The Force is the Last Refuge of the Incompetent.

January 12, 2016

Matthew D’Ancona, the dishonest right-wing journalist, says that the Star Wars narrative is a myth, or mythos, or legend, or whatever, for our time. Although this sounds like the kind of drivel which is always said about anything which looks remotely like fantasy, and although the source is almost guaranteed to generate bullshit, let us not dismiss this instantly. Let us examine it for a moment, and then dismiss it instantly.

A myth is a way of accounting for the mysteries of the world. Usually it is in some way actionable — either as a warning, or as an example to be followed, although usually not completely literally. It is never completely banal or meaningless.

So, assuming that Star Wars is a myth, what does it constitute? Well, there are heroes and villains. This is not like the Iliad, where there are no such simple differences. Instead, the heroes are impossibly good, although occasionally outfitted with clunky minor negative qualities in an unsuccessful attempt to stop them from being saccharine. The villains, meanwhile, have all the tropes of evil apart from one — namely, motivation. The villains are evil for the sheer joy of being evil, a collection of Saurons obsessed with power for its own sake. This does not really provide us with any example for acting in the real world — instead, what it does is to confirm the propaganda mythos of the Western imperialist states, most particularly the United States, under which everybody except “us” is evil, and it is not necessary to comprehend evil because they must simply be blown up.

The universe is exciting, but in a wholly innocent way; it is there to be explored, but (except when the evil Empire is involved, when menace is always present) there are no consequences arising from this exploration. There is little to be learned from this exploration. Rather, what must be learned is a simple series of techniques (somehow not available to everyone) by which one may use the “Force”, along with a few talismans like “light sabers”, to become invincible. Of course this “Force” may be used for evil, and that is what the Empire is doing, so therefore by conquering the Empire one is also purifying the basic nature of the universe.

All this sounds childish — in the most precise sense; it is the fantasic response of a bullied eleven-year-old boy to his objective circumstances; if only I had a gang to join, if only I weren’t picked on, if only Dad understood me more, if only Mom were a little more indulgent, if only I didn’t have to go to school, hey, look at that pretty frog sitting on that log! It is no accident that the original Star Wars was consciously aimed at prepubescent children (though with a few nods to older people so that their parents — and the reviewers — could sit through it) and that is why the central characters are so young, and consciously presented as even younger than the ages of their actors. And that is why so much of the second trilogy (which is the first trilogy in the narrative — like some Soviet technology, Star Wars is crude but far from simple) also features children. (However, the second trilogy is much more sexualised, not because this is integral to the plot but because of cultural changes among Western youth over thirty years.)

An important point here is that the story being told in the original Star Wars was very much a Cold War narrative. The story being told to the U.S. public was that a gigantic and loathesome Soviet Union had nearly taken over the world, and that the United States stood as a lone and feeble paladin against this vast, expanding monster. It was a crock of shit borrowed by Harry Truman’s spooks and thugs from the Second World War narrative developed by the Roosevelt administration (and even then it was deeply flawed). It was intended to scare the people into obeying their leaders, and it succeeded and the result was the Miltown-tranquillized 1950s, and this is the period to which Spielberg and Lucas were referring, a time of placid, unthinking obedience and confidence in one’s own rectitude.

As such, then, Star Wars is not a myth or an epic. It is an appealing but false story told to children to make them docile and perhaps educate them to comply with their parents’ commands. It is, thus, a fairy-tale.

This is not to condemn it. Fairy stories are not necessarily degraded or despicable. However, they have their limitations.

One of the most positive things about the original Star Wars, a feature which to some extent survived in the sequel but gradually disappeared over time, was that the backstory was told only through brief and casual allusion. The point about a fairy story is that you have to suspend disbelief except in certain crucial cases where elements are introduced to generate plausibility. If the story is of such a kind as to make the child ask “But why did that happen? Why did she do that? What did he want?” then the story is failing. (This, by the way, is different from a slightly young child asking “Why?”, where this word is code for “I’m bored and want to change the subject”.) There is nearly nothing of this in the original Star Wars because the action is carried along at speed with minimal explanation and therefore minimal demand for plausibility, and above all, minimal opportunity to ask why something is happening. More to the point, the gaps in the plot are plugged with references to a backstory in which one may assume that someone out there is in charge without being expected to ask who, or to what end.

Unfortunately, this backstory came to dominate the narrative. Just as while the Galactic Emperor was simply a flicker in the distance he was a genuinely scary figure, but shrank into pathetic pretense when he appeared in the flesh, so the crass, ill-conceived bricolage of the story of how the bad guys overthrew the Old Republic detracted from the fairy-story without providing any genuine mythology to take its place. Clumsy Oedipal imagery didn’t help much, and the ghastly racism entailed in the treatment of aliens like the Ewoks and Jar-Jar showed how little real taste Lucas, and to some extent even Spielberg, really possessed when they were not guided by masters like Eisenstein (whose genius in Alexandr Nevski Spielberg plagiarised to create his storm troopers). The problem is that when Lucas was working within a childish framework his project functioned well; outside that framework, the attempt to turn fairy-story into myth failed.

Moreover, when adults, who should have discriminatory capacity, are told that they, too, should believe in fairy stories, there is something wrong. It is perhaps no accident that Star Wars appeared at the beginning of the neoliberal era, when the whole of society began to rely, ideologically, on complete claptrap instead of partial claptrap. It is certainly no accident that Ronald Reagan immediately took up Star Wars imagery for his campaign to remilitarise and depoliticise American society, in his “Evil Empire” speech, going full circle back to the roots of the movie in Truman-style politics.

This is the basic problem. The most recent Star Wars work is, in a technical sense, simply a collage of imagery from the earlier Star Wars movies. There are vaguely interesting ideas — part of the story is set on a planet littered with the wreckage of the previous war, for instance — but none is developed, nor are they related to the action in the way that the fragmented backstory was in the first Star Wars. For no apparent reason, the current bad guys (who are allegedly a sort of fascist movement) have adopted all the trappings of the previous bad guys, the Sith regalia, the storm trooper armour, and even Darth Vader’s silly shuttlecraft.

There is no backstory here, or none worthy of the name; just unmotivated evil which must be fought against. It is the triumph of stupid authority; do what we tell you, fight against the enemy, although without having to make any obvious sacrifice yourself (but respect those mercenaries who are paid to sacrifice themselves on your behalf). We have seen this in the various wars launched by NATO countries against demonised enemies from the Taliban to the Islamic State, and the fascist tropes of the most recent enemy are similar to the Islamofascist tropes used to justify the invasion of the Middle East in pursuit of oil.

This introduction to a fresh trilogy has nothing fresh about it — except for one thing; it is no longer intended for children. Or, to be precise, in the modern American visual culture, it is no longer possible to discriminate between works intended for children and those intended for adults. (The most popular movies in America, and some of the most popular in the world, are based on comic strips for teenagers, and it is solemnly pretended that these pitiful pretexts for garish computer-generated special effects are serious, message-laden narratives.) The central characters in this work are young adults in their late teens or early twenties — immature, of course, but not dependent on others and not willing to learn from anything except their Jedi and Sith masters. The heroine is sexy, the hero is hunky, the villain is rather reminiscent of a youthful, callower version of Snape in the Harry Potter movies. There are vague sexual tensions between the three, never properly explored, of course. So the narrative is no longer a fairy-story — or else it is a fairy-story for what passes for grown-ups in the modern world.

And this is the problem: the narrative is not a narrative for grown-ups. It is a child’s story, a battle between a good which has no merit and an evil which has no credibility, with evil bound to lose because it is supposed to in the comic-books, and with no real plausible representation of the world at all, not even the distorted and symbolic representation of a child’s vision. The logical contradictions and farcically inept emotional manipulation are not excused by any merits on any other level, nor can you write it off by saying that this is not intended for grown-ups. It is the triumph of the people whom Hunter S Thompson rightly defined, in his depiction of the Clinton years, as the New Dumb.

Perhaps the coming of a fresh Clinton provides the perfect background to this horridly ill-conceived, clumsy, brutalising and wretchedly unimaginative movie.

Na-na-na-na-na Nene, nê?

January 12, 2016

Nyaaaaah. So the President has sacked his Finance Minister. Big, fat, hairy deal. Presidents sack Finance Ministers all the time, don’t they?

Well, not really, comes the refrain. Finance Ministers are frontline soldiers in the global war against the working class. Sacking your Finance Minister is like sacking your boss general in wartime. The French did that in May 1940, when they fired General Gamelin for losing the Battle of Sedan and brought in General Weygand, who proceeded to lose all of northern France, Paris and Bordeaux, after which he blamed the politicians and handed power over to the French Fascists who set up a Commission of Inquiry which exonerated them and explained that France had been stabbed in the back by Communists, Jews and Freemasons, who were all handed over to the Nazi occupiers as soon as convenient.

Um, maybe that’s not a very comforting analogy.

What did Nhlanhla Nene do wrong? Not really anything much — in fact, Nene hasn’t done anything. He was made Deputy Minister after Manuel was purged, when Gordhan was dragged out of SARS and shoved into Finance. When Gordhan, after half a decade of comprehensive failure, was kicked sideways into Local Government (where he has made a dog’s breakfast) Nene rose without trace into Gordhan’s ballet-boots. Of course he has presided over the decline of the economy. Five years of declining economy gradually erased all the accomplishments of the previous ten years.

But, as Dali Mpofu of the EFF observed, this isn’t simply Nene’s fault, or Gordhan’s either. Of course, as neoliberals and agents of the ruling plutocracy, they are complicit in the immiseration of South Africans and the degeneration of our economy. However, because the government and the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance are in league with the local and global ruling class in pursuing policies which further those objectives, nothing else can be expected. As Mpofu happily said, you could appoint Jesus Christ as Finance Minister and you’d get the same result; the moneylenders would still be in full control of the temple.

So there isn’t an obvious logical reason related to Nene’s performance which accounts for his dismissal. Nor does his “redeployment” to the South African branch of the BRICS Development Bank make any real sense; the South Africans are an insignificant element of the Bank even though it is based in South Africa, and there were already quite enough competent people involved in it. So there must be some other reason, and since Zuma hasn’t bothered to invent a plausible one, speculation is, as the saying goes, rife. (What else is rife? As the Chinese would say, rife is for the riving.)

One logical conclusion is that it’s all about Dudu Myeni, Zuma’s lass at South African Airways. (It is claimed that she’s his mistress, because newspapers need to be sold.) Apparently Nene refused to recapitalise SAA again (as it has been recapitalised so often before). So naturally the argument is that Zuma fired Nene because Nene was nasty to his chick.

Now, obviously this is possible. Myeni appears to be a strikingly incompetent person to run SAA and is certainly not the right person to run the airline. On the other hand, she is clearly not the only person to have run the airline into the ground.  So why particularly focus on her? Is there any other reason why certain people, especially in the corporate-owned media, should want to attack her stewardship of SAA at this particular time? Obviously there is; there is a concerted campaign to call for the privatization of SAA. The incompetent management of SAA is not essential to SAA; it is a product of the distortion of South African politics and economics by Zuma and his cronies. However, by pretending that nothing more can be done to save SAA, it is possible to claim that the only solution is privatization – which will probably be for asset-stripping purposes and thus will make a lot of money for the patrons of the corporate media, as well as setting a promising precedent for the profitable privatization of other state-owned enterprises. Yippee!

Now, Nene has been quite emphatic about not being willing to offer SAA money. This is fair enough, so long as Nene was saying that the Treasury was not willing to do this without a sensible business plan administered by a person who could handle the task. Not really hard to envisage. (Actually a little hard to envisage under the current climate – airlines are in fairly desperate circumstances and the South African economy is in the proverbial tailspin anyway.) But there’s no real sign that he was going to make such conditions, so presumably Nene was in league with whoever wants to privatise SAA. Maybe not a bad thing. Maybe even a good idea. But violently opposed to government policy, like his hostility to the nuclear deal (which was opposed by the ruling class before it was even arranged, let alone decided on.) In other words, it seems likely that Nene was trying to use his position to shove Zuma even further to the right than he has already moved – which surely helps to explain why the ruling-class media and propagandists generally responded with such preposterous outrage to Nene’s removal, and why they panicked when someone unknown was brought in, fearing that Zuma was about to nationalize everything, impose exchange controls and Africanise the economy.

He won’t ever do that, but that won’t stop the right-wing loonies who dominate debate on economic matters from shitting their breeches. Therefore they set up a vast clamour that the economy was declining too fast — apparently if the value of the currency, and the value of the stock exchange, and the rate of economic growth, and the rate of employment, all decline steadily, that’s a good thing; the Bad Thing is when it all happens so fast that even the middle class notices it.

What this did, of course, was to telegraph to the speculators all over the planet that the South African economy was vulnerable, and therefore to announce that those speculators could make some money by betting against it, and in doing so they precipitated the collapse of the rand, a massive spike in bond interest rates (because to keep people holding South African bonds they have to be bribed with higher returns) and a general financial panic in the country. This was Zuma’s fault, of course, but it was also the fault of the system which permits this to happen — but since the right-wing loonies who precipitated the crisis are totally invested in preserving the system, this will never be mentioned.

So Zuma, with the cowardice with which he has consistently performed in government, sacked the nonentity with which he had replaced Nene. Of course, he couldn’t put Nene back, for that would be to declare that what he had done was utterly wrong. Therefore he brought Gordhan back, and the economy immediately went into another nosedive while the media sang hosannas about how the economy was now booming thanks to this safe pair of hands on the tiller. If you were writing a fantasy about an utterly corrupt society where nobody had any integrity and no action was ever taken for altruistic motives while nobody told the truth under any circumstances except by accident, you would be depicting what was happening in this horrible case. Since Nene’s replacement couldn’t simply be turfed out of the Cabinet, he was sent to replace Gordhan in Local Government — a field in which he has at least some experience and a track record (though, alas, not a good one).

Does any of this matter, really? Isn’t Mpofu’s point still valid? Indeed it is; the ruling class is determined to keep ruling, and it rules because it wants to make a truckload of money. Gordhan and Nene’s job was to keep on making them that money, and they will continue to do so regardless of what happens to the economic indicators, up to and until the point at which the economy implodes, which will probably take several years. Zuma had to back down because he was interfering with the interests of the ruling class, or at least they could pretend that he was. However, now that the ruling class has pointed out to its friends all over the world that the South African economy is vulnerable and will not be protected, we can expect our economy to decline much more rapidly.

This is, of course, partly Zuma’s fault, but we shouldn’t forget that Zuma is only the patsy here; the real incompetence is the incompetence of the ruling class who are trying to game the system (including trying to replace Zuma with someone even less competent and more subordinate) and are, more or less by accident, finding themselves obliged to ruin our country.

January 12, 2016

So what are those inscrutable Orientals really up to, and what are they doing in Africa?

The answer seems to be fairly simple. China wishes to expand its economy over the next five years by about 35%. Most of this expansion will be in manufacturing, since the Chinese government is rightly suspicious of the financialisation which drives the expansion of the Anglo-American economic nexus. Such an expansion also requires a massive investment in infrastructure, to provide the power, transport, educational development and social cohesion required. All this requires an immense amount of raw materials, more than China alone can produce. Hence China must expand its imports of basic raw materials, and also, quite possibly, of partly finished goods which can be obtained relatively cheaply from abroad, assembled or finished in China, and sold on to the world market.

Africa can provide raw materials, and can also provide partly finished goods in some cases because of its very low labour costs and high unemployment, making African governments willing to accept the building of Chinese factories under conditions which countries outside the continent would view as exploitative.

So, what Africa stands to get out of this situation is a reliable market for minerals and agricultural produce and a limited amount of capital investment for beneficiation of minerals and agricultural produce and also investment in (perhaps) low-level manufacturing. Also, in order to get the goodies out of the continent, China is willing to invest in transport infrastructure — roads, railways and ports. This all provides, potentially, a small expansion in employment, and a fairly large expansion in trade which might help African countries overcome their chronic trade deficits.

All this sounds pretty good, of course. It’s a bit embarrassing, the rounds of applause at the summit, the droolingly supportive rhetoric from Mugabe (not that anything he said was wrong — periodically it seems he’s the last sane political leader left in the continent) and so forth. And we should, obviously, be suspicious that the Chinese will either not cough up with the investment or that there will be all sorts of hidden strings attached. Plus there’s no guarantee that the Xi faction in the Chinese Communist Party will be able to stand up to the corporate oligarchs and prevent them from financialising the system and wrecking it — only a few months before those oligarchs nearly brought down the Chinese banking system Xi was talking about making things more oligarch-friendly.

In other words, it’s good, but it’s not going to bring the millennium. Even the full US$60 billion, divided up between several African countries, amounts to well under $100 per capita over three years — not totally insignificant, especially for the highly impoverished states, but not gigantic. But a useful kick-start, potentially, and something which could possibly be leveraged further.

What the Chinese expect to get in return, apart from the raw materials and parts, is a network of contacts with African politicians, most of whom are pretty much up for sale. So it’s entirely possible that the Chinese deal will corrupt African politicians. To which one could say, big, fat, hairy deal, they’re already corrupt and the Chinese are not going to make matters worse. They might even make matters better, because the Chinese have things which they need to do and will not want African corruption to get in the way.

So, this being the case, why should it be that so many people are panicking and complaining and whining about all this?

One reason is, surely, that the Chinese project might, to some extent, benefit the ANC government, which most of those who are complaining about the Chinese dislike. The ANC naturally basks in the reflected glory of the Chinese involvement in Africa, since South Africa is one of the BRICS countries and can plausibly (although untruthfully) claim that it has played a significant role in inviting China to Africa. Indeed, China plays along with this by allowing South Africa to behave as if it is China’s gateway to Africa. (In fairness, South Africa is certainly a more congenial place to do business than Ethiopia, Kenya or Nigeria, the alternatives which China might use; also, although the South African government is deeply pro-American it is not so supinely so as those three countries which are little more than American puppets.)

Another reason is that people are naturally suspicious, which is fair enough, but it’s worth asking why the same people are so much less suspicious when anybody else invests in South Africa, or indeed elsewhere in Africa; foreign investment by Europeans almost always seems to be front-page news as if it were a kind of charity, and the more rare foreign investment by the United States is welcomed as if the Pope had come to town, but substantial Chinese investment is viewed with narrowed eyes and scrunched-up noses. (For the benefit of Middle Kingdomites, this is not an unsuccessful attempt by Caucasians to look Chinese; it signifies distaste.)

In fact, however, the big reason for the complaining is surely that the Chinese are in competition with the Americans, and in this instance as in so many others, are plainly winning the struggle for hearts and minds. The Americans have more military bases, but if the Chinese have more financial and political clout then they will be more likely to succeed in the long run — especially because the Americans seem incapable of using their military power for any productive political purpose. And this upsets the South African elite, who naturally side with the Americans against the Chinese. And, when the white elite sneeze, the black hangers-on under them rush forward bearing hankies, and that’s why so many black pseudo-pundits are delivering various levels of Sinophobia — that is, racism — against alleged Chinese imperialism.

This also obviously explains the hostility to teaching Mandarin in South African schools. The Chinese understandably would like some South Africans to be able to speak their language, and rather than hire only South African Chinese translators — after all, the South African Chinese are often pro-Taiwan — they’ve offered to teach Mandarin to South Africans who aren’t Chinese. Well, we can’t have that, can we? No indeed, if the Democratic Alliance has anything to do with it, which, perhaps fortunately, they don’t.

In the end none of this matters. China will continue becoming a global power whether Africa participates or not, and probably will begin to dominate Africa whether South Africa has any input in the process or not. The only difference is whether we manage to get out from under the yellow bulldozer and perhaps can make some productive use of the levelled playing-field (which, though the bulldozer may level it, will always be tilted in favour of China) or whether we just get squashed. The Americans and their hangers-on in South Africa would prefer us to get squashed. Unfortunately, however, they are not the ones who will be left a gory pulp in a muddy plain.



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.


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