Occupational Hazard.

November 28, 2011

The original idea was to dramatise the economic inequality in the United States, and the political injustice which goes with it, through a demonstration as near to Wall Street as possible, and this became the “Occupy Wall Street” encampment in Zuccotti Park. That was a good idea as far as it went, which was not very far. Although the American media have propagandised for the plutocracy incessantly since quite early in the nineteenth century, the American general public have not been fooled by this, although much of the middle class have been (and they were very largely the ones towards whom the media propaganda was directed). In any case, since the financial crisis, the banks have been in bad odour again — not only rightly, but also quite compatibly with a great deal of American political and intellectual tradition.

Any such dramatisation also needs some discursive framework to attract attention. The discursive framework for “Occupy Wall Street” was the notion that the rulers of America work in the interests of about 1% of the population and against the interests of about 99% of the population. This is an ambiguous truth, because some of those 99% benefit from the system (though they would benefit more from other systems), and a much larger proportion, including virtually the whole middle class and the majority of the employed working class, wrongly believe that they benefit from the system. So “We are the 99%”, while a clever-sounding slogan, was self-deceptively false; like so many such slogans, it enabled the Occupiers to ignore the political difficulties involved in their project.

Squatting in Zuccotti Park turned out not to accomplish very much, although it clearly irritated the ruling class, which was split between those who wanted to crush the movement and those who wanted to co-opt it. Therefore, the call went out for an “#OCCUPY” movement, organised via social media as the Twitter tag indicates, under which the “Occupy Wall Street” movement would become national, and if possible, international. The internationalisation of the movement was mildly interesting because the movement itself had been partly inspired by the “Indignados” of Spain protesting against the right-wing policies of the Socialist government there, and by the Syntagma Square protests in Athens, protesting against the right-wing policies of the Socialist government in Greece. In other words, the Americans, in their customary way, were imitating foreigners and then pretending to be original. But, in fairness, the fact that resistance was materialising at the heart of the Empire helped to dynamise resistance in places like Britain, France and Italy where it had been lukewarm or temporarily dormant.

Of course, occupying Buffalo or Oakland or Boston had little or no automatic significance in the way that occupying Wall Street had. (Although it was mildly amusing that the mayor of Boston sent in the riot squad on the basis that civil disobedience had no place in Boston — either the U.S. education system no longer discusses the Boston Tea Party, or he had decided that the “Tea Party” movement had persuaded Americans that the Tea Party was simply a corporate-funded tax-cutting jamboree.) Also, going wider raised the question of doctrine and policies in a way that a simple short-term protest did not; it also asked the question of what the movement was really about and how it was to become sustainable and politically significant.

This is an enormous problem which the Occupiers have never seriously tried to solve, probably because they cannot within the confines of their structure. Paradoxically, they are profoundly handicapped by the fact that their structure is as loose and leaderless as possible. This means that they cannot take decisions on a national level, and they cannot develop unified policy, and they also have a great deal of difficulty taking decisions which would entail either compromise or danger. (Political danger, that is — nobody doubts their courage, at least that of many of them who have been willing to confront the repressive state apparatus.)

While this has enabled the Occupiers to avoid being co-opted by the Democratic regime (though the Democrats naturally pretend that they have accomplished this, and the Democratic media the “blogosphere” plays along with the lie) it makes it hard to reach out beyond a narrow audience. It is possible to respect people like the Occupiers, and even endorse their opinions to some extent, but many are quite challenged by these opinions, and many of those who support the Occupiers almost certainly do so largely in ignorance of what they really stand for, or else in the confidence that the movement is not going to go anywhere and therefore one can support the Occupiers as a piece of political performance art without in any way actually endorsing their beliefs.

For the Occupiers, insofar as they actually have beliefs, hold extremely radical opinions. They want to end “economic injustice” as symbolised by Wall Street and the power of the “1%” and the “banksters”. If this means anything, it means, at the very least, drastic redistribution of wealth through taxation and regulation on a scale not seen in the United States for sixty years or more, something utterly inconceivable to the American ruling class and its agents. However, it seems probable that the ostentatious anti-establishment “hippie” image of the Occupiers is not inherent in their nature, but is rather an indication that, like the hippies forty-five years ago, they are hostile to the American economic (and therefore political) system itself. In other words, what they want is a revolution, whether they fully understand this or not. Which, of course, is why radicals everywhere tend to support the Occupiers. (It is true that many on the Left oppose the Occupiers on very dubious grounds, usually really because they do not want newcomers stepping on their turf, behaviour which in this case is almost certainly discrediting and weakening those of the established Left who are adopting this stance. Not necessarily good, because even bad leftists are better than none.)

There is, again, a problem with taking a radical stance which directly undermines the interests of the ruling class — it means that you will face repression. The United States is a highly repressive, militarized society, effectively a police state without acknowledging the fact, whose President is entitled to detain or kill without trial and without explanation. Given that the citizenry stand for this, it is hardly surprising that police violence is unleashed against the state’s political enemies; intimidation, beatings, gassings, pepper-sprayings, tasers and the use of sonic weapons; laser weapons have not yet been used but are presumably in the pipeline if necessary. This is targeted violence, intended to separate those members of the elite who are opposed to the system from those who support it — and it will probably succeed.

The reason why this is likely is simple: the Occupiers are a tiny minority. The whole movement numbers a few tens of thousands of activists at most; they are the 0.01%, mostly students and disaffected social outsiders. In theory, possibly a third or less of the population supports their stance. However, this support has no means of making itself concrete, and there is no indication that it wants to. Contemporary culture is that of the passive consumer rather than the active participant, and in order to transform the former into the latter it is necessary to have powerful ideological and symbolic weapons. Proclaiming the nastiness of the system and the wickedness of the system’s guardians is not enough — especially since everybody who has given the matter any thought has come to the same conclusion to an increasing extent over the past fifty years. The Occupiers are coming very late to a party which has long-since run out of steam. How can they revitalise a moribund broad resistance? More to the point, how can they encourage people to overcome their understandable fear of getting hurt, injured or killed? That was what killed off the Seattle movement, which had far more coherence and organisational potential than the Occupy movement has yet displayed, and it seems likely to smother #OCCUPY in its cradle.

How could the movement become more effective? The contradiction is that it needs to have a doctrinal system, a set of demands through which the system can be implemented, and a coherent leadership to present those demands. But this is almost precisely what makes the movement attractive to its adherents — it cannot be controlled or subverted because it has no commanders and no doctrine. So developing such things would make it much like any other political party — apart from the obvious fact that, unlike any other political party, it would then be pursuing an agenda which sought the transformation of the United States into something else — actually, although hardly anybody within the movement is saying so, into something like a socialist state. But political parties are so thoroughly discredited in the United States that this is probably not something that any young thoughtful person wants.

Does this mean that the Occupy movement is going nowhere? It certainly seems so. It rather resembles the 1968 New Left, which so assiduously avoided behaving like the tedious Old Left. It generated an unstructured movement which, though it sometimes managed brief coups, most conspicuously seizing the streets of Paris (though it couldn’t have done that without the help of the trade unions and the French Communist Party), never managed to hold any of the ground it took. Occupy seems rather like that — except feebler, and lacking any external support. The Spanish and Greek street protests have all turned to nothing now that the full might of the global financial establishment has been imposed on the governments of those countries.

So: nice try, but no cigar, nor any prospect of one. But unfortunately, much of the surviving Left has thrown its weight behind the Occupy movement in the hope of gathering some shreds of surviving credit. The Western Left, punch-drunk after all these decades of working consciously or unconsciously towards its own demise and destruction, is desperate to align itself with something which looks vaguely successful, even if it isn’t. Perhaps when Occupy goes down, it will take some of what remains of the Western Left down with it, in the same way that the uprising against Gaddaffi turned so many leftists into willing agents of imperialism. Perhaps the decline of the Western Left is not a huge loss, given the actual nature of that Left these days.

But sad, nevertheless, that the Left is so enfeebled, so incapable, so desperate and at the same time so lacking in the energy which the Left’s desperation once generated.

Terribly sad.

 


Unravelling.

November 24, 2011

This morning, President Zuma was reported to have said that government, business and labour must get together to save South Africa from the effects of the coming economic crisis. This is rather like saying that we must hand over rabies control to Feral Dogs and Coyotes Amalgamated, but let it pass, since we already know that everything that Zuma does and says is essentially intended to benefit the rich and their hired hacks. Let us instead note that Zuma has actually observed that there is an economic crisis coming.

Only a week or so back, various economists were telling us that everything was going to be all right because the green shoots were showing and the American economy was coming roaring back to full throttle, based on the alleged information that some Americans were buying stuff. Now they tell us otherwise. Corporate economists have a horizon of memory and anticipation of about twenty minutes forward and back. Zuma, on the other hand, has to think at least a day in each direction (longer than that and he can be sure that newspaper editors will forget, or be paid to do so). Also, he never says anything unless he has to. We can thus be sure that a crisis is coming, or at least that one will be manufactured.

Manufactured? How can we use such a term? Why, everybody knows the term “Eurozone debt crisis” by now! There is a crisis! In the Eurozone! It has something to do with debt! We know this! Nothing is being manufactured —

No, and that’s the problem. Actually, things are being manufactured, but the people who are creating the crisis are not manufacturing anything except illusions. That is why the planet is in a much more desperate crisis now than it was in a few years ago.

There is more money to be made out of financial speculation than out of any other activity that one can do with money. This is the crux of the global financial crisis. As a result, provided that capitalists are permitted to do so, they will plough everything they have into financial speculation, which in itself is very nearly enough to make the money markets go apeshit. Of course, if they are prevented from indulging in such speculation, they will put the money into less profitable but more humanly valuable activities — with very bad grace and much grumbling. Then, when they lose everything they have, because speculation entails risk and is more profitable the more risk you face, they come screaming back demanding bailouts and asking why they were permitted to play with matches, candles and petrol-bombs in the dynamite magazine.

That’s what happened in 2007-8, of course. But the point is that no Western government dared to interfere with financial speculation, largely because doing so would reduce the profits of corporations and would lead to those corporations not contributing to political parties. In other words, Western political parties preferred the interests of their parties in the forthcoming elections, to the interests of their countries and the global economy. They did not want to lose the next election. On the other hand, they did lose the next election, because as a result of their cowardice and corruption the depression has dragged on four years, and one by one the parties have been voted out and supplanted by their competitors.

All of whom did the same thing before and are doing the same thing now; democracy in action.

Therefore, financial speculation continues. Financial speculation, however, is impossible unless financial instruments — stocks, bonds and various more complex instruments derived from these symbolic instruments of liquidisable capital — change their value. They must go up and down. And, as the companies involved in financialisation become more desperate, become more aware that they need money now, there is an increasing trend towards ever greater, ever more rapid swings in order to foster the profitable buying and selling of those instruments. This is what is called, by those economists with their twenty-minute memories, volatility.

To be volatile means that you are liable to turn into gas and blow away in the wind. Indeed. This is always the danger; that as you push the merry-go-round faster and faster, eventually the main axle-bearing will seize solid and all the little ones will be flung off and break their fragile little necks, but worse still, perhaps someone important and significant, someone in a position of authority at an authorised financial services provider, will get hurt. But that doesn’t matter, since it’s more than fifteen minutes in the future. Push! Push!

As the system is growing more unstable and sucking more capital into it (and much of that capital is imaginary, effectively embezzled from stockholders or simply created out of kited cheques) the money has to come from somewhere, and the logical place for it to come from — because there is so much of it — is from the state. But the state has already bankrupted itself bailing out the banks, which were trading in capital transactions totaling to many times the size of the global economy (which is ridiculous, of course, but by pretending that those transactions were real in the boom years, the banks could declare that nobody could compel them to do what they didn’t want to do — even though the banks did not have any bombers or tanks, and a banker’s brains burst out of his forehead just as effectively as anyone else’s when a 9mm bullet is applied to his occiput as he kneels by the gutter against the tiled wall of a cellar).

Sorry. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. Ahem.

Anyway, the need for state money required that states be bullied into coughing up. The Third World was either too immiserated to be worth plundering (Africa), or wasn’t prepared to fall for that bullshit any more (Asia and Latin America, both of whom have been there, done that and got the anti-globalisation t-shirts). Luckily, the European Community provided the necessary opportunity. Various countries within the EU were small, weak and heavily indebted. Their populace had been tricked into electing neoliberal governments which pursued policies to serve the financial community so thoroughly that they had run up almost unpayable bills to banks which were now insolvent. And a supranational force with political clout behind it — the European Central Bank and the Euro itself — existed to enforce the loan-sharks decree and smash kneecaps where necessary.

So it was perfectly logical that Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain should be singled out to provide the cash transfusions to the global casino of Western financialisation. Above all, these were peripheral countries — all except Spain were weak, small and largely under the thumb of bigger neighbours, and the Spanish government was weak and out to prove that socialists in Spain could be as right-wing as socialists in Italy, France and Britain, even if they were less enthusiastic about murdering Iraqis than some. So all these countries knuckled under.

And all of these countries suffered in consequence. All suffered much more drastic economic declines than their larger neighbours did, because they were all compelled to impose savage austerity policies so that they could set money aside to give to multinational banks. Wooot! What’s to lose? But one of the four played less well than the other three, and this was Greece, where the corrupt ruling class had been refusing to pay taxes for decades and the budget was thus even less balanced there than elsewhere, and where the ruling class continued to refuse even after the austerity was imposed, so that the deficit rapidly spiraled upwards. Ireland, Portugal and Spain were in crisis, but the crisis was less savage because, at least for a year or so, they could manage their burdens. Greece, from the beginning, couldn’t.

The global banks couldn’t permit Greece to pull an Iceland and simply default, because then the other PIGS might refuse to play along and then the money would run out. So at first they decided to punish the Greeks. That pushed the deficit higher and made the government less stable. Then they decided to reward the Greeks a little, on condition of a more savage austerity policy, but that pushed the deficit higher and made the government less stable. Suddenly the banks discovered something: a lot of European banks had lent the Greeks money, and now stood to lose their shirts. But those banks didn’t have shirts to lose. If Greece went down, Europe’s banks would go down. Suddenly it became necessary to cover up the crisis, but it was impossible to do this because the damage to Greece’s economic and political system was irreversible. There was definitely not enough money to bail out the whole country.

But Greece has neighbours. Italy, a heavy lender, suddenly discovered that it didn’t have money either. Spain rediscovered its economic crisis. Under conditions of panic, everybody wonders whether they are safe in themselves, and of course nobody was. Hungary unexpectedly came to the party, announcing that it didn’t have money. (The IMF has promised to bail it out, although it does not have the money to do so.) The European Central Bank, which had been ordering everyone around like an SS officer identifying who goes to the gas chambers and who goes to the whipping-blocks, suddenly revealed that it didn’t have money either, and undertook to borrow money on the strength of the money which had been promised it, and then leverage that borrowed money by means of credit default swaps into more money, which is exactly the procedure which brought down Lehmann Brothers. So that was all right.

It seems that our beloved President is right. Of course, the fact that he isn’t going to do anything about it might seem to ameliorate his notorious rectitude. However, another issue is, what does this mean? What does this Eurozone debt crisis entail?

Well, consider a country which has a budget deficit of 8% and a debt ratio of 120% of GDP, more or less commonplace for the PIGS. That suggests that in five years the debt ratio could be 160%. But no, surely, that can’t be right; the economy is growing at — is it growing? 1%? (In five years, then, the debt ratio would be 155%, which isn’t exactly satisfactory.) Or is it shrinking, in which case in five years the debt ratio could be 200% or more? No, that can’t be tolerated, can it?

But wait — does a high debt ratio matter? Surely, with interest rates low, it isn’t a problem. But governments don’t just go down to the local bank and borrow their cash, they mostly raise money by floating bonds, and those bonds can only be sold at interest rates which are relatively realistic. While the European Central Bank’s interest rates are damned near zero, bond rates vary according to how willing pundits are to buy bonds — if they think the bonds are risky, they insist on higher rates of return. Places like Spain, Italy and Greece have bond rates of 7% and up. Which means that 120% debt requires a return of 8,4% of GDP. 200% would require 14% of GDP. And bond rates are rising. (South Africa’s rose above 7% yesterday.)

So what this means is that high debt ratios, plus high bond yields, plus high deficit rates, equals vast amounts of state revenue being given to banks, with the prospect of even bigger amounts going that way in future. Something has to be done. Unfortunately, the only things which can be done are raising taxes (the lack of which is usually the problem in the first place) or cutting spending (which will lead to massive misery and also, probably shrinking GDP — as has happened in Greece). And, unfortunately, those countries which aren’t in the PIGS are also facing high deficits and cutting spending and thus facing shrinking GDP.

So what is happening is simply that in order to make the financialisation system work better for a couple of years, and out of fear of making any changes which would stabilise the situation and thus reduce profits, Western Europe has been reduced to a state at which its only option is to further immiserate the poor and plunge itself into a depression even worse than the one it is in at the moment. This can’t be restricted to the Mediterranean countries, although the Northern countries fantasised that it could for a long time, demonising the olive-oil-eaters. But now that both Italy and Spain are in the Greek-style squeeze, France is caught between them, and Britain faces the same crisis. Even Germany is having trouble at bond auctions, meaning that it will probably have to raise its interest rates. Because the Euro system is one system, and it all ultimately goes down together.

And brings the rest of us down with it, which is why Zuma rounded off his little speech by saying that he wasn’t prepared to pay social grants indefinitely. Immiseration — coming to a theatre of the absurd near you, soon!

 


The Art of Destruction.

November 23, 2011

It isn’t easy to destroy things which the overwhelming majority wants to preserve. You can set fire to the Reichstag, but there’s always a chance that someone will rebuild it; you can slash a painting, but even if it is irreparable, someone will paint another painting. Destroying democracy, destroying art, destroying hope — this is difficult. It takes time to prepare it. First you have to make sure that the majority is powerless by securing all power for a minority; then you have to persuade a big chunk of that minority that it will gain from the destruction, then you have to sideline, silence or intimidate the rest of that minority. Even then, when you go ahead with the destruction, you must be careful to proclaim that you are merely clearing space for the triumphant creation of a New Jerusalem which everyone who experiences will praise and delight in.

What is being destroyed, in this case, is the developmental state adopted by the ANC in the early 1990s, the democratic consciousness of such developmentalism evolved in South African political struggle from the late 1970s, and the hope that someone might save us from the catastrophes into which colonialism, apartheid and neoliberal neocolonialism have plunged us. It is tricky. Outside the white community, very few South Africans have openly called for these things to be done. Instead, these actions are introduced by stealth, and with great care and caution, until they are implemented fully and hailed as the solution to all our problems.

The latest example of this process is the 300-page prologomena to a proposal for a memorandum of understanding regarding the possible development of a National Plan at some stage which has been issued to tremendous official acclaim by the Minister of Planning. It isn’t exactly an impressive document; it’s rather a 100,000-word truism, like being trapped in a lift with the most boring person you’ve ever met who won’t shut up for five hours straight.

But, on closer inspection, the truism is not innocent, either. The line coming down from the National Planning Commission is that we have all got to accept that the government cannot necessarily do anything for us. We need to do things for ourselves. Yes, we have all been sitting here, doing nothing, waiting for the government to do things for us. It is easy to remember how we were doing that under apartheid. Now we must cast this process aside and stand up for ourselves and do things for ourselves. We must create our own jobs, we must build our own houses, we must apparently do our own policing and our own healing and educating. The fact that we don’t know how to do these things, don’t have the resources to do these things, and in any case, that we pay taxes so that the government will do these things (and the government is not proposing to remit those taxes in exchange for us taking over the erstwhile work of the government) is trivial, unimportant.

What makes it unimportant is that the planners of the government are proclaiming that the government, ideally, shouldn’t do anything; therefore, incapacity doesn’t matter, weakness and helplessness don’t matter, the only thing that matters is that the government should not waste money on helping the people, who must help themselves. Whose money must they not waste? The money of the people who do not wish to pay taxes, that’s who. So, ultimately, what is going on is serving the interests of the rich against the poor.

No surprise there? No, no surprise. However, in the past people pretended to care about these things. Conditions have been so improved for the ruling class that their agents no longer need feel hampered by human feelings or compassion of any kind.

What actual “development” is envisaged by the Zuma administration? Electricity, certainly. Vast power plants built at great expense to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and vast power plants built at still greater expense to pour radioactivity into the soil (one hopes, not into the atmosphere, although we can never be certain of that). Healthcare — vast amounts of money to be spent on sending a minority of the poor to rich hospitals. Transport — vast amounts of money to be spent on superhighways built by large construction companies, financed by electronic tollbooths whose proceeds go to multinational corporations.

Of course one needs electricity and healthcare and transport, but all these things could be acquired in a developmental way — a way which promotes domestic employment and investment and does not cost so much foreign currency. So, in a sense, these things are being provided in an anti-developmental way. Why the Zuma administration has chosen to do things in this way is unnerving.

There are, however, signs of worse to come. An important issue is the Ministry of Human Settlement, which used to be Housing, which used to provide houses for the poor. Now, this Ministry has allowed the immense backlog of public housing to expand, because it has openly declared that it is no longer concerned with providing such housing. (Indeed, it has said that it is more concerned with mending the houses which have already been built, although it is not clear that this is actually happening — as with most Zuma administration declarations, this seems to be chiefly a publicity stunt.) Instead, the Ministry of Human Settlements says that henceforth people should attempt to acquire their own houses, with assistance from the private sector. Meanwhile, Human Settlements will supposedly devote a great deal of attention to providing service for informal settlements, although this does not seem to be actually happening.

The problem here is that the original RDP houses were supposed to be start-up houses for people who couldn’t afford their own houses. They were “matchboxes”, not because the ANC thought that people should live in matchboxes, but because they were supposed to be the core of bigger structures which people could build for themselves once they had somewhere stable to dwell. What Human Settlements is saying, therefore, is that the state will no longer provide this assistance — will no longer encourage people to live in better houses. So although the plan is being sold as a promotion of self-help (and an explicit attack on the previous promotion of self-help as being, supposedly, a handout which would promote dependence) it is actually an attack on the poor. Needless to say, the Left is saying absolutely nothing about this, because the person chiefly responsible for this project is a billionaire property-developing Leftist.

Unfortunately, there’s more. President Zuma has declared that the people need to take charge of their lives and stop expecting the government to do things for them. Then he went to Cannes and, addressing a business forum, declared that he was strongly opposed to protectionism (that is, to the economic policy which enables economies to grow rapidly and develop new industries). Various Ministers have echoed these sentiments, fundamentally saying that everybody needs to become entrepreneurs, under the most unfavourable business conditions imaginable, and that the government is not going to do anything at all to make these business conditions better. Communities must look after themselves, says the Minister of Planning, working through such developmental agencies as churches and sports clubs.

All this has not yet been wholly translated into policy, but the point is that Cabinet Ministers and the President and the Deputy President are all sounding off in a vein which nobody dared to open under Mandela, and which, under Mbeki, was essentially confined to the white-controlled press and business community. Effectively, they are attacking the notion of the developmental state, saying instead that people can go and develop themselves if they want any development. (This, so soon after they espoused the verbal concept of developmentalism, copying Mbeki’s born-again developmentalism which followed the end of GEAR.)

Of course, the concept of developmentalism is itself a bit suspect. The idea that the state, as separated from the people, can or should provide what the people want is an absurdity, and is often the process through which developmentalism becomes pure ruling-class control. But at the same time, the democratic state has a responsibility to provide the people with what they want, or to make it possible for the people to obtain what they want. Zuma and his merry men are repudiating this contract, not because they genuinely don’t believe that the state could do this if it were prepared to. They are repudiating the contract to discourage their audience from believing that the state can help them, because they want the state to help someone else — namely, the people who benefit from the exorbitant projects which Zuma and company are imposing on South Africa.

This is not really any different from the kind of state which evolved in the West — the Anglo-American model of do-nothing regime. But since this is happening courtesy of the ANC, it means that South Africa’s people are now being told that their liberation was for nothing, that in effect, the new state, which was supposed to serve the people, is in fact going to do nothing for them. What is more, this is what we have been told endlessly by the enemies of the ANC, since long before the liberation — that there would be no improvement, only a seizure of power by the corrupt and the incompetent. This idea saturates white South African politics and is the source of most of the comments that you will find posted by white reactionaries on South African weblogs.

But it’s scary to think that the ideas of those white reactionaries are now dominant in the minds of people who once fought for South African liberation. If this persists, it means the destruction of expectations and of historical hope. And then the terrorists will finally have won.

 

 

 


What Are They Afraid Of?

November 1, 2011

The global political situation has deteriorated to the point at which a few hundred disorganised students squatting in a park can be seen by serious aging radicals as evidence of revolutionary consciousness. Such radicals are truly desperate in the face of the enormous hegemony of privileged wealth. It is understandable but not sensible; we know, and have known all along, that much more is needed than a nebulous consciousness that something is wrong and a vague idea of who is responsible. The absence of any idea of what needs to be done or how to do it has flung the global Left into despairing confusion.

And this is entirely deserved, since the global Left has for forty years traded on the assumption that it would never be confronted with an actual situation in which it would be required to do something to save the planet. Now that we are faced with massive evidence that the capitalist elite are indeed wrecking civilisation and threatening the survival of our species, just as the global Left has been rhetorically claiming for most of that period, the global Left is magnificently unprepared, unready, and unwilling to take any action.

It is, however, interesting that the actions of those few hundred disorganised students, multiplied a few score times across the United States and the planet, have led in many places to violent repression. Gas bombs, stun grenades and shotgun-launched plastic projectiles were supposed to be the repressive tools used in places like South Africa. Using them on the children of the petit-bourgeoisie in the metropole is in fact natural, but still comes as a shock. The theorists of repression who have covered the massacres in Africa and the Middle East without a blink reel back in horror when mild terror is unleashed in their neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, the plutocracy’s intelligentsia devote massive efforts either to demonising these pitiful protestors as if they posed a real threat, or to struggling to co-opt them for their own purposes (which also suggests that they pose a real threat — for if they were not potentially powerful, they would not be worth co-opting).

All this suggests that the plutocracy, rightly or wrongly, feel themselves much less secure than they have appeared. Perhaps this is the psychological impact of discovering that their own lies about their brilliance and justified authority, which they peddled for so long that they came to believe them, are not true. Now that they know that they hold power through force and bribery — that they were not using force and bribery simply to overcome the wrong ideas of their enemies, but in order to overcome the correct ideas of their enemies — they are perhaps beginning to wonder if force and bribery will prevail in the face of truth and justice. As represented by a handful of lithe tattooed teenagers waving a banner.

This is curiously evident in South Africa. There are two prominent politicians in South Africa who enjoy the special attention of the media who are controlled by the plutocracy. These are, of course, Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema. What we ought to notice about these two politicians is that they are both highly dubious figures in many ways. Zuma is certainly a criminal, and Malema, who reputedly enjoys an affluent life-style well beyond his earnings, may well be corrupt, or have been corrupt in the past — although one ought to ask whether a member of the ANC Youth League from the second-poorest province in the country is likely to have attained a level of significance, in terms of corruption, worthy of any serious attention.

The media representation of these two politicians has been mildly interesting. Zuma’s treatment has been complicated. His obvious unfitness for the Presidency of either the ANC or the country, and his notorious criminality, make him easy targets for criticism. But this criticism, if unleashed, would swiftly tear him down, and the plutocracy does not wish to see Zuma torn down. So the media encourage us to acknowledge Zuma’s actual nature only in the background, or on rare occasions when Zuma is perceived as doing something of which the plutocracy disapprove. The media’s audience loathe the ANC, of course, but they are encouraged to be tolerant of Zuma — and this seems to have been successful, for white South Africa is the only South African community which has any liking for the man. Meanwhile, Zuma’s artificial Teflon coating enables all of the rot and filth of Zuma to slide off onto the ANC and the other members of the government (many of whom, of course, contribute considerable stinking slime of their own).

Malema’s treatment has also been complicated, but less so. Zuma’s criminality and self-indulgence are represented as the natural, understandable urges of a primitive uneducated black person. (They are therefore much preferable to the urges of an advanced educated black person where those urges do not coincide with the will of the plutocracy.) Malema’s severe criticism of the enemies of the ANC, his hostility to personal attacks on himself and political attacks on the Youth League, and his self-indulgence and narcissism, are represented as the diseased, incomprehensible urges of a primitive uneducated black person. They are, therefore, a threat which must be prevented at all costs, because they cannot be understood or controlled. Malema, oddly enough, is the “wit kaffir”, as opposed to Zuma who is represented securely in the light of “ons ken mos hierdie mense”. It would thus appear that although the actual behaviour of the two is not dramatically different (though Malema is much less obscene), and the symbolic representation is strikingly similar, the conclusions which the plutocratic hegemony wish us to draw are simply poles apart.

This is particularly obvious in recent weeks. Zuma’s activities have been banal; obeying the orders of a couple of court-cases arranged by enemies of the ANC, and firing people whose corruption has been exposed in the press and highlit by the toadies of the plutocracy — these are not courageous or imaginative actions. Yet these actions have been toasted by the press. “The President is back!” trumpetted one weekly. There have been yards of speculations about whether the glorious energy of the President, so cleverly targeted towards the wise and just activities invariably called for by the plutocratic hegemony, are aimed at promoting Zuma’s image within the ANC and thus securing for himself a place in Heaven thanks to victory at the 2012 ANC National Conference.

In contrast, Julius Malema, refusing to be silenced by the trumped-up charges laid against him at the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee (undoubtedly charges derived ultimately from the will of multinational mining corporations) organised and led a massive march from Johannesburg to Pretoria calling for job creation, nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, and wholesale wealth redistribution. This was met by the loathing and distaste of virtually all the media, who, generally speaking, proclaimed that it was simply impossible that Malema could be supporting such things, and thus he was obviously only pretending to support them, when really, behind the scenes, he was a firm supporter of the plutocracy whose media were denouncing him. (Of course, the plutocracy which owns the media is white, whereas the plutocracy within whose membership the media places Malema is an imagined black plutocracy which white racists imagine to run the country, a sort of melanin-enhanced Elders of Zion.).

In the background of the treatment of Malema, however, was a significant strand of nervousness. Some of the media commentators strayed from the path far enough to admit that Malema had a point (while simultaneously insisting that he was a vile individual fit only to be killed). They also acknowledged that Malema was undoubtedly doing himself some favours by taking such a sane and sensible and popular political stand (although carefully arranging polls to prove that Malema was becoming unpopular — yes, very likely that a man makes himself unpopular by taking popular stands in defiance of tyrannical power). Sexwale, the second most important black toady of white plutocratic power (above him, in terms of the corporate hierarchy as well as white authority, is of course Ramaphosa) supported Malema at the disciplinary hearing; Ramaphosa wrote an article explaining that while Malema is of course odious the things which he is complaining about are valid (though they will be best solved by placing all wealth and power in white hands). Evidently, the South African plutocracy is strangely scared of something, and it certainly is not the handful of white ninnies and corporate hacks who dutifully turned out for the local #OCCUPY.

The issue is, surely, Mangaung. Zuma has done so much for the white plutocracy, and now, damn it, there is to be a democratic election for the Presidency! What if it were actually democratic, and someone contested it? What if the person elected proved not to be Zuma? Then the white plutocracy would have to get going on trying to bring this person under control — and how would it do that? What if it didn’t completely — or didn’t at all? Horror!

So the press has to be told to boost Zuma and demonise Malema, and so the whites who read the press swallow what they are given and vomit it up again, in a circular path of coprophagy and kakocracy. But the controllers of the press, and even some of the journalists whose brains are not yet destroyed by drugs and tedium and frustration, are painfully aware that if Zuma loses they need a foot in the enemy’s camp. And they don’t know where the enemy’s camp is.

It must be hard to be in the plutocracy at the moment. It must be confusing, and disturbing, and worrying, to think that there are people out there who want to take away their unearned wealth. And furthermore, to think that there might be other people out there who are helping them grab their unearned wealth, and such faithful servants might someday no longer be available. How painful. How immiserating.

How promising?