The Second Inquisition.

June 29, 2012

The ANC discussion document, “Building a National Democratic Society and the Balance of Forces in 2012” has, pretty obviously, been written by the SACP. They were always the big bugs for National Democratic Revolution — it was, essentially, the first stage of the socialist revolution, the second being the one which would bring them to power — and if there were any doubts, the document talks enthusiastically about “Colonialism of a Special Type” on page 5 as the foundations of our democracy. Nobody outside the SACP has mentioned CST for many years, because that analysis of South African society, interesting as it might be to revisit these days, was wholly overtaken by events in the late 1980s.

The text suggests that “the ANC has . . . opted for a limited NDR, which accommodates (and even promotes) existing economic power relations”. This seems fair. (However, this is also extensively qualified, probably because the SACP is now more comfortably in government than it was in the 1990s. For instance, there is an extensive defense of GEAR which the Creator would not substantially challenge, but which reverses the stance taken by the SACP before 2007.) There are also fairly sensible remarks about the social grants system and the education budget (which, it is argued, is better managed than is usually acknowledged).

The goals are outlined thus:

 

The bedrock of our political system is therefore highlighted as:

• A legitimate state that derives its authority from the people through regular elections and popular participation.

• The mobilisation of the nation around a common vision of the kind of society and world we are building, acting in partnership with each sector for the realisation of the common good.

• The means for citizens to exercise their human rights, and for checks and balances in a law-governed society.

• Building the South African nation inclusive of the multiple identities based on class, gender, age, language, geographic location, and religion, as a united African nation, adding to the diversity and identity of the continent and humanity at large.

 

Nice set of mission statements, which no liberal could contend with. There is also a set of economic goals:

 

• Macro economic balances that support sustainable growth and development, not to be treated as things-in-themselves, but as requirements that ensure higher rates of growth, labour-absorption and poverty reduction.

• An industrial strategy to build an economy with high levels of manufacturing activity, modern services, expanding trade, cutting edge technology and a vibrant small business and cooperative sector.

• The mobilisation of investment towards these ends, including state, private and community investment.

• The achievement of shared growth by focusing on the creation of decent jobs and ensuring an improving quality of life for workers.

• The implementation of programmes to eliminate economic dualism and exclusion, including specific attention to industries in marginalised communities, rural and agrarian development, access to micro-credit, small business development, public works projects and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods at community and household level. This also requires the intensification of broad-based black economic empowerment programmes, and balanced and sustainable spatial development.

 

At once we see a few problems. How do we define the contents of the first point? Is the second point even possible (if “industrial strategy” is as narrowly defined as it usually is)? The third point is potentially valid, as is the fourth,. but the fifth point bogs itself down in failed current policies which suggests that the authors are not necessarily as wedded to change as the earlier points suggested.

However, obviously the big question is, why hasn’t this all already happened? What’s gone wrong with the ANC that it isn’t mobilising the nation, uniting the country, and building the economy? It’s no wonder that many delegates to the conference currently going on are pissed off, because this all looks rather like a slap in the face, or at least on the wrist, from Party to Congress.

Then, there follows this useful table (p.18), which should drive any assessment of what’s going on:

 

Table 1. Per capita personal income by race group

 

Year White Indian Coloured African Average  
Per capita income in constant 2000 Rands:
1993  46 486 19 537 8 990 5 073 11 177  
1995   48 387 23 424 9 668 6 525 12 572  
2000 56 179 23 025 12 911 8 926 16 220  
2008  75 297 51 457 16 567 9 790 17 475  
Relative per capita personal incomes (% of White level):
1993 100 42.0 19.3 10.9 24.0  
1995 100 48.4 20.0 13.5 26.0  
2000 100 41.0 23.0 15.9 28.9  
2008 100 60.0 22.0 13.0 23.2  

 

Wow. So, according to this, Indians are the main beneficiaries of the first economic transition. Maybe that explains the Guptas. The figures look rather dodgy (why did Indian income fall in 2000?) but they confirm what everyone knows — that coloureds and indians are doing well in post-apartheid South Africa (indian income increasing by 264%, coloured by 184%), that whites are doing all right (income increasing by 162%) and that africans have benefited less than is usually claimed (income increasing by 193%, a little better than coloureds, but starting from a base that’s only half the coloureds’, a quarter the indians’ and a ninth the whites’). Racialising the inequality helps to explain why indians are so unpopular in working-class KwaZulu-Natal, and perhaps also why coloureds and africans don’t get on — they’re fighting over a shrinking share of the bones tossed to them by the whites and indians.

But racialising the situation is too easy — what we would need is a class analysis, a breakdown of the division of South African income according to how many are earning at particular levels. In the United States, for instance, we know (from Saez and Piketty, if you Google it) that the top 0.01% of the population earned an average of nearly $20 million last year, compared with the bottom 90% earning an average of $30 000. (That’s still three times the white South African average but twelve times the overall South African average.) We know that the US top 0.01% earnings rose by just over 20% on the previous year (which helps explain why they were earning 656 times as many as the bottom 90%, whose incomes fell slightly).

All this raises the puzzling question as to why American rich people’s heads are not impaled on pikes at the city gate, but at least the data is there. But it is absent from this South African document altogether.. It’s almost as if the SACP has given up on class conflict — perhaps because of the class to which its members predominantly belong.

Indeed, the document talks about a “patriotic bourgeoisie”, which would make Frantz Fanon pick up his machine-gun; it’s the absence of such a bourgeoisie which drives most of South Africa’s problems. It warns that their goals “may not be in the interests of economic transformation”. Duh. What’s recommended, therefore, is more broad-based black economic empowerment. Jesus fucking Christ, there aren’t enough swearwords in the world to express how stupid and evil this is, how complete a repudiation of almost everything thus far. This is, therefore, a document which is intended to cement the corrupt class relations of globalised capitalism in South Africa while paying lip-service to a desire to do some modest thing to ameliorate the horror which globalised capitalism has inflicted upon us.

Just to make that point clearer, “The ANC must therefore continue to engage with various strata and interests within the white community on our national vision”. Yeah, right. In the old days, people who talked like this were correctly called impimpis. And the capitalists, Well, the plan here involves “challenging and engaging monopoly capital to the extent that they are an obstacle to our national vision (by, for example, blocking new entrants into various sectors of the economy) as well as with regards our quest to build social justice and reduce inequality”. How do you “engage” someone who is an obstacle to the national vision? And why should the problem be “blocking new entrants” — what’s that got to do with social justice? The indications are that this is simply a desire to be given a slice of the capitalist cake without actually changing anything fundamental.

In fact, when the document identifies “obstacles to transformation”, every one of these obstacles is within the ANC or the government. While it is perfectly true that things like corruption, incompetence and bad policies make the provision of socio-economic justice more difficult, this has nothing to do with a “second transition”. All of the actual obstacles to social justice lie in special interest groups who do not want to share their wealth or reduce their prospects of getting even richer in future. The document airily dismisses this, and therefore ought to have been printed on toilet paper.

This helps to clarify the gigantic intellectual divide between what the ANC/SACP say, and what they actually intend to do.

The document then talks about the “global context”, starting with talking vaguely about globalisation and neoliberalism. They say that there is a global financial crisis. Fuck, how did they find that one out? They must have used Jacob Zuma’s intelligence network, or something. But then they say, and this is interesting, “The disarray in the [Western] left is a result of the intellectual and moral vacuum created by the absence of a robust and compelling alternative to neo-liberalism”. Yeah, they’ve obviously been reading this blog because they couldn’t have figured that one out by themselves. And yet . . . doesn’t that mean that they need to provide such an alternative themselves? No, of course not, because that’s the Western left and it doesn’t apply to us, does it? The South African Left, having sold out to capital long ago, obviously isn’t going to acknowledge this.

On Africa, without blushing, they quote Pixley ka Seme, Frantz Fanon and Kwame Nkrumah. Their fingers should have withered up as they downloaded those quotes, because they follow this up by saying that Africa is going to do great because it is an “investment frontier”. Viva neo-colonialism, viva! Forward to a people’s sweatshop! They do say that we need to “position ourselves strategically” — they say it twice, but never say what it means, and of course they don’t mention AFRICOM, because . . . well, don’t mention zer war, jah!

Those of you who are astute will have noted the absence of anything about the second transition thus far (and we’re four-fifths of the way through). They make up for this in Part E, where they say: “we must heed the call in our 2012 January 8th Statement for the ANC to pay single-minded and undivided attention towards overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality. This is what our second transition must be about.” (p.36). Ah, so some vapid bullshit is going to guide us by making us pay attention to something. What does paying attention mean? Does it mean fulfilling the programme of action set out in this document? No, all they say is that we must have a “trajectory” over the next fifty years. Is that trajectory to resemble the trajectory of a hippo falling off a skyscraper? They don’t say.

They do say that we should get more money and better distribution. Yay! This can be done by, er, making the economy bigger. Wha? You want to know more? Here it is (p.38, if you think it’s a joke):

 

• strengthening innovation policy, the sector and linkages with companies;

• improving functioning of the labour market through reforms and specific proposals concerning dispute resolution and discipline, to help the economy absorb more labour;

• supporting small business through better coordination in the different agencies, the development finance institutions, and SME incubators;

• improving the skills base through improved education and training;

• increasing investment in social and economic infrastructure to lower costs, raise productivity and bring more people into the mainstream;

• reducing the regulatory burden in sectors where the private sector is a main investor;

• a comprehensive ICT policy as an input to economic and social development and as a driving sector of innovation;

• improving state capacity to effectively implement economic policy.

 

That is, more public-private partnerships, weaker labour legislation, more deregulation and above all, make it easier to download porn off the Internet. Oh, they also say we need better education, better healthcare, better social services and better policing. No lie, of course, but don’t they say that every year? Do we need a policy conference to generate things which Jacob Zuma emits whenever he exhales (from whichever orifice)? They also say that the people must be involved in all this, though they don’t say how this is to be done, or what the people would get out of being involved. However, they say that there must be an ideological struggle against neoliberalism and global capitalism — well, they don’t quite say that, but they mention neoliberalism and global capitalism and then say that there must be an unspecified ideological struggle. Perhaps the ideological struggle ought to be over the correct status of Comrade Bernstein in the pantheon of deceased Marxists? Difficult to say.

What they do say, in addition to arguing that it would help if the ANC continues to win elections, is that the ANC must have a “revolutionary and disciplined cadreship”. What “revolutionary” means in the context of this reactionary plutocratic apologia is hard to comprehend, but one sees what “disciplined” means — it means, don’t ask questions if you want to keep your lucrative sinecure. This body is to guide and dominate society’s “motive forces” — presumably what the Party, in the bad old days, called the proletariat, but now it seems to be mostly the bourgeoisie, and especially the 1% at the top.

So now you know what they’re talking about at Midrand. Well, actually they aren’t, they’re talking about which dudes are going to be making money out of all this shit, after Mangaung. But at least you know that there isn’t going to be any Second Transition, and that Saint Julius was crucified in vain.

 


Trapped in the Net.

June 27, 2012

Yes, there is a lot of bullshit around, isn’t there? But if you dip into the past, far as human eye can see, see the vision of the world and all the bullshit there can be — it’s always been there. Perhaps in the past we were more fooled by it. As we get older, we can tell each other “The bullshit just doesn’t taste the way it used to” “Ar, I remember when you got twice as much bullshit for half the price” and so on.

Recently, in the United States, a genius named Roberto Unger who was partly responsible for President Barack Obama’s initial education at Harvard University, emerged from hibernation to make a YouTube video all about how awful Barack is and nobody should vote for him. This isn’t exactly fall-down-on-your-bum surprising stuff. Barack is awful, and nobody should vote for him. The only problem with that policy is that if you don’t vote for Barack, you will either still get him, awful as he is, or else you will get Mitt, and he is equally awful or, probably, a trifle awfuller yet. It isn’t clear, in short, how the Complaint of Unger will help at all in getting us all out of the mess of being ruled by tyrannical psychopaths armed with nuclear weapons. This possibly explains how Unger’s video failed to go viral. (Also, Unger’s Big Idea was that the Democratic Party should be forced, by losing the election, to put forward a different candidate, which would be better than Obama. Just the way, after Jimmy Carter, Clinton was better; just the way, after Clinton, Obama was better. Duh.)

However, the Obamabots sprang to arms. Apparently one commonplace critique of Obama was one too many — the terrible fear being that if anybody is allowed to get away with criticising the Divine Leader, then soon nobody will like him. (News for you, Obamabots — nobody does like him. You don’t like him. What you like in him is actually the smell of your own farts.) So a prominent Obama supporter launched a powerful attack on Unger (“Neener neener, yah boo sucks, pointy-headed radical, Ralph Nader”) which was immediately taken up by the Democratic Party Net, which in turn meant that Unger’s video got an immense audience. Possibly this will turn the tide against Obama — who knows?

But this raises the interesting question: how do you change this terrible system? How can one possibly break out of a political process which consists entirely of being granted the right to vote for contending criminal gangs on the basis of how well they frame the lies they tell? The system is disgusting to look at and even more disgusting to experience, but where is the alternative?

And so we turn to Hardt and Negri, no mean bullshit artists in themselves.

In Empire, they proved that there wasn’t really an empire. (Needless to say, it was a best-seller and hugely influential among the kind of political activist who likes to have a book next to the bed which can occasionally be dusted off and spoken about without ever being read.) In Multitude, one might expect them to prove that there isn’t a multitude, after which they can write an autobiography proving that they don’t themselves exist. (In imitation of Baudrillard’s trilogy of essays on the Gulf War.) However, as one might expect, they don’t have the courage of their lack of convictions and therefore acknowledge that there is a multitude. And their thesis is that the multitude is pissed off. This implies that these two European geniuses are almost as geniusy as the Brazilian-American blather specialist.

So — what is this pissed-off multitude to do? Applying their brains to the full, Hardt and Negri figure out that there is a difference between being oppressed and being exploited. Being oppressed means that you are being fucked around — which means that you can, once aware that you are oppressed, rise up and refuse to be fucked around, but it isn’t clear how you can do that since the oppressed are necessarily weaker than the oppressors. Being exploited, however, means that someone is making a profit out of you. Therefore, the exploited, if they perceive themselves to be oppressed (and if someone is making a profit out of you, you’re probably being oppressed) can refuse to provide the stuff which generates the profit, whatever it is.

Yeah, rrright.

Have you figured out the drawback in this, which Hardt and Negri mulled over for five years? People do not become oppressed for no reason; powerful people oppress weak people in order to exploit them. By exploiting people, oppressors become more powerful relative to the oppressed and exploited. Therefore, if the oppressed and exploited try to refuse to be exploited, the oppressors and exploiters can (and have a massive incentive to) ramp up the oppression to the point at which being exploited becomes a more bearable deal. This is what has happened everywhere in the world, and everybody seems to know about it except Hardt and Negri.

Hardt and Negri have noticed the “revolution in military affairs” which was quite big about five years before they wrote their book. The purpose of the “revolution in military affairs” is to be able to deliver weapons with great accuracy, thus making it possible to kill any specific enemy one wishes without suffering casualties. The apex of this revolution is Obama’s policy of murdering political enemies with missiles carried by robot aeroplanes.

There are two ways of dealing with this revolution: one is to develop sophisticated equipment to disrupt or intercept those precision-delivered weapons, and the other — far cheaper — is to make it impossible to find a suitable target for such weapons. For instance, Israel has developed an anti-missile system called “Iron Dome”, under which the primitive, firework-like rockets used by some of the Palestinians imprisoned in the Gaza concentration camp to “bombard” a small area of Israel can be shot down. The Palestinian rockets cost an insignificant amount of money to make in a garage workshop, and the labour is free. The Israeli anti-missile-missiles cost hundreds of thousands of rands each and require skilled labour and precision machine-tools to construct. Therefore, every time the Palestinians fire a missile which activates the “Iron Dome” system, the Palestinians win.

Meanwhile, if the oppressor doesn’t know whom to kill, if there is no target for the guided bomb, then the system breaks down as a system of oppression. Decentralising the resistance (which dates back to very early days — the cell system of organisation dates back at least to the nineteenth century) facilitates this. So the Americans have come up with concepts like “netwar” and “asymmetrical warfare”, under which those pestiferous people who dare to resist their activities are insufficiently organised to be easily stomped flat, and also have the temerity to be weaker and poorer than their murderers, thus unfairly making the murderers look like bullying fat-cats. This is jargon, of course, and it appears to indicate that the US has no more idea of how to really deal with the problem, than they had in trying to deal with exactly the same problem in the Philippines early in the twentieth century.

Hardt and Negri, however, are enthralled by the idea, because it serves their goal of campaigning against “vanguard parties”, to which they oppose the nebulous postmodern techno-jargon of the “swarm”. They don’t like vanguard parties — that is, parties which claim to have interpreted political conditions more thoroughly than the general public and therefore are out there in front of everybody else in the general march towards a better life for all.

To be more precise, they don’t like vanguard parties which, when in power, suppress other parties on the basis that the other parties are regressive (trying to bring a worse life for all) or, albeit nominally progressive, are in league with regressive forces. Like the Bolsheviks in 1918-9, suppressing the right-wing and left-wing opposition parties. One must agree with Hardt and Negri that this is very bad behaviour on the part of the Bolsheviks. Admittedly,  the right-wing parties were actively at war with the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, the left-wing opposition — the Mensheviks and Left Social-Revolutionaries — were either conniving with the right-wing parties or collaborating with British and French Military Intelligence, whose forces had invaded Russia, and whose chief agent Bruce Lockhart seems to have aided the murder plot against Lenin which ultimately brought Stalin to power after Lenin’s subsequent stroke. What all this seems to mean is that “vanguard parties” may seize absolute power, but that this isn’t a necessary criterion for being a vanguard party, but Hardt and Negri wish to believe this, and so does Noam Chomsky, and who is to disagree with them?

What they prefer is the revolutionary project which appeared in the 1950s. Under this one, instead of having a vanguard party, you have a revolutionary army up in the hills which fights for freedom. Astute observers may find something strange about the idea that an army is less disciplined than a political party. Those with a powerful memory for history will possibly also recall that the 1960s and 1970s were a massive era of revolutionary parties which had armies fighting for freedom, and that the only successes of this period were those of parties. Those who tried to operate with an army alone, like Guevara, or who tried to collapse party into army like the Red Brigades (not that they were an army in any meaningful sense of the word) failed so dismally that they can only be called an attempt at revolution courtesy of the right-wing revisionist press, which used them all as a justification for repressive activity. History therefore decisively refutes Hardt and Negri, for the successful pattern was the same one which Lenin and Trotsky had deployed, while the failed one was the one which Hardt and Negri eulogise.

They continue this down to the South African example, which they claim as an example of a dispersed struggle which was not based in one party or one army. Actually it was a highly focussed struggle which was based in the African National Congress, a fact which they have to jettison (which is not difficult, since they are largely relying on anti-ANC sources which falsify South African history). In any case, the consequence of the South African example, where the vanguard party has been abandoned and right-wing factions and organisations have been allowed free rein, does not seem an example which should inspire confident imitation.

Their final focus, however, is on a third level, which they identify with the EZLN in Mexico. This political organisation, led by the anonymous but charismatic “Subcomandante Marcos” enjoyed some brief attention in southern Mexico in the mid-1990s. Hardt and Negri, on the basis of the myth of the Zapatistas rather than the reality of the organisation on the ground, pretend that this was a leaderless party, and therefore suggest that this should be seen as a swarm of unled people all going in the same direction. They then cite a few highly centralised anarchist organisations as other examples, simply because these organisations are so opaque that nobody on the outside understands their hierarchy. They then suggest that this is the organisation for the future.

Yeah, right. The “multitude”, the “swarm”, who will have no ideology and no leaders and no organisation, but will somehow all go in the same direction through some kind of political tropism which creates the “net”. This is an extraordinarily asinine notion. Obviously it is possible that a vast multitude might come to a similar decision at the same time — this guy has got to go! — as happened in Russia in 1917 and Iran in 1978. But once the guy was gone, the politicians moved in to seize control in one form or another. Hardt and Negri are basically offering a new version of the ur-Marxist idea that history is on our side, and therefore we don’t have to make a revolution because history will do it for us. The multitude will determine everything. Presumably, on the basis of what they read in the papers and see on TV.

In fact, this is precisely what is happening now; the multitude are indeed determining everything, at the behest of Rupert Murdoch and Barack Obama. So, in the end, Hardt and Negri are counter-revolutionaries attempting to mislead us into quiescence under the pretense of offering something new. Does this mean that the bullshit of Multitude is even better at bullshitting than the bullshit of Empire was? Or is it just that nobody pays any attention to gibbering faux-leftist balderdash any more?

 


Wash, Wash Me Green.

June 21, 2012

There are many things which make the sensitive, cultivated observer want to return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. (In practice, since the planet cannot support seven billion hunter-gatherers, this means going up in a tower with a high-powered rifle and picking off competitors at random — a practice the Creator heartily recommends to everyone.) Many of these things are expressed in the contents of the media, whose advertisements are packaged as editorials, but whose editorials are not acknowledged for the advertisements which they are. In any event, the phenomenon of greenwashing is most particularly striking and strident. The Creator was glancing over an advertisement for a foreign-owned corporation called Pick’n’Pay. The advertisement showed a shoal of fish fluttering through cool, green, deep water. A pretty picture, much prettier than the corporation, but unfortunately the picture had lettering on it — which the fish, mercifully, could not read. The lettering explained that Pick’n’Pay was a GREEN corporation, because the World Wildlife Fund had given them a certificate to that effect. (The WWF will give anyone a certificate saying anything, in exchange for money to keep the WWF afloat; saving the planet is strictly a secondary side-effect of the enrichment of WWF’s managers.) Pick’n’Pay also revealed that various Stewardship Forums had given them certificates saying that they were GREEN. (Of course, the revelation did not include the fact that these Stewardship Forums are industry bodies upon which Pick’n’Pay sits like La Tricoteuse at the foot of the guillotine.) And, lastly, that Pick’n’Pay only sources its fish from fish-farms where there are definite, time-bound improvements taking place. What, precisely, does this last bit mean? That the fish are getting company-sponsored date-stamped bow-ties to wear? That the manager of the fish-farm expects his ranch-style house to be completed within six months? It could mean either of these things, or none. It probably means nothing. It might mean pitifully trivial changes. It might even mean that fish-farms are becoming slightly less noxious cauldrons of toxic, parasite-ridden, micro-organism sodden fish-shit. But that is unlikely, because it would not be profitable. Greenwashing is unpleasant because it’s a particularly insulting form of corporate propaganda, but there’s much more to it than that. The Green movement arose out of the ecology movement which arose out of the authority-questioning leftism of the 1960s, and therefore greenwashing is a frontal assault on the liberties which the West won in the 1960s and the South Africans won through their subsequent struggles. The Green movement is also supposed to be based on science — and although many Greens know no more about science than would go through the eye of a rather small needle, there are a lot of Green scientists out there including most of the ones of any actual integrity and ability. In other words, the Green movement is an attempt to expose the environment-destroying ways of capitalism, and the way in which environment destruction is justified through appeals to greed and selfishness, to a dose of reality — you can’t eat gold, and you can’t use your new Apple toy if you’re dead. So greenwashing is a way of using the Green movement to legitimate the destruction of the environment; it says, “Support our environmental destruction and thus save the environment!”. It is no wonder that the Mail and Guardian has an annual special greenwashing competition with a supplement lauding the greatest greenwashers. To those who are utterly cut off from reality, it seems like a splendid thing; if you sound like a good person, you can become a good person (in the same way that continually smiling ensures that you will become happy). Of course, it is all made easier if you control the press and can ensure that nasty smelly dissident actual Greens are kept well offstage most of the time. But not all the time. The task is to allow the Greens to do all the basic work of establishing a particular idea in the public mind, and then move in, shoulder the Greens aside, appropriate the idea to your own purposes and then broadcast your interests through your use of the idea, while denouncing anyone who asks questions as a covert enemy of progress and the human race. A perfect example of this is the contemporary electricity generation situation. We are faced with two problems; we are running out of oil, which will lead to massive transport problems as cars, buses and trucks become obsolete. We are also stuffing the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which is leading to global warming, causing huge problems with wild weather and which will ultimately cause an agricultural crisis as various historic food-growing areas become unsuitable to the purpose. The Greens have been perennially complaining about these two problems, and have been calling for the pursuit of sustainable policies to resolve them — namely, a massive expansion of renewable energy, both to ensure access to electricity and to reduce the production of carbon dioxide, and this to go hand in hand with a massive expansion of electrically-based public transport (possibly associated with electric personal transport, at least in urban areas and over short distances). These are blindingly obvious points, and have been blindingly obvious for more than thirty years. Obviously, a large part of the response to this is to deny that we are running out of oil and to deny that we are stuffing the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, or to claim that this has nothing to do with wild weather and will not cause an agricultural crisis — in other words, simply denying both reality and scientific interpretations of it, all the way down to basic physics. However, another response is to say that all these problems are real, but that the solutions to the problems are very different from the solutions which the Greens want. “Clean coal” means burning coal efficiently (grinding it to powder and holding the burning mass suspended on jets of hot air in the furnace). The smokestacks from “clean coal” power plants emit white smoke rather than black, and the whiteness can be reduced by adding sulphur precipitators to the smokestacks, removing much of the sulphuric acid. (This ends up with immense ponds of poisonous acids, but never mind that.) However, this apparent cleanliness has a problem; exactly the same amount of carbon dioxide is being puffed into the atmosphere as before. Here, the “greenwash” solution is to make the destroyers of the environment look pretty — like painting secret police headquarters in Day-Glo colours and calling it Freedom Campus. (Recall how the Bureau of State Security — BOSS — changed its name to the Directorate of National Security — DONS.) It is possible to take all that carbon dioxide and “sequester” it, by taking it out of the smokestacks, compressing it to a liquid and pumping it underground. Carbon dioxide, however, is a small molecule and would have little difficulty migrating out of any conceivable pressurised underground reservoir. In any event, only a tiny fraction of carbon dioxide could be captured unless you want to make everything too expensive to run. So the whole “clean coal” bonanza, which was part of Barack Obama’s solution to the American energy crisis, is a lie as well as a greenwash. “Natural gas” sounds awfully green, since it is natural, unlike that nasty gas which comes from somewhere other than nature. However, this stuff is simply short-chain hydrocarbons — a few carbon atoms in a row with hydrogen atoms stuck to them; basically fuel oil that never quite made it. The line is that burning natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than burning coal, and therefore burning natural gas is good. The problem with this is that burning natural gas may be more efficient than burning coal (you can burn it in a gas turbine, which is essentially a bloody big jet engine, and which turns the dynamo directly instead of going through the whole steam-turbine procedure as you have to with coal) but it still generates carbon dioxide because of all those carbon atoms. Incidentally, because gas burns at a higher temperature than coal, it produces nitric acid instead of sulphuric acid. Fun stuff to breathe. A subsidiary problem is that the littlest of all the natural gas components is methane, which happens to be the most severe greenhouse gas available in large quantities, and the one most likely to boil off when a tank or pipeline is ruptured or a seal is imperfect. So natural gas has a built-in tendency to promote the greenhouse effect, but one which is unmeasurable because it is determined by how inefficient the industry is. Another subsidiary problem is that natural gas is only available in large quantities in relatively small pockets of shale, and in order to access these pockets you have to break up the shale to allow the gas to flow, using pressurised water a procedure known as hydrofracturing. Doing this, of course, you shatter the strata, enabling any gunk you please to flow from layer to layer. In theory, this could lead to very nasty hydrocarbons (particularly the cyclic ones such as benzine, which exist in modest quantities in natural gas) to get into the groundwater. It’s impossible to pump all the gas out, so some of those hydrocarbons must stay around, and it’s also impossible to put the strata back together once you’ve shattered them. Nobody knows how much damage this will do to the long-term access to water in areas where hydrofracturing takes place. (It would be possible to do research into this, but that would cost money, and if the answer were what almost everybody fears it is, the whole green image of natural gas would turn shit-coloured.) And then, of course, there is dear old nuclear power, always the big bugaboo of the Greens from the 1970s and their big triumph (though the Green triumph over nuclear power was rather like the TAC’s triumph over Thabo Mbeki, taking credit for someone else’s victory). Nuclear reactors themselves emit no carbon dioxide or methane. Therefore they are green power of the highest order. Let’s build loads of clean, safe, carbon-friendly nuclear reactors! Of course, this requires one to ignore the mining and refining of the uranium (which uses loads of energy, most of which comes from hydrocarbons or coal) and the enrichment of the uranium (which uses vast amounts of energy again). If your whole electrical economy runs on nuclear power, then nuclear energy might be carbon-friendly; otherwise, you’re just burning carbon to create nuclear fuel — which could be seen as the ultimate greenwash. Also, exactly like coal and oil and gas, U-235 is non-renewable. You dig it out of the ground, burn it and it’s gone, leaving you with a lot of unsightly radioactive waste. You can make plutonium with it, which is based on U-238 which is enormously more common, but somehow people seem nervous about a substance which is not only extremely poisonous but is also used for nuclear weapons. You can even use U-235 reactors to make U-233 from equally common thorium, although that’s turned out to be more difficult than was originally thought. But the point is, all these “green” solutions to the energy and resource crisis represent ways of digging irreplaceable stuff out of the ground, destroying it to produce energy, and by doing so, generating large amounts of extremely dangerous waste products which you have no means of dealing with and therefore are obliged to pretend that they aren’t all that dangerous, on the “Toxic sludge is good for you!” principle. And that’s the Green movement in a nutshell. In our next lesson, kiddies, we will learn how to make delicious chocolate pudding out of human ordure.


The Necessary Murder.

June 8, 2012

So now we know a great deal about the esquadron de muerte that the President of the United States commands. Apparently, from across the United States vast amounts of collated intelligence data about the people whom American intelligence agencies wish to have killed flood into a special team of about a hundred people who turn the data into tasteful individualised Powerpoint slides and present them to the President, who chooses who will be slain on the basis of this information (the veracity of which he has no way of checking). It is, in short, exactly as various people envisaged it to be; the American cartoonist Ted Rall imagined the President being briefed on a necessary murder and signing off on it, blissfully unaware that the murder he had signed off was his own.

That might yet happen; historically, amoral murder states have tended to devour their own kin as cheerfully as they have devoured their declared victims.

The mode of murder is to blow the declared victim to pieces with a guided missile, a mode pioneered by the Israelis, who have always been obsessed with comparative body-counts because of the relative Arab-Jew numbers (the “demographic problem”, as Zionist ethnic cleansers put it) and who therefore like killing their enemies without putting any of their own at risk. Some favouring the process refer to it as vapourising, but in fact although the warhead is dozens of kiloes of high explosive, this is not enough to prevent blood, gore, gristle and bone fragments, together with a few recognisable portions of what was once a living, breathing human being, being left behind. It is, however, enough to guarantee that other people will be killed in addition to the target, because for obvious reasons the target is invariably a social being and detonating a large bomb in a community is almost never going to kill only one person.

Sacrifices have to be made to preserve freedom.

The missiles are delivered by large robot aircraft equipped with sophisticated sensors and automatic pilots, so that they can fly to the vicinity of the target without any human intervention, guided by GPS, after which humans fly the robot aircraft, called a drone, to the exact location, identify the target with the sensors, and launch the missile, usually a weapon called a Hellfire. The drone of choice, called a Reaper, carries four Hellfires over a distance of thousands of kilometres. There are drone bases on every continent, although most drones are based in the United States and the headquarters of the whole system is in Tampa, Florida.

This is considered, by many, a rather cowardly system of murdering their enemies. These people seem to believe that it would be far more reasonable if Barack Obama were to do his dirty work personally, taking time off from his normal duties of class against the poor and middle-class people of his country to breeze into Pakistan and whack the people whom he has signed off to be whacked. Should he use a rocket-launcher? A sniper rifle? A submachine-gun like the one used to murder Osama bin Laden in his Inter-Service Intelligence safe-house? A knife? A cheese-wire? Or should the President simply throttle the victim to death with bare hands? (No doubt victims small enough to be throttled without risk to the President’s comfort and health can be identified among the blizzard of Powerpoints.)

However, it isn’t really about cowardice. It was not really cowardly to sit in Lusaka and plan the war against apartheid, and it is not really brave to sit in Washington and plan the war against terror. Rather, it is about the unfortunate fact that it transpires that the people chosen to be murdered are, very often, and perhaps more often than not, people who have no link whatsoever with any force fighting against the United States. On other occasions, the people chosen to be murdered are people who have not committed any crime punishable in the continental United States, but have merely uttered words critical of that country’s policies. In other words, the information upon which those Powerpoints is based is apparently completely useless for determining whether the murders are necessary, or not. From the perspective of fighting against terrorism, Obama might just as well be releasing his missiles at random over populated areas and awaiting developments.

This, of course, annoys people — the survivors of the bombings, and also those who get to hear about the bombings. It is, however, unlikely that the people who are radicalised by drone attacks were not already annoyed with the United States, since drone attacks tend to happen in countries which are under U.S. control or occupation, and where the governments are hideously awful and wholeheartedly supported by the United States. These people are probably not going to dash off and join al-Qaeda, for the fairly obvious reason that al-Qaeda is now aligned with the United States in most respects, its leaders having realised that if they are sufficiently corrupt and subservient they may gain the illusion of power which was all that they wanted. (The internal conflict over this issue seems to have been a major reason why the United States had Bin Laden murdered.)

Nevertheless, these murders almost certainly do not have the deterrent effect which such terrorism is meant to have, along the “shock and awe” principle which the ignorant technocrats of the U.S. “Revolution in Military Affairs” pretend to have invented. Blowing up Slobodan Milosevic’s house, or bombing Saddam Hussein’s houses, did not prevent those leaders from leading their countries. Intimidation does not work well against resolute people whom you cannot easily find. Instead, it builds sympathy for the victims and their organisations. (This was why the apartheid regime eventually opted for secret murders.)

The United States has used death squads before — in central and south America, of course, by proxy, but also directly, by means of the Phoenix Programme in Vietnam. This programme was a CIA project to systematically assassinate the political leadership of the Viet Minh in South Vietnam. Supposedly, some 20 000 people were murdered, including a large number of the political cadres and supporters of the Viet Minh, though doubtless many or most of the victims were murdered by accident or happened to express left-wing opinions or simply were people whom agents of the programme disliked or would gain from the death of. That, at least, was an effectual programme because the murders were carried out by people who could report back immediately on who had died, and because intelligence operatives on the ground had a direct stake in the success of the project, instead of sitting on their backsides in the United States filling in on-line forms. And yet America lost that war, just as it failed to eradicate leftism in central and south America, however many leftists it murdered.

Israel has succeeded in its programme very largely because it has an enormous discrepancy in power, a small area to deal with, small numbers of people to deal with, a highly dedicated populace backing it, and a corrupt, incompetent and fragmented opponent. Even so, the Palestinians continue to fight back after sixty-five years. This does suggest that death squads are not a long term solution.

But this is crude tactical analysis. Of course death squads are not a long term solution to the problem of the existence of enemies. Indeed, the existence of enemies is not something which can be solved by murder or by the declaration of war. Murder and the declaration of war are instead intended to avoid resolving the issue, which can only be done by discovering the ideological roots of such enmity (which in turn is driven by historical facts). In other words, the United States and its allies has done things in the past which makes people hate and fear them and their representatives — and to avoid thinking about this issue, the United States seeks to murder everyone who raises the issue in any substantive way.

This is, of course, an extremely popular programme in the United States. Americans generally believe that the world hates them because they are so much more wonderful than anyone else. Therefore it should be made illegal for anyone to hate an American, and the sanction should be the death penalty. Problem solved!

The actual problem then is the same as that for Israel; America becomes a much more hateful society, and also becomes a society which feeds upon its own hatefulness and believes that in doing so it becomes stronger. One by one, the minor obstacles placed in the path of hatefulness (most conspicuous of which is the U.S. Constitution, but is also the general human sympathy which Americans feel for one another and upon which the functioning of the Constitution in its original form depends) are erased or dismissed from serious attention. What is happening to the United States is very similar to the fictional process depicted in Shakespeare’s Macbeth or in C J Sansom’s portrait of Thomas Cromwell; a person realising that in order to fulfil his desire he must take terrible actions, and in order to take those actions must render himself so terrible that the fulfilment of his desire becomes a terrible thing in itself.

It is, of course, possible that all this will be held at a relatively modest level. So far at most only a few thousand people have been killed by drones. On the other hand, tens or hundreds of thousands have been killed by other American military action driven by the kind of irresponsible paranoid self-righteousness which fuels the drone war. Even more have been killed by destabilisation and economic warfare. The drone war has just brought the matter much closer to the surface, because it is harder to cloak your behaviour in the language of anodyne socio-economic rectitude when you are actually signing death warrants and then executing them. Also, Americans have been made much more conscious of the drone war, and are much more enthusiastic about it than by the economic or proxy wars waged in the recent past, which Americans were often hardly aware existed because their government conducted them without consulting them. In contrast, the drone war was announced in one of George W Bush’s State of the Union speeches and has been conducted with growing eagerness ever since. So in this regard Americans cannot claim that they did not know or did not approve. They both know and approve, and as such they are guilty of the murder of civilians, and are happy because they know that they will never be called to account for this.

But Americans have often found that what they know, and what is true, are two very distinct things.