expose these things. But he does admit there are a few problems. He mentions a big problem back to front, starting with the disinformation around the “SARS rogue unit” which never was, disinformation peddled by the Sunday Times through obviously corrupt journalists. Then he mentions the disinformation peddled by the same paper and the same journalists a bit earlier, around getting rid of the Hawks boss in Gauteng, General Dramat, and the same paper and the same journalists going after the IPID boss Robert McBride, and, eventually, the same thing having happened way back when going after the Hawks boss in KwaZulu-Natal, General Booysen.

He admits that there is a problem with journalists and a newspaper being used by organised criminals to destroy the state’s investigative services. However, he then says that this is all right now, because the Sunday Times has a new editor, and one of the journalists involved, Hofstatter, has moved on (though he still writes for the paper, oddly enough). But the other lead journalist involved, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, also wrote the newspaper’s commentary plugging Pauw’s book! In other words, Pauw is happy to collaborate with notorious fabricators and propaganda peddlers when it suits him to do so.

Or is he just a fabricator and propaganda peddler himself? Or did he even write the book, or just sell his name to the writers of the book in exchange for money to salvage his ailing Riebeeck-Kasteel restaurant? Apparently there are free copies of the book being circulated (interestingly, the book is produced by the apartheid propaganda organisation Naspers, now called Media24 and the largest company on the JSE by virtue of its Chinese investments — but there is no such thing as white minority capital, is there?). Therefore you can decide on the value of the book without giving any money to Pauw or his backers.

But the book alone will not give you the full story of what the book is really about, or where it comes from.

 


Klein in a Bottle.

November 6, 2017

Not so very long ago, Naomi Klein, former Wall Street journalist turned celebrity leftist, was the bright shining hope of the world. Her books The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything, which revealed the horrifying truth (which had been kept secret for so long) that capitalism exploits workers and harms the environment, were on every leftist’s bookshelf, crowding out Marxist theory because her books were enormously expensive.

Not everybody quite believed this, of course. Alexander Cockburn’s review of The Shock Doctrine pointed out that what Klein was representing as her own brilliant idea was something which had been around since Marx at least, and probably since Rousseau and Blake (and some of it went back to Savonarola). Also, the revelations about the link between CIA torture, CIA mind control and capitalism had been traced in the 1960s when the facts about the CIA’s experiments with hallucinogens and sensory deprivation started coming out — and the political implications came as no great surprise to anyone who had been paying attention to what happened in any fascist or quasi-fascist seizure of power in the twentieth century.

Of course, said Cockburn, it was good that someone was saying all this stuff again given the terrible drought of leftists in the twenty-first century. However, Klein is particularly mistaken in claiming that this “shock doctrine” is something relatively new, most particularly on display in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, based on the CIA ideas of the 1960s fused with the neoliberal triumph of the late 1970s. In fact, argues Cockburn, to say this is to pretend that the disastrous twenty-first-century neoliberals, the Bushes and Blairs and Berlusconis and their descendants, were something novel and something which can therefore be fought against as dangerous innovators. Instead, he remarks, they are very much within a long continuum of capitalism stretching back at least to the eighteenth century, and to fight against them you have to fight against the system which created them; it isn’t enough to vote out Bush. The long dark Obama era demonstrated that Cockburn was right and Klein wrong.

Now Klein has come up with another book. Unlike its three major predecessors, and like her journalism, it is very short on research and is unreferenced. Her argument is that we are in a big big crisis, due to Trump, and therefore we must do everything that we can, as fast as possible, to challenge the rise of whatever it is that we are supposed to fight against in Trump, and Brexit, the two official foes of the official liberal ruling class of the Western world.

The book is called No Is Not Enough. This is a weird title. Who ever thought that no was enough? When, in politics or anywhere else, has rejection been the be-all and end-all of activity? Perhaps, though, this is a sign that Western political thought has really lost its sense of self-worth and become no more than a knee-jerk resistance to right-wing initiatives which in themselves are not properly understood.

Manifestly there must be something positive towards which any political movement must mobilise its adherents. This is true of every political movement which can ever aspire to have any adherents for any length of time. So, then, what is the positive thing which Klein has hitherto provided? In the main, she has complained about the misbehaviour of big business and of Republicans, contending that it would be nicer if there were fewer sweatshops and more non-franchised coffee shops, that it would be better if capitalism did not entail using the government to frighten people into pursuing policies which harm their interests, and that it would be good if someone would do something about global warming. Effectively, this is nebulous reformism. It is the politics of hipster liberalism, wishing to carry on with one’s current life without change, but also without guilt or unpleasant news on the television or the social media, and without right-wing propaganda blaring in one’s ears.

Does this new book represent anything different? Ninety-nine percent of the book’s critique is an attack on Donald Trump and some of his Cabinet. This is not exactly courageous stand-taking; everybody who would purport to be on the left obviously opposes Trump. He is a very easy target to attack, and in attacking him it is easy to ignore the extremely odious and terribly powerful people who oppose Trump in order to put themselves in power and implement policies which are as destructive as Trump’s, but perhaps more coherently assembled and more effectively propagandised, and hence more dangerous in the long run. Ignoring such people’s existence — or worse, effectively allying oneself with them, as in South Africa where the same kind of sand-in-the-eyes leftism has been used to legitimate support for the richest and most right wing people in the country under the pretense of saving the nation from Zuma — is a suicidal policy.

So if the book were simply a criticism of Trump then it would be (in effect) propaganda for the kind of system which Trump represents. By claiming that the only problem to be addressed is this nasty chancre weeping pus on your cheek, you are ignoring the fact that your big problem is actually that you have syphilis. Fortunately, there is a 1% of the book in which Klein does mention that the opposition to Trump, in the person of Hillary Clinton, was a corrupt liar campaigning for the special interests of gangster capitalists. Also, she mentions the existence of that gangster capitalism and points out that it essentially runs the socio-economic system of the United States by remote control.

These are points with which any leftist can fundamentally agree. These are also points, however, which direct attention to a far more important problem than the problem of having a preposterous ignorant sociopathic gasbag in the White House, or even the people who helped to put that gasbag there. The solutions to that problem — the control of the system by a corrupt and largely invisible ruling class which uses that control to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else — are different from the problem of the wrong guy winning an election.

But this is the problem which Klein complains about. She endorsed Bernie Sanders as the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. Undeniably Sanders was a less odious candidate than Hillary Clinton; arguably, he was the least unpleasant prospect of all the figures who sought to stand for President in either the Democratic or Republican Party. However, Sanders is a right-wing figure, a military hawk, a Zionist and a supporter of most of the conservative policies pursued by the Democratic Party down the decades. His populist attacks on corrupt banks were unusual, but they also almost certainly led nowhere, since he had no mass base behind him and any attempt to implement an anti-trust law against the banks would certainly have been blocked by all parties. His claims to be a socialist are certainly as fraudulent as Hillary Clinton’s claims to be a feminist. Klein claims that the mere uttering of such terms is a good thing — but in both cases the term could be used safely because it had been drained of all practical meaning.

Furthermore, Bernie Sanders endorsed Clinton for the Presidency. Klein criticises Clinton, but it is clear that she preferred Clinton over Trump. Therefore she was prepared to vote for the system and to call on others to do the same. What is the point of criticising the system if in practice you refuse to challenge it? This seems like the same sort of ineffectual hipster politics characteristic of Klein. It also explains why Klein spends so much more time criticising Trump than criticising the system which allowed Trump to rise, or, for that matter, criticising representatives of the system like Obama and Clinton who happen to use rhetoric which resembles Klein’s own rhetoric, but whose agenda is essentially the same as that of Trump: the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many and through the degradation of the planet and its resources.

So Klein’s “yes” is a very small one compared to her “NO”, and it is also a very unappealing one. She tries to gussy this up (whatever that phrase means) with references to the victories which have been attained over neoliberalism and “Trumpism”. These victories include a massive populist revolt in Argentina against corrupt neoliberalism which eventually led to a slightly less reactionary ruling-class family taking power and pursuing a slightly less corrupt version of neoliberalism. There is also the massive populist revolt in Greece against corrupt neoliberalism, in which the Greeks boldly voted for the party which pledged not to implement corrupt neoliberalism, after which the party implemented corrupt neoliberalism. On the whole, Klein’s poster boys for the New Politics are neither attractive nor credible.

Victories over “Trumpism” appear similar. Her thesis is that Trump’s victory has ushered in a series of extreme-right movement, such as UKIP in Britain, or the BJP in India, or Duterte’s Presidency in the Philippines. She fails to notice that Duterte, for all his violence and populism, is rather different from Trump and his agenda, that UKIP is an insignificant party (the anti-EU vote was essentially a Conservative victory) and the BJP has been around since the 1930s in various Hindu incarnations.

Meanwhile, her evidence of victories over this nonexistent fascistic united front include the stitched-up victory of the vicious reactionary neoliberal Macron in France and the victory of the xenophobic reactionary populists in Holland (where she praises a “Green” party which committed itself to supporting the European Union in its current neoliberal form). It seems obvious from this that Klein is trapped within the confines of the status quo, like a cockroach in a corked bottle waiting for the ammonia to be dripped in. Since that status quo is essentially neoliberal and reactionary, her campaigns against neoliberalism and reactionary politics appear wholly cosmetic.

Indeed, she went on a lot of marches in the United States to protest against Trump. Good for her; it is good for the legs and the lungs, assuming you don’t breathe too much of the city air. These marches, however, were mostly organised by the Democratic Party and were essentially calls for the installation of Hillary Clinton as President, so Klein was marching against her own professed principles and policies. The purposes of the marches were to mobilise specific interests, such as technology professionals and women, who normally tend to support the Democrats. Of course one may try to take advantage of such campaigns to challenge the system. There is little sign, however, that this happened, and Klein certainly did nothing to pursue that.

In the end she does come up with a call for the masses to rise up in what she calls the “Leap”, a call for a transformation of society on Utopian grounds. At last! Someone who will save us! Indeed, she says that this has happened before — when big oil spills happened in 1969, the people rose up and called for someone to do something about the environment, and lo, someone did and the Environmental Protection Agency was formed and the Clean Air Act passed. Klein says that this kind of triumph of the people can be done again. Erm, well perhaps, but shouldn’t we remember that the person who answered the call of the people was President Richard Nixon, saving the environment in his spare time when he wasn’t murdering hundreds of thousands of Indo-Chinese and overthrowing Latin American governments.

Her other inspiration is Standing Rock, where the evil government wanted to run a pipeline carrying Canadian tar-sands oil through an Indian reservation (this being government land the pipeline could travel free there). To further save money they wanted to run the pipeline slap through the local lake. And there the people rose up and said NO! Hurray for the people! Oh yes — except that the government rose up and said PISS OFF!, violently chased the Indians and their supporters away, and built the pipeline slap through the local lake. So she is celebrating the disastrous failure of weakly-supported single-interest campaigns to attain anything positive.

Her Leap is no leap. It’s a vague call for someone to do something, something nice, something like a higher minimum wage and more windmills and solar panels and child-minders and fewer police shooting black people. It has no political support worth mentioning  and no capacity to develop any. It is the feel-good politics of hipsterism, incapable of accomplishing anything and devoid of any potential to build the political analysis — the class analysis, especially — which it completely lacks.

And there we leave Klein in her bottle. A Klein bottle is a three-dimensional Moebius strip, a bottle with no actual inside or outside. As a result it’s difficult to see how to get out of the bottle. On the positive side, it cannot actually be build in the real world, any more than can Klein’s mythical politics.

 

 


Blah Wars Episode MMXVI: A New Despair.

November 6, 2017

It’s not just easy, but inevitable, to become despondent about the political, social, cultural and economic future of South Africa and the global network within which it exists. Much of what we can make out about the circumstances of the nation and the world suggest that we are in a state of chronic slow decline which is most likely to become precipitous decline within the next decade or so.

There are many ways of coping with this. One is to take so many happy pills that one wears a permanent grin under any and all circumstances, including imminent death in grotesque agony. A related method is to close down all access to the outer world, stopping reading the newspapers, listening to the radio or watching TV or accessing the Internet, and thus supplying a private Freedom From Information Act, because, like Oedipus, what could we see that could bring us joy?

Unfortunately, an easier method is to accept that, despite the absurdity of almost all the propaganda generated to deceive us by the media, and despite the obvious mendacity of the ruling class and its corporate and governmental agents, everything is for the best and what we are told three times (or three times three times, or three times three times three times) is true. So many people are prepared to march along the paths that the press and the politicians and the pundits tell them to follow.

The problem with believing lies is not just that you will inevitably be led to do the wrong thing — the real problem is that you lose contact with the right thing, with the idea that you might gain access to the right thing, that you might be able to think for yourself, let alone act for yourself. Being a willing participant in your deception means abandoning all individuality; you become a person in a pod, a volunteer for the Matrix. You then are unable to take action even when it is clearly necessary and when the proper action is blindingly obvious — and as for when the situation is obscure, and it is not clear whom one should support or what is to be done, you might as well never have been born, for all the use you would be to anyone else.

And that’s the real problem; we have to act as a collective, or we are lost, and the more people who cannot participate in any such collective, and who do not believe in participating in such collectives, the more likely it is that the bad guys will win.

Ah yes, the bad guys. They’re out there. But, yes, they’re also in here. So how to distinguish between the bad guys and the bad guys? Which evil scumbag who’s out to get us should you support? You have to choose between Clinton and Trump, between the narcissistic psychopath with a jawbreaking record of evil-doing, and — well, actually, the other one is the same, isn’t he? Or she?

So those who have a desire to gain political understanding in order to take political action in order to reverse the chaos which seems to be impending, face the immense difficult of not being able to know what needs to be done. The media are a mass of disinformation — again, the only thing to do is to try to pursue the least bad disinformation, which usually means that the disinformer is concerned with falsifying reality in a relatively narrow zone. Someone who hates a particular person, or a category of persons, might tell some of the truth about other people.

But the problem is that virtually all the narrow disinformers are incapable of gaining access to information for themselves. They rely on the Internet for their information, and are therefore obliged to sift through a mass of disinformation and attempt to distinguish what is bogus. Often this means that they are deceived by plausible but bogus information, or by half-truths used to conceal a greater lie. Which means that it is very dangerous to assume that even the most seemingly honest Internet commentator (often this means, the commentator who says what the observer wants to hear) is either genuinely honest, or accurate in response.

Which, again, is depressing.

The solution, then, is to cleave to personal experience, what there is of it, and to impressions of trustworthiness, which relies heavily upon knowledge of the speaker’s class allegiances, but also upon their private loyalties. If you know that everybody around you is short of cash, if you can see the vast numbers of beggars on the streets and the people desperate for jobs, and if you can see the huge public infrastructures going unmaintained, then you know that the country is in bad socio-economic condition, and you can take things from there. The solution, obviously, is to increase the amount of money going to people who have jobs (at the moment everyone except the very rich are going backwards, as is admitted by the media bragging about how people’s income is going up by as much as 1% a quarter — which is lower even than the fake inflation figures). Then the solution is also to create jobs. And the solution is to maintain public infrastructures. And there are lots of other solutions, but at least personal experience shows you what the answer is.

Then you cast about for people talking about how to resolve these problems, and you discover that virtually everybody is talking about how vitally important it is for the very rich to hang on to the wealth via intensified property rights, how essential it is to keep salaries low by crushing organised labour and eliminating the minimum wage, and how necessary it is to allow public infrastructure to continue crumbling in order to keep taxes low and to preserve the policy of austerity. Everybody who says these things must know that they are the opposite of what is actually needed. Therefore, they are lying. Therefore one casts about for people who are saying the opposite. There actually are a few such people out there, even though not all of them can be trusted to fulfil their claims.

But, more importantly, it is important to campaign for the real stuff. And once one has started campaigning for the real stuff, it is also important to recognise that there is more real stuff out there, and that there is an enormous majority of people out there who are massively worried about the real stuff, the people whom the propaganda and the lies are designed to deceive and confuse. If only those people can be spoken to — and most of them are at least dimly aware of what is really going on — then they would rise up and shake off the shallowly-embedded parasites on the body politic, the journalists and lawyers and politicians and NGOs and pundits who are all working for the plutocracy. And then it might be possible to do something about the power of the plutocracy.

So the thing to do is to keep one’s eye on the main issue and ignore all the lies. Without, however, simply sticking your fingers in your ears and ignoring all inputs because (as the liars say) everybody is a liar and everybody is corrupt except the few individuals whom the liars are promoting. Abandoning hope means that the liars will win.

We really have to get down to it. But it’s not easy.

 


Captivation (II): “Jump in the urinal and stand on your head: I’m the one who’s alive, you are all dead.”

November 6, 2017

The decisive and smashing victory of the Republican wing of the 1% Party, over the Democratic wing of the 1% Party, has not gone unnoticed. With speed and stamina the heroes of American liberalism and their bought-and-paid-for toadies across the world have rushed into the breach (after making sure that there were absolutely no weapons trained on them from anywhere).

Their conclusions are straightforward: the American people have betrayed the Party and therefore deserve neither support nor allegiance. Therefore they have sent their minions out into the street to fight against the American people. Down with the people, down! Or, at best, as Brecht sarcastically put it, the call goes out to dissolve the people and elect a new people who will vote for the correct candidate.

The Democratic Party faithful are also pointing out how bad the people are for voting for the wrong candidate. Obviously they must be racist, misogynist and fascistic. How could one vote against the Democratic Party when its previous candidate was black, except on grounds of racism? How could one vote against the Democratic Party candidate when she is a woman, except on grounds of sexism? Obviously, too, voting for a bullying male candidate shows that one is voting for the bully because one is embedded in Nazi-style politics. Besides, the enemy candidate is known to be covertly supported by Vladimir Putin, who is Hitler, and therefore the Republican Party are all Hitler supporters. The evidence is clear, and only a racist misogynist fascist could challenge it.

Notice something interesting about these conclusions: they say essentially nothing about what the Democratic Party was planning to do, had it happened to win the election. In fact it was openly admitting that it was planning to do very little. Instead, where there were policies, these amounted to “Defend the Obama legacy!”; the extension of state-subsidised but private health management organisations to large numbers of people who would otherwise be unable to afford such healthcare. (Unfortunately, the soaring cost of these private health management organisations is increasingly making this Affordable Care Act unaffordable, which rather undermines the project.)

The rest of the legacy that they make a fuss about is Obama’s enthusiastic signing on for the Paris accord on climate change, which is non-binding and hasn’t been approved by Congress so his signing means nothing. Also, his actual energy policy involves building more coal-fired power stations, promoting tar sands in Canada, and fracking for oil and gas all over the United States, so Obama’s policies are aimed at accelerating climate change even though he and all his supporters claim the opposite. (Trump is supposedly a climate change denialist. Which is worse, a climate change denialist who pursues policies which encourage global warming because he doesn’t realise it, or a person who acknowledges climate change but encourages global warming because it’s good for the income of his financial backers?)

As for the rest of the Obama legacy, it’s difficult to make much out; the extension of NAFTA across the Atlantic and Pacific seems to be collapsing, the wars in Ukraine, Africa and the Middle East are not going well, and apart from that, promoting the interests of the banks and the stock market ahead of everybody else in the country doesn’t seem to play very well in Peoria. So, basically, the Democratic Party ran on a platform of “Vote for us despite the fact that we haven’t done anything worthwhile in eight years and have no plans to do anything worthwhile in the next four!”.

The remarkable thing about this is how few Democrats can see that this wouldn’t have been a winning strategy even if they didn’t have a widely loathed candidate who had alienated a vast chunk of Democratic supporters by strenuously undermining and then dismissing a widely admired and much more popular competitor, Bernie Sanders (who seems a much more amiable person despite his lack of any clear distinction from her Hillaryship). It seems quite obvious that the Democrats are politically clueless. They don’t even know how to deceive the voters any more; they are so committed to serving the interests of the American ruling class that they’ve forgotten the political tricks which the American ruling class, like ruling classes everywhere, have played to game the system and fool the boobs.

Now, this is not new. It was in the pipeline when Hillary’s husband was running the show in the 1990s, when his speciality was going to working-class people and telling them that they were going to be fired, but that he felt their pain, and that in the long term they would be better off for it. After eight years of that the New Democrats were thrown out of power when they tried to elect Al Gore, an animatronic captive balloon. On mature consideration of their defeat, the New Democrats concluded that they had been robbed of power by their evil enemies and should become more New Democrat, which would obviously lead to success because their policies of rewarding the rich and punishing the poor were the royal road to victory in all elections. They then decided to cover up for this by putting up a black candidate, thus gaining themselves the black vote. However, when they put up a female candidate, they somehow failed.

The French Socialist Party, the German Social Democratic Party, the British Labour Party and of course the South African ANC have gone essentially the same way. They have adopted the economic policies of their enemies, thus betraying every principle they ever professed, and then tried to cover it up by adopting some of the practices of their enemies, such as identity politics, demonized enemies and figer-pointing at everyone but oneself. It is hardly surprising, then, that these parties have become almost indistinguishable from their opponents, and also hardly surprising that their support has plunged because nobody who really cares about the policies which they once professed will vote for them.

The shrewd-looking assumption of these parties was that people who care about policies are only a tiny minority of the voting public, and therefore the overwhelming majority of their supporters wouldn’t mind if they sold out. This turns out to be a highly problematic assumption. Of course most voters couldn’t be arsed to understand exactly what they are voting for, so they vote for glamour and surfaces.

However, the people generating the glamour and surfaces need to have some dim idea of what their potential customers are attracted to – and when you burn out the brains of your leadership and abolish all purpose in life, you also lose touch with your customers. Then you have to hire market research companies to tell you what the customers want, and these companies are trained to tell their employers what they want to hear. So in the end the people who destroyed the party on the assumption that destroying the party would do their interests no harm, are paying people to tell them what they desire to hear. They might as well be listening to the voices in their heads.

Apart from the fact that this leads to a ridiculous political disconnection from one’s constituency – and this is an almost universal characteristic of modern political parties – in the long term it also means that a whole class of self-deluding people with complete contempt for voters become the leading fitures in the cabal. Since nobody ever criticises them for this in their hearing (or if anyone does, they don’t listen, because anyone who disagrees with them is wrong) it follows that they don’t understand that their behaviour is conspicuously alienating their supporters. So they start behaving like this where their supporters can hear, and they start attacking their potential voters, because they hate and despise them all and they are arrogant enough to want to show it. And then they alienate those voters (very often by attacking the supporters of their opponents and thus making those supporters resentful).

This was what Mitt Romney did in 2012 with his “moochers” remark about the entire Democratic Party constituency, and what Hillary Clinton did in 2016 with her “deplorables” remark about the entire Republican Party constituency. It’s worth remembering, incidentally, that Romney endorsed Clinton and her moochers. The fact is that they both hate not only those who vote for their opponents, but those who voter for them. The political system has generated a “political class” in Peter Oborne’s term, which has essentially the same attitude towards the people living in their nation that Marie Antoinette had. (And if you doubt this applies to South Africa, listen to a senior South African politician talking about his opponents; the DA/EFF alliance claim that everyone opposing them is a crook, while the ANC claims that everyone opposing them is a racist.)

This is an understandable process; it is a natural product of the hostility of the social democratic movement in Europe and the psuedo-social democratic movement in the United States, to any serious pursuit of socialism. Once they were fully convinced that no socialist movement could pose a threat to their status, they naturally stopped pretending to be socialist, and once they did that, they had no defenses, or even any desire for defense, against a hostile takeover by the forces of neoliberalism.

However, this has always been the way of the social democrats. What of the actual left which appeared to have some kind of commitment to socialism? What steps have they taken, over the last fifteen years when this process has been on the go, to build structures which can accomplish something? Obvious policies would be either to take over the social democratic parties from within and turn them into something more meaningful, or build an alternative party which draws away all the dissatisfied and purged membership from the social democratic parties and then tries to beat them at their own game.

It seems obvious that, apart from the extremely flimsy campaign of Jeremy Corbyn in British Labour (which seems more nostalgia than anything else, even if it was a hopeful sign at the time) the left has done nothing of the kind. Nor has it built, nor attempted to build, a radical non-parliamentary alternative, whether revolutionary or reformist. All that the Western left has been able to manage has been to ineffectually criticise multinational corporate capital (without finding any means for practically expressing that criticism where it is substantive) and to critique the residue of Third World nationalism which still survives, and in doing so to support, possibly intentionally, the activities of NATO imperialism in attacking that nationalism and supplanting it with theocracy or plutocracy or, ideally, both.

So, we are in a bad way because not only is the system rigged against us, but the people whom we trusted to protect us against the system being rigged, or to expose the rigging when it happened, are doing absolutely nothing about this. This cannot end well.