Spies Tell Lies.

May 19, 2016

Police spies have, historically, been deemed the most contemptible of people. The “copper’s nark” of Britain was traditionally seen as an enemy not only of the criminal fraternity but even of the working class, and richly deserved the savage kicking he received in prisons. In Paris, police spies were on the same level as pimps, but not as valuable members of society. In South Africa, of course, the police spy was necessarily tied in with the apartheid state, and to be called an “impimpi” was as much as one’s life was worth (provided that one was weak, unprotected and unarmed — ideally an elderly female whom the brave young lions could boldly burn to death).

The exception in the West is the middle-class perspective on the political police spy. Of course Verloc in Conrad’s The Secret Agent is an unattractive figure — but then he is an agent provocateur, and working for the Czarist government whom Konrad Korteniowski necessarily disliked. But in a lot of cases the attitude is more that of I Was a Communist for the FBI — focussing on the courage of the political police spy in betraying the spy’s friends and allies on behalf of the centres of power. The same was true under the apartheid regime in South Africa, when police spies were honoured (except by those against whom they were used) — except that some felt that there was something a little problematic about them, not that anybody in authority minded.

Olivia Forsyth’s Agent 407 is, thus, interesting as being a voice from within the problematic stuff. The question is whether anybody will admire it, and also, of course, whether anybody will believe a professional deceiver.

Forsyth was mildly famous at one stage. She was a campus spy — a fairly lowly form of life, but extremely common; it was particularly easy to recruit conservative white people and get them to pretend to be left-wingers in exchange for a free university education. Such people, if they were caught, would not be necklaced or shot, but would simply be embarrassed and might have to go to some other institution. So they risked little and all they had to do was deceive the people who surrounded them, which was usually easy, and pleasing for them because conservative whites naturally despised white left-wingers even more than they despised blacks.

Forsyth comes from a fairly familiar background — part colonial, having been partly brought up in Zambia, part official, since her biological father worked for the government, living some of her time in conservative white Natal, some of her time in conservative white Pietersburg (now Polokwane, of course). So it is not very surprising that someone of this schizophrenic reactionary origin should have sought out a job with the government, first supposedly with the Foreign Service, then with the National Intelligence Service, and then with the Security Branch of the South African Police. Or maybe she was always angling for an SB job — who can say for sure?

What one can say for sure is that this is not a person whom one would trust under any circumstances. You twig this on the first page, when she is talking about how she was getting ready to be sent off to Russia for training, and how she was being escorted out of Luanda by some MK troops, thinking that they were there to defend her against FRELIMO bandits. FRELIMO were, of course, the government of Mozambique at that time, and so had they been there in Angola they would not have been bandits but allies. Also, they were the government which the South African government was trying to overthrow by sponsoring RENAMO guerrillas. In fact the people she is talking about was UNITA, who were certainly bandits, but who were enjoying the full and unqualified support of the South African and United States governments at the time. So someone who can’t tell the difference between her friends and her enemies, who gets her acronyms wrong, can hardly be trusted to know when she is telling the truth — and very probably she is being sloppy anyway because she assumes that her audience is a bunch of ignorant and politically gullible Britons.

Anyway, after a reactionary life and a brief bit of university training she was recruited as Agent RS407. She claims not to know what the initials stand for, but wonders if it meant “Republican Servant”. Unlikely, since it would have been in Afrikaans, and in Afrikaans that would be “Republikeinse Bediende”. More probably it stands for “Republikeinse Spioen”, and the fact that she didn’t think of that suggests how she is completely running away from the realities of her actual trade of treachery and falsification.

Why should she? Why should she be so inaccurate regarding details where she could check the facts with a single act of Googling? Presumably, because the truth does not matter, because what matters is something else. But what?

She started out, with apparently very limited training, as a simple spy on Rhodes campus, the most interesting campus from the perspective of the secret police in the 1980s because it was an extremely right-wing university in an extremely right-wing area, and therefore the destruction of NUSAS, the principal leftist organisation, was always a possibility; the university had already disaffiliated from NUSAS once. (NUSAS depended heavily, and ironically, on the subsidies of institutions, in return for NUSAS members largely keeping students quiet in respect of the corruption and mismanagement of academics and university authorities; it was, thus, a pensionary of the power-structure.)

However, she wanted more. She says this was her own initiative, but it seems likely that the secret police were grooming her for more. It was always assumed that white people rose rapidly within the ANC because black people had an intrinsic respect for whiteness. (While there may have been some truth to this, a reason which the racist secret police failed to consider was that whites who joined the ANC tended to be people with much more initiative and political understanding than the average, and were thus better qualified to rise.) So a white leftist inserted into the ANC might be expected to get into a significant position.

Forsyth also seems to have had one significant advantage. She was young, pretty and would fuck any man within reach. This apparent utter lack of self-respect naturally made her attractive to the thoroughly sexist males of the leadership of the white left, protecting her against exposure as a police spy — for by making herself absolutely available she proved her political virtue. It also distinguished her from the women of the white left who were usually more subordinate dogsbodies and generally had a distaste for such abjection, as a result of exposure to feminism which never troubled Forsyth. (Also, just at the time when Forsyth was becoming active, sexualised “post-feminism” was beginning to raise its head, which could have been used by Forsyth had she so wished.)

Another advantage was that since Forsyth was simply playing a part, and had no liking or respect for any of the people who surrounded her (she claims otherwise, but provides no evidence for why she might have evolved liking or respect for the people she betrayed to prison or death under the increasingly repressive politics of the era) having sex with any of them was of no more significance than the sexual activities of a porn actress; it simply didn’t count as real sex because her partners were not human.

So, having successfully betrayed NUSAS and the End Conscription Campaign at Rhodes, there was nothing for it but to go on to fight against the African National Congress, using her contacts in the white left to gain access to the ANC underground and thus make her way to Luanda and become part of the external ANC, with the possibility of a huge betrayal of the liberation movement — which, of course, for her, was not a betrayal, but simply undermining the enemy. However, unmentioned in the background of one of Forsyth’s trophy photographs of all the young people whom she was informing on to the apartheid police force is the cheerful face of the sprightly, bumptious, self-centred aspirant journalist Gavin Evans, who unbeknownst to people like Forsyth was one of the main ANC counterintelligence officers inserted into the white left. It seems quite likely that Evans was the man who recognised that Forsyth was an actor, and was probably at best a stooge and, most probably, a traitor.

Forsyth was playing in a whole new game, again unbeknownst to her; the white left inside South Africa had long ago given up all hope of curbing the vast flood of police spies (they were considered quite useful for stuffing envelopes and making platform-parties seem larger) whereas the ANC took spies seriously, partly because they were useful in maintaining an atmosphere of paranoia which benefited many of the more repressive leaders of the organisation.

So when Forsyth arrived in Luanda she was monitored, and then scrutinised, and then chucked into Quattro, a.k.a Number Four Camp, the prison camp where ANC dissidents and spies were held, abused, re-educated and sometimes debriefed. And this is the point at which the narrative really goes off the rails.

Forsyth claims that she did a deal with Ronnie Kasrils, the head of MK Intelligence (as opposed to Mbokhodo, ANC Security, which ran Quattro and was generally of much higher status and lower quality than MK Intelligence). Under this deal, she would eventually be swapped for some or other captured SWAPO or MK guerrilla, but she would really be working for MK, and would therefore be an ANC intelligence agent at the heart of the white establishment. In fact, she hints that while she had been busy betraying NUSAS at Rhodes she had undergone a complete change of heart and thereafter wanted nothing more than to be posted to spy on the ANC so that she could betray the apartheid establishment to them.

This is, of course, entirely her claim, which no conceivable evidence could substantiate. It is naturally what she might be expected to claim thirty years after the fact, when virtually everyone who could refute her claims is dead or senile. Of course it is possible that she might have so fallen in love with treachery and become so detached from reality and moral good sense that she might have pursued such an agenda for its own sake. (It is inconceivable that she might have somehow developed actual moral sense; nothing in her entire career suggests this.)

However, she obviously did some kind of deal, presumably under pressure, for she was taken out of Quattro again and placed under house arrest in Luanda. Conceivably Kasrils, who was always rather gullible and something of a grandstander, although honest according to his lights and more competent than most of those around him, was fooled by her line. Of course this would not have been a great accomplishment — she was an insignificant part of the South African espionage machinery and would not have known much more than gossip, nor been able to learn much — but MK and its allies were desperate for some modest success at this stage, their machinery in South Africa having been heavily penetrated or broken up. She then escaped from her safe-house to the British Embassy in that city. (Supposedly, the British government was highly indignant that the Angolans did not fast-track the rapid and easy repatriation of a spy from the South African government, which was then occupying and bombarding large parts of their country.)

Of course this escape makes nonsense of her claim to have wished to be a double agent for the ANC. There was no cause for such an escape unless one assumes that she remained loyal to the regime. After that she participated in a ludicrous pretense undertaken by the Security Branch under which she would pretend to have been a top agent who had successfully penetrated the ANC’s heartland and made it back with vital information, a pretense which fooled nobody who didn’t want to be fooled. Part of the deal was an arranged marriage with another secret policeman (probably the lick of truth in Forsyth’s narrative is that the Security Branch no longer trusted her) which, like the rest of her career and life, gradually faded away into the obscurity and misery which she had always richly deserved.

Why bother to write the book? Perhaps for the money, but who thought that the disingenuous fantasies of a dishonest reactionary would sell? Or was it sponsored by someone seeking to sanitise the odious history of the apartheid regime’s police spies? There are a few vague hints in the book that Forsyth would like to present herself as an anti-Communist – although this is ill-constructed and also decidedly implausible. Arguably, this is the kind of political stance which modern reactionaries try to take, and perhaps the wish to sanitise its own record on behalf of the old apartheid regime matched Forsyth’s desire to justify herself and possibly confuse the public enough to escape too much historical odium – for in the end Forsyth’s apparent lies and distortions are as likely as anything more honest and accurate to get into the history books.

Sad, really, but hardly surprising.



May 19, 2016

The last few years have seen a number of U.S. foreign policy initiatives, all of which have been disastrous. The U.S. government has avoided taking responsibility for these disasters by claiming in retrospect that it had nothing to do with them — the “Arab Spring” calamities, the invasion of Libya, the assault on Syria, the attack on Russia, the invasion of Yemen, the deliberately raised tension with China, the political and economic chaos in Brazil, the political, military and economic chaos all across West Africa. All of these were problems which could have been avoided, but the U.S. government and its allies in NATO determined to promote the problems as if they were solutions. This, on top of all the calamities which arose out of the Afghan, Iraqi and Somali invasions, has generated the greatest global refugee crisis in history (which is a pretty impressive accomplishment given the bloody history of the past couple of hundred years) and a scale of political chaos almost unprecedented; vast areas of Africa and Asia either have no effective government, or no legitimate government, and the march of disaster continues ceaselessly.

So we have grown accustomed to bad political conditions in countries which cannot defend themselves. What is a little unusual about this is not only the scale of the problem, but also the fact that some countries, it would appear, can defend themselves. Syria and Yemen did not just roll over and submit to the Wahhabi aggression of Saudi Arabia. Russia resisted the attempt to seize her military bases in Crimea. Iran was not bullied by American warmongering. China was fazed neither by the American blustering attempt to bully them out of the South China Sea, nor by yet another risible American attempt to seize control of the faltering economies of the Pacific Rim. (The Trans-Pacific Partnership, if successful, will deftly eliminate competitors to China, since American economic domination of a country invariably means the collapse of manufacturing there, and hence the countries involved will be more dependent on China and financially weaker in relation to it).

It would appear that not only is America a gangster who can only effectively rough up toddlers, but that some of the toddlers have called in their big brothers, or invested in steak-knives. That is why the American gangster is now obliged to rough up babies in pushchairs (Honduras, the Central African Republic, Burundi and so on) because it dares not take on anything that can even feebly fight back — a logical extrapolation of the Powell Doctrine.

All this is bad, but it’s not very bad for those not directly bombed, shot, burned or robbed. It does little harm to that part of the world which is able to defend themselves against imperialist aggression. Admittedly, it means that those countries where imperialist aggression is most effective are growing steadily economically weaker. This might be quite beneficial for those who can defend themselves (basically, Russia, China and their friends). The big problem is, however, that economic activity is global, and those who are able to defend themselves against bombers and gummen might not be able to defend themselves against bankers.

Why is the global financial system behaving so oddly? The DOW is up to levels which were only fantasies in the 1990s — a book called DOW 18,000 was jeered at when it came out, but now the DOW has reached that level. European and NATO-supporting Asian stock markets are at record highs. The US unemployment rate is down from where it was five years ago. It appears, according to the financial trade papers, that we are booming, and yet those same trade papers are telling us that there is a crisis, the exchanges are jerking around wildly, currencies are bouncing up and down as if they were on bungee cords, and Solemn Utterances from Lenders of Last Resort are delivered to Inspire Confidence, which of course causes panic because everybody knows that the lenders of last resort, the privatised entities which were once national banks, have no money worth the paper it is printed on or the electrons it was created with.

The general issue seems to be twofold: the collapse of the oil price, and the collapse of the Chinese economy. Together these are sending the world into a tailspin. The collapse of the oil price is of course nobody’s fault because that is the inscrutable working of the invisible hand in the free market. But the collapse of the Chinese economy is the fault of the Communists, and the solution to that problem is to overthrow the Communist Party and have the IMF install a free-market dictatorship in Beijing (possibly Chiang Kai-Shek could be disinterred and propped up with cushions), a policy which worked so well in saving the economies of Italy, Greece and above all Ukraine.

Now that we’ve all had our little laugh at the explanations in every newspaper in the world, shall we consider what is actually happening?

The big hidden issue is that national treasuries, mainly the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank, have been creating money and using it to buy bonds from various financial institutions which were in trouble, so that those institutions could have liquidity and could lend money without fearing that they might be caught short without cash and go bankrupt. This has been going on since 2008 in some cases, and it involves vast amounts of money, none of which has anything to do with productivity.

If the money had actually been lent to producers in the form of investment, then it would have generated massive economic growth (and also quite a lot of inflation). This is the theory behind the concept of monetarism, of supply-side economics; create enough money and the economy will automatically look after itself. It has been repeatedly disproved, but it remains alive because it puts financial institutions, which are highly centralised industries with few employees, at the centre of the national economy, relegating all productive activities to the margins. Anyway, once again the theory was disproved. What the banks did was to plough the money into the stock markets all over the world, which duly soared, although the money was not used for productive investment there either; it was mostly recycled into web-based and financial companies.

What all this means is that the global economy is now more of a Ponzi scheme than it was in 2007; the bulk of economic growth in the NATO countries and their allies is in financialised systems which depend heavily in cash generated by national treasuries. This money is virtual, however; if anybody starts to sell seriously, the value of the stocks and bonds will fall precipitately, as began to happen in China before the Chinese government stepped in to stop the game of musical chairs (the Chinese National Bank is not a private entity and the Chinese stock exchange is under government control). In other words, the moment the mythical gold actually needs to be produced, it will turn back into straw — which is what you expect from fairy gold. Meanwhile, the US government has stopped pumping money into the system, and although the Japanese and the Europeans are pumping money into the system it is not taking up the slack, partly because the US government has also raised interest rates and is expected to do so some more.

Basically, everybody is waiting for a huge financial crisis which will probably make the 2007 crisis look puny (since the global economy is more fragile than it was, and since the financial system is less resilient and more endebted than it was) and the Americans are pursuing policies which seem likely to precipitate the crisis, believing (almost certainly wrongly) that they are better able to ride out a crisis than their competitors in Europe and Japan. In other words, while NATO is engaged in a shooting or a cold military war with the rest of the world, the U.S. is engaged in a financial war with the rest of NATO.

Meanwhile, the Chinese economy has slowed down. We are told that this is a crisis, but in fact the Chinese economy has slowed from a growth rate of 7.7% to a growth rate of 6.9% per annum — in other words, instead of growing three and a half times faster than the U.S. economy and eleven times faster than the South African economy, it is growing three times and ten times faster respectively. A recession that ain’t.

What is more significant is that the Chinese financial economy is in trouble — a real estate bubble and various related financial scams has taken severe toll on the Chinese stock exchange and banking system, although there have been few substantial failures and of course there is plenty of money sloshing around because of China’s rigid exchange controls and nationalised central banking system. Many of China’s billionaires working in hot money and derivative scams have lost their shirts — which pleases the Chinese government, because financial billionaires are much too independent for their liking, and they don’t want to have to kowtow to them. However, the West ploughed a lot of money into those silly schemes, and so a lot of Westerners have lost a lot of money and are worried about it. Hence they are blaming the Chinese in order not to blame themselves.

Maybe that isn’t a big enough disaster to trigger a financial crisis — although given the feeble state of the European and Japanese financial economies, and America’s destructive financial policies, it might be. But the fall in the oil price is an ostrich delivering its plops on the head of Wall Street’s bronze bull.

The oil price has fallen because the Americans wanted it down. Having so much money, they could easily manipulate the futures price in oil, and that would spook investors to bring the current price down in line with that. Meanwhile, when they told the Saudis that they wanted the oil price down, the Saudis were happy to oblige. The Saudis were flush with cash, and they were busy eliminating two of their enemies by overthrowing the Ba’ath Party in Syria and persuading the Israelis and Americans to invade Iran. Cutting the oil price wouldn’t have to be a long-term thing, and once the Wahhabis were in power in Damascus and Iran had collapsed into civil war and chaos, the Saudis would rule the region.

But the other big thing was to hammer the U.S. fracking industry. Fracking in the U.S. is to some extent another Ponzi scheme — it doesn’t produce nearly as much oil and gas as the propaganda pretends, it’s grotesquely expensive and environmentally devastating, and in the long run it makes it harder to get the bulk of the hydrocarbons out because they get lost in the cracks. However, in the short term it was the biggest growth industry in the U.S. and the thing which was going to make Barack Obama’s Presidency look good in its last year. But that was when oil was $60 a barrel and set to rise. Now that it’s below $35 a barrel, no sane person would invest in fracking. So the industry has lost its investments and is frozen — actually it’s set to collapse. So why did the Americans permit this? Because they wanted to see Russia, Iran and Venezuela collapse first, and because the fracking industry is insured against losses.

So the American insurance industry is having to bail out the fracking industry. But this has been going on for a long time, and the heat is on the insurance industry and on the fracking industry, both of which look in a bad way. At a time when the possibility of a financial crisis looms large, this is not a good thing to see. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have shown no sign of collapsing — the American-promoted sanctions against both countries have meant that they don’t need all that much foreign currency to survive, and both countries have developed strong manufacturing industries. Venezuela is in a bad way, but that doesn’t really matter. And also meanwhile, the Saudis have spent vast amounts of money in the Syrian quagmire and their dream of a Wahhabi regime in Syria is nowhere near fruition; meanwhile they overstretched themselves by invading Yemen and are in another quagmire there, and so they are blowing vast amounts of cash which they don’t have, based on income they aren’t getting, and are screaming for help. As is Nigeria, America’s closest ally in West Africa (and an economic basket case).

So, basically, the next few months could see a calamitous global financial collapse. But not just a financial and banking collapse; a serious decline in the purchasing power of Western currencies, and a substantial crisis of overproduction in Asia and Germany which will throw people out of work in those regions — problems which didn’t come up in 2007. That will combine with the bursting of the bubbles which have been inflated by massive money-creation over the last few years, and with the decline in trade caused by the devastation of so many minor countries in recent years. This looks like a perfect storm — and given that there are so many politico-military flashpoints which the Americans have engineered between themselves and their allies and their competitors, and given that the NATO countries will be the big victims in any such collapse, the consequences could be a global war.

Invest in candles and cans of beans!

The Force is the Last Refuge of the Incompetent.

January 12, 2016

Matthew D’Ancona, the dishonest right-wing journalist, says that the Star Wars narrative is a myth, or mythos, or legend, or whatever, for our time. Although this sounds like the kind of drivel which is always said about anything which looks remotely like fantasy, and although the source is almost guaranteed to generate bullshit, let us not dismiss this instantly. Let us examine it for a moment, and then dismiss it instantly.

A myth is a way of accounting for the mysteries of the world. Usually it is in some way actionable — either as a warning, or as an example to be followed, although usually not completely literally. It is never completely banal or meaningless.

So, assuming that Star Wars is a myth, what does it constitute? Well, there are heroes and villains. This is not like the Iliad, where there are no such simple differences. Instead, the heroes are impossibly good, although occasionally outfitted with clunky minor negative qualities in an unsuccessful attempt to stop them from being saccharine. The villains, meanwhile, have all the tropes of evil apart from one — namely, motivation. The villains are evil for the sheer joy of being evil, a collection of Saurons obsessed with power for its own sake. This does not really provide us with any example for acting in the real world — instead, what it does is to confirm the propaganda mythos of the Western imperialist states, most particularly the United States, under which everybody except “us” is evil, and it is not necessary to comprehend evil because they must simply be blown up.

The universe is exciting, but in a wholly innocent way; it is there to be explored, but (except when the evil Empire is involved, when menace is always present) there are no consequences arising from this exploration. There is little to be learned from this exploration. Rather, what must be learned is a simple series of techniques (somehow not available to everyone) by which one may use the “Force”, along with a few talismans like “light sabers”, to become invincible. Of course this “Force” may be used for evil, and that is what the Empire is doing, so therefore by conquering the Empire one is also purifying the basic nature of the universe.

All this sounds childish — in the most precise sense; it is the fantasic response of a bullied eleven-year-old boy to his objective circumstances; if only I had a gang to join, if only I weren’t picked on, if only Dad understood me more, if only Mom were a little more indulgent, if only I didn’t have to go to school, hey, look at that pretty frog sitting on that log! It is no accident that the original Star Wars was consciously aimed at prepubescent children (though with a few nods to older people so that their parents — and the reviewers — could sit through it) and that is why the central characters are so young, and consciously presented as even younger than the ages of their actors. And that is why so much of the second trilogy (which is the first trilogy in the narrative — like some Soviet technology, Star Wars is crude but far from simple) also features children. (However, the second trilogy is much more sexualised, not because this is integral to the plot but because of cultural changes among Western youth over thirty years.)

An important point here is that the story being told in the original Star Wars was very much a Cold War narrative. The story being told to the U.S. public was that a gigantic and loathesome Soviet Union had nearly taken over the world, and that the United States stood as a lone and feeble paladin against this vast, expanding monster. It was a crock of shit borrowed by Harry Truman’s spooks and thugs from the Second World War narrative developed by the Roosevelt administration (and even then it was deeply flawed). It was intended to scare the people into obeying their leaders, and it succeeded and the result was the Miltown-tranquillized 1950s, and this is the period to which Spielberg and Lucas were referring, a time of placid, unthinking obedience and confidence in one’s own rectitude.

As such, then, Star Wars is not a myth or an epic. It is an appealing but false story told to children to make them docile and perhaps educate them to comply with their parents’ commands. It is, thus, a fairy-tale.

This is not to condemn it. Fairy stories are not necessarily degraded or despicable. However, they have their limitations.

One of the most positive things about the original Star Wars, a feature which to some extent survived in the sequel but gradually disappeared over time, was that the backstory was told only through brief and casual allusion. The point about a fairy story is that you have to suspend disbelief except in certain crucial cases where elements are introduced to generate plausibility. If the story is of such a kind as to make the child ask “But why did that happen? Why did she do that? What did he want?” then the story is failing. (This, by the way, is different from a slightly young child asking “Why?”, where this word is code for “I’m bored and want to change the subject”.) There is nearly nothing of this in the original Star Wars because the action is carried along at speed with minimal explanation and therefore minimal demand for plausibility, and above all, minimal opportunity to ask why something is happening. More to the point, the gaps in the plot are plugged with references to a backstory in which one may assume that someone out there is in charge without being expected to ask who, or to what end.

Unfortunately, this backstory came to dominate the narrative. Just as while the Galactic Emperor was simply a flicker in the distance he was a genuinely scary figure, but shrank into pathetic pretense when he appeared in the flesh, so the crass, ill-conceived bricolage of the story of how the bad guys overthrew the Old Republic detracted from the fairy-story without providing any genuine mythology to take its place. Clumsy Oedipal imagery didn’t help much, and the ghastly racism entailed in the treatment of aliens like the Ewoks and Jar-Jar showed how little real taste Lucas, and to some extent even Spielberg, really possessed when they were not guided by masters like Eisenstein (whose genius in Alexandr Nevski Spielberg plagiarised to create his storm troopers). The problem is that when Lucas was working within a childish framework his project functioned well; outside that framework, the attempt to turn fairy-story into myth failed.

Moreover, when adults, who should have discriminatory capacity, are told that they, too, should believe in fairy stories, there is something wrong. It is perhaps no accident that Star Wars appeared at the beginning of the neoliberal era, when the whole of society began to rely, ideologically, on complete claptrap instead of partial claptrap. It is certainly no accident that Ronald Reagan immediately took up Star Wars imagery for his campaign to remilitarise and depoliticise American society, in his “Evil Empire” speech, going full circle back to the roots of the movie in Truman-style politics.

This is the basic problem. The most recent Star Wars work is, in a technical sense, simply a collage of imagery from the earlier Star Wars movies. There are vaguely interesting ideas — part of the story is set on a planet littered with the wreckage of the previous war, for instance — but none is developed, nor are they related to the action in the way that the fragmented backstory was in the first Star Wars. For no apparent reason, the current bad guys (who are allegedly a sort of fascist movement) have adopted all the trappings of the previous bad guys, the Sith regalia, the storm trooper armour, and even Darth Vader’s silly shuttlecraft.

There is no backstory here, or none worthy of the name; just unmotivated evil which must be fought against. It is the triumph of stupid authority; do what we tell you, fight against the enemy, although without having to make any obvious sacrifice yourself (but respect those mercenaries who are paid to sacrifice themselves on your behalf). We have seen this in the various wars launched by NATO countries against demonised enemies from the Taliban to the Islamic State, and the fascist tropes of the most recent enemy are similar to the Islamofascist tropes used to justify the invasion of the Middle East in pursuit of oil.

This introduction to a fresh trilogy has nothing fresh about it — except for one thing; it is no longer intended for children. Or, to be precise, in the modern American visual culture, it is no longer possible to discriminate between works intended for children and those intended for adults. (The most popular movies in America, and some of the most popular in the world, are based on comic strips for teenagers, and it is solemnly pretended that these pitiful pretexts for garish computer-generated special effects are serious, message-laden narratives.) The central characters in this work are young adults in their late teens or early twenties — immature, of course, but not dependent on others and not willing to learn from anything except their Jedi and Sith masters. The heroine is sexy, the hero is hunky, the villain is rather reminiscent of a youthful, callower version of Snape in the Harry Potter movies. There are vague sexual tensions between the three, never properly explored, of course. So the narrative is no longer a fairy-story — or else it is a fairy-story for what passes for grown-ups in the modern world.

And this is the problem: the narrative is not a narrative for grown-ups. It is a child’s story, a battle between a good which has no merit and an evil which has no credibility, with evil bound to lose because it is supposed to in the comic-books, and with no real plausible representation of the world at all, not even the distorted and symbolic representation of a child’s vision. The logical contradictions and farcically inept emotional manipulation are not excused by any merits on any other level, nor can you write it off by saying that this is not intended for grown-ups. It is the triumph of the people whom Hunter S Thompson rightly defined, in his depiction of the Clinton years, as the New Dumb.

Perhaps the coming of a fresh Clinton provides the perfect background to this horridly ill-conceived, clumsy, brutalising and wretchedly unimaginative movie.

Slightly Less Ignorant Observations About Trotskyism.

November 28, 2015

The Creator isn’t massively well-informed about Marxism, and about Trotskyism hardly at all, so it’s been quite useful to read some Deutscher and Callinicos, not to mention some late Trotsky himself, and this has helped to account, perhaps, for the deeply problematic nature of Trotskyism, the way in which Trotskyites are inclined to systematically fool themselves, and their horrific inclination (one which on the whole Trotsky did not share) to betray their principles in support of agendas pursued by colonialism, imperialism, plutocracy and neoliberalism.

The thing about Trotsky was his inclination to come up with ideas which sounded as if they challenged the foundations of whatever was going on at the time in the revolutionary Marxist movement in Russia and elsewhere. Good examples of these are “permanent revolution” and “uneven development”.

Far as the Creator understands them, these are actually much simpler terms than these deeply value-laden and profoundly Hegelian titles claim for themselves. The original idea of Marxist revolution was that the war of class against class under capitalism was only really possible once capitalism was wholly in the saddle, meaning that there had to be a bourgeois revolution to put the big capitalists in power and get rid of feudalism or the “Asiatic mode of production” (i.e. bureaucratic family dictatorship in the manner of the Chinese and Japanese empires). Only then would you have sufficient development of an industrial proletariat to set a powerful proletariat against the bourgeoisie and, ultimately, have a revolution which would bring about socialism and, eventually, communism.

Trouble was, though, not everybody developed equally across the world, or even across regions, or even across individual countries. Sometimes people were ready for revolution early, in which case they might go off half-cocked. Sometimes people weren’t ready for revolution at all even while most others were. Not everybody was proletarianised under capitalism, and not everybody who was proletarianised was equally able to respond in the manner desired by Marx.

Particularly this was true of Russia, where, except in a few industrial areas, there just weren’t enough proletarians to make a revolution happen. Uneven development, then, is a reality, and a real problem — because do you just sit around waiting patiently for the proletariat to arrive (and if they do, will they trust you, and will you be in a state to make a revolution after sitting around all those decades) or do you try to make a revolution anyway, and hope that the peasantry and the lumpens will join in?

This was where permanent revolution came in. It means that instead of just having a bourgeois revolution, you have a revolution which seeks to revolutionise the country in an ongoing way, and create a revolutionary, conscientised proletariat by force if necessary. This was roughly what Trotsky had tried to do in 1905, and more or less what Lenin did after the October Revolution. So, although it sounds really cool — revolution all the time, wa-haay! — permanent revolution actually is pretty dull; it’s just about building society up to the point at which it’s ready for the transition to socialism. It’s more or less what Trotsky and company were all up to in building the USSR and the Bolshevik Party in the 1920s, however cool it sounds.

This, then, leads to the next problem of Trotskyism, which is “socialism in one country”. It follows completely logically from “uneven development” and “permanent revolution” that you might end up trying to build socialism in a society which an orthodox Marxist would say was not ready for it. Meanwhile, you would be surrounded by societies which might be more advanced in terms of capitalist development, but where revolution hadn’t happened — and if revolution happened in a relatively underdeveloped society, capitalists in the more developed societies around it would do their damnedest to make sure that revolution didn’t happen in their societies and was stamped out wherever it had gained ground. Hence the counter-revolutions in places like Hungary and Finland, and the Western interventions against the Russian revolution, and the refusal of the West to offer any investment assistance to Russia’s shattered economy. All this was perfectly natural, and Trotsky, like Lenin and Stalin and everybody else, had to accommodate themselves to it. Socialism had to be build in the USSR, and the rest of Europe was not going to help.

So then socialism in one country is inevitable, but Trotsky complained that it means Great Russian chauvinism, and it also meant abandoning all hope of making revolution outside the USSR. Both these claims were partly true in the sense that the USSR rapidly became a nationalistic society, even if it was nominally socialist, and in the sense that the government of the USSR was prepared to coexist, on occasion, with capitalist societies which were not conspicuously in revolutionary situations — although whenever the USSR could it tried to encourage revolution, or export revolutionary societies on the bayonets of the Soviet Army.

Trotsky couldn’t acknowledge this because he was dealing with his political opponents within the Bolshevik Party — Bukharin, Zinoviev and Stalin — and was convinced of their bad faith, in part because he was always convinced that everybody except him was wrong. So he denounced them for pursuing a policy which he himself had pursued when in power, and which was also the only policy which the USSR could pursue — that of industrial development combined with political education of the nascent proletariat. Trotsky was hustled off the scene shouting against policies to which he had no real objection — it wasn’t the policies which he was really protesting against, but the fact that he was not there to implement them. So Trotskyism, as an alternative to Stalinism, was born in bad faith and opportunism.

Then came the question of what the Marxist attitude towards the USSR ought to be. Trotsky’s attitude was that it was a “deformed workers’ state” — that is, it was a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat which had somehow lost its way due to not being led by people like Trotsky. This, in a sense, is plausible, for in the late 1930s it was obvious that the USSR was not a pretty place to be, and after the 1960s it increasingly became a highly bureaucratised and militarised state with little organic culture. It did not move towards Communism, nor was it democratic. There was something wrong with it, and arguably this was something which Trotsky, or someone like him, could have given it.

However, the fact that it was a “workers’ state”, according to Trotsky, meant that it deserved to be supported. Trotsky always called for the defense of the USSR and never sought revolutionary defeatism, neither against capitalism nor against fascism. Others who came out of the Trotskyite movement, and others who came out of similar traditions on the revolutionary left, took a stand which was similar but dramatically different. Basically, this stand entailed saying that the USSR was a bureaucratic dictatorship, and therefore nothing to do with socialism at all, that it had developed a new kind of class stratification which entailed an undesirable turn in relations of production (since working for a bureaucracy meant essentially working for a new, but not different, exploiting class) or that the USSR was not different at all from the capitalist system which the Bolsheviks had overthrown, but was simply “state capitalism” and hence to be fought against by socialists just as every other kind of capitalism was to be fought against. These different positions led to various kinds of splits in the socialist and Trotskyite movement, and also justified all kinds of posturing on the far left (including the Maoist left, which borrowed a good deal from this once the China-Soviet split was an accomplished fact.)

After Trotsky’s death, the “deformed” or “degenerate” “worker’s state” idea was mainly dropped. This allowed various people who termed themselves Trotskyites to declare not merely that there was something wrong with the USSR’s path to socialism — which was obvious — but even that the USSR was not led by, and had never been led by, people with anything to do with socialism. Some of these people, from James Burnham to Paul Wolfowitz, rapidly moved rightward into the camp of extremist reactionary imperialism, about as close to fascism as one could get in the West while remaining in good standing with the media and the political establishment. This seemed to confirm what Trotsky had implied about how those who disagreed with him on the subject were doing so not out of a desire to generate a better socialism, but simply out of envy, spite and a desire to suck up to the Western bourgeoisie.

However, those who remained more or less revolutionary, at least in theory, in this tradition were not much better. Their line was that the USSR simply had to go; that it was an obstacle in the path of socialism, setting a bad example and discrediting the movement. Therefore, it was possible to argue that revolutionary socialism required that the USSR be overthrown — more or less Trotsky’s line, of course, but Trotsky insisted that it had to be overthrown from within, by the Bolshevik party which Trotsky claimed to represent in a case of classic self-delusion. (In reality, after the mid-1920s, Trotsky’s support within the USSR was insignificant even without the intervention of the Stalinist secret police, and his power outside the USSR was still more minimal.) The post-Trotsky Trotskyites were not so scrupulous; they believed that the USSR had to be fought against, that its agents had to be discredited, its supporters undermined, and if this happened to benefit imperialism and plutocratic capitalism, that wasn’t a problem.

The problem with this standpoint was that the USSR did eventually come to an end. When it did, all the support which the USSR had offered to anti-imperialist movements across the world came to an end, which led to a huge surge in Western imperialist control across the planet. The fear that the example of the USSR might be followed in other areas of the world, which had restrained plutocratic capitalism’s excesses, went away, which led to a huge surge in neoliberalism, in inequality, in the looting of the state by the elite, all over the world. Within the former USSR and Eastern Europe, the end of what the Trotskyites called “state capitalism” did not lead to an improvement in conditions for the workers (as it should have, since state capitalism was assumed to be the ultimate in monopoly capitalism), nor did it lead to no change at all (which would make sense, assuming that the USSR was a capitalist country and therefore the move was from capitalism to capitalism). Instead, the consequence was gigantic immiseration and deterioration of conditions for the working class plus a surge of power and wealth for a new and irresponsible bureaucratic elite. These had not been predicted by the post-Trotsky Trotskyites, who had essentially nothing to say about them, even though these events showed that post-Trotsky Trotskyism’s political standpoint was defective.

Instead, Trotskyism found itself without an enemy on the left any more, as Communist parties disintegrated, and therefore found itself without a reason to exist. Unless Trotskyism had taken the place of the Communist parties and become the vanguard of the working class seeking revolution against plutocratic capitalism — essentially admitting that the Bolsheviks had been right and that the post-Trotsky Trotskyites had been wrong — they would have no purpose. They did not do this, because it would have been too difficult a project. Instead they contented themselves with whining about other leftists wherever they existed and modest criticisms of the increasingly demented behaviour of neoliberal plutocracy. And when resistance arose against that neoliberal plutocracy, the Trotskyites did their best to attack that resistance, saying (as they had said about the Communists) that it was not good enough, that it was not socialist, not trustworthy, would betray the workers — and therefore they often aligned themselves with the imperialists against vulnerable countries which the imperialists wished to loot, or against less vulnerable countries which the imperialists saw as a challenge.

All this is perfectly historically and psychologically explicable. But it means that Trotskyites are an obstacle in the path of socialism, setting a bad example and discrediting the movement. They need to be driven into the sea.

The Privileged Demand More Privileges.

November 12, 2015

#FEESMUSTFALL is, by no real coincidence, a product of the 1% — the proportion of the population who actually go to university, and whose access to university provides many of them with employment (often thoroughly unproductive employment, but who’s asking such questions any more?).

Most of these protesting students are, relative to the rest, privileged; they are at worst the cream of the working class, but more often they are petit-bourgeois. They are studying towards degrees which qualify them to serve the exploitative, neoliberal capitalist system, which they intend to do.

Their campaign, then, is that their families should be more extensively subsidised towards their privileges and towards their goal of becoming servants of the bourgeoisie, by reducing how much they have to pay. There are other demands, but these are essentially smokescreens which are insignificant, as is shown by the disintegration of the movement the moment that they received a promise of financial incentives to stop.

All this is not to say that it would not be a good idea to reform the university system. However, there is not the slightest prospect of sustainably reforming the university system while the national socio-economic system is in its current state. If that were done, it would not last, for the plutocrats control the academic institutions and would mould them to serve their private gain, as they have been doing over recent decades. So at the very least the universities must be placed institutionally outside the capitalist system — which is probably impossible — or else the all-pervasive dominance of neoliberal plutocratic capitalism must be removed, which is what the EFF wants, or at least claims to want.

But there is no plan for this, nor should anyone expect the students to plan for this, because the students are not remotely interested in such planning. Why should they be? They are not being paid to improve the institutions in which they are being badly educated. They have no special interest in instituting improvements which will only bear fruit long after they have left. So therefore, allowing the students to lead the transformation of the institutions in which they are being abused is problematic – especially because the students themselves are not a united body; within each institution there are rich and poor students, and there are rich and poor institutions, institutions which have privileges within the privilege enjoyed by all universities. The students have no capacity to work together in eliminating the special privileges of the elite universities, nor do they desire to, since these universities provide the royal road to the neoliberal social privileges which the students aspire to.

Therefore, the whole student protest movement is a chamber-pot full of diarrhoea. No doubt most of the students are well-intentioned, but they are ignorant, unskilled, politically uneducated, led by morons and misled by charlatans. Their public statements display a moneyed arrogance and a bubble-dwelling insouciant disengagement from the realities of South African working-class or even lower-middle-class life which is naturally to be expected from the protected children of petit-bourgeois families whose political education is provided by Mmusi Maimane and Business Day.

This is not, however, a tremendously bad thing. On the contrary, it is the best which can be expected under the current terrible circumstances. At least a handful of students have come out and said that they are not happy with the way things are happening. Like the inept and co-opted service delivery protests, like the incompetent and often ludicrously mismanaged anti-COSATU trade union movement, it is not much, it is not good, but at least it is something.

Far more worrying, however, is the way in which the ruling class has responded to the student protests.

More or less from the beginning the ruling class media, the SABC radio, the neoliberal press and the corporate-managed blogs, as well as the horde of corporate-sponsored pundits who pretend to be independent commentators and have usurped the position of the intelligentsia, has supported the student protests with a fervour ranging from obscene (SAFM, for instance) to psychotic (the Mail and Guardian). This is very strange given that the students are, supposedly, left-wing, and are calling for more money to be taken out of the fiscus and given to public institutions – universities, that is – and some of them are also calling for universities to hire and manage their support staff directly instead of doing so through outsourced companies, as is the all but universal practice. These ruling-class media normally demand lower public spending and, of course, greater privatization and casualisation as a matter of course. Why should they change their tune regarding universities?

They badly need left-wing credibility. This is because they are speaking to a left-wing audience, an audience which has grown increasingly cynical about its right-wing government. If the corporate propaganda tools are too ostentatious about being corporate propaganda tools – and usually they are – then the public will tune out. On the other hand, they are the self-declared voice of the ruling class, since all others are censored and silenced. Therefore, when they speak, if they speak in a way which seems remotely tolerable, given that they have money and power, people listen. Therefore they need an issue on which to sound leftist, and thus disarm their critics.

So the support for the students is exactly the same as the reason why right-wingers pretend to support other left-wing causes – and sometimes even do support them if they are completely devoid of principle and lacking in support from anywhere else.

But unfortunately this situation is more sinister than the ruling class offering tacit support to powerless leftists. By supporting the students’ demands, the ruling class are waging a form of class warfare against the working class and on behalf of themselves; there is a strong chance that they can ensure that money is shifted from services which the working class use, to the universities which are virtually only used by petit-bourgeois and bourgeois people (and those children of workers who are sponsored to get there are aspirant petit-bourgeois and bourgeois people, however much they may deny it – which accounts for NUMSA’s bizarre statements on the issue; NUMSA’s leadership is petit-bourgeois however much they might pretend otherwise).

There’s another side to it which is more difficult to discuss. However, the press has raised it by comparing the student protests to June 1976 – a bizarre comparison which has almost no merit other than the fact that the students, like the scholars of Soweto, have no power to enforce their demands and therefore depend on the goodwill of the government (which in 1976 was absent, unlike now). The point about those protests was that although they were supposedly about getting the government to stop imposing Afrikaans on black education, they were actually about getting rid of the government – and only the abject weakness of the scholars and the nonexistence of effective political organizations at the time prevented them from directly raising the issue. The courage of the scholars was undeniable; their efficacy less so, and to talk about students scampering about on their campuses in the same breath as the scholars shot down on the streets of Soweto is to deface the memory of the anti-apartheid struggle – a handy plus for the South African ruling class, which dislikes that memory.

It’s interesting that the press is refusing to compare these protests with the campus uprisings of the 1980s, which are in some ways similar – except that those uprisings came out of a highly coherent political tradition, were more or less disciplined, and were directly and explicitly linked to off-campus struggles with which the students sympathized. These are things which the South African ruling class definitely doesn’t want to encourage. What they want is indoctrination and, failing that, incoherence and chaos which can be exploited.

Even more alarmingly, some are comparing the protests with the Arab Spring and hoping that they will lead to something similar. Given that the Arab Spring was a disaster in which corrupt global powers installed tyranny and chaos in the Middle East by brutal force, leading to the current hideous state of affairs there, this is not altogether inappropriate. But this is their vision for South Africa? Apparently, some of the right wing in the ruling class hate the ANC so much that they would be prepared to hand the country over to odious foreign despots rather than see it rule any longer.

Meanwhile, virtually no capital has been made out of any of this. The students are not accomplishing anything of substance, none of the opportunistic fake-leftists have really made any capital out of it apart from the usual temporary hyped “victories”. The scary revelation is how little political significance universities have any more.

What Is The Ruling Class Agenda?

November 12, 2015

What is the ruling class out to do in respect of Jacob Zuma’s shenanigans?

Since the ruling class don’t telegraph their punches, and since their control of the ideological state apparatus means that this apparatus doesn’t cover the ruling class qua ruling class, it follows that all one can do is monitor what the ISA does tell us and then try to figure out what it means.

The Mail and Guardian has a headline about Zuma being “off the hook” regarding Nkandla. Meanwhile, the Mail and Guardian‘s “Thoughtleader” website carries a syndicated article by William Saunderson-Meyer about how it is perfectly understandable that principled journalists are entitled to change their minds when they feel they have been wrong. This article concerns the editor of the Citizen, who wrote a mea culpa article about how he had conspired against Zuma, along with various other unnamed journalists, and now wanted to come clean. And the Sunday Times has had an article about the odiousness and childishness of the Economic Freedom Fighters in Parliament.

Perhaps these are unconnected. Perhaps not.

Zuma was never actually on the hook regarding Nkandla. What appears to have happened was that Zuma rather astutely organised that a quarter of a billion rand would be spent on “security upgrades” at his private residence — without leaving any fingerprints of his own, so that those who authorised the expenditure would be at pains to conceal what had happened, or at worst, could be sacrificed if a sacrifice were needed. Meanwhile, the money appears not to have been spent, but rather, to have been laundered, either going into Zuma’s purse through devious means or into the accounts of Zuma allies for unknown purposes.

The interesting thing about this process is that the Public Protector, who supposedly looked into the matter, did not actually notice that the bulk of the allocated money had not been spent on what it had supposedly been spent on. The jerry-built and absurdly overpriced structures concerned passed her by, somehow. She made no attempt to trace where the money had gone; essentially, her task was to attack President Zuma, on behalf of her friends in the Democratic Alliance, and not to attack big businesspeople who might have benefited but whose hostility the DA definitely did not need. Of course, she believed that this would harm Zuma, which would work only if the DA took the matter in hand.

Unfortunately, Zuma managed to delay and distract matters, being a consummate politician and good at procedural wrangling. As a result, everybody is now heartily sick of Nkandla, and meantime, a raft of prominent people have come out in support of Zuma’s right to have all the public money spent on his private residence that he pleases — meaning that a large number of people would go down with Zuma if Nkandla took him down, and they don’t want to go down.

Of course, Zuma accepted the money, for his own personal use in his private residence, and he should not have done so since it was misspent and he knew it was misspent because he could see it being misspent every time he went home, so he should pay back the money — but not even the Public Protector actually claimed that (she said “a portion of” the money, and you can argue that zero is actually a portion even if infinitely small).

But for that to be an issue, it has to be made into an issue, and the DA in Parliament, from the moment they decided to serve on the second Nkandla Committee, have been temporising and moderating their language and generally making it seem that they don’t think it’s such a big deal after all. It’s the EFF which has taken a stand, and the EFF which has tried to go to court to demand that the money be paid back — the DA is simply calling on the report of the second Nkandla Committee to be declared unconstitutional, which will probably turn out to be a no-hoper, in which case the DA is giving itself an excuse for letting the whole matter drop. And meanwhile the Public Protector, who has been putting on airs and throwing weight around which she doesn’t actually possess, is being hung out to dry, discovering now that it’s too late that the DA are not trustworthy friends if you don’t have money and are not white.

The Saunderson-Meyer article is interesting only because Saunderson-Meyer only produces stuff which is received wisdom for the right wing of the plutocratic elite, and makes them laugh because the plutocratic elite has no sense of humour at all. His article is, however, fairly serious; it praises a journalist for declaring his undying shame about having been nasty to Jacob Zuma. A couple of years ago, even a few months ago, such lickspittle behaviour would have aroused contempt in everybody, and the fact that Saunderson-Meyer stands up for the editor of the Citizen suggests that there has indeed been a sea-change.

The return of the repressed is what it is — the deservedly, and rightly, repressed. What the editor said was that he was very bad to criticise Jacob Zuma over the Shaik judgement, back in 2005. He shouldn’t have done it, he said. He was influenced by other foolish journalists! He was wrong! Jacob Zuma was innocent!

No, Jacob Zuma was not innocent. Judge Hilary Squires found Schabir Shaik guilty of soliciting bribes for Deputy President Zuma from the French company Thint. The bribes were duly paid, and Zuma carried out services in return for the bribes, by arranging for Shaik’s company to get the contract for credit-card driver’s licences, although the actual work would be done by Thint who would get the lion’s share of the money, but via Shaik’s company, which was incapable of fulfilling the contract itself. In other words, simple fronting, plain corruption for all to see, and Zuma was guilty, guilty, guilty, and the editor of the Citizen is a corrupt bullshitter, peddling bullshit which was last peddled in about 2008-9 when this bullshit had to be peddled in order to distract attention from the charges being dropped by a corrupt Director of Public Prosecutions. And Saunderson-Meyer is supporting this corrupt, much-discredited bullshit. Presumably it is being trotted out to distract attention from Nkandla and so forth.

So it would seem that the ruling elite has turned around and decided that Zuma is to be protected — or, at least, is not to be attacked as violently as before. Nkandla, like the bribery, and like so many of the other criminal activities which Zuma and his friends have undertaken, is to be swept partly under the carpet — it will remain, no doubt, rhetorically in the public eye, but it will no longer be represented as a tool which might remove Zuma. Perhaps it was already not such a tool — the ruling class is not homogeneous, and perhaps some of them decided not to use the judiciary against Zuma and therefore he cannot be charged with anything.

Meanwhile, after all the fuss which has been made about the former Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and her perjury and fraud, and being put on trial for perjury and fraud, and accused of many other shenanigans, and basically held up as the main thing which is wrong with the DPP (although there is a hell of a lot wrong with it, and wrong with the whole South African legal, judicial, and criminal justice system) — suddenly everybody is soft-pedalling the fact that charges have been dropped by Zuma’s new Director of Public Prosecutions. What’s the big fuss? Hey, everybody — over there — look, it’s Oscar Pistorius! With no sign of a locator cuff padlocked to his blade! Pay attention to that, and to whatever else we tell you, but not to the crimes of the Zuma administration, we’re going to draw a line under those — for now.

What’s going on? Why row back? Zuma can’t actually hurt members of the ruling class, he is too afraid of them and they are too powerful, so why not attack him? Why not use him to undermine the ANC, and perhaps to install Cyril Ramaphosa in power a couple of years early, ensuring that a fully neoliberal figure is in office and ready to serve the elite? Only a couple of months ago it was the end of the world, Omar al-Bashir had escaped from the clutches of the torturers and murderers of the imperial elite and the local elite who serve the imperial elite were screaming blue murder — but now the tumult and the shouting has been artificially suppressed, as if the conductor has turned on the illuminated SILENCE sign.

The Sunday Times attack on the EFF (alongside the general attack on the EFF launched not only by the press but also by the DA itself) is suggestive. The article basically says that a few months ago it was acceptable to have the EFF attacking the ANC, but that this is no longer desirable and now such attacks, and the EFF’s criticism of Parliament as being no more than a front for state power, are childish and undesirable and to be condemned by everybody who is anybody — that is, by those who serve the ruling class. And, just to make the parallel plainer, the Saunderson-Meyer article also denounces the EFF and points out that the press used to uncritically support them, and that this was wrong, but that now the press has seen the light and is attacking them, as it should, just like the Citizen now realising that Zuma must be supported at all costs. Which is complete balderdash because the press has always attacked the EFF except for momentary periods when the EFF’s attacks on the government happen to coincide with ruling-class interests. But it casts a glaring light on what is going on.

It would appear that the ruling class has belatedly realised that in their adoption of campaigns like the Nkandla issue and the Marikana issue, they were furthering the aims of the EFF, who were much more sincerely concerned about such issues than the neoliberal parties, and whose constituency was much more sincerely incensed about such issues. When the DA preached about such matters, their audience blinked, but the EFF’s audience heard, and cheered, but did not decide to vote DA on that account — instead, they were delighted that the EFF’s stance was being confirmed even by their class enemies, and that the DA was going along with them. Hence the DA’s decision to support the repressive new Parliamentary rules which will facilitate the arrest and expulsion of MPs who dare to expose the misconduct of the Zuma gang in ways unseemly to ruling-class eyes. The idea is to settle the EFF’s hash, however much it makes nonsense of the DA’s pretense to support democracy and the rule of law.

What makes this urgent, probably, is the 2016 municipal elections. The ruling class was expecting to see the DA make big gains there, and perhaps issues like Nkandla were supposed to facilitate that. The assumption was that the EFF’s accomplishment in 2014 would be a momentary lapse, like CoPe’s success in 2009, and the DA would be able to swiftly collar their support. This doesn’t seem to be happening; installing a black dressmaker’s dummy as supposed head of the DA hasn’t been the triumphant success which was hoped for, and the attempt to wreck the EFF by using PAC entryists like Mngxitama to disrupt it has failed. Instead, the EFF may be using its PR gained through Parliament to set up some modest structures and, perhaps, get some more support — in which case it might actually do better in 2016 than in 2014, especially in areas of the Eastern Cape where it ought to have done well in 2014.

The DA’s big hope for 2016 is Port Elizabeth, and if the EFF does reasonably well there and gets, say, 7%, it might be able to prevent the DA from getting an overall majority. This is rather horrible for the DA, for it would then mean that it could only govern in collaboration with the ANC (since governing in collaboration with the EFF is unthinkable). In which case the DA’s supporters have to be prepped for the inevitable collusion with the ANC, and have to be weaned away from the automatic anti-ANC perspective which they’ve held for some time. So it’s necessary to make nice with Zuma again, for fear that otherwise some kind of radical leftist or liberal organisation might succeed.

And that’s our ruling class in a nutshell — bungling, opportunistic, corrupt political ignoramuses. Just the people into whose hands we should all put our lives!

Triumph of the Vacuum II: The Politics of the Catwalk.

November 12, 2015

The coronation of Aloysias Maimane as Duce of the Democratic Alliance in Port Elizabeth went as smoothly as might be expected of a ritual developed and conducted by a public-relations agency. It was engineered with care and facilitated by ensuring that a white person, Athol Trollip, was standing right behind Maimane, working the wires attached to his limbs and the teleprompter in front of his eyes.

The idea behind this is that race is the only thing which matters in South African politics. By installing a black man as the party’s front-person, the Democratic Alliance has ensured that it will continue to grow at its current rate. It is not necessary for that black man to have any understanding of politics, any visible talents, or any worthwhile policies. All that matters is his skin colour. That will fool black people, who understand nothing about politics, talents or policies, into voting for the DA. Problem solved!

Actually the problems are just beginning.

The position of Leader of the Party is a fascist concept, fully in keeping with the DA’s status as an ersatz fascist party. (A real fascist party would have some guts and better graphics design skills.) The DA’s goal is to do whatever big business tells it to do in order to crush the working class and improve corporate profits. A true fascist party would, however, mobilise the majority against minorities. The DA can’t do this because it is the party of whites and coloureds, who are resentful minorities and who are scared of mobilisation against minorities for fear it might end up as mobilisation against them (the whole anti-xenophobic campaign, though couched in the usual fake moralistic terms, is a product of white paranoia out of the same stable as the panic about farm killings). Therefore they must mobilise the majority by fooling them, by putting a model on the catwalk and urging them to admire him, in the same way that “celebrities” of whom nobody has every heard and about whom nobody cares fill the pages of the newspapers in the hope that someone will make money out of the process.

The question which nobody is allowed to ask is what this is all about.

This is because the original motive for the reformulation of the Democratic Alliance, after the defeat of the National Party in 1994, was resentment against the ANC’s victory. The Democratic Alliance positioned itself, under the able and loathesome leadership of Tony Leon, as the party most able to attack the ANC. The attacks on the ANC did not have to contain any substance, or even truth, because the DA’s audience was racially bigoted and politically biassed against blacks and leftists and therefore warmed to anyone who was noisily denouncing black leftists.

Instead of trying to challenge racist and reactionary ideas, the DA encouraged them and merged them with its real political agenda, which was neoliberalism. Essentially, it sold neoliberalism to its supporters through making it attractive by linking it with the prejudices which they adored. It has been very successful in this project, which is what makes it dangerous. On the other hand, it has also abolished all political and economic debate wherever it holds sway — which is part of the party’s problems, since it makes the party completely inflexible.

The problem with this political agenda is that neoliberalism has turned out to be as disastrous for the country as racism was, and yet the DA does not challenge either because both serve the interests of the tiny ruling elite which the DA serves. The working class knows this; only the middle class, ideologically embedded in the distorted values of the ruling class, cannot see it. Therefore, the middle class supports the DA, but the working class does not — and the black middle class, which has gone over to the DA, is not numerous enough to make an electoral difference. The DA is trapped in the status of a second-rank party.

What can be done about this? The obvious answer is to pretend to challenge racism and neoliberalism. Under the Zille administration of the DA, the attempt was made to challenge racism. That is, the party made a serious effort to promote coloureds and afrikaners into responsible positions and to put an african in the shop window by appointing Zille’s handmaiden Lindiwe Mazibuko as parliamentary leader. (This was not a conspicuously absurd appointment like installing Joe Seremane in the chairmanship of the party, because the DA’s MPs are a thick-headed bunch of poor speakers and hence Mazibuko seemed competent by contrast.)

This was modestly successful at best, but it did not address the real issue. The DA’s line is that appointment should be on “merit”, but “merit”, on analysis, turns out to mean belonging to the DA after having gone to a good school and being respectful to the Leader and the friends of the Leader. It does not mean competence. Moreover, whites and indians automatically have “merit”, coloureds may acquire “merit” through proximity to merit-possessing whites, and africans may have “merit” bestowed upon them by those whites, provided that they earn it through extraordinary subservience and through cultivating a properly white South African accent (a pseudo-American accent will do in a pinch). All this means that the DA has not conquered racism, it has rather subsumed racism into the cultural practices of Johannesburg’s Northern Suburbs and Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs. This is how the DA is able to persuade itself that parachuting a politically inexperienced black man with no track record into the leadership of the party is a brilliant step forward.

By brushing aside racism, however, the DA cuts the cable which held the party together. Working-class whites and coloureds do not like africans. Now they must watch middle-class africans leapfrog over them in the political sphere just as they have watched them do the same in the economic sphere. It’s not likely to please them. The calculation of the DA’s leadership is that they have nowhere else to go, which is probably true — but, as with the ANC, it is going to be hard to dynamise the voters once the party’s reason to exist has been abandoned.

All which remains is neoliberalism, a doctrine which Maimane has made it quite clear that he supports. This commitment to a policy immiserating the majority of the population to an increasing degree should be harmful for the electorate, but since it is a policy which is never discussed in those terms it is not harmful to the DA. The question is whether it was helpful.

In the past, the DA could claim to be standing for the free market and liberation from big government and all the other meaningless neoliberal shibboleths which whites and middle-class coloureds loved to hear, but this is now more difficult because they need african support and although middle-class africans like those things too, they are very conscious of the fact that most africans don’t. So the DA must tone down its stridency, or export it into the “civil society” sector where media and think-tank alike devote all their time to union-bashing and denunciation of the lazy workers.

But, meanwhile, the long struggle between neoliberals and social democrats within the ANC and COSATU has been won by the neoliberals, the social democrats have been purged or sidelined, and so the ANC is pursuing policies, outlined in the National Development Plan, which fulfil all the requirements of neoliberalism. Furthermore, the ANC can do this while unblushingly embedding the neoliberal project in a cocoon of leftist rhetoric (which is what the NDP is all about). Therefore, although the white ruling class of South Africa still don’t like blacks or the ANC, they have had to take a second look at the african party. Zuma has done much for them, and Ramaphosa can be expected to do much more. The ANC is not going away any time soon. Why rock the boat? Why not shovel money into the ANC as they shovelled money into Zuma’s campaign?

So the DA finds itself in a very difficult position. Their ruling-class backers are having trouble seeing why they should support an insignificant party when they can support a ruling party which does the job they want done. The ruling class may be racist, but they aren’t that racist. Meanwhile, the DA must express spurious claims to serve the people, and ritual denunciations of inequality and unemployment, which are indistinguishable from the behaviour of the ANC and which grate on the ears of the ruling class just as much as the empty utterances of the SACP do. Also, the big fear must be that while nobody in the ANC believes in any of that stuff any more, some of the DA people may do — or at least may be afraid that if they take power anywhere and then break all of their promises they will be hoofed out at the next election.

All this requires a very clear-sighted and powerful leadership capable of analysing the problems and implementing solutions to them. Instead, the DA has a weak leader and chair; the leader is probably incapable of accomplishing anything which the Federal Council of the party (which is not federal, despite its name) does not want, while the chair, coming from a peripheral province with hardly any DA control, is banking on becoming mayor of Nelson Mandela Metro next year. If he does not get the mayorship (and it is a toss-up despite the incompetence and corruption of the ANC) then he will not have any power or influence, much like Joe Seremane, and then the DA will be run by a shadowy committee, the Federal Council, whose members hardly anyone even inside the party has heard of. This is not a recipe for triumph. (And the trouble is that the way to cut through this would be to devote all possible energy to winning Nelson Mandela next year, but in that case the chair will be empowered, and the Johannesburg clique does not wish to place power in the hands of the periphery — as with the ANC in the Western Cape, they would rather the party lost than that they should see someone else within the party gain.

All this hints that the DA may have peaked. It may go on to greater successes, but it is quite likely that it will not. In any case, it can no longer do anything original, it can do nothing that the ANC would not do. Therefore, the DA cannot offer any solutions to the problems of political disenfranchisement, ideological vacuity and economic mismanagement which characterise South Africa today. It is simply an irrelevance, and in the task ahead of the rest of us, as Hunter S Thompson observed, these waterheads will only be in the way.