Why Are We So Curst?

May 30, 2018

It is not at all surprising that the world is fucked up. The people who have taken charge of it are fucked up people — that is, people who have no allegiance to anything but themselves (or, at best, their own short-term interests where these coincide with the interests of the class which they perceive to benefit them personally).

Because they are not interested in anything but themselves, they are ignorant, and often seem stupid, but in reality they are more to be seen as single-minded; their minds are devoted to their own advancement. Therefore, when they get into power, they use that power to rig the system which put them in power so that they can stay there, and bring their friends and the members of the class which they perceive to benefit them into power.

All these people are fucked-up, and one of the ways by which you may know this is that they don’t want to hear anything except praise for themselves — they are not only selfish, they are extraordinarily vain. Therefore, when in power, they suppress all criticism, partly by simply promoting all toadyism. Hence they neither know nor care about the consequences of their actions. Hence the global calamity, and the incomprehension with which their agents view notions like Xi’s “Ecological Civilisation” in China, which is simply a propagandistic way of expressing the notion that countries ought to have some thought for how their populations are going to stay alive in future.

Yes, we know all this. But there remain two obvious questions. Why is it that there has been such extraordinarily little resistance from the left to the rise to power of these people, including, now, a pathetically restricted level of criticism of the conduct of these people even though they are plainly pursuing policies which will not only immiserate us all, but probably kill us? And, as a corollary which is also an embarrassing truth, why is it that there has been some resistance in some countries, even though it has for the most part not come from the left?

Let’s be clear about the nature of actual resistance. The countries which have resisted are many and varied: Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador in Latin America (and also Brazil before the coup, although this was a highly limited resistance) plus Cuba in the Caribbean; Zimbabwe in Africa (with some support for its resistance from South Africa, suggesting a modest sympathy for resistance of a sort); Iran in the Middle East; Russia and China in Eurasia; Malaysia and North Korea on the Pacific Rim. India, while not resisting, has made some noises of resistance; so have Iraq, Syria, and on occasion Turkey. Also, many of the former states of the Soviet Union have made accommodation with the form of resistance evolved in Russia.

What have these countries in common? The actual resisting countries are all fiercely nationalistic. They are also countries with a fierce desire to possess strong governments, having all had weak governments or puppet governments imposed on them by outsiders in the past. In other words, there’s a universal desire among these countries to run their own affairs properly and decide their own futures. It’s not that they oppose capitalism, but they oppose a homogenizing neoliberal capitalist project which ultimately best serves foreign powers. What is more, they are doing so in a loose concert, and in a way which deliberately appeals, and in some cases is intended to appeal, to a wider audience.

Of course, collaborative nationalism is something of a contradiction in terms. These countries do not all see the world in the same way, do not share identical values, nor do they act with equal energy and commitment to their goals — which makes them weaker than the unified, monolithic plutocratic capitalist states. Yet they all identify a common enemy and their governments, supported by a majority of their populations, are prepared to resist that enemy — to the extent that the enemy acts, or is suspected to be acting, as an enemy. (It’s worth pondering how long it has taken for this attitude to evolve, and what bitter experience China, Russia, Iran and the Latin American countries have gone through to recognise that the United States and its allies simply cannot be trusted to compromise on any issue, but always want everything for themselves.)

So this resistance does not come from pure, altruistic or socialistic sources. It comes, however, from sources which do wish to make a better world. China is run by a Communist Party which purports to — and to some extent, actually does — represent a practically implemented Marxist viewpoint. Iran is run by theocrats, but theocrats who also view their country as the spiritual home of their sect, and therefore as a country deserving to be defended in the same way that god is to be defended. Russia is run by an interlocking cabal of politicians and businesspeople headed by Vladimir Putin (but much too complexly so for him to be called a dictator by anyone who isn’t quite consciously being dishonest), a cabal whose common ground is the desire to restore Russia to something like its former status, more or less in the tradition of Peter the Great.

To sum up, although some of the resistance to the impending global disaster caused by Western countries’ corrupt and (on any terms but their own) incompetent governance comes from countries which have leftist impulses and histories, the resistance is not driven by leftism. How, then, has the global left responded to the disaster, and how has it responded to the resistance?

The answer is that to a very large extent the global left has become part of the problem. Liberal social democracy — the attempt to construct a left separate from Marxism but nevertheless responsive (in a modest way) to the problems which Marxism identifies — has collapsed into neoliberalism. There are hangovers from liberal social democracy still existing in parts of the West — Corbyn in Britain and conceivably Sanders in the United States are two examples — but these are generally assiduously prevented from any access to power, and it is not likely that if they gained power they would be able to restore anything like the liberal social democracy of the 1960s. Across most of the world that liberal social democracy never existed anyway, except as a puppet-show played by Western imperialists to legitimate their corrupt activities, so elsewhere such things don’t matter.

Outside that, there was Stalinism and the various forms of anti-Stalinist leftism, whether Bolshevik or anarchistic. Stalinism has largely collapsed, cravenly, into neoliberalism, covering up its treachery with a blizzard of rhetoric. (This is not altogether true everywhere, of course — Asian Stalinism, while it colludes with neoliberalism in many ways, remains one of the few leftist power-bases from which neoliberalism may be questioned and critiqued. However, it is certainly true of Stalinist leaders in Europe, even though their members may feel otherwise as their support for the resistance leader Melanchon illustrates.) Anti-Stalinist leftism was never able to build a solid powerbase anywhere (it is now clear that Catalonia in 1936-8 was a freak which could not be repeated) and the problem with it is thus that it never felt a need to be responsible, so that it was all too easily co-opted by neoliberalism.

The result of all this is that the global left, where it has not simply sold out, has been able to provide a series of critiques of global disaster, but these critiques are necessarily incoherent and unconnected to real power-structures. In consequence, these critiques are easily confused with the absurd and corrupt factionalism which characterises the anti-Stalinist left and which has permeated the Stalinist left to some degree. Above all, these critiques are unprincipled and, generally speaking, lack any Marxist consciousness worth mentioning.

This is partly because both the Stalinist and the anti-Stalinist left leaped onto the “new social movements” and “identity politics” bandwagons (an acknowledgement made as far back as 1999 by Naomi Klein in her soft-left book No Logo), bandwagons which they did not create and which turned out to be steered by the neoliberals and their treacherous social democratic agents. As a result, instead of refashioning the real issues of party, ethnic and gender discrimination within an overarching framework of class-consciousness, the lefts abandoned class-consciousness and plunged into the futile mire of postmodern politics, leaving economic reality behind.

Therefore the left is incapable of analysing the situation separately from the way in which the rulers of the world wish it to be analysed — it is thus incapable of effective critique, and all too often repeats the slogans of the oppressors, merely using different jargon. (Of course there are individuals who are more capable than others. There are intelligent people on the left capable of engaging with reality. But as an organised force, this is, to put it politely, the most common aspect of the left.) In effect, then, the left has lost power and lost consciousness of the need to possess power, and the impact of both losses has been disastrous for its capacity to interpret the world, and therefore for its capacity to change it.

This being the case, shouldn’t the left simply get out of the way and allow those who are in power and who are effectively fighting the battle which the left ought to be fighting, to get on with it? Well, no, because the people who are fighting are not on the left and cannot be trusted, in the long run, to serve the left’s ends. So the left’s response should be complex; qualified support, together with endeavouring to build its own support-base by opposing the disastrous policies of neoliberal plutocracy and, ultimately, opposing the compromises which the current resistance will inevitably make with those policies, and the current resistance’s own policies where those are anti-leftist.

But the left’s actual response is not this. The Western non-Stalinist left discovered early on that the USSR was not truly leftist. Soon after that, the Stalinist left discovered that China was not truly leftist. Not long after that, the non-Stalinist left also discovered that China was not truly leftist. If Russia and China were not leftist, then surely the countries which had been their satellites or allies, and the parties which had been their supporters, were not leftist either. Therefore, nobody was leftist except for the Western left. This was a fortunate discovery, since it exempted the Western left from the obligation of defending the USSR, China or anybody else against the criticism, condemnation, destabilization and ultimate aggression of the plutocratic neoliberal oligarchy of the West.

In fact, if the USSR and China and so on were not leftist, this provided a useful gold standard by which to declare that South Africa, or the Bolivarian republics, or the surviving Middle Eastern secular states, were not leftist either. Admittedly some leftists might choose to identify one or more of these states as being more or less leftist on occasion, as Tariq Ali did about Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba. But this placed no obligations on any other leftists to do the same; all were free to attack whoever they wished to attack for not being leftist and therefore for not deserving support. Therefore, the only reason for condemning an attack launched by Western plutocrats was that the attack was in some way wrong by Western standards; no country in the world deserved to be defended against such attack intrinsically, according to the Western left.

From the 1880s to the 1980s, the left had two major reasons for opposing imperialist and counter-revolutionary activities by the capitalist powers: in order to defend the homeland of socialism (wherever that was) and in order to follow the orders of the left party’s politburo, or central committee, or boss, or whatever. In practice, this meant furthering what appeared to be the interests of the left in a broad sense (even if it didn’t always turn out that way, as with the Nazi-Soviet Pact). Today, the left instead opposes such activities only when they appear to be popular in the corporate press and when it is absolutely certain that the Daily Mail and the Guardian will not criticise the left for doing so. As a result nobody expects the left to say anything original or interesting or, indeed, left-wing.

So in the end, the left does not offer any resistance because it does not dare to, and it has abandoned the project which might provide a basis for such resistance. Where it criticises the projects of plutocratic neoliberal oligarchs, it does so on a very crude and primitive basis by the standards of the leftists of the past, because it can only follow the models laid down by the oligarchs themselves.

If the left is to gain any traction, it must break free from this. At the present, the left seems to be completely irrelevant to the struggle being played out for the future of the human race. This is a truly extraordinary development, and one which is anything but healthy.

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The Cultural Revolution.

May 30, 2018

It’s difficult to say exactly what is amiss with South African culture; perhaps it’s worth looking at the communicators of culture, starting with the media.

The television and radio are abysmal, at least in terms of indigenous action. Yes, there are occasional TV programmes which are not wholly beneath contempt, but these are invariably bought from elsewhere and embody the implication that foreigners and foreign practices are necessarily to be slavishly imitated rather than critiqued — and that nothing African is of any interest except when filtered through white and Western consciousness. The TV is also an incessant generator of subservience to consumerism and to the power of wealth.

But what of the radio? Apart from playing lousy music to pass the time, the principal feature of the radio is talk shows — in which the commentators are almost invariably incapable of providing any reliable information on anything, so depend instead on the messages of their listeners. Whether these are sieved or not is hard to tell, but if they are not, then the majority of South African radio listeners are extraordinarily ignorant, bigoted and almost incapable of logical analysis of situations. However, these listeners are listening to programmes which are almost comically devoted to capitalist propaganda, within which nothing, from the sports programmes through the programmes condemning white racism and black corruption, to the “economic news” provided by corporate propagandists, is not framed within a plutocratic capitalist and consumerist milieu.

One by one, the holdovers of the former liberal SABC of the 1990s have been silenced, and now all is an omnipresent worship of the Almighty Dollar, broken only by an omnipresent worship of the wisdom of Western media’s perspective on the South in general and Africa in particular, and, of course, of the British Royal Family. Where there are exceptions, as with the occasional reportage (borrowed from al-Jazeera, usually) of Israeli crimes, these exist largely because the South African government has decided to take a stand for publicity purposes. Quite often, however, the radio decided to condemn the South African government’s stance — presumably because someone powerful has advised the corporate toadies of the SABC Board to do so.

It isn’t, perhaps, such a gigantic change; sponsored radio is necessarily under someone’s thumb. The SABC is far thinner than the BBC, but probably allows a little more real debate than the BBC does (partly because the BBC is so well-funded that it can afford to fill the space with paid propagandists wall to wall). But still, it’s hard to ignore the potential which radio displayed once upon a time, and compare that with the way in which that potential has been pissed away in the last decade and a half.

As for the newspapers — well! Or rather, not well at all. One of their main features is their unanimity in their propaganda. They have been universal in their support for particular factions of the ANC (those which are most likely to serve the interests of their owners, naturally), in their support also for individuals likely to disrupt the ANC, in their support for the DA’s leadership, in their support for established big business as opposed to upstarts like the Gupta family, and so on. They have been universal in their provision of mindless nostrums for the trivial problems of society (or rather, for the trivial symptoms of the deep-rooted real problems of society) while they have been universal in their declaration that all problems will be solved by handing the matter over to big business and to its agents throughout government.

Part of the problem is obviously the structure of ownership. Most of the former Times Media papers are owned by Blackstar Tiso, which despite its name is a white-owned conglomerate headed by a former financier named Bonamour. Most of the former Independent Media papers are owned by Iqbal Surve, a corporate operator who is particularly unscrupulous in hyping his financial projects through his newspapers. Most of the old Afrikaans press are owned by Media24, which is a subsidiary of a financial body heavily invested in a Chinese Internet marketing operation, 10 Cent. The Mail and Guardian, which is probably the nearest thing to a “quality” newspaper in South Africa, was owned by a shadowy company controlled by a man named Ncube, who had previously run the British political propaganda operations in Zimbabwe (which arouses obvious suspicions). Now it has been bought by a Trust which is controlled by two American billionaires, Soros and Omidyar, and its journalist-training operations are controlled by Soros’ “Open Society Foundation” (that secretive body devoted to U.S. domination).

The common feature to all these media operations seems to be finance capital; all the South African newspapers are thus run by and on behalf of financiers, who are obviously concerned with maximising their return on investment by turning their operations into propaganda. In addition, although the three white-run media groups are extremely hostile to Surve’s group, and although Media24 has a decidedly more old-apartheid flavour than the other three, on the whole the four bodies are almost interchangeable in their ideology and general values — and all are mainly concerned, as good corporate operators should be, with cost-cutting, as a result of which they are necessarily spending less on journalism and more on cheap sensationalism and prettification.

Another by-product of this corporatisation is that virtually all South African towns are now one-newspaper towns; Cape Town supposedly has two newspapers but they contain exactly the same stories printed on differently-shaped paper, while East London and Port Elizabeth are two towns which possess essentially one paper (since the Herald and the Despatch draw on the same resources and are printed on the same press). The absence of any meaningful competition naturally degrades quality of production as well as the substance of debate.

These are all, of course, for-profit operations, and the major political parties are also for-profit projects, focussing mainly on enriching themselves via their sponsors and on garnering votes through which political power may be acquired and used to gain positions from which tenders may be issued and thus sponsors be rewarded. In other words, not much may be expected from the major political parties, and their utterances add nothing positive to public debate. Next to the radio and television commentators and the print journalists, politicians appear both pathetic and disgraceful, barely capable of expressing themselves in order to fool the public into deeming them worth voting for. As a result the propaganda agencies have to do the work for them, which the politicians seem to accept, so that laughable figures like De Lille and Maimane in the DA, or nauseating figures like Ramaphosa and Mantashe in the ANC, are elevated to a stardom which the media can easily withdraw when it chooses to do so — displaying the supremacy of capital over democracy.

Supposedly not for profit, and the last remaining potential source of cultural enrichment, would be the social commentators of the “new social movements” in the street and the analysts based in the foundations and the universities. When one looks at these commentators and analysts, however, one finds that their conclusions and disturbingly identical to the conclusions of the journalists — that is, they have not attempted to develop any original ideas distinguishing them from people who are under the control of the corporate sector. Moreover, although some of the older ones (invariably ones who were operating before 1994) are still capable of packaging the stale corporate ideas in relatively fresh forms, the bulk of the younger ones offer nothing which is not available in newspaper editorials.

The reason becomes obvious when one looks at how they maintain their positions. The “non-governmental organisations”, lacking any popular support, are obliged to survive through corporate sponsorship. This means that those at the top have been able to garner large salaries which can only be maintained through continued sponsorship. Therefore the organisations have to focus their attention on whatever the corporations want them to focus on — and if they step out of line, or if the corporations feel they should be reined in, they are easily controllable, as Equal Education has discovered with the recent propaganda blasts against it over the sexual harassment commited by its activists (which has always been there, since Equal Education, like Section27, is a corporate-funded front for the residue of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency which was a nightmare of sexual exploitation and predation). Exactly the same is true of the foundations, many of which are one-man-bands set up to pursue single issues which corporations feel embarrassed to pursue openly, like the immiseration of the poor and the furthering of neocolonialism.

As for the universities, they have become pathetic spaces where half-trained overpromoted intellectuals vie with overqualified and resentful professionals for the scraps of wealth still cast under the table by the corporate bosses who sponsor the universities. Such people have neither the time nor the inclination to do real research, and if they did it, they would be unlikely to find any means of accessing the public with their results. A small handful of invariably corporate-funded “professors” have been created to sustain the illusion that anyone is listening to anything that university intellectuals say, or that those intellectuals have anything to say worth hearing — these “professors” repeat exactly what everybody else is saying, however, so nobody takes them seriously, and only the corporate propagandists even pretend to do so.

So the system is rigged. The only hope, as usual, lies in the proles, among the singers and writers who generate material which the public might actually take seriously as social commentary. Unfortunately, the South African music industry is entirely devoted to making money to the exclusion of any other consideration, and so very little South African music is anything more than endless stale repetitions of American models, whether rappers, folk singers or rockers. Black South African music is if anything more embarrassingly devoid of originality than the white music, embarrassingly because of the enormous wealth of potential material.

As for novels, there is again very little which is not derived from foreign models. Admittedly a few, like Moxyland, show a certain originality in their derivation; others, like Unimportance, show a certain commitment to some kind of representation of the real world. However, even these texts are often one-offs which are followed by an increasing commitment to First World tastes and an increasing flight from South Africa. (Arguably South Africa’s greatest living novelist, Michiel Heyns, has wandered far afield from his original commitment to establishing a genuine South African gay novel and has become, via his blind adoration for Henry James, a kind of rootless homosexual cosmopolitan.)

Which leaves only poetry for a representative of South African culture. And poetry is pretty much a culture of individuals, and is hardly noticed except by other poets. Most South African poets may comment extensively about the world around them, but the impact they make is negligible and, indeed, many of them are almost as derivative as the novelists.

The absence of a South African culture — apart from the traditions of the past and a few minor attributes generated by the clash between these traditions and the neoliberal commercialisation of society — is thus striking. We may speculate as to why this should be the case, why South Africa has abandoned all pursuit of such developments. But it is impossible to deny that it is the case.


The Jew Problem.

May 30, 2018

In South Africa we who are not Jewish almost never consider Jewish people a problem. Anti-Semitism has never had any traction among africans or coloureds, and little enough (at least until recently, and only among Muslims) among indians. Granted Anglophone whites brought some of the genteel anti-Semitism which characterised the English upper class with them to South Africa, but Afrikaner anti-Semitism was largely bound up with the National Party’s belief, and campaigns, concerning the exclusion of Afrikaners from major economic enterprise by the British Empire with Jews acting as its tools (which would have surprised Adolf Hitler up until September 1939 when he and Balthazar Johannes Vorster found themselves on the same page).

So if Jews were once not a problem, have they now become a problem, and if so, why?

This relates to a gradual shift in public consciousness, predominantly among white Westerners and those who serve them, in regard to Israel. The shift entailed a slow abandonment of the denial which the Western political class imposed around the crimes committed by Israelis against Arabs, and an acceptance, as a result, of the criminal nature of the Israeli state.

The shift began on the left, and in part it was opportunistic. After the collapse of Nasserite Arab nationalism, a modest leftist movement gained attention in many Arab states (though never gaining power). Aspects of the Palestinian movement joined this, or pretended to (though never gaining overall authority within the movement). The Western left noticed that while Israel (which had pretended to be a left-wing state for twenty-five years) was moving seriously right, the Arabs and Palestinians appeared to be moving left, and thus should be supported. This was all a pretense, but the Western left has never been good at identifying real trends.

Still, once the left made it OK to criticise Israel — partly through the activity of intelligent and well-informed critics of Israel like Noam Chomsky — Israel’s actual policies came into focus. It began to be noted that Israel’s domestic policies were brutal ethnic repression and cleansing, while its foreign policy supported virtually every tyranny you could think of. South Africans were particularly outraged by the Israeli support for the apartheid military, which received warships, warplanes, tanks, ballistic missiles and small arms from Israel.

This process was intensified by Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The invasion was unprovoked (like all Israeli aggressions it was allegedly based on the need to deter pinprick attacks by feeble opponents). Worse, on the map it was impossible to make Lebanon look bigger than Israel in the way that “Arab” states had been portrayed in Israeli and Western propaganda. Then the kidnapping, torture and mass murder which accompanied the aggression became evident, and a few brave commentators began mentioning that this was not the first time this had happened. Disaffected Israeli historians recognising that kidnapping, torture and mass murder accompanied every major act of the Israeli state since 1947.

This did not pose obvious problems for most Westerners. Either you supported gross violation of human rights for political gain, in which case you sided with your government on Israel, or you supported the human rights which the Western governments pretended to endorse, in which case you opposed Israel and also opposed your government. Supposedly left-wing opposition parties sometimes took advantage of this to loudly condemn Israeli crimes to curry favour with the voters. Then, when they took office, they colluded with Israel, like their predecessors, which was embarrassing and indeed a disgraceful sign of the collapse of social democracy. However, this was a broad problem of Western domestic politics, not a moral problem or one having its roots in the Middle East.

The only grouping in the West which had any real problem was the Jewish community. Jews had long been in the forefront of left-wing politics. Many of these had become severe critics of the Israeli state. The Jewish community, apart from extremists like the Anti-Defamation League, had largely tolerated this. Proably they felt that so long as Israel was in no danger of being criticised by any significant force in the West, it made no difference if some Jews criticised Israel. Indeed, arguably uncritical support for Israel was something of an embarrassment for Jews — no believing Jew could claim that any earthly state, even a Jewish one, could be perfect — so the presence of Jewish critics of Israel became a kind of internal defense mechanism for wider support for Israel.

The trouble arise when it became obvious to everybody that the Jewish state of Israel was odious, and particularly when (for domestic political purposes) important political forces in Western countries began acting against South Africa, which in many ways was a milder and less intransigent version of Israel. Suddenly it became conceivable that Israel might someday face really effective condemnation, and perhaps even action, from the West. The U.S. government began endeavouring, with some success, to buy off the Palestinian movement in order to reduce conspicuous conflict between Palestinians and Jews in Israel. This entailed muted criticisms of the Israeli annexation of Arab territory and oppression of Palestinians — criticisms which were disingenuous and one-sidedly favoured the Israelis, but which seem to have terrified the Israeli government. It responded in its traditional fashion, through intransigence and intensified repression.

What were Jews to do, and in particular what were South African Jews to do? In public they pretended to support the pseudo-reform initiatives. In private, however, they appear to have recognised that even pseudo-reform was intolerable, because pseudo-reform required acknowledging the possibility of real reform, and the Palestinians might then demand that. How could Israel survive if the West suddenly decided that it would support the Palestinians in the interests of resolving a Middle East conflict which centred around the presence of a violently aggressive settler state sitting in the middle of a dispossessed and disgruntled Arab population?

The problem for Jews is that Israel is their spiritual homeland, and the whole Zionist movement which the vast majority of Jews support entailed the return of Jews to their spiritual homeland, displacing the people for whom that had been a physical homeland for thousands of years. The Zionist movement accomplished this through fraud and violence and through shabby political deals with the British and American governments under which the Zionists would serve those governments’ purposes in exchange for support. (The Zionist Jews violated those deals whenever it suited them — they did not recognise the authority of non-Jews, whether those were Turks, Arabs or Westerners.)

Naturally, this fraud and violence had consequences, but Jews could not acknowledge those consequences because they saw the return to the spiritual homeland as an end of such virtue that no negative consequence could be recognised. All the mythologising which had gone on through the Zionist movement (and after that carried on by the Israeli state) served to intensify that. With a few honourable exceptions, Jews identified with the Israeli state and accepted its crimes as at worst mildly regrettable, but often seen as a positive factor (this helps to explain the strange stance of the historian Benny Morris) because it was about time that Jews were doing the killing and torturing, rather than someone else doing it to Jews. The Palestinians were effectively suffering payback for anti-Semitic atrocities committed not in Arab lands but in Western Europe.

So the Jewish community faces a real moral contradiction. There is only one Jewish state in the world, whereas Jews mostly live in communities of Caucasians or Arabs who have numerous states (if you go by race rather than by cultural identity). Therefore nationalist Jews feel that they have everything to lose; if they lose their nation-state again (as they did repeatedly in the distant past) they might never recover it. (This accounts for some of the more cruel and brutal remarks made against Palestinians by Israelis and Israeli supporters, to the effect that Arabs have lots of states and they surely won’t miss just one.) Nationalist Jews can easily be convinced to be callous and brutal in the name of a cause which they believe is absolutely just regardless of what is done in its name.

But who is “they” in the case of Jews, as far as non-Jews are concerned? To avoid the obvious stigma of anti-Semitism, the left, and later most activists on the issue who deserve to be taken seriously, have adopted the jargon of “anti-Zionism”. We are not against the behaviour of the Jews, it is said, we are against the behaviour of Zionists, in their murderous and terroristic assaults on Palestinians and other Arabs and their repugnant endorsement of every odious and repressive regime in the world (look at the list of nations which attended the lavish party held to celebrate the opening of the U.S. Embassy in occupied East Jerusalem, and then decide whether to laugh or weep).

This sounds sensible, except that Jews are Zionists. Yes, there are Jews who oppose Israeli crimes; there are also Israelis who oppose Israeli crimes. The numbers in each group are insignificant. Compared with the number of white South Africans who opposed the crimes of apartheid and even the crimes of colonialism before it, the number of anti-Zionist Jews is trivial. We may thus say that the overwhelming majority of Jews bear a heavy blood guilt for the ghastly nature of the regime which they desired, helped to create, currently sponsor and expect to survive until the end of the world, a guilt which must be attributed to every Jewish individual unless s/he can prove innocence — just like what white South Africans experienced under colonialism and apartheid.

The guilt creates a distorted consciousness. Jews are normal people; they are not naturally psychologically disturbed. Yet, because they are isolated from the general communities in which they live outside Israel, it is easy for ideological fanatics to hijack the discourse within their particular communities. Then, while Jews outwardly pretend to be perfectly normal and civilised people, behind the scenes they endorse the most barbaric behaviour — and while this is arguably true of most societies, it is particularly conspicuous in the case of the Jews because the barbarism which they endorse serves the interests of a distant state. Then Jews pretend to be more moral than non-Jews. It is as if Jews had carefully read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and come away determined to follow the principles of that old forgery committed by the Czarist secret police to legitimate mass anti-Semitic progroms.

Granted, Jews say that they support torture, ethnic cleansing, mass murder and (possibly ultimately) genocide only against Arabs, and for the most part Palestinian Arabs. But can we believe them? Since this vile set of policies is justified wholly because the victims of the crimes are non-Jews, one must ask whether, if the issue were (say) the slaughter of black South Africans, the Jews would have qualms about endorsing that. Most probably the answer is that they would feel nothing; one set of non-Jews is much like another, and all are ultimately to be exterminated, as specified in the Old Testament which largely guides contemporary Jewish politics. Significantly, the repression and racism directed against Palestinians has become repression and racism against black and brown guest-workers imported into Israel.

Meanwhile, the degenerate behaviour of the Israeli regime in committing crimes for no good reason, as if (like old-fashioned James Bond movie villains) they gain pleasure from being despicable, spills over into wider Jewish society in a distasteful way. Take the recent behaviour of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and Zionist Federation (the two entities are largely interchangeable) over South Africa’s measured and surprisingly principled stand against the recent Israeli massacres in Gaza.

The complaint of these august bodies is that South Africa’s withdrawal of its ambassador is a) “outrageous” and b) “shows double standards”. The Democratic Alliance, which was founded by wealthy Jewish businessmen and remains heavily staffed at senior administrative level by wealthy Jewish people and their sons, added (copying the Zionist Federation) that this diplomatic message amounted to “walking away” from the crisis. Let’s try to assess these remarks.

Why should anyone feel “outrage” when a government makes a diplomatic protest in response to another government ordering its army to maim or murder a group of thousands of unarmed civilians enclosed behind a stout fence? You might believe that the maiming and murder was justified, in which case you would feel regret at the misunderstandings of the protesting government and attempt to explain the justifications. Outrage, however, means that you are appalled at the mere fact of protesting against the unprovoked killing and serious wounding of civilians by armed forces.

The elected voice of South African Jewry feels no outrage about the the armed forces of Israel firing live ammunition into defenseless crowds of people. This absence of outrage exists even though, twice in every year, South Africans commemorate the similar crimes of the South African government in the Sharpeville and Soweto massacres, to say nothing of the extensive condemnation of the more recent Marikana massacre — a condemnation endorsed by many South African Jews.) It is as if South African Jewry endorses and promotes psychopathic behaviour.

The question of “double standards”, is manifestly “whataboutery”. The elected voice of South African Jewry requires that the South African government should not protest against the crimes committed by Israel until it has protested against the crimes committed by other governments. These organisations have never lobbied the South African government to make such protests. The obvious goal of this is to postpone, preferably indefinitely, any protest against crimes committed by Israel — which corresponds with the notion that these organisations are psychopathic.

To clarify their claim, however, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies gives some examples. They note that South Africa has not taken diplomatic action against Syria, for crimes committed in that country. But Syria has been engaged in civil war since 2011, and in a civil war one must expect war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly in one as bitter and brutal as the Syrian has been since its first days. Nor is it conceivable that diplomatic gestures would make any difference to the behaviour of either side. So this is a silly and irrelevant demand.

But also, a major participant in the Syrian war is the Israeli government, which has sponsored and provided bases for the Wahhabi gunmen in the south-east of the country (operating out of Syrian territory illegally occupied by Israel). Israel has also committed repeated acts of unprovoked aggression against Syria during the war, murdering numerous people in the process. Therefore one of the parties to be condemned in the war is Israel itself, which the Jewish Board of Deputies refuses to do.

Two other examples which the South African Jewish Board of Deputies present are those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and of Zimbabwe; in both cases, they claim, the South African government has “done nothing”. In reality, South Africa has been more active in engaging both countries than any other country in the world. In both cases the problem amounts to promoting a culture of democratic accountability in the government while protecting it against various kinds of external aggression and pressure — and solving such problems requires as much diplomatic engagement as possible; gesture politics like the withdrawal of an ambassador can have no useful role to play.

In neither case is the government systematically murdering members of an oppressed ethnic group, as occurs in Israel. (One of the few cases where that may actually be happening in the world, outside Israel, is Myanmar — which was welcomed as an honoured guest at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in occupied East Jerusalem, the act which provoked the protests which were met by the Israeli massacre!). In both cases, the skin colour of the people being falsely condemned by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies is black, just as in Syria it is brownish. It seems possible that the elected voice of South African Jewry is exploiting, and promoting, white supremacist paranoia and racism.

So if South African Jewry does not repudiate such despicable behaviour, one must assume that they endorse it. Therefore South African Jews may be suspected of encouraging ghastly crimes on a basis of racial prejudice directed against both Arabs and africans, and potentially, all who criticise those ghastly crimes and that racial prejudice. Since this means that the values which South African Jews support oppose everything which South Africa stands for, and the values which they support, if seriously applies, would tear South Africa to fragments, one must say that South African Jews (for all their outward bourgeois moderation) constitute a threat to the South African community in a way that no other grouping does.

Perhaps the threat is not real, or at least not particularly serious. Nevertheless, for our own protection, it is thus important that the horrible values which South African Jews espouse are continually challenged and criticised, and that South African Jews are no longer given a free pass to support horrific crimes and contemptible beliefs.


31 Theses on the Syrian War.

May 16, 2018
  1. The Syrian war arose out of the “Arab Spring”, which was an attempt by the United States government to remodel the Middle East in its own interests through destabilisation and other kinds of political pressure rather than pure aggression as in the earlier Iraqi war.
  2. The agenda of the “Arab Spring” was to bring all Arab countries under a Sunni-corporate regime, discourage democracy, and ultimately mobilise Arab governments into an anti-Iranian front headed by Saudi Arabia and (implicitly) Israel.
  3. The need to focus Qatari, Saudi and NATO aggression against Libya in order to prevent the Libyan government from defeating the Qatari/Saudi/NATO-funded Wahhabi insurgents meant that the attack on Syria had to be delayed.
  4. The delay meant that the Syrian government was able to see what the Qatari/Saudi/NATO coalition intended for the countries which they overthrew in the bloody chaos which followed the Wahhabi takeover in Libya.
  5. Since the Syrian government understood that this chaos was what the American and Gulf fomentors of the “Arab Spring” sought for them, and since as nationalists and secularists they were opposed both to imperialist control and to Islamic fundamentalism, especially of the Wahhabi sort, they suppressed all signs of a nascent uprising extremely brutally.
  6. The Syrian spy services were extremely incompetent in failing to identify the impending Wahhabi guerrilla war, and may have compounded their blunder by attempting to promote Islamic fundamentalism as a supposed counterweight to the American-sponsored “liberal” movement supposedly inspired by the “Arab Spring”; meanwhile, the Syrian armed forces were notably incompetent in resisting the initial incursions of guerrillas.
  7. In the initial stages of the war at least, there was substantial (if not overwhelming) support for the insurgents among the population (at least certain segments of a very divided population).
  8. Given that the Ba’ath Party espoused a one-party state led by a family of dictators surrounded by a narrow cabal of supporters, and strictly censored all political debate and suppressed all opposition by violence, it is natural that some people would feel that anything would be better than this.
  9. In a dictatorial context, people tend to be quite ignorant of what is going on around them and are easily convinced that if the Party said something, then the opposite of that had to be true; it is thus the responsibility of the opposition to the dictatorship to provide reliable and relevant information.
  10. The uprising in Syria was clearly endorsed by the United States for its own purposes (meaning that supporting the uprising meant supporting U.S. imperialism) and was sponsored by the Wahhabi regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar (meaning that supporting the uprising entailed supporting the Wahhabi Sunni movement).
  11. Therefore, although the popular support for the Syrian uprising was understandable, the leaders of the uprising knew that they were serving the interests, not of Syrians, but of the American government and the dictators of the Gulf states, and deliberately deceived their people into believing that the uprising had any merit for Syrians themselves.
  12. The deception carried out by the ostensible leaders of the Syrian “revolution” and the “Free Syrian Army” must have been because they hoped for preferment in any future government even though few of them were Wahhabi, or because they had been bought off by American or Gulf agents.
  13. Although the ostensible leaders of the Syrian uprising, many of whom had once been trusted by the Syrian people, were traitors to Syria and were culpable in the crimes committed against Syria in the name of the insurgency, the most culpable people of all are the Western liberals and leftists who promoted the Syrian uprising as if it were indigenous to Syria, and provided cover for the American and Gulf agents and the odious forces which they supported in Syria.
  14. The Turkish and American involvement in the Syrian war, while substantial, was committed to more limited goals than the Saudi and Qatari involvement, because in the end the Turks and Americans were not ideologically committed, but were fundamentally concerned with their national interests as they perceived them.
  15. The failure of the Syrian uprising to overthrow the government by 2013 seems to have made the Obama administration doubt that the Saudi and Qatari methods would bring a successful result, and therefore the attempt was made to legitimate a US bombing campaign against Syria — which was presumably intended to so degrade the Syrian armed forces as to make the insurgents win — through claims that the Syrian government was using chemical warfare.
  16. The Russian concern about the ultimate destruction of its minor naval base in Syria, but also the Russian desire for a diplomatic coup, encouraged Russia to involve itself diplomatically and militarily in support of the prevention of a US bombing campaign by enlisting the UN to support the destruction of the Syrian chemical warfare capacity, which provided the US with the appearance of a diplomatic “victory” and thus compensated for the failure of the attempt to justify aggression.
  17. The Russian diplomatic success in Syria encouraged closer ties between Russia and Syria, but also, because the Russians encouraged the Chinese to involve themselves in diplomatic activity in the anti-chemical-warfare project, encouraged closer ties between China and Syria and between Russia and China, which also further encouraged Iranian engagement with Syria.
  18. The US encouragement of a coup against the Ukrainian government in order to install an anti-Russian regime had been in progress for several years, but it is possible that the Russian diplomatic success in Syria encouraged the US to advance the timetable of the coup and thus make it more chaotic, possibly also promoting the Russian fears which led to the seizure of the Crimea, and thus the provocation of the secession of the Donbass, which in turn promoted the direct US attack on Russia.
  19. It is also possible that the Saudi/Qatari support for a Wahhabi movement in Iraq to overthrow the Shi’ite Iraqi government or at least seize control of a large part of Iraqi territory, and thus open yet another front in the Syrian war into the bargain, was in part a US response to the Russo-Chinese intervention which had stymied direct aggression against Syria.
  20. The establishment of the “Islamic State” movement in Syria and Iraq provided a fresh source of recruits for the insurgency and severely overextended the Syrian armed forces, bringing them, after almost five years of fighting, to the verge of breakdown, but its genocidal brutality and cultural destructiveness also made it clear, yet again, what the real agenda of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States was.
  21. The behaviour of the “Islamic State” was intended to legitimate the US intervention supposedly (but not actually) in opposition to it, but this also provided justifications for the Russian government to intervene.
  22. The Russian intervention, associated as it was with an expanded Lebanese intervention and a substantial Iranian intervention, was not only legal in terms of international law and custom (unlike the US intervention, which amounted to invasion) but it was also much better planned and executed and had far greater prospect of success since it relied on enhancing the competence, equipment and morale.of the Syrian armed forces.
  23. The American ground invasion of Syria which followed the Russian intervention was tardy, inept and largely pointless given that it depended for its survival on sympathy from Turkey and Iraq which could not be guaranteed, especially not after Iraq had largely defeated the “Islamic State” and crushed the Kurdish attempt to take advantage of its temporary weakness.
  24. The Turkish shooting down of a Russian combat aircraft attacking Wahhabi insurgents on Syrian soil was almost certainly approved by the US.
  25. The Russian response to the Turkish attack on their armed forces was extraordinarily measured and suggests that Russian intelligence had realised that Turkey was the weakest link in the US-Turkish-Israeli-Jordanian-Saudi-Qatari coalition against Syria, and that a combination of coercion and diplomacy might shift Turkish support away from the Wahhabi insurgents who had little in common with Turkish Islamism.
  26. The failed coup against the Turkish government which followed an apparent warming of relations between Russia and Turkey was organised on US soil and was probably carried out with the approval of the US government; in any case the Turkish government believed that this was the case and would have been foolish to believe otherwise, so this was a major factor in the shift of Turkish allegiance away from support from the Wahhabi insurgents in Syria.
  27. The Syrian victories against Wahhabi insurgents in Homs, Aleppo and Palmyra was met with an ineffectual series of bombings of Syrian and allied forces undertaken by the Israelis and the US which suggested that the US support for the insurgents had become incoherent, a notion buttressed by the election of Donald Trump as US President which flew in the face of US ruling-class support for Wahhabi-sponsored regime change in Damascus.
  28. Despite the much improved military situation for the Syrian government after its string of victories and despite the expanded contribution of Russian armed forces, intelligence agencies and diplomats in the region, the Syrian government did not show the overstretch and hubris which might have been expected from the past, but instead continued a methodical process of systematic expansion of territorial control without any dramatic actions against the insurgents.
  29. The US increasing reliance on Kurdish insurgents to protect their forces occupying Eastern Syria, naturally generated conflict with Turkey, which eventually led to the Turkish invasion of north-eastern Syria and the collapse of the Kurdish forces in the region — making it possible for an ultimate negotiated Syrian recovery of the region to take place should Turkey be willing to allow this.
  30. The success of the Syrian Ba’ath Party in resisting this level of aggression when virtually all other attempts at self-defence in the region have failed, is a strong suggestion that the Ba’ath Party is a legitimate organisation in Syria, and must form part of any future government.
  31. Given all the above points, not only does the initiative lie with the Syrians, but it does so justly, and all possible support should be offered to any initiative aimed at restoring the territorial integrity of Syria and expelling all foreign invaders from that country, before any discussion of any constitutional changes takes place — and nobody involved in the Syrian insurgency should be viewed as an appropriate participant in any such discussion.

 

 


Winnie, the Poo, and the Pooh-Pooh.

May 16, 2018

So Winnie Mandela, child-murderer, doctor-murderer, fraudster, serial liar, faithless wife and traitor to her party, is finally dead. Clearly it is true that only the good die young, and Winnie did her best to ensure the truth of that maxim.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum? It is hard to apply this to someone like Winnie. Granted she spent over two decades under the horrible restrictions of a banning order in the Brandfort magisterial district and she did not abandon her commitment to the ANC. Doesn’t that count for something?

Of course it does — but not for everything. Anyone might be mentally disturbed by harassment on such a scale. Still, it could not have come as a surprise. A year before Winnie married Nelson Mandela, Mandela was facing trumped-up treason charges. Police massacres were frequent; detention without trial, banning orders and harassment on every level were prevalent. She knew perfectly what she was getting into, and when she went ahead with the marriage she knew that she was trading status for risk.

Moreover, loads of other people faced similar harassment. People act as if exile to Brandfort was the South African equivalent to Siberia, but it’s fifty kilometres from Bloemfontein on a good tarmac road, and not that far from the national road if you need to turn off, and it’s a middling-sized country town. No fun, to be sure, but nobody under a banning order could expect much fun.

So, how was it that Winnie morphed into such a monster when others didn’t?

One must speculate. Winnie came from a Transkei ruling-class family with a whopping sense of entitlement; she had never suffered the humiliation which her husband had suffered before the Special Branch knocked on her door. But after she emerged from jail and went into internal exile, she did so as the wife of the President, who could come back and save her — and thereafter she was the wife of the country’s chief political prisoner, who would someday emerge from jail and liberate everyone. Essentially, she was always the queen in exile — and the more her image was build up, and the more the Charterists began building networks of support for prominent, senior ex-ANC figures, the more her sense of entitlement, vanity and resentment at her ill-treatment was fed.

Then, when she came out of banning, everything changed about her situation — she was now in the limelight, surrounded by admiring supporters — but nothing changed about her attitude towards it. Everyone wanted to know what Winnie thought and said. Was she a proxy for Nelson? Did she have a hot-line to Oliver? In her mind, she was the centrepiece of events. “La Liberation, c’est moi!“.

It was natural that she should have a bodyguard. No doubt this was endorsed by the UDF and the ANC at the time, although they would probably not acknowledge this now. It was also natural that she should seek to make an emotional appeal to her audience, since she was not a particularly politically or intellectually experienced figure, whereas she had plenty of symbolic significance. But in the mid-1980s the basis for such an appeal lay in the “young lions” of SASCO and COSAS, from whom she drew most of her bodyguard as well as her support. These young men were naturally fantasists imagining that swaggering was a substitute for military skill and discipline, and that all they needed was access to weapons to transform themselves into an army of liberation. Naturally Winnie appealed to them, which was why she made speeches promoting violence carried out not by the liberation forces, but by anyone who could pick up a rock or a box of matches. In the echo-chamber which her life had become, she could hear no criticism of this.

Turning the bodyguards into the “Mandela Football Club” meant establishing Winnie’s own private urban guerrilla force, but one operating out in the open. Any realistic observer had to know that this could only be possible with the tacit consent of the apartheid regime, which can have had no illusions about Winnie’s character and her possible utility for their purposes. On one hand, the ANC knew that this could be dangerous because it was outside its own control. On the other hand it knew that this would be dangerous because it was liable to infiltration and misuse. Therefore, inevitably, there came a time when the ANC and the UDF had to call for it to be disbanded.

How could Winnie allow the dismantling of her toy soldiers? How could she admit that she had been wrong to commit murders and other crimes in the name of the ANC but without the ANC’s approval? She could only do this if she acknowledged that along with the privilege of being an ANC leader came the responsibility of subordinating her vanity to the control of the organisation — of exercising a much tighter discipline than had been expected of her when she was in Brandfort.

Most other activists would probably have done this, but Winnie’s self-centred vanity forbade this. Instead she ran around blaming everybody but herself, smearing her opponents and trying to garner support from the shattered remnants of open political organisation — and when the Football Club was dismantled by a combination of public outrage and police action — for once the ANC and UDF had disowned her, the secret police no longer found her actions useful, she had to scramble to escape punishment herself, but without ever acknowledging that she had done anything to deserve punishment.

So in a sense the monster which Winnie became was a monster created by circumstances, by misjudgements on the ANC and UDF’s part, and by Winnie’s own personality defects fostered by the conditions of the time. This doesn’t excuse her behaviour, but it renders it explicable. It also means that her failure to ever admit that she was wrong, her nefarious conspiracies against comrades within the ANC after the unbanning, and her subsequent abysmal performance as an ANC official, a Cabinet member, and an ANC MP, make a fair amount of sense. Competence requires a degree of subordination to the goal and the organisation pursuing the goal, and Winnie was never able to acknowledge the authority of anything except her own ego.

So why was it that she remained popular, at least in some circles? Well, which circles were those? Predominantly, they were the circles a) of PAC-oriented people like Patricia de Lille, b) of young or formerly young people critical of the compromises made by the ANC’s leadership under Mandela and Mbeki, c) of incompetents and crooks sacked, like Winnie, under Mandela and Mbeki. In other words, the combination is of deluded fantasists, nostalgic “if only we’d” dreamers, and outright crooks, all of whom saw, correctly, Winnie as a mirror in which they saw themselves, but a mirror which reflected their own ignoble failures and foolish boasting favourably. Outside these circles, Winnie enjoyed no serious support until she was safely dead.

Why, then, and for what purpose, was Winnie transformed into the great icon of the great struggle after her death?

A clue is in the people who were doing it. Obviously the ANC was in any case going to celebrate her death rather than ruminate over her wrongdoing and its complicity therein. Ramaphosa, shaky on his throne of platinum, naturally did not want to encourage criticism but rather promote a festival of unified love centred around his own magnificence. Therefore the stage was set for unthinking worship.

But this does not explain why the anti-ANC media and various public figures generally opposed to the ANC joined in. Arguably, this was because Ramaphosa’s corporate handlers were ready to go along with whatever Ramaphosa wanted in order to keep their puppet safely in power. Virtually none of these media and these figures has ever shown any interest in supporting real political activism (outside the corporate framework which they are paid to support). So their support for Winnie was not support for the ANC as a political entity with a political agenda, nor was it support for a radical transformation of society.

Instead, it was support for a conspiracy theory in terms of which a dead politician had been a “stalwart”, an “activist”, a “radical”, a “champion” and a “militant”. It should be noted that all of these terms could as easily be applied to a campaign in support of Adolf Hitler, who was all of those things. Apart from nebulous claims, or obviously false claims (like the pretense that Winnie had any positive impact on the ANC Women’s League, which a single glance at the League’s record refutes), none of the support for Winnie amounted to support for any real cause or policy issue.

Instead, the conspiracy theory reduced itself to the notion that the entire leadership of the ANC apart from a few scoundrelly types like Peter Mokaba, the leadership of the UDF, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were all “against Winnie” and collaborating with the apartheid regime in order to defame and discredit her. The immediate question which was never raised anywhere in the media was why this should have been the case. Obviously there was a campaign by the apartheid regime to exploit Winnie’s misconduct and criminal activities in order to harm the ANC, but why should anybody — except perhaps the TRC, dominated by white liberals and PAC members and therefore not friendly to the ANC and perhaps inclined towards collaboration with the old regime — wish to join in this campaign?

The reason why the question was not asked is that the entire notion was based on the idea that the ANC is a corrupt conspiracy against someone or other — ostensibly the “people”, who in this case amounts to the people with money who own the propaganda outlets and the political parties opposing the ANC. It is essentially the same as the political opinions of Judge Chris Nicholson and the smear campaigns emanating from the SACP and the Zuma camp against Mbeki and for corruption and incompetence to be promoted over integrity and ability. The connection with the corrupt and incompetent conspiracy-mongering Winnie is easy to see.

The sheer blindness of this anti-ANC attitude — which in effect reduces to the 2016-17 EFF position that anything anti-ANC must be good — is profoundly anti-political. Applied to an individual elevated to superstar status, one sees a sort of celebrity culture at work. Noam Chomsky has compared current political analysis with sports commentary (although most sports fans take their subject much more seriously, and apply much more skill and knowledge, than political commentators do to their subject) but this seems too kindly to current political culture. It is, rather, the elevation of unremarkable people — whether mediocre singers, mediocre actors or mediocre politicians — to superior status through marketing and the relentless repetition of their names in favourable contexts.

Obviously this also entails the denigration of people who might deserve better treatment. Again, this culture is in part about mobilising people to jeer at and attack anyone identified as the enemy (and by definition, unprotected and safe to mock and assault). Therefore the attack on the supposed conspiracy forces correlates perfectly with this practice. Rather than being told what was happening, the amnesiac populace are instead told that someone is good, with no reason or context necessary, and that other people are bad, and no evidence other than a propaganda video has ever been led to justify this in Winnie’s case. It is not necessary; the mob merely assembles, and chants the approved slogans like the sheep in Animal Farm.

Another part of the campaign, of course, is race and gender. Journalists — mostly black and female, but not exclusively so — proclaim that Winnie was a paragon of everything a black person and a woman should be. Therefore, they claim, the conspiracy against her is clearly a conspiracy of men and whites. Therefore again, no male and no white is entitled to criticise Winnie, while all blacks and all women must stand together to defend Winnie against this racist-sexist onslaught. The absence of the existence of any such onslaught, or of any justification for praising Winnie on racial or gender grounds, is not permitted to interfere with this propaganda — just as the absence of any real gender or race issues did not prevent the American elite from mobilising fools to support Obama and Hillary on gender and race grounds.

Thus the Winnie campaign shows us very clearly what the political agenda of our current ruling class is — the absolute and permanent disempowerment of the general public in the name of liberation, using compliant (or conveniently dead) black celebrity figures to mobilise ignorance, prejudice and sloth against anyone who dares to challenge the system. What a wonderful world we live in!


Midrand Blues I: How We Got Zuma.

November 10, 2017

If you read the propaganda sheets (and who doesn’t?) you learn that the problems of South Africa were all caused by Jacob Zuma and that the solution to the problem is simple; get rid of Jacob Zuma. This is obviously a pack of lies, a conspiracy theory which panders to the prejudices and the simplistic assumptions of the ignorant and bigoted who make up the bulk of Our Glorious Opposition. In fact, nobody sits down and says “How can I destroy my party, my society and my country to the greatest possible extent?”; even Iago was motivated by spite.

So, what exactly happened? Obviously, some force put Zuma where he is, and some force or forces encouraged Zuma to do what he did, but also encouraged many, many other people to do what they did to get us where we are today. Also obviously, some similar forces have been acting on every other society in the world, for the whole world has been circling the same plughole that South Africa is going down, but let’s focus on South Africa for simplicity without forgetting that we are not unique.

How did Zuma become Deputy President, a job for which he was far from well equipped?

Zuma and Mbeki worked together to neutralise Inkatha in KwaZulu-Natal; Mbeki was an outsider there and found Zuma’s schmoozing skills extremely helpful. As a result, this ineptly scheming place-filler whose previous job had been mismanaging ANC Security was pulled up by his fake leopard-skin and turned into a major influential player within the ANC. KwaZulu-Natal was a major part of Mbeki’s plans for the ANC, and by placing a Zulu in a prominent position he believed that he could win Zulu tribalists away from Inkatha — which proved to be the case, especially after Inkatha lost the patronage it enjoyed under apartheid. Mbeki was the obvious heir apparent to the ANC Presidency, and when he became President it was natural for Zuma to be made Deputy President; Mbeki the intellectual planner, Zuma the impulsive but outwardly amiable actor, and both of them formidable back-stabbers.

But the relationship between them naturally changed once the ANC won KwaZulu-Natal. Under Mandela, Mbeki as Deputy President had practically run the country with Mandela as a ceremonial figure. Zuma, on the other hand, was a much less hands-on Deputy President. He was less central to the government; despite having loads of nominally central positions (in charge of arms procurement, in charge of HIV/AIDS policy) he was fairly disengaged from his responsibilities in a way that Rasool, who fulfilled something of the same position with regard to Mbeki’s plans for the Western Cape, was not. So it was evident that Mbeki once again viewed Zuma as a place-holder until someone more suitable could be found, and it was increasingly clear as time went on that the replacement was Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and therefore something of an insult to him as a Zulu tribalist and sexist.

None of this bubbling-under stuff was discussed in public. The ANC didn’t, in those days, wash its dirty linen in public. (Although that’s a good way to get the linen clean, the problem is compounded nowadays because the ANC and its allies tend to use shit instead of soap for its public washing ceremonies.) The ruling class was simply trying to get rid of Mbeki and therefore was not discussing anything he did, and also was trying to get Zuma on side, bribing him and schmoozing with him via bought-and-paid-for organisations like the Treatment Action Campaign.

It’s probable that Mbeki knew perfectly well that Zuma was a crook, although he may not have known the extent of his corruption. Most particularly he probably didn’t know how deeply endebted Zuma had become; Mbeki is far too cautious a person to get into that kind of trouble and probably underestimated the irresponsibility of others. To the extent to which corruption existed, Mbeki doubtless saw it as an opportunity, a tool to use against Zuma. This was his first major mistake, which was compounded when the Scorpions caught Zuma with both hands trapped in the cookie-jar over the corrupt deal he brokered under which his chum Schabir Shaik would front for the French electronics company Thales in supplying credit-card drivers’ licences, a tender worth hundreds of millions and from which Zuma trousered several million. The problem was that Thales had been involved in the arms deal, as had Zuma, and the investigation of the arms deal quickly flung up red flags all around them.

Legally speaking, Zuma should have been charged, so the fact that Shaik was charged and Zuma not must have been as a result of Mbeki’s interference. Why did he do this? Probably the most important reason was that putting Zuma on trial would have been damaging to the ANC (and to some extent to Mbeki himself, since Zuma was his right-hand-man). At least while the trial went on it was possible to pretend that, since Shaik might be found innocent, Zuma could not be held accountable.

Other matters relate to the nature of the judiciary. After the HIV/AIDS fiasco, Mbeki knew quite well that the judiciary was almost as much in the pocket of the ruling class as the media. If Zuma were put on trial, and if the ruling class decided to make trouble for the ANC, they could easily support Zuma by exploiting judicial corruption (as they later in fact did) and then Zuma would be found innocent and Mbeki would be tarnished and accused of misusing state resources. Shaik had no powerful supporters in the ruling class; their only reason for supporting him was making mischief for the ANC, and they could drop him as easily as they were later to drop the Guptas. Hence charging Shaik alone was a lot safer — and if Shaik were found guilty of corrupting Zuma, it would be much more difficult for the most dishonest judge to protect Zuma. Besides, after the HIV-AIDS fiasco, Mbeki was not eager to get into yet another fight with the ruling class.

But this also spun the process out, and this was Mbeki’s second mistake. In retrospect, charging Zuma might have solved the ANC’s problems right there, provided that he was found guilty — and if he had been let off, the situation could not have developed much worse.

Something else which Mbeki didn’t recognise about the consequences of putting Zuma on notice that he could face dismissal and possible prosecution, was that Zuma wasn’t simply afraid of jail. He owed immense amounts of money which he couldn’t possibly pay even from his salary as Deputy President of country and ANC. He desperately needed to hang on to his political offices in order to sustain his lifestyle, and if he did not, he would be ruined. What he needed, therefore, was someone to give him political and financial security against the threat posed by Mbeki — and towards that end he was prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone else. Mbeki created a desperate man with nothing to lose and with the enormous powers of the Deputy Presidency, plus the immense potential powers of the Presidency, and a willingness to promise anyone anything in exchange for financial or political support.

If Zuma could have been excised from the ANC, as Mbeki wished, well and good. However, the trouble was that there were immense forces within the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance who were prepared to cooperate with the kind of man that Zuma had become, and even to go further down the road of corruption which Zuma was treading.

The most immediately helpful forces were in the SACP, the most tight-knit body of people within the Alliance who had been allocated important but boring administrative positions in the ANC because they were considered hard-working and boringly loyal. The unrecognised problem was that they were principally loyal to their own party and only secondarily to the ANC. What many within the ANC, particularly Mbeki’s supporters, failed to recognise, was that the SACP was no longer particularly committed to socialism, in part because it’s only survival potential outside the ANC lay in the sponsorship which it received from business — sponsorship which was provided in return for the favours which the SACP could provide for business. But these favours depended on the SACP having government posts, which were only available through the ANC. Hence unless the SACP could sustain its power within the ANC, it was in danger of fading away. In this sense it was in a similar position, organisationally, to Zuma’s personal position; it could only survive by selling itself and betraying its principles, and therefore it had to do both things as much as humanly possible.

Meanwhile, of course, there was a large contingent of pro-business people within the ANC who had either been talked around into neoliberalism, like Trevor Manuel, or who had been corrupted by corporate interests, like Matthews Phosa. These people would be inclined to pursue the interests of their patrons and would therefore be happy to see a change of attitude within the ANC. They might not be directly supportive of Zuma, but they would be more satisfied with him in power than anyone else simply because he would be likely to leave them alone to pursue their agenda of enriching the wealthiest people in the country at the expense of everyone else.

There was also the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Obviously, the rank and file in these unions were not very interested in seeing rich people empowered and further enriched at their expense, but they were never consulted, only disinformed by their leaders. There were several reasons why COSATU leaders might support this, however. One was that union administration is notoriously financially corrupt and thus subject to simple bribery from business leaders. Another is that many union leaders are accustomed to working closely with business leaders and tend to see the world from their point of view — which would incorporate a Zuma Presidency. Another is that COSATU has historically tended to take its lead almost unquestioningly from the SACP, and with the SACP marching behind Zuma COSATU would be inclined to join the parade.

To this must be added the obvious influence of resentment against the way in which the SACP and COSATU had been sidelined by the ANC’s leadership, merely because they were dishonest, corrupt and deeply mistaken in their views, reasons which the SACP and COSATU felt were unfair (and in the SACP/s case self-evidently untrue since SACP members believe that the Party and the Leader is always right, that two and two make five and that black is white and rich is poor if the Party says so).

So, although Mbeki might have believed that Zuma would not betray the ANC to the white ruling class, and that the right wing  and the left wing would never combine against him, actually it was almost inevitable that this would happen, especially at a time when his control of patronage within the ANC was weakening.

This combination of Mbeki’s mistakes and misunderstanding (after ten years of tight-rope walking he seems not to have realised that he could fall) and deep-seated potential corruption within the ANC and its alliance, together with the eagerness of the white ruling class to corrupt the ANC and the alliance and the willingness of the media to hide the truth in the interests of rich people, all goes a long way towards explaining Polokwane. It’s easy to see how this was going to be a disaster. However, the extent of the disaster deserves much closer examination.

 


Klein in a Bottle.

November 6, 2017

Not so very long ago, Naomi Klein, former Wall Street journalist turned celebrity leftist, was the bright shining hope of the world. Her books The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything, which revealed the horrifying truth (which had been kept secret for so long) that capitalism exploits workers and harms the environment, were on every leftist’s bookshelf, crowding out Marxist theory because her books were enormously expensive.

Not everybody quite believed this, of course. Alexander Cockburn’s review of The Shock Doctrine pointed out that what Klein was representing as her own brilliant idea was something which had been around since Marx at least, and probably since Rousseau and Blake (and some of it went back to Savonarola). Also, the revelations about the link between CIA torture, CIA mind control and capitalism had been traced in the 1960s when the facts about the CIA’s experiments with hallucinogens and sensory deprivation started coming out — and the political implications came as no great surprise to anyone who had been paying attention to what happened in any fascist or quasi-fascist seizure of power in the twentieth century.

Of course, said Cockburn, it was good that someone was saying all this stuff again given the terrible drought of leftists in the twenty-first century. However, Klein is particularly mistaken in claiming that this “shock doctrine” is something relatively new, most particularly on display in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, based on the CIA ideas of the 1960s fused with the neoliberal triumph of the late 1970s. In fact, argues Cockburn, to say this is to pretend that the disastrous twenty-first-century neoliberals, the Bushes and Blairs and Berlusconis and their descendants, were something novel and something which can therefore be fought against as dangerous innovators. Instead, he remarks, they are very much within a long continuum of capitalism stretching back at least to the eighteenth century, and to fight against them you have to fight against the system which created them; it isn’t enough to vote out Bush. The long dark Obama era demonstrated that Cockburn was right and Klein wrong.

Now Klein has come up with another book. Unlike its three major predecessors, and like her journalism, it is very short on research and is unreferenced. Her argument is that we are in a big big crisis, due to Trump, and therefore we must do everything that we can, as fast as possible, to challenge the rise of whatever it is that we are supposed to fight against in Trump, and Brexit, the two official foes of the official liberal ruling class of the Western world.

The book is called No Is Not Enough. This is a weird title. Who ever thought that no was enough? When, in politics or anywhere else, has rejection been the be-all and end-all of activity? Perhaps, though, this is a sign that Western political thought has really lost its sense of self-worth and become no more than a knee-jerk resistance to right-wing initiatives which in themselves are not properly understood.

Manifestly there must be something positive towards which any political movement must mobilise its adherents. This is true of every political movement which can ever aspire to have any adherents for any length of time. So, then, what is the positive thing which Klein has hitherto provided? In the main, she has complained about the misbehaviour of big business and of Republicans, contending that it would be nicer if there were fewer sweatshops and more non-franchised coffee shops, that it would be better if capitalism did not entail using the government to frighten people into pursuing policies which harm their interests, and that it would be good if someone would do something about global warming. Effectively, this is nebulous reformism. It is the politics of hipster liberalism, wishing to carry on with one’s current life without change, but also without guilt or unpleasant news on the television or the social media, and without right-wing propaganda blaring in one’s ears.

Does this new book represent anything different? Ninety-nine percent of the book’s critique is an attack on Donald Trump and some of his Cabinet. This is not exactly courageous stand-taking; everybody who would purport to be on the left obviously opposes Trump. He is a very easy target to attack, and in attacking him it is easy to ignore the extremely odious and terribly powerful people who oppose Trump in order to put themselves in power and implement policies which are as destructive as Trump’s, but perhaps more coherently assembled and more effectively propagandised, and hence more dangerous in the long run. Ignoring such people’s existence — or worse, effectively allying oneself with them, as in South Africa where the same kind of sand-in-the-eyes leftism has been used to legitimate support for the richest and most right wing people in the country under the pretense of saving the nation from Zuma — is a suicidal policy.

So if the book were simply a criticism of Trump then it would be (in effect) propaganda for the kind of system which Trump represents. By claiming that the only problem to be addressed is this nasty chancre weeping pus on your cheek, you are ignoring the fact that your big problem is actually that you have syphilis. Fortunately, there is a 1% of the book in which Klein does mention that the opposition to Trump, in the person of Hillary Clinton, was a corrupt liar campaigning for the special interests of gangster capitalists. Also, she mentions the existence of that gangster capitalism and points out that it essentially runs the socio-economic system of the United States by remote control.

These are points with which any leftist can fundamentally agree. These are also points, however, which direct attention to a far more important problem than the problem of having a preposterous ignorant sociopathic gasbag in the White House, or even the people who helped to put that gasbag there. The solutions to that problem — the control of the system by a corrupt and largely invisible ruling class which uses that control to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else — are different from the problem of the wrong guy winning an election.

But this is the problem which Klein complains about. She endorsed Bernie Sanders as the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. Undeniably Sanders was a less odious candidate than Hillary Clinton; arguably, he was the least unpleasant prospect of all the figures who sought to stand for President in either the Democratic or Republican Party. However, Sanders is a right-wing figure, a military hawk, a Zionist and a supporter of most of the conservative policies pursued by the Democratic Party down the decades. His populist attacks on corrupt banks were unusual, but they also almost certainly led nowhere, since he had no mass base behind him and any attempt to implement an anti-trust law against the banks would certainly have been blocked by all parties. His claims to be a socialist are certainly as fraudulent as Hillary Clinton’s claims to be a feminist. Klein claims that the mere uttering of such terms is a good thing — but in both cases the term could be used safely because it had been drained of all practical meaning.

Furthermore, Bernie Sanders endorsed Clinton for the Presidency. Klein criticises Clinton, but it is clear that she preferred Clinton over Trump. Therefore she was prepared to vote for the system and to call on others to do the same. What is the point of criticising the system if in practice you refuse to challenge it? This seems like the same sort of ineffectual hipster politics characteristic of Klein. It also explains why Klein spends so much more time criticising Trump than criticising the system which allowed Trump to rise, or, for that matter, criticising representatives of the system like Obama and Clinton who happen to use rhetoric which resembles Klein’s own rhetoric, but whose agenda is essentially the same as that of Trump: the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many and through the degradation of the planet and its resources.

So Klein’s “yes” is a very small one compared to her “NO”, and it is also a very unappealing one. She tries to gussy this up (whatever that phrase means) with references to the victories which have been attained over neoliberalism and “Trumpism”. These victories include a massive populist revolt in Argentina against corrupt neoliberalism which eventually led to a slightly less reactionary ruling-class family taking power and pursuing a slightly less corrupt version of neoliberalism. There is also the massive populist revolt in Greece against corrupt neoliberalism, in which the Greeks boldly voted for the party which pledged not to implement corrupt neoliberalism, after which the party implemented corrupt neoliberalism. On the whole, Klein’s poster boys for the New Politics are neither attractive nor credible.

Victories over “Trumpism” appear similar. Her thesis is that Trump’s victory has ushered in a series of extreme-right movement, such as UKIP in Britain, or the BJP in India, or Duterte’s Presidency in the Philippines. She fails to notice that Duterte, for all his violence and populism, is rather different from Trump and his agenda, that UKIP is an insignificant party (the anti-EU vote was essentially a Conservative victory) and the BJP has been around since the 1930s in various Hindu incarnations.

Meanwhile, her evidence of victories over this nonexistent fascistic united front include the stitched-up victory of the vicious reactionary neoliberal Macron in France and the victory of the xenophobic reactionary populists in Holland (where she praises a “Green” party which committed itself to supporting the European Union in its current neoliberal form). It seems obvious from this that Klein is trapped within the confines of the status quo, like a cockroach in a corked bottle waiting for the ammonia to be dripped in. Since that status quo is essentially neoliberal and reactionary, her campaigns against neoliberalism and reactionary politics appear wholly cosmetic.

Indeed, she went on a lot of marches in the United States to protest against Trump. Good for her; it is good for the legs and the lungs, assuming you don’t breathe too much of the city air. These marches, however, were mostly organised by the Democratic Party and were essentially calls for the installation of Hillary Clinton as President, so Klein was marching against her own professed principles and policies. The purposes of the marches were to mobilise specific interests, such as technology professionals and women, who normally tend to support the Democrats. Of course one may try to take advantage of such campaigns to challenge the system. There is little sign, however, that this happened, and Klein certainly did nothing to pursue that.

In the end she does come up with a call for the masses to rise up in what she calls the “Leap”, a call for a transformation of society on Utopian grounds. At last! Someone who will save us! Indeed, she says that this has happened before — when big oil spills happened in 1969, the people rose up and called for someone to do something about the environment, and lo, someone did and the Environmental Protection Agency was formed and the Clean Air Act passed. Klein says that this kind of triumph of the people can be done again. Erm, well perhaps, but shouldn’t we remember that the person who answered the call of the people was President Richard Nixon, saving the environment in his spare time when he wasn’t murdering hundreds of thousands of Indo-Chinese and overthrowing Latin American governments.

Her other inspiration is Standing Rock, where the evil government wanted to run a pipeline carrying Canadian tar-sands oil through an Indian reservation (this being government land the pipeline could travel free there). To further save money they wanted to run the pipeline slap through the local lake. And there the people rose up and said NO! Hurray for the people! Oh yes — except that the government rose up and said PISS OFF!, violently chased the Indians and their supporters away, and built the pipeline slap through the local lake. So she is celebrating the disastrous failure of weakly-supported single-interest campaigns to attain anything positive.

Her Leap is no leap. It’s a vague call for someone to do something, something nice, something like a higher minimum wage and more windmills and solar panels and child-minders and fewer police shooting black people. It has no political support worth mentioning¬† and no capacity to develop any. It is the feel-good politics of hipsterism, incapable of accomplishing anything and devoid of any potential to build the political analysis — the class analysis, especially — which it completely lacks.

And there we leave Klein in her bottle. A Klein bottle is a three-dimensional Moebius strip, a bottle with no actual inside or outside. As a result it’s difficult to see how to get out of the bottle. On the positive side, it cannot actually be build in the real world, any more than can Klein’s mythical politics.