Corruption in the Corruption.

October 26, 2011

It’s become absolutely routine for us all to be deeply concerned about corruption. Corruption is, apparently, bad. It causes bad things to happen. It is the source, indeed, of all badness. Therefore, corruption must be rooted out, by the roots, wherever those roots are. The way to root out corruption is to be deeply concerned about it. To acknowledge that it is bad and causes badness to happen and so on and so forth, ad infinitum to the final nauseam.
It will be noticed that in South African discourse, corruption fulfils essentially the same signifying function as is fulfilled by terrorism in Western imperialist discourse. It is the word through which a sense of self-righeous loathing towards a nebulously-defined but absolute enemy is expressed, thus legitimating almost any action against the absolute enemy, whose ranks may include absolutely anyone, at any time, who happens to be any kind of threat to the established elite from whose ranks the discourse emanates and whom it serves.
It is for this reason that corruption is never examined as a concept.
Corruption, literally, is simply an interference in the proper functioning of a human organisation generated by the personal interests of people involved in that organisation. If someone steals from the organisation, or makes the organisation perform useless or harmful duties, or sabotages the useful activities of the organisation out of a desire for personal benefit, or even fails to perform duties out of laziness or some other desire to pursue personal comfort, then that is corruption.
Undeniably, there is a lot of it about. It is inevitable that there should be a lot of it about. Of course, one can minimise corruption through two modes; by providing monitoring systems which identify corrupt practices swiftly, or by providing value-systems shared by all participating in the organisation which promote the interests of the collective over the interests of the individual. The two can interact — for instance, a monitoring system works best when people in the organisation endorse it and feel themselves justified in cooperating with the organisation against individuals who are not doing so.
But this is actual corruption. Discursive corruption, as usual, is something else. When South Africans talk about corruption, they are not talking about corruption in organisations, which exist in large numbers. They are talking about corruption in the government. And, outside the pages of noseWeek, they are not talking about corruption in the government where that government happens to be the DA, but only corruption in the ANC government. They are therefore not talking about corruption in a sense in which that corruption can be rooted out by improved monitoring practices or by inculcating ideals of prudence, responsibility and united action. They are talking about corruption as an inevitable consequence of having an ANC government, which they (risibly) claim can be eradicated by installing a DA government in its place.
So, in short, the discourse of corruption is in itself a kind of corruption, because it exploits and indeed encourages corruption, by opposing any real action against corruption, because such corruption will ultimately serve the personal interests of the people devising and transmitting the discourse of corruption.
This, of course, explains why the removal from office of a bunch of corrupt officials, and their replacement by other officials without any serious investigation as to the new figures’ fitness, is seen as a triumph.
Meanwhile, why does the system permit, fail to act against, and not make ideologically intolerable, the concept of personal corruption?
One vital issue is the way in which neoliberalism focusses upon individual gain. Greed is good, personal greed drives the system, generates consumers, furthers the fashioning of CEOs, promotes wealth. Therefore, anything which encourages greed is satisfactory, and anything which discourages greed must be disregarded. Corruption is driven by greed. Therefore, the ideologies which promote restraint must be repudiated, and those which encourage a sense of self-worth either outside property accumulation, or worse yet, within a collective sense of mutual cooperation, must be demonised beyond all measure. Therefore, it is impossible to promote intellectual attitudes which condemn corruption.
Of course, it is possible nevertheless to condemn corruption, through deploying the strategic systems of hypocrisy upon which human political organisation rests. The rich person, sitting on an immense pile of stolen goods, pays the policeman well to hunt down the miscreant who has stolen something through methods outside the legalised robbery which is part of the rich person’s entitlement. Therefore, one can say “Corruption is bad! That person is corrupt! That person is bad!” without going into details. Corruption becomes a signifier the signified of which is floating in the air without any connections to anything else — because making connections would problematise the concept.
This, then, explains the ever-growing focus upon observation, discipline and punishment in our culture, and why the observation is invariably on issues of no real moment. When municipalities are condemned, they are condemned because their finances have not been endorsed by accountants — as if a municipality were set up purely to enhance the self-image of auditors. Once the condemnation is made, it is proclaimed to be evidence of corruption, and heads must roll. Given the circumstances in South African municipalities it is perfectly likely that the heads which then roll deserve to roll. However, this is not about corruption, in reality — it is about fulfilling the technical requirements of the monitoring system, which stipulate that every financial transaction, corrupt or not, must be legitimated by a signed piece of paper. And, of course, it is not about delivering services to the people ostensibly provided for by the administrators of the municipality. That never comes into the case.
So a clean audit can go hand in hand with service delivery protests, because a clean audit has nothing to do with either real corruption, or with the proper functioning of the system.
Meanwhile, all this talk about corruption is extremely convenient, not only because it legitimates ever-increasing surveillance to prevent corruption at low levels of the corporate world (while the “incentives” supposedly given managers in order to discourage corruption are actually a form of corruption in themselves). It also serves to distract attention from the most important form of corruption, namely corrupt policies.
The apartheid state was corrupt, and to this extent it was less destructive. (Claims that the apartheid state’s corruption only began to appear after apartheid had failed as a policy are simply apologias for apartheid which are constructed because corruption is widely seen, in the white supremacist community, as more significant and important than racial discrimination or terrorism in the cause of white supremacy.) To the extent that the apartheid state was efficient, it was destructive. Its policies were corrupt politics, intended to deliberately undermine normal human behaviour and substitute for it a destructive and loathesome set of practices.
Therefore, as the descendants of apartheid, we ought to (were we not systematically disinformed and brainwashed by our elite) determine whether policies are corrupt, before we focus our attention upon the possible corruption of those who implement them. If a policeman is commanded to shoot a demonstrator by police policy, but does not pursue that policy (whether because he is lazy, or compassionate, or motivated by principled opposition to that policy) then that policeman is not actually being corrupt; objectively that policeman is acting out of human solidarity, even if that policeman’s personal motive is ignoble.
The problem with the Zuma administration is not simply that it promotes corruption. It does that, obviously; the big corruption issue with Zuma is that virtually all of his senior appointees have turned out corrupt because his personal corruption led him to most thoroughly trust people who were corrupt as well. However, his policies are also, for the most part, corrupt; healthcare, education, policing, foreign affairs, local government, are all dominated by policies which aim at promoting the best interests of the rich as opposed to the interests of the poor, in terms of both wealth and power. The more effective Zuma’s policies are, the more corrupt his actual regime becomes. And, incidentally, this also enables corruption in the wider community, as the rich are encouraged to plunder the system and are given essential impunity to do so.
Of course, publicly condemning a corrupt politician does no harm in itself and might even encourage other corrupt politicians to mitigate their stealing and bribe-taking. The problem is that the illusion is created that the Zuma administration discourages corruption of that kind when it does not, and that the illusion is also created, once more, that the system would be all right, were it not for a few rotten apples. These excuses, faithfully parrotted in the press, are exactly like the apologias for the apartheid system in the 1980s and are made along the same lines. Therefore, action against corruption, in the fetid swamp of Zumatism, actually promotes corruption on all sorts of levels. This is why the system itself needs to be destroyed.

The Colonial Year Is Dead, And The Greeks, Too, Are Finished.

October 10, 2011

The Creator is not particularly high on rebellion (although it is entertaining to see a handful of young people defying the American dictatorship of the bourgeoisie on Wall Street — would there were ten million of them) but it may be interesting to our reader to learn exactly what the hell is going on, and why we are all being invited to boycott retsina, ouzo and spanakopita.

As usual, the lies told by the ruling class are aimed at justifying the transfer of money from the poor to the rich. When the 2008 banking crisis reached its climax the following year, it was easy for the ruling class to see that their long campaign to disempower, disenfranchise and generally diss the poor, the downtrodden and the left across the whole global ruling bloc had succeeded so spectacularly that not a single lying, fraudulent “bankster” had so much as been indicted, let alone chased down the street being pelted with stones with his pants around his ankles and ultimately necklaced.

This was immensely reassuring, and so they went on to Phase II of the crisis; taking advantage of it by making money out of it. The affluent world had saved its banks by borrowing immense amounts of money (from the banks) and giving it to the banks; that meant that in addition to the immense donations, the banks were eligible to receive immense amounts of interest on the loans which they had made to governments in order to keep them capable of making loans. If this sounds tipsy, it is. Basically, the banks were getting it coming and going.

The only problem was, would the governments be able to pay that interest? Governments had run up fairly high debts since about 1990; this was because interest rates had been kept low in order to encourage borrowing. Interest rates, in turn, were low because wages had been kept low so as to shift wealth from the poor to the rich — and so, in order to keep the economy turning over, people had to be encouraged to borrow, which meant low interest rates, which naturally encouraged governments to borrow, too. Now on top of that debt, massive debts had been incurred to the banks. But on top of that, the banking bailout meant that there was no money for real economic stimulus, so national economies sagged and tax revenue plummetted, pushing the ongoing deficit higher. Debt soared.

The countries suffering most from this were, obviously, the countries which had the highest deficits — the so-called PIGS countries, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Although their debts were not so much bigger than anybody else in Western Europe’s (or rather, everybody had big debts although theirs were the biggest) they were targeted for structural adjustment by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They were granted loans, but at much higher rates of interest than the going rate (supposedly because they were bad risks) and on condition that they rendered themselves more able to pay their interest costs, by slashing social spending and increasing taxes.

This was a straight colonial operation. The banks in rich Europe were giving poor Europe money which was immediately given back to them with interest, in return for poor Europe putting itself completely under the control of rich Europe. Naturally there was resistance, but in poor Europe the governments were completely in the hands of the rich and the public was ignored. Both wealth and power were trickling up to the hands of the financial aristocracy.

Of course, the PIGS countries’ economies went into free fall; that was part of the point. If the countries developed too fast, they would be able to pay off their debts and the rich banks would make less of a profit. Keeping the PIGS countries from developing was thus desirable.

The only danger was that these economies would fall too fast for the governments to be able to pay the interest. This didn’t happen in Ireland, partly because of the highly centralised nature of the Irish state and the passivity of the population which made it possible to raise taxes without serious resistance. Spain was considered too big to fail, so problems there were swept under the carpet. Portugal went along with the affair, at least rhetorically, and when the crisis reached danger-point the Portuguese elected a right-wing government to do the bankers’ work for them — showing how docile the population were.

The big problem was Greece, which had a trifecta: a left-wing government which wasn’t going away in the near future, a very high debt and deficit level, a very pissed-off population with strong mobilizing tools, and a strong tradition of the rich not paying their taxes. The left-wing (insofar as any government in Europe can be called left-wing, which is about three millimetres) PASOK government was trying to implement the extreme-right policies which had been imposed on it partly simply in order to make money for the bankers, but also in order to discredit a left-wing government. This succeeded, up to a point, but PASOK, although it crushed popular demonstrations with the best of them, was, first in private and increasingly in public, extremely unhappy about the right-wing austerity policies aimed at damaging the Greek economy. As a result, the demonstrators had a sense, as they did not in places like Spain, that they might get somewhere, which energised them.

Meanwhile, the policies failed. The austerity policies damaged social services (although PASOK did not implement them fully, so not as much damage was done as the banksters wanted) and further weakened the feeble Greek economy. The deficit, consequently, soared. The disaffected populace refused to pay higher taxes; the rich squirrelled the money away while the poor pointed to this as a sign that they weren’t bloody well paying on the rich’s behalf (an unheard-of stand in Western Europe for thirty years). The debt expanded. Greece began running out of money. The European Central Bank failed to pay its pledged cash to the Greek government on time, no doubt hoping to up the pressure, but instead providing the Greek government with copper-bottomed pretexts for blaming someone else for their failures. The ratings agencies downgraded the Greek economy, thus justifying further-increased interest rates on future loans.

What was happening was that the system was failing itself. In their vindictiveness, Western financial imperialism was punishing Greece for being odiously Mediterranean, but was forgetting that colonialism only works if you can extract something from the colony. Sucking cash out of a country faster than that country can generate cash is like overfishing; you end up with a cod-free Grand Banks. (That’s the fishing-grounds off Newfoundland, not the international financial community; they have plenty of cod, the fuckers.) Unlike the fish, however, countries have a response; they can blow up the cash pipeline through which the money is being sucked. This was what Greece, eventually, felt compelled to do.

Why is a small country on the fringes of Europe, one of the smallest and poorest states in the richest continent on the planet, but a planet where much if not most of the manufacturing is done far away from where the money is — why should this small country’s financial woes have anything to do with us? South Africa was not flung to the ground when Ivory Coast burned to ashes — why should Canada quail before the possibility of Athens melting into a puddle?

The answer is simple — it has nothing at all to do with Greece itself and everything to do with the system. The gigantic amounts of cash flung into the global financial system to save it, did not save it. Instead, they saved its face; they enabled people to pretend that the global financial system was functional when it was not. It gave a couple of years for the global financial system to repair itself and make itself functional — but in order to do this, the global financial system would have had to lower its profit margins, and it chose, instead, to go on with the same absurd but profitable policies which caused the financial crisis in the first place. One of these absurd policies was lending vast amounts of money to people who couldn’t possibly pay it back — and the most conspicuous example of this ongoing policy was the loans to the PIGS countries.

The global financial system is, very probably, ruined. We don’t know for sure. The global economy is already in a depression, with the only things holding it up being the financial system which is lending people money to buy Chinese goods, and the Chinese economy itself, which appears to be heading for its first recession in thirty years, complete with its own home-grown banking crisis. It is just possible that the rumours of a China crisis are Western propaganda, because the Western bourgeoisie hates China so much that it would slash its own wrists in order to bleed in China’s tea, but it is likely that China has no more found a way to escape crises of capitalism than anyone else has.

Therefore, with everyone relying on what the American economic pundit Paul Krugman calls the “confidence fairy” to save them, it is hardly surprising that things are on a knife-edge. The Greek crisis provides the pretext for this. It is the pin which pricks the balloon of false European financial confidence. The possibility that Greece will stop paying the interest on its debts has been enough to rock the Western European financial system, simply because so many banks leaped into the opportunity to suckle on Greece’s carotid arteries.

The dimmer but still credible possibility that Greece might simply announce that it is never paying back the money it owes (it will never pay that money back anyway, but the pretense that it might is what is keeping some loaners solvent) is what is rocking the global financial economy, because that would be sending the confidence fairy to the gas chamber. And what if other countries followed suit? What if Portugal and Spain began wondering why they should pay if Greece doesn’t? What about Italy, which has belatedly been discovered to be in much the same financial state as Spain? (The banksters have been inclined to let Italy off the hook, because it has an extreme-right-wing government.) What if rioters in the streets of Dublin demand that their government default along with Greece? The answer could be a chain of banking failures in Europe (and, later, America) which could have the same potential effect as the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 — with the difference that in 2008 the West was still solvent enough to prop up the banks with shiploads of cash.

Bloody Greeks! Dontja just hate them? Thank Gawd for living in South Africa, where we are never going to have an economic crisis! I’m off to buy myself a brand-new unnecessary electronic device — on credit, naturally!