Economy Cancelled Due To Lack Of Interest.

February 23, 2009

 

Is it possible that usury is the salvation of South Africa?

 

The global economic system is in a terrible state, partly because of financial mismanagement on a gigantic scale. Broadly speaking, the mismanagement has happened because the rich, especially in the Anglo-American sphere but actually all across the whole global economy, have been plundering the economy to the extent to which there is no longer enough money to fuel capitalism. Capitalism depends on there being enough people wealthy enough to purchase goods and services. At the moment, this is not the case; the poor are simply too poor to do the purchasing. A huge crisis of underconsumption was at hand, and has been at hand ever since this process became acute in the late 1980s.

 

The solution to the problem has been simple: easy credit. The poor were not able to buy things with money which they had, so, from the 1990s, they increasingly borrowed things with money which they did not have. The problem with this was, of course, that if they borrowed too much, they would not be able to pay interest on the borrowing. Therefore their indebtedness would become a problem.

 

Usury has always been seen as disreputable in the Western world. Whereas Judaism existed before currency or banks, Christianity and Islam both arose after financial transactions were invented. Both religions made usury, the charging of interest on loans, immoral. Islam has actually persisted in this, while Christianity has abandoned it along with virtually all of its beliefs (which is why Christians hate Muslims so much — Muslims represent the integrity which Christianity once possessed but no longer possesses). Of course, here the Creator is speaking of nominal integrity — all of these are false religions, slaves to the Lie.

 

So there are people who say that usury should be done away with. Money should be lent at zero interest, as in Islamic banks. Of course, that means that the banks have to find other ways to make money from their money.

 

That anti-usury philosophy has come close to fruition in the West as a result of the easy credit policy. Part of the problem was that governments deliberately stripped themselves of all other methods of controlling the economy other than controlling interest rates — because all other methods were annoying to rich people, who didn’t like it. Therefore, any time there was a problem, the ruling class cried out for interest rates to be cut. Besides, periodically it became clear that the workers were not getting any richer, and yet somehow they had to continue being persuaded to buy stuff. Hence interest rates had to keep coming down to make it possible for them to borrow more. Banks loaned more and more money, finding it easier and easier to do so because as interest rates came down, the significance of interest coming in became less and less.

 

As a result, the banks began speculating. They had to, for what else were they to do with their money? The speculations got riskier and riskier, for the obvious reason that the banks didn’t have to pay interest to themselves, but also because banks had grown used to growing levels of income. The ruling class, increasingly, borrowed money not in order to do anything concrete with it, but for speculative purposes, because that was where the money was. Meanwhile, of course, with interest rates near zero, it became impossible for interest rates to stimulate the economy. However, raising interest rates is supposed to harm the economy. So nothing could be done with interest rates which would do the economy any good.

 

Now, the banks are insolvent. Banks are, in a slowly expanding tide, beginning to go bankrupt across the world. These banks are not going bust because of bad loans, they are going bust because of bad speculation — because they could not liquidate their speculatively purchased derivatives before the derivatives became worthless. The banks paid for worthless things in real money, and so their money became worthless.

 

Therefore, to cover up their insolvency, the banks are reluctant to lend. The Western countries are pouring enormous amounts of money into the banks — more than a trillion U.S. dollars already, with two trillion more promised. However, this is sheer petty cash compared with what seems to have been secretly lost already. Besides, what can the banks do with the money they are given? Interest rates are too low for anyone to want to make money out of lending. Besides, nobody wants to borrow. So the banks actually have, still, to speculate. But despite this, the stock markets are jittering downwards — meaning that the banks are losing their shirts. The US stock market recently hit 7400 — down 5600 from its high a couple of years ago. That’s down 43%. Usury having failed, and speculation having failed, neither the banks nor the financial consultants nor the treasury experts have the slightest idea what to do next. They can only fling money around and hope.

 

But the more money they fling around, the greater the risk. If interest rates ever rise, the West’s governments will face having to pay back all these loans. We are talking hundreds of billions of dollars which have to be found from somewhere — financing Bush’s and Obama’s stimulus and rescue package would cost more than the Iraqi or Afghan wars if the interest rates rise significantly. The trouble with this is that Obama, like Bush, has cut taxes in order to stimulate the economy, but it has not been stimulated — instead, it has contracted substantially. Therefore, there is less tax revenue to pay interest on a massively expanded national debt. The only way to resolve the problem would be to increase taxes — but it’s far from clear that the American ruling class would permit Obama to do this, or would pay the taxes if they were increased, so it’s possible that the whole system is self-defeating. (Obama could gain the money by nailing the poor, who can’t afford tax lawyers — but nailing them would further slow the economy, requiring even more proportionate taxation to earn the same amount of money.)

 

In other words, unless the interest rates can be kept low, the U.S. economy is fucked. But if interest rates are kept low, the banking system is fucked. Most probably what will happen is that both economy and banking system will go down together, mutually blaming Obama, al-Qaeda and the fairies at the bottom of their gardens.

 

And South Africa? Our interest rates are high. They are high, chiefly, to keep foreign capital flowing in so that the capital can earn interest. This is probably ill-advised and should stop; we should instead do something about our trade balance (preferably by making more stuff here and less stuff abroad — protectionism is indeed the answer). But at least this means, firstly, that South Africans have not been borrowing ridiculously much, because they knew they would have to pay. (Also, our banking regulation is a lot more serious than American or European banking regulation.) Secondly, it means that we have leeway to reduce interest rates without destroying all the profit that might exist from usury. Therefore we are not driving our banks into obligatory speculation in derivatives. Therefore our banks are still alive.

 

Of course this does not mean that we are clever — although it is true that we are more prudent. But the joke is that the current economic campaign is to reduce interest rates. Reducing interest rates might in some ways be sensible, if it is going to lead to companies borrowing money and using it to build plant through which people can be employed and production thus increased and the economy expanded. This is the reason why COSATU and the Communist Party want interest rates reduced — of course, it is amusing to see radical leftists speaking out strongly in support of the interests of big capital and exploitative small business, but that is another story, and not a pretty one.

 

However, this position is also completely wrong. Interest rates have virtually nothing to do with whether corporations expand or do not expand, because the rate of corporate profit is so much higher, on average, than interest rates, that they are not an immense factor in corporate decisions. Corporations seek to maximise profit, and therefore they always strive to shut down their least profitable elements — which invariably means their labour-intensive elements, and often means their most productive elements. Reducing interest rates will not help to reduce unemployment.

 

On the other hand, reducing interest rates will make it easier to borrow money, which can be used for speculative purposes. It is perfectly likely that this is why these august alleged leftists want interest rates reduced; they are annoyed because at the moment they are not having an easy time playing in the casino and they want the government to make it simpler to obtain chips. Meanwhile, unfortunately, making it easier to borrow money will almost certainly increase the rate of indebtedness and therefore make us more like the West. Imitating catastrophe is not usually seen as a good idea, but ironically this is exactly what these good leftists are doing with their frequent references to how “even the Western capitalist states” are flinging money at banks and running themselves desperately into devastating national debts. And, of course, Communists and socialists have always been enthusiastic about uncritically imitating Western practice in everything, not so? (Ironically, if you read “State Capitalism in the Transition to Socialism”, Lenin did indeed want to imitate Western practice — but it is quite possible that he didn’t fully know what he was doing, since he was fighting a civil war and trying to suppress dissidents at the same time as trying to figure out economic policy which he had never expected to need.)

 

So the Creator thinks that we are on a rocky road. But, at the moment, our rocky road is not quite so rocky as the rocky road which is rapidly devastating the jerry-built four-by-fours of Western economies. Unfortunately, most South Africans seem incapable of understanding this. We are so used to thinking of ourselves as necessarily inferior, of our economy and society as necessarily on the brink of disaster, that we refuse to countenance the notion that we might be doing something right. The customary colonial cringe, seasoned with the usual racism (“How can a bunch of stupid darkies run an economy better than the Iron Chancellor or the Great God Greenspan? Impossible!”) is leading our political masters to pluck at the sleeves of our economic masters, urging them to please, pretty please, follow the other lemmings off the cliff.

 

Not unlike the way we are all urged to follow Zuma et Cie, in fact . . .

 

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Bombard the Headquarters!

February 23, 2009

 

 

“In the long term I think the centralized political power ought to be eliminated and dissolved and turned down ultimately to the local level, finally, with federalism and associations and so on. Sure, in the long term that’s my vision. On the other hand, right now I’d like to strengthen the federal government. The reasoin is, we live in this world, not some other world. And in this world there happen to be huge concentrations of private power which are as close to tyranny and as close to totalitarian as anything humans have devised, and they have extraordinary power. They are unaccountable to the public. There’s only one way of defending rights that have been attained or extending their scope in the face of these private powers, and that’s to maintain the one form of illegitimate power that happens to be somewhat responsibe to the public and which the public can indeed influence. So you end up supporting centralized state power even though you oppose it. People who think there is a contradiction in that just aren’t thinking very clearly.” (Noam Chomsky, Class Warfare, pp. 122-3)

 

 

 

So this is the most basic problem. How do you deal with a ruling class which wishes to destroy the community and crush everything that is human about it in order to make themselves more comfortable — not because they are now uncomfortable, but because there are a few tiny elements which might cause discomfort at some stage, or else, because they merely wish to display their power and demonstrate that nobody else has any? What is the proper moral, intellectual and political response?

 

One very logical response is to eliminate the ruling class. This was, more or less, what happened in the USSR and the PRC. You identify the people who are the source of the problem — people who simply do not care at all about the people whom they exploit and oppress, who simply use the system for their own personal benefit. Having done so, you kill them. As Stalin said, “No person, no problem”. After all, if you do not kill them, then they will continually attempt to take power away from you (who act in the name of the people, and who know more or less what the people want, or you would not have taken power in the first place). If you wait long enough, they will succeed. This was what happened in Nicaragua, and would have happened in Chile if the CIA and the International Telephone and Telegraph and the Anaconda Copper Company had been prepared to wait long enough. It is what almost happened in Venezuela, and might still happen except that Hugo Chavez is so much more intelligent than his opponents (including, particularly, his opponents in London and Washington).

 

But there is a snag with this. To be precise, there are two snags. The first snag is moral, and it is not just a simple “tut, tut”. Once you get into the habit of murdering your opponents, however justified the action might appear to be at some stage, you will find it difficult to stop. Other opponents will also have to be murdered. Middle-class people who may seem to support the working class — how can one be absolutely sure that they do so? Is it not safer, and therefore in the interests of the working class, to murder them? Professionals who serve the community — yes, but they were brought up as middle-class people and they may in fact seek to reconstruct a ruling class. Why not murder them to be on the safe side? What about people who disagree with you? In the end, if they disagree with you, and you are absolutely right, then they are undermining a system which ought rather to be supported. In other words they are (effectively, even if not intentionally) trying to restore the authority of the ruling class. Surely, then, they ought to be murdered.

 

You end up in the position of Stalin or Pol Pot, murdering anyone who wears spectacles or anyone who disagrees with you or even can be represented as possibly, at some stage, intending to disagree with you.

 

There is another snag. You eliminate the ruling class. You liquidate them. You murder them. Fair enough, but then who runs the country? Your people, of course. But they must be people who are trained, and probably specially skilled as well. Other people are not so well trained or skilled, and — of course — the people whom you have placed in positions of authority are people whom you trust. The Party, in effect. Other people have to do what these people tell them to. Naturally, some people will not wish to, but they must be forced to. Even if what these people say is objectively wrong, it is better that people should obey them than not — because in general, the Party is the leadership of the nation, and without the Party the nation will be enfeebled. Will lack leadership, and be a prey to the ruling class which is a constant global peril. So it is necessary to have a cadre who issue the orders, and who are needlessly praised, whose word is law, who have a huge propaganda apparatus endorsing them, and who cooperate with one another against those who are opposed to the cadre . . .

 

It is then obvious, although probably not to you, that this is a fresh ruling class raised on the bones of the old. There was, in the 1950s, Milovan Djilas, who argued that this was not precisely a new bourgeoisie. Instead, he called it a “New Class”, arguing that it was a product of the new society of socialism. Of course he did not like it, because it fulfilled the same function as the ruling class which he had fought against in Yugoslavia, but at the same time he did not acknowledge that it was a ruling class.

 

But it is at once apparent that it was a ruling class, even if it ruled through its monopoly of political power more than through its access to wealth.

 

Therefore, we seem to be up against Catch-22. Destroy the ruling class, and you destroy your own moral sense and therefore your legitimacy of rule. Meanwhile, having destroyed the ruling class and your own moral sense, you find that a new ruling class rises up. The fact that it happens to be on your side blinds you to this fact. Yet the fact that it is on your side does not mean that it is on the side of the working class — it is not. It is interested in its own power. Time and again this has happened in Communist societies, often enough for it to be virtually a rule. What is more, in impoverished societies particularly, such as Angola or Guinea-Bissau, the ruling class has seized power under the pretense of serving the workers, and has then become even more exploitative and self-interested and unpatriotic than the ruling class which it pretended to oppose — and, more often than not, the new Communist ruling class has cooperated with ruling classes in capitalist societies.

 

But this has not only happened in Communist countries, of course. The United States’ ruling class captured control of its political system from the beginning, because there was no feudal-bourgeois conflict, as there was in Europe, to confuse and disrupt their absolute power. As a result, the United States has always been run by a ruling class which was also a political class. This is why American political leaders all seem to come from the same families — and when it is felt that someone pretending to be new has to be generated, as with Goldwater or Carter or Clinton, a close inspection of their credentials reveals that they are entirely products of the ruling class, emerging from its educational system, trained up by its political structures and only released when it was absolutely, chemically certain that not a single new idea would ever be generated there. (In consequence, the only time when a radically new idea was produced by an American President, it was done by someone who was a millionaire scion of the Roosevelt family, an absolutely reliable and obedient servant of the rich who, astonishingly, suddenly turned out to feel that the ruling class would have to make some sacrifices in order to remain on top — for which the ruling class has excoriated him ever since, although his party has to pretend to like him because he was so phenomenally popular with the general public.)

 

The British Tory journalist Peter Oborne’s The Triumph of the Political Class outlines what has happened in Britain — and, to be fair, Oborne is almost as critical of the Tories as he is of Labour, though this is probably more tactical than moral on his part. He argues that a small grouping, what he calls the “political class”, has taken over Britain in a sort of Illuminati conspiracy, except that it is more or less in the open, yet unseen because essentially unreported-on. He has a point, but he neglects to note that this has only happened because this “political class” is acting on behalf of the British ruling class and with their support. So, when (as recently) Britain introduces rules against photographing policemen and soldiers, thus bringing British freedom in line with that of Sudan during the civil war and the USSR under Brezhnev, this expression of national paranoia is opposed by virtually everybody — yet it is accepted because all the powerful people want a national security state. The plebs don’t want it, but they can be fooled or bullied, and are. So Oborne, despite his apparent radicalism, is (probably inadvertently) actually covering up for the crimes of the ruling class — by claiming, for instance, that his “political class” is dependent on the state, while it is obvious that it derives most of its power and wealth from corporate capital..

 

So it seems that the ruling class cannot be destroyed (for it recapitulates itself like a primitive worm — so after the destruction of the Communist Party a new nomenklatura arose in Yeltsin’s Russia). But if it is left alone, it will simply take over everything. In fact, the ruling class is the cancer which exists in every society, destroying everything in order to feed itself, careless — essentially, unaware — of the welfare of anything but itself. (The dominance of the ruling class is the principal reason for the collapse of Western society and, now, economy.) So what are we to do about the ruling class? Give up?

 

The answer seems to be Chomsky’s answer, feeble as it might seem. The ultimate weapon against a ruling class is the mass of the people. If informed and organised, the people can resist anything, even in an undemocratic society. Yet, of course, the danger is that any organising force for the people must be a potential ruling class in itself. It follows from this that no Bolshevik-style vanguardist party can ever defeat the ruling class. Therefore, in order to eliminate the ruling class as a political threat to the majority, democracy is required. Democracy, of course, entailing freedom of speech and assembly and of the press and so forth — all freedoms which are being significantly curtailed across the world, but especially in Western countries where they were once taken for granted. This is natural, because the ruling class recognises democracy as a threat even while it pretends to stand for democracy. In South Africa this has not yet been taken to the extreme which it has reached in some countries, but in general, all ruling class societies aspire to the condition of Equatorial Guinea, where all power is to the highest and all democracy is simply a pretentious facade for ruling-class control.

 

A democratic party, internally consistent and with considerable latitude for the rank and file to control policies and appoint or remove leadership, is what is required. Unfortunately, the ruling class can often manipulate that rank and file, so there has to be some sort of centralised control to prevent this. This centralised control, itself, can turn the party into a squadron of zombies obeying orders from on high, which is what both the ANC and DA have become, and these zombies, of course, are then easily vulnerable to ruling-class control.

 

It’s a conundrum. However, the first obvious steps are to acknowledge the existence of the ruling class as a threat to freedom, and to acknowledge the need for democracy as a bulwark against that. If we can get these points accepted — and we are moving in the opposite direction in South Africa, where “democracy” is routinely interpreted by ruling-class propagandists as “getting rid of the ANC and replacing it with a ruling-class front” — then we will at least have got somewhere.

 


The Fooling Class.

February 23, 2009

 

Let us muster some evidence for the existence of a ruling class in South Africa.

 

But first, try to define a ruling class. A ruling class is a self-defined, self-sustaining group of people whose goal is to get all other people within a socio-economic system, such as a country or the world, to do what they think is best for themselves. That sounds fair, and avoids too much stuff about the State and about ideological apparatuses.

 

Looking at South Africa’s record, we can see a tremendous concentration of wealth in the white community. Every industry is a cartel, and every possible profitable activity is industrialised. What we have here is the dream of W B Yeats — great wealth in a few men’s hands. Admittedly, a great deal of this industry (and under industry one must include agriculture — South African farms are essentially factories, which is why small-scale agriculture has never succeeded and why the Department of Agriculture failed to even make a serious try at promoting sustainable, non-corporate agriculture) is foreign-based, and sometimes foreign-owned. However, virtually all of it is administered by South Africans who naturally wish the country where they dwell to do what they want it to do.

 

So it would be natural to assume that the situation for a ruling class exists. White South Africa is remarkably small in numbers — perhaps five million people in all, and fewer still in the past. What’s more, out of those five million only a small percentage represent possible candidates for wealth. A few thousand people have the economic and social power in their hands. It would be difficult for those people not to become a ruling class even if they had any reason not to.

 

However, when we look at white South Africa in the twentieth century, its ruling ideology has always been the exploitation of power. Politics in South Africa is almost unbelievably devoid of integrity and principle; parties have been extraordinarily factional, splintering and recombining (always in pursuit of power) in a way which proves that the problem is not one of constituencies versus proportional representation. Success has always gone to the most brutal — and success implies admiration and support. “Kragdadigheid”, the desire to succeed through the violent exploitation of power, is an Afrikaans term, but it is a broad white South African phenomenon — English-speakers felt that their tragedy was that they never controlled sufficient power to show what they could do with it and had to meekly cheer on the Afrikaners. Jews pursue the same thing vicariously, by drooling over the atrocities of the Israeli gangster-state.

 

Under such conditions, with power-worship positively fetishised, it is obvious that a ruling class must develop. But what evidence is there that such a thing exists, or must we simply believe in it with the simple lobotomised faith of someone who tunes in to TV evangelism?

 

One piece of evidence is the strange case of the TRC in the night-time. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigated the ANC very extensively. It also investigated the police and the army quite extensively. It looked at the National Party government, although much less thoroughly and participating in a cover-up to protect the NP against justifiably harsh criticism. It did not investigate business. The ostensible reason was that the TRC was investigating violations of human rights, and paying low wages, refusing to provide workplace safety and denying the rights of workers to organise did not, in the opinion of Alex Boraine and Desmond Tutu, constitute violating human rights. Anyone who had any respect for Boraine or Tutu could have stopped right there.

 

Indications were, then, that the TRC was consciously making the ANC and the apartheid armed forces the twin villains of the piece, with the National Party coming in as a subsidiary villain. The corporate structure which underpinned apartheid South Africa’s economy and society was given a free pass. The TRC barked remarkably selectively. Why were they doing this? The whole question of the business community’s involvement in apartheid has been extensively debated — essentially, supporters of the business community say it had nothing to do with apartheid, while opponents of apartheid say it was up to its ears in apartheid. This was not a new or extraordinary debate (although it significantly died down as apartheid came to an end). Had the business community wished to clear itself, it would surely have clamoured for a right to clear itself before the TRC. Did it refuse to do this because it had much to hide? And was it doing this because very powerful people told the TRC behind the scenes to lay off, or else?

 

Or else what?

 

This wasn’t the only time that this has happened. A couple of years later the Human Rights Commission decided to look into the question of racism in the media. One may question the motives of the HRC’s chair, Barney Pityana. However, the press played a central role in propping up apartheid by encouraging whites to support the government and discouraging them from asking questions — consistently suppressing evidence of human rights violations, for instance, which is itself, surely, a human rights violation, even if Alex Boraine and Desmond Tutu don’t think so. It was hardly likely that in a few years it had reversed course. Meanwhile, if the press was still portraying much the same intellectual landscape as before, then it was, surely, inimical to the post-apartheid political landscape, and at the least, the public deserved to know this. So the HRC’s proposed investigation, which was based in a wordy, airy-fairy but damning report to it by an academic intellectual, Claudia Braude. was obviously worth doing.

 

The press’s motto is “Don’t shoot the messenger”, so in this case, naturally, they all pulled out their guns in unison and blazed away at Barney and Claudia. The claim was that this was an evil ANC plot to undermine press freedom. Of course, nothing ensures press freedom more than covering up corporate control of the press — and this was exactly what was done, to the cheers of the corporate press and the white pundits. The HRC was forced to back off; nobody was allowed to investigate the press, and nobody has since done so. It’s almost as if some all-powerful force was preventing any such investigations.

 

Indeed, the example of the press is a powerful piece of evidence for a ruling class. There are several press conglomerates, but all of them speak with one voice. Most of them recycle the same ideas in the same language, so that their news text is no more original than their advertising text (and often no more usefully informative). Most observers who acknowledge this (most do not, of course, almost as if they were told not to look too closely or speak too honestly) believe that this is because South African journalists are lazy, stupid and incompetent. This is undeniable but it is not enough to explain why everyone in the system speaks and thinks the same. How is it that every newspaper agrees that Barbara Hogan’s non-performance as Minister of Health is actually the greatest ministerial achievement since Trevor Manuel’s apotheosis, or that Vusi Pikoli’s dodgy behaviour is not dodgy at all, but the magisterial perfection of a superior life-form? Presumably the whole press is a single hydra because it is all controlled by one force — not simply one corporation behind the scenes, but instead one large body of people — and can it be the ruling class?

 

In this, if it is so, the South African press is not so very different from the British or American, of course.

 

There has also been a terrific flood of anti-ANC books produced by a variety of local presses. It is very difficult to believe that these books have made any money. They have been pumped out according to need; anti-Mbeki or pro-Zuma or just politically obfuscatory, as with Richard Calland’s explanation of how South Africa is ruled which manages to ignore even the possibility that there might be a ruling class. They fulfil the same function as the well-funded think-tanks which perform the same purpose — which is to provide an excuse to present their political pabulum in the press, and to promote their preposterous propagandistic punditry. This is important, simply because if these books and these faux-intellectuals did not exist, the propaganda would have to come direct from the journalists, and possibly even the numbed victims of ruling class propaganda would see that something was wrong — for journalists are not respected in South Africa, whereas someone who has written a book is viewed with almost superstitious respect. (Actually, most of the books are written by journalists, and ones who thoroughly deserve their disrespect.)

 

The point is that the ruling class is much better-concealed in South Africa than in some other places. It is also, by the looks of things, considerably more powerful. The minority of South Africans who accept the ruling class as their leader, are more regimented by the ruling class than in most other countries — perhaps because of their hope that the ruling class will save them from the black majority which does not cleave to the ruling class.

 

But they do not see themselves as ruled by the ruling class. Americans or Britons do, at least in the sense that they cheer for Bush or Brown or Obama. They are happy with their ruling class. White South Africans seem almost unaware that the ruling class exists; instead, the ruling class is simply an invisible source of common knowledge, what everyone believes, everywhere present like the air, but nowhere created or controlled. The situation is perfect. South Africa is an intellectual prison, but its warders and trusties believe themselves to be free, and would be indignant to be told anything else.

 

What’s particularly impressive about this is the fact that it is a white ruling class which goes to great lengths to equip itself with a black facade. When one looks at people like Cyril Ramaphosa or Tokyo Sexwale or any of the schools of smaller black business fish, one notices very quickly that they have little or no power. They have been given little bits of white business to play with, and to be in the public eye with, so that the pretense can be kept up that there is such a thing as black economic empowerment. Meanwhile, the white ruling class complains in its media that black economic empowerment is leading to corruption, and is, of course, the fault of the government. Thus the corrupt scum created by the white ruling class (admittedly, with government connivance) is blamed on the government. Simultaneously this scum is held up as showing how far we have come from the bad days of racism — look, black billionaires! Then it is held up as showing how terrible inequality is in South Africa — look, black billionaires! Who do not care about the poor (cut to pictures of shacklands and a white Trotskyite commentator standing in front of them, obviously caring about the poor)!

 

And, of course, inequality applies to blacks. John Pilger at least complained about the presence of so many rich whites in South Africa. He had a point, as we now realise when we see the harm the white ruling class has caused. But most people who pretend to follow Pilger are simply tools of the ruling class, knowingly so or not, distracting attention on to the bad, bad blacks who dare to own big houses and drive big cars, and ought to be punished. Besides, they have not worked for their money, have they?

 

As if the white elite did . . .

 


On Thermonuclear War.

February 23, 2009

 

The Creator has a very soft spot for Don DeLillo, considering White Noise one of the funniest novels of the past fifty years, and Cosmopolis one of the best-crafted stories of the same period. However, DeLillo’s ostentatious and self-proclaimed masterpiece, Underworld, has a huge flaw even though it seems a bit less posturing than its model, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Underworld, apart from the hilarious digs at J Edgar Hoover (who comes out looking a bit like Stalin in Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle) and at U.S. security agencies generally, has a simple core. Like the Pynchon book it is about war, but this time the Cold War. The implication of the book is that the Cold War has come to an end and we are all safe and sound, that the terrible shadow of war has lifted from the planet. The last phrase of that sentence is usually expected to end with the word “forever”, although DeLillo doesn’t actually say that. The book ends at the Kazakh test site where nukes are being detonated to destroy hazardous waste (as, arguably, they were intended to do).

The trouble is that the Cold War has not come to an end and we are living in a darkening shadow of war, all the darker because nobody is bothering to look up at the cloud.

A few years ago the Creator had a debate with the gentle but rather passive web-logger who went by the name of Jeanne D’Arc and ran a weblog called Body And Soul dedicated to peace and Billie Holiday. (It’s strange how many gentle avowedly female web-loggers have gone off the Net; is there a gender issue here?) The Creator was protesting that in the post-Iraq War situation we had a growing danger of nuclear war; “Jeanne” did not think so. It seems that North Americans, who twenty-five years ago were happy to stand on the shores of Lake Superior and speculate on whether one would see the warheads on their way down (answer: yes, for three seconds, after which you would be dead), are now afraid to even acknowledge the possibility of turning into skidmarks on the shattered walls of their cities (though modern cities are so jerry-built that there would be few surviving walls on which to leave thermal shadows).

The reason why the Creator knows that nuclear war is impending was, at the time, displayed by the growing military recklessness of the U.S. government. It may be forgotten that the U.S. dismally failed, when it had the chance under Clinton, to dismantle the old Soviet nuclear arsenal. The reason for this was firstly that a Republican Congress wouldn’t stump up the money to decommission the warheads (which Yeltsin, being drunk, was quite happy to do) and, secondly, that the Clinton administration privatised its nuclear material manufacturing plant, which is a bit like going down to the corner cafe and handing a group of the local tsotsis a couple of bottles of nitroglycerine.

Meanwhile, Clinton fired missiles in all directions, and bombarded Serbia (annoying the Russians and accidentally starting two near-confrontations, both in the “accidental” bombing of the Chinese Embassy, and when Russian special forces occupied Pristina airport in Kosovo). George W Bush got off to a good start when he sent spyplanes puttering down the Chinese coast, getting intercepted by the Chinese and having to land in China when one collided with a Chinese interceptor. As if annoying the Chinese wasn’t bad enough (they also trumped up spying charges against a Chinese professor, in good McCarthyite tradition). And then came the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and the proxy invasions of Haiti and Somalia.

There had been invasions, and there had been proxy invasions (like that of Rwanda into the DRC) under Clinton, but there did seem to be a fresh glee and eagerness about the way the Bushites were behaving. It was as if they did not believe that they could ever be threatened, as if they could not possibly be called to account. The reason for this was simple; the United States was, and had been since the 1980s, trying to protect itself against nuclear-tipped missile attack. It was, or believed itself to be, the only country in the world actually capable of doing this. Therefore it deployed the missiles in question in Alaska, and also tried to deploy more primitive technology elsewhere, particularly on or near the Russian border. It was fairly obvious from this that they were not concerned, as they claimed, with “rogue states”, but were rather concerned to destroy the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had prohibited the U.S. and the old U.S.S.R. from getting into the kind offensive-defensive race which characterised the naval race between Britain and Germany in the run-up to World War I, and the air race between Britain and Germany in the run-up to World War II.

So: two big issues. One, the U.S. was growing more reckless and unconcerned about the consequences of its violations of international law. Two, the U.S. was under the dangerous delusion that it could protect itself against any such serious consequences with a great shield of missiles. The combination of recklessness and self-deception seemed to imply that sooner or later the U.S. would do something which would threaten the national security of a country capable of hitting back. What would happen if neither side backed down? China and Russia already possess the power to destroy the U.S.; India is undeniably working on getting such a power, and is probably much more nervous about the U.S. in the twenty-first century than it was in the late twentieth. Also, Bush’s aggression encouraged more and more countries to develop nukes, or at least ramp up their residual capacity to do so, as South Africa has done. It seemed inevitable, between these factors and their interactions, that the United States would eventually take actions which would trigger a war between nuclear powers which would probably escalate.

Ironically, one reason for this was simply that the public no longer believed that nuclear war was possible, and therefore nothing prevented politicians from risking it; megadeath had ceased to be a political liability.

Now, things have changed a little. American aggression has not been checked, but it has become a little less unthinking. The resistance in Iraq has raised a serious political problem for American aggression — fresh aggressions are met with the question “Are you getting us into another Iraq?”. Also, as it turned out, the U.S. military simply lacks the power to take action on the grand scale which it managed when it had a vast conscript base. It can bomb a country’s infrastructure, but to occupy that country is an entirely different story. (In the long run, the probable development of cheap anti-GPS transmitters will make the U.S. supremacy in accurate bombing a temporary thing — and without the ability to drop bombs accurately from above effective anti-aircraft range, the U.S. lacks any special capacities.)

So it would appear that the Creator was wrong — but this is not at all true (as usual). In the back of the Creator’s mind was a suspicion that the trend was likely to continue in the same direction. It was obvious that at some stage the U.S. would step into deep shit with its aggressive policies. But these aggressive policies are absolutely essential to its plan for global domination; it’s not something which a new administration can wish away, which is why President Obama’s foreign policy amounts to a sort of “compassionate genocide”. Also, there is now a potential troika of forces which are suspicious of the U.S. — China, Russia and India — who might be inclined to make a little greif nach weltmacht themselves. In fact, if they are to maintain their independence, they will have to do so. Hence, while there is a temporary lull in U.S. aggression (much like the lull in Clinton’s first term) this is not likely to last, and other players may get into the act first.

What’s much worse is the collapse of the global economy. This is getting rather frightening at the moment, with the U.S. job market contracting while its population continues to grow and all the trends displacing money from poor towards rich continuing to apply. The Creator predicted a depression, and this is precisely what the situation is becoming.

Yes, this is scary. But what of the impact this will have on inter-state relations? States are going to become much more economically violent towards each other than before. The West will try to use the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO to squeeze money out of poor countries, but poor countries won’t be willingly squeezed. Middle-level countries may well default on loans, or nationalise companies without compensation, and dare the companies’ parent states to do anything. As Ronald Reagan once remarked, “How many divisions has the World Court?”. Big businesses will do their best to pressure the wealthy governments to act as their enforcers. It’s a time when there is going to be more, not less, international stress. The possibility of small wars — sometimes surrogates for big ones — looms ever larger.

The Creator was most recently incarnated as a 1980s leftie, and therefore occasionally listens to old Billy Bragg records, like “Between the Wars”:

Theirs is a sky all dark with bombers,

Mine is the green fields and the factory floor;

Theirs is a Land Of Hope And Glory —

And mine is the peace we had between the wars.

It’s not difficult to argue that this is piffle, claptrap, codswallop and drivel (which, coincidentally, is the name of the firm of solicitors the Creator patronizes) based upon the Labour Party’s delusory pacifism under Lansbury; that when the sky actually grew dark with bombers, it was only the fact that Baldwin and Chamberlain had “brought prosperity/Down at the armoury” which enabled Britain to fend off the Wehrmacht. And, of course, if they had not done that, then Hitler would have conquered the USSR and it’s impossible to guess what our lives would be like right now. (We may discuss Dr. Charmley’s thesis a bit later.)

But again, “the peace we had” is a bit of a loaded term. If you think of the period 1929-September 1939, it started with the U.S. invasion of Nicaragua, whereupon followed the annexation of Manchuria and the bombardment of Shanghai. We could go on through the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay to the invasion and occupation of Abyssinia, the Great Power proxy conflict in Spain, the Japanese invasion of coastal China, and then some people might recall that Mr. Hitler got up to some stuff in central Europe, not altogether without the threats of military aggression. Oh, and the Japanese invaded the USSR, although nobody seemed to mind except Cde. Stalin, General Zhukhov and a hundred thousand dead Japanese soldiers. In the background was, let’s not forget, the USSR kicking off the decade with the campaign against Ukrainian peasants and ending it with the Yezhovshchina, the purge which killed more than a million people including (eventually) the adorable Mr. Yezhov himself. And a couple of little problems were being stored for the future, such as South Africa abolishing voting rights for black people and the British Army in Palestine training and equipping Jews to help crush an Arab revolt. Yeah, right, peace. That’s the kind of thing we can expect in the next decade, while thermonukes are pretty well available to anyone who really, really asks Santa for them. (Conveniently, Professor Khan of Pakistan’s Khan Laboratories has just emerged from house arrest. Send him the dosh and he’ll send you the necessary blueprints by return mail.)

No, the Creator is not investing in any long-term projects. Do you need to ask why?

 

 

 

 


Theorizing CoPe.

February 5, 2009

 

 

 

The Congress of the People is a new party. South Africans do not know how much support it really commands anywhere. Nor do South Africans know how far CoPe’s muddled and unsatisfactory manifesto is a simple product of haste and lack of consultation, and whether this reflects a genuinely weak political position. Nor, in the main, do South Africans even know whether CoPe is a democratic structure or whether it is merely a political Potemkin village like the Independent Democrats, who do so good a job of fooling people who desperately want to be fooled (and there are many, many of these in South Africa).

What we know about it is that it was formed by people who were unhappy at the way in which the ANC was going under Zuma, that it is reasonably well-funded, presumably but not absolutely certainly by black business, that it commands some support in the Western and Eastern Cape (elsewhere its support is more obscure), and that it has focussed upon moral issues, which implies that it does not intend to make any major practical changes to policy (parties based on moral posturing are necessarily doing so because they are not in a position to base themselves on real political change — since their constituents actually want change and would support a party which promised to provide it).

What appears to be the case is that CoPe is trying to attract ANC supporters by claiming to be the true heirs of the liberation struggle. This explains the argument that the ANC has failed to abide by the principles of the Freedom Charter, whereas CoPe, if given the opportunity, would abide by those principles. Since the principles of the Freedom Charter are supposedly the principles underpinning the ANC’s activities, CoPe thus claims, without any action, evidence or actual justification, to be more ANC than the ANC.

Is this plausible?

The most that one can say is that it is not impossible. This is possible purely because the ANC in the last four years has become almost entirely careerist, and almost completely colonised by corporatism, and yet at the same time denounces careerism and corporatism. It follows that the ANC is hypocritical and cannot be trusted. In that case, CoPe could justify its position by simply denying that it is hypocritical; in effect, CoPe could simply claim to stand for the ANC as it existed at the time when Mbeki was in power (around, say, 2003-4), and to repudiate the current ANC’s crooks, blowhards and nefarious spin-doctors, and it would have a strong case for the support of ANC members.

This, in fact, seems to be the basis for CoPe’s support. On the face of it, it should not be a particularly strong basis. No doubt the leadership of the ANC are unhappy at having lost out to a clique of scoundrels, but the leadership of the ANC are politicians, and politicians are not purists. As to the rest of the population, why should they expect CoPe to do more for them than they did when the leaders of CoPe were leaders of the ANC, and the population was far from satisfied with what the ANC was doing?

Yet, interestingly, there does seem to be a real groundswell of support for CoPe. In a recent by-election in Nkonkobe, the ANC’s support came in at 73%, which seems a pretty convincing victory until one realises that their support in the previous election in that ward was 97%. Of course it may be argued that the people most likely to participate in such a by-election were people particularly interested in politics — former ANC members and so on — and therefore this was not representative of a true election in which a wider constituency would be likely to turn out. Still, that would mean that 24/97, or almost exactly a quarter of the ANC’s core supporters, had gone off to CoPe. If that applied to the whole Eastern Cape, this would imply a fall from 80% to 60%, which would be a serious blow to the ANC. If it applied to the whole country, it would imply a fall from 70% to 52,5%, which would be a cataclysmic blow to the ANC.

There is no way that one can extrapolate from a single ward to the province, let alone the country, of course. Yet — if we do not know that this Nkonkobe ward was representative, we also do not know if it illustrated an exaggeration or an underestimate of CoPe’s actual strength. It is perfectly possible that, given that the by-elections were not very well publicised despite some substantial campaigning by both sides, but also given that everybody expected the ANC to win the ward and therefore most CoPe supporters would not have bothered to come out, the result underplayed CoPe’s strength. (CoPe advertises itself with motorcades, which might seem to suggest a bit of elitism — although, interestingly, the vehicles in the motorcades, unlike those in the ANC’s competing motorcades, are often old bangers ornamented with CoPe stickers. This hints that CoPe may command at least some support among the less affluent.)

It does seem that there is turmoil in the ANC at branch level. People are trying to use Zuma’s rise to power to their own advantage, seeking nomination for councillorships — because councillors are relatively well paid by the standards of small rural villages, a councillorship is enormously desired. Meanwhile, the provincial ANC has refused to allow councillors or mayors to stand for the national list, except under very special conditions (read: known utter loyalty to the Zuma leadership). This again hints that the ANC does not trust its membership at local level; it fears either that they might secretly support CoPe, or else, worse still, that it simply does not control them and therefore cannot permit them to gain any power. In contrast to this, while CoPe has had a great deal of difficulty in winning over high-profile supporters, it seems to have had little difficulty in gaining local support. As a result, again, the turnout at local level may be much stronger than is expected in some provinces.

Not all provinces, of course. Nobody seriously expects a big turn-out for CoPe in Mpumalanga, or in KwaZulu-Natal. (The ANC’s vigorous attempts to crush CoPe with violence and intimidation in the latter province may seem to contradict this — does it not suggest that the party feels vulnerable? However, it is also possible that this is a spillover from the ANC’s still more vigorous attempts to crush the IFP, which it sees as a possible source of votes to mine and thus overshadow the effects of CoPe in the provinces where it is doing well.) However, CoPe may do well in the Eastern Cape, not badly in the Free State and Western Cape, and may at least make a showing in the North-West, Limpopo and perhaps even Gauteng, where it could pick up some white and indian votes.

Why would it do well, then? Simply because the ANC is disintegrating and rotting away, and people desire something to hold on to? That is a plausible theory. Another is simply the lack of ANC leadership. It is significant, admittedly, that CoPe is not competing well — it has failed to win over many leading lights from the ANC — publicly, that is. However, this was also a factor in Mbeki’s demise; many who actually supported Mbeki were not brave enough to put themselves forward as his supporters, and so his enemies tended to win by default. Hence, what worries the ANC’s top leadership is that the middle-level people, most of whom are lacklustre about the top leadership (partly because they are embarrassingly corrupt and incompetent, but chiefly because the new leadership refuse to divvy up the spoils) may be secret CoPe supporters.

Not so long ago, a CoPe announcement that a couple of leading ANC lights were planning to jump ship led to a flurry of pronouncements by what passes for Zuma’s intellectual allies, such as Fikile Mbalula (!) that they a) had known about these people’s intention all along, and b) that they should leave at once, if not sooner. Then they failed to leave. However, nobody really knows what they intend, nor does anybody know what the impact of this bizarre incident could have had on the morale of anyone who was still under the impression that Zuma’s allies in any way know what they are doing. The ANC has bad leaders who continually make fools of themselves. Carl Niehaus blithely responding to his candidate for the Presidency facing solid charges of corruption in the Pietermaritzburg High Court by saying that Zuma need not worry about “unsubstantiated allegations” was a former political prisoner sounding amazingly like Jimmy Kruger dismissing accusations of torture in detention. This is a hell of a lot worse than having weak leaders who keep their heads down.

CoPe, significantly, does not enjoy very solid press support. It gets some love in some areas — the Daily Dispatch seems sympathetic, as does the SABC in some ways, but everyone is quite willing to run anti-CoPe articles, and there is nothing like the media-generated cult of personality which swirls around De Lille or Zille. The reason appears to be that the elite distrusts CoPe. They are prepared to support it if this means supporting the disintegration of the ANC, which is the elite agenda. However, CoPe has a second agenda, which is to reconstruct the ANC. (It is likely that a lot of CoPe sympathisers have stayed in the ANC for this very purpose.) If CoPe causes the ANC’s electoral standing to collapse, well and good, says the elite.

But CoPe’s actual agenda seems not to be simply to replace the ANC. They have presented no alternative to the ANC’s core programme or praxis (which many elite journalists have condemned, since they want the ANC buried rather than supplanted). Most probably their hope is to push the ANC into a major electoral disaster which can then be completely legitimately blamed on the current leadership of the ANC. If and when that happens — especially if the ANC were to fall below the magic 50% — there could be a serious uprising within the ANC, which could well be spearheaded by the CoPe sympathisers remaining there under the radar. (Undoubtedly this is part of the problem which the current leadership faces in the virtual certainty that Zuma is going on trial, which would be a calamitous political embarrassment for the leadership.) In that case the Zuma supporters could be chucked out, replaced by the leadership which Mbeki had wanted (with whatever addenda may have developed since — Mbeki is not the evil genius behind the whole affair, but it is clear that CoPe consists largely of Mbeki supporters simply because Mbeki was the focus of the anti-Zuma campaign which has now been proved right in retrospect). In that case, the ANC could be reformulated with the worst thugs, fixers and fascists in its ranks excluded or neutralised.

And in that case, the South African elite would have been defeated and they would have their job to do all over again. It took them ten years to destroy Mbeki; it could take them even longer to destroy a sequel to him, for the fall of Mbeki concentrated everyone’s mind to the fact that there is a big difference between people you don’t like, and people who are actually criminally corrupt. Meanwhile, if Zuma survives the 2009 election unscathed and is able to cement his position and avoid prosecution, the destruction of the ANC is virtually assured.

It seems clear from this that one should vote CoPe. This does not mean that CoPe is a solution to any problems for South Africa. Nor does it mean that voting CoPe guarantees a better political climate. CoPe, for all its collusion with the elite, seems to be the only forlorn hope of restoring pre-Zuma conditions. Those conditions before 2005 were the best conditions which the South African Left has ever enjoyed for growth and the pursuit of power — it is entirely the Left’s fault that it took no advantage of it. A Zuma presidency and the sequel to it will be devastating to the South African left and a gift to the neoliberals in the elite, who make up the bulk of it.


How Sweet It Tasted!

February 5, 2009

 

There is a story (and quite a good poem) about a man running away from a tiger. He runs along a cliff-edge, which crumbles under him. He clings to a root, the tiger above him, while far below him, the tiger’s mate is waiting for him to fall. Two mice are gnawing through the root. In front of his face is a strawberry plant with one fruit on it.

If you like, the election and inauguration of Barack Obama is that strawberry, and everything else is everything else in the world.

Consider the United States, which toils not, neither does it spin. Instead it pushes numbers around and flips hamburgers and operates tanning salons. This last quarter its economy, based on these noble activities, contracted, according to the official statistics, 3,8%. The Creator hasn’t bothered to find out if this was an actual contraction or an annualised contraction (i.e., the real contraction that quarter was 0,95%). It doesn’t matter, anyway, since official statistics in the United States are completely worthless; they are lies to start off with and those lies are massaged out of all recognition by political propagandists. All we know is that it’s incredibly unlikely that the contraction was less than that.

An interesting sidebar on American economic politics; the news that the decline was 3,8% caused the New York Stock Exchange to rise sharply. How could that be, when the economy was contracting? Because it was said that analysts had predicted that the decline would be 5%, and therefore a 3,8% decline was good news.

What this means is that the analysts were told well in advance that the public relations people at the U.S. Treasury were going to pretend that they knew that the decline was 3,8%, so the analysts pretended that they were predicting that the decline would be 5%, and then this could be spun as a victory, so that the market would go up and the analysts and propagandists’ friends could hastily sell their stocks before the calamitous situation sank in and the market fell below the crucial 8000 level, which happened almost immediately. (It is now around 7900; it will bounce back above 8000 again, but probably not for long.)

But, you may rightly say, is this a big deal? Should anybody care about this stuff?

Another way to look at it, is that the fall in the stock market and the massive contraction in the economy has lately been compared with two periods: with six years ago, and with twenty-seven years ago. Well, phew! So that’s all right then! They aren’t comparing us, not at all, with eighty years ago, when the global economy collapsed and stayed flat on its arse for ten years! We’re safe!

No, we aren’t. Six years ago the global markets temporarily plunged. The reason for this was that everybody knew that America was about to invade Iraq. Most serious observers thought that it was going to be a cakewalk to Baghdad, but the American government, in order to “legitimate” the most serious crime that any government can ever commit, that of unprovoked aggression, was pretending that the Iraqi government had powerful weapons — nuclear, biological and chemical. Many people suspected that there was no smoke without fire. If the Iraqis really had such weapons, they could have used them to devastate not only the invading armies (which were quite weak) but also the whole of the Fertile Crescent, had they chosen to. Meanwhile, no matter whether the Iraqis had thermonukes or just had strands of wet spaghetti (the latter being the actual case) the activity was bound to alienate and disrupt the whole Middle east and perhaps set off a chain of wars (which was in fact the case — both Lebanon and Gaza can ultimately be traced back to the invasion of Iraq). So people figured they had better sell their stocks. Smart people, anyway.

So that was a temporary thing — a moment flash of clarity before the steady visual and aural streams of sewage buried all the world again. It was a panic, as they call it, and the panic came to an end, and the stocks went up. There was no reason for them to do so, but they did.

But twenty-seven years ago was another kettle of shit. At that stage, the Reagan Administration, led by Mr. Milton Friedman, was deliberately damaging the U.S. manufacturing economy. They had raised interest rates to exorbitant levels; the reason for this was to discourage borrowing and thus slow the creation of money, because Mr. Friedman believed that the creation of money was the source of all evils. (It sounds like the kind of thing which should get you into a room with rubber walls and straps on your bed, but this is known as monetarism, and it is the foundation of modern macroeconomics.) As a result, everybody who owed money was in a state of panic and crisis, and everybody thinking of borrowing money forgot about it, and the economy went into a tailspin and unemployment soared. And this was a great success, for it weakened the position of the working class, undermined the unions which Reagan was attacking, and generally set the scene for thirty years of the ruling class looting the country like Viking berserkers.

So now, the U.S. economic conditions are being compared with a temporary collapse in confidence a few years ago, and with a deliberate (but again necessarily temporary) yet savage collapse of the U.S. national economy.

The point is that the comparison is not valid because conditions are so utterly different. Today, interest rates are pushing zero. Banks are willing to lend money for free — except they aren’t, because virtually no banks are sure that they have any money to lend. Still, theoretically such low interest rates should be promoting economic growth, not contraction.

The U.S. government has been trying to promote economic growth. President Bush tried to stimulate the economy by giving every citizen a cash rebate so that they would go out and consume. Meanwhile, under Bush trillions of dollars were poured into the private economy, mostly to banks, to try and get them to use the money productively. The amount of money being spent made little things like the New Deal or the Interstate Highway Programme look like pennies. None of that socialistic activity managed to save the U.S. economy from contracting.

OK, another solution is tax cuts. Tax cuts don’t usually work, admittedly — when the Great Depression happened, Herbert Hoover cut taxes until there was no more to cut, and he was still heaved out of the White House by the scruff of his neck first chance the voters got. But, theoretically, tax cuts are supposed to be stimulating. And taxes just happen to be lower than they’ve been since the Second World War. But the economy is contracting, not growing.

What all this means is best expressed in terms of a Western movie. A bad guy has rolled into town. Luckily, the sheriff, unafraid, waits for the bad guy in the main street at high noon, The sheriff waits till the bad guy in the black hat is close enough, then draws his .45 Peacemaker and fires six shots. Every one hits, for of course the good sheriff in the white hat never misses. But unfortunately the bullets just bounce off, for the bad guy is not from a Western movie at all, he’s one of the bad guys from a superhero movie, and bullets don’t faze supervillains. What’s more, he’s coming at the sheriff, wearing a ski mask and carrying a chain-saw. Will the sheriff stand still to be chopped into hamburger, or will he run, leaving the townsfolk to their fate? What difference would it make?

None. Like unto the dangling person on the cliff with the tigers.

However, we may get some clues of the predicament of the present government from the behaviour of America’s lawmakers. The new President is proposing a “stimulus package” of some $800 billion. Some of this is going to be borrowed and fed into the U.S. economy over the next two years; some is going to be income tax cuts. A great deal of the spending is aimed at middle-class supporters of the Democratic Party, although most of this will in some ways benefit the U.S. economy (for example, spending on sexually transmitted diseases goes mainly to doctors, but STDs are a costly medical burden; spending on public infrastructure goes mainly to construction companies, but roads and railways are a nice thing to have). As for the tax cuts, of course these benefit the ruling class and the upper-middle-class disproportionately, because they are the people who potentially pay most of the income tax (poorer people contribute to revenue mainly through sales tax).

What this means is that the “stimulus package” is not as much of a stimulus as it ought to be (if President Obama really wanted to stimulate the economy he would borrow that $800 billion and give $2,500 tax-free to every American citizen — then he’d see some consumer spending!). On the other hand, it is more nearly a stimulus package than, say, borrowing a similar amount of money and giving it to banks (which President Bush did last year to no obvious gain for anyone except a handful of bankers). However, the Republican minority in Congress is doing its utmost to oppose this package, demanding that less be spent on anything which might conceivably stimulate the economy, and more be spent on tax cuts. Tax cuts do not have meaningful impact on a depression, but they do benefit the rich much more than the poor, and the Republican Party is openly committed to this as a policy. (The Democratic Party’s commitment to this policy is unspoken, although real.)

The chief reason for the depression is that wealth disparities have gone too far. The rich are now so rich that they are spending little on consumer goods and services. The poor are so poor that they have to go into debt to buy consumer goods and services. Now the debts are being called in, loans are not being made, and the poor are not buying any more. As a result, the weaker service providers and retailers are collapsing, and the stronger ones are gleefully cutting back on employment and on remuneration, hoping to make more profits when the upturn comes. But this means that there are fewer and fewer people with jobs, and those with jobs have less and less money to spend. So people buy even less goods and services, and the spiral renews itself.

The only way out of the spiral is to stop the vicious process by which the U.S. capitalist system is starving the people who do the buying of any cash to buy things with. This is a suicidal process, but the system is working this way because the people in charge want more cash for themselves. Ironically, these people do not spend the money on goods or services, but put most of it into financial institutions — and it is these institutions which are particularly in crisis as a result of the collapsing wider economy. It is as if there were a huge cash-in-transit robbery syndicate which was dedicated to stealing money and flushing it all down the toilet, after which more robberies are needed to get more to flush. The robbers are incapable of seeing how absurd their behaviour is because they are so in love with the money they steal and the power they have to steal it. The people from whom they steal have no protection (the robbers have bought off the cops) and no capacity to influence the robbers.

All that anyone can do is inject more money into the system, and stop sending that money by cash-in-transit vans. (Getting a new set of cops might be a good idea, too.) There is no sign that President Obama or any of his friends plan on doing anything like this. Hence the spiral into depression will continue until the U.S. no longer has the money to fund its operations because the banks can no longer lend it money and it is in any case no longer considered a good credit risk. Nobody seems to have thought about the consequences of a financial collapse of the United States, apart from some science fiction writers (Bruce Sterling’s Distraction opens with an image of U.S. troops setting up roadblocks to shake down passers-by for cash), and science fiction writers usually resolve their problems with a technological deus ex machina. There is no god in any box who is coming to save the U.S. Or the rest of us.

 

 


A Thought Experiment on Israel.

February 5, 2009

 

The situation in Israel is not particularly important to South Africa. Our concerns should be with Africa, especially with Africa south of the Sahara. We should not waste our energies elsewhere — particularly because the situation in Israel is largely determined by the resolute involvement of powerful countries which South Africa has no capacity to influence.

However, it might be interesting to debate the issues with an informed attitude. To further debate, the Creator offers some facts and speculations.

Why is there a crisis in Israel?

a) Because Israelis, refusing to accept the limits placed on them by the United Nations at the time of partition, launched a land grab and ethnic cleansing operation which by 1949 had pinned most of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine into a much smaller area than they had been granted by the U.N.; the Arab Palestinians resented being dispossessed and displaced.

b) Because Israelis successfully militarised their state and fought a series of aggressive wars against their neighbours, which aroused the support of the United States (which felt that it needed allies to help dominate the oil reserves of the region) and thus Israel became a proxy of American imperialism, which it remains.

c) Because as a result of the 1967 war the Israelis annexed the whole of Palestine and part of Syria; some Palestinians (and all Syrians) were ethnically cleansed but many remained under harsh military occupation, deprived of the second-class citizenship granted by Israel to those Arabs who remained within the pre-1967 boundaries.

d) Because Israelis adopted the policy that they were entitled to commit any crime in furtherance of the policy of their state, including murder, detention without trial, torture and collective punishment, committing these crimes increasingly as time went on.

e) Because Israelis proceeded to take large chunks (always the best-watered and most arable) of the occupied territories of Palestine seized in 1967, arousing increasing hostility from Palestinians who saw their land stolen from them by people whom they justifiably hated as a result of history and of contemporary oppression, and settled the most racist and brutal elements of their population on this stolen land, establishing settlements which deliberately provoked conflict with the local inhabitants, with the active support of the Israeli armed forces.

f) Because Israelis were provided with the means to make nuclear weapons by France (with the support of the United States) and, eventually, with the means to make long-range nuclear missiles (initially using U.S. technology, but later actually supplied with U.S. missiles).

g) Because Israeli law discriminates against non-Jews in Israel, a factor which particularly affects Palestinians who are under Israeli occupation and dominance and who see themselves as stripped of their rights.

h) Because Israelis undertook to cooperate with the Palestinians under the terms of the negotiations between the P.L.O. and the Israeli government between 1988 and 1993, but the Israelis negotiated in bad faith and broke all their agreements, giving the Palestinians, who had ended their resistance to Israeli occupation in anticipation of successful negotiations, strong grounds for complaint and renewed resistance.

i) Because Israelis supported the 2006 election for a Palestinian National Authority, but refused to accept the outcome of the election because it was won by a party which supported resistance to Israeli occupation; that is, Israelis do not support democracy among Palestinians and do not accept that Palestinians are entitled to resist oppression (although Israelis are always quick to complain when Jews anywhere are being oppressed, and are happy to appeal to universal human rights when this benefits their ethnic group).

To sum up, Israel is a brutally repressive colonial state which does not respect human rights in or out of its boundaries. It does not respect international law. It discriminates against people on ethnic grounds. It negotiates in bad faith and its word cannot be trusted. It launches aggressive war against its neighbours on flimsy grounds, knowing that it commands the support of more powerful states elsewhere and that it ultimately possesses nuclear weapons which its opponents do not — in short, it is a regional bully without accountability for its actions. Its past and present behaviour makes Israel detested and despised among the inhabitants of the region; it is also disliked on political grounds by most left-wingers in the world, and on religious grounds, because of its behaviour, by most Moslems.

This is all pretty bad. Israel has been able to do these things, in part, because of the support of powerful states elsewhere, but also because of the complete incompetence of its political opponents among the Palestinians. It would be difficult to find greater incompetence than the political-military conduct of the PLO between 1963 and 1987, but the PLO’s conduct of negotiations with Israel between 1988 and 2000 showed that the PLO had reserves of incompetence which nobody had ever dreamed existed. However, even this incompetence was dwarfed by the incompetence of the PLO in its reincarnation as a sort of askari for the Israeli state after the death of Yassir Arafat, who for all his enormous faults did actually support his people. Now that the PLO has seized “power” in the West Bank enclave (which is surrounded by the Separation Wall and totally controlled by Israel) but failed to overthrow the Hamas movement in Gaza (who proved to be better shots, despite the PLO’s being covertly supplied with arms by Israel and the United States) the Palestinians are without any unified leadership; nothing can be expected from the PLO (more commonly called Fatah) and little can be expected from Hamas which is penned into the Gaza enclave.

So: unlike the situation in apartheid South Africa, we cannot expect any leadership from the victims of the crisis. The Palestinians have not produced a Mandela, a Mbeki or a Tambo; to be precise, if they have produced them, the Israelis have murdered or jailed them and refuse to negotiate with any survivors at large, and in any case the Palestinian political situation is such that the best leader in the world could accomplish little. If we want to see a solution to this terrible situation, it will have to come from elsewhere.

This is problematic. The solutions to the South African crisis which came from outside South Africa (indeed, from outside the South African resistance) were uniformly absurd and horrible. It is likely that outsiders will make terrible mistakes. However, let us try.

The present situation is untenable. Under present conditions, the Israelis will not only continue to oppress the Palestinians, they will oppress them more as time goes on. Eventually they will want to steal more of the land within the Separation Wall (building the wall was already an act of land theft) and no doubt they continue to covet southern Lebanon. They will continue to occupy Syrian territory against that country’s will and in defiance of international law. Their laws and values and ethos will continue to be a stench in the nostrils of humane civilisation. It is quite clear that there must be a change.

The official “two-state solution” which is implicit in Western diplomacy in the region (but never made explicit, because the West does not actually support a two-state solution any more than Israel does) is that Israel should ultimately withdraw from occupied Palestine and that the Palestinians should establish a state there. The trouble with this is that this means that the Palestinians are confined to a tiny fraction of Palestine, even though they are the majority of its inhabitants. Granted, parts of the West Bank are good arable land, or potentially so, but the Gaza Strip is essentially a saline desert. Thus this official solution represents a deep injustice against the Palestinians which will resolve few of the problems noted above. More importantly, this solution does not solve any of the actual problems with Israel’s policies which make it hostile to Arabs and make Arabs hostile to it. Therefore, the official two-state solution does not solve the problem. Other solutions must be found.

A more realistic two-state solution would be to partition Palestine according to population, ensuring that both sides received a fair share of the nation’s land (rather than handing Palestinians the desert and giving Israelis the fertile parts). The Israelis would have to give up their nuclear weapons and most of their other weapons, so as not to pose a threat to their neighbours. They would also have to abandon discrimination against Arabs (equally, of course, the Palestinian state would not be allowed to discriminate against Jews) and renounce terrorism, oppression and armed aggression. Both states would have to draft extensive and specific non-aggression and mutual cooperation agreements with their neighbouring countries. The whole package would be guaranteed by the major global powers (particularly the U.S., the EU and China) with UN supervision. In effect, this is very much like what happened in South Africa after 1994.

However, this would entail the destruction of Israel as a Zionist entity. Once Israel renounced its claim to the whole of Palestine, once it abandoned racial discrimination against Arabs and once it rejected terrorism and aggression, it would have lost almost everything which makes it attractive to its current supporters. Such a state would not be altogether unacceptable to the original Zionists of the era of Herzl — but then, today’s Israel would probably have horrified most of them. In practice, one suspects that such an Israel would quickly implode as the thugs, fascists, mafiosi and buffoons currently infesting Israel’s body politic fled elsewhere.

So in practice a one-state solution seems more sensible. Keep Palestine a single country, but make it a secular, democratic state. Strip it of weapons (except a modest amount for defense), give it a constitution granting full and equal human rights to all and place it within the same peaceful negotiated framework outlined for the realistic two-state solution. Some sort of structures of affirmative action would have to be established to transfer wealth from the former Israelis to the former Palestinians — the latter having been denied their rights for so long, exactly like blacks in South Africa. Again, a great-power guarantee with UN support. This seems the wisest solution to the problem. Nobody (except the Israeli ruling class and a few corrupt Fatah politicians) would be the long-term loser.

The only obstacles in the way, apart from the entire Zionist apparatus and the Israeli state, are the United States, Europe and the Arab states, who would not welcome a solution to the crisis. But these are bagatelles in the Creator’s eyes. History is on the side of the transformation of Zionist Israel into democratic Palestine. Or into a desert of radioactive glass.