Nice People’s Pogrom.

March 31, 2013

Who the hell is Andile Mngxitama, anyway? He’s a self-serving, self-satisfied proponent of black consciousness whose career largely depends on white people in the media and the publishing world paying him some attention. Not being a man very experienced in the arts of irony or self-examination, he fails to identify the obvious contradictions in this embedded lifestyle.

Recently he has become famous for attacking Jared Sacks. But who the hell is Jared Sacks, anyway? He’s a self-serving, self-satisfied proponent of Trotskyism based in Cape Town whose career largely depends on capitalists in the media and the publishing world paying him some attention. If he identifies the obvious contradictions in this embedded lifestyle, he doesn’t seem troubled by it. In sum, the similarities between Andile Mngxitama and Jared Sacks appear to outsiders to be greater than the differences. Perhaps the smallness of the differences drive the desire to make distinctions and thus promotes conflict.

But perhaps there is something else there which is more important, and therefore it might be worth asking what the fuss was all about, anyway.

Jared Sacks wrote an article in the Mail and Guardian about Mamphela Ramphele’s non-party party, “Agang”. Hurray! And in his article he said some stuff, most of which was too boring to mention. One little teeny-weeny bit indicated, however, that Steve Biko would not have voted for Mamphy Ramphy. And this caused poor Andile to go completely off his chump and start charging around declaring (tweeting, truthily) that he himself would give Jared Sacks a thick ear if he ever met him, and indeed that all blacks in South Africa should queue up (with organisational participation, presumably, from taxi-rank organisers) and punch, kick or otherwise structurally inconvenience Jared Sacks until he stopped being that way, whichever way it was.

Yes, it was extremely silly. Why, however, did Andile get so het up? Is it just that he’s blown all his income from posturing as the PC of BC on coke, and can’t handle the stuff? Perhaps not, for there does seem to be some method in this madness.

What does it mean to say that Steve Biko wouldn’t have voted for Agang? On the face of it, simply that anyone who has read I Write What I Like will have noted Biko’s distrust for black people who are working as political facades for black people. All the evidence suggests that Agang fulfils this criterion. Hence, Biko would have distrusted Agang, and therefore probably Ramphele as well, and would very possibly have disowned his “son”. (That is if he had any biological connection with the child Ramphele had after Biko’s death whom she named for Biko.) Said son recently wrote a crock of nonsense on behalf of white big business which he calls “The Great South Africa” (copying President Lyndon B Johnson, the notorious genocidaire). Enough said about such people.

The problem is, however, that Biko is not only a third-rate knock-off Frantz Fanon. As such he is worthy of respect simply because next to Biko’s rather ordinary writing, most current “political commentators” appear fit only for the sewer. But Biko is also an icon of black independence and resistance to white authority. As such, when a white person says “Biko would not have liked that”, even if it is obvious that the point is true, the white person is implicitly saying “I have the right to say what Biko would, and would not, have liked”. In other words, the white person is effectively colonizing Biko for the white community, and in a strange way, is posthumously turning him into the same kind of front-person for white interests that Ramphele is – except that Ramphele consciously chose to be such, whereas Biko is dead and cannot resist his appropriation.

That is, of course, very bad. It is perfectly possible that Jared Sacks didn’t really mean to do this. However, it is also perfectly likely that Jared Sacks would have no problem with doing this. After all, one of the main characteristics of white culture is that it denigrates all other cultures and tolerates their manifestations only insofar as they can be accommodated and repositioned within the frameworks laid out by white culture. Ouch!

Can one be certain of this? Unfortunately, there is a lot of evidence substantiating it. Why, after all, did Sacks mention Biko at all? It is true that Ramphele has moved a long way from Biko’s politics since the days when she used to sleep with him, but we actually do not know how far she encapsulated his politics along with his penis. Certainly, most of her activities since her liberation from her banning order have been devoted to serving the white ruling class, and even before then her concern was much more with local self-help programmes than with the revolutionary struggle which concerned almost everybody else in the mid-1980s. So a criticism of Agang could have, and should have, focused quite exclusively on Ramphele.

Bringing in the Biko seems to suggest that Biko was indeed presented as a talisman (exactly as he is used by black consciousness intellectuals like Mngxitama) and that the message was “If you are black and like Biko, then you ought not to like Ramphele”. In other words, “We, the white people, are entitled to tell you, the black people, how to make use of your own iconography”. One begins to see that Mngxitama might have a point in wanting to give Sacks a clip over the earhole.

Sacks is also part of the Western Cape Trotskyite movement. He has, for instance, written exuberantly inaccurate articles for the Daily Maverick, a Web publication controlled by white people and heavily influential over white conservative journalists who like to use left-wing jargon through which they can pretend to be actual leftists. One recent article was about how the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape is allowing black people’s shacks to burn down without providing fire protection – a claim earlier made by the local ANC leader Marius Fransman, though Sacks doesn’t mention this. It might very well be true. However, it seems obvious that while Fransman’s party has a slim chance of gaining power in the Western Cape, Sacks has no such chance, so his writing has no political significance even though it purports to have political significance. And, of course, Sacks, in writing the work, is crowding out the people who actually experience the fires – the black people who actually live in the shacks.

Sacks, like other South African Trotskyites, does not acknowledge this distinction. His line is that he is representing the People in his writing. But where are the People? They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented (as Marx wrote in “The Eighteenth Brumaire” about the conservative appropriation of the electoral power of the French peasantry in 1848). This, again, is a sign of Sacks and his friends taking the suffering or the conundrums of black people in a white-dominated society and appropriating this in order to make political capital and private gain out of it. This is remarkably like the activities of white liberalism in the days before it became dominant in the white community – when it appropriated black voices in order to empower itself – and it is also characteristic of Trotskyism, which appropriates the voices of shackdwellers such as Abahlali baseMjondolo or those with genuine grievances like the South Durban environmental campaigners, and in doing so erodes the authority and organizational capacity of the grassroots while only temporarily providing legitimacy for itself.

In other words, politically speaking, Mngxitama may be a fool but he is at least authentic in his objectives, whereas Sacks is both a fool and a pseudo-radical.

This is particularly evident in the responses to Mngxitama. One would think, would one not, that a battle between two undistinguished journalists is not worthy of much commentary. However, and instead, this whole affair has flooded across the white-dominated fake alternative media spectrum, where websites and e-journals controlled by white people present messages of radical action to other white people with no intention of implementing them but who feel that transmitting such messages is a convenient substitute for actual radicalism which might deprive them of their swimming-pools.

As one might expect, there has been no support, nor even any understanding, for Mngxitama’s position. Whites do not like blacks – this is the secret which the fake alternative media exists to conceal, but it comes out when the whites have to defend themselves against a recalcitrant black. How dare someone become indignant when one of Our Side does the job which we have allocated to him! So the call has gone out to denounce Mngxitama, coming from the Western Cape Trotskyites – virtually all of them the whites and coloureds of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency rebranded as the Democratic Left Front, together with the spurious nominally black but actually organizationally nonexistent names of Abahlali and the “Unemployed Workers’ Movement”. In other words, the white middle-class appropriators of the image of black working-class activism are leaping to the defense of one of their own.

All this should not surprise Mngxitama, although it probably does – since he has long depended on white endorsements to sustain his own little disempowered political niche. It is perhaps a little more surprising that two Young Democrats have issued a call for Mngxitama to be denied all access to the media and thus silenced forever. (Like, before him, Malema and Ronald Suresh Roberts.) One might think it odd that Young Democrats, the pom-pom girls of the white supremacist free-market, should be marching shoulder to shoulder with Trotskyists who purport to speak for black people in order to crush someone else who also purports to speak for black people.

However, this is altogether comprehensible in terms of the notion that Mngxitama is suspected of actually believing in what he writes. All frauds, fakes and pseuds naturally unite against an honest person, especially a passionate honest person. This is surely the principal lesson we must learn from this episode – that, and the fact that since the frauds, fakes and pseuds are in charge, a passionate person cannot afford to be too honest.


March 30, 2013

Why do we even bother to keep inhaling this irritating oxygen which only prolongs our life, why do we insist on exhaling this annoying carbon dioxide which allows plants to prolong their life? Why not leap into the void for no reason and thus demonstrate that no reason, nothing but a void, exists anywhere? Also, why write blog posts?

The trouble with being confronted with absolute futility and impotence and the inevitable victory of all that is meaningless (and yet somehow, in that meaningless, evil) is that it’s all in the mind, you know. If you look away, and resolutely allow yourself not to think about the issue at hand, or else translate the issue at hand into that which can be assimilated within a familiar narrative provided by the forces of futility and impotence – that makes it all better, like the loving mother sweeping up an infant bitten by a jumbo puff-adder and kissing it better on the suppurating fatal wound.

It all began with the announcement that South Africa’s armed forces had sustained yet another defeat. So far, nothing particularly unusual. However, the defeat happened in the Central African Republic, a country which most South Africans would have difficulty finding on a map despite the rather helpful name of the nation. What were they doing there in the first place, then?

Apparently, we didn’t need to know. To be more precise, we did not ask, when President Zuma announced that we were deploying troops to the Central African Republic, how long they would be there, or what the implications of their mission were, or (subsequently) how that mission was proceeding. We have, in fact, become inured to the notion that when there is some petty squabble somewhere in an African country, the South African sheriff is expected to ride into town and command everyone to lay down their guns and shake hands.

Except that in this case, there was no sheriff. The sheriff was, apparently, sitting safe in Paris, and he had sent all his deputies to Mali in an attempt to crush the Tuareg rebellion against the military dictatorship there. (An action which seems to have failed, since the French troops eventually aligned themselves with the Tuareg rebels in order to survive.) The sheriff had therefore asked South Africa to send a posse to the Central African Republic to intimidate the locals into being nice to each other. How that was to happen was not specified, since sending a posse is not usually the way to calm the locals down – witness Vietnam in 1961 and Afghanistan in 1979, not to mention Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and Somalia in 2006 and – oh, you can probably fill in plenty of territories for yourself, all the way down to the Marikana massacre.

South Africa had in 2007 sent a small military training team to the Central African Republic, in an attempt to stabilize a country after its latest military coup by trying to introduce some professionalism into the military. This is only possible, however, if a) the military wants to be professionalized, b) the political forces in power wish to professionalise the military, c) the political opposition has enough faith in the non-military political establishment not to make use of the military to seize power. None of these factors existed in this instance, so the project was a laudable but completely futile and meaningless one. (Perhaps, had both South Africa and France been resolved to bring these conditions about, this could have been accomplished, but it seems very clear that nobody wanted to do any such thing because all three conditions would have endangered the perpetual dominion of the pro-French dictator with whom South Africa had signed the deal.)

Sending 400 soldiers into the country under these conditions in order to block a rebellion which had already taken over most of the country was entirely absurd. It was, essentially, providing the rebels with much-needed potential hostages. Granted, the rebels initially stopped acting and eventually signed a deal with the dictator. However, once the rebels inspected the situation they saw that, far from being “special forces” (troops trained to live off the land under highly hostile circumstances and with considerable understanding of guerrilla warfare) the forces sent out were paratroops – light infantry lacking even soft transport, apart from a couple of fiberglass jeeps, and deprived of all heavy weapons. What was more, Zuma had (no doubt to save money, and perhaps to be wholly consistent with all his other manoeuvres) sent off only half as many troops as he had promised to send.

Once the rebels realized that the President had no intention of keeping his word in 2013 any more than he had done so for the previous decade, there was absolutely nothing standing in their way except a national army which would run away at the first sound of gunfire, and an understrength company of South Africans five thousand kilometers away from potential reinforcements at the end of a wholly unreliable supply line depending on occasionally rented transport aircraft flying in from air force bases which South Africa could easily be denied access to. As a result, they marched into the capital city, kicked the President across the frontier, and shot every South African who got in their way – 13 dead, 27 wounded, a very convenient 20% of the entire force. (The few French in the town had already pulled back to the city’s airfield as a prelude to evacuation, and were left alone; it was the job of the South Africans to die covering the French withdrawal, drawing rebel fire, rather in the way that the French themselves died covering the British withdrawal to Dunkirk – how cleverly these Gallic gunmen learn perfidy through example!)

The South African press is of course utterly incapable of addressing any such action on any sane level. They know that something has gone wrong, but it violates the key norms of South African journalism on almost as many levels as it fulfils them. Yes, this is a stuff-up by President Zuma and his incompetent cabal, but the stuff-up was called for by Western imperialism, whom the South African press defends at all costs. Yes, this is a military disaster, but it is not a disaster of poor military performance, discipline or leadership – it cannot be blamed on the incapable of black people to fight (not in the least because it was what the South African press used to call “black-on-black violence”). Nor can it be squeezed with difficulty into the mythological entity which the South African press calles “The Arms Deal” with the same air of absolutely unquestionable answering of all questions with which Der Stűrmer used to refer to “The Jewish Peril”.

The best which has been done has been to identify a few shabby South African businesspeople and politicians who have attempted unsuccessfully to make money in the Central African Republic and to claim, without any evidence, that this was somehow the reason why troops were sent to the Central African Republic – that the intervention in 2013 was made to save investments lost in 2009. By doing this, the press manages to avoid mentioning the actual political incompetence and colonial subordination of the Zuma administration and thus avoid criticizing the forces which sponsor the press. This ices and cherries the shit-cake which we are having to eat in a country which is now plainly as devoid of military and diplomatic leadership as it has long been devoid of intelligence agencies.

Against the background of all this useless ugly, it seems a considerable fall from significance to mention the acquittal of the police officers charged with the murder of Andries Tatane which happened so soon after the Central African Republic catastrophe. And yet it is not, because Tatane’s murder was very much in the consciousness of South Africans and may be seen quite clearly as a precursor – one of many, of course – to the Marikana massacre itself.

Tatane was seized by police while he was ranting at them in rebellion against their efforts to suppress a service delivery protest in Ficksburg. They savagely beat him to the ground, aiming their shotguns charged with plastic projectiles at him so as to intimidate him into being passive while they continued to beat the stuffing out of him. He continued to resist even while lying bloody and bruised in the street, so two of the policemen fired their shotguns at a range of about thirty centimeters, using projectiles which can maim people at a range fifty times greater. One of the blunt plastic cylinders tore Tatane’s heart apart and he died on the spot. The whole episode was captured on video footage which was shown around the world, but particularly in South Africa, where the majority of the populace was horrified. (The professional demonstrators of the far Left chose not to make an issue of the event, however, since Tatane was a local and not a member of any organization identifiable with the far Left – so it goes.)

There was, however, no organization to pursue the matter to the bitter end, so the provision of justice for Tatane’s killers was left to the official structures – the police, the independent police investigations directorate which was in process of being stripped of its independence, and such well-meaning but utterly incompetent and ideologically blinkered allies as the Human Rights Commission. The consequence has been predictable catastrophe. No attempt seems to have been made to pursue the matter through official police channels, by identifying all police officers present (which would have been easy, since the available forces were written down at the local Public Order Police base) and then charging them all with defeating the ends of justice (automatic dismissal from the force and loss of pension) unless they testified against the killers and confessed their own part in the case (which might lead to dismissal but not necessarily loss of pension). This wasn’t done because the police always cover up everything they do, even in a case in which they have been videotaped shitting on the national flag, constitution and great seal of office. Nobody in high political office chose to cut through the coverup.

Nor, it would seem, did anybody order the public prosecutor’s office to do anything effectual. Instead, all the investigators seem to have behaved with all the competence of a group of clowns whose shoelaces are tied together performing on a surface greased with soap and olive oil. They tumbled about and eventually arrested seven policemen who were solemnly declared to be the ones responsible for Tatane’s death even though only two people had pulled the trigger and only one fired the shotgun which penetrated the protestor’s vitals. The witnesses which the investigators had dredged up declared that they had been tortured into making false accusations against the police. (Yeah, right, that is an absolutely commonplace event in South Africa.) They retracted their testimony, and instead of sending them down for perjury as he should have, the magistrate simply beamed at the retracting witnesses with an air of “Good boy! Well done! Here’s a bone!”.

Lacking witnesses, the investigators suddenly found that they had nothing. There was video footage, but they had not used it  This was partly because the footage, although it showed sundry police officers beating Tatane without cause and two of them shooting him at point-blank range with lethal weapons, was of poor quality. Perhaps it could have been enhanced? But several of the police officers were wearing riot helmets so that you could not see their faces, and were not wearing other identifying masks so that you would have to ask the people visible in the footage who they were. And, alas, those people were nowhere to be found, or had already testified that they were unreliable witnesses and been let off the hook by the magistrate.

So the magistrate breathed a sigh of relief and let the accused out of the courtroom free as birds, and maybe freer. He added a substantial smear against Andries Tatane on his own account – that Tatane, by being rude to the police, had actually brought his own death on himself, so in his opinion the whole trial was a waste of time. (At this point the magistrate should have been dragged out of the courtroom and necklaced in the nearest soccer stadium, but nobody has the energy to do such things any more.) It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that despite the unfitness of the magistrate to hold any judicial office whatsoever, the verdict itself was not a miscarriage of justice – we can’t say that guilty men walked free, because the prosecutors had failed to show that any of the police in the dock had anything at all to do with the death of Andries Tatane. For all we know, they had been flown in from Port Nolloth specifically to function as fall-guys.

So the police, when backed by the ruling class, have absolute impunity for whatever they do, and there is nothing we can do about it. Phew, it is quite a relief to have that sorted out.

After that, it is almost trivial to note the trial in which the money behind Oscar Pistorius was allowed to overrule public opinion and ensure that Pistorius will be a free man with no stain on his character until he has been found innocent by a properly constituted court of puppets of money. The court fell just short of declaring that the name of Reeva Steenkamp would be henceforth declared unmentionable in public. Some may say that this shows that our society sanctions the murder of women. The Creator feels rather that our society sanctions that rich people may do whatever they please. Which we already knew, so what’s the big deal, apart from the need to stick a million severed heads on sharpened poles against the background of the flames and ashes of the establishment’s loathsome constructions?

US Vulnerable to Unicorn Peril, Reveal US Psychotics.

March 25, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of Defense Chuck “Steak” Hagel revealed today that the U.S. would abandon its project to defend Poland against mythical Iranian missiles, and would instead concentrate all its efforts on defending Alaska against mythical North Korean missiles.

The Secretary, speaking from within a strait-jacket and wearing a hat previously worn by Emperor Napoleon I, explained that as a result of financial constraints brought on by the campaign against mythical financial problems, the U.S. could no longer mobilise sufficient resources to crush all its imaginary enemies. It would have to prioritise in its response to things existing only in the diseased brains of its leaders.

Secretary Hagel faced tough questions from some opponents of the Obama administration, demanding a more substantive response to an ever-increasing body of nonsensical inventions which U.S. politicians have generated in recent years. Senator Hiram Barkingmad (R-Dementia) wished to know whether Secretary Hagel’s notorious anti-Semitism would mean that American-supplied black helicopters under al-Qaeda control would be used to drive all the Jews in Israel into the sea. Secretary Hagel reassured the Senator that however many cutbacks in American national security against made-up opponents had to be made in response to nonexistent financial constraints, all commitments to defend Israel against threats fantasised by Israeli lunatics would be strictly honoured.

More criticism came from Loon E Wackdoodle, Representative for a deeply inbred area of the Kentucky Appalachians and thus by definition a Republican. Representative Wackdoodle noted that the Secretary was proposing to scale back on U.S. Homeland Security against possible invasions by unicorns in order to concentrate on the threat to the US Navy posed by mermaids. Had not the Secretary noticed the strategic potential of unicorn horns, to say nothing of their hooves? Was this not an attempt to get unicorns declared a protected species, thus furthering rampant political correctness and undermining the right of God-fearing U.S. bearers of arms to shoot however many unicorns they might wish to in the spirit of Paul Revere?

Secretary Hagel acknowledged the froth and spittle spattered across the press conference by Representative Wackdoodle, but explained that it was entirely possible that nonexistent mermaids might distract U.S. naval personnel from the execution of their duties in sensitive areas, and therefore it was necessary to provide all such personnel with anti-mermaid sunglasses, the frames for which would, coincidentally, be manufactured in Representative Wackdoodle’s district. He concluded by thanking all those present for their zany absurdities, without which U.S. government policy would hardly be able to carry on in its current preposterous form.


After the World Ended (V): But What Would It Look Like?

March 25, 2013

Seriously? What’s serious? What’s politically serious?

Politically serious means that you are out to take power in the country. Therefore, your actions are directed towards building a mass-based political organisation capable of either winning elections or violently overthrowing the structures of the state and replacing its governance with yourself. Nothing else, nothing less, is at all serious. Other things are simply blowing smoke around the prison-house of political impotence.

But politically serious also means that you are out to improve conditions in the country. Obviously it is possible to “take power” by simply aligning yourself with the existing power elite and promising — overtly or covertly — to do whatever it takes to help them. However, this is not about improving conditions in the country, it is about improving conditions for a minority in the country — and a fairly tiny minority, at that. (Most of the middle class in South Africa are not currently benefiting from current right-wing policies, even though most of them believe that the real problem is that these policies are not being sufficiently stringently applied.) Furthermore, taking power only on condition that you exercise it in some cabal’s interest, outside your own control, is not taking power at all.

An organisation attempting to be politically serious, but starting from scratch, needs some ideological and structural foundations. It has to be socialist, or at least it must address the economic problems which socialism attempts to address (there are elements of liberalism which could do this, although they are almost extinct). It has to be democratic, including internal democracy (this doesn’t completely preclude some kind of democratic centralism, but ultimately the emphasis has to be on the democratic rather than the centralism — which is almost never the case in leftist organisations). Being democratic doesn’t mean abrogating the right to pursue a revolution, but it certainly means that no seizure of power could be pursued without pursuing the rights of the people (rather than the rights of the organisation’s leaders to seize themselves agreeable houses and splendid uniforms).

So, an organisation trying to gain large-scale support would identify itself with the working class, but in a way that does not condescend to them, and would therefore try very hard to get working class people on board as much as possible, particularly in positions of leadership. Obviously it would also need to have middle-class support, but its policy core would be, as far as possible one more in harmony with the needs of the workers than with the wants of the middle class.

One big problem, though, is that neither the workers nor the middle class necessarily know what policies are good for them. This is not because workers or middle class people are stupid. It is, however, because there has been a long-standing campaign all over the world to ridicule and demonise many of the policies which are good, and invent all manner of excuses for not implementing such policies. Meanwhile, other policies which are bad for almost everybody are promoted with immense enthusiasm and have largely driven more usable policies out of the debating framework. Hence, a party seeking working-class support and attempting to improve conditions in the country would have to start with a substantial discussion on what would have to be done. It would not simply be a question of declaring some answers and then waiting for the workers to roll up and endorse them.

But it’s absolutely necessary for such an organisation to put forward a set of plans and proposals for the working class and the more open-minded of the middle class to debate. Some of these might even be deliberately controversial, like Malema’s calls for nationalisation, with the objective of attracting the hostile attention of the middle class and thus getting them to provide free publicity for the proposals. Then, of course, it would be advisable to put forward the facts which informed the proposals, and the alternatives to the proposals, and try to get a discussion going. This, in the broadest of terms, was how politics progressed in South Africa in the 1980s, and for a brief period this made the black working class and the black, coloured and indian middle classes the most politically astute, well-informed and intellectually open people in the country.

There would have to be a vehicle for this debate. This is a problem, for a newspaper or a series of pamphlets or a magazine would cost a lot of money, and a website would be inadequately accessible — though perhaps it could be the base for the information which people might be able to download to their phones. Despite the supposed ready access which people have to the Net, most working-class people probably have very limited access and would prefer to have something to read from which to discuss material. It might be costly, but it would have to be done or otherwise such a movement would have to depend on the sympathetic ignorance of the populace, which is not to be counted on.

Of course, the focus of the debate would be how to reduce inequality, increase employment and eradicate poverty. The problem with these talking points is that they have been deliberately stripped of their meaning by the neoliberal South African ruling class over the past few years. People who use such language are naturally viewed as corrupt figures out to fool people. It would be necessary to put a lot of effort into reclaiming the concepts for South Africans.

Let’s suppose, however, that the organisation is launched with a burst of propaganda around some kind of redistributive project. Let us assume that the organisation is able to make itself heard and that the propaganda succeeds — that the organisation’s opponents launch condemnations of it via the media and via their own propaganda agencies and thus do the work which the organisation might not have been able to do by itself. Assuming that the leadership of the organisation have done their work well, and assuming that the Tripartite Alliance live down to the standards they have set for themselves in recent years, the organisation will win the debate. But what more can be done than that? The ANC Youth League won the debate within the Alliance, but that availed them nothing when they were crushed by the SACP’s raw political power conjoined with the cowardice and sloth of COSATU and the ANC’s pseudo-left wing.

So although propaganda is important it is only a small part of the battle. It is not good enough to get the public believing that you are right, because unless you can show the public that you can actually do them some good, they will not protect you against your myriad enemies. This is a problem, because most left-wingers focus almost exclusively on what they deem to be the big picture — the way the nation is run, fantasising about revolutionary transformation of the country along the lines of a Stalinist Five-Year Plan. This means a lot to left-wingers who have read a few books (the fewer the better) but does nothing about putting bread on the public table, and therefore is meaningless to anyone except those left-wingers. Calling for revolutionary change is pointless if you cannot bring about the revolution.

So a left-wing party would have to start small. It would have to focus on transformation, not at the national, but at the municipal and provincial levels. The party should identify a province where there is considerable dissatisfaction with the current administration, and where that administration is also weaker than in other provinces. This should not be hard to do; dissatisfaction is quite rife in virtually all provinces. However, the provincial governments of Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, while unpopular, are also extremely tyrannical and corrupt; it is quite possible that attempts to set up any serious challenge to the administration would be met with violence and even murder. In contrast, in the Western Cape the divide between the ANC and the DA would make it difficult for a third party to get much traction, simply because people who are seriously hostile to the way the place is run tend to vote for the ANC and would view a third party as a distraction.

The Northern Cape  is the poorest province and the one with the lowest population density. Here, an enormous amount of effort would be needed to reach the scattered voters; a rich party like the DA could do this, but not a newly-formed group of penurious leftists.

That leaves the North-West, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng. In all these provinces the ANC is weak and divided (perhaps less so in Gauteng than elsewhere). So it would be in these provinces, in one or all of them, that a left-wing party would have to make a start. (It would probably be best to focus energy on one province and only develop small nuclei or cells in the others.)

What would need to be developed would be a series of plans by which the people of the province, and of the various municipalities making up the province, could be drawn into participating in their own social and economic development with the assistance of the provincial and municipal officials and funds. The goal, obviously, would be to create jobs and wealth, by means of simple projects which could be pursued without substantial investment or infrastructure — agriculture, rain harvesting, housing, service provision and manufacturing — all on a small scale and labour-intensive, of course. Meanwhile, the organisation would have to become completely familiar with the activities of the municipalities and of the province — and therefore make it clear to everybody that it was serious about helping to solve the problems and that it had a better plan to fulfil the functions of government than was being applied by those in charge. Everybody is understandably suspicious of those trying to do the work currently, so it would take a lot of work to persuade the public that the left-wing party really wanted to do this — but once people were provided with a serious alternative to the current incompetent and corrupt municipal and provincial leadership, they would probably jump at it.

The ANC, one might think, could elude this problem by simply following the same policies. But in fact it could not. The object of provincial and municipal government is not to run the province or municipality effectively. Instead, the object of such government is to use its authority to channel public wealth into private pockets, through inefficient tenders to inefficient private service providers, and then government serves as a shield protecting the corrupt and inept private practitioners from punishment. All South African political leaders are so devoted to this process — because they are so committed to the money paid to them by the private companies who profit from governmental inefficiency — that they could not possibly do it any other way. Therefore, a left-wing party would have a clear run in any province and any municipality towards running an efficient and relatively inexpensive government; all that is needed is to abandon neoliberalism while preserving efficiency.

So it’s possible; it just requires, however, that government pursue the ideal of public development rather than private enrichment.


From Caracas, with Fear and Loathing.

March 15, 2013

It is difficult for a sane person to understand why Hugo Chavez spent the last fourteen years of his political career under continual attack from both right and left in the West. Why, after all, should the antics of the leader of a not especially distinguished country, however unseemly they might have appeared to the imperial elite, have attracted so much attention?

Was it the fact that he was sitting on a titanic quantity of oil? Not at all; Venezuelan heavy crude is difficult to refine, and in reality virtually all the refineries are along the coastline of the United States. So unless and until other countries built refineries capable of dealing with this product, the United States had a gun which it could point at the head of Venezuela’s head of state. (It was, of course, a gun which would blow out Chavez’s brains all over Washington’s new suit, since slashing oil production would cause prices to rise further and thus potentially encourage people to seek other sources of power.)

Was it the fact that he was in charge of OPEC? Not at all. Once again; Venezuela is a major reserve of oil, and a substantial producer, but nothing like Saudi Arabia and with nothing like the potential of Iraq. It is the major Latin American member of OPEC, but OPEC is actually dominated by Gulf states who are all Western satellites anyway.

In fact, the situation seems to have been largely created by accident. By two accidents, to be precise. On one hand, under the Bush administration the United States had decided to temporarily disregard Latin America (its traditional back yard) and Africa (the new playground which Clinton and his friend Blair had discovered) in order to restructure the Middle East and adjacent regions of Central Asia in an image more suited to American interests. This was going to be a large-scale, long-term project and the United States was almost certainly aware that it would take a couple of Presidential terms to bring it to fruition. (This was an underestimate; it is still going on. Holla, ye pampered jades of Asia!)

On the other hand, a mildly left-wing government had been elected in Venezuela, and another mildly left-wing government had been elected in Brazil, and another in Haiti. This did not, probably, greatly bother the Bush administration, which was not good at multitasking, but they did see that there was a potential for their basket of rotten apples in the continent to suddenly reverse trajectory and to start becoming fresh, healthy apples again — and that would never do.

So they stepped in to renew the rot. Brazil was too big a job to handle all at once (although they slyly wooed the Brazilian government with hints that if they would only stop this workerist, social democratic nonsense, there could be big friendly opportunities) so the other options were Venezuela and Haiti. In both countries the mildly left-wing governments were weak, seeking popular support by transferring wealth to the poor, and therefore had pissed off an armed and powerful elite. Nothing could be simpler than getting in touch with the elite and intimating to them that a discreet coup would not be opposed by the United States. Nothing was more pleasing and delightful to armed and powerful elites who felt their undeserved wealth and power slipping away, than using that wealth and power to renew their right to misrule their countries.

In other words, the coup of 2002 which overthrew Chavez was not a cunning plan organised from Washington but was rather an opportunistic act by Washington in aligning itself with the right-wingers in Caracas. It was not part of a carefully-wrought plan. This is worth thinking about, because if you believe that the United States’ domination of the world is a product of a careful and well-structured conspiracy, then you are liable to make assumptions about the way the United States is run, and about its future activities, which are likely to be inaccurate — and worse still, likely to incline you to think that you can’t possibly defeat this awesome conquering-machine and that you had better join it, as so many leftists have done throughout recent history.

In reality, the coup was bungled and failed, despite extensive American support for it. The end product was to force Chavez and his supporters into a more aggressive attitude towards the Venezuelan opposition who had supported the coup, and also into a more energetic attitude of support for the various left-wing and indigenous-peoples organisations throughout Latin America. The consequence was that the “Bolivarians” were strengthened in Bolivia and Ecuador, while soft-left organisations in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay and Chile were obliged to show some degree of solidarity with the Chavezistas. Chavez became much more publicly hostile to the U.S. government, and even talked about being a socialist; this doesn’t mean that he or his government were in any way socialistic, but it does mean that he was doing his best to irritate everybody who hates socialism, because he had become aware that these people were the enemies of his regime and it was worthwhile to force his followers to take a stand which would put plenty of space between themselves and their enemies.

The only American success at the time was the overthrow of Aristide in Haiti — which was an extremely poor consolation prize. Thereafter the United States was so concerned with trying to conquer the Middle East that it left the Latin American states alone (apart from one failed coup in Ecuador and, of course, the ongoing holocaust in American-occupied Colombia). It was only under the Obama administration that anything serious in the way of rollback was attempted, and this produced a very limited bag; the Honduran democratic government was overthrown by organised crime, and the Paraguayan democratic government was overthrown by the historically fascist Paraguayan ruling class. “Hurrah! We’ve got the poorest country in South America and the second-poorest in Central America back under our boots! What fun we shall have!”

None of this means that the situation is stable. (It is, however, significant that when the right wing took over democratically in Chile, it was unable or possibly even unwilling to destroy the good work done by its mildly left wing predecessor; it appears that truly reactionary politics, now as in the past in Latin America, can only be imposed by military might in the absence of democracy.) Still, Latin America is more united than it has ever been in the past and undeniably more democratic, and it is also less isolated than it has been in the past. This is because in addition to the Bolivarian political network and the universal hostility to American economic imperialism felt throughout the region, Brazil has jumped into bed with Russia and China, something which would simply not have been conceivable in the twentieth century when Brazil was little more than the corpse of a frog wired to a battery, jerking whenever the United States pressed the switch. BRICS is not an organisation which can be taken seriously — India and South Africa are not credible opponents of the United States — but it is certainly a straw in the global political wind. It is also an organisation of countries which — with the exception of South Africa — are likely to be politically important over the next few decades and who recognise that the United States is no supporter of their independence.

All this was largely made possible by Chavez’ stand. (It is extremely unlikely that Brazil would have joined BRICS in the absence of Bolivarismo.) It is also perfectly natural, incidentally, that pseudo-leftists like Patrick Bond are opposed to BRICS; such people are naturally opposed to anything which might bring about a genuine change in global power-balances, since such a change might force pseudo-leftists to take sides instead of piously declaring their hostility to a global regime which serves their personal interests.

Chavez himself, as a person, was demonised to an hilarious extent in the Western press. There is nothing unusual about this; a Two Minutes’ Hate requires an Immanuel Goldstein. Furthermore, there is nothing odd about demonising individuals rather than criticising regimes, for to criticise the Venezuelan government as a government would have required providing some sort of justification for that, and nowadays if you provide lots of false statistics there is always Google to prove you wrong. (Those who took the demonisation seriously, however, would not have bothered to Google anything; the process of crimestop would have seen to that, and they would simply have logged on to the right-wing Anglo-American websites which provide the false statistics in the first place, sometimes attributed to Venezuelan exile journalists whose salaries are paid from Langley.)

But Chavez as a person is not specially interesting. His death is not important precisely because he was a democrat and therefore was obliged to win the support of the Venezuelan public, meaning that the policies he pursued will inevitably continue unless someone steps in to stop them by main force which would have to entail crushing the Venezuelan working class. Ditto in most other countries in Latin America. What this means is that demonising Chavez accomplishes nothing except to keep the ignorant rabble in line in Britain (and the former Dominions) and the United States. Only in these countries does allegiance to the ruling class require allegiance to American elite propaganda; elsewhere, ruling classes tend to create their own propaganda. (In South Africa this generates cognitive dissonance, causing the utter incoherence of the ANC leadership in virtually all issues.)

It is true that demonising Chavez may have made it easier for the United States to take action against Venezuela, but it is difficult to believe that this would be an easy project to undertake. Eliminating the whole Bolivarian movement would be even more difficult, and eradicating the renascent leftism of Latin America would be virtually impossible. The grim fact is that Latin America is starting to take politics seriously — unlike virtually every left-winger in the West, or in South Africa for that matter — and this is not going to go away. Hence all the ooga-booga nonsense about Chavez and Venezuela and BRICS and any other progressive project, national or international, is of essentially no significance to anyone except the unserious.

Perhaps we in South Africa should start getting serious?