The Atlantic Slave Trade.

May 31, 2012

One of the whacking big problems of the modern world is what the rich are going to do with all the money they are extracting from the rest of us. They can’t spend it on building more manufacturing plant, because that would increase the existing oversupply of consumer goods. They can’t solve the problem of the oversupply by reducing their prices and thus pushing demand up, or by increasing the salaries of their existing workforce, because in the short term that provide them with less of the money that they don’t know what to do with but can’t do without. They can’t spend it all on luxury goods, though they try very hard (no doubt the extinction of the rhino is being hastened by this predicament; it would be interesting to see how many staterooms in how many billionaire’s yachts are paved with slices of rhino-horn).

So it mostly gets tipped into the stock and bond market, which naturally goes up because rich people are buying stocks and bonds, but this doesn’t create inflation (yet) because those stocks and bonds are not being sold for a while. It’s a bit like photocopying Monopoly money and then putting it under your mattress, and every year Forbes and the Wall Street Journal get to look under the mattress and declare you a fine fellow for all that photostatted paper. Grown-ups would not behave like this. The Masters of the Universe are astonishingly like eight-year-olds in their behaviour-patterns — though it’s not exactly their fault, since they have been rewarded ever since they were eight for never changing those behaviour-patterns.

This all helps to explain part of the weirdness about what we may as well call the West, although they are north of us and of Brazil, and rather east of Japan. This weirdness is an obsessive focus on the supposed value of the stocks and bonds sold by companies, banks and countries, which value relates, not to the equity or the companies or their productive prospects, but to the way in which those stocks and bonds themselves are traded. In the last couple of years, the value of these stocks and bonds in large parts of the West have gone up, despite the fact that there has been no change in the equity or prospects of the companies, banks and nations symbolised by those stocks and bonds. This means that freedom is on the march.

Every now and then, however, the value of these stocks and bonds dips a few percentage points. This means that freedom is in peril and various commentators are wheeled out to proclaim either that this is a minor speed-bump on the road of permanent prosperity for all who deserve it, or that this is a catastrophic threat to permanent prosperity for all who deserve it, and those who deserve it must therefore receive massive subsidies from the less deserving. The two kinds of comment appear to be opposite, but are actually identical, since both enfold within them the declaration that the world ought to be run in the interests of those who stole it; the difference lies in the method by which those interests are to be defended.

Of course it doesn’t have to be this way, even with the rich fools in charge. In the past the same rich fools were in charge, yet somehow things were worked differently, and the value of stocks and bonds was something which facilitated the financial services which were provided for the development of productive industry. Now it is simply all-important. What was once an assisting force, and an indicator of economic health, has become economic health itself. It’s rather like what happens in an intensive-care ward, where, all too often, the people tending the machines surrounding the body of the patient come to see the machines as much more important than the patient.

This has become extraordinarily important now that the Western banking system has collapsed. It becomes necessary to pretend that the banking system has not collapsed. The only way to do that is to provide the banking system with a constant stream of cash. This is necessary, because the banking system has to be carried on in spite of the fact that the system does not know, and has no desire to find out, whether it is solvent or not. For an insolvent bank to survive, it must sit on its assets and maintain a facade of having infinite amounts of money while discouraging anyone from asking questions about its capacity to meet its liabilities. In order to do this it must have at least some money, and preferably there must be someone else towards which the bank can point fingers and shriek about the financial problems of those people over there.

The money, in the West, comes from two places. In the United States and Britain it comes from nowhere at all, which is to say it comes from what is called quantitative easing, meaning that the federal reserve system and the Bank of England produce imaginary money which is inserted into the bond market — that is, a quantity of money (theoretically this is just printed money, since it is not borrowed and therefore is not a liability to the banks) is used to ease the financial burdens on the commercial banks. It is used as collateral for issuing bonds — and if anyone doubted the value of the bonds, the money would have to be distributed and this would cause inflation, since we are talking about trillions of dollars. However, the financial system has no interest in wishing to see this happen.

In the Eurozone the European Central Bank is forbidden to print money in this way; it is only allowed to manufacture money to meet a particular demand for trading in cash. Therefore, where is the revenue stream to come from? Obviously, from the loans made by the ECB and by the European investment banks. But there’s a problem; some of these loans are undoubtedly bad loans. Try to call them in and the recipients will default, and this would probably set off a cascade of defaults (because the next people in line to have their loans called in would expect this to happen and would default too). Therefore, to force any private borrower to pay back the loans would almost certainly set off a banking crisis which would probably expose the insolvency of all major European banks, which is precisely what the ECB wants not to happen. (And what nobody in any major government wants to happen, because the Americans and British want Europe to remain in the banking business, and the Asian manufacturing giants, and Germany, want Europe to continue buying their manufactured goods.)

So the solution is to demand that “sovereign debt”, which is the debt owed by nation-states, be repaid. Theoretically, sovereign debt is more reliable than private debt, simply because if the debt on a corporation becomes too great, it will go under — but even if a nation-state defaults, the nation-state will still be there and can perhaps be squeezed for cash in some way. Therefore, squeezing a state is less likely to have calamitous consequences than squeezing a bank or a large corporation. Most particularly, because states are not profit-making entities, and also, because various small states are politically in thrall to larger states and therefore their governments can be compelled to cough up the money owed.

But what is required is an enormous amount of money, and small nation-states don’t really possess this. So, what the ECB decided to do was to grant bailout packages to the small nation-states (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, the PIGS). These packages would supposedly be given to assist those nation-states meet their commitments. In reality, what was happening was that the ECB would borrow cash which would be given to nation-states, and this was legal in a way that it wasn’t legal to give that cash to private corporations. This cash would then be immediately returned to the banks which had loaned money to those nation-states. Thus the PIGS were functioning as a kind of money-laundering outfit for the ECB. Another way of looking at it is that the ECB was pouring money into a vast bucket called the nation-state, but this bucket had a hole in the bottom, and the Western European banking system had its own bucket under that hole. Hence the concept of “bailout”.

Up to a point. Of course, the consequences are extraordinarily unpleasant for the people over whom the governments rule. This is because more money has to come back to the banks than they pay out, for banks are not in business for their health. Hence the poorer countries of Europe are subsidising the banks of the richer countries directly, as well as serving as conduits for flooding those banks with credit which they are not using and don’t need except as bargaining-tools to justify their profits and their other activities.

Unfortunately, the impact of this is necessarily destructive. Since so much money is flooding out of the poorer countries in Europe anyway, it’s easy to secure capital flight — and since those countries are being forced to cut back on social spending, the countries are in recession, meaning that there’s nothing to spend the money on, so there’s good reason for capital flight. Therefore cutting back on social spending doesn’t lead to any shrinkage of the budget deficit, because the money which used to come in from taxes is pouring out of the country. But it does lead to unemployment, and therefore the poor get poorer. Therefore, all the poorer countries in Europe are in slow or speedy downward economic spirals, and they are all being blamed for this, as well as being blamed for all the other economic woes which Europe faces. Sensible politicians always blame foreigners for their country’s problems, and it’s hardly surprising that Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron are doing precisely that.

But blame doesn’t help those countries get out of their problems. Instead, it makes it easier to punish those countries for having problems, and therefore puts those countries deeper in their problems. As a result, the poorer countries of Europe are tending to decline more and more rapidly as time passes, because they are getting no help, only hindrances. Therefore, matters are getting close to the point at which it will be impossible to squeeze more money out of those countries. In which case, where will the cash-flow come from? The same process will have to be applied to other countries — to Spain and Italy, probably, which are richer and therefore offer more reward for plundering. However, those countries are extremely vulnerable, and are being made more vulnerable by the collapse in financial confidence which they are experiencing because they are known to be next for the chop. In other words, it seems likely that they will go down even faster than Greece did. It’s altogether possible that they will deliberately go down, in the same way that (ironically) Germany pushed its economy over a cliff in 1923 rather than pay reparations for the war for which they were blamed. Today it’s economic reparations for a banking crisis for which the PIGS were blamed, and the money’s being paid to Germany — the technical details may be different, but the squeeze is the same.

The end product of this would ultimately be that the flow of money to European banks would dry up, and meanwhile, in order to provide that flow for a few years, the whole of southern Europe would be placed in depression (which would surely spill over to the rest of Europe in the end). So that depression would then be followed by a banking crisis in Germany and Britain, which would probably kibosh the whole system and lead to a general collapse of the Eurozone economic and political entity.

The United States, meanwhile, is engaged in grand-scale finger-pointing, declaring that the world’s economic problems are being caused by the Eurozone. Meanwhile, the United States is quietly pursuing much the same policies as the European Central Bank, except that it is doing this to its own states rather than to small allied countries, starving the states of cash so that the cash can be transferred to the financial system. When Europe goes down, America will, too — there is little doubt of that, in part because the US austerity programme is just as unsustainable as the European and relies on a sense of credibility which will be blown away by a collapse of the Eurozone. In order to pretend that this isn’t happening, the Americans are also pretending that they have a major infrastructure programme, like the Chinese — but of course they don’t, because that would mean spending money in a way that the American ruling class doesn’t want. Once again, it is easier to find someone far away to blame for the crisis, than to resolve the crisis.

What’s to be done? Nothing. It is the system which has led us to this. In order for the crisis to be resolved, the system must first be blown away. But in order for the system to be blown away, the crisis must first run its course, until the last banker is strangled with the guts of the last journalist.

Die Strasse Frei, Den Blauen Batallionen!

May 21, 2012

This week in the middle of May, with autumn coming on and gradually lurching towards bleak winter, has been a louse-ridden week for democracy, but a splendid week for fascism.

It began with the minor upset of an interview with the last President of apartheid South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk, on CNN. CNN is, of course, not the most right-wing American propaganda channel, but it is an odious propaganda channel which panders to the reactionary tendencies of those Americans who pride themselves, quite mistakenly, for their independent intellectual qualities. It is the “not-Fox-News”, and thus manages to produce reactionary ideology by insidiousness rather than by outright utterance. In this way, it is rather like the South African media, which promotes extreme-right views without ever saying so out loud.

In the course of the interview, De Klerk expressed an extreme right-wing racist opinion. (I know, you had to rush off and get the Rescue Remedy to recover from that shock.) This opinion was that the Bantustan system, the system of deporting black people to those areas of land which white farmers and miners did not want and then setting up undemocratic toy governments in those areas, was a perfectly sound system which De Klerk had been entitled to support for most of his life, as he did.

This aroused a certain amount of annoyance within the ANC. No doubt some of the critical utterances which were made, arose out of delight that a prominent white person had said something stupid which could safely be dissed, since no black South African would support the Bantustan system unless a) utterly corrupt and b) exceedingly well-paid. However, any principled opponent of apartheid would behave just as the ANC did.

De Klerk rushed to control the damage, under the auspices of his modestly-entitled F W De Klerk Foundation. De Klerk’s spokesperson, Dave Steward, propaganda supremo during the State of Emergency, explained that De Klerk had been speaking of the period before De Klerk ended apartheid and therefore nobody was entitled to criticise him for that. De Klerk added that since he had personally ended apartheid, nobody could associate him with it (his having been a Cabinet Minister in the apartheid government for a decade was, of course, a minor detail to be forgotten as quickly as possible).

De Klerk thus remains in the public gaze without being wholly discredited as a human being. Indeed, although many journalists rushed to criticise De Klerk, some stood up for him, saying that as the man who ended apartheid (and, indeed, many of De Klerk’s critics slapped down the same forged note) he was entitled to say such things. And, anyway, the Bantustan system was a perfectly worthy and valid system, was it not? It wasn’t as if it was a bad thing, like insisting on having separate park-benches for blacks and whites, not so?

Bitch-slapping such opinions properly would wear out all the palms in all the world. Suffice to say: De Klerk did not end apartheid, he fought tooth and nail to retain what he could of it and was prevented from preserving it completely only by the struggle of the people of South Africa — less the racist white minority who supported apartheid and who voted for De Klerk. The Bantustan system was a massive crime against humanity along the lines of Stalin’s “nationalities policy” or the American Indian wars. It was the central crime of apartheid, and therefore for De Klerk to say that it wasn’t so bad is effectively to exonerate apartheid itself — and it is surely no coincidence that so many right-wing white South Africans are agreeing with him.

Was De Klerk just being an idiot? Perhaps. Right-wingers live in a fantasy bubble in which everyone who disagrees with them is an agent of Satan or George Soros (a reasonable assumption in many cases). Therefore if De Klerk said something stupid he would naturally compound the stupidity by pretending that it was cleverness, nobility of soul, and general wondrousness reflecting shafts of translucent gold upon his majesty (as opposed to being pissed on).

On the other hand, perhaps he was testing the water. To praise the virtues of apartheid while simultaneously praise one’s own virtues as an anti-apartheid struggler is a lunacy too far, even for De Klerk, if it is simply accidental. However, if De Klerk wanted to see whether the white public would be prepared to buy into racism if it was wrapped up in attractive tinsel, and thus help to slowly shift white public debate into a more strongly segregationist attitude, of the kind which one sees on white-dominated web pages — why, didn’t Frederik Willem do well!

And then, down the street, in phalanx formation, the neoliberal squadristi. The Democratic Alliance marched on Cosatu’s headquarters in Braamfontein to demand that Cosatu stop protesting against the “youth wage subsidy”, a plot to get the government to pay corporations to accept young people as unskilled labour for very low wages without any security. In other words, they were trying to intimidate Cosatu into stopping fighting for the rights of the working class with a propaganda stunt meant to further the agenda of the right-wingers who blame trade unions for all of the problems of the national economy, because they want to destroy organised labour and thus further the profits of their corporate patrons. It’s not a hard thing to see, and everybody who isn’t deliberately looking the other way sees it.

As a result, when the union-busters hit the streets, so did the union, in far greater force. About three thousand DA-ite cannon fodder bribed with sandwiches and T-shirts recoiled from the throngs of workers, who then advanced on them. It’s claimed that the DA people threw the first stones, and even that they brought the stones with them on the truck which led their march; we’ll probably never know the truth because the media present were all DA propagandists. In any case, there was a scuffle, stones were thrown and people were hurt, after which the police moved in and drove off the Cosatu defenders with water-cannon and teargas. So much have we achieved in our struggle; at least in the Battle of Cable Street the London bobbies didn’t launch attacks on the Limehouse Jews in support of the British Union of Fascists.

Of course, Cosatu did not have the right to obstruct a march against trade unions. More importantly, Cosatu, had they chosen to obstruct the march, should not have used violence, but should simply have sat down in defiance of the power of rampant capital. After all, the poor sods in the blue T-shirts had been bussed in from the townships specifically to cause trouble, and were probably not even DA supporters, so attacking them was politically illegitimate. However, the DA was at fault for putting such people in harm’s way; if you’re going to start a street brawl, the least you can do is bring reliable brawlers in. But all the reliable brawlers in the DA are huge white males with Afrikaans accents, and watching big white men in DA T-shirts beating up black workers would have been altogether too accurate a picture of what was really going on.

But who goes out to demonstrate in protest against trade unions? (It’s not the first time — the DA has recently been demonstrating against Sadtu.) Obviously, people who don’t like trade unions, unless they are sweetheart unions. The DA could, of course, protest against the government which is not (so they apparently believe) giving enough money to rich people already and not doing enough to crush workers’ rights. But it appears that their real quarrel is not with the government which they someday hope to control, but instead with the unions which they someday hope to crush. Above all, they are unhappy that the unions hold the wrong opinions, which they hope to change or crush, and which they also hope to use against the unions, by pretending that the unions are undermining the interests of unemployed workers — if this belief can be made to take hold, then it should be possible to organise pogroms against trade union members. In other words, although this seems a bit silly at the moment, the whole tendency of the DA’s march is towards violence in support of tyranny.

While this is surely related to De Klerk’s little racist outburst, this is at least as much a matter of class war as it is of racism. On the other hand, apartheid and colonialism were always as much about class as about race — the racism served the interest of legitimating political tyranny and economic plundering. Hence, when the DA begins to adopt the behaviour-patterns of Mussolini’s Fascists, we may recall that the Fascists started out as the storm troops of Northern Italian big business, striking against the socialists, communists and the unionized workers who organised the big strikes of 1919-21. The implication is a desire to shift the political attitudes of the public to the right, and to demonise those who stand up against this. As a result, there has been a decidedly mixed reaction to the DA’s behaviour amongst the intelligentsia; those who are not completely bought stooges of the system are uneasy about the march and its potential consequences — because, of course, there is the possibility that the DA might not succeed in its goal, but might only succeed in alerting the working class to the threat and uniting and dynamising the unions and what little remains of the South African Left.

It would be nice to think that this might happen, that the DA’s behaviour is overreaching itself. Possibly this explains the sudden appearance of Brett Murray and the Presidential Prick. The idea that the ANC should devote any attention at all to a pretentious PR stunt by a Johannesburg art gallery is itself an indication of how completely obsessed with image the ANC has become — and also, how vulnerable to criticism Zuma and his foolish helpmates feel. This obviously has little to do with fascism in itself — although it is surely significant that Murray’s artwork also implicitly jeers at socialism (by cribbing from an old Bolshevik poster of Lenin) and at the anti-apartheid armed struggle (by calling Zuma’s penis “The Spear”, thus denigrating what was once an armed struggle to be taken seriously). In other words, Murray’s artwork panders to right-wingers (as does virtually all Johannesburg “postmodern” art, almost by definition, because right-wingers have the money and do not wish to see anything offensive to their private interests).

Which means that the ANC would be doing something right by attempting to critique the painting and exposing what is wrong about it. Instead, it is trying to censor the painting simply because it is jeering at the President, whose iconic image  must be sacred (unless his surname is Mbeki, in which case it’s OK to burn his portrait). This clearly shows how utterly incapable the ANC is of even taking part in a battle for the minds of South Africans any more. It is thus no wonder that the reactionaries and fascists are on the march. They no longer have any real opponent to face.


“State Security, Ek Sê”.

May 17, 2012

The secret police can feed information to the national political leadership which can determine the future health of the state. But because they are secret, how does anyone know that this information is both true and valid?

In the days of apartheid, the secret police were the centreboard of the police. The chief of the security police was heir-apparent to the National Commissionership. The Veiligheidspolisie were in charge of gathering all information on threats to the state, on arresting and interrogating all suspects, and on murdering those who could not be safely arrested. They ran death-squads and even had a military wing, called Koevoet.

The security police were corrupt, but they also knew that the people they arrested, tortured and murdered were usually people who posed some kind of threat to the apartheid state. Granted, as time went on they became increasingly unaccountable — unaccountability is the disease of secret polices, which rots them away from within. What seems to kept the apartheid secret police from becoming utterly corrupt was relatively good leadership (which in moral and political terms means odious leadership) and a sense of internal discipline driven by the clear and present danger of the anti-apartheid struggle; without apartheid, the security police had no reason to exist.

And so they faded away. This happened partly for internal reasons — Military Intelligence wanted to take over their job, and the Directorate of Covert Collection was essentially an MI attempt to provide the information-gathering and target-identification capacities of the security police, while the Civil Cooperation Bureau was intended to supplant the security police murder squads at Vlakplaas and elsewhere. As for detention, the State of Emergency was on and every member of Military Intelligence had the right to detain any civilian in the country indefinitely.

But meanwhile, the Criminal Investigation Department of the South African Police were annoyed at the Security Branch; the SB poached all of the CID’s best people. So they lobbied to get them back, and eventually, to resolve these bureaucratic problems and to eliminate a possible threat to his dominion (and to please his friend, Niel Barnard, head of the National Intelligence Service), President de Klerk collapsed the SB into the CID as the Crime Intelligence Service. And there the matter has rested for over twenty years; the police have had no proper secret police, nor a proper criminal investigation department, but a botch of both which is actually neither. It has just enough secrecy to be immune from scrutiny, but not enough to make it an effectual spy service.

But we have a secret police, do we not? We have the National Intelligence Agency, heir to the National Intelligence Service (which was split into two when the ANC took over, the NIS’s foreign operations being hived off as the South African Secret Service — although under Zuma the two were put back together again). All this to-ing and fro-ing obviously didn’t make for efficiency or high morale, but that wasn’t considered important in 1994 when the former agencies of apartheid were viewed as potential time-bombs to be defused or drained of their explosive content. Hence, the extraordinarily incompetent Mo/e Shaik was put in charge of setting up the new spy service, which ensured that South Africa had no effectual spy service or secret police.

Of course, many liberals who love to pretend that the world is a safe and secure place adore the idea of having no secret police. They fear it might be used against them (as if a machine-gun were bought for use against cockroaches) although interestingly, liberals love using the secret police, and death squads and the whole paraphernalia of repression, when they get their claws into it. On the other hand, many South Africans who staunchly oppose South Africa having the capacity to identify spies and traitors are people who are themselves sponsored by foreigners to make propaganda or gather information or manipulate the political scene in the interests of those foreigners — and thus do not want any force capable of monitoring their behaviour to exist.

So nobody in positions of power minded all this. Mbeki seems to have handled intelligence matters by ignoring them and assuming that he knew better himself (which he usually did). However, Mbeki allowed Zuma to take complete control of what spy services existed, and seems to have been genuinely shocked by the way in which the spy services were perverted in Zuma’s interest. In other words, benign neglect was not an option favourable to the neglector.

Then Zuma took over, and put Mo/e back in charge of the newly-collapsed-together national spy service (but he had to go later). A new Ministry for State Security — like the Soviet MGB which Stalin established and Krushchev had to disband, first murdering its disgusting boss Lavrenti Beria — was set up under the unstable control of the husband of a notorious cocaine peddler. To please the new Commissioner of Police, most of the investigative units in the SAPS were slung together under a new portmanteau priority crimes unit called the Hawks, which further meant that there was nothing much for the Crime Intelligence Service to do.

Which brings us to Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli, chief of the Crime Intelligence Service, hence boss of an agency whose existence appeared to possess not even notional validity any more and whose morale must have been plummeting by the day under Zuma as power and influence shifted to the spooks and the plods. Mdluli has recently been accused of serious crimes — of taking money from the Crime Intelligence discretionary fund and using it to decorate the houses of his friends or put his friends, lovers and relatives on the payroll as purported informants. This is precisely the kind of behaviour one would expect from an unaccountable agency with no reason to exist.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Mdluli has been accused of serious crimes. In 1999, when he was Station Commander at Vosloorus, Mdluli was accused of murder. What had happened was that the lover of Mdluli’s then-girlfriend was asked out into the field by a police officer to point out a crime scene. While he was there, so the police officer said, two armed men came up, made the police officer lie down, and then shot the lover several times, killing him instantly. This is a known manner of informal execution in the secret police; the Creator had a colleague who was killed in much the same way, and the TRC revealed several similar episodes when activists went to their places of execution under the impression that they were being asked to identify sites of events. In that case, if it was a secret police-style killing, and if Mdluli was in the secret police at the time, and if the person murdered was someone against whom Mdluli had a grudge, it was natural for Mdluli to be a suspect.

But the docket got lost, and the witnesses failed to testify, and the matter never went to court, and Mdluli was appointed to command the Gauteng police force from his relatively junior position.

Why? Well, consider where Vosloorus is. It’s part of the “Katorus triangle” where Inkatha was invading the Johannesburg and Vaal area in an attempt to strike at the ANC’s heartland and disrupt their operations, while slaughtering enough people to establish themselves as a blocking force against free elections. Inkatha was moving their Army-trained and SB-trained thugs up the N3 to occupy hostels and the surrounding houses in the area. And Mdluli was the most senior Zulu police officer in the area at the time. Makes you think; was he involved in any way? And if so, how? Was he a liaison between Inkatha and the police, or was he covertly feeding information back to the ANC? Or both?

Certainly his meteoric rise to prominence suggests that he was more than just an ordinary plod on the beat. It is, of course, possible that he met Zuma during the period when Zuma and Mbeki were taking turns being good cop and bad cop, trying to smooth out the violence before and after the elections. Maybe Zuma, with his spook connections, decided to do Mdluli a good turn as Deputy President and calls were made to calm things down. But still, there’s the uneasy suspicion that Mdluli might have been in the apartheid Security Branch; he certainly wouldn’t have been put in charge of Crime Intelligence if he had no connections there, which means CID at least and SB most probably. Which could mean, of course, that he’s the right man for the job, skilled, experienced, appointed on merit — he’s practically the Democratic Alliance’s police poster boy .

However, what was a Zulu doing in the SB in the early 1990s? Was he there just because he didn’t care about apartheid and wanted to catch the bad guys? Or did he have some kind of ideological affinity for the reactionaries of the apartheid police, authoritarian or fascistic or whatever? Or did he just realise that this was where the power and money lay, and he wanted a piece of that? The first point might make him bearable. The other points make him intolerable.

The fact that his appointment into Crime Intelligence was not accompanied by any substantial improvement in Crime Intelligence suggests that Mdluli is not necessarily the right man for the job. However, we still have to ask a few intriguing questions. Why was Mdluli’s murder case suddenly revisited? Why, for that matter, was Mdluli’s abuse — alleged abuse, let it be admitted, we actually have no hard evidence but only the allegations of journalists based on the allegations of unnamed spooks — suddenly brought to the head of the table?

One reason seems to be that people in the ANC were afraid of Mdluli. He does seem to be Zuma’s man, and Crime Intelligence is more hands-on than National Intelligence Agency. Also, under Mthethwa there’s been a general brutalisation of the police, almost as if they were preparing for a violent crackdown. Crime Intelligence could provide the targeting information for the new paramilitary police units which Mthethwa has set up — and, with a bit of tweaking, bingo, we’d be back in the late 1980s. Was thus what Mdluli was put in place to do, and does this explain why so many ANC leaders are complaining that Mdluli was spying on them? (Admittedly, under Zuma people have to accept that all their phones are tapped and their correspondence and e-mail monitored, for that’s the way he does things). In other words, the Mdluli affair was simply people grabbing for opportunities to protect themselves. Meanwhile, the media naturally does their best to undermine the secret police for fear it might find out what they are doing, and the DA and their “civil society” friends campaign against Mdluli because he’s black. (Hence we see a great deal of racist propaganda against Mdluli, appealing to this odious constituency.) So there are good reasons and bad for the Mdluli affair to continue to fester. Also, if Zuma is really plotting against us, then he will protect Mdluli, or else find a replacement for Mdluli. (But presumably, still someone with big skeletons in the closet — how else to control such a person except through the threat of exposure?)

Scary stuff, this, and an indication of how far the situation has spun out of control. What’s more, by not making any effort to bring it back into control, and by not discussing the political issues, it seems that our ThoughtLeaders are not interested in bringing the situation back under control. What they want, is to take advantage from the chaos arising from the situation. Rather the way they decided to take advantage from the chaos arising from Zuma’s dismissal.

And we remember how well that turned out for the rest of us.



The Criminals Chase The Police.

May 17, 2012

If we look back at the tenure of National Commissioner of Police Jackie Selebi, it was distinguished by passivity and lack of effectual response to problems. Selebi’s line seems to have been very much Mbeki’s line — that everything of importance was in place, and that all that was necessary was to continue doing what had been done, only better. As the first black person to hold the job, possibly Selebi also feared attracting the attention of hostile whites through any pursuit of innovation. However, he seems to have been temperamentally reluctant to make major transformations.

The big questions about policing in South Africa are administrative, since the goals are not (or were not, under Selebi) in dispute. These goals are to preserve public order and discourage crime by uncovering and imprisoning culprits. How does one coordinate the different units of the service? How are resources best allocated — through small specialised and highly-trained units, or through larger, less specialised and perhaps less skilled (but more widely-supported) commands? How should communication, command and control coordinate national, provincial and municipal/district administrations? How can one ensure and improve the quality of individual officers and encourage them to cooperate with one another? How to root out the macho barbarity of the “shoot to kill” culture of impunity which evolved under apartheid? How to collaborate with civilian bodies, non-governmental organisations and other policing and espionage entities at home and abroad?

Selebi never seems to have answered any of these questions, and in the absence of leadership from the Commissioner the problems arising from them began to grow serious. However, this lack of leadership was made more harmful by the systematic hostility to Selebi expressed in the media and by opposition parties. Selebi was not only the first black to take charge of the police, he was the first active ANC member to take charge of the police. Hence racists and opponents of the ANC denounced Selebi using any rumour, allegation or manufacture which came to hand.

If these attacks had been combined with a coherent strategy for reforming the police, they could have put pressure on Selebi to deliver a more effective police service, or demanded Selebi’s replacement with a more diligent and competent Commissioner. Instead, the attacks seem to have been driven by complaints from right-wing ex-policemen seeking to restore the failed policies of the apartheid police force. Obviously this campaign forms a part of the general campaign to reverse the 1994 settlement. Some of the points in this campaign might be valid (such as arguments that disbanded child protection units should be reinstated — although the old units were often horrible nests of crazed religious fundamentalists). However, Selebi and his allies in government were quite rightly unwilling to make concessions to such forces.

This, unfortunately, left South Africa with policing questions which nobody seemed able or willing to answer.

Selebi’s actual removal from office, meanwhile, was performed in the most crass and destructive fashion imaginable. It was initially a weird side-effect of the Zuma wars — derived from the elite crimefighting element of the Department of Public Prosecution, the “Scorpions”. Mbeki set this group up because it was correctly perceived that the SAPS were usually too lazy or inept to reliably investigate crimes where the criminal had access to good lawyers and therefore completely ironclad cases were required. Often the SAPS were so corrupt that any reasonably affluent person could buy his or her way out of a charge, by ensuring the disappearance of the docket or the demise of the chief witness or investigator. There are obvious advantages to having such a unit, so long as it does not grow slovenly or corrupt; there are also disadvantages, including the lowering of regular police morale, and the danger that such an elite entity will become the effective bodyguards of the rich and powerful.

When the role of the Scorpions in investigating Zuma was questioned, Selebi called for the Scorpions to fall under the SAPS. He probably simply wished to enlarge the SAPS empire and to take credit for any Scorpions successes once they fell under his ambit, but he may also have felt that the harmful aspects of the Scorpions outweighed their positive side. This has never been discussed, because the Zuma cabal disbanded the Scorpions simply in order to “prove” by propaganda that the Scorpions’ investigation of Zuma had been corrupt. (In fact, the Scorpions’ investigation of Zuma appears to have been thorough and effective.)

As punishment, the Scorpions proceeded to investigate Selebi, looking at Selebi’s close friendship with Glenn Agliotti, a white ANC businessman loosely linked to the Brett Kebble cabal. They tried to prove that this friendship entailed corruption — that Agliotti had given gifts to Selebi (which was true, and showed that Selebi’s judgement was severely at fault) and that these gifts were bribes (which was never proven; Selebi was found guilty by judges who assumed that the gifts were bribes). The absence of evidence that Selebi had served Agliotti’s interests would usually be a precondition for a conviction, just as one normally requires a missing person before a murder charge can be laid, but this was ignored in the rush to imprison Selebi..

Was it simply that forces opposed to Selebi in the conservative community united with the Scorpions? The Zuma cabal had no reason to hate Selebi, whose hostility to the Scorpions provided the Zuma cabal with useful support. Selebi’s police had never investigated Zuma — and when a key Zuma ally, Blade Nzimande, was charged with fraud, the police went several extra kilometres to quash the charges and bully the complainant into dropping them. Nor did the police “investigation” into the National Intelligence Agency’s disinformation campaign in support of Zuma lead anywhere. Selebi might have been appointed by Mbeki, but he did not serve Mbeki’s interests. Possibly he hoped, through this, to keep his job, but instead he was railroaded out of office and eventually into an ignominious show trial, conviction and harshly disproportionate penalty.

Perhaps the feeling was that the police service could thus draw a line under the Mbeki era and bring a new dawn under the new Zuma appointment, National Commissioner of Police Bheki Cele. However, there was no sign that the new broom had any idea of how to sweep. Cele was a Zulu from Kwazulu-Natal who had worked closely with the conservative elements in the police and the white community policing forums and with the business community in that province. His appointment was, in part, an effort to secure Zuma’s powerbase by bringing his ethnic colleagues (and political allies) into key posts. It was also likely to be popular because Cele was admited by the right wing and accepted by the old guard in the police, and the appointment of a black ANC member to the position was no longer a novelty, so did not arouse so much ire — although, as with Selebi, there were plenty of racist cartoons; where Selebi had been compared with an ape, Cele was compared with a gang-banger.

Even closer to Zuma than Cele was the Minister of Safety and Security, Nathi Mthethwa. Mthethwa speedily had his title changed to Minister of Police and then changed the police rank structure to a military one — in both cases going back to apartheid days. Together with his Deputy Minister Susan Shabangu and Cele, Mthethwa began an ill-advised campaign to encourage the police to use more force, which eventually led to the police killing and maiming more people, including in relatively peaceful public protests. These were the actions a right-wing populist clique more concerned with getting headlines than with making any useful contribution to South Africa’s policing problems. In fact, no such useful contribution materialised. All the problems continued, and therefore grew worse. However, all such problems could be blamed on Selebi, who provided a handy excuse for doing nothing effective about them. Now that we have Cele in authority, they said, all corruption and dishonesty has vanished from the office of the National Commissioner of Police.

Very rapidly this turned out to be a lie. It was alleged that the police service’s national headquarters in Tshwane, and provincial headquarters in eThekwini, were outdated and unsuitable. The logical thing, were this true, would be to build a new set of headquarters, but that would take time and cost a lot of money. Instead, in line with the new business-friendly agendas of the Zuma administration, why not privatise the headquarters? Rent office space for police headquarters from a private company who would operate more cheaply than could be managed by a state-run operation, since private operations are always cheaper and more efficient than public ones, as the Zuma mantra has it. Surely, there was no risk! Especially when the private contractor was nice Mr. Roux Shabangu, possibly no relation of Susan, a slumlord of note with friends in the Zuma cabal in the ANC, not least of whom was Mr. Cele himself.

It is probably not a good idea to privatise police headquarters (a word in the ear of the British Home Secretary, who is planning the matter as this is written). Ordinary office-blocks are not necessarily suited to the task. There are also security issues — the layout of the building is in the public domain, and it is hard to secure an ordinary building from the spying devices which organised crime has access to. However, these good reasons were overridden, partly under political pressure and partly on the pretense that money would be saved. Only after it was revealed that money would not be saved, because Shabangu, like a good slumlord, was charging the SAPS ridiculously high prices and delivering a shoddy, ill-maintained and unsuitable set of premises for their use — only then did Cele get into trouble.

The National Commissioner must have known about the Tshwane deal, and the Durban deal should have come to his attention. Therefore, he ought to have looked into the costs. Either he simply did not apply his mind, or he deliberately and enthusiastically allowed a corrupt property developer to enrich himself at the state’s expense, to the tune of hundreds of millions of rands (several thousand times greater, it may be emphasised, than the sums supposed to have changed hands between Agliotti and Selebi). In which case, Cele is a fraudster on the scale of Brett Kebble, and ought to be punished accordingly (as Kebble never was). Someone ought to investigate this, but who? The police service has no interest in looking into the matter, and nobody else has investigative capacity. (The secret police would supposedly be able to, but that is another story.)

Meanwhile, however, the police service has fallen into bad, weak hands. Cele has been suspended, but not replaced. Cele and Mthethwa’s policies have not been rescinded. All that we have gained from all this is a steady stream of positive stories coming out of the SAPS, which may or may not be true, and the strong probability that even if they are true, mismanagement and unresolved crises will surely render the police service ever less effectual over time.

And nobody seems to care.


Cometh the Healers?

May 3, 2012

The Creator’s default assumption about any decision taken by the Zuma administration is that it is a) stupid, b) corrupt and c) will make matters worse for the general public. This was originally an assumption driven by hostility to the Zuma administration’s personnel, but it has been borne out by virtually everything we know about the consequences of virtually every decision taken by the Zuma administration. In other words, as usual, the Creator was right.

Of course one might sometimes be wrong. For instance, er, the Libyan rebels might have been the good guys. The fact that they weren’t does not reflect anything on the Zuma administration, because the decision to support the Libyan rebels was not taken by Zuma; the Zuma administration took office on the understanding that they would do what they were told. If Obama had decided to support Gadaffi instead, the Zuma administration would have supported Gadaffi.

And again, sometimes we know very little about what’s going on. Health insurance, for instance. Virtually nothing has been said about this issue in public — virtually nothing of substance, that is. The official line is just “Health Insurance Good!”, and as a corollary, “Critics of Health Insurance Bad!”. This line is generally echoed by the money-men who control our public discourse and pay our intellectuals and the pharmaceutical-company shills who are encouraged to play at doctors when they strut on the public stage. (Wearing white coats, naturally, like actors in old toothpaste advertisements.)

So why not have a look at what is being actually said? One might find something interesting, as we did when we had a look at the Protection of State Information Bill and discovered that (gosh, what a surprise) everything said about it by the media and the foreign-hired “civil society” organisations was bullshit. Or maybe one might find a confirmation of the sum of all fears. Let’s check out the “National Health Insurance in South Africa Policy Paper” promulgated by the Department of Health in August 2011.

The first thing it admits is that National Health Insurance was vaguely talked about for years, but for some reason unspecified was stalled, until it was suddenly adopted as a policy at Polokwane. Unlike almost all the other policies adopted at Polokwane, with the exception of abolishing the Scorpions, this one has been taken forward. No doubt the policy paper won’t say why, but at least it may give us some hints. A Ministerial Advisory Committee was established in August 2009 to figure things out. (Who was on that committee is unspecified.) The mandate is: “NHI will ensure that everyone has access to a defined comprehensive package of healthcare services. The covered healthcare services will be provided through appropriately accredited and contracted public and private providers”. OK, so that means that it’s a public-private partnership. Since the private sector charges six times more than the public sector, which is already supposed to provide universal access but doesn’t, how is this going to work out? They also say that there must be efficiency and value for money. To which the Creator says, uh-oh, that doesn’t sound good. But who knows?

There’s certainly a great deal of argument that National Health Insurance will solve all the problems of the country, increase GDP, extend lifespan and generally provide answers to all questions. That is, national health insurance will. But will National Health Insurance? Ban-Ki Moon says it will, but what does a Korean glove-puppet of the Americans know?

The kick-off is supposedly Primary Health Care. This was the pet project of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and was torpedoed by her opponents when they smeared her and hounded her out of the Health Ministry. It’s a good thing in principle; you provide small-scale healthcare at local level in order to a) prevent small problems from becoming big ones and b) identify big problems while they are still treatable, so that you can refer the victims of big problems to places with more substantial healthcare infrastructure. This, of course, requires a network of skilled, dedicated professionals covering the country, one which was envisaged by Dlamini-Zuma (and had been provided in, for instance, the KwaZulu homeland) but which has never come to pass, despite the plethora of clinics.

The idea is to provide 10 primary healthcare workers in every ward — that is, if there are about 10 000 wards in South Africa, we would need 100 000 primary healthcare workers. That’s a hell of a lot of them. How skilled and trained are these workers to be? Not clear at this stage. Then, there will be a nurse in every school, with a team of trained primary healthcare workers under that nurse. If there are about 30 000 schools in South Africa, that’s over 100 000 primary healthcare workers in schools. Then, there’s a district team, focussing on maternal and child health, consisting of the following doctors: an ob/gyn, a paediatrician, a physician, an anaesthetist, a midwife and a professional nurse — this is the minimum, and there will be support staff under them. How many such teams must exist? A thousand? Then that requires 4 000 doctors, plus 2 000 people with midwifery and nursing qualifications, and very considerable support staff, probably another 5-10 000 qualified people. So, all in all, we are talking about a quarter of a million trained medical personnal, although only 2-3% of those would be doctors and another 20% would have nursing training.

This is a gigantic project, well worth the effort in the Creator’s view, but it will be extremely expensive; it will cost at least R20 billion a year in salaries alone, and then there is the infrastructure needed and the cost of the equipment, medication and administration. We are probably looking at somewhere around R400 billion over ten years, or an eighth of our unaffordable infrastructure programme currently envisaged to kick-start the neocolonisation of South Africa. Is anyone intending to spend that much on healthcare? At present, the plan is to spend about half of 1% of that in the next year or so on the project, which doesn’t look promising. (About a billion rand earmarked, out of the 7 billion called for by the project.)

A problem acknowledged by everyone who has looked at the project is that South Africa doesn’t have the medical personnel to staff such a project, nor do we have the medical education structures to generate the staff for such a project — in the case of the primary healthcare workers, we have essentially zero structures. At present there are no plans to set up effectual training programmes towards this absent end. Another problem is that there is no sign of any administrative structure to oversee this system. The present primary healthcare clinc system, and the rural hospital system, are beset with maladministration and corruption. How is this to be prevented from replicating itself in the new system? Nothing in the document seems to even acknowledge that these are problems.

Nevertheless, this all looks much better than the rhetoric which preceded it — although unfortunately even here the rhetoric/reality ratio is painfully high. Meanwhile, there is a call for the delivery of district primary healthcare through private providers, to be paid by the state. How this will work in districts where there are no private providers is not specified.

We move on, however, to hospitals. The plan is to change the classification of hospitals, to District Hospitals, Regional Hospitals, Tertiary Hospitals (national ones which don’t have a medical school attached), Central Hospitals (with a medical school attached) and Specialised Hospitals (self-explanatory). Basically, this is what already exists to a large extent, so this is wind and verbiage. There is to be an Office of Health Standards Compliance, which provides accreditation and inspection to healthcare facilities throughout the country. In short, the quality assurance programmes which have done so much harm to educational and healthcare facilities throughout the country in recent decades are to be beefed up. Presumably nurses will have to fill in more forms.

None of this seems to matter much in regard to NHI, because NHI is supposedly all about paying for the programme. How are people going to pay? Where does this “insurance” come in?

Well, “accredited providers will be reimbursed using a risk-adjusted capitation system linked to a performance-based mechanism”. Ah, so an accountant wrote this. Also, “accredited and contracted facilities will be reimbursed using global budgets in the initial phases of implementation with a gradual migration towards diagnosis related groups (DRGs) with a strong emphasis on performance management”. An accountant wrote that, too. Then, “In preparation for contracting with private providers, mechanisms for achieving cost-efficiency will be investigated including international benchmarking from countries of similar economic development that have successfully implemented such processes”. This is all New Public Management jargon, which seems to boil down to finding excuses for giving private contractors more money without providing better services.

In case you were wondering, “the public and private health providers contracted by the National Health Insurance, will be assisted in controlling the expenditure through recommended formula, and adherence to treatment protocols for all conditions covered under the defined package of care. This will be necessary to ensure the appropriate level of service provision and avoid under-servicing which is a common characteristic of many capitation-based systems”. They really are concerned, very strongly, with finding ways to control expenditure, but also with bringing in the private sector. How is all this money to be got?

Aha: “universal coverage to affordable health care services is best achieved through a prepayment health financing mechanism. To achieve universal coverage, pooling of funds requires that payments for health care are made in advance of an illness, and these payments are pooled and used to fund health services for the population”. Well, duh; that’s what insurance is. The trouble, however, is that at present the money comes out of tax revenues to sponsor a large but apparently inadequate public healthcare system. Bringing private healthcare into the equation means that a lot more money is needed. They say “the revenue base should be as broad as possible”, presumably meaning that the poor will have to pay more. Also, there will be private “co-payments” — the rich will be able to get better treatment by coughing up, just as they do now, outside the NHI system.

The proposal is to just over double healthcare spending, from R125 billion in 2012 to R255 billion in 2025.  This will be funded by a tax, administered by the Revenue Service. This will be paid into a National Health Insurance Fund. Everybody will be obliged to belong to NHI.

What about existing medical schemes? Well, “There is existing expertise residing in the health sector in the area of administration and management of insurance funds. Where necessary and relevant, this expertise may be drawn upon within the single payer publicly administered National Health Insurance, to ensure that adequate in-house capacity is developed”. So that’s all right then, so long as the medical schemes don’t take charge. But what if they do?

Yes, it actually seems all right. A great deal of policy frameworks developed by this government seem all right. After all, one appoints noisy idealists to write the policy frameworks, because they won’t shut up unless they can, and by getting them to let off steam one can diminish their effectiveness to struggle for their goals.

However, it’s worth looking at the table at the end of the paper, which presents a timeline for implementation, and see that virtually all the deadlines have been missed. The ones which have not been missed are the ones which involve virtually no additional work for anyone outside the existing healthcare system (like auditing hospitals, which basically involves making overworked nurses, doctors and healthcare administrators fill in more forms). However, absolutely essential ones which have been missed include the training of the first 5000 primary healthcare agents (which was supposed to start in September last year) and their appointment (which was supposed to have happened last March), the establishment of school-based primary healthcare which was supposed to have been on the ground last November, and the refurbishment of 72 nursing colleges which is supposed to be completed by the end of this year, but which has not even been begun. Instead, a few areas with relatively good healthcare have been put forward as flagship areas and offered very little money to supposedly improve their healthcare. One skill which the present government possesses in full measure is massaging and making up statistics, so we may assume that these pilot projects will be presented as “successes”.

Without the primary healthcare system in place — which is the most expensive part of the National Health Insurance project, but also the part least likely to make a lot of money for consultants, corporations and medical aid schemes — the whole rest of the system crumbles away as an effective entity. It seems evident, therefore, that NHI is doomed to be a good idea which was destroyed by the corruption and incompetence of the present government and the hostile lobbying of the medical-industrial complex.

Which should come as no surprise to anybody. But the Creator has to admit that NHI seemed like a scam from the first — and it probably was. But it now seems that it wasn’t a complete scam, since there were some people who wanted to make it work. The tragedy is that they’ve been co-opted and the system is almost certainly doomed to fail, and be taken over by the medical schemes which were supposed to be sidestepped.

The poverty of optimism, alas.


Intellectuals and their Playgrounds.

May 3, 2012

It is almost fun to read Gramsci; he writes as if he were lying on a chaise-longue in the university common-room with a bowl of Belgian chocolates within easy reach, instead of sitting in a cell in a small detention centre in rural southern Italy dying of neglect. When he writes about intellectuals, he is obviously looking in the mirror, a mirror big enough to reflect the whole of Italy and perhaps the world.

Gramsci’s line, on the face of it, is both crude and obvious. Intellectuals serve the interests of their party, to establish, or else preserve, the hegemony of the interests of that party. (Obviously this doesn’t necessarily mean the Party, nor even established political parties. Let’s not forget that Gramsci was writing in jail and therefore didn’t want to write anything which would automatically get him an extended sentence or still more dire conditions if his jailers were to read it; therefore he refers to a great deal in simple code. For example, one of his main competitors in the Italian Communist Party, and a Trotsky sympathiser to boot, had the first name of Amadeo, and so Gramsci translates this into German as Gottlieb.)

Back to the message. What about intellectuals who don’t have a party? Well, such intellectuals have absorbed a particular “common sense” from parents and confreres, which usually amounts to a version of class consciousness in a narrow meaning of the word. Therefore, they will support the party which represents their consciousness, even if no such party actually exists in an organised sense. They will adopt a position to the world in common with the position adopted by others, and seek out those who share this position. So there is no intellectual who doesn’t have a party, in Gramsci’s sense.

This takes us in a direction later followed by the Frankfurt school and then by postmodernism: there is no such thing as an independent intellectual, the ideal critic who stands apart from bias and therefore can be trusted. This is simply a liberal myth — or perhaps not even a liberal one; perhaps this is more simply a fantasy invented by the ruling class in order to cover up its own ideological bias with the illusion of objectivity. The intellectual analyses situations and objects, not according to the “scientific” or “idealistic” principles of the technician or the philosopher, but according to the specific interest of the organisation or the class whose interest the intellectual serves. This is not seen as something to be condemned or praised, according to Gramsci; it simply is. The intellectual who actually wishes to accomplish anything beyond the needs of the party would first have to acknowledge her or his biases and dishonesties arising out of this adherence to a faction, a party, or other entity.

But most would not, for such actions would be anathema. Instead, intellectuals would simply perform the intellectual gymnastics appropriate to their party. They would imagine that what they were doing was exposing the truth. When other intellectuals disagreed with them, they would not see themselves as wrong — they would see the other intellectuals as blinded by ideological preconceptions which prevented them from perceiving the truth, and hence, as not true intellectuals at all, because incapable of identifying their mistakes. (Meanwhile, the intellectual in the first place would have no need to identify mistakes, for there would be no mistakes — only limpid truth.)

Notice, too, that Gramsci is not condemning these intellectuals for their adherence to a party. Instead, he is saying that this is an inevitable product of the condition of intellectuals in human society. The only problem with adherence to a party is, presumably, that some parties are more correct than others. Of course, for Gramsci this is not a problem, for he was a Communist and knew his Communism to be correct, and was opposed to Fascism and knew that Mussolini’s Fascism was wrong. On the other hand, other Communists might also be wrong, while some Fascists might get some things right. The problem was identifying how to distinguish between right and wrong when you were functioning from within the closed ideological world of a party or a faction, where almost all cases of right and wrong were decided courtesy of the interests of the party and its membership.

How does this relate to South Africa? It seems clear that most public intellectuals and all journalists are party people. It is thus unsurprising that their twin messages are, invariably, “Our gang’s better than your gang!” and “Do you wanna join our gang?”. It isn’t necessary for such messages to have any reference to reality — to the actual nature of the gang, or to the possibility of joining it. South African political parties do not attract support on the basis of their policies, their record of performance in government, or the trustworthiness of their leaders. Instead, they attract support through fear of outsiders or through lack of any alternative, and usually on the basis of the class, race and general identity politics of the party concerned — people support parties because they have traditionally supported those parties. Under such conditions there seems to be no real need for intellectuals.

But in reality, if you want to keep the interests and the concerns of the public out of party politics, you must create something which overrides those interests and those concerns. Under such conditions intellectuals exist, not to clarify things, but to obscure them — inventing small and large ideological fictions to distract the public from reality. These fictions may be absurd, but they must relate to real beliefs within the party which the intellectuals are addressing.

For examples in South Africa, the “AIDS denialism” in regard to Mbeki, and the entire debate around crime as applied to the DA, are obvious negative forces aimed at distracting the public from real issues. (Note that in both cases the fiction was rooted in certain realities — the fact that Mbeki wished to delay the provision of treatment until the price of antiretrovirals was reduced, the fact that crime is indeed a serious problem in South Africa. Moreover, in both cases the fiction not only distracted attention from real issues, but also generated important positive features for the party which these intellectuals supported — damage to the ANC’s image, and efforts to win support for a ruling-class-centric response to each crisis which would concentrate efforts on providing profits for pharmaceutical companies and on policing the urban areas, especially middle-class areas.)

This also helps to explain why intellectuals supposedly affiliated to different parties may tend to say the same things. In reality, the “parties” they belong to are the same actual “party” — usually the party of wealth and power. As Gramsci points out, often the leaders of a party decamp for another party — as when Labour in Britain became New Labour, or when the leaders of the Liberal Democrats decided to support the Tories, leaving their membership to put up, shut up or piss off. It was claimed that this was what was happening when the ANC adopted GEAR — although all the people who opposed GEAR in the 1990s are perfectly happy with the New Growth Path in 2012, which is GEAR without the positive features or the sensible arguments. In other words, these people were claiming to be in a different party to the supporters of GEAR, whereas in reality they were in the same party — just that they wished to take advantage of engineered hostility to a policy which they secretly endorsed.

Intellectuals today identify different factions within the ANC. Meanwhile they never identify different factions within the DA, even though virtually all our political intellectuals are either sympathisers of, or members of, the DA, and therefore can presumably see that there are factions within it. However, the existence of factions is, according to these intellectuals’ understanding of politics, a sign of weakness and therefore cannot be acknowledged to exist within their chosen party, but only within the ANC.

Meanwhile, however, most intellectuals identify two kinds of factions — factions based on Left and Right, and factions based on personality. The latter is actually a faction based upon someone who is fronting for a particular interest group, but the intellectuals thrust the interest group into the background. As for Left and Right, these have a very different meaning for these intellectuals than what exists in common practice. To be precise, since Left is widely considered to be good and Right bad, the intellectuals define anyone whom they do not like in the ANC as on the Right, and anyone whom they applaud as on the Left, regardless of these persons’ actual political standpoints. (If they are in the ANC or the Alliance they are usually on the Right anyway.)

The reason for this is to appear to be standing up for the Left (because good people are always purportedly on the Left) while actually depriving the public of any opportunity to understand what Left and Right might mean. The reason why it is so often said that there is no difference between Left and Right, is that political intellectuals have been working very hard to degrade this difference. Ultimately, the goal is to attain this ideal circumstance, because then the Left will be disarmed and the Right will be able to attain supreme ideological hegemony, as has already happened in the United States.

The difference between an intellectual who is an avowed party supporter (or, alternatively, who believes that s/he has found the truth, which just happens to be what the party desires) and one who is a secret party supporter but professes to support another party, is simply one of tactics — although this tactic happens to poison the intellectual wells of public debate, which is of course what they want to have happening. Under these conditions, a figure like Chomsky, who exposes the actual partisan agendas of intellectuals pretending to be objective, is a desirable one. However, it is very important to remember that the problem is the concealment of one’s bias, not the existence of bias. All intellectuals are party supporters, therefore all are biased.

But the fact that an intellectual supports a party should not mean that such an intellectual is dishonest, or that the party is corrupt. The dishonesty and the corruption is a product of the hegemony attained by the party. The fact that in South Africa (as elsewhere in the world) the capitalist party has become completely dominant and is acting against the interests of the general public means that the capitalist party urgently needs dishonest intellectuals. To challenge such a party, honest (although biased) intellectuals are needed. The way to prevent such intellectuals from arising would be to claim that all intellectuals are biased, therefore all are dishonest. In other words, such a party must ultimately also support anti-intellectualism, at least in terms of free intellectual debate; the only intellectuals who can be tolerated are the ones who are hired to speak the “truth” to “power” — in other words, to tell the story which the party wishes to hear, into the faces of those who dare to question it.

Yes, it’s fun reading Gramsci. At least in the 1930s, Gramsci knew when  he was in jail and when he was out of it. These days, most of us have difficulty telling the difference any more.