Grundrisse (V): When we look in the mirror.

February 28, 2012

If we know who the enemy is, and how to recognise an enemy when we see one, who are our friends?

This question has been inadvertently raised by a couple of people on the Web lately, and while both are people who should be viewed with a degree of suspicion, both are experienced people whose mistakes show how even people who know better can be fooled into misguided decisions thanks to their own prejudices.

A classic recent example is Chris Hedges, who is a mildly liberal weblogger and Net journalist in the United States who sometimes writes things which read almost radical. (But not often.) Hedges has issued the first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of anarchist hoodies. His complaint is that this group — the “black bloc” of anarchists wearing balaclavas and vaguely Goth outfits — is discrediting the Occupy movement. With the tact and restraint so characteristic of Internet journalism, Hedges calls them the “cancer of the Occupy movement”.

The “black bloc” is a small clique of ninnies playing at revolution under the auspices of an even smaller clique of anarchist nincompoops imagining that by getting their followers to join in the Occupy movement and behave like arseholes, they will somehow take charge of the movement. They are wrong, and if they were right, the Occupy movement would collapse even faster than it is collapsing. There is thus very little positive to be said about the “black bloc”.

Do they really pose a threat to Occupy? They say not — naturally. Hedges claims that they make it easy for the police to deploy agents provocateurs in black. Their response, quite accurate, is that the police have no need of a black bloc to attain this end. Hedges also claims that the minor damage to property which the “black bloc” sometimes conduct discredits Occupy; that their support is weakened by the fact that some people associated with the movement are breaking windows and overturning garbage cans.

If this is the case, then the support for Occupy is rather insignificant. After all, nobody said that the regrettable lack of respect for property rights displayed by the Sandinistas in 1979 was grounds for supporting President-for-life Somoza instead; everybody just went ahead and backed the rebels, overturned garbage cans, broken windows and all. Why shouldn’t Occupy continue gaining support in spite of any apparent misbehaviour which is in any case only a question of ill-discipline, and a trivial sequence of episodes in comparison with the goal of overturning society and breaking the control of the financial services industry over the national democratic government?

The answer seems to be that Occupy is terrified of losing what little support it possesses. Therefore it is reluctant to take coherent stands which require any ideological analysis, and it is reluctant to set up a clear internal structure including a leadership structure. In a sense this is wise, since structure can easily be seized control of and leaders can be banned, jailed or murdered. However, it means that all that Occupy can do to win support is to establish a presence in an area on the basis of hostility to injustice, and then wait for sympathisers to show up. Therefore it cannot afford to repudiate those sympathisers. However, obviously the sympathisers will necessarily be people who already support Occupy, or the goals which Occupy is endorsing. These sympathisers are likely to be organisationally involved already and therefore their support for Occupy will be necessarily tinged with opportunism; we want a piece of this bandwagon. In the case of anarchists, Maoists and Trotskyists, that opportunism amounts to about 101%.

So Hedges’ complaint is twofold; his complaint that the “black bloc” are doing things which allegedly discredit Occupy amounts, really, to a complaint that they are not in any way under Occupy’s authority — which would be a valid complaint if Occupy had any authority. And his complaint also amounts to the complaint that Occupy lacks discipline, structure and coherence — which is true, but is not the fault of the “black bloc”, who have never claimed to have any intrinsic approval for Occupy. In short, Hedges’ protests are valid only if directed not at the anarchists but at Occupy itself. Which means that Hedges and “black bloc” are both enemies of Occupy; in fact, Occupy is its own enemy. Which, in turn, means that one ought to be very careful about whom one allows into an organisation, and that simply proclaiming an organisation’s automatic support from 99% of the population means, in effect, opening the door to fools, charlatans and enemies.

And that leads us to another player on the Net, the majestic “Unrepentant Marxist” (what is there to repent of in Marxism?), Louis Proyect the renegade ex-Socialist Workers Party activist and, more recently, cheerleader for NATO intervention in Libya. (Lots of left-wingers supported NATO’s aggression there; all made fools of themselves and betrayed their causes, but this in itself is not a reason to be more than suspicious of their good sense.) Proyect has discovered that a lot of people are being very suspicious of the “Arab Spring” and the machinations of the self-styled liberal opposition to Putin in Russia.

Some of the people who are suspicious are the Egyptian military intelligence and the Russian Federal Security Service, who have been monitoring and sometimes rounding up Western imperialist agents in their countries working for alleged “democracy promotion” organisations. These organisations have been working closely with some of the Egyptian and Russian anti-government activists. Therefore, some people have been saying that this serves to discredit the Egyptian and Russian anti-government activists, for since they are working with Western imperialist agents, they are becoming imperialist agents themselves, or worse still, agents, or hired tools, or dupes, of such agents.

This, says Proyect, is unfair. These people, says Proyect, are crass conspiracy theorists. Just because one is working with imperialist agents doesn’t make one an imperialist agent. Nor, indeed, is it right to act against imperialist agents. If you cut imperialist agents, do they not bleed? Grant them their human rights, set them free, says Proyect, they are harmless.

No, they aren’t.

Proyect’s problem is, in essence, that he still wants to believe in the “Arab Spring”, and he hates the Putin administration in Russia because it is essentially conservative, authoritarian and nationalist. Therefore he is happy to see Western imperialist agents pouring funds and advisors into Arab and Russian opposition movements. That, obviously, could have the effect of strengthening those movements. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer is that Western imperialist agents are not offering money for nothing, and they are not offering neutral advice. What the West badly wants is to overthrow Putin and replace him with a Yeltsin clone, and if they can do this behind a screen of liberals or even Trotskyites, they will happily do so. What the West badly wants is to secure docile governments in Arab countries which will do the West’s bidding, and therefore they wish to ensure control of any political force likely to become significant.

If you accept money for your activism, you become dependent upon money for activism. This has hollowed out the spirit of voluntarism in South Africa, where virtually all NGOs are now entirely dependent on funding — and the bulk of that funding goes on salaries for the “activists”. Therefore, the “activists” do what they are told, and if the funding is cut off for any reason, as is currently happening with the AIDS treatment organisations now that there is no longer a political need for them (Big Pharma having got everything it wants) then the organisations will wither on the vine. This is more or less what is going to happen in Russia and Egypt — has, probably, already happened. It doesn’t mean that there is no groundswell of hostility to the Egyptian military dictatorship, or (less coherently) to the dubious political machinations of Medvedev and Putin (though it is probable that these machinations still command majority support, despite the hostility of the West and much of the media).

But there is no point in having a groundswell of support if the leaders exploiting that groundswell are bought by foreigners, and this is where Proyect is wrong. Like the “black bloc”, he wants the appearance of a revolution — demonstrations, slogans, preferably blood in the streets — but he doesn’t want the actuality of a revolution — ideas, projects, revolutionary leadership committed to a programme of radical change. This is because such a leadership would not benefit the kind of politicians whom Proyect likes or the “black bloc” represents; such a leadership would have its own ideas about what should happen next.

What this plainly shows is that the problem is not the “black bloc” or any other kind of opportunism. Nor is the problem the agents of global imperialism, or any other force seeking to use capitalism to undermine democracy (which is the standard operational proceedings, after all). The problem, instead, is with trying to run a revolution without a structure, without discipline, without an ideology, and without effective leadership.

If Occupy were a real organisation, then the “black bloc” would be either in or out, according to the organisations principles, and if it were in, it would misbehave only insofar as Occupy permitted it to. If it stepped out of bounds, it would be out, and there would be no need to call it a “cancer” or any other collection if silly names. If the Russian or Egyptian protesters were real revolutionaries, they would be appalled at the very idea of taking money from Western imperialists, let alone listening to the technical advice of Western imperialist agents, because essentially all of the problems in Russia and Egypt have arisen out of Western imperialist domination of the governments — under Yeltsin in Russia, and since Nasser’s death in Egypt. Only a revolutionary completely ignorant of history and politics could possibly take a different line.

In other words, what is happening in those countries is not revolutionary at all. It is, in all cases, a mass public upsurge of resistance against misgovernment. However, that mass public upsurge has no real leadership. As a result, the upsurge either leaks away in chaos and disorder, or it is appropriated by fake leaders hired by the same forces responsible for the misgovernment in the first place. (Whether these are the Western imperialists themselves, or the nominal agents of Western imperialism such as the military juntas or political circuses in the Arab world and Eastern Europe, is almost neither here nor there.) What we have to acknowledge is that the problem is an absence of agency on the part of political radicalism — the symptom of which is ludicrous claptrap like the writings of Hardt and Negri (who believe that you don’t need political leadership, and who are enthusiastically cited by many Occupy partisans and supporters of the “Arab Spring”). The reality is that political radicals have lost faith in political radicalism precisely when such radicalism is needed, and therefore are no longer fighting for it.

But who are we, and how will we fight?


Grundrisse (IV): The Voice of the Bought Man.

February 16, 2012

Yes, one might say, of course the ruling class have bought our politicians. That, surely, is nothing new. Be angry at a skunk for stinking, if you are going to be angry at the ruling class for ruling. It is, perhaps, a little bit new that the ruling class do not know what to do with their politicians having bought them — exactly like the rich kid who buys a Ferrari with inherited money but doesn’t know how to get it past second gear and keeps crashing into things.

However, this does lead to some problems for the public who has to live under the rule of bought men who are not instructed about what to do, except that they are under no circumstances to acknowledge that they are bought men, while naturally making it absolutely clear that they are bought men, obedient, subservient, docile, with no hint of independence from their sponsors. These are difficult tasks; one has to put up a great mass of facades and in order to make those facades function, one has to exercise absolute control of public debate, in order that nobody will misunderstand a statement, nor interpret it in any way other than the way the ruling class wishes it interpreted. Vacuity is performed with terrifying precision, and the result is anaesthetised numbness combined with fear, the only honest emotion which the bought men feel.

This is a much less healthy situation than it has ever been in South Africa or elsewhere; whether or not the erstwhile political masters of nations were bought, they at least created the illusion that they were in charge, were doing something and going somewhere, and that they wanted the public to help.

Let’s consider a recent utterance by Jeremy Cronin on umSebenzi, “The Worker”, something which Jeremy himself has never been, which more recently appeared in Business Day (comrades, workers and capitalists, united). In the Creator’s local rag it appeared under the title “Time to raise the debate”. Cronin is Deputy Secretary-General of the SACP (which means he essentially runs it, since Blade is busy elsewhere) and also Deputy Minister of Transport.

The article kicks off with a quote from a resolution passed at Polokwane, basically saying that something needs to be done about the mining industry. The actual call from the floor was that the mines should be nationalised; the SACP countered by demanding that SASOL be nationalised, and Cronin and buddies managed to water it all down into something meaningless. That was in 2007; five years have passed, and absolutely nothing has been done. There has, however, been a lively debate about nationalisation, which Cronin says served to “dumb down the matter”, without saying why nationalisation is dumb.

Cronin claims that mining nationalisation was a “pseudo-radical” call promoted by “BEE mining tycoons” who were “heavily indebted” due to the financial crisis. It might seem a bit rich for a wealthy white guy to denounce nationalisation as a stupid idea promoted by feckless, lazy blacks, but that is exactly what Cronin is doing. Unfortunately, this claim is false, since the issue was raised in 2007, before the financial crisis happened. It’s also false in the objective sense that Cronin has no evidence to substantiate it, and false in the sense that it’s difficult to see why people making money out of mining would be keen to see their companies taken away from them. This is remarkably like the Israeli argument that the Palestinians are organising the killing of their children by the Israeli police and army, in order to embarrass Israel. Technically, it’s known as “dishonest, hypocritical bullshit”.

Cronin proceeds to call the nationalisation debate the “pseudo-nationalisation” debate. So nationalisation is now “pseudo-nationalisation”. Actually, there is such a thing as pseudo-nationalisation; it’s what the Western capitalist imperialists did for the crumbling banks and big corporations, pretending to nationalise them so that they could pump public money into them, after which the banks and corporations were handed back to the rich people who had wrecked them. However, nobody has suggested that the mines should be briefly nationalised and then given back again, so Cronin is again talking twaddle.

What we begin to see here is that Cronin is opposed to nationalisation of the mining industry, and presumably was opposed to nationalising the petrochemical industry when he called for it in 2007. However, he is not saying so, nor is he saying why. Instead, his task is to smear the people who support nationalisation, and also to try to discredit the concept of nationalisation itself. He particularly denounces the ANC Youth League for raising the issue of nationalisation at the 2010 National General Council. How dare they be so “inelegant” as to attempt to discuss substantive issues?

Whose agenda is this? The SACP could easily trash the ANCYL without trashing nationalisation. Therefore, their agenda must be to attack nationalisation. Why does the SACP wish to do this without explaining why they oppose it (and indeed without making any honest statement about what the issue entails)? Obviously, because if they allowed open debate and declared their interest, this would undermine their position. Self-evidently, they are either terrified of the big mining industries, or they have been bought. Almost certainly it is the latter.

Being bought involves massive dishonesty. Cronin boldly denounces the big mining corporations, and then says “they would have been secretly pleased” at the issue of nationalisation being raised “in this mindlessly narrow way”. In other words, by calling for the nationalisation of the mines, the ANCYL was serving the interests of the big mining companies. Meanwhile, Cronin refuses to say anything about what the SACP wishes to do, because, he says, the ANC has produced a wonderful document which he hasn’t seen (so how does he know it is wonderful?) through which we will “transform this critical sector of our economy”. Yeah, when pigs floss. In other words, the SACP proposes to subject itself to the ANC, something which it never did before, on the basis of a document which Cronin pretends he hasn’t seen (in all probability he helped to write it, but never mind). Massive dishonesty, viva!

We are left with nothing at all in terms of meaningful government policy. Cronin has managed to disseminate lies, misrepresentations and disinformation without clarifying anything or daring to take a stand. However, the substantive parts of this statement are that Cronin does not like black businesspeople, does not like young black politicians, and does not like freedom of expression. It is hard to distinguish this stand from that of AfriForum, but doubtless a subtle observer could do so.

Cronin moves on to the judiciary. It has been widely said, because it is true, that Section 25 of Chapter 2 (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution, which is the Property Rights section, can be used by the judiciary to obstruct the redistribution of wealth. (Also, of course, the government can use this part of the Constitution to excuse its failure to redistribute wealth.) Therefore, it has been very widely said that something needs to be done to amend the Constitution to remove this opportunity, and to transform the judiciary so that they will no longer wish to block the redistribution of wealth. All well and good and splendid, not so?

Not to Cronin. He praises the retired Constitutional Court Judge Arthur Chaskelson, who says that the Constitution is just fine, and so is the judiciary. In brief, Cronin may dislike black people and their calls for change, but when rich white establishment figures speak in support of the status quo, Cronin is the first man to stand up and cheer.

According to Cronin, Chaskelson quotes from the preamble¬† to the Constitution (which Cronin calls the introduction); this has nothing to do with any problems which anyone may have with the Constitution, since it is a pious list of intentions and pledges. Chaskelson also cites judicial decisions which have been, in his opinion, progressive. This, again, has nothing to do with problems which arise from either the Constitution or the behaviour of judges — nobody denies that judges may be progressive, what is complained about is that they often are not, and most particularly are not when being regressive is to the advantage of the ruling class, from which all judges come and whose interests all judges serve.

Obviously, Chaskelson is trying to defend his political class by defending his industry and the set of rules which his industry enforces. This doesn’t mean that Chaskelson is wrong, it merely means that we should be suspicious. Cronin is not suspicious; he instead basks in the warm glow of judicial rectitude which has been assiduously cultivated in South Africa since the dying days of the apartheid regime. Effectively, Cronin is reassuring the judicial defenders of affluent white privilege that he is on their side. Which should come as no surprise to anyone; almost certainly, the same people who hire them have hired him.

It is true that Cronin admits one twit amid his yips of praise; just as he acknowledged that the mining industry whose rights he is concerned to preserve are brutal, corrupt and exploitative, so here he acknowledges that the mere fact that the judiciary now has a large cadre of black and female agents for the pursuit of ruling-class interests, which Chaskelson says means that the judiciary is transformed, is irrelevant. To transform the judiciary, one would have to do something else, although Cronin carefully refrains from saying what, in order to avoid taking a stand. (Indeed, given his obsequious abjection before Chaskelson’s shallow and irrelevant arguments, it would be very difficult for Cronin to come to any critical conclusion.)

The conclusion which Cronin eventually comes to, and which is contained in the entire essay, is simple: the source of the problem in our society is conflict. People are too inclined to take the simplistic position of “us” against “them”, says Cronin. Thus people foolishly believe that rich people are robbing the workers, and that by preventing rich people from robbing the workers, something better may be accomplished. They stupidly imagine that just because the judiciary uses a Constitution drafted by rich people’s agents in order to serve the interests of rich people, there is something wrong with this. They fail to see that there is no such thing as rich or poor, or black or white. We are all in this together. Let us all harmoniously attend to our duties and everything will be all right thanks to the wise guidance of our dear leaders.

This is the true narrative of the bought man, soothing all conflict which might otherwise threaten the private profits of his principals. Obviously, no Marxist could hold any such opinions; even if one denies the validity of the dialectic, there is no Marxism at all without class struggle, whereas Cronin here denies the existence of classes just as he denies the validity of socialism. He is waving a red flag which has a large corporate logo emblazoned on it. There is a strong whiff of fascism here — not only the racial partisanship (Cronin’s preference for whites over blacks has long been noted) and the corporatism, but also the vicious dishonesty and the fake concern for the poor and downtrodden. Perhaps this is not surprising; strip away the Marxism from Stalinism, and you are left with corrupt power-worship, and since the most powerful force in South Africa is business, Cronin is left worshipping that. (Many American “neocons” and some South African Trotskyites followed a similar trajectory.) This, of course, is simply a pretext, an excuse which Cronin no doubt makes in order to look at himself in the mirror without complete horror and disgust: “I am pursuing an evil Macchiavellian agenda in the interests of my glorious Party; I am not a bought man.”

But he is a bought man, and all the nonsense, lies and wearying verbiage which he generates stems entirely from that fact.


Grundrisse (III): The Vain and Empty Works.

February 16, 2012

What all this means is perhaps best understood by considering the alarming and spectacular impact of the Malema appeal hearing report this week.

It isn’t necessary to point out that Malema’s appeal was foreordained to lose. We know that the ANC is corrupt and administratively dysfunctional. We should not be surprised that all the charges under which he and his confreres of the ANC Youth League were found guilty were nonsenses which no healthy organisation would pursue for more than a few minutes. Nor should we be startled that the tribunals administering these trumped-up charges were packed with enemies of Malema, or that these enemies of Malema delivered judgements which were (besides the absurdity of their subject-matter) windy piffle. All this is to be expected under the Zuma administration.

No, the more interesting issue is, why was all this laborious effort undertaken? Why did Zuma and his co-conspirators go to such lengths to ensure that the ANC would look ludicrous and decaying?

It is often suggested that Zuma was afraid of Malema because the ANC Youth League wanted someone else as President of the ANC, namely Kgalema Motlanthe. It is true that Malema’s ANCYL wanted Motlanthe by the time 2011 rolled around, but this had not previously been the case. In 2007 and 2008, both Malema and the ANCYL had been among Zuma’s noisiest and most reliable supporters.

This did not change because Malema and the ANCYL suddenly had a change of heart and wanted to support the people who now had nothing to offer them because they were out of office. What happened, instead, was that Malema and the leadership of the ANCYL had been supporters of the nationalisation of the mining industry, which turned out to be a tremendously popular cause. At Polokwane in late 2007, both the SACP and COSATU promoted nationalisation, although if you read the fine print on their statements, both organisations were actually supporting nationalisation so long as nothing was actually nationalised. After Polokwane, COSATU stopped talking about nationalisation (despite the long-standing support for nationalisation among trade union members) and the SACP began talking against nationalisation, even though state control of the means of production is more or less the middle name of Communism.

What was going on here? It appears that the campaigners against Thabo Mbeki had been given a kind of temporary leave of absence from their responsibilities to the people funding the campaign against Thabo Mbeki, which was, of course, big business, the only people with that kind of money. Big business does not like nationalisation, but was prepared to allow its allies to use nationalisation as a tool to win support and thus get rid of Mbeki. Precisely because nationalisation was such a useful tool, it had to be discarded after Mbeki was removed. COSATU, which had union members who had memories, could not simply renounce nationalisation, so it simply fell silent on the subject. The SACP, whose tiny membership would do whatever it was told, and which was ironically totally dependent on corporate donations for its funding, was more active; it denounced nationalisation from the housetops.

The ANCYL’s statements had no fine print. Nor was the ANCYL particularly beholden to big business, even though some of its political allies were corporate cronies. On the contrary, the ANCYL needed to make a lot of noise in order to attract attention and support. The easiest thing in the world to do would be to carry on shouting about nationalisation, and this they did. While a couple of ANCYL members were in the ANC’s hundred-member National Executive Committee, they were outnumbered fifty to one by anti-nationalisation figures, so there was no way that their shouts could be turned into action. On the other hand, it was theoretically convenient for the ANC to have a few members who said things which the public would like to hear, because the ANC’s support after Zuma’s seizure of power was fragile, and was largely cemented by radical rhetoric. If there were no radicals to promote the rhetoric, gradually the public would lose interest in the rhetoric and the ANC’s support would dip. In short, Zuma’s long-term survival relied quite heavily on the ANCYL’s impotent noisemaking.

There were, however, problems — two problems. The bought men of the SACP were extremely vulnerable to the ANCYL’s radicalism. They could not, and dared not, promote their principles. The ANCYL could. The ANCYL also had a large membership and contact with the community, both of which the SACP lacked. If such things went on for a few years, the SACP would probably lose what little remained of its public support.

Meanwhile, the businessmen who had bought the SACP and the Zuma cabal were not politically sophisticated, as businessmen rarely are. They did not wish to know that an element of the ANC was promoting policies which were unappealing to them. For one thing, many foreign financiers would seize the opportunity to deny credit to South Africa, on the grounds that some impotent politicians were making anti-capitalist noises. Therefore, they went to the ANC’s, the SACP’s and COSATU’s leadership to demand that Malema be silenced. Initially nothing much was done, but the anti-Malema propaganda in the bought media was ramped up. Zuma probably does not wake up in the morning to receive his orders from the front page of the Star, but there is no doubt that the ANC leadership pays a lot of attention to the propaganda which the ruling class pumps out; lacking any real support, they need a lot of loving coverage from the media. By late 2009 it was turning against them. The SACP and the leadership of COSATU began roundly denouncing Malema, to the cheers of the press, while the SACP went one better and renounced nationalisation altogether.

And then, so did Zuma and his cronies, essentially saying that they felt that the public support that Malema and friends could deliver was less important than the financial support which big business could promise. Greed is a powerful weapon which almost always trumps principle, but in this case it also trumped political advantage. The electorate responded unfavourably to these attacks on Malema, but Zuma was happy to see a modest fall in support so long as the money continued rolling in — and where it was rolling in was to the pockets of his allies. He might not be gaining personal advantage from corporate support — but by attacking Malema he ensured that the politicians around him would remain dogs chained to the bank-accounts of big business.

Malema didn’t like this, but could not attack Zuma directly. Instead, he attacked the SACP, most particularly Gwede Mantashe, ANC Secretary-General, who, he argued, was not doing his job well (which was perfectly true), was abusing his position in order to get narrow advantages for the SACP (which was perfectly true) and, therefore, ought to be replaced at the next National Conference. Calling for Mantashe’s replacement was also a subtle hint that if Zuma ramped up attacks on the ANCYL, the ANCYL’s patience was not unlimited; every criticism which Malema applied to Mantashe applied equally to Zuma.

The media then defended Mantashe. This was a difficult thing to do, since Mantashe is an indefensible figure, apart from the fact that this was big business openly throwing its support behind the SACP — which ought to have meant that the SACP’s support was reduced to the members of the Politburo and their immediate families. (It’s entirely possible that this is the case; the SACP’s actual support-base is unknown, but they have not managed any mass activity in half a decade, despite immense press publicity.) Presumably big business also went to Zuma and his friends, perhaps via the corporate stooges Sexwale and Ramaphosa, or the corporate puppet Manuel. Anyway, Zuma came out in defense of Mantashe and demanded that the ANCYL shut up. Malema indignantly responded that this was worse censorship than Mbeki had ever imposed (which was perfectly true). Zuma and the SACP leaped on this and railroaded Malema into a kangaroo-court disciplinary hearing, which found Malema guilty of telling the truth about Zuma and imposed a suspended sentence of suspension. (Which kept us all in suspense, of course.)

What Malema and the ANCYL could have done was to acknowledge the smackdown and become submissive. Of course the media propaganda was not going away, which meant that they could have sustained themselves, arguing that they were merely retreating under fire — fire which showed that they were actually the good guys, or why else would the press have attacked them? But instead of taking this safe route which would have preserved their careers, they launched more extensive campaigns around “economic liberation”, endorsing the nationalisation of the land and the banking system and producing a much more detailed plan for the nationalisation of the mining system. In moving from rhetoric to serious action, they challenged the authority of Zuma himself — and indeed, while not once directly criticising Zuma, they gave it to be understood that in an election they would prefer someone else to run the ANC.

So, of course, they were removed, using fresh charges — this time, that they had criticised the Botswanan government and had promoted an African agenda. The former action was alleged to have brought the ANC into disrepute (though not one South African in a hundred could tell you what party rules Botswana or who its President is), the latter, to have divided the ANC (the Zuma administration claims to be united on the African agenda, though in its actions it opposes everything which ever serves African interests).

What this suggests is that the ANCYL was attacked because they were saying things which big business did not want to hear, even if the public did. In other words, the ANC would rather harm itself than annoy big business. This is hardly surprising, but it is worth pointing out, because periodically the ANC pretends otherwise. The SACP and COSATU, once again, threw their weight behind the campaigners of big business, doubtless in return for money and promises of directorships.

Meanwhile, the media had been running a long soap opera claiming that the ANC was plotting to destroy freedom of expression. At last, one might think, some evidence had come up substantiating this claim. The ANC clearly was not granting its members the right to express opinions which they clearly held and which were also, up until 2007, commonplace within the ANC, even if frowned upon by the ANC’s leaders because they, too, were heavily influenced by big business. In effect, a source of colourful rhetoric and occasionally interesting political ideas, potentially usable by the corporate media either for entertainment or bogey-manufacture, was being shut down.

Did the media protest? Of course not. Unanimously, the press proclaimed the wonder and glory of the ANC for successfully suppressing speech. Various public intellectuals — all of them working at institutions, or sitting in academic chairs, sponsored either directly by big business or indirectly, through “charitable foundations”, by big business — proclaimed the same, identifying the sins of Malema and his friends and declaring, effectively, that free speech is a wholly unnecessary thing. Which it is, in their eyes, when it is exercised by anyone whom they do not control or employ. That is why they continue to chant about the menace which the government poses to freedom of expression. It is much easier to pick people’s pockets when their attention is distracted by someone pointing into the distance and shouting “Thief, thief!”

Of course it does not matter. The ANCYL was not going to accomplish anything, even had it wished to. All the same, it is depressing to see that everybody in this little fiasco has been bought by big business, and meanwhile, the ANCYL are singled out by bought media, bought pundits and bought politicians — for being bought! It is a circle of lies which comes back to its beginning and has no value or meaning.

The real problem isn’t that the moneyed class buys its way to power. That has always been the case. The problem which will not go away is that, having bought its way to power, the moneyed class has no idea of what to do with that power, except to hang on to it by buying more.

But in the end, what is the price?


Grundrisse (II): Know Your Enemy.

February 8, 2012

Cui bono? Who benefits? To whose advantage is it that the world is as it is?

Them. It’s a conspiracy. The truth is out there. They’re all out to get us.

OK, fair enough. I don’t benefit. You don’t benefit. Virtually everybody we know would be better off if the global socio-politico-economic system were differently organised. It’s not hard to imagine different ways of organising such things. Yet different ways of organisation are invariably attacked in almost all public spaces and debates, and supporters of different ways of organisation are marginalised. As a result there is essentially no way, or at least no easy, visible way, to debate change, let alone bring about change, which would lead to the improvement of our lives. What’s more, this applies to an ever-increasing extent the more intensely you fail to benefit from the system. None of this can have happened by accident, and the fact that ludicrous theories (“trickle-down economics”, the “marketplace of ideas”) have been evolved to pretend that it is an accident only serves as part of the theory.

Then who are the conspirators?

The usual line is that it is the State. The State is an interesting concept. It isn’t the same as the nation-state, although the nation-state is a convenient quasi-fiction to justify the existence of the State. The State consists of, firstly, the government and all its civil servants, then the capitalist structures which the government exists to serve, and then the general public’s structures which exist to promote and protect the structures of the government and the capitalist structures, and then the public itself. This isn’t, actually, as helpful as it sounds. When you talk about an “ideological State apparatus” it sounds as if you are talking about the SABC. But actually such an apparatus includes Mum spanking Tot for crossing the road without looking left or right first. If we are all the conspirators, then there is no conspiracy, postmodern theory is correct, and we can all go home and forget about trying to change anything.

Most civil servants, employees of capitalist structures, churchgoers, PTA members and family members aren’t exactly happy captives of the system. They would like to see it changed, except they are either afraid of punishment, or incapable of seeing any alternative. They may, if you talk to them, loudly defend the system, and many would kill or even die for it. But they didn’t create the system, they don’t benefit from it, and they have no power over it. The task of bringing about a revolution is to persuade these people of their condition, which is effectively what old-fashioned Marxists called false consciousness. Actually, the old-fashioned Marxists were right; there is a huge amount of misunderstanding of people’s status in society and in the system, much of which comes from within — you want to believe that what you are doing is right, even when it isn’t. But believing that it is a good thing to murder dissidents does not mean that Pinochet or Eugene de Kock were good guys, and so the mere fact that false consciousness may be perfectly sincere, and even contribute to psychological health, doesn’t make it a good thing.

But the only way to understand what that might mean, would be by taking the monolithic State to pieces and seeing how the system serves some and does not serve others.

We elect the government. In theory, this is supposed to mean that we determine the government’s policies, because if we like those policies we will vote for it, and if not, not. However, this rests on the false assumption that the opposition will, when it sees an unpopular government, pledge itself to pursue different policies which are more popular. In practice, this does not happen. Instead, again and again, we see party policies tending towards the same set of policies. In order to justify this behaviour, this set of policies is referred to as “the centre”. In actual fact, this set of policies, authoritarian neoliberalism, is extremely right-wing. Therefore, as in Spain and Britain and Greece and the United States and South Africa, the parties which purport to be liberal, leftist or social-democratic adopt the same policies as their right-wing opponents. When these policies lead to socio-economic catastrophe, the masses rise up and vote these parties out. The opposition, however, is conservative, right-wing and neoliberal, so they are voting in parties which are pledged to pursue the same policies which they were voting the other parties out for pursuing. It is no wonder that more and more people are viewing electoral policies as simply a pointless game.

Interestingly, exactly the same kind of thing was happening from the 1950s through to the early 1970s. In those days, the policies which were pursued in Britain and America and France and Germany were social-democratic policies based on managed capitalism. You were perfectly free to vote for the social-democratic managed capitalist of your choice, whether it were Clement Attlee or Dwight D Eisenhower. It made no difference. Admittedly, people complained less back then, because the system seemed to be working, even if it was rigged on both sides. Now that the system clearly doesn’t work, there are protests — mild ones. People don’t protest against the system itself, because they accepted it for so long that they are accustomed to electoral corruption and to the meaninglessness of voting.

But if it is a game, who is playing it? Who benefits from the political system consisting of a single party with two heads, two heads decreasingly different from each other over time? It seems obvious that it is not the voters who want this. Is it, then, the politicians who want this? But why belong to a social democratic party which calls itself conservative, or a conservative party which calls itself social democratic? For one thing, why did you join the party if your politics are the reverse of what the party is actually about? Why pretend that you’re what you’re not, given the strong likelihood that at least someone will notice, and the plausible danger that you’ll end up getting shunned?

Obviously, some force more powerful than immediate political advantage is at work, some force which makes politicians strenuously make themselves and their parties unpopular with their constituents. Equally obviously, this force must be a secret society capable of manipulating men’s minds without their realising it. Self-evidently, the force at work is S.P.E.C.T.R.E, and while we do not know which supposedly active volcano their headquarters is tunnelled into, it is also self-evident that the human nominally in charge is Ernst Blofeld. (Although more sophisticated observers realise that, given the effects that S.P.E.C.T.R.E has upon human society, the real commander-in-chief is almost certainly that big white Persian cat on his lap. As mice to wanton cats, are we unto the Great Cat God.)

Yes, but who are they working for? The only force capable of changing the world to that extent is the force of money. Politicians are motivated by money more than by their electorates, simply because money secures political security; you can make sure that you are elected with money, while also ensuring that you are no longer just standing around at the edge of the crowd at the parties of rich people which politicians have to attend — politicians with money can feel themselves to be a part of the action in a way that politicians without money cannot. If you are a bought man, you are contemptible — Thomas Frank remarks that the Rockefellers’ bought senator, the egregious Chauncey Depew, was viewed as a sort of butler, the man who did what had to be done but would never be invited to the dinner-table. But if you charge enough money, you have a wad big enough to gain access. In rich circles, money is the only thing which matters. So politicians have an endless inclination to seek more money — without it, now that politicians have no intrinsically positive social status, they are nothing.

This is what South African politicians have yet to learn, which accounts for why they sell themselves for such derisory sums.

Is there, then, some kind of central conspiracy which determines¬† the policy which governments will be instructed to follow? This does not seem to be the case. If there were a capitalist Politburo, things would happen much more coherently. Also, very probably, things would work better, because capitalists have no special desire to see the general public unhappy. (Of course, they might decide that they want to see the general public emotionally and spiritually crushed, in the Chilean model, which would be horrible — but even that isn’t happening.)

Capitalists compete with each other; that is the norm. Of course, they collaborate, working together to screw everybody else, but they always do this with one eye on the possibility of suddenly betraying the collaboration and stabbing their associates in the back. As a result, although capitalists have numerous associative organisations which organise lunches and testimonial dinners, and although they get together for particular projects such as organising propaganda magazines and publicity associations, and they all seem to agree on these things, nevertheless there isn’t a great deal of commonality in their actions, in South Africa or anywhere else.

As a result, different capitalists buy different politicians. Capitalists will even give money to politicians who seem to be their enemies, knowing that these politicians may be brought on-side. When different politicians seem to be saying different things, although they all seem to be in the same party and following the same message, it’s entirely likely that this is because they have been bought by different people. The interests sponsoring Gwede Mantashe and Kgalema Motlanthe are not the same interests.

Meanwhile, many politicians are, in themselves, filthy rich. Therefore, they are not to be directly bought (buying Mitt Romney would be too expensive). Rather, capitalists have bought the lesser politicians upon whom senior, rich politicians depend. Therefore, the impact of buying politicians is often second-hand. (Romney and Gingrich, like Mantashe and Motlanthe, operate within a particular social class where plutocratic ideals are commonplace; therefore they are inclined to accept the instructions of capitalists. However, to make them take particular positions it is usually advisable to have other politicians come to them with the message that their campaign is much more likely to succeed if they support a particular position, and oppose a particular other position. The game capitalists are playing is, thus, a game of playing politicians off against each other, with the additional spin that if you control enough politicians through this game, you can get advantage over your fellow-capitalists; the more you control, for instance, a bill deregulating your industry, the more you can include in that bill elements which specifically favour your company. )

As a result, blowing up the Chamber of Commerce does no more good than blowing up Parliament. Power is not spread throughout the system — Foucault exaggerated, and the Foucauldians are a bunch of bullshitters on politics, as Edward Said rightly said — but it is diffused through hundreds, more probably thousands, of affluent, influential people. Furthermore, much of that power is naturally used to conceal this fact. Attacking politicians without attacking the businesspeople who control them is a waste of time — but the businesspeople are almost invisible outside the small sphere of the plutocracy, and so attacking businesspeople is likely to get you a blank stare from your audience. After a couple of decades, the American Right has been able to demonise George Soros, and the American Left has been able to demonise the Koch brothers — but the bulk of the American electorate is unaware of either, and if aware of these things, merely assumes that this is a load of trivial nonsense. Fight the power! Fight Obama or Romney! Isn’t that what matters?

No, it isn’t, and the consequences are pretty dire.


Grundrisse (I): What do we need to know?

February 3, 2012

The Creator has been wasting time reading a number of books printed on paper, sensuously fondling and sniffing at the pages. Most of these books have been in some way related to a Left of some kind; for instance, the Creator inadvertently took up a reactionary British history of the Third Reich and felt the need for cleansing, so took down Beevor’s Stalingrad (which is more of a social history than a military history, and gives a vivid impression of what it feels like to live under totalitarian discipline).

The Stalin regime required you to do exactly what you were told — not only that, but to do nothing else than what you were told. When the regime changed its mind about what you ought to do, you were punished for not having done this before. (Thus in 1939 swastika flags were handed out to all and sundry in celebration of the Nazi-Soviet pact; after June 22 1941, anyone caught in possession of a state-subsidised swastika was lucky to get away with twenty years in the Arctic lumber camps.) This was the epitome of the nightmare of collectivism.

And yet it worked. Not well, but it worked. People were dynamised, not only because they were afraid (or conversely because they were given Godlike powers over their underlings) but because they felt that here was a system which took no bullshit, which Got Things Done. Basically the same as the positive attraction of Nazism (and both systems, of course, had brilliant spin-doctors and obscenely excellent graphics designers). Could it have survived had it been sustained — had someone like Stalin taken over, instead of Krushchev? Impossible to say.

At the opposite pole from Stalinism is a book called Magical Marxism, which plays with the ideas of Hardt and Negri and a few others. In essence, this book and the broader thesis which it displays suggests that there is absolutely no need for, or indeed value in, compulsion or discipline regarding a revolutionary movement. One of the key moments celebrated in the book is the French dissident Marxist Lefebre’s action, as a French conscript in the 1920s, when he broke ranks on a route march in order to rescue a butterfly. Of course he was beaten by his sergeant and given detention by his captain (no word on what happened to the butterfly) but the book celebrates this for its heroic refusal to obey the system.

Indeed, the text suggests that the revolution is coming regardless. The work is built around Marquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude, and in non-fiction, around an anonymous work called The Coming Insurrection. The magical realism woven into the history of Macondo supposedly overwhelms the complete failure of Colonel Buendia’s successive civil uprisings and the ultimate triumph of Western imperialism and Latin American indigenous corruption, because magic triumphs over everything. (This is not precisely the author’s point, but it seems implicit in it.) The insurrection is coming, ready or not, and we know this because a few people have temporarily seized land in some city peripheries for communal use, or have set up little communes in rural areas. (No doubt the author is now a stalwart and bigoted supporter of the Occupy movement.) Spontaneity is the absolute essence of all this; to plan for a struggle is, almost by definition, a bad thing. The fact that we are many and they are few tells you all you need to know.

One of the bogeymen of that book is, interestingly, the New Left Review, whose editors (the author insists) are obsessed with analysis to the detriment of action, constantly looking backwards instead of towards the bright dawn of the world-to-be intoxicating us. Or, to be more fair, who are so concerned with coming to an understanding of what has happened, that they don’t fully realise what’s going on and are not able to take advantage of it, but instead live in a world of musty text. This is, no doubt, fair comment on some level, although it isn’t only restricted to quasi-Communist British lefties.

The Creator was over at Louis Proyect’s website (he of the uncritical support for NATO’s bombardment of Libya, which he wheels out periodically to show his difference from other lefties). There was a big posting by one of Proyect’s cronies about how Cliff had misrepresented Lenin in a book supposedly about Lenin’s ideas. (Cliff, of whom you’ve probably never heard, was a founder of the Socialist Workers’ Party, of which you’ve probably never heard.) The comments thread was enormous (by the standard of Proyect’s website), crammed with people either cheering for Cliff, cheering for Lenin, apologising for Cliff, denouncing Cliff, denouncing the Socialist Workers, denouncing the International Socialists — you name it, a position was there, sometimes several contradictory positions presented in the same comment.

OK, it does seem that there is such a thing as getting trapped in circumlocutory analysis of comparatively trivial historical events. Those who know nothing else but history are condemned to repeat it discursively instead of making it.

Setting things out like this suggests several serious problems with responding to crisis. (Magical Marxism, incidentally denies the existence of crisis, at least discursively, contending that looking for or waiting for a crisis is a waste of time.) What we want, of course, is an alternative to the present system. But that tells us nothing. Why don’t we like the present system? What is the present system that we don’t like? Who are we, anyway? And, if we know who we are and know what the problem is at present, what do we want to put in the place of that system? And how do we get there from here?

The “actually existing Socialism” which Lenin and Stalin established was, certainly, an alternative to the system which had existed in Russia before November 1917. In many ways, it was an improvement on that system, or contained elements within it which could have been an improvement. In broad structure, however, it closely resembled that system; an authoritarian autocracy governed by terror and propaganda. It’s hard to believe that the people who marched on the Winter Palace really wanted to end up there.

Yet the process of getting there was, in retrospect, almost inevitable. Whether or not Trotsky had decided to attend Lenin’s funeral, the result would have been authoritarian and autocratic, meaning that the leadership — however individually concerned for the public welfare — would have ruled by violence and lies, because that’s what a state does. And, probably, a lot of violence and a lot of lies, because it was a state under siege. Inevitably there was going to be a civil war and poverty, and inevitably the civil war would lead to the destruction of freedom and the empowerment of the centre, and it would have taken very different kinds of people from Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin to refuse to exploit that empowerment.

Well, urrah! Does that mean, as you will find written every week on every British and American right-wing website, that socialism leads inevitably to barbarism and therefore what we need is more capitalism? That’s a useful right-wing propaganda point, but it is worthless by way of analysis. More to the point, is it wrong to try to seize control of the state because it is necessarily going to lead to obsessions with power and control? Magical Marxism says that this is surely the case, and therefore retreats from attempts to seize control of the state. It is unnecessary to do this, because magic will save us, provided that we don’t try to organise anything.

Somehow, according to magic, resistance arises out of nowhere. This is a corollary to the Foucauldian thesis that power doesn’t exist at a centre, but in a kind of very filmy network which is everywhere, and therefore, not necessarily anywhere in particular, like cloud computing. It is comforting. It is also very similar to the 1960s foco theory, the theory that if you just start a little uprising in the right place, it will spread, like putting a match to cloth woven from nitrocellulose. That was the theory which killed Guevara and the Tupamaros. That doesn’t mean that a little uprising will never spread, but it might not spread enough — the French uprising of 1968 failed to change anything — or it might not spread at all — witness the Weather Underground of the United States, or the Black Panthers for that matter. It’s pretty obvious that the magic in magical Marxism is all in the author’s head; most probable that the magic arises out of the desire to wish away organisation, planning and social analysis because those things are boring, bureaucratised — and, as the author says quite rightly, tend to take the place of actual radical procedures.

But it’s also pretty obvious that the efforts of magical Marxism have not accomplished much. The author talks about Allen Ginsburg “levitating the Pentagon”, but in fact neither Ginsburg nor anybody else really wanted to do that; the object of the march chronicled in Mailer’s Armies of the Night was to protest against the Vietnam War, which had been going on for two years (officially) and was to go on for another six more. In other words, the Pentagon march and what followed it failed to make major changes in the policies of the US government. Likewise, the Seattle demonstrations failed to undermine or even slow down the process of globalised financialisation. The World Social Forum failed to accomplish anything (a trait which it shares with the structure it was modelled on, the World Economic Forum) and, as Magical Marxism testifies, has become ossified and cut off from its socio-political roots. As for the Occupy movement, it is dissipating in a fog of teargas, a manic drum-solo of baton-blows and a cacophony of stun-grenades and plastic bullets.

If there’s going to be a revolution, whether peaceful or not, it will have to be tightly organised. In order to avoid that organisation becoming ossified or tyrannical, the organisation will have to be extremely cleverly structured. Such an organisation will have to pursue policies and practices which intrinsically appeal to a large section of the public — that is, a substantial fraction of the populace will, when hearing “Let’s beat up on those awful smelly hippies/vicious Commies/ignorant tree-huggers!”, immediately say “But wait, those people are on my side, and I don’t want to beat them up — in fact, given the chance I’d probably join them”. Remember that this was the original response to the Occupy movement; it took time, and the disconnect between Occupy and the general public, for this to be reversed so that force could be used against it. (Note, incidentally, that this has not needed to be massive force; nobody has had to call out the National Guard.) Such an organisation also has to be prepared to mobilise a large section of the public, in the way that the ANC, over a few months, turned from a tiny elitist vanguard party into a mass party. Of course the ground had been laid by the UDF in that instance, but still, it’s an example worth considering.

In order to accomplish this, it’s not enough to clap one’s hands and try to summon up the political equivalent of Paul Krugman’s favourite trope, the “confidence fairy”. You do need to understand what is going on in society. Otherwise you run off after fantasies of power which you will never take hold of. Therefore, you need analysis; also, you need to base your planning on that analysis, and to do so dialectically, so that your analysis and your planning interact with each other in order that you never allow yourself to become trapped in a wrong analysis or a dysfunctional plan. And all that needs, of course, to be informed by your actions, which you must never stop producing. Blogs like this are a psychological substitute for action — they mean less than nothing in reality even if anybody read them.

The place to start, however, is with an understanding of who the enemy is, and who we are.