When Will The Party End?

September 6, 2018

The State Capture Inquiry, that propaganda parade fronted by Deputy Chief Justice Zondo (ha, ha, a charade you are) is very largely a project on behalf of the South African Communist Party.

That is, a number of the witnesses, and all of the ones with genuinely damaging things to say about the conduct of the South African government, are members of the Party who are repeating the story which the Party was putting about, in alliance with other corporate front organisations, from about 2015 on, although it had been implicit ever since the Mangaung ANC Conference.

The story being told is that a single family of capitalists, fortuitously all foreigners and Hindu at that, was responsible for all the corruption taking place in South Africa under the Zuma administration. This is obviously very politically convenient for the SACP, because they can thus claim that the disasters wrought by the Zuma administration were not to be blamed on the SACP, because the SACP did not know about the Guptas when they installed Zuma in power.

This is, thus, the “state capture” story; a narrative intended to distract public attention from the generally corrupt condition of the nation — in particular, the way in which the ruling class and especially the oligarchy serves to manipulate and control the government — by focussing on a few designated spots of such activity. Does the SACP know what it is doing, or has it simply been fooled into doing this, perhaps by believing that “one has to start somewhere”, or “half a loaf is better than nothing”. (Depends on the condition of the loaf, of course.)

One should note that the SACP allowed its leadership to be given lucrative positions in government in defiance of its own constitution (that is, before the constitution was deliberately changed so that SACP leaders could give themselves lucrative positions in government). This means that by the standards of the founders of the SACP, the SACP had already become corrupted. (Even if one discounts Blade Nzimande’s theft of a business donation to the Party, incidentally, what is the Party doing accepting business donations? It would seem likely that the SACP heavily depends for its survival on gifts of money from capitalists, which means that it cannot possibly be a socialist organisation.)

So it is hard to believe that the SACP is innocent in this whole affair, or that it is accidentally collaborating with big business in order to further the interests of big business.

The SACP has long had a history of taking very firm public stands within the Tripartite Alliance. For instance, when Thabo Mbeki was President and oversaw an economic austerity programme called “Growth, Employment and Redistribution”, the SACP took a very strong line against this, condemning it as an undemocratically imposed neoliberal project and accusing all of Thabo Mbeki’s allies within the ANC of being agents of capital — the “1996 class project”, it was called, referring to Mbeki’s rise to being Deputy President, from being second fiddle to the racist reactionary F W De Klerk.

Then again, when Thabo Mbeki was battling with the international drug companies to try to force them to reduce the price of antiretrovirals before he would permit them to be disseminated free to HIV sufferers, the SACP took a strong line that the drugs should be disseminated free regardless of the cost to the government, and that there could be no delay in this and no time wasted in haggling with the international drug companies which were at the time sponsoring a massive campaign to undermine Mbeki so as to secure themselves the gigantic profits which would accrue from a South African treatment campaign using AZT at the 1999 price.

When Thabo Mbeki was trying to prevent Jacob Zuma from becoming President of the ANC at Polokwane in 2007, the SACP supported Zuma, on the grounds that Zuma was a left-winger whereas Mbeki was a reactionary stooge of capital. At the time one of the most strident supporters of Zuma was the ANC Youth League, who called on Zuma supporters to endorse the concept of nationalising the mining industry.

The nationalisation of the “commanding heights of the economy”, as the British Labour Party put it way back in 1946, was an obvious step in the direction of socialism, but surprisingly the SACP came out against it. They declared that the Youth League was simply hoping to seize the mines in order to loot their profits and assets, and that nationalisation was a dangerous and immoderate act. What the SACP demanded was instead that the government should oversee and regulate the mining industry and, by using legal tools, ensure that the fruits of that industry should be distributed for the benefit of all.

Another, less important but still significant, thing backed by the SACP was the issue of tolls on the Gauteng freeways. These freeways were upgraded in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, and it had been agreed that this would be financed by a complex electronic tolling system, to be administered, naturally, by foreigners, and largely enriching them — essentially a stealth privatisation of the roads. Right-wing libertarian racists and trade unionists combined to criticise this, and the SACP endorsed this criticism.

These pre-Zuma stances were, of course, debatable, and a cynic might notice that they were all ways for the SACP to get favourable headlines in reactionary newspapers, and win kudos from ignorant international leftist celebrities, without actually committing itself to any positive policies; also, that the SACP’s stance in all these cases was actually endorsed by big business. Still, it was possible to see these as principled left-wing stands within the narrow framework of the SACP’s ideological position.

But then came the SACP-backed coup against Mbeki in 2008, and the rise of SACP members into posts where they could actually implement the policies which they had been clamouring for. To the cheers of the pharmaceutical industry’s front-men, SACP member Barbara Hogan was elevated to the position of Health Minister. In this post she did essentially nothing. Eventually a crisis arose; as a result of provincial budget mismanagement, the hospitals and clinics in the Free State began running out of antiretrovirals. This was the moment at which Hogan could show her commitment to serving the suffering HIV-ridden masses regardless of expense. Instead she pranced about in other provinces on pointless photo-opportunity hospital visits, as the Free State victims sickened and died. Eventually even Zuma could take no more and shifted her sideways into Public Enterprises, where she did considerable damage before being sacked altogether.

Meanwhile, SACP member Pravin Gordhan was elevated to the position of Minister of Finance. He was a lot more energetic than Hogan — he speedily imposed an austerity programme which was far more savage in its reduction of public spending than the decade-earlier GEAR had been. GEAR had been introduced during a period of economic boom (as Keynesian economics recommended), while Gordhan’s austerity was introduced during a period of slump (as nineteenth-century classical economics recommended). So Gordhan’s policies, unlike Mbeki’s, led to the steady collapse of the South African economy and particularly of state revenue (a process which was naturally blamed on the restructuring of SARS and ultimately on the Guptas).

Neither Hogan nor Gordhan were criticised by the SACP in any way even though both of them effectively repudiated the declared policy of the party. Instead, Hogan was married off to the senile Ahmed Kathrada so that she could manipulate him in his last years to attack the ANC and promote the interests of the SACP-favoured Raaphosa, while Gordhan was solidly supported by the SACP and became one of its key allies in promoting the interests of big business.

Eventually Zuma fell, and once again SACP members were rewarded for their support of corporate interests by being installed in Cabinet positions. Nzimande had previously distinguished himself by his contempt for students and his hostility to reducing university fees while he was Minister of Higher Education, a post from which he was removed because of his ineptitude and apparent corruption. Now Ramaphosa rewarded him with the lesser post of Transport Minister, in which position Nzimande rapidly concluded that e-tolls administered by foreigners were a good thing, and selling South African transport services to foreign corporate entities was a sensible idea. Naturally he was not criticised by the party for this.

A slightly more important post was the Ministry of Mineral Resources, in charge of mining, to which the SACP’s boss fixer (and former right-hand corruptionmaster of Zuma) Gwede Mantashe was elevated. Nobody would have expected him to nationalise anything. All the same, it was slightly surprising when he came forward to declare that the “Mining Charter”, which had been a political football for some time (partly intended to enrich a handful of black people in the Ramaphosa manner, partly intended to cosy up to trade unions by pretending to protect mineworkers from exploitation and ill-treatment) would henceforth not be implemented, just as the foreign-owned mining companies and their tame media outlets have been demanding. In other words, Mantashe was declaring that there was absolutely no need to oversee or regulate the mining industry, for the fruits of the land should properly accrue to some of the richest people in the world who happen to be sponsors of the SACP and, by implication, Mantashe’s pals.

So, putting it all together, the SACP is so heavily implicated in state capture in its own right — never mind the state capture carried out by the administration that it helped to install — that the idea of having the SACP testifying about the horrors of state capture could only have been dreamed up either by someone who is having a huge laugh at the expense of everyone in South Africa with an IQ above single figures and anyone who has any sense of human decency at all, or by someone who is mechanically devoted to making use of the most corrupt people in the nation to cover up for the corruption of all the other corrupt people.

Which is actually rather clever, but hardly human either. The only question about it is how long the SACP can continue to exist under these conditions. The reptilian aliens who make up its leadership, of course, don’t care. But is there nobody else around who can notice that the Communist Party has no Communism and that the Party is no fun any more?

 

 

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Zimbabwe Goes To The Po.

September 6, 2018

For several weeks before the Zimbabwean election, South Africans were told a) to be very excited about the Zimbabwean election because it was a New Dawn for that unhappy country, and b) to be prepared to be outraged about the Zimbabwean election because it was going to be rigged by the evil ZANU (PF) party.

Then came the election, and South Africans were told a) to be very excited about the Zimbabwean election because someone very like Cyril Ramaphosa had won the election, which was obviously a New Dawn, and b) to be outraged about the Zimbabwean election, because someone very like Cyril Ramaphosa had won the election by using the evil ZANU (PF) party to rig the election.

Even by the remarkably low standards of South African political propaganda, even by the exceptionally contemptible conduct of South African political propaganda over Zimbabwe, this is all something to be embarrassed about. However, South Africa’s political propagandists are immune to shame and incapable of learning anything.

So, what did happen? And why did the South African propagandists, along with many other related propagandists all across the West, find themselves obliged to make such idiots of themselves?

Obviously, the Movement for Democratic Change (which is not a movement and has no plans for any democratic change) claimed that the election was rigged. That is the custom, in the United States as much as in Africa. Naturally they did not have to provide evidence, since the exercise was not aimed at proving anything but at whipping up violent passions in the minds of their partisans and thus providing source material for video propaganda to be used by their patrons in the NATO countries. This proves nothing.

Obviously, the NATO and South African media (and therefore the oligarchy, by extrapolation) was more sympathetic to the MDC than to ZANU (PF). That was obvious from all coverage and commentary. For instance, there was a completely unchallenged and endlessly-repeated declaration that the Presidential election had been close (unlike the Parliamentary election which was an unquestionable landslide for ZANU (PF). In reality, the ZANU (PF) candidate led over the MDC candidate by a margin of 10%, a greater margin than in any American Presidential election since 1972, so all the commentary, including the legitimation for the court challenge, was based on lies.

Yet the sympathy did not extend to any support; indeed, the only evident external support for the MDC’s pathetic legal attempt to reverse the verdict of the voters was from the South African Economic Freedom Fighters, who had historically been supporters of ZANU (PF). (Obviously the MDC’s legal battle, like its election campaign, was financed by a mixture of NATO governments and oligarchs, but that doesn’t alter the fact that those governments and oligarchs did not go out of their way to help the MDC win.) Many outsiders, including Cyril Ramaphosa who is usually considered a friend of the oligarchs whenever he can be, went out of their way to urge the MDC not to resist.

There is, of course, the outburst of street violence which followed the MDC’s defeat. Such political violence is often associated with NATO-supported projects to install NATO-friendly governments, as in the “Arab Spring”, the Ukrainian and Armenian coups, or the “colour revolutions” of the George W Bush era. It is thus not surprising that ZANU (PF) took the violence quite seriously, and, sidelining the riot police (who were perfectly capable of handling whatever the MDC threw at them) sent in the Army to send a clear message that any such activity would be met with an extreme response.

At the same time, this showed that the ZANU (PF) President, who had originally been installed by a military coup, was happy to continue giving the military credit for his continued control of the country — and therefore, to keep granting the generals the high status which they expect. It is often claimed that ZANU (PF) is a fig-leaf for military control; there is a degree of truth in this although it shouldn’t be taken too far; the military and the politicians cooperate in dividing up the national cake. Also, the strong military involvement in politics, which has only grown stronger (but not unmanageable, as in many African countries) since the downfall of President Mugabe, is more or less a guarantee of continuity; if the MDC had won either of the elections, they would still have to accede to the policies of the military, which are more or less in line with ZANU (PF).

The conclusion to draw from all these things is that the Zimbabwean election was not really considered important by the oligarchs of the West. It’s quite possible that after two decades of socio-economic war against Zimbabwe, they are satisfied that its status as whipping-boy and example of the horrors befalling any African country which dares to challenge white predominance is satisfactory. Also, the overthrow of Mugabe took away the emotional need which white Westerners have for a feeble demon whom they can proclaim to be the enemy of all humanity and launch a crusade against. (Besides, they have been focussing all their energies on Assad and Putin and Trump, and it would take time to build up Mnangagwa to anything like the same status.)

Arguably, both ZANU (PF) and the MDC are in the same boat, being both committed to subordinating Zimbabwe to foreign interests. Under current circumstances, they have essentially no choice; Zimbabwe can’t continue running on empty forever, it isn’t capable of internally generating the capital which it needs for resurrecting its economy, and nobody is going to give Zimbabwe money for free. Therefore, one might even argue that the military coup, brutal and appalling and undemocratic as it was, might have been the force which cut the Gordian knot and gave Zimbabwe a potential future — for under Mugabe, stiffly committed to indigenisation and independence as he was, Zimbabwe would always have been trapped in the grim socio-economic circumstances imposed on it by international financial interests, no matter how much Mugabe’s government twisted or turned.

So the West no doubt feels that it doesn’t really matter much who wins the election. Zimbabwe will have to turn to foreign plutocrats in order to survive. If foreign plutocrats are to do anything for Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe will have to privatise, Zimbabwe will have to surrender all say over its land and minerals and labour rights. There is no alternative; Zimbabwean workers have essentially no power, because the MDC first absorbed all the trade union activists and then allowed the trade unions to collapse (because the MDC was working for people who wouldn’t need trade unions once they took over). Meanwhile, the collapse of the economy means that everybody had to work for peanuts and everybody had to accept whatever job came to hand — and where is organised labour then? So at least the MDC has accomplished something.

The only trouble for the West is that it may be mistaken in its belief that Zimbabwe is going to fall into its lap like a rotten-ripe plum. Zimbabwe is certainly going to fall into someone’s lap. South Africa has neither the energy nor the will to seize the opportunity and buy the country out from under its people, as would certainly be possible (and, from the point of view of South Africa and Africa, would probably be the best solution). Europe and the United States don’t have either the money or the attention-span to do anything like that — and anyway are always unwilling to spend money now in anticipation of profit later. So, most likely, Zimbabwe is going to become a satellite of China.

Which is not terribly surprising, Zimbabwe having had good relations with North Korea for all of its existence. However, the West will be surprised because the West vaguely believes that Africa is anti-Chinese — because all the people in Africa whom the West pays to tell lies to their brethren are anti-Chinese. Meanwhile, perhaps the Chinese will not be as bad towards Zimbabwe as the British were towards the inhabitants of the nations which were eventually forced to become Rhodesia. Or maybe they will be just as bad. Imperialism is imperialism, no matter who is yanking the chain.

Still, at least the people who have spent the last fifty years fucking up Zimbabwe, oppressing its inhabitants and slaughtering anyone who resists the oppression — these people in the City of London and down Wall Street and in Washington D C will not find themselves benefiting from the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis. It is a small part of the way in which those of us who have grown weary of being expected to bend over so that the NATO countries can more conveniently kick us in the pants, are glad to be kicked by someone marginally less vicious and with considerably less odious a history.

Perhaps it is the most we can expect.


Throwing BRICS at Them.

September 6, 2018

Recently South Africa celebrated the Tenth BRICS Summit, an opportunity for the leaders of four major manufacturing countries outside the G7 to enjoy a holiday at the state’s expense at a plush hotel in Sandton, while the leader of the host country had a chance to pretend that the Summit was something worth doing, and the American-dominated local media had a chance either to circle at Ramaphosa’s haemorrhoid vein like horse-leeches, or to shout American-sponsored ooga-booga rubbish about the Yellow Peril and the menace of Ernst Stavros Putin.

And, of course, there were protests. Some were more or less sensible, like the Muslim protest against the anti-Muslim policies of the vicious fundamentalist Indian Prime Minister Modi. Some were unknowable, like the protests against kibitzing Turkish President Erdogan. (Were they justly protesting against his oppressive rule, or against his vicious prejudice against Kurds, or were they American-sponsored ooga-booga rubbish about Erdogan’s successful pushback against the attempted American coup and his decision to abandon the American attempt to overthrow the Syrian government?) And then there was the SAFTU protest against BRICS existing at all. Since this was the only one purporting to come from the left, this is the only one really worth paying attention to for its own sake.

What was the protest about? It relates closely to the South African Trotskyite campaign against BRICS, spearheaded by Patrick Bond and his tea-girl Jane Duncan, both with lucrative Gauteng university gigs and who essentially say the same things. SAFTU’s political advisers are all Trotskyites and generally acolytes of Bond (or whoever is behind him). Their line on BRICS, therefore, is that it should not be supported or endorsed because it is a front-organisation for imperialism and plutocracy. To this Greenpeace, which is run by an acolyte of South African Trotskyism, adds that BRICS is a plot to impose fossil-fuel electricity on the world.

Is this true? The BRICS countries all espouse capitalism, and they are all powerful relative to many or all of their neighbours. As capitalist countries they are plutocratic countries, since capitalists inevitably have political power, and as strong countries they are imperialist countries in the sense that they are trying to build up their influence over their neighbours. But the problem with this analysis is that every country in the world at the moment is capitalist; even Cuba has renounced communism. On the grounds which SAFTU puts forward, it would be as easy to denounce Lesotho or Nepal as to denounce the BRICS countries. So in an important sense, the Bond line is simply a cheap shot of abuse employed by exploiting confusion over Marxist terminology.

Let’s, however, be a little more specific. Firstly, what is BRICS? It’s basically a salon des refúses. In the late 1990s the West wouldn’t allow China or Russia in their economic club, and also alienated both countries by their attack on Serbia (in the case of the Chinese by actually bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade). So that stimulated the two to get together, which was beneficial for both, especially after the American puppet Yeltsin died of alcoholic complications, because China had lots of money and Russia had lots of technology left over from the collapse of the USSR, and they both had an interest in resisting American imperialism in their neighbourhoods, which overlapped in the Far East and Central Asia.

But obviously working together wasn’t enough after the Bush regime took over and made it clear that American power would be used to prop up the global imperialist system without any of the concealments which the Clinton administration had tried to set up. That was potentially humiliating for the RC alliance, so they sought out allies. Fortunately, at the time India and Brazil had nominally leftist governments — very nominally in the case of the Indian Congress Alliance — and they were amenable to getting together with Russia and China so long as it didn’t close the door on keeping their American connections. That was the BRIC; meanwhile the ANC in South Africa had always had good relations with Russia, and cultivated friendly relations with China which was becoming a major mineral consumer, so joining in and forming BRICS made a lot of economic and political sense.

The point about BRICS is that it is based on three continents which aren’t North America or Europe, and therefore has the potential to mobilise a coalition against the NATO/European Union/British Dominions coalition which makes most of the trouble in the world today. However, it’s mostly an economic cooperation bloc, with its own development bank to facilitate activities in Latin America, Asia and Africa where most of the world’s economic action is taking place. It even wants its own investment ratings agency, which is mainly a propaganda stunt (since the BRICS bank has its own capacity for identifying profitable investments) to undermine the absurd and obscene power of the American-controlled investment ratings agencies.

All this means that BRICS is very similar to — and essentially modelled on — the international financial agency set up by the U.S. and its satellites to police global inequality and channel wealth into the pockets of the elite. That seems to confirm the suspicions of SAFTU and the Trotskyites.

Actually, though, it doesn’t. BRICS isn’t a centralised global empire along the lines of the United States. It’s basically a club for countries which would rather get on with their own development and not be bullied by the United States.

Russia certainly wants to have strong influence over its neighbours, and neighbours who behave in a hostile fashion in alliance with the United States, like Ukraine and Georgia, tend to get hammered — but neighbours who aren’t hostile, even when they’re allied with the United States, don’t get hammered. The Russians didn’t invade Armenia when that country threw out its President who had been schmoozing with the Russians — they just went and schmoozed with the new President.

China certainly wants to have control over the traditional Chinese imperial domains as of about 1800, and also wants to have strong influence over its neighbours and reliable access to natural resources across the world. That’s imperialism by some definitions, but it’s a long way away from colonialism. The Chinese aren’t occupying the planet, nor are they waving nuclear weapons at anyone who disagrees with them, nor do Chinese gunboats sail to surround any nation-state which declares itself independent of Chinese control.

As for India and Brazil — we can leave South Africa out of the equation since they aren’t an independent state and don’t really have any influence over the BRICS agenda, they’re just the token black sitting in the front office — they just want to get on with their own affairs and would like to have good political and economic relations with America and China and Russia. If the latter two want them to belong to BRICS, so long as they can get something out of it, well and good. The idea that they automatically must do whatever China or Russia tell them is ridiculous as well as supported by no evidence.

So — why waste time on attacking BRICS? Obviously the BRICS countries deserve criticism for their behaviour, but they do not deserve any special criticism. The Greenpeace criticism, for instance, ignores the obvious fact that China is the world’s largest manufacturer and employer of renewable energy systems. Criticism of India for its ill-treatment of minorities in the service of the extractive industry is just — but the same thing happens in North America, South America, Africa and Australia. If we want to protest against such things, we don’t have to wait for the BRICS conference — we can all traipse off to the Botswanan or Canadian Embassies.

The specific critique of the BRICS countries by the South African Trotskyites is particularly interesting. The critique of South Africa, naturally, comes from themselves, but the critique of India comes from Arundhati Roy and her chums in the Indian far left. Meanwhile, the critique of Brazil seems to come from the Workers’ Party there. (This is a bit odd, because the South African Trotskyites fell over themselves to proclaim that the coup against the Workers’ Party government was nothing to make a fuss about — and of course the current Brazilian government, like the Ramaphosa and Modi governments, is hardly a bedrock sympathiser of whatever BRICS stands for.)

But it’s when you get to the Eurasian heartland of BRICS that you find something interesting. The criticisms of China and Russia are straight outta Wall Street and Foggy Bottom. Instead of specific complaints like the Indian military occupation of Kashmir or the Brazilian jailing of President Lula, you get flabby stuff about worker rights and military aggression relating directly to the legitimation of U.S. military and economic campaigns against China and Russia, campaigns which specifically serve U.S. imperialism and thus exemplify the problem which BRICS was set up to deal with.

This strongly suggests that the South African left’s problem with BRICS is not simply that it exists, or that it is “sub-imperialist” (as Bond discovered in a memorable misrepresentation of Luxemburg’s theorising). The problem is that it challenges U.S. imperialism, and the specific campaign against BRICS is therefore a campaign against resistance to imperialism. On one hand, the “sub-imperialist” pretense is a claim that supporting BRICS is not actually anti-imperialist because China and Russia are secretly working for America and serving the Washington Consensus, and on the other hand, American propaganda is employed to proclaim that, anyway, the core of BRICS is a menace to our way of life and we must all band together against it in support of Gott und Vaterland. It’s about the most bizarre employment of Trotskyism that’s been seen since South African Trotskyites banded together to support Jacob Zuma.

But it’s also a clear indication of how the left has corrupted itself into acting against its own interests. Obviously, BRICS is not an “emancipatory project” (as the former Bond shoepolisher Richard Pithouse put it) if by “emancipation” you mean freeing the workers from the capitalist yoke, but it is certainly a project aimed at emancipating nation-states from U.S. imperialism, which is the current global problem, and also at emancipating governments from neoliberal strangulation — and these are valuable projects even if they won’t bring the millennium. Misrepresenting BRICS by pretending that it has claimed to be a revolutionary transformative movement, which it has never done, is naturally a part of the reactionary propaganda which the left is serving. As such, the left is allowing itself to be used by those who have destroyed it, as if in a kind of Stockholm syndrome, or a masochistic desire to be beaten some more.

Or maybe they’re just being paid by the CIA. Take your choice.


Attempting to Answer the Good Question.

July 30, 2018

So — what is the crisis of the left, and how should the left respond to it in order to succeed in overcoming the crisis, and what would that entail?

It is not a crisis of the left in South Africa all by itself. The global left has lost power, or has changed itself into something no longer leftist in order to retain power. Evidently, something has gone wrong which is not simply South African. But here we are in South Africa, and so let’s see how the crisis here has played itself out.

The general objective of the left — the dissemination of political and economic power throughout society — has been abandoned by those in power for several decades. The economic and political system is now explicitly devoted to destroying this objective by enriching plutocrats and immiserating the rest of us. The “democratic” system is fundamentally separated from actual political power, which resides elsewhere. Hence the “democratic” system serves largely as a technique to persuade the immiserated masses that there is no political solution to their problems. The generally-presented solution appears through attacking carefully-delineated politicians defined as “corrupt” (or whatever concept serves plutocratic interests by enabling them to seize power or wealth on the pretext of struggling against it). Thus the political system today is implicitly Bonapartist, but without a Bonaparte; or perhaps like early Italian Fascism without Mussolini.

The former authority which the left had in respect of public opinion has been dissipated as the right has inserted its values and slogans into the public mind and held them there by propaganda and patronage. The left has meanwhile lost most access to the media, and to other opinion-making sources, except when individuals purporting to be leftists produce material which serves interests outside actual leftist interests — in which cases the leftists involved are often funded by right-wing elements.

Much of this suggests that the left’s external crisis has internal components, of which the following are a sample:

The organised left has ceased to pursue actual leftist interests where it is in power.

The organised left, where not in power, does not pursue truly leftist interests but prefers to pursue the momentary interest of factions and individuals, usually by attacking targets made easy because they are already being attacked by more powerful right-wing forces.

There is more to the problem than this, yet this will surely do for a start! It doesn’t matter much what kind of capitalism is driving the system, nor does it matter much how serious the immiseration problem is (although it is serious and growing more serious and is almost entirely ignored by the public information dissemination systems, the “ideological state apparatuses” as they are correctly called by Althusser). The left is marginalised, and has colluded in this process of marginalisation — which means that there are at least two problems needing to be addressed here, as was evident when looking at Hall and McKinley and seeing that they were devoutly and stridently pretending that there was absolutely no gigantic grey flap-eared long-trunked creature in the room and standing on their toes.

Is there even a constituency for a left to take advantage of any more? Evidently there is. The EFF managed to get a million voters by doing little more than getting a reputation for wanting to nationalise the means of production, declaring that this would be their policy if elected, and then putting their names on the ballot-paper. Granted they eventually threw this policy away, along with most of the rest of the reasons for supporting them, and this must obviously disillusion many or most of their voters. Still, it shows that it is possible to mobilise considerable support for the left if anyone seriously tries. (It is significant that before the EFF nobody seriously tried.)

So if it is possible to do this even with frivolous celebrities taking the lead, with scanty organisation, and against a vast barrage of right-wing propaganda, it might be possible to do much more with a solid ideological base, a clear message of relevance to the bulk of the population, a decent organisation and a more reliable and trustworthy collection of leaders. It might be worth developing a left-wing political party possessing these characteristics, instead of the current stock of deadbeats, hoopla artists, fraudsters, clowns and traitors.

The obstacles to this from outside any possible origin or constituency for such a movement are obvious. The plutocrats will smear such a movement, and will try to buy off its leaders or bully its members. If the movement becomes a serious force, it is quite likely, even in the most purportedly liberal countries, that violence and even murder might be used — especially if the members of the movement are ethnically or religiously different from the plutocracy, as with the war against the Black Panthers in the United States and against the Irish Republicans in the United Kingdom. While the most resolute members of such a movement will resist any and all such attacks — and, paradoxically, the more strenuous attacks often arouse more strenuous resistance — weak or ignorant supporters may be driven away.

A still more important danger is, however, the problem of what those supporters consist of. The rank and file of any such part are usually “all right” in the sense that they have had some experience of immiseration and oppression, or have identified it out of their own experience even if they are not directly immiserated or oppressed, and therefore are eager to resist it. It is among more senior cadres of the support for such a movement that the real problem comes.

Someone who has earned (or been given) status and authority within a movement is naturally eager to cling to such status and authority, especially if it is that person’s only chance or opportunity at getting it. Therefore, that person will want to make sure that the movement facilitates that status and authority — and money, if possible — changing its structure and agendas to suit the process. In other words, such organisations may be subverted by individuals, or groups of individuals, seeking to use those organisations to feed vanity or greed.

So what is needed is not just an organisation with policies which appear right and are couched in ways that appeal to the public, but also an organisation capable of maintaining tight discipline on its membership and at the same time arousing an enthusiasm for relatively selfless behaviour. This is not only about preventing people from stealing the cashbox — it is also about discouraging people from campaigning against the actual interests of the organisation, and against its future success, because their ideologies tell them that these interests are false consciousness and that future success is undesirable. Unfortunately, people following such ideologies tend to be hard-working fanatics.

Also, a disciplined organisation tends to be hijacked by leaders who use the discipline to impose their own ideological preconceptions on the organisation. In order to ward off these dangers, the organisation needs simultaneously to be flexible and rigid; to be filled with a sense of open debate and discussion, and absolutely tied to a programme of action based on a rigid framework through which the political world is understood.

These are impossible contradictions, but they have to be managed through time and through leaders who are prepared to set boundaries and accept challenges. The organisation has to be democratic. But it also has to be authoritarian. Where the leaders exploit a situation for their own purposes without due cause they have to be challenged, or even removed, but not by leaders who are simply exploiting that situation again.

What is needed, therefore, is a clear knowledge of organisational history as well as national history, of ideology and also the meta-ideology which is about how ideology evolves and how it is used and abused. These are issues which are almost never properly incorporated into the tedious brainwashing which South African organisations usually substitute for political education, and this is why those organisations so often collapse into shapes which amount to the opposite of what they purport to stand for. Political education is not just an addendum — it is actually what politics is all about.

And all this has to be done against the background of transforming South Africa. The debate is all very well, but understanding the nation and understanding the organisation are only tools towards changing it. So nobody can get bogged down in the processes of defending the organisation against internal threats and external menace, of education and debate and discussion and continual reformation — a kind of permanent revolution, if you wish, but not exactly as either Trotsky or Mao carried that kind of thing out.

All this surely means that the current organisations cannot fulfil the needs of the left in South Africa. A wholly new organisation, consisting almost entirely of personnel not drawn from the historically corrupted organisations, would have to be set up. Such an organisation could still draw on the kind of people who have supported leftist organisations in the past, but its goal would have to be to reconstruct, from the ground up, the political structures, debates, insights, faiths and values which the South African left once aspired to, between the 1950s and the 1980s.

Even if the South African left of that time did not actually manage any of those things (but in retrospect much of the left, particularly the left which was not ossified by exile, attempted these things much more effectually than any other political tendency in the country) they are worth pursuing as ideals. They are not impossible dreams. They have simply been disregarded and discarded by the corrupt exploiters who have taken over all of our politics. Now that virtually every sane person is aware that our leaders are corrupt exploiters, it is not going to be enough to merely remove them and replace them with someone else who might be marginally less corrupt or slightly less exploitative. We need to purify ourselves, without becoming leftist variants of the Islamic State.

It isn’t going to be easy. But it has to be done.

 


Bad Answers to a Good Question (II): Dale McKinley.

July 30, 2018

It might seem a bit silly to follow up a critique of a serious and profound intellectual like Stuart Hall by critiquing a doltish airhead like Dale McKinley, but the step isn’t really from the sublime to the ridiculous, for politics isn’t so much about intelligence as it is about a combination of personal prejudice and social circumstances, and as Hall’s example shows, intelligence and experience count for nothing against a weak position and a dubious ideological analysis.

McKinley was a Zimbabwean Trotskyite who was sent to the United States to study, no doubt because he was deemed the most promising Zimbabwean Trotskyite, and then went to South Africa to launch a campaign against the ANC once the apartheid regime had been defeated by the ANC and it was safe to do so. He wrote a book and headed up a couple of tiny but well-funded fake-leftist organisations, had a brief stint as a columnist for a right-wing newspaper, and generally did all the things which an ambitious fake leftist serving imperialist plutocracy might be expected to do. However, let us pretend that he was actually a leftist, and ask what his position ought to have been when he wrote “The Crisis of the Left in Contemporary South Africa” in 2008.

That was not a good year for the left, in South Africa or indeed most other places. Despite the conspicuous failure of neoliberal economics, plutocracy was able to take advantage of the failure to enrich itself at the expense of taxpayers as it had previously done at the expense of consumers. Reactionary regimes were on the march across the globe, even if the excesses of the Bush administration were clearly leading to the victory of a right-wing Democrat who would be the catspaw of big financial interests.

In South Africa, the long retreat of the organised left from possessing any influence over the government had only been reversed by abandoning all pretense at leftism and throwing their weight behind the most reactionary and plutocrat-friendly ANC leader available, namely Jacob Zuma. This meant that the influence they had was in the direction of increasing the power of the plutocracy, which was also being enhanced by the growing power of openly pro-plutocrat parties like the Democratic Alliance and the activities of non-governmental organisations which were backed by American billionaires with close ties to the U.S. government. Meanwhile the actual power of the plutocracy over the general public was growing steadily and the access of the public to any capacity to challenge it was dwindling.

So the core question would have to be how to do something about this; how to mobilise people against the growing inequality of wealth, how to roll back the overweeking influence of the plutocracy over all spheres of government, and how to promote the basic values of the left which the organised left had so signally abandoned, against the background of a world movement which was increasingly hostile to any such moves.

So, what did McKinley have to say about all this? He acknowledged that all these problems existed, and added that the left had become balkanised on special issues — which was not actually an adequate statement, because the Trotskyite left had deliberately focused on special issues in order to further the objectives of their sponsors such as the pharmaceutical industry, whereas the left of any numerical significance, the SACP and COSATU, had not devoted all their energy to these things. However, such balkanisation was an obvious danger as Hall’s ill-advised recommendations revealed decades before. So we may accept this.

Instead of addressing this, however, the articles goes on an extended whine about how the ANC had supposedly become neoliberal twelve years earlier (essentially repeating the stale and false pretenses of McKinley and Bond at the time) and, simultaneously, supported a German-style corporatist state (failing to notice the contradiction between neoliberalism and statist corporatism). This he also blames on the SACP and COSATU.

But he then suggests that what might be desirable is “vibrant anti-capitalist forces capable of and willing to contest fundamentally the politics, policies and overall developmental agenda of both capital and the state”, although (correctly) he notes that neither the SACP nor COSATU would be capable of this. Of course, contestation is only meaningful if there is a prospect of successful contestation; couching the concept in “contestation” is rather problematic in itself, suggesting a commitment to opposition for its own sake. However, he does suggest the possibility of being able “contest power relations within South African society”, which might offer something meaningful. But it is also painfully abstract.

What does this mean in practice? It turns out that to McKinley it means that “the leadership of the SACP and COSATU” must “cut the long-standing umbilical cord with the ANC”. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the political positions of these organisations (or nothing which cannot be fixed by helpful advice from McKinley and his comrades) but the only problem is that they are linked to the ANC. In other words, the problem is not capitalism, not the intricate structures of exploitation built into society which had been able to interpenetrate the ANC as well as the SACP and COSATU and ultimately take them all over for its own purposes. The problem is simply the ANC. Solution: boycott the ANC. Then the ANC will drop dead automatically, apparently, and all problems will then be solved.

Of course McKinley doesn’t say this. Indeed, he says that “the capitalists who own and manage the means of production” are “the core foundation of South Africa’s accumulative path”. But then, apart from repudiating the ANC, what’s to be done about these capitalists and stop them from running the whole shooting-match? And how will repudiating the ANC facilitate this process? One waits breathlessly for an answer.

One would probably turn blue, however, if that were the case, for instead McKinley veers off into complaining about the fact that the little front-organisations and NGOs which Trotskyites had set up or successfully infiltrated, devoted to “poor communities'” “basic services and free expression” (actually what McKinley means is electricity theft and corporatised propaganda in the media) were not getting much traction from the SACP and COSATU once they had gained positions in government through their support for Zuma. Is McKinley really interested in solving the problems of the left, or is he upset because he his own slice of the cake is significantly smaller than that of others as a result of his miscalculation of the correlations of power?

Again, when McKinley says that these little front-organisations embody “the possibilities for those implicitly anti-capitalist battles to give birth to more explicitly socialist politics” it is almost amusing to reflect that one of the organisations which he identified, Abahlali baseMjondolo, became explicitly pro-neoliberal when it went over to the Democratic Alliance, while McKinley himself now works for Right2Know, an organisation funded by and for South Africa’s big corporate media conglomerates. Of course, he is right to say that “[t]he question that the South African left needs to ask honestly is whether or not it still believes in the possibilities of actually overthrowing capitalism”, to which the honest answer in the case of the SACP and COSATU (and all other unions and all Trotskyite movements) must be “No”, an answer to which McKinley seems to have no response, since all his ideas depend entirely on the answer being the opposite.

McKinley presumes to advise everybody on the errors of “vanguardist” parties in the “collapse of Communism” (although he is nothing if not a vanguardist) but he also claims that “it is quite clear that concrete struggles against, for example, privatization of the public sector and for socialized provision of housing, water, electricity, basic foodstuffs, and land are aimed at contesting capitalist relations of ownership and distribution”. This is certainly not clear. Anti-privatisation campaigns may simply be based in a desire to get actual services which would not be provided by capitalists — actually, they usually are. None of these campaigns in South Africa has advanced the cause of socialism, and most of them, because they have been opportunistic and unrealistically mounted, have not retarded the cause of capitalism in the slightest.

Meanwhile, McKinley suggests that what is needed “is a strategy that essentially forces unionized workers to respond politically to intensifying mass struggles from . . . grassroots communities”. In other words, McKinley and his friends must organise the grassroots to do things which will enable them to control the trade unions, while pretending that this is a spontaneous process. This is an obvious side effect of McKinley’s delusions of spontaneity against the background of his actual vanguardism.

Such dishonesty is pathetic, but it is also preposterous; if the unions are not responding to the immiseration of their own members, why would they respond to the orchestrated activities of organisations outside their membership? Indeed, although NUMSA is much more influenced by Trotskyites than before, it is not very good at getting workers to respond to anything other than immediate wage demands — even the recent sensible critique of the Ramaphosa assault on the minimum wage and the Labour Relations Act drew very little support from NUMSA members. One can only imagine how little support they would have offered to issues wholly unrelated to immediate union interests. Thus McKinley’s dreams of using his tiny groupuscules to hijack really significant organisations — that perennial fantasy of western Trotskyism — appears to lead nowhere even on its own terms.

For the most part McKinley’s conclusion, avoiding serious discussion, relies on empty and windy phrases like “a new kind of left politics” [read: the same old stuff McKinley had been pushing for twenty years] and “a real and meaningful left unity” [read: everybody at last listening to McKinley’s same old stuff] and “a new organizational form” [whatever that means]. In effect he had, in 2008, nothing to offer except more of the same dressed up as something different.

Which means that after fourteen years of failing to accomplish anything through the familiar tactics of western Trotskyism which had failed to accomplish anything anywhere else, McKinley’s response to a fresh series of crises of the left was to demand that everyone accept that the familiar tactics of western Trotskyism must be accepted by everybody on the left as the solution to all these crises. It’s as if a doctor were to respond to a patient’s diabetes by prescribing leeches, and when the patient then develops lung cancer, the doctor were to prescribe even more leeches.

This is only one person’s incapacity, of course, and he was a fairly incapable person even before he displayed this so dramatically in a long badly-written article in an obscure and uninfluential journal. All the same, it is an example of a kind of ideological paralysis, in which it is simply impossible to imagine that, all other things having changed, anything other than what one has just done and wants to do again can be done. Yet there is also the acknowledgement that those things have changed. This is weird; we have failed, so fail again; fail better. But when we fail worse, fail again, for it is as if failing worse is more important than succeeding, so long as we fail in the proper way.

And, towards the end of this failure in the proper way, reality has to be twisted; the actual problems are pushed into the background, the past failures are forgotten, opponents’ successes are discounted, lies are repeated regardless of whether they serve any purpose, and generally everything is subsumed to the demands of wholly baseless ideological confidence. Any problems can be covered up with jargon, or, in McKinley’s case, wholly spurious statements that this or that dubious claim from a dubious source authoritatively proves whatever it is that McKinley wishes to see proven at the moment. It is strangely similar — or perhaps not so strangely — to the behaviour of the Soviet Communist Party’s ideological “theorists”, or high priests of the dead religion of Brezhnevian Stalinism, in the last years of the USSR.

Which maybe makes sense. But isn’t this, actually, the core of the crisis of the left? The left’s inability to address the crisis of the left? Is this why the crisis became a crisis — wise people were fooled, and fools became dogmatic? It certainly seems so.


Bad Answers to a Good Question (I): Stuart Hall.

July 30, 2018

The Good Question is, of course, “What is the problem with the western Left, and what should it do to resolve the problem?”. Stuart Hall’s book Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left: The Hard Road to Renewal is an answer to this question. It isn’t a good answer, but firstly it’s a good position from which to have asked the question, and secondly it’s interesting to see that someone as astute, informed and motivated as Hall is unable to answer it effectively.

Hall was a Marxist cultural commentator, a formidably astute figure in the tradition of Raymond Williams, emerging from the cabal of leftists who formed the New Left Review in the aftermath of the 1956 splits in the British Communist Party. However, amid all these, and despite Hall’s resolute Oxbridge tone and slightly pedantic, astringent style, one tends to forget one other thing — he was a West Indian from Jamaica, and highly conscious of his blackness and of the forced inferior status of blacks in the United Kingdom versus whites. Hence his class consciousness was always related to his racial identity — which helps to explain what happened.

The book covers the period 1978-1988, basically the period during which the British Labour Party suppressed its left wing and, with it, all pretense at socialism, during which the British Labour Party also lost power (never to regain it as a party of labour) and during which the British Conservative Party rose from near-collapse to near-complete hegemony. It was also the period during which the British left outside the Labour Party threw away whatever chances they might have had of developing some access to power and even of a substantive understanding of what was going on. So this is the background, and one would expect — and Hall claims — that the book is a response to this.

Where it starts out is the collapsing situation of the Labour Party under Callaghan and Healey, who first proclaimed the death of Keynesianism and the necessity of wage cuts and the crushing of trade unions, which led ultimately to the collapse of Labour at the polls in 1979 and the victory of Thatcher’s Conservatives. Hall recognises that this is happening, and recognises what is coming, but at the time he had absolutely no answer except to point out the situation; he couldn’t see any way of improving Labour, and was scathing about both its behaviour and its potential to change itself, and yet couldn’t see any alternative to it which could fight the Conservatives.

On the other hand, Hall initially underestimated the scale of the ideological transformation which was to come — having lived all his life in a society which was fundamentally leftist he did not understand what it would mean for the character of that society to be forcibly shifted rightward — although by 1980 he was recognising that this was happening, in “The Great Moving Right Show”, he didn’t understand that the transformation was likely not to be a minor or temporary one, but would change the circumstances within which the left would operate, and very much for the worse.

After Thatcher’s victory and once the Conservatives had been able to place right-wing ideas at the forefront of public consciousness, couched in the terms of a challenge to orthodoxy, Hall was able to find a couple of events in public affairs which concerned, and seemed in part to console, him.

He proclaimed his enthusiastic support for the striking miners and shipworkers of Gdansk as a heroic struggle against the statism which he identified in Stalinism and also opposed in the Labour Party. On the surface this made a certain sense since the miners and shipworkers were engaged in a struggle against an oppressive, undemocratic and foreign-supported government. On the other hand, they were engaged in a struggle whose aim was ultimately the restoration of capitalist relations of production — they were fighting for the right to be exploited by bosses (without properly understanding, in most cases, that this exploitation would entail shutting down many of the mines and most of the shipyards which were kept afloat by the socialist system they were opposing). In other words Hall was fighting for capitalism in the name of fighting for democracy, and was also fighting for the system which he claimed to oppose in Thatcherism. He was endorsing the new Cold War precisely at the time when the Euro-American right was using the new Cold War as a bogey to distract the public as they pushed through right-wing changes to constitution and society.

However, one cannot say that Hall was simply a Thatcherite agent, for he also opposed the Falklands war, jeering at the government which was sending armed forces to fight for British interests in the South Atlantic. He was not jeering on the grounds that the Falklanders deserved to be deprived of their citizenship and forced to live under a quasi-fascist dictatorship, or that the Argentinean claim to the Falklands was so strong that it obliged him to support that dictatorship. He was jeering on the grounds that this was an “old-fashioned ” action, that a “modern” government would have done things differently (Hall naturally did not specify what else could have been done, since the choice was between surrender or resistance). He also jeers strenuously at the Labour Party for being so old-fashioned as to support the government in their attempt to resist an aggressor and further the interests of Britain.

This raises interesting questions about the realism of Hall’s frequent declarations of his own “realism” in the context of his leftism, and how committed he actually was to the latter rather than to the former. The questions were to some extent answered after 1983, when, in despite of the unpopularity of the actual policies of the Conservative Government and the manifest failure of their claims to superior competence, the Labour Party was once again defeated, and very thoroughly.

There were various reasons cited by the Labour left for the defeat. One was the split of the “Social Democrats”, the extreme right of the Labour Party, and their well-funded and successful campaign to divide the Labour vote. One was the internecine fighting in the Labour Party after its 1979 defeat, which saw the left under Benn routed and instead a compromise candidate, Foot, installed as a thoroughly unsuitable and weak leader with the real power in the hands of the right-wing and thoroughly discredited Healey, the architect of the 1979 disaster. This led to a severe disjunct between the rank and file and the leadership, and to a very weak message getting across with very little support from the Labour Party’s central office which was under the control of the right and wished to ensure that when Foot was discredited, the left did not regain any power of influence.

These are very important factors, and could in themselves have been decisive (although they are not to be seen as excuses for the left in the Labour Party and the country generally to rest on their laurels; the left had been repeatedly defeated over the past decade and the Labour Party also faced very serious challenges outside these issues).

On the other hand, the right in the Labour Party argued that the problem was simply the Labour left, which was forcing Labour to adopt absurd policies like democracy, opposition to armed aggression and wealth redistribution and which was merely a Trojan Horse for a vast Russian conspiracy seeking to take over the country through the Trotskyite entryists — in effect, the right in the Labour Party was repeating Tory Party propaganda as depicted in the tabloid newspapers and more decorously in the Tory broadsheets. Instead of recognising that this was important propaganda, however mendacious, which had to be countered by intelligent responses, the Labour right pretended to swallow it whole because it served as a stick with which to beat the left.

But Hall does not see things that way. Instead, his position is in part that the left is indeed the problem. In a sense this is fair, for since Hall was on the left it was reasonable for him to seek to put the left’s house in order. Basing his ideas on a reading of Gramsci, he defined Thatcherism as “authoritarian populism”, which seems fair. However, this also had the effect of reducing Thatcherism not to the expression of plutocratic interests exploiting the prejudices of the petit-bourgeoisie and exporting those prejudices into the working class, but rather of erasing the plutocratic interests in favour of the propaganda which they made use of. In other words, although the authoritarianism was certainly there (insofar as Hall acknowledged this, however, he focussed predominantly on its impact on black Britons in a “law and order state”) he felt that the problem was the marketing tools which it employed.

Acknowledging this, then, he declared that Labour, largely because it was beholden to old-fashioned statist Fabianism and hostage to the “fundamentalist left”, was failing to market itself properly. It needed to modernise, and above all to recognise that there had been a fundamental shift in the working class which old-fashioned leftists had not identified. At first, wisely, Hall did not say what this fundamental shift consisted of.

Instead, he pointed out that, with the exception of the Greater London Council which he valorised beyond anything else, the Labour left was too old-fashioned to grapple with the new forces in society. By these forces he meant campaigns for gay rights, women’s rights and black people’s rights, which, he said, the left was wholly failing to address, being trapped in a white-straight-patriarchal complex. Later, to this he added the fact that wealthy pop singers were undertaking campaigns to increase economic aid to third world countries, which he noted as yet another seismic shift in British society. This latter point indicates the emptiness at the core of Hall’s analysis.

Of course gays, women and blacks deserved to be liberated, and of course they deserved to be represented, and their liberation and representation was a part of the left’s broader campaign for the liberation and democratisation of society. This had been the case since the eighteenth century in the case of women and blacks, although gays had been largely ignored until the 1960s (which gives some credence to Hall’s claims about the conservatism of the left, though this shouldn’t be taken too far).

But the point is that while the left must support the interests of gays, women and blacks, gays, women and blacks do not have to support the left. They need to be given a reason to support the left. What the left needs to do is to integrate the interests of gays, women and blacks into the broader project for the liberation of society and to persuade gays, women and blacks that one common struggle is ultimately to their advantage — otherwise, any political body, however reactionary, would be able to gain the momentary support of gays, women and blacks (themselves anything but homogeneous groupings anyway) by throwing them a conspicuous bone — even if it later turned out to be a rubber bone. Hall didn’t recognise this, instead simply praising the doomed GLC, shut down a year after he offered his praise, for its stances.

In fact, though there were obvious reasons for Hall’s stance, not least his own skin colour, an important issue was also the need to portray the left in the Labour Party as old and outmoded and therefore to be removed. Hall, together with his Communist colleague Martin Jacques and Eric Hobsbawm, became one of the leading lights of the “renewal” movement in the Labour Party which had hitched its star to Neil Kinnock and to denouncing the Labour left (shifting to the centre much as the Eurocommunists were doing in parallel with the Russian Bolsheviks abandoning what little remained of their principles under Chernenko and Gorbachev).

Eventually, in 1985, Hall said what he meant by modernisation. One was to address the new technologies being applied in the workplace which would adapt to them rather than challenge the way they were used to undermine the interests of workers. One was to accept globalisation (in the sense of capitalism using the globe as a tool against the working class in a particular area, and financialisation as a tool against any leftist government) as a necessary part of the modern world rather than challenging it. One was to repudiate statist socialism in the form of Eastern Europe, China, Cuba and so on. The last was to accept that the right wing was correct in calling for the downscaling of spending on welfare, and that the “welfare state” was no longer possible.

In other words, Hall was calling for complete surrender to neoliberal capitalism and its values, disguising this as the renewal of the left.

The problem came for Hall in 1987 when his thesis that what was wrong with the Labour Party was predominantly its weak propaganda, its inappropriately extreme leftism and its lack of modernity was tested under a leader whose entire focus was on making propaganda and attacking the left, and who was wedded to the idea that the Labour Party needed to be modernised (artfully not saying precisely what that meant, but it was strongly hinted that it meant accepting the Thatcherist view of society). Labour lost decisively; evidently, faced with Labour and Conservative Thatcherites, the electorate chose Conservative ones. Either Hall would have to acknowledge that his theses were wrong, or would have to explain how his thesis had not been falsified given this obvious test, or he would have to expose himself as a political charlatan.

The last was his decision; he went on calling for “modernised” surrender to plutocratic financialised capitalism and an abandonment of socialist principles, and denouncing what he called the “hard left”, namely those who, like Tony Benn and Derek Hatton, criticised such surrender and attempted to pursue other paths. In the end, Hall paved the way for the utter destruction of Labour as a leftist organisation, which eventually took place under Blair. Manifestly, if Hall had understood the questions in the first place, his answers showed that he was not only unrealistic, but that he seemed not to realise how unrealistic he was. Unless, that is, he had been diverted from his goals by other factors, such as a desire to get jolly nice lunches with right-wing editors, jolly good opportunities to air his reactionary views in Marxism Today and the New Statesman, and a jolly sense of his own importance and rectitude, even if this was justified by nothing in heaven or earth.

 


Why Are We So Curst?

May 30, 2018

It is not at all surprising that the world is fucked up. The people who have taken charge of it are fucked up people — that is, people who have no allegiance to anything but themselves (or, at best, their own short-term interests where these coincide with the interests of the class which they perceive to benefit them personally).

Because they are not interested in anything but themselves, they are ignorant, and often seem stupid, but in reality they are more to be seen as single-minded; their minds are devoted to their own advancement. Therefore, when they get into power, they use that power to rig the system which put them in power so that they can stay there, and bring their friends and the members of the class which they perceive to benefit them into power.

All these people are fucked-up, and one of the ways by which you may know this is that they don’t want to hear anything except praise for themselves — they are not only selfish, they are extraordinarily vain. Therefore, when in power, they suppress all criticism, partly by simply promoting all toadyism. Hence they neither know nor care about the consequences of their actions. Hence the global calamity, and the incomprehension with which their agents view notions like Xi’s “Ecological Civilisation” in China, which is simply a propagandistic way of expressing the notion that countries ought to have some thought for how their populations are going to stay alive in future.

Yes, we know all this. But there remain two obvious questions. Why is it that there has been such extraordinarily little resistance from the left to the rise to power of these people, including, now, a pathetically restricted level of criticism of the conduct of these people even though they are plainly pursuing policies which will not only immiserate us all, but probably kill us? And, as a corollary which is also an embarrassing truth, why is it that there has been some resistance in some countries, even though it has for the most part not come from the left?

Let’s be clear about the nature of actual resistance. The countries which have resisted are many and varied: Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador in Latin America (and also Brazil before the coup, although this was a highly limited resistance) plus Cuba in the Caribbean; Zimbabwe in Africa (with some support for its resistance from South Africa, suggesting a modest sympathy for resistance of a sort); Iran in the Middle East; Russia and China in Eurasia; Malaysia and North Korea on the Pacific Rim. India, while not resisting, has made some noises of resistance; so have Iraq, Syria, and on occasion Turkey. Also, many of the former states of the Soviet Union have made accommodation with the form of resistance evolved in Russia.

What have these countries in common? The actual resisting countries are all fiercely nationalistic. They are also countries with a fierce desire to possess strong governments, having all had weak governments or puppet governments imposed on them by outsiders in the past. In other words, there’s a universal desire among these countries to run their own affairs properly and decide their own futures. It’s not that they oppose capitalism, but they oppose a homogenizing neoliberal capitalist project which ultimately best serves foreign powers. What is more, they are doing so in a loose concert, and in a way which deliberately appeals, and in some cases is intended to appeal, to a wider audience.

Of course, collaborative nationalism is something of a contradiction in terms. These countries do not all see the world in the same way, do not share identical values, nor do they act with equal energy and commitment to their goals — which makes them weaker than the unified, monolithic plutocratic capitalist states. Yet they all identify a common enemy and their governments, supported by a majority of their populations, are prepared to resist that enemy — to the extent that the enemy acts, or is suspected to be acting, as an enemy. (It’s worth pondering how long it has taken for this attitude to evolve, and what bitter experience China, Russia, Iran and the Latin American countries have gone through to recognise that the United States and its allies simply cannot be trusted to compromise on any issue, but always want everything for themselves.)

So this resistance does not come from pure, altruistic or socialistic sources. It comes, however, from sources which do wish to make a better world. China is run by a Communist Party which purports to — and to some extent, actually does — represent a practically implemented Marxist viewpoint. Iran is run by theocrats, but theocrats who also view their country as the spiritual home of their sect, and therefore as a country deserving to be defended in the same way that god is to be defended. Russia is run by an interlocking cabal of politicians and businesspeople headed by Vladimir Putin (but much too complexly so for him to be called a dictator by anyone who isn’t quite consciously being dishonest), a cabal whose common ground is the desire to restore Russia to something like its former status, more or less in the tradition of Peter the Great.

To sum up, although some of the resistance to the impending global disaster caused by Western countries’ corrupt and (on any terms but their own) incompetent governance comes from countries which have leftist impulses and histories, the resistance is not driven by leftism. How, then, has the global left responded to the disaster, and how has it responded to the resistance?

The answer is that to a very large extent the global left has become part of the problem. Liberal social democracy — the attempt to construct a left separate from Marxism but nevertheless responsive (in a modest way) to the problems which Marxism identifies — has collapsed into neoliberalism. There are hangovers from liberal social democracy still existing in parts of the West — Corbyn in Britain and conceivably Sanders in the United States are two examples — but these are generally assiduously prevented from any access to power, and it is not likely that if they gained power they would be able to restore anything like the liberal social democracy of the 1960s. Across most of the world that liberal social democracy never existed anyway, except as a puppet-show played by Western imperialists to legitimate their corrupt activities, so elsewhere such things don’t matter.

Outside that, there was Stalinism and the various forms of anti-Stalinist leftism, whether Bolshevik or anarchistic. Stalinism has largely collapsed, cravenly, into neoliberalism, covering up its treachery with a blizzard of rhetoric. (This is not altogether true everywhere, of course — Asian Stalinism, while it colludes with neoliberalism in many ways, remains one of the few leftist power-bases from which neoliberalism may be questioned and critiqued. However, it is certainly true of Stalinist leaders in Europe, even though their members may feel otherwise as their support for the resistance leader Melanchon illustrates.) Anti-Stalinist leftism was never able to build a solid powerbase anywhere (it is now clear that Catalonia in 1936-8 was a freak which could not be repeated) and the problem with it is thus that it never felt a need to be responsible, so that it was all too easily co-opted by neoliberalism.

The result of all this is that the global left, where it has not simply sold out, has been able to provide a series of critiques of global disaster, but these critiques are necessarily incoherent and unconnected to real power-structures. In consequence, these critiques are easily confused with the absurd and corrupt factionalism which characterises the anti-Stalinist left and which has permeated the Stalinist left to some degree. Above all, these critiques are unprincipled and, generally speaking, lack any Marxist consciousness worth mentioning.

This is partly because both the Stalinist and the anti-Stalinist left leaped onto the “new social movements” and “identity politics” bandwagons (an acknowledgement made as far back as 1999 by Naomi Klein in her soft-left book No Logo), bandwagons which they did not create and which turned out to be steered by the neoliberals and their treacherous social democratic agents. As a result, instead of refashioning the real issues of party, ethnic and gender discrimination within an overarching framework of class-consciousness, the lefts abandoned class-consciousness and plunged into the futile mire of postmodern politics, leaving economic reality behind.

Therefore the left is incapable of analysing the situation separately from the way in which the rulers of the world wish it to be analysed — it is thus incapable of effective critique, and all too often repeats the slogans of the oppressors, merely using different jargon. (Of course there are individuals who are more capable than others. There are intelligent people on the left capable of engaging with reality. But as an organised force, this is, to put it politely, the most common aspect of the left.) In effect, then, the left has lost power and lost consciousness of the need to possess power, and the impact of both losses has been disastrous for its capacity to interpret the world, and therefore for its capacity to change it.

This being the case, shouldn’t the left simply get out of the way and allow those who are in power and who are effectively fighting the battle which the left ought to be fighting, to get on with it? Well, no, because the people who are fighting are not on the left and cannot be trusted, in the long run, to serve the left’s ends. So the left’s response should be complex; qualified support, together with endeavouring to build its own support-base by opposing the disastrous policies of neoliberal plutocracy and, ultimately, opposing the compromises which the current resistance will inevitably make with those policies, and the current resistance’s own policies where those are anti-leftist.

But the left’s actual response is not this. The Western non-Stalinist left discovered early on that the USSR was not truly leftist. Soon after that, the Stalinist left discovered that China was not truly leftist. Not long after that, the non-Stalinist left also discovered that China was not truly leftist. If Russia and China were not leftist, then surely the countries which had been their satellites or allies, and the parties which had been their supporters, were not leftist either. Therefore, nobody was leftist except for the Western left. This was a fortunate discovery, since it exempted the Western left from the obligation of defending the USSR, China or anybody else against the criticism, condemnation, destabilization and ultimate aggression of the plutocratic neoliberal oligarchy of the West.

In fact, if the USSR and China and so on were not leftist, this provided a useful gold standard by which to declare that South Africa, or the Bolivarian republics, or the surviving Middle Eastern secular states, were not leftist either. Admittedly some leftists might choose to identify one or more of these states as being more or less leftist on occasion, as Tariq Ali did about Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba. But this placed no obligations on any other leftists to do the same; all were free to attack whoever they wished to attack for not being leftist and therefore for not deserving support. Therefore, the only reason for condemning an attack launched by Western plutocrats was that the attack was in some way wrong by Western standards; no country in the world deserved to be defended against such attack intrinsically, according to the Western left.

From the 1880s to the 1980s, the left had two major reasons for opposing imperialist and counter-revolutionary activities by the capitalist powers: in order to defend the homeland of socialism (wherever that was) and in order to follow the orders of the left party’s politburo, or central committee, or boss, or whatever. In practice, this meant furthering what appeared to be the interests of the left in a broad sense (even if it didn’t always turn out that way, as with the Nazi-Soviet Pact). Today, the left instead opposes such activities only when they appear to be popular in the corporate press and when it is absolutely certain that the Daily Mail and the Guardian will not criticise the left for doing so. As a result nobody expects the left to say anything original or interesting or, indeed, left-wing.

So in the end, the left does not offer any resistance because it does not dare to, and it has abandoned the project which might provide a basis for such resistance. Where it criticises the projects of plutocratic neoliberal oligarchs, it does so on a very crude and primitive basis by the standards of the leftists of the past, because it can only follow the models laid down by the oligarchs themselves.

If the left is to gain any traction, it must break free from this. At the present, the left seems to be completely irrelevant to the struggle being played out for the future of the human race. This is a truly extraordinary development, and one which is anything but healthy.