Voices of Fools and Knaves.

December 27, 2011

These days, the voices of fools and knaves on almost all issues become louder and louder. The American decision to give its government the permanent right to detain anyone in the world perpetually without civil trial, for instance, brought out people who proclaimed that since America is in danger, it is absolutely necessary to do away with the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, together with a boring little document called the Posse Comitatus Act which forbade using the military against citizens except under the authority of peace officers. Likewise, the extent of public global warming denialism is higher now than it has been since the 1970s, despite the enormous extent of global warming which is noticeable to the public.

There are plenty of other such cases, many concerned with foreign and social policy. The essence of the voices of fools and knaves, in this regard, is to disseminate lies, lies which the knaves spread and the fools believe. However, in most of these cases, the lies are quite transparent. Nobody really believes that permanent detention without trial is good for the U.S. Constitution – the knaves and fools just believe that it is in the immediate benefit of the party which they happen to support at the moment. (Witness the sudden about-turn of the American Democratic Party on global warming the moment they were responsible for it.) Invasions of foreign countries, attacks on the poor and vulnerable, are easily justified so long as nobody asks – or is allowed to ask – difficult questions. This accounts for the tight control of the media, which can’t be allowed to take a line which would shatter the fragile lies on which the policies of the rich depend.

There is, however, a fundamental issue where the lies are much less fragile. This is the field of economics.

Consider the fundamental lies which we have had to deal with. “You can’t spend your way out of a recession.” “A balanced budget is absolutely essential.” “The debt and the deficit can only be addressed by tightening our belts.” “We can’t (can no longer) afford a welfare state.” “We need [insert enormous number here]% economic growth before anyone except rich people can expect any job creation.” “Anyway, governments can’t create jobs.” All these points are taken as gospel because economics is supposed to be a complicated issue which only clever people (that is, people who aren’t us) can understand.

But we can, of course, if we endeavour to.

The issue of escaping a recession through expenditure is basic Keynesian theory, which in its turn is very simple arithmetic; you spend some money and thus get the economy moving, and in its movement the economy creates an enormous amount more money which makes things move faster, and thereby and in turn you get out of the recession. This was what got everybody out of the Great Depression. So what that quote (which is drawn from the right-wing British politician James Callaghan, one of the architects of the destruction of the British Labour Party) actually means is “You can not spend your way out of a recession” – you can accomplish this achievement either by not spending, which usually ensures that you don’t get out of the recession, or alternatively, by spending in such a way that you don’t get out of the recession. In other words, provided that the people in charge are more interested in spending money on their favourite charities, the rich and corrupt businessmen and the political agencies connected with them, you can be sure of not escaping a recession. But if you want to spend your way out of a recession, it’s fairly easy to do.

As to the matter of a balanced budget, it is immediately obvious that this is balderdash. Everybody gets into debt at some stage. Therefore, the budget inevitably becomes unbalanced. The problem is simply that if the budget becomes so unbalanced that the debt becomes unsustainable, you are in deep trouble. As a formal rule, this has never been implemented by anyone – it is a fantasy rule which is chanted by the proponents of corrupt practices in order to legitimate their own sleazy behaviour and condemn the behaviour of others, even when the others are extremely sensible by comparison.

Again, of course, there is the question of belt-tightening. If you have overspent your budget for a few years, it’s a good idea to cut back on expenditure. The only alternative is to kick-start economic growth to such an extent that economic growth generates revenue which enables you to meet your expenditure targets. However, there’s no reason not to do both at once. In good times, a great deal of unnecessary expenditure often creeps in, and it’s often worth looking closely at this expenditure to determine whether it is worthwhile. Of course, that requires people being willing to cut expenditure according to whether it promotes revenue collection and economic growth – ironically, one of the first places where expenditure tends to be cut is in revenue collection, because the rich don’t like having a revenue service which chases them down for their tax defaulting. And another place to cut expenditure is in the promotion of economic growth – because giving money to the poor is usually the best way to promote economic growth (their spending goes straight into the domestic economy) and yet this is where the cuts are mostly coming in our contemporary neoliberal system.

In short, it all depends where you choose to tighten your belt. For the most part, our modern neoliberals place the belt around the throat and then tighten savagely, meanwhile providing themselves with an air-hole elsewhere. The grim fact is that there is usually an enormous amount of “pork-barrel” expenditure on the rich which provides essentially no service to economic growth and which could be cut without any harm to anybody, but that this expenditure is almost never cut.

Then there’s the question of the welfare state. Many countries have a welfare state. (South Africadoes not.) It is invariably funded out of tax contributions. The first welfare state was established in the 1870s, when the gross domestic product was a tiny fraction of what it is now. Hence, it follows that we can afford a welfare state now, and we always could. What people mean when they say that we cannot afford a welfare state, is that they are not prepared to spend money on a welfare state because that money will mostly go to people other than themselves – so they hope. The details of the cost of welfare are invariably exaggerated, sometimes to a truly bizarre extent, but always so much so that anyone who thinks for a moment about the mathematics can see the exaggeration. The trick is not to think about the mathematics, but instead to fantasise that the poor deserve to stay poor and the people without healthcare deserve to die. If you fantasise hard enough about such things, they become true.

As far as economic growth and the growth of jobs is concerned, jobs grew immensely in South Africa in the 1960s when economic growth was persistently less than the 6% that is now proclaimed (by the most optimistic corrupt corporate-centred economists) necessary for any growth of jobs. Jobs grew somewhat between 2002 and 2007, when the average economic growth was only 4%. It is actually possible to make the number of jobs grow when economic growth is zero, just by redistributing wealth – although it is difficult, under these circumstances, to constrain economic growth – wealth redistribution leads to more purchasing, which usually leads to more employment and hence more economic growth all around. In other words, the statement is false, but it is also largely economics standing on its head – a more accurate statement would be to suggest that job creation leads to economic growth, not vice versa, and hence that we can’t have rapid economic growth unless we have rapid job creation. As plausible as the other, and considerably better-supported by the facts.

These are simple arguments which can easily be used to refute right-wing economic arguments. It isn’t rocket science; you can find all theinformation you need on the Web within a fraction of a second. Of course refutation will not silence the arguers, because they depend neither on logic nor on fact. Your goal must rather be to mobilize everyone else against the right-wing nonsense peddlers, to make them look like the boring, puppet-stringed babblers they actually are.

In the end, such people fall back on Ayn Rand (who is her own refutation), or on Hayek and Friedman with the declaration that they both won Nobel Prizes. It is easy to show first that they didn’t win Nobel Prizes (the economics prize named after Nobel is not a Nobel Prize but a prize awarded by the Swedish Central Bank) and secondly that what Friedman won his prize for was some subtle microeconomic theory and not for his crass nonsense about the imaginary free market, and that both Hayek and Friedman’s theories have been tested for the last thirty years and proved unambiguously wrong in every detail, so that they have the same status as if they had won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1750 for a cutting-edge new theory about phlogiston. You can thus make such people look like fools for appealing to authorities who no longer have any authority, and wish them good night. And sweet dreams.

Alas, when you wake up, the discredited fools will still be in control of the entire world . . .

 


Keeping Us Safe And Sound.

December 26, 2011

The Creator has been particularly unconcerned about the constructed fuss over the Protection of State Information Act, chiefly because constructed fusses give the Creator a case of projectile vomiting. In any case, the Creator does not believe that the Zuma administration can protect anything, and therefore the question of whether the Act is good or bad does not raise itself as an issue. The more obvious issue was the bad faith and general malfeasance of the media, which the Creator is mildly interested in, being a connoisseur of the contents of obstructed toilets.

Notwithstanding, perhaps it’s worth taking a look at the Act itself, simply in order to raise the question of what good governance would look like if we had access to such.

There is no real doubt that a nation needs such an Act. There are people who want to do bad things toSouth Africa if it is convenient to them to do so. Such people should not be provided with information which makes it easier for them to do bad things. That information therefore needs to be kept secret. The location, number and quality of our weapons of mass destruction, the names and addresses of our secret agents, the access codes to our official residences and safes and suchlike – these things can be legitimately kept secret.

But what about information which can be used to do bad things but which people might want to know out of interest? Should it be illegal to photograph bridges because such photographs might be used by people wishing to sabotage them, as in the old Soviet Union? Surely not. Hari Kunzru’s latest excellent novel Gods Without Men starts off with a fairly detailed description of how to cook up crystal meth; assuming that this description is accurate, given that crystal meth is illegal in these parts, shouldn’t the book be banned, or at least redacted? (Ironically, the book ends with a “redacted” portion of an official report of an eighteenth-century Spanish government inspector.)

Obviously the issue is complicated. What we need, therefore, is for the reasons for suppressing information to be absolutely clear. Also, someone with access to the public needs to have access to that information and to have the right to challenge its suppression. And the nature of suppression, and the processes by which information is suppressed, needs to be absolutely transparent. In the Soviet Union, you just stamped “Top top secret” on everything, which often meant that the minutes of official meetings of local councils couldn’t be read by the participants because they didn’t have KGB clearance. Manifestly that’s a problem.

You might be interested in the Protection of Information Act of 1982, which is still technically in force. This Act gives the President the power to declare anything secret without right of appeal, sets out a large and nebulously-defined list of other things which are to be considered secret, not to mention secret places, and declares that any unauthorized person found in those places, or with that information, or helping anyone get there, or not telling anyone that someone has been there or had that information, or just interfered with a sentry in the performance of his duties, will go to jail for a fixed period (maximum 20 years), and that the trial may be held in secret.

Now that’s a draconian law – and one which the media hasn’t exactly ruptured itself protesting against over the last thirty years.

In short, there’s obviously good grounds for assuming that any such law would be abused unless there were plenty of safeguards against such abuse. The media’s argument, insofar as there is one, is that they are the ones to provide such safeguards. Therefore they want any act to include a “public interest clause”, under which anyone with a really, really good lawyer and lots of money can violate the law and then say that it was in the public interest to violate the law, buttressing this saying with the august words of an expensive lawyer before whom all judges bow down and lick the boots thereof.

That would possibly work if the media consisted of people who had the best interests of the country at heart. Unfortunately, the media consists partly of people who will print anything if it attracts the attention of advertisers and partly of people under the control of foreign governments or multinational corporations or both. This is not a desirable combination of people into whose hands to place the security of the nation; if the United States had declared its intention to invade South Africa, the South African press would happily publish details of the conditions of the invasion beaches and paratroop landing sites, justifying this on the grounds that it is in South Africa’s public interest to be invaded by America, just as the South African press has supported every other aggression undertaken by Western imperialists everywhere.

So what we need, instead, is a comparatively independent state body which can regulate the processes of the suppression ofinformation, a body not under the control of the executive or any other interested group of parties (which excludes the judiciary, for instance, which is under the control of big business). Obviously this needs to be an oversight body elected by the people and through which individuals nominated by the people have access – a kind of tribune system. And, of course, if a tribune abused the position, that tribune could be removed from office, or even punished.

So, to sum up: clarity, transparency, and responsibility to the public. Now let’s have a look at how the Protection of State Information Act of 2012 (www.pmg.org.za/files/bills/110905b6b-2010.pdf) lives up to these premises.

It kicks off by talking about the harm caused by excessive secrecy and about promoting the free flow ofinformation – so far so good, although obviously words used under the Zuma administration never mean what you think they mean. The objects are to regulate the processes of secrecy, categorise secrecy, provide for a review of such secrecy, and establish a Classification Review Panel. This sounds a lot like the ideal system which the Creator mentioned earlier – but the devil’s in the details, not so?

Under “General principles”, it’s made clear that all information not classified is open – which is a good point. The Act has to be consistent with international law and the Bill of Rights – also a good point.

“Organs of state” (basically ministries, municipalities and National Key Points) have to work out their own procedures under the auspices of the Act.

Then there’s something about preserving valuable information (making sure it isn’t lost or destroyed – that’s not to do with secrecy except insofar as material should not be “accidentally” lost, which is a good law against informal concealment).

There’s three categories of secrecy for information; confidential, secret and top secret. Here’s the first problem; these are very vaguely defined. Are my hairdressing bills potentially information which could harm the state of revealed? Then classify them! My hair must be defended against our nation’s enemies! Trouble is, although secret and top secret can only be classified by the head of an organ of state or designated representative thereof, anyone in an organ of state can call something confidential.

To be fair, it’s made clear that classification can’t be used to cover up crimes, or avoid criticism, prevent embarrassment, hinder competition or obstruct the release of information not classified. Great, if you can prove it. Difficult to prove, but at least it’s there in black and white. Interestingly, if there’s doubt about the need for classification, the Minister must decide. Among examples of suitable classification are protecting government agents and those serving the government who might be under threat, harming national security (left undefined, unfortunately), or damaging relations with other governments. Fair enough, if we are careful – but what if we aren’t? And how do we know it’s true? However, declassification is supposed to be automatic the moment the problem goes away – meaning that it should be possible to point at the idiotic or corrupt behaviour of people in the past, which might inform activities in the present. That sounds good. And noinformation may be classified for more than 20 years, which is better than the British system. And all classified information must have its classification reviewed within ten years, or may be reviewed at any time. Cool! This is done by the Classification Review Panel, whose deliberations must be published.

So far it’s hard to see what the big problem is.

Anyone can request classified information, which must lead to a review of the classification. That information must be released if the release is in the public interest (which is fairly clearly specified as the danger of breaking the law or environmental harm). So there is a “public interest clause”, it just doesn’t allow the media to ride roughshod over the state armed with expensive lawyers. And this appears to be what the fuss is all about.

The Classification Review Panel is appointed by the National Assembly from lists drawn up by the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (which of course includes members from all major political parties – the problem here is that it doesn’t include the general public, but at least it’s some kind of public scrutiny). The panel must be headed by a senior lawyer (damn, blast, hell and corruption). Members mustn’t be office-bearers or foreigners or crooks or loonies. And the National Assembly may depose members upon sufficient grounds. It falls under the National Assembly, to which it reports, meeting at least monthly.

Anyone, if dissatisfied with the workings of the system, may take the system to court.

So far, no problems at all. Now, however, comes the criminalization factor.

It’s 15-25 years jail for distributing or receiving top secretinformation. (Maximum 20 years if it’s a non-state actor involved.) 10-15 years for secret information. 3-5 years for confidential information. However, courts are specifically given the right to lay down lesser sentences than these if they can provide good reason for doing so. This all seems tough, but potentially fair. (Remember, this means doing all this before the review processes are exhausted, or after the request was turned down.)

Harbouring someone likely to commit a crime under the Act gets you up to 10 years. That’s pretty tough, although someone giving aid and comfort to a foreign agent or commercial spy deserves what they get. Intercepting, damaging or providing the material to intercept or damage classified information at any level gets you up to 10 years. (There’s a huge amount of specific detail here regarding computer hacking, probably influenced by the WikiLeaks affair.)

Any foreign spy in the country who doesn’t register as a spy is liable to up to 5 years, even if they haven’t otherwise broken the law. This is kind of cool, in a way.

Conspiring to get someone else to violate the terms of the Act gets you the same penalty as if you had carried out the violation yourself. Fair enough.

Disclosing classified information (that is, if it can’t be shown to have done any harm) gets you up to five years, unless you can provide a really, really good reason.

Providing false information to a national intelligence structure can get you up to five years. (Mo Shaik and Billy Masetlha would be getting out about now, which the Creator thinks is unfair – they should be inside for good.)

Improperly classifying information as top secret gets you up to 15 years; secret gets you up to 10 years, confidential up to 5 years. This sounds about all right. Failure to comply with the Act (that is, officials setting up the procedures) gets you up to two years. And an official leaking classified information gets you up to 10 years – or 15 years if you did it to a foreign state. This looks as if it could be used against whistleblowers, although the whistleblower, if legitimate, could surely claim that a law had been violated or the state or environment would be under threat if the information weren’t released, so there are ways of avoiding the penalty. Someone like Mordechai Vananu, however, would have been nailed under this.

The National Director of Public Prosecutions oversees the prosecution of any case involving a penalty of more than five years in jail. And there’s a long section regulating the presentation of classified information in the courtroom.

Ministers are ultimately responsible for the implementation of the Act.

Now, at this stage, what we see is that there’s no real problem with the Act as it exists. Obviously, the Act can be abused. However, as a sequence of phrases regulating the control of information, it’s probably one of the most sensible Acts on the subject in the world. In short, the attacks on the Act made by organizations like Right2Know depend entirely on a) the hostility of those organizations and their supporters to the proper functioning of the South African state, and b) the ignorance of the public regarding the Act. Virtually everything which has been said publicly about the Act by anyone outside government has been bullshit to a greater or lesser degree, and bullshit intended to panic the public into taking bad decisions which ultimately harm the nation and benefit the corrupt wealthy minority.

None of this means that the public shouldn’t be suspicious of the Act once it comes into force, for fear that municipalities, for example, might try to use the Act to cover up their misconduct. But since the Act provides heavy penalties for doing that, a vigilant public can make good use of the Act. And should.

And that’s all there is to it. All you have to do is read the damn thing. Why has nobody done this?


Coming Home.

December 25, 2011

There is really only one problem: how can the majority be both persuaded that they are being fooled, and empowered to stop being fooled?

It’s a good question; good in that it is the most important political question in the world, and good in that it is the most intractable political question – perhaps the most intractable question – in the world.

Interestingly, it is very clear that people believe that they are being fooled. In virtually every country in the world, people are intensely dissatisfied with their governments. The few countries where this is not true are the countries where the alternative to their current governments are truly awful, like South Africa, or the countries where the current government is doing a comparatively good job, like Bolivia. And, of course, comparatively good doesn’t mean good; merely that the alternative is conspicuously worse.

Dissatisfaction takes different forms, and can often be whipped up into violent disruption or armed struggle with the assistance of money, as inLibyaorSyria. But in many parts it simply amounts to a firm, well-grounded sense that the government of the country is wholly unconcerned with the interests of the people of the country, combined with an equally firmly rooted sense that nothing at all can be done to change this situation. One perceives this in Western societies, where the vast majority believe that the government is essentially their enemy. Thus far, many have been persuaded to combine this with a belief that the best way to wish the enemy away is by voting for the party not in government. Increasingly, this group has discovered that voting for the party not in government, if successful, generates a party in government, and that this is not an improvement. The end product of this is a community which no longer has any faith in the formal political process. Under such conditions, some will pursueinformal political processes – like the OCCUPY movement – but most will probably withdraw from the political process altogether, finding it uninteresting as well as useless.

Which is approximately what the ruling elite wants. The trick, surely, is to provide the majority with an actual alternative to the formal political process which provides some prospect of changing the system into one worthy of participation. This is what has been promised in all the revolutions throughout history, although most of them failed to live up to those promises. (At the same time, the end product of such revolutions was usually better than the one which went before; Leninism was better than the Tsarist system which preceded it — although once Stalin had completed his coup, he was able to generate a system which was worse, and after Stalin died, it proved impossible to reconstruct Leninism in the Soviet Union.)

The elite will claim that all revolutions fail, because it is in their interest to make that claim. The interesting question is why the populace listen to the elite’s claim. The answer, surely, is that they will listen to the elite for just so long as they can safely do so, but as soon as the elite’s behaviour becomes unbearable to them, they will cast about for a revolution. At that stage the elite’s only option is to invent scapegoats and place their fate in the hands of counter-revolutionaries who are prepared to manipulate society in order to divert the anger of the populace against the scapegoats – as happened with the Nazi and Fascist movements, and which is, to a great extent, the role of the Tea Party in the United States and the more inchoate activities of the white and white-controlled right wing in South Africa now. The trouble with this elite option is that it runs the risk of losing control of the system – the elite managed to hang on in Fascist Italy and Fascist Japan, but lost power almost completely in Nazi Germany, which is one reason why the Nazi system is much more demonized than the other two. (Also, of course, Italian and Japanese genocide was aimed against brown and yellow people, not against whites.)

Either the elite hands control over to authoritarians sympathetic to the elite (yet whose agenda may not be identical), or it hands most power over to an elite-sympathetic system to manage things in the elite’s interests without allowing the system to collapse (which was the source of the Golden Age) or it loses power to a revolutionary movement.

The problem with handing things over to an elite-sympathetic system is that it is not stable. It will inevitably be co-opted by the elite as soon as this is practical, which happened in the 1970s, for instance. But in any case, if the system is to be changed, it requires mass action. But where is that mass to come from, if the public is apathetic about accomplishing anything?

Obviously, it can only come from a dynamised and well-informed public. That, in turn, can only come from the establishment of someone to dynamise andinform the public. In other words, you need a vanguard party, or you don’t get anywhere. Thus far we must acknowledge that the Trotskyites have it right. However, the vanguard party has to attempt to listen to what the people say, but also to present its message even when the people disagree with it if it seems probable that the people are wrong because they are misinformed. This, of course, is where the Trotskyites have it wrong; they attempt to pander to the public and to get photo-opportunities out of public indignation, and as a result they fail to build trust, fail to mobilize, and fail toinform. We need to fall back on Leninism rather than on the kind of Trotskyism which gradually metastatised as a degraded counterpart to the cancer of Stalinism. Actually, we also need to fall back on liberalism, in the sense of a philosophy which ultimately wishes to free the people and their minds instead of enriching and empowering a tiny elite who secretly want to don the jackboots work by the current tiny elite in power.

What this means is that it can be done – mobilizing andinforming, that is – but it will require a change in tactics from all current tactics on display, and also require the goal to change from self-centred narcissism or downright corruption, towards a desire to actually improve conditions. This is tough, because at the moment the people who are involved in such activities are almost invariably middle-class people with essentially no experience of personal suffering, and therefore, no direct contact with the working class or the unemployed except on the most superficial level. And no sign of humility of the kind required.

Faced with such people, many of the general public will simply say: fuck off, the bunch of you, I’ll stick with what I’ve got. What they’ve got may be Zuma, but so far many are not convinced that Zuma is responsible for their problems, nor are they aware of the extent to which Zuma is in the back pocket of their enemies. As a result, they are marching along behind a puppet whose strings extend up into the penthouse suites of the CEOs of Sandton – but nobody is pointing to the strings. It would be the task of a serious political organization to point out those strings, and to make it absolutely clear that the serious political organization does not have such strings.

But then, it would also be the task of such a serious organization to point out the actual organization of the world, instead of the way in which the ruling class represents the world. It might be easier to do than you’d think. A lot of people support Zuma while holding their noses. A lot of people recognize that the ruling class are a gang of sleazy crooks. It wouldn’t take much to point out the connection between Zuma’s corruption and the sleaze of the white elite whom he serves. The fact is that the attempts by the media to conceal these obvious connections are extremely ineffectual, and are constantly undermined by the media’s need to generate evidence of the corruption of the ANC – after all, Zuma is the boss of the ANC, and the media must do endless double back-somersaults of logic to try to conceal the fact of his culpability in the face of ANC and governmental criminality, policy meltdown, and administrative disaster.

No, it is not logically difficult. The problem is simply to get one’s voice heard amid the cacophony of right-wing propaganda. But then, in 1973 there was no possibility of any kind of non-racist or socialist voice being heard at all, because all the media were in the hands of the white ruling class who were racist and anti-socialist. Furthermore, any non-racist or socialist statement was actually illegal, and anyone who expressed such statements faced not only the probability of being jailed, but the possibility of being murdered by state hit-squads. None of that exists today, even if the Zuma administration is planning it. (It now seems probable that neither the shoot-to-kill police doctrine nor the murder of Andries Tatane had anything real to do with a change in policy; both seem to have been a product of administrative incompetence and a preference for bluster ahead of meaningful action. In other words, we know that our police are capable of forming the kind of murder-squads recently legalized by theU.S.government, but they are not doing it – yet.)

Of course that does make things appear a little urgent. If we don’t do something about this, sooner or later the ruling class will notice that if a few death-squads are set up, the possibility of an anti-ruling-class coalition arising can be pre-empted courtesy of some beheaded corpses left on the roadside, a few disemboweled figures sprawled on university plazas, a few bombs blowing apart political offices and their officers, and a few heavy machine-guns fired into crowds. Once that happens, it will be too late for a political solution, and maybe too late for a revolutionary solution – even the belated Honduran revolution was eventually crushed with American help. So it seems that the late Mr. Lennon had a point; “You say you wanna revolution? We better get it on right away.”


Limbo Dancing with South African Journalists.

December 24, 2011

Limbo dancing is like pole dancing in that it requires flexible, lissom figures, but differs in that the pole is horizontal, and as close to the ground as possible. How low can you go? The handicap is that vertebrates have difficulty getting through narrow horizontal slits. Invertebrates, especially those without exoskeletons, make the best limbo dancers. Flatworms are very good indeed; tapeworms, apart from a certain lack of muscular coordination, are the best.

Going as low as possible is clearly the objective of South African journalists (who didn’t cheer when a corrupt ANC Youth League member hit one with a brick in Polokwane recently?) and none is lower than the Mail and Guardian. Their end of year issue truly represents some kind of nadir, though doubtless there are teams of men with shovels working to get still lower than that. Journalists bear a certain resemblance to tapeworms (living on shit while being rather loathsome and irritating) but the comparison may be a little unfair to the segmentata.

The issue kicks off with an attack on Julius Malema. This is particularly interesting because the previous issue featured the newspaper’s first real scoop in many years – that the Ministry of Finance was being criminally used in an unsuccessful campaign to discredit the Premier of Limpopo, who has Malema as one of his allies. Evidently the newspaper was ordered to bury this story and, instead, claim that an unnamed organization, according to an anonymous source, was opposed to Jacob Zuma and did not seek the support of Malema. This non-story went on the front page of the paper and was included in its advertising posters.

OK, having established that the newspaper is corrupt, is it worth saying anything more? Oh, indeed, for the newspaper includes a “Report Card” on the Cabinet. Since the Creator has already established long-syne that only the most select members of the Cabinet are competent enough to be awarded an F grade – the rest deserving a one-way trip to theKolymagold mines in theArctic– let us see how it is that anyone can be given a positive award.

The first A is given to Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health, for his stellar performance in being supported by “civil society”, which according to the Mail and Guardian entails “key private health-industry figures”, and his “realistic approach”, which includes the National Health Insurance programme of handing the national healthcare system over to, er, private health-industry figures. He is also praised for his bold stance in providing enormous amounts of antiretrovirals to people with HIV – a stance which, apart from the fact that it was inherited from the Mbeki government and is thus hardly new, has not reduced the number of HIV-infected children, nor reduced the number of deaths due to HIV, nor slowed the fall in South African life expectancy. In other words, he is being praised for buying loads of drugs, not for treating AIDS. And, as even the Mail and Guardian knows, the quality of public healthcare is abysmal, and Motsoaledi’s stewardship has failed to alter this. So, in essence, he is getting an A for privatization, for enriching corporations, and for killing off surplus black people. Thanks for the clarification, brother journalist.

A B is awarded to Trevor Manuel for injecting much-needed radical right-wing propaganda into the Zuma administration, like as if the Zuma administration had any other perspective whatsoever – the journalist says “We really, really liked” the extreme neoliberalism under which Manuel proposes that we should, er, focus our attention on exports (ideally, petrochemicals, of which Manuel is especially fond) and slashing social welfare. However, the journalist adds with regret, Manuel’s deregulation fetish is unlikely to be supported by anyone. Basically, he’s getting a B for developing a stupid plan to wreck the economy by following every bad idea which every Ayn Rand-reading yahoo has thought up in the last thirty years, but supporting the Protection of State Information Bill – if he’d opposed it, he would get an A (and best of all would be immediately sacked).

Naledi Pandor, Minister for Doing Nothing About Science and Technology, also gets a B. Not even the gushing journalist can discover a reason for doing so. One must assume that she’s getting it for being a coconut with a fake British accent and for being criticized by Julius Malema.

Pravin Gordhan, Minister for Finance Capital, gets a B+, quite remarkable considering the catastrophic state of the national economy and fiscus even if one ignores his links with the criminal cabal around the Shaiks and Maharaj and the Mail and Guardian’s hastily-hidden exposure of his criminal manipulation of theLimpopo provincial administration. They say he has been “balancing growth and job-creation goals”, which is probably true, since there has been neither. They also say he has pursued “sound fiscal management . . . while revenue has been falling” – that is, he has run up unprecedented deficits because he has not increased taxes, which is all that matters to rich journalistic lapdogs of the plutocracy.  In fact, of course, falling revenue is a sign that the Minister of Finance should be sacked. In fact there are hints in the puff-piece that Gordhan is both incompetent and corrupt – but what rich journalist cares, when Gordhan has relaxed exchange controls, thus making capital flight, the economic disembowelment of the nation, even easier than before. It is obvious that Gordhan is being praised for doing whatever the rich want when they want it, and then he is told to stand up to Zuma and not do what Zuma tells him – after all, Zuma is the elected President of the country, and therefore should count for nothing in comparison with the bankers who count for everything. Well, again, thanks for clearing up your stance on democracy, dear journalists.

Another mystery B is the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant. Mildred who? Yeah, right. Who has done what? Well, her Ministry and some of its satraps have got unqualified audits from the auditor-general, and has been praised by theInstituteofGovernment Auditors. So the accountants like her, and what else could count? Who cares what her Ministry has actually done? (According to the blurb, nothing at all.) So, a do-nothing Labour Minister scoops the pool, since an activist Minister might actually help workers, and that wouldn’t please South African journalism at all.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma gets an A for her running of Home Affairs, presumably for her brilliant work in protectingSouth Africafrom the Tibetan menace. They do point out that she faced down the sleazy foreign front-group “PASSOP”, which handles propaganda around Zimbabwean migrants, and then sorted out the Zimbabwean migrant crisis fairly well – which makes her one of the few Cabinet members with both courage and competence. And the Ministry got an unqualified audit. Maybe this is a fair A, although frankly, giving someone an A for doing their job seems like lowering the bar a bit – though not as low as journalists would need.

Fikile Mbalula also gets a B for standing around and doing nothing in the Ministry of Sport. Perhaps this is a hope that he can be weaned away from the ANC Youth League.

Edna Molewa, Minister for Fracking, also gets a B. Obviously, not standing in the way of the petrochemical pollution lobby is the real reason why she gets this. However, just by way of a joke, the journalist pretends that her triumph was in COP17 (which wasn’t actually her baby) and in her magnificent role in regard to rhinos (who are being poached at an immensely more rapid rate now, probably because the Zuma administration finds bloated lumbering dull-witted horny creatures too much competition). One presumes that the journalists are just pissing on the conservationists here, in line with the newspaper’s worship of corporate social responsibility (viz. greenwashing).

It would be too tedious to go through the lesser figures, but in essence, what we see here is that some of the sleaziest crooks in the Cabinet, together with some of the most useless figures, are getting praised. It’s hard to see what Dlamini-Zuma is doing in this company, but in general, the argument seems to be that the worse, the better. And meanwhile, there will always be enough sleazebags to poke fun at and give low ratings to, so white racists reading the list will not feel upset. (Note that there are two indians and two coloureds on the list, reassuring the audience that paler-skinned peoples are better for the health of neoliberal corruption.) It’s not as if there is any shortage of corporate cronies in the Cabinet.

The climax of the newspaper occurs where neoliberal stooge Niren Tolsi is funded by his newspaper to be tied up and spanked by a prostitute. “You’ve been a naughty journalist”, she says, as she caresses his protruding bottom with a little toy dog-whip. No doubt his erection shrank in horror at hearing the truth appearing for a moment in one of his columns. Also no doubt, tens of millions of South Africans would have liked to be there to assist her – but using, courtesy of Edna’s animal rights activities, a freshly-liberated rhino-hide sjambok.


Blasted Heath.

December 17, 2011

Willem Heath took only seven days to prove himself unfit to head the Special Investigating Unit, and another seven days to be forced out of the office for which he was unfit. This is something of a record, of which someone, somewhere, can be proud. But who, and why?

Let’s roll back the tape. Heath was originally a judge — not a conspicuously brilliant one, and of course any judge appointed under the apartheid era should be viewed with suspicion. But in the early post-apartheid era, there wasn’t a lot of choice. If you wanted someone to clean your political laundry, you were almost certainly going to find yourself someone who had been working for the apartheid system. Also, it was a fetish of the Mandela presidency that white people were automatically more acceptable to the public-that-mattered than black people (except in elected office, where you had to put black people forward because black people were doing the voting). So Heath was appointed to head a new structure, a Special Investigative Unit,  to investigate corruption in the new structure of the Eastern Cape.

At first, he seemed to be doing a good job — at least, he appeared to be exposing and punishing vast amounts of corruption. Gradually, however, the job he was doing began to appear a little too good to be true. The amounts of corruption were too large for the relatively minor functionaries whom Heath was investigating, and the publicity which Heath was receiving for investigating was out of proportion to his accomplishments. Gradually it became apparent that Heath was systematically exaggerating the sums involved and was working closely with the newspapers to improve his profile as a corruption-buster at a time when the right-wing white opposition desperately wanted to discredit the new government and found Heath’s publicity extraordinarily convenient.

This didn’t mean that Heath was a crook (though obviously he might have been used by the really big fish to hide their immense malfeasances behind Heath’s more trivial investigations), or even politically suspect (though right-wing politicians and journalists were suspiciously fond of him, this in itself doesn’t prove that he was in their pay or under their control). However, when the ruling class put Heath’s name forward as the ideal man to investigate the arms deal, it was obviously a very dodgy idea. While Mandela, as usual, wanted to do what the ruling class told him to do, Mbeki objected that giving such power to a publicity junkie with strong right-wing connections, especially a publicity junkie who saw headlines as more important than telling the truth, was simply asking for trouble. Mbeki’s position was so obviously more sensible than Mandela’s that the ANC backed him and he had no trouble preventing Heath’s appointment — which was one reason why the ruling class turned so strongly against Mbeki, and which was also why Heath, who had been preening and grooming himself for lucrative and endlessly headlong-earning position which would amount to a kind of Andrew Feinstein with power, turned against Mbeki.

Where did the great corruption-buster go after he had failed to garner a plum political propaganda job? Back to serving the people groaning under the corrupt rule of Bhisho and Mthatha? Not at all. Heath ran off to work as a senior legal adviser for Brett Kebble’s group of companies. Kebble’s companies were essentially bankrupt at the time, being kept afloat by Kebble and his clique recycling cash out of the pension funds and shifting stock around in order to pretend that they held more of it than they really did — essentially the same thing that Robert Maxwell was doing before that fat ersatz champagne socialist crook fell or was pushed overboard, and as with Maxwell, Kebble either had himself killed or, more probably, was knocked off by one of the mining magnates who had benefited from Kebble’s dirty deals and wanted to hang on to the cash or ensure that Kebble never revealed how the money had been used.

Obviously an organised criminal needed lots of legal protection to hang on to his undeserved money, but it was immediately obvious that Heath’s pretense to being a man of integrity had flowed away like a river into the Namib Desert. After what few brains Kebble had were blown out by his own gunmen, Heath was in need of a new job to serve as a purification ritual. No wonder, then, that he soon joined the team of sleazy lawyers around Zuma engaged in defeating the ends of justice.

Heath is often described as the brains behind Zuma’s legal strategy. This is the media flattering itself for its unfounded admiration of Heath; the brains behind Zuma’s legal strategy, insofar as there was one, were contained in the skull of former white supremacist MP and reactionary lawyer Kemp J Kemp. Unlike Heath, Kemp was a serious lawyer, and he knew very well what had to be done; delay, obfuscate and avoid decisions until after Polokwane, and preferably after the 2009 elections when all bets would be off. Kemp was good at the job of evading justice, but of course he had a lot of help — virtually every judge who presided over any of the cases involving Zuma, from Van Der Merwe who covered up for the rape charge through Ngcobo and Nicholson who helped avoid the corruption charges, worked hard to protect Zuma from the consequences of his crimes.

The most valuable function which Heath could fulfil was as a Rolodex. He had worked with most of the corporate propagandists in South African journalism, either in an attempt to promote his own career or to cover for Kebble. As such, he had access to some of the biggest liars in the lying business, and could thus provide propaganda behind which the defeat of the ends of justice could be made possible. This bore particular fruit in early 2009, when the media began spinning the yarn that the Mbeki government had somehow manipulated the Directorate of Public Prosecutions into charging Zuma despite the lack of evidence against him.

Actually, the Mbeki government had first sacked the Director of Public Prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli, for trying to protect Zuma by bringing charges against the Commissioner of Police and using this to intimidate the government into silence — “Lay off Zuma or Selebi gets it!”. Then it had stalled the charging of Zuma until after Polokwane because they still hoped that Zuma could be prevented from gaining the Presidency for which he was so unfit. In the first case they were utterly in the right, and in the second case, it was obvious that charging Zuma during Polokwane would make it almost impossible to win the case, so gigantic the firestorm would have been, so they were sensible even if technically wrong. But none of this was covered in the media, which was running after the fabrications constructed by the ruling class and partly broadcast by Heath.

That was Heath’s finest hour — to make it possible to intimidate the national prosecuting office into abandoning the open-and-shut corruption case against Zuma, and thus, in turn, get the crook who was behind most of the scams which Heath was covering up, Schabir Shaik, out of jail. By doing this, Heath served the ruling class as he had always dreamed of doing, by getting an incompetent and conspicuously odious crook who was a puppet of white big business into the supreme national office. It is an accomplishment for which Heath deserves to be acknowledged, and also deserves to be sent to prison for twenty years or so.

After that, Heath was at a loose end. He set up a consultancy to serve the ruling class with his admirable experience in protecting criminals from the consequences of their crimes. This doesn’t seem to have been very lucrative, possibly because the ruling class had Zuma already. So, it seems, he nagged at Zuma and his allies; “Gissajob!”. Preferably a sinecure.

There was a man named Hofmeyr, who had been running the Assets Forfeiture Unit (the organisation tasked with helping the state rob people whom it didn’t like) and had subsequently been put in charge of the Special Investigations Unit at national level. He had done this job under Mbeki, so it was easy for Heath to slander him, although it was more difficult to find any actual evidence that Hofmeyr was doing a bad job. On the other hand, this was a bit of a problem; if Hofmeyr was actually working well as a corruption-buster, then it was an inconvenience to the ruling class to have to constantly keep preventing him from busting them. If Heath replaced Hofmeyr, they knew that Heath was a much more reliable douchebag. So Heath got Zuma to fire Hofmeyr and put him in Hofmeyr’s place. Sleazeball appointed by sleazeball. Under the Zuma administration, that’s a dog bites man story. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer can be summed up in a single word: turf.

The South African ruling class views the judiciary as their own private preserve. Zuma, it will be recalled, had attempted to reappoint his crony Ngcobo as boss of the Constitutional Court. The ruling class decided to smack Zuma down, because they wanted a more conspicuous tool of their own bidding to hold that job. Therefore they got a ruling-class flunkey named Richard Calland to take Zuma to court and prevent Ngcobo’s term of office from being extended. Having made it clear that the ruling class didn’t want Ngcobo, of course the ruling class judiciary backed Calland and Ngcobo was duly hounded out. No bad thing — but then instead of appointing the man the ruling class wanted, Zuma went and appointed an apartheid-era deadbeat named Mogoeng instead. Of course it would come to the same thing in the end, because Mogoeng was reactionary and would do as he was told — but the ruling class doesn’t take challenges lightly. Obviously, they decided to bide their time and then give Zuma a lesson in who was really running South Africa.

Heath, being an idiot, walked into it with eyes wide shut. He was given a glowing opportunity for an interview by City Press, the propaganda sheet for blacks run by the apartheid-era media conglomerate Media24, and edited by the ruling-class flunkey (and ex-editor of the Mail and Guardian) Ferriel Haffajee. In this interview, he decided to float the propaganda line that he was going to investigate Mbeki for framing Zuma for rape and corruption in order to cover up Mbeki’s own crimes. Basically, the same propaganda line that he had been running during Zuma’s trial. The same line had been spouted incessantly by Zuma propagandists — not least Zwelenzima Vavi of COSATU — for years and had been peddled ad nauseam in the media. There was nothing odd about it except that it was a crock of shit from start to finish.

But Heath didn’t realise that the ruling-class was looking to smack Zuma down and would use him to do it. Suddenly, various media outlets (interestingly, not the Mail and Guardian, where support for Heath ran high as soon as this happened after being lukewarm when he was appointed) proclaimed that Heath’s utterances made him so obviously a political stooge that he couldn’t possibly hold the office. This was, of course, true, but it was also true of virtually everybody else in Zuma’s administration. However, it was a bit embarrassing that the boss corruption-buster was shown to be a sleazeball.

We don’t know why, but Zuma seems to have panicked. Probably Heath, being a white guy, was in a weaker position than he realised. Almost certainly, Zuma realised that Heath’s utterances were a free gift to anyone who wanted to criticise Zuma in the run-up to Mangaung, and that if Mbeki wanted to make an issue of it, he could take Heath to the cleaners by simply suing him for defamation and demanding that the case be heard pronto because it was a matter of national security; Heath would inevitably be exposed as a lying blowhard. It is possible that the “arms deal investigation” currently purportedly under weigh will be used to smear Mbeki and thus opponents of Zuma in the run-up to Mangaung, and Heath’s outburst could have served to discredit that project by showing what scumbags the holders of those fake opinions are. So Heath had to go. Anyway, it was obvious that important factions in the ruling class — all those who were either not particularly white-supremacist or not still obsessed with Mbeki — were happy to use Heath as a stick to beat Zuma with. By-bye, Willem, try not to let the doorhandle get up your gat.

And that’s what it’s all about, and why it becomes so obvious that no matter how hard Zuma is backed by the ruling class in the year before Mangaung’s National Conference, Zuma is going to have a difficult time getting there. It couldn’t happen to a nastier guy.

 


Getting It Right Next Time (1I): No We Can’t!

December 17, 2011

Having established that it is theoretically possible to set up a social system whereby, even if the ruling class survived, their power could be curtailed if not completely abolished — what is stopping us from doing this? One reads the post and reflects: this is Utopian. Never happen. The ruling class would never surrender its powers, and if supplanted by the bureaucracy, the bureaucrats would do exactly the same. The people are sheeple who will never dare to challenge their masters. Until the proles become conscious they cannot revolt, and until they revolt they cannot become conscious. We are doomed. Let’s sit around and watch Top Billing.

Why does one think in that particular fashion?

Well, one reason is that we are told to. There has probably never been a time in South Africa’s history when official public utterance has been so profoundly hostile to idealism of any kind. The Mail and Guardian is probably the nearest thing South Africa has to a “liberal” newspaper, and this newspaper’s coverage of COP17 was not only steeped in petrochemical corporate waste, it was peppered with disdainful references to the Democratic Left and “greenies”. Now, it is true that the Democratic Left and the Greens are mostly dodgy charlatans, but next to the kind of scum that bobbed about at COP17 they are paragons of integrity and realism. The Creator is no great fan of Patrick Bond, but when Bond appeared on AM Live to face the corporate stooges rooting for COP17, he ran rings around them partly because he knew what he was talking about, and partly because he was ready and able to tell the truth as he saw it, whereas the rest of the commentators were only concerned with how to go about telling lies effectively.

This vast network of right-wing propaganda exists almost entirely for the purpose of forcing lies and logically false concepts into the brains of the public. These lies and logically false concepts are generated and encouraged by the ruling class. They control the media and the punditocracy, and therefore they can ensure that virtually everything the average person hears is, subtly or crassly, made up of ruling-class propaganda. It is part of the air we breathe.

If you sit down and analyse it, of course, you can easily find falsehoods. Most propaganda is relatively easy to expose — it ain’t rocket science to do so. However, it takes work to do this, and one has to have some incentive to do that work. Most people are unwilling to do the work because they have no incentive. If they like what is going on, most of the propaganda is tailored to tell them that what is going on is good. But if they don’t like what is going on, there is propaganda tailored to show them a way of opposing what is going on in a superficial way without actually opposing it in a profound way. (Thus the Mail and Guardian‘s attacks on environmentalism and democratic socialism were carried out in the name of support for freedom, justice and the salvation of the planet, just as the butchery of Libya was carried out in the name of human rights.)

The consequence of this is that most people are insensibly drawn towards the dark side of politics. They are presented with easy targets to blame, simple positive symbols to endorse, and reassurances that all will be well if they don’t ask questions and instead follow semi-divine leaders whose names begin with Z. As a result, trivial acts or even hostile acts can be spun into acts of immense significance which serve, supposedly anyway, to placate and demobilise the public and thus discourage them from taking any kind of action to protect themselves.

Take, for example, events around “Reconciliation Day” 2011. The concept of the “Day of Reconciliation” is a very Mandelaite concept. The lamb is urged to trustingly wander into the wolf’s den in a spirit of reconciliation. The fact that fresh lambs are required for the purpose on a regular basis is represented as a sign that reconciliation is obviously working– since increasing numbers of the grass-eating community are getting together with the lamb-eating community in a spirit of benefit — perhaps not mutual benefit, but definitely advantageous for a significant number of the participants!

It kicked off with the rebuilding of the gallows at Pretoria Central, changed into a museum with plaques bearing the names of all the political prisoners executed there. (One hopes that it will be well-enough guarded so that the plaques will not end up in a scrap-metal yard, like most metal which the government places in the public domain.) That wasn’t such a bad idea, although rather ghoulish, and rather spoiled by having President Zuma speaking at the dedication of the museum, to illustrate that all those heroes had died in vain.

But then Zuma, freshly back from a state visit to Mozambique where he lamented the fact that South Africa is no longer dominating the colonial penetration of that country’s economy, bounded across town to Freedom Park, which is on a hill overlooking the Jacaranda City. And there he celebrated Reconciliation Day by opening an access road linking Freedom Park, the underfunded monument to the victory of the anti-apartheid movement, with the Voortrekker Monument, the overstuffed monument to the theft of the land by armed whites and the enslavement of the people who lived on that land, which was constructed by the people who went on to build the racist apartheid regime. And Zuma said that this access road showed that reconciliation was important, that it was vital to bring everybody on board and not to ignore anybody.

In other words, the colonial and apartheid regimes are not only a part of our history (which they are, of course) but are also as deserving of celebration as are the people who struggled to overthrow those regimes. This is the position being taken by the President of the African National Congress in the ninety-ninth year of the ANC’s existence, and the seventeenth year of its victory.

Zuma is, thus, wishing the actual purpose of the struggle out of existence while simultaneously identifying himself with that same past struggle which is mysteriously given a positive connotation even though without its purpose the struggle had no meaning.

And this is how the bullshit factory functions. When one has devoted one’s life to a particular goal, it is difficult to acknowledge that the goal, having been met, has been moved away again and sold off to foreign organised criminals. Therefore, liberals tell themselves that the Democratic Alliance is liberal, that the press is free, that the judiciary is independent, and that South Africa’s ruling class is a cabal of black businessmen led by Julius Malema. Charterists tell themselves that the ANC is revolutionary, that Zuma is a much-maligned elder statesman and patriot, and that South Africa is on the developmental road towards building a better life for all while uniting Africa in the spirit of Franz Fanon. These things are not true, but people wish to believe them, since otherwise, O God, we shall have to start all over again from scratch, the prospect of which is unbearable.

Such people are terribly easily fooled into joining the chorus of blank-minded propagandists who work for these factions, and of course there are the other choruses of people who are promoting consumerism, neoliberalism and all the other evils of multinational globalised financialised capital which we all know about but are not permitted to discuss.

And so we are tempted into buying into passivity, which means believing that we cannot actually change anything for the better ourselves, but must instead wait for someone else to change things for us. Again, the people who are planning to change things for us are not our friends, but they assure us that they are our friends, and therefore we accept this, because the alternative is to accept that we are trapped in a nightmarish world where our enemies are in charge and we must overthrow them in order to protect ourselves — which takes us right back to the apartheid era, only worse because the apartheid government was so alienated from the general public, and even foreign states paid lip-service to its loathesomeness, whereas the modern Zuma regime has considerable public support in South Africa and has almost unswerving propaganda support from the West.

There are, of course, distant voices telling us that things are not what they seem. However, many of these voices are deranged or are agents of special interests whose goals are not to help us, but to help themselves. When George Monbiot speaks out in support of fast-breeder nuclear reactors as tools to save the planet, we are at best puzzled. Isn’t Monbiot supposed to be a radical enemy of the establishment? Then surely the vast multinational corporations which hope to make trillions of dollars out of selling fast-breeder nuclear reactors must be allies of Monbiot and therefore implicitly also enemies of the establishment. Therefore, the fact that the establishment is in bed with those self-same corporations, must mean that the establishment is its own enemy. It is then not necessary to join Occupy Wall Street — one need only work for ESKOM in order to take a revolutionary act against the evil System! Down with the System, down!

Good examples of such things are the “Truther” movement contending that the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked by the United States government on the 11th of September 2001, or the movement contending that John F Kennedy was assassinated under orders from the Vice-President of the United States, or the movement contending that there are captive aliens and their spacecraft hidden in Area 51 in Nevada, or the movement contending that Queen Elizabeth and the whole Bilderburg movement are blood-drinking reptiles from outer space. These are not forces encouraging intellectual passivity, but they are wonderful forces for soaking up intellectual action and ensuring that it never threatens the actual status quo.

And so we return to the problem, which is that without clarity of understanding, access to knowledge, the will to attain clearly-specified goals and the confidence that those goals might at some stage be attained, the stage is set for believing that we can’t do anything. Having accepted that belief it is then easy to decide that the goals themselves are either unattainable, or not worthy of attainment — are Communist, or atheist, or african nationalist, or something else unacceptable to those worthy and powerful people who decide what is, and what is not, acceptable. Under these circumstances, it is far safer to sit out the struggle and instead be completely passive.

Which, of course, is what most people did under the apartheid state, and what almost everybody did while neoliberalism and globalism were constructing the present crisis, and which is why such absolute faith in one’s own impotence, like absolute faith in the incapacity of governments, is such a magnificent tool to keep the ruling class in power forever.

 


Getting It Right Next Time (1): Yes We Can!

December 15, 2011

It is tempting — very tempting — to despair. The crises facing human civilisation are extreme, and are not being addressed by any of the structures which human civilisation set up. The destruction of all that we fought for in the anti-apartheid movement, of all the good that social democracy, socialism, communism, liberalism ever brought or promised, proceeds apace. Meanwhile, the propaganda system ensures that everything good is rebranded as bad, and vice versa; white is the new black. Under the new system of oligarchic capitalism, rather than “all that is solid melts into air”, we have “all that is palatable turns into shit”, because it is pre-eaten by the ruling class before it reaches us. And that goes double for the information system, which is attempting, at present, to validate itself by denying anyone but itself the right to do or say anything.

Ah, but there is a world elsewhere, and another world is possible, yonder lies your hinterland! (Funny, now the Creator thinks of it, but Rhodes and Lenin had essentially the same gesture, although Lenin carried it off better and also made much less of a hash than Rhodes did.) Let’s step back and ask the question: what went wrong, and can we structure things so that we can do it right? If we can’t, then presumably everything from Pacha Mama to OWS is a waste of time and we may as well stock up on canned food and rifle ammunition.

The OWS line is that what went wrong is the rich taking control of everything. The 1% versus the 99%, except that more than half of the 99% have been co-opted, browbeaten or deceived into supporting the 1%, which is the political problem. However, if we ignore this and focus on actual political power and policy, it is obvious that all of the problems facing the world, and virtually all of the problems facing individual countries, provinces and municipalities, exist because the rich make decisions on their own behalf with little or no concern for anyone else. They can do this because the political system is under their control.

It is easy to say that the solution is socialism; that once the fruits of the planet are shared by all, this problem will not exist. However, that did not pan out as anticipated in Russia or China. It is probably true that the capitalist system cannot be reliably reformed and therefore must be destroyed and supplanted by something which does not lead to an elite taking power and ruling in their own interests without regard for others. However, replacing capitalism with a state system under which a New Class of bureaucrats steps into the shoes of the former capitalist oligarchs makes little or no sense.

Obviously, one solution is democracy. If the bulk of the population is able to choose the leadership of the nation, then the leadership of the nation (so the theory goes) is responsible to the bulk of the population and is thus obliged to rule in their interests, failing which they will be voted out. The ruling elite has been able, right from the beginning, to subvert this goal of democracy. They paid large sums of money to ruling-class catspaws to put them in power in order to rule on their behalf — this is where conservative parties come from. They used their money to bribe or intimidate those members of parties which were not simply their catspaws into pursuing policies which they liked. Ultimately, these processes ensured that no parties in elections ran on any platform except those which were favourable to the ruling class. Hence the bulk of the population, confronted by policies which ran against their principles, could only vote for another party whose principles were opposed to them. This is the problem faced by all electorates today; there is nothing except ruling class stooges.

How can ruling class control of the system be avoided? Somehow, a bureaucratic structure needs to be set up which is not beholden to the ruling class. This is very much like our old friend the dictatorship of the proletariat. Unfortunately, such a bureaucratic structure would be inevitably under the authority of the ruling class, if it were bureaucratic, or would be vulnerable to penetration from the ruling class, if it were capitalist-oligarchic. How could the ruling class be prevented from taking control of the system?

The only easy way to consider this is that the bureaucratic structure overseeing the electoral process would have to be extremely transparent and very democratically appointed by the general public. In other words, there would have to be a representative democracy, and then a participatory-democratic system to oversee the elections for that representative democracy. This would have to function outside party and state structures; it would be something like a mass trade union to control the electoral system and to ensure that the parties involved in the electoral system were not dominated by special interest groups without the knowledge of the general public.

That sounds enormously complicated, but it also suggests that something relatively inchoate, like OWS itself, might be put in charge of the electoral process. Its task would be to oversee things like campaign funding, publicity and information, the processes of elections, and of course to prevent any bribery and corruption from arising. Under these conditions, laws could be passed to prevent parties from being funded by corporations, and indeed to prevent parties with enormous financial advantages from being able to exert these advantages in any meaningful way. The purpose of such an organisation would thus be to ensure that the parties in a representative democracy functioned without any dependence on financial support.

It goes without saying that such an organisation could also function to oversee or at least monitor the state structures intended to act against bribery and corruption within the administration. What we have here is something like a Soviet monitoring a Provisional Government, except that instead of being in competition, as in St Petersburg in 1917, the two would essentially be two arms of government.

The second leg on which capitalist oligarchy rests is propaganda. The media has no absolute power to change anything; their role is distraction, legitimation and demonisation. A major part of the media’s rule is to focus public attention on trivia and thus make them think about something other than the way in which their state is being used against them. Celebrities, sports figures, sex, crime and such things are part of this process. The bulk of the media, thus, is pabulum — although it is also worth considering that since celebrities and sports figures are generally rich people, and since a great deal of the rest of the media’s ostensibly non-political content relates to consumerism and the worship of affluent lifestyles, it is pabulum with the purpose of encouraging the public to think only in ruling-class terms and to assume ruling-class goals without question.

In addition, the legitimation of the goals of the ruling class in terms of national politics is a major role of the media. Parties which endorse ruling-class objectives are endorsed by the media, and individuals are promoted insofar as they promote those objectives. (In South Africa, a good example of such an individual enjoying media support despite his lack of any positive qualities is Kader Asmal.) Another important aspect of this legitimation is the incessant repetition of ruling-class ideals and, naturally, the suppression of alternative ideals — or, as in “greenwashing”, “consumer rights” and “black economic empowerment”, the seizure of such alternative ideals and their transformation into their opposite, or at least into a form through which the ruling class can profit. In effect, this is an ideological system through which the ideology is inculcated into the public in such a way that they will not be able to consider an alternative, or even find words to frame it — much like the system in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. In Orwell’s Newspeak, it was possible to say that “Big Brother is ungood”, but it was impossible to intellectually or rhetorically justify such a statement, because no words or concepts existed to conduct such justifications. In our present system, notions such as “The press is not free” or “South Africa rightly purchased arms to defend itself against foreign aggressors” cannot be communicated to the ideologues of the system because they lack the conceptual structures to internalise such things — it is like saying “Pee poo tits arse panties”. Their goal is someday to make all the rest of us as lacking in intellectual capacity as they are.

And, of course, there is demonisation. The personalisation of politics is a mode of avoiding intellectual engagement — particularly with policies. In order to condemn policies without intellectual engagement, persons who express the policies are attacked. So are whole categories of persons — “greenies”, for instance, i.e. persons actually concerned about the survival of the ecosystem in a form which can support the present human race — whose policies are anathema to the ruling elite. And, of course, organisations whose goals are opposed to them. But also, as Mencken observed, the media create hobgoblins, demons who are imaginary, or whose significance is wildly exaggerated, and this includes not only persons but episodes and occasions or circumstances which are distorted, fitted into the ideological framework, and used as spurious legitimation for the ruling class’s practices and desires.

What can be done to counter this propaganda, short of vigorous censorship and the sending of journalists to re-education camps? (No bad thing, thinks the Creator.) Actually, seizure of control of all the media would not solve the problem, because the ruling bureaucracy would take over and the result would almost certainly be as bad as the present media. (Think of the SABC and the Afrikaans press under apartheid.)

So we fall back on the need for a set of media — one print, one electronic — capable of challenging ruling-class propaganda and therefore national and cheaply available. And such a set of media would have to be independent of the ruling class, meaning that it would have to be subsidised by the state, but to keep it independent of the bureaucratic class it would, once again, have to be under the direct control of the general public. It would be extremely interesting to find out what the public actually wants to learn about from the media. Very probably, this is not what anyone expects that they ought to want to learn about. On the other hand, it is probably not the steady diet of sex, scandal and sport which is the aspiration of the South African media at the moment. It would be interesting to see what happened, and it would also be interesting to see some average people on the board of a broadcasting service, instead of the usual panel of stuffed shirts and corporate toadies.

The third leg of the capitalist oligarchy is the judicial system. The laws are drafted by lawyers who are trained to serve the ruling classes, even if the politicians instructed by the lawyers might hope otherwise. The laws are interpreted by lawyers also trained to serve the ruling classes, and the more successful a lawyer, the higher the fee the lawyer commands — meaning that the ruling class is at a natural advantage because its wealth enables it to hire the best lawyers. Furthermore, lawyers band together in affluent societies which enable them to operate in high society — essentially, organisations like the Law Society and the Bar Council are ruling-class coordinating committees. Judges are drawn from the most ruling-class-sympathetic elements among lawyers, and they, of course, are heavily influenced by ruling-class goals, as the record of the judges’ decisions on Jacob Zuma’s various legal problems illustrates. The entire system regulates itself; unlike the executive and the legislature, there is no question of anyone outside the oligarchy and the highest levels of the political system having any influence over a judge, let alone a lawyer, unless money changes hands.

How can this inherently corrupt system be deprived of its enormous political influence? Obviously, by eliminating the so-called “checks and balances” system, by which the judicial system is used by the ruling classes to prevent the public from establishing control of the political system. It should not be difficult to eliminate the judiciary from control of constitutional systems, or to remove lawyers as much as possible from the drafting of laws. Once again, these can be replaced by elected officials of the state supervised by popularly elected citizens under a condition of absolute transparency. Lawyers would then be reduced to what they deserve to be — the impotent, chaffering handmaidens of the wealthy, able only to influence matters in minor issues by their vapourings in junior courtrooms. Even judges should be supervised by the public rather than, as now, absolutely independent of everyone except rich and powerful people. (Once in the United States judges were elected officials; it might well be reasonable for that to be the case now, especially if laws were not written specifically to be obscure to everyone except the shitsmiths trained in legal fabrication and chop-logic.)

It can be done, and it should be done. We can turn our society into something which is politically accountable to the public instead of the richest of the rich. It remains to be seen if there is either the political will or the capacity to do this.