Lo, thy dread empire, Chaos is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word . . .
Swift and Pope were writing at a time when such observations were satire rather than objective political commentary (commentary of a kind which could not, of course, be expressed today), but the Dunciad is certainly an appropriate title to describe the antics of contemporary politicians.
The most conspicuous parallel between the current shenanigans around COP17 and the Eurozone debt crises is the way in which people appear unable to do anything effectual, and hold immense numbers of meetings to demonstrate the fact, at which they provide endless supplies of disarmingly incoherent rhetoric to legitimate it. In other words, action is suspended and supplanted by dynamic bullshit. Ditto with the “debt ceiling crisis” in the United States, which led to the formation of a “supercommittee” with plenary powers which debated endlessly and then came to no conclusion.
This, it appears, is the pattern for the near future of global politics in that part of the world — the richest, most powerful part — dominated by Western imperialism.
The issues are global warming (which derives from industrial development) and the stabilisation of the world’s financial and trading system. Why are these people so determined not to get important things, which they profess to desire, done? Obviously, because they do not actually desire to restrain global warming or to stabilise the financial and trading system. Maybe they are opposed to these things in principle (although they must pretend otherwise) or maybe they are afraid of offending powerful forces if they do these things.
Any attempt to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere requires that a central authority has to be given power to restrain the growing income of wealthy industrialists and retailers. Any attempt to stabilise the financial system requires that a central authority has to be given power to restrain the growing income of bankers, insurers and real estate dealers and the web of traders which surround them. And, of course, resolving the so-called sovereign debt crisis, the way in which nation-states have evolved unsustainable budget deficits which are now generating gigantic national debts, means that a central authority has to be given power to tax the income of the richest people in those countries, who are industrialists, retailers and financiers.
Naturally, people who are obsessed with accumulating wealth are also obsessed with the notion of protecting it. Therefore, they have sought to gain control over the political system — without taking responsibility for that political system, since that would mean the possibility of facing blame when things go wrong, and one consequence of facing up to blame might be losing some or all of that wealth. The politicians have collaborated with this process, partly because they have been paid to do so, partly because they have been schooled in subordination to the ruling class, and partly because there is something liberating about abandoning all actual responsibility. One thinks of James Callaghan’s remark “We have learned that you cannot spend your way out of recession”, which he made on the occasion of Britain handing over her economic policy to the International Monetary Fund in 1976.
The division is clear; the ruling class has control, while politicians exist to take the blame. Thus the recent spate of elections and coups in Europe where politicians are turfed out or replaced, a charade which as usual serves to conceal what is going on from the public (although by now the public is probably quite aware of the meaninglessness of political leadership, which is why all parties are enjoying unprecedentedly low support). The politicians shield the ruling class, so even though there was a great deal of blame for the “banksters” when they wrecked the global financial system in 2007-8, the financial class did not have to take that blame; the politicians stood between the mobs and the ruling class in a way that has no parallel in history (usually in the past the politicians and the ruling class have united to shoot the mobs down in the streets).
The complicated blend of depoliticised politicians and power-without-responsibility ruling elites has bred strange consequences. One example was Bill Clinton railing against the bond traders before his Cabinet. It is entirely possible that he believed that the bond markets were stronger than he was; the truth being that the political class had created an economic system under which that illusion held, but that the economic and political system could have been changed by Clinton had he actually wished to. Hecomplained because he was chained to the dungeon wall, yet he held the key to the padlocks in his hands.
It is similar today. The rhetoric surrounding COP17 and the Eurozone crisis is truly apocalyptic. Angela Merkel and her merry little friends talk about the Eurozone financial crisis as if it were a greater threat than the Nazis and the Cold War rolled into one. However, when it comes to doing anything about it, their activities are considerably less energetic and confident than Neville Chamberlain’s behaviour at Munich. The delegates to COP17 tell us that the world’s climate is going to change so radically that agriculture will cease to function, the world’s population will implode and human civilisation will collapse. In the face of this doom, they play a four-year-old’s game of “You go first”, meanwhile pledging money to imaginary funds which will never be paid, squabbling over who to take the blame, and refusing to take responsibility for anything. It is as if a murderer being strapped down on the execution chair were to complain about the annoying flickering of the fluorescent lights overhead.
But this is natural. Politicians appear to have internalised the concept of their own disempowerment to an absolute degree. “We can’t do that” has become the rule — it is, effectively, “Nobody can do anything”. The reason being, of course, that doing anything will interfere with the people who are really in charge, who refuse to be interfered with. But they could be interfered with, of course, quite easily — the public, in fact, is indignant with the politicians because they are not interfering with the ruling class, although they do not say so outright because it is all but impossible to speak one’s mind in an age dominated by elite gobbledygook. Translated out of Newspeak, however, the public’s passions are clear — they are mad as hell, and are not going to take it any more, except that they don’t know how to show that they aren’t going to take it, so they flail around at Mexicans or Muslims or Zimbabweans and shriek their hatred of elite-selected political demons at the pitch of their lungs.
And the politicians go along with this, which is why the global political climate is shifting culturally rightward, towards increasing xenophobia and racism and religious intolerance — it’s as if the Ayatollah Khomeini were the supreme leader of the global ruling class. Maybe he is.
In South Africa, we have seen this most clearly expressed in the Great Nationalisation Non-Debate. Under pressure from the ANC Youth League, the ANC was obliged to set up a commission to look into nationalisation. Naturally, they packed the commission with ruling-class toadies, so when it reported, it concluded that nationalisation was very bad indeed and could not be supported in any way, no, certainly not. But in the mean time the ANC leadership had destroyed the ANC Youth League, and such a toxic barrel of right-wing sewage was an embarrassment, because it exposed the fact that the ANCYL had been destroyed for its temerity in challenging the plutocratic elite. So the commission’s report was sent back for redrafting, so that it could contain some phrases which redefined shit as chocolate pudding; we are not against nationalisation as such, but we believe that a more nuanced approach is desirable, one which ensures that the companies get exactly what they want while the people get nothing — oops, we didn’t say that last bit, we mean, which is consistent with the underpinnings of a developmental state within the ambit of the national democratic revolution, oh yes.
Nobody can sell shit like Jacob Zuma, especially when there is nothing else on offer in the market.
However, this disempowerment spreads like typhoid. It seems that almost every politician in the world has happily embraced the theories of disempowerment; the neoliberalism which says that politicians must not have the power to influence the ruling class, and that politicians must also not evolve the capacity to help the working class. Hence they are accustomed to doing nothing, and everybody else except the elite become accustomed to having nothing done for them. And to believing the lies they are told when nothing is done, the excuses, the pretexts for why there is no money in the kitty, why the skies are turning into our enemies, why the principles for which we died have to be betrayed.
Nothing else exists but the perfect treason of our rulers.