Someone Got Murdered.

May 29, 2014

In a recently-written and much-reprinted article, Richard Pithouse says that “the ANC is willing to use murder, along with a set of ancillary practices such as torture, to contain popular struggle”.

That’s a fairly unambiguous statement. The ANC are murderers and torturers, and the goal of this murder and torture is to suppress the people of the country. (What Pithouse means by “ancillary practices” is less obvious — writing obnoxious letters to the newspapers? Auditing tax returns? Anyway, it sounds nasty.)

So, assuming that the ANC’s modus operandi is to murder and torture people into silence, that means that they are the same as Pinochet or Assad or, er, George W Bush and Barack Obama (no, wait a minute) well, anyway, they are very bad. This is, essentially, the same argument which you will find on websites like thetruthaboutsouthafrica and stormfront and genocidewatch; that the ANC must be destroyed because they are evil murderers. Which was also, of course, what the apartheid regime said. Now, this does not prove Pithouse wrong, but it is a bit instructive. Why is Pithouse’s discourse so remarkably similar to the discourse of racists, fascists and bloody agents of Western imperialism? Also, given that the ANC is so bad, why is it that they got nearly 63% of the vote in the last election? Is everybody terrified of that torture and murder? And why haven’t the other 37% been tortured or murdered yet?

Perhaps we should take a step back a moment. Political murder is undesirable. Is it commonplace in South Africa, and if so, is it conducted primarily by the ANC?

The short answer to the first question is no, but it has been becoming more common in recent years. The 1980s and early 1990s, as has been forgotten or suppressed, was a time of frequent political murder, most often carried out by agents of the state or its corrupt lackeys such as Inkatha. Revenge killings against such agents also took place, sometimes (though not often) carried out by ANC members with the express authority of the organisation. (A good depiction of ANC murderers is presented in Peter Harris’ In A Different Time.) However, after the collapse of the apartheid regime, the ANC worked very hard to discourage political murder, both from within its ranks and from anywhere else. There’s no real doubt about that.

Have things changed? Has the ANC decided, for no obvious reason, to become murderously totalitarian despite its absolutely overwhelming political dominance in South Africa? Or, assuming that there are more political murders now than there were, say, ten years ago, and that these are carried out predominantly or exclusively by the ANC, is there some other reason for this to be happening?

What kinds of murders are we talking about? There are murders carried out by policemen supposed to control the behaviour of riotous or merely unruly people, who think that the best way to fulfil this purpose is to shoot rubber shotgun rounds into their chests, or drag them behind police cars at speed, or fire semi-automatic rifles at them until told to stop. It is not clear that this state violence can exactly be called ANC murders, except for rhetorical purposes.

What it seems to represent, rather, is a breakdown of governmental control over the instruments of the state; nobody could seriously claim that Ficksburg teachers or Mozambican taxi-drivers represent a menace to the Zuma regime which keeps the ANC NEC awake at night. But it is easy to see how badly led, badly-trained and foolishly motivated police officers could do exceptionally stupid things, sometimes doing it to people who are, or at the time appear to be, opponents of the ANC. And it is also easy to see that the ANC will protect such people, partly because that’s what the state always does. Especially since the ANC isn’t going to admit that it made a big mistake installing incompetent cowboy-brained yahoos in charge of the security forces.

Of course this situation of police murder is a massive, Latin-American-style problem. But it resembles the escadrons de muerte of Rio de Janeiro in the early 1960s much more than it resembles the escadrons de muerte of Buenos Aires in the late 1970s. It is not in itself a sign of a terrorist state.

Then there are the murders carried out by people for party political gains of some kind. The most famous such murder is probably the murder of a leading light in the Cato Crest (Durban) land invasion movement in 2013, whom some person or persons unknown shot. We can assume that this person could well have been murdered by a political opponent, in which case the finger of suspicion must point at an ANC person simply because the Cato Crest land invasion movement is noisily anti-ANC.

So, was this the only such murder in Durban, or in KwaZulu-Natal, in the last few years? Sadly, no. If it were the case that it was the only such murder, of course, this would not mean very much. However, there have been literally dozens of political murders in the region, to say nothing of numerous failed assassination attempts on political leaders.

So doesn’t this prove that the ANC is conducting a holocaust against its political opponents? Well, sadly, no again, because most of the victims of these murders and attempted murders have been members of the ANC. Many others have been leading lights in the National Freedom Party, which is a breakaway group from the Inkatha Freedom Party and which was aligned with the ANC in various municipalities. In other words, there is indeed a culture of political violence, but it is impossible to honestly claim that it is simply a culture of political violence directed by the ANC against political dissidents; rather, it is a culture of violent political intolerance of opposition parties, including even opposition members within the same party.

Which raises one minor question; can we be sure, in the absence of any actual knowledge, that the Cato Crest murder was carried out by the ANC and not by someone from the land-invasion community jealous of the victim’s position? Such things have been known to happen in the Durban ANC, so why not in the land-invasion movement? Of course it is impossible for Pithouse to acknowledge such things, because until they defected to the DA the land-invasion movement was aligned with the Durban academic Trotskyite movement, but the rest of us are under no such constraints.

There are other places where political murders take place, of course. One of the most prominent such places, actually cited by Pithouse, is the so-called platinum belt around Rustenburg in the North-West. In 2012, some ten people were victims of political murders in that area. This year, another seven have been murdered. This cannot be attributed to the residual violence of the Inkatha-ANC wars. Therefore, one would suspect, Pithouse might be correct, and the ANC is operating a murder gang in the area —

Except that all the evidence suggests that the people doing the murders are not doing so out of any allegiance to the ANC. Of the ten murdered in 2012, six were members of the National Union of Mineworkers (associated with the ANC), two were security guards with the Lonmin Corporation (which has Cyril Ramaphosa on its Board of Directors) and two were police officers. Of the seven murdered this year, all were members of the National Union of Mineworkers. It’s almost as if someone who isn’t ANC is murdering ANC supporters. And that’s exactly what is happening, because the murderers are almost certainly members of the Associated Mineworkers and Construction workers’ Union. Which happens to be on strike, and to be fighting against the NUM, and therefore the Trotskyites support it, and therefore Pithouse cannot mention that one of the most prominent sources of political murder is an entity which he supports, and the murders committed by which he presumably exonerates or applauds.

The point here is not that the ANC is innocent and AMCU evil. Rather, what Pithouse is doing is very much what the ANC’s leadership are almost certainly doing, in glossing over murders committed by people whom he supports, and the fact that he does not scruple to accuse his opponents of murders which they may not have committed is a fault of much the same kind. This helps to clarify the problem, which is that political murder is ceasing to become something which is absolutely wrong, and is instead becoming something the merits of which depend entirely on the political allegiances of the victim and the perpetrator. Even in a revolutionary situation this is a deeply problematic standpoint, and even Pithouse has come to realise that we are not in a revolutionary situation. (It is, incidentally, possible that the desperate attempts of the Zumatics to foster the idea that the ANC is both under relentless attack and also a revolutionary organisation, are aimed at making such political violence acceptable to their constituents.)

The other source of political murder is the murder of whistleblowers by corrupt politicians. This is not at all uncommon; it happens in various provinces, most notably in some of the most corrupt ones, Mpumalanga, North-West and Free State. Possibly, also, some of the murders committed in KwaZulu-Natal are murders committed to cover up corruption — there is too little investigation, and the local journalists are too suborned by the local politicians, to be able to tell. But these political murders are not in any way aimed at suppressing dissent; they are aimed at defending greed. This is the kind of murder which the Zumatics would be most likely to condone and conceal. It is, however, probably the least common murder, partly because whistleblowers are so uncommon, and partly because corruption so often goes completely unnoticed by everybody. Also, because ultimately everybody pretends to be against corruption, and this is why this is the kind of political murder which most often faces actual punishment — at least when the guilty people don’t have the highest political connections.

So, yes, political murder is on the rise. And, yes, it is important to challenge it. However, it is also important to understand it. Appropriating it for your own purposes, and exploiting it as part of a political mythology, is no more helpful a way of addressing political murder than Peter Alexander’s treatment of service delivery protests as a nascent sign of revolution because he wishes that it were. Political murder is most often something which arises out of incompetence — incompetent policing, incompetent and intellectually stagnant politics, incompetent corruption which becomes too blatant to conceal by any means other than murder. It is a sign of the degeneracy of our political culture. As such, we need to revitalise our political culture, and then it will be much easier to deal with political murder. But that kind of revitalisation is beyond the capacity of people like Pithouse.


Stuffed In The Cabinet.

May 29, 2014

So now we have a new Cabinet. Hurray! How did we get by with the old one?

 

Deputy President: Cyril Ramaphosa (Hugely unpopular corporate toady)

 

• Minister in the Presidency: Jeff Radebe; (Strong person in a useless job)

• Minister of Women in the Presidency: Susan Shabangu; (Strong person in a joke job)

• Minister of Justice and Correctional Services: Michael Masutha; (Weakling in important job)

• Minister of Public Service and Administration: Collins Chabane; (Formerly Zuma’s shoepolisher)

• Minister of Defence and Military Veterans: Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula; (Joke person in important job)

• Minister of Home Affairs: Malusi Gigaba; (Joke person in important job)

• Minister of Environmental Affairs: Edna Molewa; (Disaster waiting to happen)

• Minister of State Security: David Mahlobo; (Corrupt links with crooked ex-minister Nyanda)

• Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Service: Siyabonga Cwele; (Disaster waiting to happen)

• Minister of Police: Nkosinathi Nhleko; (Weakling in important job)

• Minister of Trade and Industry: Rob Davies; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Finance: Nhlanhla Nene; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: Senzeni Zokwana; (Deeply unpopular NUM boss, Zuma loyalist, weakling in important job)

• Minister of Water and Sanitation: Nomvula Mokonyane; (Ex-Gauteng premier, famed for her “dirty votes” faux pas in Bekkersdal)

• Minister of Basic Education: Angie Motshekga; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Health: Aaron Motsoaledi; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of International Relations and Co-operation: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform: Gugile Nkwinti; (Weakling in important job)

• Minister of Higher Education and Training: Blade Nzimande; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Economic Development: Ebrahim Patel; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Transport: Dipuo Peters; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Mineral Resources: Ngoako Ramathlodi; (Crook in a financially profitable job)

• Minister of Social Development: Bathabile Dlamini; (Weakling in an important job)

• Minister of Public Enterprises: Lynne Brown; (Disaster in an important job)

• Minister of Sport and Recreation: Fikile Mbalula; (Joke in a joke job)

• Minister of Labour: Mildred Oliphant; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Arts and Culture: Nathi Mthethwa; (Joke in a joke job)

• Minister of Public Works: Thulas Nxesi; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Small Business Development: Lindiwe Zulu; (Joke in a joke job)

• Minister of Energy: Tina Joemat-Pettersson; (Crook in a financially profitable job)

• Minister of Science and Technology: Naledi Pandor; (Preserving the disaster)

• Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs: Pravin Gordhan; (Disaster in an important job)

• Minister of Communications: Faith Muthambi (Weakling in a joke job)

• Minister of Human Settlements: Lindiwe Sisulu; (Disaster in an important job)

• Minister of Tourism: Derek Hanekom; (Give the whitey the whitey’s job)

That’s 35 ministers, plus 37 Deputy Ministers, mostly Zuma loyalists and hacks.

This isn’t a record — the Sri Lanka government has 65 Ministers, not counting President and Prime Minister. In contrast, the US Cabinet consists of 15 people; the Russian, around 30 (including a weird raft of Deputy Prime Ministers). The French Cabinet has around 21. The Indian Cabinet has around 38, to rule more than 20 times South Africa’s population. The size of the Cabinet might seem unimportant, but still on the whole, this looks rather bloated.

It also looks dodgy.  On the face of it, the Minister of Women is unnecessary. Basic and Higher Education still shouldn’t be separated. On the other hand, Justice and Correctional Services should be separated. Finance and Economic Development are duplicates (Trade and Industry also isn’t as separate from them as it could be), and Small Business Development is unnecessary. Several other Ministries should probably be Deputy Ministers under a Minister (Human Settlements should arguably fall under Public Works, if only public housing weren’t being privatised).

Of course, if Zuma had a clear plan around what to do to sort out the country’s problems, then it might be sensible to have a big Cabinet capable of rolling up its sleeves and taking vigorous action, a sort of large gang of Trevor Manuels and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zumas with the President and Deputy President behind them. They might make huge stuff-ups, of course, but at least they would be getting something done. As it is, however, about the best thing one can say about the Cabinet is that the Minister of Arts and Culture is a man well experienced in fiction and in creating tableaux morts.

There isn’t anything particularly interesting about this Cabinet, on the face of it. Conceivably a couple of the new, junior people might turn out, surprisingly, to be competent, but none of them is in a central position. All the really important positions are held by people who have already failed, either mildly or disastrously, in Zuma’s earlier Cabinets. Most of the middle-level positions are also held by failures, sometimes spectacular ones, sometimes consistently so. There is, thus, no real possibility of a startling success which will salvage the situation. The most which can be anticipated is that someone will unexpectedly do better than anticipated in a field of little or no significance, which will enable the media to praise them in comparison to their competitors. Even this is rather unlikely, for with Ramaphosa standing by to crack the whip there will be powerful incentives to do nothing surprising or interesting and thus challenging to the corporatist status quo.

A reasonable assumption, then, is that Zuma doesn’t have any intention of pursuing any radical alternatives to the bland subordination of his first term. Nothing else should have been expected from someone of Zuma’s calibre, but still it remains depressing because Zuma’s first term was such a disastrous failure that one might have hoped that he would at least want some kind of legacy before he departs, some accomplishment which might lead his successor to say, look, he was a shit, but at least he was a shit of substance, let’s not go ahead with prosecuting him just yet. The only way that Zuma will be able to avoid prosecution, assuming that his second term ends in the kind of slow-motion train-smash that his first term ended with, will be if he either organises a coup d’etat or else is able to install such a corrupt successor that he can threaten to bring them down if they act against him. Maybe that’s why he wants Ramaphosa in the position. (However, Ramaphosa has the big mining companies behind him who can ensure that any corruption prosecutions are blocked as effectively as the prosecutions of Zuma were blocked.)

No plan, but also no obvious conspiracy. Nothing actually interesting — just cronies and time-servers. Zuma packed his first Cabinet with similar people, but back then it was possible to claim (although impossible to believe) that the crooks, shysters and bunglers he appointed, who had mostly been sacked after failing or being caught, were all victims of Mbeki’s malice. It rapidly became obvious that this was not the case; that Mbeki had quite rightly got rid of all of them, just as he had been quite right to get rid of Zuma — and thereafter the media was placed in the mildly embarrassing position of having to denounce the people whom they had previously defended as more sinned against than sinning, or at least as victims of the evil Voldemort.

Now we just have people whom we already know to be worthless. If the general administration of the country were efficient then stuffing the Cabinet with thugs, fixers and fascists might not matter so much, but it isn’t. If we weren’t facing an economic crisis (currently being blamed on the platinum strike as if this were the only thing preventing us from soaring like a dodo into the economic skies) and a social crisis, this wouldn’t matter as much as it does. But we do face these things, and therefore bad leadership at the tier below the bad leadership of the President — bad leadership of the kind which fudges, avoids and conceals — is a remarkably bad thing. The Minister of Minerals has already put his stamp on affairs by setting up an Inter-Ministerial Task Team to discuss what might be done about the platinum strike. Sorted! That is, his responsibility is sorted, and now he can concentrate on schmoozing with CEOs and especially CFOs.

Of course, the whole Cabinet is neoliberal. There is an understandable attempt by the corporate press to gin up imaginary differences between Nene, Davies and Patel, pretending that because the latter come from the SACP and COSATU whereas the former is a bloodless and support-free technocrat, there is liable to be ideological conflict. But this is not a left-right divide, since they are all right-wingers; it simply means that Davies and Patel will do what they can to undermine Nene in order to further their private fantasies and possibly serve the interests of their political bosses — meaning that yes, there will be conflict, but it will be conflict within the context of the preposterous National Development Plan which everybody familiar with it — and not immediately benefiting from the corruption which it furthers — detests.

Therefore, neoliberalism does not mean unity. Nor does it mean coherence; different ministers will apply neoliberalism in conflicting ways which will almost certainly make for dissonance. Basically, because Zuma has appointed people without regard for appropriate skills or competence, the result will indeed be a disaster, and probably a much bigger one than the disaster of his first term of office because a much bigger economic crisis is impending and the social crisis has grown much more severe. In other words, the snap judgement of Julius Malema (which he probably made without even seeing the names on the Cabinet list, because he could have anticipated the kind of appointments even if not the specifics) is correct, as usual, and the woolly and over-optimistic fantasies of both reactionaries and liberals have been dashed.

The only thing to look forward to is the hope that we can somehow take advantage of the five-year disaster which is impending before us; having predicted it, when it happens, the EFF and everybody concerned with good governance must be there to point it out and point out that with remotely competent and honest politicians in the places of Zuma’s rubbery minions, none of this would have to happen.


Colonisation of the Ukraine.

May 29, 2014

The abhorrent situation in the Ukraine at present is extraordinary. In 1991 the Ukraine was the most viable of the states spun off from the USSR by the US agents in the Yeltsin collaborationist regime. In 2014 it is a disintegrating basket-case. What’s happened?

The obvious and immediate answer is that while Russia abandoned Yeltsinism, the Ukraine did not, and instead whored itself out to the West under a succession of corrupt oligarchs who cared nothing for the country. Thus after twenty-two years the country was worse off, politically and economically, than its hapless neighbour Belarus.

Some historical context is probably worth mentioning. For imperialist purposes, the US propaganda system represents the Ukraine as irretrievably different from Russia. In reality, although there is such a thing as Ukrainian nationalism and there is a Ukrainian language which is as different from Russian as Bavarian German is different from East Prussian German — still, there is such a thing as Bavarian nationalism, and Bavarian German and East Prussian German are still German. There is no ethnic reason, therefore, why the Ukraine and Russia should be enemies.

There are, of course, historical lesions between the two. The Ukrainian upper classes leaped into the arms of the Germans in 1917, eagerly proclaiming their colonial subordination. They tried to do the same in 1941, but the Germans initially weren’t interested any more, preferring genocide and enslavement. After 1943 they were more willing to accept Ukrainian upper-class support, but most of them had been murdered and the rest were a little alienated from the Ukrainian general populace — which explains why the Banderists never succeeded, despite the substantial American support they received well into the 1950s. All this, however, shows that the Ukraine contains a substantial population which is ready, willing and able to collaborate with any non-Russian foreigner prepared to pay a few bills.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian peasants have not forgiven the forcible grain seizures of the early 1930s (done to help finance the Five-Year Plans) and the vicious punishments which followed the peasant resistance in which the Soviet secret police killed, or encompassed the deaths of, hundreds of thousands of people. That’s not an easily forgiveable thing — although the Afrikaners forgave similar treatment by the British rather quickly, and the Ukraine settled down to being a Russian province after the early 1950s. Still this means that the descendants of those peasants are up for being fooled into stupid adventures by their corrupt ruling class.

This was basically what happened after 1991. Moreover, on the two occasions when it seemed possible that the Russians might be willing to participate in Ukrainian restructuring (2004 and 2014), foreigners, with strong popular support in much of the Ukraine, stepped in and prevented it from happening. The Ukraine was only to be colonised by people with no cultural link to the country, and with no immediate concern for the well-being of its people (in contrast to the Russians, to whom Ukrainians might have appealed on the basis that medieval Rus began in the Ukraine, and on the basis that a relatively prosperous Ukraine would be to Russia’s advantage).

The most recent colonisation, however, is the most ridiculous yet. Russia naturally wanted the Ukraine within its “near abroad” orbit, including it within Russia’s free trade zone. Since the Ukraine is obviously not fit to join the EU, this was an offer better than anything which the EU could make, and was buttressed with a bigger bribe than the EU was willing to offer, so the Ukrainian oligarchy was tempted. Therefore the Ukrainian oligarch was overthrown so that the Ukraine could accept a very bad deal from the International Monetary Fund and no preferential links with the EU. The Ukrainian ruling class organised a revolution in order to smack their country across the face with a huge wet fish. It’s not plausible that anybody could hate the Russians that much. It’s far more plausible that the Ukrainian ruling class was bought out by Westerners who were out to screw the Russians.

If Russia and the Ukraine become more prosperous, then they will import more EU goods, and will no longer pose a threat of social anarchy on the EU’s eastern flank. Therefore, since the EU is neither willing nor able to bankroll Ukrainian economic development (unlike Russia it does not need most of Ukraine’s products) it is to the EU’s advantage to see the Ukraine fall into Russia’s orbit. The EU, therefore, opposed the Russian moves to make this happen because of something else — the desire by the United States to see the Russians weakened and undermined; to take revenge on the Russians for their independence towards Iran and Syria and their defeat of American designs in Georgia. Acting through NATO, that was enough to make the whole EU fall on its face and worship at the Wall Street altar, even though no country in NATO (not even the United States) stood to gain by this  policy.

NATO’s ostensible goal was, presumably, to incorporate the Ukraine into NATO. The Ukrainian military run-down and ineffectual, but based in the Ukraine, NATO troops would be able to threaten Russia with invasion (although the Russian military is rather larger than anything that NATO has tried to attack in its entire history). NATO membership would also enable the Americans to put anti-missile-missiles into the Ukraine, preventing the Russians from retaliating against an American nuclear strike. (Unfortunately the Russians could fire their missiles in other directions, so this would not matter much, and missile bases in the Ukraine would be no more effective than missile bases in Polane or Rumania, where the Americans already have access.) On the whole, then, these plans were not very meaningful.

On the other hand, the main Russian naval and intelligence base in the Black Sea was in the Crimea, which had been transferred to the Ukraine under Krushchev. If they were expelled from this base, then NATO would have a free hand in the Black Sea. It already controls most of the shore of that sea, and the Russian Black Sea Fleet is far weaker than in the mad militaristic days of Brezhnev, so this would not be a titanic prize (in any case it’s far from clear what control of the Black Sea would entail, given that NATO can close the Straits whenever it chooses). However, it would be more valuable than the land or missile-based advance into the Ukraine. All it would require would be for the Ukrainian government to tear up a solemn treaty and show itself wholly untrustworthy. What’s to lose?

Immediately the new oligarchs were installed in power by violence in Kiev they started talking about getting the Russians out. The Americans had been talking about it for some time. It was an obvious move, and there was an obvious riposte, which was the secession of the Ukraine and its enthusiastic welcome home back into Russia. Suddenly the Ukrainian oligarchs looked foolish and weak, and the exercise had failed more than completely; the Russians were more secure in the Crimea than they had been since 1991.

At this point a sensible government would have taken stock of the problems which they had created. Not only had they made threatening noises against Russia itself, but they had revoked laws giving cultural protection for the Russian minority in the Ukraine (which was dominant in the East). Obviously this was intended to promote anti-Russian hostility, which the oligarchy wanted because they had no real popular policy and needed to unite their support base against a racial bogey. Furthermore, their seizure of power depended on two parties, Freedom and the Right Sector, both of which were extreme reactionary and racist parties. Emphasising anti-Russian attitudes also helped to conceal the anti-Semitism which has always characterised Ukrainian (and Polish and Rumanian and Hungarian) far-right attitudes, which was desirable because the oligarchy was being supported by Israel as well as NATO. All these problems needed to be resolved by sensible negotiations both with Moscow and with the local Russian minorities. Unfortunately, there were mad bigoted obstacles in the way.

It is often claimed that the Ukraine is the first fascist government in Europe since the war (the Italian MSI and the Austrian Haider governments apparently don’t count) but this is to flatter Freedom and the Right Sector. These are not real fascist parties, they are skinhead parties, and their political attitudes show all the sophistication of a drunken football crowd after an exciting game. As a result, instead of trying to resolve the emerging crisis in the eastern Ukraine which the oligarchy and its right-wing friends had promoted, the oligarchy decided to crush the Russian opposition by force. This appealed to the far right, and also to the Americans who were by this time strutting around Kiev giving orders and periodically flying in some corrupt Washington politicians to make vainglorious speeches.

Kiev tried to deploy forces to menace the Russians in the Crimea, but as it proved the Ukraine had no such forces — its effective military was about a brigade, and even this brigade might not be willing to fight. (Ironically, although the old Soviet military had relied heavily on Ukrainians, the Ukrainian military relies heavily on Russians, who now have dual loyalty.) Hire some soldiers? Unfortunately, the Ukraine was bankrupt and the Russians were rather rudely asking them to pay their debts in full; more quietly, so was the EU. The IMF declared itself willing to provide a vast loan, in return for the usual privatisation, suppression of social services, and massive increases in prices which the IMF always introduces in order to weaken the economies of its subject countries. But for the Ukraine to get its loan, it would have to suppress the uprising in the East. Presumably this madly destructive criterion came not from the IMF’s headquarters in Washington, but from the US State Department in Foggy Bottom and the US Defence Department at the Pentagon. (Not that there’s much difference.)

How to do this without forces? Simple. The Ukraine announced that it was setting up a militia, called the National Guard. (The Bosnian Serbs had done much the same, along much the same lines, but the Ukrainians enjoyed American support.) This would be an untrained and lightly-armed force, but it was assumed that the Russians in the east would be equally weak. Unfortunately for this assumption, while Moscow was not particularly interested in occupying the Ukraine, it had no hesitation in playing the same card that the Americans had played all over the world, and provavly provided the Ukrainian Russians with aid. (It is also possible that the Ukrainian Russians had been able to filch suitable weaponry from the ill-guarded and unpaid military bases in the area.) As a result, when the Ukrainian militia (largely staffed with thugs drawn from the skinhead parties) showed up, they faced an enemy armed with guided anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

Possibly things could have been calmed down, except that the skinheads and Russian dissidents fought a pitched battle in the streets of Odessa, where there is a strong Russian minority. The skinheads, supported by the police, won, and proceeded to murder scores of the Russians and then burn down the local trade union headquarters. (This is something of a fascist tradition; the squadristi in Italy and the Brownshirts in Germany did the same.) All this made the Russians in the East rather more annoyed and jumpy than they might have been, and as a result when the armoured vehicles and helicopters moved in to try to seize control in the cities of the Donetsk region, the result was a bloody massacre — of armoured vehicles and helicopters, picked off by snipers armed with missiles, against which the ill-trained and half-equipped militias had no defense. Hence the militias stood off the cities and bombarded them with artillery, confirming all the suspicions of the Russians and probably not exactly charming the ethnic Ukrainians in the cities either.

All this completely unnecessary violence suggests that the Ukrainians were either crazy or were not acting altogether in their own interests and initiative — and of course this is the case. The Ukrainians were, basically, behaving like the Americans in Iraq, and this was because they were controlled by the Americans who had launched the war in Iraq (the American mercenaries were the same company which had fought in Iraq, the CIA and State Department controllers installed in Kiev to order the oligarchs around were the same neoconservatives and fantasists who had launched the Iraq war). They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing — even down to the fact that when the Americans failed in Iraq, they set up a local militia (which was armed with weapons purchased from the Ukraine). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In other words, the Ukraine has been colonised through its ruling class, which is controlled by its Americans, and through those members of its populace who are easily led by the nose through a mixture of false economic promises and racist rhetoric. It’s the usual story– Fanon saw it happen all over Africa — but more extreme than anything which has been done in Europe, by Europeans, in the past. Fundamentally, it is a step further than the economic colonisation of Greece, and shows once again that the colonial system is coming uncomfortably close to home. And if the Americans and their EU satellites are prepared to do this to Ukrainians, what are they prepared to do to Africans in future?

Perhaps someone should ask.


Mandelshtam updated.

May 29, 2014

Here’s Osip Mandelshtam’s “Stalin Epigram” which got him sent to the concentration camps, where he died (the translation omits the smear about Stalin being Ossetian rather than Georgian, which is probably no bad thing):

 

Our lives no longer feel ground under them.

At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

 

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk

it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

 

the ten thick worms his fingers,

his words like measures of weight,

 

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,

the glitter of his boot-rims.

 

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses

he toys with the tributes of half-men.

 

One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.

He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.

 

He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,

One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.

 

He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.

He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.

 

Well, that’s nice. Can we update it with a Zuma epigram? Some of the passages wouldn’t even need to be changed, would they?

 

Our lives no longer feel ground under them.

At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

 

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk

it turns to the Nkandla sunbather,

 

the ten fat maggots his fingers,

his ideas like emptied plastic bags,

 

his gleaming leather frontal lobe,

his eyes as dull as plastic marbles.

 

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses

he toys with the tributes of half-men.

 

One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.

He drools out their lies like poisoned syrup.

 

He forges decrees concrete as anchors,

Dropped overboard to drag all under.

 

He savours the deaths like juicy lamb knuckles.

His culture is a pyramid of unconfirmed skulls.


Is Resurrection Possible?

May 29, 2014

Political organisations die; political ideas do not, although they become dormant. Leftist organisations in South Africa have become necrotic because their ideas have become dormant. The question is whether the idea of leftism can be resurrected in the near future.

The EFF’s success, standing on a leftist platform, is ambiguous. There is no doubt that the EFF’s long-winded and rather incoherent manifesto is leftist — probably the most leftist position taken by a South African political party since the 1930s at least. However, most people will not have read the manifesto. To a large extent, people have voted for the EFF not because they supported its policies — we have no idea whether it would have implemented them if it had made any substantial headway — but because they disliked the ANC and had nobody else to vote for. In other words, a protest vote. This is a weak basis on which to reconstruct leftism.

In addition, the EFF is very much a lash-up. It is at present more of a social club for ex-Youth League members than it is a political party. Its behaviour in the run-up to the election was highly opportunistic, although much more cleverly so than any of the other opportunistic parties which attempted to exploit the same opportunities. It has no internal democracy at present.

The logical move would be to call an elective conference to ratify a constitution and establish a systemic structure for the party, rather than the quasi-military interim structures which exist at present. There is little doubt that if this happened in an honest way, the current leadership of the party would be affirmed in their positions and the current ideological current within the party would be confirmed. The danger of such a conference, however, is that it might be flooded by ANC supporters out to disrupt it. Malema and his allies have a great deal of experience in curbing such problems, but all too often the way to avoid disruption is through rigging — meaning that you have to destroy actual democracy in order to save the forms of democracy.

Alternatively, of course, once such a conference had happened effectively, the party would be much more structurally coherent and in a strong position to poach ANC low-level leadership in the run-up to 2016, when the EFF could expect to do much better in urban areas than it did in 2014. The risk of disintegration through destabilisation by its enemies must be balanced against the risk of disintegration through procrastination and illegitimacy. The biggest danger of all, of course, is that once the leadership of the EFF is in Parliament they would be tempted to stay there, like the bollards of CoPe, without taking any real action outside Parliament. If this happens, then the EFF will die of gangrene just as CoPe did, and it will not be a potential source for resurrection. We must wait and see what the “Commander-in-Chief” decides; if he wants to be a five-year blowhard or if he really wants to change the country in a positive way.

Outside the EFF is the mysterious NUMSA. NUMSA has been criticising the ANC and the SACP and COSATU for some time and threatening to hive off and support other parties. It has also been criticising the EFF (until the EFF did well in the polls, when suddenly NUMSA reversed course). It has also been closely collaborating with WASP and the “Democratic Socialist Movement” in Johannesburg, although the dismal showing of WASP in the elections shows that few, if any, NUMSA members took this collaboration to the voting-booth.

NUMSA and the EFF have, nominally at least, almost identical policy stances. NUMSA, nevertheless, unlike the EFF, is nominally democratic. Yet NUMSA’s collaboration with WASP has not been canvassed in the organisation. What has, instead, been canvassed is a nebulous hostility to the ANC, to neoliberalism, and above all to the campaign against Zwelenzima Vavi and other anti-Zuma forces within COSATU, which has been associated with Dlamini and the other COSATU Zumatics.

This is problematic. WASP is not a democratic organisation, nor can it be called seriously leftist; it is a clique of bourgeois opportunists seeking the illusion of power. If NUMSA allows itself to be led by the nose by a small gang of Johannesburg intellectual poseurs, it will not be likely to accomplish much and all its work may run into the sand. Meanwhile, the grim fact about NUMSA’s avowed leftism is that it arises very largely out of a desire to pretend that support for leftism is equivalent to support for Vavi — which is most definitely not the case. There is certainly serious leftism within NUMSA, but it is not enough to be anti-SACP to be a leftist; one needs real alternatives, and it is far from clear that NUMSA has bothered to construct these alternatives itself. (Much of its reason for aligning with WASP lies in its need to borrow someone else’s rhetoric and intellectual constructs — even if these constructs are largely based on falsehood and are not aligned with praxis — rather than develop its own ideas.)

All this suggests that NUMSA is as yet not a political force to be reckoned with. (It is impressive that it has come so far, considering that trade unions and political activism are seldom to be found in the same stable, however much the former might pretend to be activists.) Unions are by their nature reformists and compromisers — the South African habit of declaring that unions are bound to have politically valid concepts simply by virtue of their being made up of workers is a habit arising out of the long-standing opportunistic exploitation of trade unions by both Charterists and Trotskyites.

But it could become such a force. There is really no reason why NUMSA has to piss away its potential.


This Modern World.

May 29, 2014

In recent months the United States has suffered a minor setback in its project to rule the world through military conquest. Minor setbacks, however, are often much more important — for imperial powers — than their actual scale warrants. This is because imperial powers depend on the illusion of their omnipotence and invincibility in order to bully or bribe their allies into line; once that illusion is weakened, allies become less enthusiastic and potential enemies become emboldened.

The issue is the U.S. failure to launch a NATO war against Syria, and its failure to drive the Russians out of the Crimea. The latter is closely related to the former, since the U.S. propagandises, and by now probably believes, that Syria would flop like a wet rag if the evil Russians were not holding it up. These are, by any standard, trivial defeats. Syria survives, but it is in ruins thanks to the U.S.-driven civil war. Russia remains in the Crimea, but the Ukraine is well on the way to being a U.S. puppet, far more than it was after the “Orange Revolution” coup which the Americans organised in 2004. (What use the Ukraine is for the U.S. would be another matter; the U.S. seems to collect failed states the way a fetishist collects soiled underwear.)

In order to assess the significance of this one needs to compare the globe now with the globe twenty years ago. In the first years of the Clinton administration, the United States was probably more politically powerful than it had ever been in history. It dominated the world militarily and ideologically. Russia, its former enemy, was rushing over a cliff of failed statehood under the orders of U.S. neoliberal technocrats. China was weak, insignificant and subservient. India was heading towards a kind of pro-U.S. fascism like a gigantic Argentina. Europe, the smaller Asian states and Latin America were all firmly under the neoliberal yoke; Africa was ruined. There were no challenges, and seemingly no problems.

It was obviously something which could not last. Theoretically, the Clinton administration wished to control the world through diplomacy and economic power. Actually, however, it launched the most destructive war of the late twentieth century — the war in the DRC, which ensured that Central Africa would never rise again and that African people would begin to realise that the new colonialism was worse than the old — and also launched the first First World colonial war of the new post-Soviet era, that against Yugoslavia.

The aftermath of this process, quite wrongly blamed on the Bush administration which simply followed Clinton’s lead, remains with us today. The successive implementations of this policy by the Bush and Obama administrations have ensured it would — the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic. Many of these were conducted by American puppet states, but America stood behind them. And there were also the destabilisations and coups aimed at installing more puppet states — Venezuela, Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon, Madagascar, Iran, Honduras, Sudan, Paraguay, Egypt, Syria. When you think of it, this is a remarkable list, more spectacular in some ways than the similar list which could have been drawn up in the 1950s and 1960s, because in those days the public was only dimly aware of what was going on, both at home and in the target countries. Nowadays pretty much everybody knows, but the rent-a-mobs turn out in the streets anyway and the NATO press dutifully prints the press-releases of intelligence agencies and the military under the by-lines of rent-a-journalists.

However, all this is making people rather nervous. The Russians could not intervene effectually when the Americans threw out a Russian ally in Georgia and brought in an extremist anti-Russian stooge. However, they did quietly beef up their “peacekeeping” forces in the breakaway provinces of that country, and when the Tbilisi gangsters launched their mad invasion of those provinces the Russians gave them a very bloody nose indeed which made both America and the junta quite unpopular in Georgia. The Russians noted, from this, that any American intervention in a neighbouring state would be likely to lead to conflict, and made their plans accordingly. Therefore, when the Americans intervened again in the Ukraine to turn a stupid populist protest against a corrupt government into a fascist coup, the Russians were again ready. They seized the Crimea — believing, rightly, that the act would play well in Sevastopol and Moscow, but also believing that if they hadn’t done that, NATO would have thrown their fleet and air force out of the Crimea.

There’s nothing unusual about this; it’s power-politics, even though there is more merit in what the Russians did than in what the Americans did. What is unusual, however, is the American response. Instead of marching off to Kiyiv to get whatever they can out of their seizure of the bulk of the Ukraine, the Americans have been whooping for conflict with Russia, fabricating preposterous claims about the Russians mobilising troops against the Ukraine (they aren’t) and destabilising the Ukraine (it would be hard to top the destabilisation created by the Kiyiv government) and menacing the world and, basically, cranking out the same staggering bullshit which the Americans used to legitimate their invasion of Iraq. The Russians, almost certainly, are thinking “Well, we are dealing with psychopaths, and it’s a good thing we have our unsinkable aircraft-carrier in case we need to launch a bombardment of the psychopaths’ agents in the Ukraine”.

It has basically come down to the position that the Americans are no longer satisfied with making a small advance here or there. They want everything, all the time, and they cannot tolerate any opposition or any obstacles. President Obama and his Western European stooges talks about Russia in precisely the way that Clinton talked about Serbia before the bombardment. The trouble with this is that Russia is not Serbia; Russia is an extremely powerful country with a massive nuclear missile force and a large army, and also a respectable-sized economy. It is also a country in a loose economic alliance with China and India and Brazil, with a close military alliance with China and a series of contracts to modernise the Indian military, and enjoying friendly relations with all of its neighbours except the Ukraine and also with Iran. So, casually messing with such a state as if it were a small friendless dictatorship like North Korea is not sensible policy.

Particularly not sensible because most of those states have ambiguous attitudes towards the United States at best. The United States not so long ago responded to China’s seizure of some uninhabited islands in the South China Sea by overflying the islands with warplanes and delivering tough but empty talk to most of China’s neighbours, most of whom were listening, at most, with half an ear, and some of whom were probably not listening at all because they remember being invaded or destabilised by the U.S.. China, therefore, is nervous and watchful for any further insults — making this a bad time to try to pick a fight with Russia. But both Russia and China are very worried, too, about America’s behaviour in Libya and Syria, and China is probably troubled about the West’s behaviour in Africa. Their perception is increasingly that the U.S. in some way is meddling in their affairs, and they don’t like it; at the moment it is only peripheral for China, but the Russian example suggests to Beijing that at some stage, when the U.S. advance reaches a point intolerable for China, they will face the same sort of treatment.

The world, therefore, is becoming a dangerous place. Latin America does not, for the most part, like the foreign or economic policies of the U.S. Africa is unhappy at being treated as a punch-bag. Therefore, the only really reliable allies of the U.S. now are their satellites in Western Europe and Asia (and the former British Dominions with the exception of South Africa), and their puppets in Eastern Europe, Western Asia and parts of Africa. The latter aren’t good for much except bases. The satellite states are perfectly willing to launch military or economic attacks so long as the enemy can’t fight back — meaning that they are not going to be much help against a strong and determined adversary like Russia or China.

Meanwhile the United States is growing relatively weaker in both military and economic terms by the year, and it is expending its treasure and sometimes its blood in fruitless ways which damage its own interests. The situation is rather like the later Roman Empire, with provinces revolting and the Germanic and Parthian and Scythian hordes itching to attack the periphery while politicians at the centre fight each other and plan impossible aggressions. The big difference is that the Roman Empire, for all its unattractiveness, had a lot going for it in terms of communications, stability and harmony, whereas the American Empire as currently constructed is a ruling-class looting spree with almost nothing positive to justify its existence. The Chinese and Russian states are little more appealing, of course; the only positive thing to say about them is that they are not actively trying to undermine the potential success of smaller nations, and therefore smaller nations can potentially shelter under their problematic umbrellas.

So the danger of a serious world war fought for perceptions of national survival is growing greater. This is more or less what Gwynne Dyer predicted in 2004, although back then he imagined that Europe would either retain its independence or join up with Russia. Since Europe has become a satellite of the United States — an expanded version of Britain’s status at the time when Dyer was writing — this makes things more menacing, because Europe united with America against Russia has immediate potential for conflict; meanwhile, Russia and China are far closer together than Dyer imagined could happen.

Amid all this, we appear to be stumbling toward another economic crisis, into which weak countries like Ukraine will plunge even closer towards fascism, while Europe and the United States will have no alternative but to intensify their plundering of the world, while China, Russia and perhaps India will find themselves in competition for the spoils. This suggests a scary combination of both 1914 and 1939 — with thermonukes in the hands of maniacs and, constantly in the background, the whip of global climate change and food shortages egging everybody on to increasing acts of futile bravado and desperation.