Parliament and its Enemies.

February 28, 2015

Gradually, the status of the EFF is beginning to crystallise. Now that it has a democratically elected leadership (something which the UDF never possessed) it can turn its attention to maintaining organisational discipline. This should mean calling people like Andile Mngxitama to account.

In the Pan-Africanist Congress and the Africanist movement in general there has long been a tradition of telling lies in order to foster private advantage, an advantage handicapped by the intellectual deficiencies of the PAC leadership. Mngxitama seems to be acting within this tradition. At least, when you go to a press conference to announce that you are the victim of a conspiratorial deal under which the leadership of your party has undertaken not to disrupt the Presidential State of the Nation address, it’s advisable not to hold that press conference the day before the leadership of the party disrupts the Presidential State of the Nation address. One is apt to be recognised as a very silly and incompetent liar when one does that.

But more to the point, there’s a big difference between “bringing the organisation into disrepute” when the organisation is riding high in power and influence, and when the organisation is an insurgent force which has to cope with immense amounts of attacks from all sides. The former is just pitiful; when Jeremy Cronin accused the ANC of being just like ZANU (PF), and was called on the carpet, he wasn’t kicked out of the party because he was easily exposed as a nauseating, opportunistic hypocrite (a role he has played ever since). If he had done something like that in 1989, he could easily have been shot (and the Jeremy Cronin of 1989 would have pulled the trigger himself).

Mngxitama doesn’t understand party discipline because his goal is not to accomplish anything, but to get himself talked about and potentially get some money out of that, which is the goal of most of our contemporary politicians. By his behaviour he’s showing himself unfit to have been elected as an official of the EFF — which is the petulant reason he’s telling all these lies and smearing his own party. Whether or not he’s kicked out, the point is that he will never be taken seriously as an EFF member again, by anyone, even the right-wingers who may try to exploit him as an example of the “divisions” within the EFF.

It is fortunate, in fact, that those members of the EFF who are corrupt Africanists are exposing themselves so clumsily as tools of white plutocracy (Wa Azania is another example of this tendency). One must remember that Africanists have often made healthy recruits for the Charterist movement; figures like Terror Lekota were once Africanists.

Meanwhile, the disruption of the State of the Nation address was, of course, a publicity stunt, but it also conveyed various messages which are worth conveying, so claims that such behaviour is doing nothing more than lowering the tone of political debate.

The most obvious message is that the President is dishonest and afraid of acknowledging his own dishonesty.

Another obvious message is that the President abuses his authority and prefers violence to debate.

Yet another obvious message is that what the President has to say is not worth listening to.

Furthermore, another obvious message is that when the rules of procedure serve to protect dishonest and cowardly thugs engaged in telling lies and wasting time, the rules of procedure should be exploited in order to show the thugs up.

All this is quite obvious to anyone paying attention to events. It is known to virtually the whole public, which is why this publicity stunt was so successful. Also, virtually everything that the Zuma supporters did, all the way down to the hysterical shrieks of Baleka Mbete and her allies, cast more light on it and made the issues more obvious. The DA was forced to piggyback on the EFF’s success, which was helpful for both of them (although virtually all commentators, and the ANC itself, attempted to discredit the EFF and endorse the DA, for the DA poses no threat to the established order whereas the EFF might).

The thing which the ANC took away with them from this was the idea that thuggery works. This is, in fact, the idea which the Zuma faction has always possessed, and it is a gross oversimplification. Firstly, thuggery works best when you have the support of the propaganda agencies (which the Zuma faction no longer has) and when the public is stupid enough to be behind you (which the Zuma faction can no longer be sure of) and when you are dealing with people who are either cowards, or paralysed by indecision or by divided loyalties. Thuggery worked against Mbeki because he had been betrayed by all his allies and thus could not take action against it. Thuggery did not work against the ANC Youth League, and it doesn’t work against the EFF. You can only intimidate people who are either cowardly, or know that you are prepared to carry your intimidation to the bitter end, and since the EFF aren’t cowards and don’t believe that the ANC will use apartheid-era tactics against them, these criteria don’t apply.

Thuggery also doesn’t greatly impress people who disagree with your basic principles, which is why it probably hasn’t impressed the DA. (Meanwhile, thuggery used by the EFF against the ANC might be more effective provided it is used in the pretense — or even the reality — of defending the Freedom Charter.) So when the ANC disrupted the Western Cape “State of the Province” address, they weren’t doing exactly the same as the EFF had done to them. No doubt to some extent they were rallying ANC supporters (who feel, with considerable reason, that the DA doesn’t look after their interests) but they weren’t making DA supporters uncomfortable in the way that the EFF did by focussing on the personal dishonesty and abuse of authority f the President. On the contrary, they were probably galvanising DA supporters. And, as for the ANC supporters, there must have been some who were aghast at the sheer hypocrisy of justifying an assault on MPs by saying that hooliganism must be rooted out of elected assemblies, and then promoting the behaviour which you had called hooliganism in another elected assembly. Therefore the action probably lost support without gaining any.

The fundamental problem about Parliament, and in a sense all elected assemblies in South Africa, is that they are fetishised and idealised to a ridiculous extent by people who ought to know better. We are told that because they are elected assemblies they are representatives of the masses, and therefore deserve a respectful hearing. Actually that is only true to the extent to which they actually represent the masses — and, on investigation, they usually represent the masses very badly, whether in a municipal chamber misspending the rates, in a provincial legislature mismanaging the provincial administration, or in Parliament failing to run things effectively. The general public want a lot of quite specific things which we are not getting, and our elected assemblies are failing (for the most part) to even acknowledge this, let alone do something about it.

Therefore, the protest against Zuma and the State of the Nation Address makes a certain amount of sense as a protest both against bad governance and against elected assemblies helping to enable, protect and cover up for that bad governance. The same would be true of disrupting the Western Cape legislature if one could believe that the people doing the disruption had any real intention of improving the governance or of discouring such cover-ups — which, of course, they don’t.

So, if these legislatures are not fulfilling their function, then they do not deserve to be held in high regard and treated with respect. Yet many commentators do not accept this, because in the end they hope that their factions will take control of the country someday and will seek to mismanage it in the interests of the tiny minority constituting their chosen faction.. Therefore they want the glamour of Parliament and high office, the fashion parades and uniforms and brass bands, to substitute for legitimate government, and therefore they do not want anyone to detract from those shoddy symbols. Also, of course, they do not want to encourage people to think too deeply about who they are voting for or what they are voting about.

Such people are obviously the enemies of democratic governance, and yet they are the ones who are chosen to speak on behalf of democratic governance by the propaganda organs of the ruling class — who are, clearly, themselves opposed to democratic governance. The enemies of Parliament, in other words, are everywhere in power. They are the enemies of the actual Parliament, the idea that a gathering of elected representatives might be able to make a difference to the lives of those who elected them — on behalf of the Parliament which has walls and restaurants and guards and glittering brazen ornaments.

Paradoxically, this means that the ANC in the Western Cape legislature was doing the right thing after all, although for the wrong reason and, because they were the wrong people to do the job, having the wrong effect. Unfortunately, nobody is going to think more deeply about the radical potential of an elected legislature because the ANC disrupts it. They will either think about how they can exploit and make use of the situation, or they will pretend to be outraged because they cannot exploit the situation on these terms, but only by pretending that shibboleths and empty symbols are the only thing which is important in politics. It’s very like the people who appeal to the Constitution in order to prevent the public from accessing their rights.

It is certainly important to know when it’s appropriate to accept discipline, even the discipline of people for whom you have little respect. Sometimes discipline is deserved, and sometimes it is advisable or necessary, simply because the alternative is chaos. Sometimes it has to be challenged. In a case where you are in a weak (but just and intellectually valid) position and discipline can be used to make it still weaker, then that discipline has to be jettisoned. But when you are challenging discipline simply because you do not have the strength of character, organisational loyalty and political intelligence to recognise the value of that discipline, when you would rather play in the muck and pretend that you are free — that’s when someone has to strike you firmly in the back of the neck. We need more such strikers in our political climate.

How Can The Crisis in Eastern Ukraine Be Resolved?

February 28, 2015

The fundamental problem in Eastern Ukraine is that because of the civil war, nobody is really sure who is in the right. It is true that Novorossiya had a referendum about independence last year, but it is also probable that this referendum was largely seen by the inhabitants of Donetsk-Lugansk as a bargaining tool to win more autonomy for the area. It is true that Novorossiya has two elected independent governments, but one could argue that these elections were held under duress, since Novorossiya was under Western Ukrainian attack at the time and conditions for a truly free election were unsatisfactory.

All the same, it looks very much as if Novorossiya is unhappy about being ruled from Kyiv.

Kyiv, on the other hand, wants to rule Novorossiya and has made at least four attempts, of increasing violence, to enforce that rule. Kyiv has also held elections, although many of the opposition parties were banned, and of those opposition parties which were not banned, most suffered various levels of violence from the thugs of the fascist Pravi Sektor, meaning that the elections were not by any means free and fair.

Nevertheless a lot of people voted for the leaders who had launched attacks on Novorossiya before, which suggests that they approved of attacking Novorossiya. On the other hand there is very little sign that they want to do it themselves; there has been no flood of volunteers to the colours (apart, again, from Pravi Sektor, who have ideological reasons for wanting to attack Russians — they believe, like Heinrich Himmler, that Russians are a mongrel race who ought to be exterminated). It appears, therefore, that a lot of people in Western Ukraine are living in a sort of dream-world within which they want victory without effort.

This doesn’t seem to be the case in Eastern Ukraine. The people there probably now want independence from Ukraine — which would probably mean union with Russia, not that the Russian Federation appears to want them — but might settle for something less provided that they were given guarantees of cultural and political autonomy within a federated Ukraine. The problem with such guarantees is that the Kyiv government has shown itself completely untrustworthy; they have broken every promise they have made, and therefore they cannot be trusted. Another related problem is that the Kyiv government has shown itself completely inept; when they break their promises it is usually to launch brutally mismanaged attacks which fail disastrously.

In effect, Novorossiya’s situation is rather similar to the situation of Finland in late 1939, under attack by the USSR. There are major differences, however. Ukraine does not have the resources that the USSR had and it is unlikely that they have generals capable of reversing the disasters of October 1939 — it is often forgotten that when the USSR exerted itself it tore up the Mannerheim Line like paper, advanced to Viipuri, and would have advanced to Helsinki had they desired to do so; the reason why they did not was simply that they had become belatedly aware that the Finns did not want to be liberated by the USSR, and the USSR had enough on its plate with the Polish and Baltic States occupation without having to occupy a hostile Finland as well.

Kyiv, on the other hand, does not appear to care that the territory which they are trying to conquer is full of people who hate their rule, increasingly hate their state, and will offer violent resistance to any occupation which could turn a conquered Novorossiya into a larger and less friendly version of Chechnya. What they seem to want is to take revenge on the inhabitants of Novorossiya for daring to resist Kyiv’s rule, and perhaps for the unpardonable insult of being Russian. One hears very little about what is happening in the territories of Novorossiya which have been occupied by the Kyiv forces, such as Mariupol, because no Russian journalists are allowed there and the Western journalists appear to speak only to official sources (the military and the Pravi Sektor, usually) and emerge hymning the glories of Ukrainian resistance against evil Russian aggression. Whether there is repression, whether there is brutality, we do not know, although we may surmise that, contrary to the claims of the Guardian, Pravi Sektor does not exist to provide picnics for Trotskyite Russian lesbians.

What this means is that negotiations have thus far been fruitless. One side — the one which has won a lot of the battles, although it has lost a lot of territory — would probably compromise if only a guarantor could be found that the compromise would hold. The other side — the one which lost a lot of territory in the initial political crisis, and managed to take some of its territory back at prodigious cost in blood and treasure, but has subsequently lost much of it — appears not to wish to compromise.

The logical conclusion would be that if negotiation does not work then the issue should be decided on the battlefield, ideally by the Novorossiyans taking back their territory by destroying the Kyiv armed forces, establishing solid defensible frontiers, and then taking whatever political stance they want, whether it be to exist as an impoverished buffer-zone between the rump of Ukraine and Russia, or simply going for outright union with the Russian Federation, perhaps with unusual rights of autonomy.

The problem, of course, is that Ukraine does not exist in a vacuum. Kyiv’s patron is the United States, and Novorossiya’s patron is Russia. Both patrons have made their positions fairly clear. The United States wants a stable, highly militarised Ukraine to serve as a base for NATO operations against Russia and a staging-ground for NATO operations in the Caucasus. Russia wants a neutral or friendly Ukraine which poses no threat to Russia, preferably because it is tied economically to Russia.

It will be noted that Russia’s desires are easier to accomplish and more peaceful than the United States’, but also that the United States’ desires have been much more completely fulfilled; Ukraine is now highly militarised and, outside Novorossiya, at least outwardly violently anti-Russian. The only problem is that Ukraine is so unstable that it is not a very reliable base for actions against Russia or the Caucasus, and the United States wishes to solve that problem by beefing up repression and crushing dissidence in Ukraine. What the United States is doing is very similar to what it did in Colombia, or in Turkey during the height of the war against the Kurds, and so the United States believes that the situation is manageable — not that either Colombia or Turkey have turned out to be exactly triumphs of American foreign policy.

The big danger from the perspective of the United States would be that Russia would change its mind in principle as well as in practice. While in principle Russia wants a united, peaceful Ukraine, in practice Russia provides arms, training and other assistance to the secessionists in Novorossiya, but simultaneously provides itself as an honest broker for talks aimed at ending the war. This is a decidedly problematic position for Russia to be in — backing one side while bringing the two sides together — but Russia’s argument is that while Kyiv is in a dominant military position its government has no reason to negotiate in good faith; therefore Novorossiya needs to be supported — but just not so much that Novorossiya decides that it doesn’t want to negotiate with a beaten foe who has never shown any sign of good faith anyway. It’s a difficult balance, and it’s increasingly pointless so long as the United States and its satellite Kyiv insist that the only acceptable outcome to the crisis is the unconditional surrender of Novorossiya and the advance of NATO forces to the Don.

In that case, Russia might abandon its vacillating policy. It is quite aware, from its experiences in the Iranian and Syrian negotiations, that it is impossible to deal in good faith with the United States; all you can do is get them to sign a document, but they will break every term of the agreement if they wish to, and if they can, so any negotiations must be concluded from a position of immense strength. (Ironically, this is precisely the position which the Americans had towards the USSR during the Cold War — and while it was probably a more or less legitimate position under Stalin, it was totally inappropriate under Krushchev and Brezhnev, both of whom were happy to deal with the United States in good faith if there were any reciprocal signs of good faith — which there never were.)

If this is the conclusion which Russia adopts, only one conclusion arises out of that: Russia will never be safe until the Novorossiyan crisis is resolved in Russia’s favour, and that resolution can only happen once Ukraine ceases to be an American suzerainty, and therefore instead of waiting for the Ukrainian government to collapse from unpopularity (which, thanks to the repression of the legitimate opposition, now seems impossible) the Ukrainian government must be overthrown by a combination of civil war, popular uprising and, ultimately, Russian invasion. In other words, Ukraine must first face a much more aggressive Novorossiya openly planning to march on Kyiv whatever the cost, Ukraine must then face a campaign of terrorism carried out by Russians and Ukrainian democrats sponsored by Russia, and then, after a couple of months of that, a lightning thrust to Kyiv along the lines of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, except with considerably more violence and casualties among the Ukrainian military. There are numerous precedents for such behaviour, such as Kosovo in 1999 and Ivory Coast in 2010, although the provocation which Ukraine has offered to Russia is immensely greater than the provocation which Serbia offered to NATO or Ivory Coast to France.

The reason why the Russian government is not doing precisely this (although it is probably preparing for it and undoubtedly planning for it) is that they do not want to destabilise the global political order. However, the Russian government is starting to see that Western Europe is never going to treat Russia as a normal equal state (Western Europe’s behaviour towards Greece doesn’t exactly help in terms of calming Russia’s mood, either) and that in the end a cold war with America, provided that China and Latin America remain on Russia’s side, is less harmful than giving America a free hand to turn Ukraine into an anti-Russian satellite state. In which case, May would be a fine month for an invasion, and the mud of a Ukrainian spring would not seriously inconvenience the broad tracks of Russian armoured vehicles.

If that happened, the end product would probably be an annexed Novorossiya, and a Galicia under heavy Russian influence, nominally neutral but not recognised by anyone except Russia, and politically hostile to the NATO states all around it, all of whom would have interests in trying to carve chunks off it in the way that Eastern European states carved chunks of Czechoslovakia when the Nazis moved in.

In that case we can look forward to an interesting 2015, but not a prosperous one.

The French Disconnection.

February 7, 2015

So the Wahhabi Sunni militants in Yemen, who are theoretically at war with the Yemeni dictatorship which is aligned with the Saudi dictatorship (although elsewhere in Arabia these militants are usually aligned with, and often funded by, the Saudi dictatorship) decided that they could take no more of the massacres perpetrated against them. (These massacres are sometimes committed by Yemenis in the pay of the dictatorship, more often by Americans; the Americans and the dictatorship, however, are mostly fighting against the Shi’ite rebellion against the Yemeni dictatorship, although the Wahhabi Sunni militants are elsewhere mostly concerned to suppress Shi’ite rights and indeed to massacre Shi’ites, as in Syria and Iraq.) Doubtless murmuring under their breath “In the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate”, these Wahhabi Sunni militants therefore hired some people who had been fighting against the Assad government in Syria on behalf of other Wahhabi Sunni militants, and sent them off to murder some French journalists in Paris.

If you think that makes any sense, you have not been paying attention (for which the Creator forgives you).

We should, first of all, clear all sense of outrage from our minds, which means that we should ignore virtually all commentary about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There is a war going on, the war to sustain the supremacy of the United States in the world; a large part of that war is armed aggression against Muslim countries because it happens to be easier to legitimate such aggression in American eyes, and also because (purely coincidentally) there is a lot of oil under Muslim sand. There is a war within that war, in which Saudi Arabia is attempting to expand its influence in the Arabian peninsula and in Mesopotamia by promoting instability and fomenting Wahhabi violence in the region. In these wars the laws of war have been suspended; civilians are slaughtered without quarter or even concern and illegal weapons may be used. Hence, butchering unarmed people in Arabia or Mesopotamia or Paris cannot be condemned because there is no basis for condemning it.

Of course, we may say that the war should not be happening, that the laws of war ought to exist, and if we say that then we can certainly condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre (like all the other related massacres) on moral grounds. Some have earned the right to do that. Nobody engaged in the war, however, has any such right.

Disregarding all that, however, it seems obvious that murdering the staff of an anti-government periodical is a very foolish thing to do under the circumstances. What is worse — publishing a cartoon, or exterminating a wedding-party? Logic suggests the latter, and yet the perpetrators of the Yemeni bloodbaths sit peacefully in their air-conditioned offices twiddling controllers and watching screens, joking with each other as their missiles blast civilians into sprays of blood, shit and flesh, while the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were themselves turned into such amorphous “bugsplats” by rifle and rocketry. Why the one, and not the other?

It’s not going to be possible to say, because, as is customary these day, the perpetrators were murdered by the French state. This raises the possibility that the perpetrators might have been employed, not by the Yemenis at all, but by the French state itself. A common characteristic of Arabian guerrilla movements is their eagerness to take credit for things which they did not actually accomplish; meanwhile, the French state had its own reasons both for attacking Charlie Hebdo and for promoting fear and loathing of Muslims. The speed with which the assassins were identified suggests that the French state must have had a good deal of information about what was going on, unless the assassins announced themselves (in which case why did they bother to wear ski-masks?). However, although such speculation is entertaining, it probably should not be assumed to be true.

Charlie Hebdo was engaged in what appears to be another war entirely from the one being waged in Arabia and Mesopotamia (and North and Central and East Africa). This is the war against sacredness, the idea that there are some things which can and should be deemed special by virtue of their very nature. Ridiculing sacred figures such as Mohommed and Jesus is a tactic in this war, which is an extension of the Enlightenment and an attempt to strip the world of any worship at all — except, perhaps, the worship of money and those who possess it. Understandably, pursuing such tactics outrages people whose world revolves around the sacred and who also view the modernisation in the name of the Enlightenment as simply a form of intellectual colonisation — as indeed it usually is.

So, although it might seem absurd to attack a magazine for making rude references to a religious prophet, it probably doesn’t seem so to those who financed the attack or those who launched it. They cannot, after all, get at the drone pilots, safe in the United States, or the other drone operators safe in Djibouti under French protection. They cannot get at the people who order these things in Washington, London or Paris. They can, however, get at people whom they probably conceive of as among the propagandists for a war against the Islamic world. Particularly those ones who do not receive protection (whereas official propagandists certainly would receive such protection, at least better protection than a couple of lightly-armed beat cops.

Still, the attack seems strikingly pointless. It only makes sense if you believe that the enemies of Islam are all essentially the same — that Charlie Hebdo is just one tentacle of an octopus of religious bigotry, and that by slashing at the tentacle you can cause the octopus to wince. In reality, most of the other enemies of Islam in France do not much like Charlie Hebdo. After all, despite its anti-Islamic fervour and its Zionism it still made frequent and pungent criticisms of the French state and the state religion. French leaders are glad to exploit the magazine’s suffering by mobilising anti-Islamic fervour around the massacre. Meanwhile they can delight in the massacre of its journalists and cartoonists; enemies of neoliberal uniformity are dead! Best if all is the fact that the massacre was carried out by Muslim gunmen who, when push comes to shove, were trained, equipped and commanded by forces under the indirect control of the United States which is allied with the neoliberal French state! So the neoliberal state arranges massacres which benefit it, but which it can use to justify its existence and tighten its grip on the throat of the people! What could be more perfect?

Naturally, although the gunmen may have believed in the octopus theory (which is just a mirror-image of white Western conspiracy theories about Muslims fostered by the neoliberal imperialists) their leaders probably did not. They did not believe that the massacre would accomplish anything to reduce the suffering of Muslims in the world. Rather, they believed that it would have two effects useful for them. Firstly, it would fool French Muslims into thinking that someone was sticking up for their interests, thus bringing them more fully under the Sunni-Wahhabi umbrella and thus increasing the tyrannical power of the Saudi dictatorship and its allies. Secondly, it would empower and encourage French Islamophobia, and thus build a sense of paranoia and oppression all around which would not only force French Muslims more fully under the Sunni-Wahhabi umbrella, but also make French Islamophobes and their dupes more subservient to the American anti-Islamic campaign, and thus less critical of neoliberalism. What could be more perfect?

Oh, Creator, you’re such a beastly cynic and conspiracy theorist. What hard evidence have you for all these things? (Disregarding, as one must, the entire tendency of neoliberal foreign policy since at least 1967, that is.)

Well, let’s consider the “We are Charlie” movement. According to the propaganda organs, a million people marched over the weekend in protest against the massacre. That’s an impressive number of people, all in absolute conformity, under the protection and with the encouragement of government officials of course, demonstrating in support of non-conformity and rejection of government. You don’t really believe that, do you? If that were the case, it would be 1968 multiplied (which the founders of Charlie Hebdo would approve, being old soixante-huit veterans themselves) and the government would collapse after the street fighting began.

No, they were marching against these filthy, corrupt Muslims who are seeking to take away our grand freedoms — the ones donated by the benevolent regime which has taken away our working rights, our privacy, our social mobility, our access to the media and our ability to change from one kind of government to another. We may have lost all our rights, but we still have freedoms, which are under threat from Muslims who must be bombed, or something. Maybe we can go fire-bomb a mosque tonight to show how we value our freedoms. The police won’t object.

Notice how much bigger this march was than the march against the Iraq war in London in 2003, and that was big enough (and if Jonathan Steel is to be trusted, was establishment enough). Of course, this is a march without a real objective, because nobody was urging anybody to make any demands or sacrifices or pursue any goals. Just a protest against gunmen shooting journalists, carefully drained of any context. You won’t take part in the march? Good Lord, are you in favour of gunmen shooting journalists? What do you mean, nobody marched against NATO’s murder of Serbian journalists in 1999, or of al-Jazeera journalists in 2001 and 2003? What has that got to do with anything?

It is, in short, a march of delusion. It changes nothing, except that it flings a wet, stinking blanket of conformity over the populace, like one of Napoleon III’s plebiscites. (“Do you support law and order and national harmony? Answer yes or no.”) And of course the current French government, like most governments nowadays, has about the same legitimacy as Napoleon III had.

Would the Saudis be able to turn out similar proportions of people in support of murdering French journalists? Probably. But they don’t need to bother.

Woeful Prospects.

February 7, 2015

It would be magnificent if some sort of grassroots, effectual alternative to the current pitiful crop of political organisations were to evolve in South Africa. It would be magnificent, but it is not very likely. For that to happen, the organisers would have to develop some kind of political independence from the circumstances in which they find themselves, and that is hardly going to happen all by itself.

Instead, what we are getting is the United Front, as organised (supposedly) by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. The United Front, supposedly, is a nationwide organisation, which will be established through People’s Assemblies. This all sounds alarmingly like Occupy Wall Street, although unlike OWS it appears to lack coherence as well as constituency.

The invited representatives to the latest People’s Assembly mostly come from organisations of slightly dubious merit, like Abahlali baseMjondolo, or from political parties which are profoundly questionable, like the United Democratic Movement, or from Trotskyite organisations which are manifestly coat-tail clingers. There are unspecified “faith-based” organisations and “civil society” organisations (and what is their agenda in joining the United Front?) .There are also figures like Moeletsi Mbeki, who bring a big bottle of staunch conservatism, white supremacism and neo-colonialism to the party. These are not figures who inspire confidence that the United Front will be something spectacularly impressive.

What, exactly, does the United Front stand for? It is against neoliberalism and it is against the ANC, but what does it wish to accomplish? Although NUMSA remains committed to the Freedom Charter, the United Front cannot easily accept the document because the Front largely consists of anti-Charterists. It could develop its own set of principles, but that would take a long time and would probably lack substance because at the moment the United Front consists of an extremely wide range of potential supporters, none of whom are obliged to come into the Front and who can thus veto almost any policy which they do not admire.

So this is a political organisation run part-time by a trade union which has not decided what it wants to do with this political organisation, an organisation which has little grassroots support but nevertheless receives much support from elite elements of the conservative or neoliberal chattering class. The organisation has few clear goals apart from hostility to the ANC, and its membership is divided on ideological and class bases. Its leadership lacks legitimacy and also lacks visibility. This all looks depressingly like a repeat of Agang, supposedly on the left rather than the right, but possibly covertly endorsed or even supported by the same people — that is, an elite plutocracy which is out to pretend that South Africans have some kind of electoral choices while running everything behind the scenes.

Even more recently, in about 2006 or so, Zackie Achmat, no doubt acting under orders from Martin Legassick as usual, declared that he was relaunching the United Democratic Front. As he had no idea what the UDF had been, or how to do such things, this “relaunch” was a total failure. So, more recently, have been the various Trotskyite “unity” organisations “set up” in various centres, which invariably fail to attract anyone except other Trotskyites and waterheads. So it was obvious from the beginning that the Trotskyite political advisers which NUMSA was employing were not going to offer much in the way of organisational ability.

Since the above was written, the launch of the United Front has been delayed yet again, while the trade unions which supported NUMSA over the Zwelenzima Vavi debacle and NUMSA’s subsequent expulsion from COSATU have made it clear that they have grave doubts about the United Front — or don’t support it at all.  These two points are not good signs, despite all the efforts by the ruling-class media to talk them up.

The United Front now has a sort of steering committee, although since there is no organisation it is far from clear what the responsibilities and duties of this committee are. Preposterously, Zackie Achmat has been appointed to this committee, suggesting that celebrity (somewhat stale now, however) among the white chattering classes is more important than organisational ability or political consistency. (Achmat is consistent in doing whatever Legassick tells him to do, but this doesn’t amount to much.) Mazibuko Jara, an ex-SACP person active in Cape Town Trotskyite circles (specialising in high-flown meaningless rhetoric) is also there, further showing how the UF is eagerly embracing failure.

But there are people with administrative and real political experience on board as well. Ronnie Kasrils, Thabo Mbeki’s right-hand spook, is there. So is Wayile, the former mayor of Port Elizabeth (apart from the fact that he also has a reputation for being an Mbeki-ite, his main claim to fame is his NUMSA leadership in the province). It’s hard to see how Trotskyites, who hated Mbeki with a passion and collaborated with big business and foreign governments to bring him down, are going to work hand in hand with people who served Mbeki with distinction; the best guess is that Kasrils and Wayile, who have no organisation backing them (unlike Achmat and Jara who have the full force of Western Cape Trotskyism behind them, numbering literally dozens of supporters) are there as fronts and teasers.

Why is the only union in COSATU which had a remotely socialistic agenda, and with any sign of the courage to stand up to the ANC, falling on its face with such a sickening thud? Was this inevitable, or was it a product of failed ideologies, or is it a product of a covert reluctance to challenge the established order? And, of course, what can the rest of us do about it?

This has happened before. Neville Alexander set up the National Forum in the early 1980s with the goal of challenging apartheid by uniting all the Trotskyites and Africanists and anyone else who wasn’t a Charterist under one banner. This made the NF a gathering of bourgeois faux-radicals united only in their hostility to the ANC, and whose anti-apartheid credentials were as feeble as their relations with the working class that they claimed to speak on behalf of. The fact that the organisation was dominated by egomaniacs, of whom Alexander was not the least, didn’t help much. When the revolutionary conditions of early 1984 arose, the NF was left behind in a cloud of dust, feebly squeaking to anyone who would listen that it was not yet time for strenuous action, comrades.

The failure of the kind of politics that NUMSA now stands for, and to some extent stood for back then, was not so disastrous in the early 1980s. In those days there was a clear enemy, and therefore it was comparatively easy to organise resistance. Conditions were favourable; it wasn’t necessary to engage in much political education (although there was a lot more of it then than there is now). When fools set up pirifully unsuitable organisations, there was intelligent and resolute people ready to set up effective organisations to get actual work done. This isn’t really the case now (for all that the EFF have turned out to be, as expected, a great deal better organised, procedurally and popularly, than CoPe were, and may have more staying power depending on what happens at the 2016 elections). The EFF may turn into something effective, but they are nothing like what the ANC and UDF possessed, or even what AZAPO possessed before they pissed it away in the mid-80s.

So, as a result, when disorganised and ineffectual bodies are set up, there is no clear alternative to them. People have to like them or lump them. Because they are so dysfunctional and objectively timid, however, it is more likely that the public will ignore them, perhaps sitting on the sidelines and watching, or perhaps shrugging their shoulders and turning away, rather than doing anything to support them or make them more effectual.

It doesn’t help that the public is barraged night and day with political garbage and consumerist balderdash which dovetails with it. While the most recent Mail and Guardian deals with “the left” (smearing the EFF, uncritically boosting the UF while denouncing Marxism as old-fashioned) the previous one dealt with “narcissism” — which basically in their terms meant becoming obsessed with personal appearance, instant gratification, trivia and electronic communications. It is impossible to be a leftist if one is concerned only with such things, because there is simply more to humanity than such matters. What the consumerist system demands is that individuals turn away from society and from human engagement; the spectacle of young “lovers” sitting across restaurant tables under the silvery moon, gazing smokily into their smartphones while they frantically text people elsewhere who don’t care about them, is both universal and pitiful.

As a result, the general culture, controlled by the plutocracy, naturally serves the interests of the plutocracy and discourages leftist organisation except on the terms of the plutocracy, which is largely anthropological — “isn’t this primitive leftist culture entertaining?” — or opportunistic — “beware, support us uncritically or the evil leftist over there in the corner will nationalise your smartphone!”. The left, thus, is both feeble and co-opted. This needs to be challenged, and it certainly won’t be challenged by noisily repudiating leftist traditions in exchange for occasional headlines, in the manner of most of the leading lights of the UF. In that sense the EFF started out well; the question is whether they will be able to overcome the plutocracy’s recent enthusiasm for supporting the EFF so long as they restrain themselves to activities which serve the plutocracy’s propaganda interests, such as Nkandla and the more trivial aspects of the Marikana massacre.


Cops And/Or Robbers.

February 7, 2015

The slow, steady suicide of the South African state continues.

A minor, but highly instructive example is the Dewani murder case. On the face of it, the case appears remarkably simple. Shrien Dewani is a masochistic homosexual whose ridiculously wealthy family compelled him to marry a blonde trophy wife, which had the potential to interfere with his Internet-aided cavortings (and this was doubtless the idea).

Somehow, the unhappy couple went to Cape Town for their honeymoon and went for a spin in Gugulethu, which is not the tourist centre of town, where Dewani was dumped after which the wife was unceremoniously shot. It then transpired that Dewani had not mentioned to anybody that he had had a little meeting with his driver a day before the trip, which was captured on closed-circuit TV, and when the driver was pulled in he immediately claimed that Dewani had paid him to bump off the wife.

Had the entire case been pre-baked and handed to the police with a pizza spatula it could hardly have been more convenient. Just to allow a little more convenience, Dewani scuttled off to the UK and used up the family cash to try to avoid extradition at all costs, hiring the repulsive celebrity publicist and speedily-imprisoned paedophile Max Clifford to smear South Africa on Dewani’s behalf. All this did Dewani no favours in the eyes of South Africans, and meanwhile it gave the cops limitless time to fine-tune their case to the last detail. By the time Dewani arrived in South Africa he should have been practically ready for the prayer-book, six-foot-drop and naked dump into a pit of quicklime.

Instead, what’s happened has been instructive; the cops have apparently devoted time to coaching the witnesses in contradictory directions so that they say different things about the same events, while the forensic evidence has been mishandled really bizarrely. There is now a real chance that they might lose the case even with an honest judge. And, of course, South Africa does not have many honest judges; they are all busy sucking up to the ruling class. So it seems that Dewani was correct in his apparent assumption that it would not only be easy to find someone to murder his wife for him in Cape Town, but that he would also get away with it — although he probably didn’t expect to have to spend so much time and money on his getaway.

Of course, this displays the incompetence of the police, and will very probably display the bias of the judge, but it also displays the incompetence of the National Prosecuting Authority, so that’s the executive, the judiciary and the legislature all done and dealt with.

This is worth thinking about when one considers the recent South Park-style shenanigans in Parliament.

It will be recalled that the shenanigans are about two things: the Marikana massacre, and the Nkandla fraud. The two events are both conspicuous failures of governance; the first a failure to resolve a dispute peacefully (or at least to restrain violence so that nobody got killed by the state) and the second a failure to hold the President accountable for his corrupt exploitation of his position for personal financial gain. Both, therefore, are issues which could serve as examples of a wider corruption and ineptitude within government, which Parliament ought to address.

But they are also both issues which have been predominantly taken up by the ruling class for use against the ANC. On the other hand, one could argue very strongly that they are both issues which represent occasions when the ruling class has got what it wanted. The Marikana massacre was an extension of the militarised and unaccountable policing which the ruling class wants (and it also provided an excuse for the ruling class-controlled AMCU to call off a strike which the ruling class no longer needed once the power of the NUM had been broken). The Nkandla corruption was, arguably, a reward for Jacob Zuma’s compliance with their wishes.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that these two issues have received relatively little attention in Parliament, in spite of their immense significance in the media, and the fact that the “official opposition”, the Democratic Alliance, has been campaigning very noisily around Nkandla (though hardly at all around Marikana, doubtless because it embarrasses the large corporate entities which control the DA). Until, that is, the EFF arrived, with its well-justified and sensible hatred for Zuma and his deputy (whom the DA has to back off from since he is adored by the large corporate entities which control the DA). In effect, by attacking Zuma for Nkandla and Ramaphosa for Marikana, the EFF was following the narrative already established by the corporate media, so they were doing nothing new, and indeed arguably were potentially falling into a trap laid by their enemies.

And yet, in doing so, they were also pointing out how completely Parliament had failed to call the leaders of the country to account, and thus how not only the ANC was failing in its governance, but the DA was failing in opposition. Thus what they were doing was pointing out how Parliament had collapsed into a mere lapdog of executive power, which means corporate power — a fact which had largely escaped the people who never failed to make such accusations (sometimes justified, usually not) when Mbeki was President and the ruling class was keen on attacking him.

The EFF essentially behaved as if Parliament were an elected sovereign body. They refused to cover up for President Zuma’s misdeeds at Nkandla, and when Zuma hid from them and sent Ramaphosa in his place, called him a person unfit to receive a report on the Marikana massacre given that he had financial connections with the company involved in the strike. When the ANC used parliamentary rules to suppress the EFF’s protest, the EFF refused to acknowledge the rules, whereupon the ANC used force against them on behalf of the rules — first calling the police, and later, after it proved that the police had too much respect for Parliament to act brutally, calling the riot squad, claiming that Parliament was being brought into disrepute, rather in the same way that the ANC and COSATU love to expel people on this very subjective and dubious basis.

And then, rather suddenly, the DA decided to do the same. That is, they suddenly began to pretend that they cared deeply enough about these things to defy Parliamentary regulations and even face physical assaults. They had not done this before, and this was probably for two reasons. One, they did not need to — they had the press and Thuli Madonsela to do the work. Two, they did not want to — the ruling class would hardly be happy at having their beloved Cyril Ramaphosa attacked (and on every occasion when Cyril has been criticised the people most under the thumb of the ruling class, the leader-page commentators and cartoonists, have leaped to his defense). But the trouble is that the DA knows perfectly well that if the big conspiracy is exposed too conspicuously, if their collaboration with the neoliberal leaders within the ANC is revealed, then the public will stop voting for them. So, at least for a little, they had to stagger after the EFF, like a clockwork rhinoceros blundering after a caracal.

Then, of course, Ramaphosa had to play the peacemaker. It was what his white masters have employed him to do, much as he surely disliked to do it. He offered to withdraw the sanctions which the ANC imposed on the EFF in Parliament, if the EFF would only undertake to be nice and submissive. The EFF, sensibly, agreed to this, knowing that it could not possibly be binding — and then the ANC in Parliament repudiated Ramaphosa and reinstated the sanctions. If Ramaphosa ever had any status in the NEC into which he was parachuted by his masters, or in the ANC caucus which almost certainly despises him as an amateur and a turncoat, he lost it at once — although the press, owned by Ramaphosa’s masters, naturally could not say this.

Meanwhile, just in case anyone thought that the Fourth Estate was the watchdog which would discourage corruption and prevent abuses of power, the press was (again) exposed as the toadies of corrupt power which they have always been.

The story first broke in noseWeek, South Africa’s only muckraking magazine. The Sunday Times‘ crack investigative journalists, “Mzilikazi wa Afrika” and Steven Hofstatter, ran a story in 2011 claiming that the Cato Manor Serious and Violent Crimes Unit, commanded by General Booysen, the head of the Hawks in the province, was a hit-squad murdering people with impunity. The unit was closed down and Booysen arrested. noseWeek suggested, as informed by Booysen, that this was a ploy to remove Booysen for getting too close to corrupt police who were plundering KwaZulu-Natal SAPS supplies; it was obvious that “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had received their information from within the SAPS. Presently noseWeek’s claims received some corroboration of a kind; the criminal charges against Booysen and his colleagues were all dropped and instead disciplinary charges were made. Subsequently, however, the disciplinary charges also collapsed.

It was obvious that the arrests and the disbandment had been completely frivolous and that “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had delivered a heap of someone else’s garbage which they had not bothered to test. However, the editor of the paper stood by them and they were allowed to keep all the awards which they had received for a story which should never have been published. No newspaper followed up any of noseWeek‘s stories.

But in October-November this year, the self-same team repeated a raft of implausible-sounding allegations about an alleged “rogue unit” within the South African Revenue Service which “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had made earlier in the same paper; the core of the allegations was that the “rogue unit” had been investigating high government officials including Zuma himself. It seemed credible that, once again, “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter were acting as channels for an official smear campaign in order to protect corrupt officials against investigation, with the approval of their editor and owner. Within days of the repetition of the articles, the “rogue unit” was closed down and its leaders suspended and threatened with criminal charges.

This time, however, there was a response; the South African Revenue Service was one of the sacred cows of the corporate ruling class. Max du Preez, the right-wing commentator with close ties to the ruling class, said in one of his rambling articles that the attack on SARS had been facilitated by the press. The Mail and Guardian ran a front-page article claiming that the attack on SARS was an ANC plot to punish the organisation for trying to impose import duty on imported T-shirts, and mentioning that it had been facilitated by the press. However, neither Du Preez nor the Mail and Guardian dared to mention either the newspaper which had run the stories, or the journalists who had acted as front-people for a government smear campaign. Thus the public, unless they were paying close attention (which few do) remained in the dark, except that the government, as usual, was bad. The fact that the press was colluding with corruption and covering up for this collusion as much as possible, passed the public by — apart from the vast majority of the public who understandably don’t believe a word of what they read or hear or see in the media.

So the security forces and the judiciary are incompetent or corrupt, the legislature is dysfunctional, the executive is out of control and the media are happily covering up for all these things while facilitating them as often as not? Well, what do you expect? Why make a fuss? We can move our wealth offshore, can’t we? Pass the under-age Ukrainian prostitute, would you?

Investigating the NUMSA Case.

February 7, 2015

Donning one’s deerstalker hat, putting on a dressing-gown and taking a pipeful of strong tobacco out of the toe of one’s Persian slipper, it is time to settle down and investigate the Curious Case of the Trade Union Federation in the Dark.

What has led COSATU to expel NUMSA? It has certainly not been an easy road, and has taken a good deal of time. The given reasons for expelling NUMSA are that NUMSA has been poaching other union members, and that NUMSA has been criticising the ANC (to the point of talking about setting up an alternative political party, but not actually doing so), and criticising COSATU for being unduly sympathetic to the ANC.

This is not, however, new stuff. NUMSA, like other unions within COSATU, has criticised the ANC intermittently for twenty years or so. COSATU as an entity was severely critical of the ANC’s economic and social policies. What is new, therefore, is that this has led to a political conflict within COSATU, between those unions wishing to go on with this criticism and those unions wishing to abandon essentially all criticism of the ANC — the latter unions particularly represented by NEHAWU and NUM.

Why not, then, just agree to disagree? There were doubtless trade unions which felt that GEAR could be given a try, and trade unions which felt that denouncing the government as a pack of AIDS denialists was a bit over the top, but they did not go running around denouncing those who said these things, and they did not find themselves getting kicked out of the federation. One can make a strong case that attacking the ANC, while fun, does little real harm so long as it is accommodated within the framework of the “Tripartite Alliance”. In other words, NUMSA’s behaviour can be considered more as political theatre than as anything concrete. Up until now it was also possible to believe that COSATU’s leadership’s attacks on NUMSA were also political theatre.

But the expulsion of a union is not theatre; it’s solid fact. It goes along with the attempt to fire Zwelenzima Vavi for immoral behaviour. Therefore it appears that if this was posturing before, it has now turned into something real — and extremely destructive. Why?

For one thing, where the issues of GEAR and AIDS were — in a sense — peripheral to a trade union’s core business, the current problems which the union movement has with the ANC are far more fundamental. This is not so much because there have been dramatic changes in ANC policies, as because the ongoing failure of those policies are becoming extreme enough to affect the average worker. Salaries are falling relative to real experienced inflation, and the call is going out from government and business to make this situation worse. Service delivery is deteriorating in much of the country, and the call is going out from government and business to reduce public spending on service delivery. Unemployment, meanwhile, is rising. So workers are under pressure, and are looking to their union leaders to do something about this.

The logical response to this would be to power up unionization; to expand the unions, to become more militantly anti-employer, to criticise those government members who are promoting the policies which are stifling growth and encouraging unemployment, and to strive towards alternative policies. Of course this means attacking the ANC’s policies and some of its leadership, but this does not, actually, mean an attack on the idea of the ANC running the country. It simply means that the ANC is to be portrayed as having strayed off the paths of righteousness and needing to be guided back. In a sense it means reviving political and economic debate.

Obviously, this isn’t happening. COSATU trade unions are not expanding; with the exception of NUMSA, they are shrinking, sometimes quite calamitously so. Strikes are certainly taking place, but in general they are ending with big concessions to the employers and wage settlements which are below the rate of real experienced inflation. Unions outside COSATU are largely devoid of militancy (with the ostensible exception of AMCU, although this may also be more theatre than reality, painful as it has been for AMCU’s members). It seems, then, that far from trying to remedy the situation, the organised working class is losing ground and lacking leadership.

Given that there is a crisis, COSATU’s leadership must resolve it. However, they enjoy the support and patronage of the ANC’s leadership, and the ANC’s leadership enjoy the support and patronage of the business caste. As such, then, the ANC leadership has a strong motive to veto any aggressive action on the part of the unions, and COSATU’s leadership has a strong motive to accept such a veto. In effect, NUMSA’s accusation that the ANC wished to turn COSATU into the ANC’s “labour desk” is far too mild; the ANC actually seemingly wishes COSATU to be an organisation which does nothing for labour at all, but instead simply milks the workers of their dues and makes ritual obeisance to the ANC at election time. This does not seem to be wholly opposed to the agenda of many union leaders.

The alternative to resolving the crisis is to deny that it exists. The standard method of denial employed by the Zuma administration of the ANC is to accuse anyone who says there is a crisis, or who dissents from received policy, of factionalism, and thus getting rid of them. This method builds unity among those who are not dissenters, though at the price of losing not only the dissenters, but others who dislike such spurious accusations. This is obviously the method which is being used against NUMSA; eliminate the people who say there is a problem, and the problem ceases to be one which needs to be addressed. Business can continue as usual — which is to say, doing nothing.

The obvious problem with applying this method is that it allows those who are kicked out freedom of action, and it expands and legitimates their position among those who dissent. The steady draining of support from the ANC since Zuma took over has been largely a product of the attack on Mbeki’s supporters, which produced CoPe, and then on Malema and his supporters, which produced the EFF. The calculated risk for the ANC — losing support — is balanced against the greater unity and the superior status of party leadership among those remaining behind. Thus far the loss of support has been manageable.

The problem for COSATU is that it is not the ANC. It is instead a federation of unions, some of which support NUMSA (as the expulsion vote showed, more than a third of the federation’s executive supported NUMSA even though the executive has been relentlessly purged of NUMSA supporters over the last few years). Therefore, the danger is that these unions might decide that membership of COSATU was no longer a benefit to them and might hive off and perhaps link up with NUMSA and its allies. Also, individual members of unions might decide that they no longer trust their unions, in which case COSATU unions might split, anti-COSATU members forming alternative unions which could align themselves with NUMSA.

All this has a great deal of potential to benefit the ruling class, of course. Splintering unions and factionalism within union federations is something which bosses can take advantage of, as they did during the NUM-AMCU conflict. On the other hand, if COSATU were to end up a small rump of ANC-supporting unions with limited membership, and NUMSA were able to unite a large number of dissident unions into a militant federation following a more drastic anti-neoliberal, anti-corporate line than COSATU is capable of, then this would not be such good news for the bosses. It’s difficult to predict how this will turn out.

One thing which seems clear, however, is that NUMSA has been angling for expulsion. This is because simply walking out of the federation which you helped form, and which you have belonged to for thirty years, is unlikely to be automatically supported by your membership however much they might like your policies. Also, doing this out of antipathy to the ANC means turning your back on the party which you have supported for the same length of time, and effectively giving support to the enemies of that party, many of whom are neoliberals and white supremacists. That’s a difficult change to make for the rank and file of the union.

But expulsion — that’s different. Provided that you are not being expelled for anything particularly wrong, provided that you can convince your members that it’s a stitch-up by a kangaroo court (which it obviously is in this case) then the immediate response for the union member is that the union comes first, and if the federation and the party don’t like that, tough. NUMSA has not lost membership as a result of its leaders’ critical stance on the ANC and COSATU; instead its membership has been increasing. Hence it is quite unlikely that a lot of members are going to leave following this expulsion. Instead, the members will be angry; they’ll want to punish COSATU and the ANC for ill-treating them, and they’ll consider their leaders vindicated by the whole affair. As a result, the alternative metalworkers’ union set up by COSATU’s leadership to serve as a vehicle for NUMSA members to flee to, is probably not going to do very well.

This  set of circumstances has been obvious for some time. COSATU’s leadership must have known that it was the case. Therefore, why did COSATU choose to expel NUMSA now? Why not wait until December, when NUMSA’s “United Front” would be nominally launched, or March, when the “United Front” is supposed to go into full operation? Obviously a union which had set up an anti-ANC party would be ripe for expulsion from a pro-ANC federation, and with such solid grounds for attacking NUMSA the expulsion might have been more damaging for the union — especially if the ANC and COSATU spent a few months condemning the “United Front”, and especially if the “United Front” fails to get much traction in the community (which seems lamentably likely given its actual nature as a cabal of Trotskyites).

One possibility is that COSATU’s leadership is stupid and has not thought through these issues even though they have had plenty of time to do so. Another possibility is that the ANC, which has been trying to distance itself from action taken against NUMSA, is actually putting pressure on COSATU, behind the scenes, to expel NUMSA. If NUMSA were indeed expelled for setting up a party in competition with the ANC, then the political significance of the expulsion would be obvious, and perhaps the ANC does not want to be too directly involved.

In either case, however, the ANC and COSATU have probably done precisely the wrong thing from their own perspective. The question now is simply whether NUMSA will be able to walk the walk, after talking the talk for so long. Will it be able to simultaneously set up a counter-COSATU and a counter-ANC? It would actually be better advised to work in the former than the latter, for the “United Front” is not going to be a success in the short term. But we shall have to wait and see whether NUMSA does anything at all, or whether, like so many radical movements before it, it proves to be all hat and no cattle, all mouth and trousers.

Glory to the Union!

February 7, 2015

After the uprising against corrupt foreign power which brought Nigel Farage to the Presidency of the New United Kingdom there were some who argued that the new politics could not last. However, when President Branson was elected in a free, fair and honest poll last August it was clear that the new politics were here to stay. Now, with the elections to the Union Assembly, it is clear that the changes are irrevocable.

Gone are the days of mudge and fudge when weak leaders alternated at Westminster. Gone are obsolete parties like the Labour Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, both of which did not dare even to put up candidates for the free, fair and honest poll for the Union Assembly.

Gone, too, are the days when the Union was dominated by corporate oligarchs. Some maintain that President Branson, democratically elected leader of the Free-Born Briton Party, has corporate links, but such crude smears belong to the politics of the past. Deputy President Cameron of the Conservative Unionist Party certainly cannot be accused of any such links to a mythical ruling class which exists only in the minds of exiled journalists in Putin’s pay. As for allegations that the League of St George is fascistic, merely because it restores the much-maligned British war leader William Joyce to his place in history, these can be dismissed as the maunderings of extremists.

Admittedly, the Union faces a hard road ahead. Many were perhaps disheartened when President Branson decided to suspend Operation Longshanks, the campaign to stop terrorists from imposing their brutal rule on the suffering people of Unionist Scotland. The Guardian wholeheartedly supports this move on humanitarian grounds. However, tough decisions will have to be made and, regrettably, some civilians in the region will die, many of them doubtless innocent, paying with their lives for the insanity of their supposedly-elected leaders in furthering the goals of Russian imperialism.

It is also true that the President’s prudent decisions have been associated with a temporary shortage of fuel. Putin’s vast propaganda machine is spreading the lie that this is linked to the momentary interruption of North Sea oil and the financial difficulties inevitable in a time of transition. In reality, the shortage can easily be resolved, and we call on our European coalition partners, and allies such as President Branson’s special adviser Anne-Marie Slaughter, to defy Russian meddling and give us the economic and military aid we need to solve all our difficulties. Our British Union must not fail, for the sake of justice and civilisation.

The Guardian says:

Forward with President Branson!

Forward against alien aggression!

Glory to the Union!

There Is No Decent Place To Stand In A Massacre.

February 7, 2015

A cluster of concepts, “decency”, “civility” and “the lesser evil” are closely related, widely used and deserve a little analysis and condemnation.

They arise out of contemporary political circumstances. The world is faced with numerous political crises, some real, some exaggerated and some imaginary. In all these cases one has to take a stand, even if the stand one takes is not to take a stand. However, one of the political crises is the collapse of conventional ideological leadership and analysis. Politicians routinely adopt postures which contradict their professed principles and betray their promises. To enable this they couch their propaganda in seemingly apolitical terms — “civilisational” or “religious”. This encourages people to resort to moral concepts which as political as those cultural terms, but are unrecognised as such.

“Decency” implies doing the right and proper thing, the moral thing, or in political terms the “principled” thing. Given a specific predicament, “decency” provides a specific response. However, this response is necessarily guided by cultural assumptions, which are unspoken. “Decency” implies acting more or less without thinking — which is appropriate when instant decisions are needed, as when a house is burning down, but inappropriate in a political context when decisions have consequences a decade or more down the line.

“Civility” requires that whatever one does is conducted in a right and proper fashion, which does not embarrass or outrage others. This has its influence on decent action, because certain actions might embarrass or outrage others and these are therefore to be avoided, even if they are decent, because they are uncivil. However, “civility” is usually taken as applying only to those who are “decent”; those placed outside the pale of “decency” do not deserve “civility”. “Civility” may seem a minor issue because it relates largely to the way in which one talks about actions. Howevwer, in a democratic society talking about actions is a necessary precursor to taking them, so “civility” can be an effective way of controlling actions through discouraging debate.

“The lesser evil” applies where a clearly-defined set of options may be ranked according to their moral legitimacy, but where none of these options is strictly “decent”. One has to choose the least morally bad thing. This is the “decent” thing to do, although the consequences may be indecent in leading to a lot of suffering. Discussing this suffering might not be wholly consistent with “civility”, so too much attention to the “evil” nature of the “lesser evil” is to be discouraged on grounds of civility. Describing someone or someone’s favoured policy as a “lesser evil” still leaves it as “evil”. If one were to constantly pursue “the lesser evil”, however, this would ultimately to strip “evil” of its moral pejorative status and turn “the lesser evil” effectively into good — because no “good” option was present to be discussed.

All these words and phrases, and the context within which they function, are euphemisms of a type specific to the petit-bourgeois class which serve to protect it against the reality within which it is embedded. A shared acceptance of what constitutes “decency” and “civility” is class-based. The petit-bourgeoisie claims to have ethical standards which must be preserved through “decency”. However, the function of the petit-bourgeoisie is to serve the bourgeoisie, which is neither “decent” nor ethical, and either this unethical nature must be denied, or the petit-bourgeoisie must pretend to be separated from the bourgeoisie in its “decency”. Meanwhile, the proletariat, where it has avoided saturation with petit-bourgeoisie propaganda, tends to prefer grub to ethics. Hence strikes tend to turn violent and the language of the working class is often far from “civil” — language which tends to upset the petit-bourgeoisie almost as much as the actions which relate to it.

“Decency” and “civility” imply that there is only one scale on which to judge such things, which is the scale of the person employing the terms. Implicitly, certain cultures and civilizations have greater “decency” and “civility” than others. An obvious example is the horror which various Western commentators express for the practice of cutting off the heads of one’s captives, or of slicing off the clitorises of one’s womenfolk. “We” would certainly not do such things; only “they” do. People who are not “decent” are suggested to be deficient in terms of their culture. That culture can then be condemned (which permits those who own the terms to make further assumptions, and take further actions, against that culture, ending in the reductio ad absurdum of Islamophobia, as in the gatesofvienna website, the manifesto of Andres Breitvik, or the speeches of the Prime Minister of Australia.)

It is not difficult to argue against beheadings or clitoridectomies on a general basis. The problem is rather utilising the concept of “decency” here, for this behaviour is indeed indecent, but (as is widely pointed out) the Western activity of blowing its political opponents into tiny pieces with bombs is not conspicuously more “decent” than the act of beheading. However, one can turn a political opponent into an aerosol by pressing a button, whereas the videoed beheadings entail knives, axes and cleavers, and blood on the floor instead of on faraway sandy plains which are not foregrounded in the media. In other words, “decency” entails “civility” by suppressing consciousness of unpleasant things.

The West does not cut off women’s clitorises any more. but there are numerous ways in which women suffer suppression or control of the behaviour which they wish to undertake. This control is not usually physical, but it is nevertheless very visible — as, for instance, in the bizarre policies of the American extreme right which has pursued hostility to abortion on demand to the point of becoming increasingly hostile to contraception. The fact that this is possible shows that the fear of, and desire for the control of, female sexuality in the West is quite widespread. Moreover, although Western liberalism purports to allow absolute freedom for women, much of that freedom is in fact closely channeled in order to turn women into men with female genitalia, or alternatively, into sex objects for masculine entertainment.

What this points to is not praise for head-chopping or condemnation for feminism, but rather, to a desperate need to look closely at the ideas and motives which lie behind behaviour which Westerners are encouraged to see as indecent, or indeed utterances which we are encouraged to see as uncivil. Chopping off heads is a terror tactic, exactly like any other tactic intended to instil terror, such as necklacing; it is a weapon of the weak intended to frighten the strong. Clitoridectomy is a male project to curb female sexuality, and also to stamp male control over culture; justifying it through Islamic culture (though there is nothing about it in the Quran) ensures that misogyny receives the sanction of the male Islamic clergy.

Condemn these things on the basis of received ideas is undesirable because anything can be condemned on the basis of such ideas — homosexuality, Christianity or whatever. It is much more sensible to ask whether the goals are generally desirable or the means effectual. For instance, even if the conquest of the Fertile Crescent by Wahhabis were desirable, cutting off the heads of infidels is unlikely to serve that goal, since it attracts violent assaults from powerful infidels elsewhere. (This is probably the reason why the head-chopping is happening, since the bosses of the head-choppers are probably Americans.). It is also arguably desirable that women be allowed to exercise their sexuality as freely as they wish to, and if they must be collectively curbed from doing so, cutting off bits of their bodies is a grotesque way of doing it which is surely culturally unsustainable. Thus it is possible to argue against these behaviours without making extreme cultural assumptions — it is possible to start a debate, one which the proponents of beheading and clitoridectomy would probably not wish to engage in because they couldn’t possibly win.

However, the concept of “decency” reduces its proponents to the same level as that of the proponents of beheading and clitoridectomy. It is a way of avoiding discussion, of rushing those who accept the concept into action without debate — except for the simple debate over “are these people just like us?” with the unspoken corollary that if they are not, they deserve to die. “Decency”, then, is a call for a crusade.

“Civility”, in its turn, is a device for refusing to question the need for a crusade. It is always proper, in a debate, to maintain some kind of standard of behaviour beyond which you should not go; it is not proper, in a game of chess, to pull out a pistol and shoot your opponent if you see your defeat looming a few moves hence, because nobody would play chess against you under such circumstances. But this kind of actual civility serves to further debate, not to suppress it. The use of “civility” amounts to changing the subject from substantive issues to non-substantive ones, and the question arising out of this is why substantive issues are not to be discussed.

A good example is the recent Salaita case in the United States, where a university professor was fired from his university for making extremely rude comments on Twitter about the Israeli attack on Gaza. The university argued that the professor was not meeting the requirements of “civility”, which would presumably require him to establish #IDFrjollywellnotcricket, or some such more courteous hashtag. By discussing whether Salaita was being sufficiently “decent” towards psychopathic racist murderers, the people criticising Salaita were changing the subject away from whether psychopathic racist murder should be condemned. (Most of the people supporting the campaign against Salaita are strongly in favour of psychopathic racist murder so long as it is conducted by Jews. On the other hand, the University’s motive seems to have been a desire to attract money to the campus by establishing itself as an anti-Palestinian and pro-Zionist entity. Many commentators have been uncivil and indecent enough to mention these facts.)

Locally, we have an obvious example in the behaviour of the EFF in Parliament when President Zuma addressed the National Assembly. The EFF were extremely uncivil to President Zuma, accusing him of defrauding the public and demanding that he pay back the proceeds of his fraud. The Parliamentary Speaker explained that it was unkind to make such abhorrently truthful remarks and demanded that they be withdrawn in the name of “civility”, whereupon the EFF became positively crude and vulgar and the police were called. “Civility”, here, was being used to protect a criminal from being exposed as such; the rules of Parliament were being employed so as to undermine the interests of the voting public.

What has such things to do with the “lesser evil”? The argument here seems intended as a last gatekeeper to capture those who are not entrapped by the former concepts. “Lesser evil” acknowledges that the system is rotten, for it says that the choices are all evil — in which case, by the laws of “decency”, we should bomb them, or at least withdraw all goodwill from them. However, one then says that it is our duty to select the evil which is least evil — first do no harm. This sounds reasonable. So, in America, one should always vote Democrat, despite the party’s evil, because if one does not, the still more evil Republicans will win. In Britain one should always vote Labour, despite the party’s evil, because if one does not, the still more evil Tories will win. In South Africa, one should always vote ANC, despite the party’s evil, because if one does not, the still more evil DA will get in.

You see through the concept of “decency” and realise that it is a scam to hide corruption; you see through the concept of “uncivility” which stops you from discussing corruption — but then you run up against your duty to act; you must restrict yourself to supporting the option which will do less harm than the other. The question is, why? Why support only that option? Why are you supporting that option when so many other people think that the Republicans or the Tories or the DA are actually the “lesser evil”, presumably on the basis of their own concepts of “decency”? Why be so carefully “civil” and refrain from condemning evil as evil, whether it be little or big?

This is the question which is not to be asked, and which concepts such as this discourage people from asking. And this is how we are taught to be subordinated. And this is what we ought to struggle against — indecently, uncivilly, and for the greater good.