Dowling’s Good Bad Book.

May 19, 2016

Finuala Dowling is one of the more interesting writers working within the white community in South Africa at the moment, largely because she is working for her own amusement rather than seeking to fulfil the expectations of a market in return for cash. Therefore it is possible to read her work without devoting too much time to identifying the familiar political buttons being pressed by the writer so as to manipulate the reader, and which are so irritating when one reads, say, Deon Meyer.

But since she is serving herself rather than market, it is natural that she should draw on her own life. Although Dowling’s life has been interesting enough to be worth writing about, it also leads to a certain repetitious self-consciousness — even self-indulgence — in her works. Also, where she is making use of painful memories, there is a certain manifest difficulty in what she is producing, a degree of blockage and distance between the creative writing and the material being utilised. This blockage is probably not artistic but is likely to be produced by Dowling’s own sense of hurt and loss.

This was already present in Home-Making For the Down-At-Heart, where she was writing about the dementia and death of her mother. She had already written most of a volume of poems about this, and the novel seemed to be a way of addressing the issue in a sustained way. The poems were usually short vignettes depicting her mother’s bizarre behaviour or utterances. The novel was a sustained depiction of decline and death (seen from the perspective of a person who had her own problems with coming to terms with daily life.)

However, both of these volumes managed to evade the essential horror of the issue by exploiting the dark, ironic humour which could be derived from living with someone who has lost touch with reality. As a result, although Dowling was managing to make the painful episodes of her life appear entertaining for the reader (and not so painful as to be difficult to read, which would have been commercial suicide) it’s a moot point whether the end product was therapeutic. Perhaps art shouldn’t be therapeutic.

So is this true of her most recent book, The Fetch?

Well, the work is interesting because it is an attempt to break out of the Hout Bay Bohemian-suburban environment which is the setting for her earlier novels. Instead it is set in Slangkop, an imaginary village across False Bay from Hout Bay, making it the mirror-image of her hometown. Daringly, in a sense, there is a tough, no-nonsense, elderly black person who acts as foil to the central character, a naïf librarian who stumbles into the inner circle of both the village’s only aesthete and the village’s only hippie.

But these characters are distinctly stereotypical and their interactions are not coherently motivated; nobody seems to have any real desire to do anything other than fulfil their role as defined by their status in the book. They bounce between each other like billiard-balls, remaining completely unaffected by being bounced (as when the hippie is obliged to adopt an abandoned baby). It is not really possible to engage with these characters as people; the problem isn’t so much that Dowling is trying to appeal to her audience, as that she needs these characters to provide a background for the central feature of the story which is the relationship between the librarian and the aesthete. Therefore, although the characters are supposed to be human, they are actually mechanical dolls.

The trouble with Slangkop itself is that it is not a realised place. There are occasional references to location and to events, but it is not a community; there is none of the subtle interaction between people which exists in small towns. Everybody is isolated, but this is not social commentary, it is rather a lack of development. Again, a place was needed to provide a background for the relationship between the central character and the aesthete, but it is not described in a way which would make the reader want to visit it, let alone believe that it exists.

The narrative is a series of vignettes, often stylised (as with the lone baboon which has lost its troop, which is obviously a metaphor for the doomed male homosexual character). The book is similarly fragmented into episodes which appear arranged to show the innocence of the central character and the way in which harsh reality crushes it. She does not understand the world, but the more she tries to engage with it by falling in love with the aesthete and then becoming his dogsbody, the more she is setting herself up to show that the world is not prepared to conform to her expectations.

This is a fair enough point. Of course, it is a very old story, the story of the romantic young person who imposes her own values on the world and thus manages to kid herself that she has attained her goal, when she is simply living in a fantasy. The person who tries to risk all for love — and it is always tempting to give in to the deliriums of desire — is going to be disappointed in the object of the love, because nobody is as perfect as a fantasy partner. The more the lover gives to the object of desire, the more the lover surrenders, the greater the eventual disaster is likely to be when reality breaks in. It is well resolved in the book; the aesthete is (of course) bisexual and runs off with a beautiful boy, and the beautiful boy is (of course) a psychopathic manipulator who steals all the aesthete’s money. It is a familiar white middle-class Cape Town story, and the bulk of it is the story of Dowling’s own disastrous marriage.

And then what? Dowling makes the librarian a rather hapless figure (actually everybody in the book is rather hapless, but she stands out in this respect), easily threatened by dangerous urban women her age in expensive outfits which they are more willing to take off than she is. This is slightly Jamesian (and in a way perhaps Dowling is trying to be a bit Michiel Heyns). For a contrast to this we therefore need a corrupt but fascinating central character, which it seems likely that the aesthete is meant to be. But in the book, he isn’t; unlike the corrupt milieu figures in Heyns’ Invisible Furies, Dowling’s aesthete isn’t sufficiently strongly constructed to bear the weight of being a tragic hero.

It seems likely that he is loosely modelled on some of the figures at the English Department at UCT where Dowling studied, some of whom tried to fulfil the role of being life-artists and big frogs in tiny artistic ponds. Slangkop, however, cannot provide a background like this because nobody there cares about aesthetics or life-artists, and the aesthete is thus suspended in a void; only his parties and his journalism exist to impress anybody (and what pitiful accomplishments these are, getting an article published somewhere or getting some pretty people to come and drink your whisky). Nothing that happens seems unusual or interesting enough to justify making this person the centre of attention. Therefore his fall, and his subsequent death from AIDS, appear both inevitable and insignificant; since the central character is no longer in love with him and nobody cares about him, and nothing he has done suggests that the planet is losing a giant talent or intellect, however much compassion Dowling pours into the last part of the text it still amounts to very little impact.

Again, perhaps this is part of the problem. Dowling seems, on one hand, to be offering a kind of tribute to her ex-husband. On the other hand, her ex-husband was himself a master of illusion, creating the impression of being a giant talent on the basis of very little accomplishment, so this is a fair representation. But it’s in a sense sad and squalid, and it’s never quite clear in the text whether the aesthete is indeed a no-talent, delusional loser, or whether he is indeed a great talent gone to seed and ultimately to waste.

Perhaps, then, Dowling is torn between the artistic need of the text and the truth of the material which she is dealing with. But still more important is the problem that she is dealing with her own sense of pain and loss, making it difficult for her to engage with anything; on one hand the other characters in the work are foils for the aesthete and the librarian, yet on the other hand if the aesthete and the librarian’s interaction is made too powerful then this opens all the wounds of her marriage. Thus if the book had been more of a success as a narrative, it might also have been horribly painful for its author — and maybe she wasn’t ready, or even able, to go there.

Maybe the moral of the story is that Dowling made a mistake in trying to do this in the first place. It’s an honourable failure; the book is reasonably well-constructed and written with Dowling’s customary skill and there is a lot of potential there, even if it has its trivial and manipulative side. But it does seem to be a failure, and the failure does seem to arise from trying to exorcise a ghost who simply won’t go away however much Dowling tries to drive him out.

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.

Je Suis Going To Be Sick.

November 28, 2015

Recently a bunch of hooligans with guns and bombs murdered a bunch of people. However, that happened in Yemen, the hooligans were employees of the United States, and the victims were dark-skinned people, and no Western imperialist press was present, so nobody noticed or cared.

However, another bunch of hooligans with guns and bombs murdered a bunch of white people in Paris, and the fucking heavens must fall because of this. Every imperialist government has instructed every puppet government in the world to pee in its collective panties in fright at the horrid fact that brown people can kill white people. Everybody is instructed to improve the situation by expanding secret police powers, suppressing the rights of minorities, controlling the free movement of individuals, and eliminating what remains of freedom of speech, for only thus can we preserve what Barack Obama calls civilization.

The most nauseating expression of this is the “Je suis” movement, in which we are supposed to identify with Parisians who got blown up or shut down (but not, of course, with any brown or black-skinned people who get blown up or shot down, or even with white people if they are not authenticated as worthy victims by the NATO High Command). This is modelled on the “Je suis Charlie” movement, in which everybody in the world was urged to identify with a bunch of racist journalists who got gunned down in Paris for writing viciously anti-Muslim screeds and scrawling viciously anti-Muslim cartoons. Granted, nobody should be gunned down for such things, just as Muslim clerics should not be blown to tatters for making viciously anti-American speeches, but nobody official in the West bothers about such latter things.

Why did those people get killed in Paris? Impossible, actually, to say what the motive of the attackers was, because we don’t actually know who was responsible. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility, which means very little even if you think that the Islamic State is a simple homogeneous entity, which it isn’t.

However, the French state is violently Islamophobic, imposing petty insulting restraints on Muslims seeking to display their religion’s cultural side and more serious restraints on Muslims criticising those cultural restraints and the political agenda of the French state in Africa and the Middle East. It’s been this way ever since the eight-year genocidal war against the Algerian people, during which Algerians in Paris were murdered by the French police and dumped into the Seine with very few of the kind of people currently engaged in French elite politics going “Je suis un harki”.

More to the point, the French state’s foreign policy is unambiguously supportive of NATO imperialism; it attacked and destroyed Libya, it invaded Mali to suppress a popular uprising, it has fomented mass murders of Muslims by Christians in the Central African Republic which it also invaded, and it has fomented mass murders of Shi’ites by Sunnis in Syria in pursuit of the American political agenda of imposing an American-compliant regime in that luckless state. All this seems like an extension of domestic Islamophobia, and creates the impression that France is a violently anti-Muslim country, although in practice this is probably not the case (the French government simply wishes to do whatever the Americans tell it to do, and whatever the French electorate can be fooled into thinking is a good idea, and doesn’t think responsibly).

So does this mean that open season can be declared on French civilians? Obviously not — they may be predominantly Islamophobe, they may have voted for a government which is brutally repressive at home and virulently aggressive abroad, they may be greedy and selfish and foolish, but shooting or blowing them up is not going to change any of this.

Assuming that the Islamic State, or some element of it, was responsible for the attacks in Paris, what was the purpose? To discourage the French state from attacking Muslims? This is hardly likely. Indeed, the immediate response of the French state to the Islamic State’s violation of international law in an attempt to discourage French involvement in Syria was to attack Muslims by violating international law, bombing a city in Syria (and probably killing lots of Syrians, but there is of course no “Je suis Raqqa” movement). This was as predictable as the consequences of blowing up the Russian airliner earlier in the month, or the terrorist bombings in southern Lebanon. Why bother to do such things? Unless you are attacking someone who is at a tipping-point, like the Spanish when al-Qaeda blew up some railway trains and persuaded the Spanish to stop supporting aggression against Iraq, any such attack can only be part of a long-term attempt at regime change, as in South Africa, and there is no prospect of that in France. Otherwise you are just walloping a wasp’s nest.

More to the point, since France is quite sympathetic to the goals of the Islamic State (destroying all vestiges of democracy in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon), is one of Saudi Arabia’s big supporters, and has done what it can to help them get what they want, France is the last country that the Islamic State ought to be attacking; attacking Russia and Hizbollah makes some sense politically although given the steely resolve of their governments it’s a complete waste of time, but attacking France is politically incomprehensible.

However, it’s entirely possible that the attacks in Paris (and, indeed, the Russian airliner bombing) were not actually carried out by the Islamic State — thought of as a state, that is. It doesn’t take much to launch such attacks, assuming that you aren’t afraid of dying or spending the rest of your life in a horrible prison. It’s perfectly possible that many Muslims are unaware of the real interests of the Islamic State just as must Westerners are unaware of the links between the Islamic State and the Western secret services and covert governments. Therefore some people might have run off and attacked Paris without much more agenda than the desire to blow away a couple of Crusaders. Moreover, since they, like so many of the “jihadis”, were recruited by Western intelligence agencies to support their war to overthrow the Syrian government, they might actually have been acting, wittingly or unwittingly, on Western orders.

But the pretense is, of course, that These People are All Out To Get Us, whoever”these people” or “us” may really be, and therefore we are all supposed to stand tall, and stand with France as it bombards Arab civilians, suppresses civil rights in France, and generally behaves exactly like a caricature of Russia in The Guardian, except that The Guardian is immensely impressed with France and wishes to remind us that absolutely nothing that is happening in the Middle East has anything to do with Europe or America.

It’s all a pretense. The French are apparently trying to use this situation to suck up to America by bombarding Syria and pretending that they are going to help take down Assad. But the Americans are increasingly realising that they aren’t going to be permitted to take down Assad or Hizbollah or Iran or, in fact, do almost any of the things that they want to do in the Middle East. The French don’t have the power or the political will to do any of that, either. So in the end all that will happen will be to put a few more “anti-terrorist” laws on the Western European statute books which will be used against leftists (those same leftists who are trying to suck up to Western European governments by making anti-Syrian propaganda) and a few more billion euroes and pounds will be spent on useless armaments and incompetent secret policemen. In other words, nothing of substance will change anywhere.

And our ruling class wants us to side with these horrid, incompetent, deluded scum. Include me out, comrades. If ISIS was a real organisation and not simply a front body for Western imperialism in the Levant and Iraq, it would be tempting to support them. As it is, all that needs to be done is to remind everybody that all this has been done already by Israel in its terrorist and aggression campaigns in the Middle East. For the moment that has still turned out all right, at least for the Israeli political and economic elite. Considering most of Israeli society, however, it hasn’t turned out any better for them, than it’s going to turn out for the NATO countries who are consciously imitating them.

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.

An Ambiguous Tribute.

November 12, 2015

Picking up a Ken McLeod novel for the first time was a remarkable and delightful experience. McLeod is a “politically engaged” science fiction writer (of course all science fiction writers are politically engaged, but in this case he is consciously and intelligently so) and was the subject of a series of acute and largely laudatory analyses on the Crooked Timber politics/philosophy website. Coming across a copy of Descent was thus a challenge difficult to pass over.

What was even more pleasurable was to find that the book was not only dedicated to Iain Banks, who had been a friend of McLeod (who helped edit two of Banks’ earlier books) but was also rather plainly an attempt to write a Banks book, and one which comes off tolerably well. It is a book arranged around a central conceit which is also a puzzle (standard science fiction trope, but one which Banks specially foregrounded). There is the usual dreadful male Banks central character, whom we follow from his self-absorbed and sexually inept adolescence all the way to his self-absorbed and socially inept young adulthood, and a plethora of gorgeous trim fit brilliant Banks women (mostly, however, dressed in technicolor frills and flounces rather than skin-tight black leather) surrounding him, some of whom he pursues and some of whom pursue him (shades of Crow Road). And there are dreadful moral ambiguities and sinister political implications, as in Complicity. What-ho! We have a Pope, and we know it will please you!

Except — well, this isn’t Banks. In some ways this is a relief, for Banks was in a dreadful rut long before he was diagnosed with the cancer that killed him (and which, again, he anticipated via Complicity). The book lacks the slovenly structuring which defaced much of Banks’ work, and reads both easily and luminously — there is almost none of the pretentious look-at-me-i’ve-got-a-good-thing-here which makes Banks intermittently irritating to read. McLeod is out for the euthanasia of the hipster, and in this book he very nearly succeeds in dragging irony to the berm and having a duly appointed agent of the State shoot it in the back of the head.

Yes, but.

Och, ah’m just a wee bairn whan it comes tae th’ Scots, but nevertheless it’s apparent that there are problems with the tropes of the book. They are brilliantly handled, but intrinsically there are enormous problems with them.

The central trope is that there are aliens among us. Of course, this is the conspiracy theory which is repeatedly debunked in the book — first by the central character, who is a teenage ironist and knows that everything of this kind must be bullshit. But then (after his alien abduction which is so standard that it cannot possibly be real and is obviously a teenage wet dream) he meets a sinister Man in Black, as well as being confronted by evidence that the Greys were among us in medieval times. And then he looks into the matter again and finds out that all the debunking he knows about is a cover story. But then the debunked truth is debunked. But is the debunked bunk itself a cover story for the real bunk? And is the real bunk itself debunkable, or is it a slam-dunk?

The core evidence is that British Aerospace (British Aviation Systems, in the novel, presumably to avoid being sued since their representative in the book is a ghastly and odious figure — whose name, intriguingly, recalls a rather conservative British science fiction writer) has got hold of some fantastic materials and forcefield technology with which it is able to build things which look very like flying saucers. The trope is that maybe this tech comes from the Greys, who are represented as (in the Internet mythos, anyway) a pottering bunch of not tremendously advanced aliens who have been spying on the Earth from the Moon since we were hominids, using primitive space ships made of the equivalent of balsa wood and Mylar.

Of course, this correlates very precisely with the mythos of the Roswell incident, as presented by Whitley Strieber and others. The spaceship turns out to be alarmingly simple — albeit completely incomprehensible. But assuming that America was able to down an alien spaceship, how would it be able to make sense of what it found? Space technology would probably look very simple when based on a million years of exploring reality, but how, without that million years of exploration, would we discover it? What would Australopithecus have made of the smashed shards of a broken smartphone?

Well, problem solved, for McLeod brings in the Philadelphia Experiment. The United States has had interstellar flight since 1943, thanks to Albert Einstein, Robert A Heinlein and L Ron Hubbard, as a by-product of trying to make a destroyer invisible using the Unified Field Theory. The Greys only had little puttering ships which hobbled from star to star at a few thousand klicks a second, so they traded all their tech, and especially their displacement tech (with which they could use forcefields to facilitate abductions — though actually that was what the Philadelphia Experiment was supposed to be about in the first place) for the ability to go home in jig time thanks to the U.S. Navy.

And that’s why every fit young lassie is wearing a crinoline which doesn’t need whalebone hoops and doesn’t ever get dirty; everybody’s got a dress made of flying saucer fabric. It’s amazing they don’t all get airborne.

Now, does all this strike you as tremendously plausible? Not the thing itself — it’s perfectly possible that such technologies might exist, that aliens might possess them. But it’s incredibly implausible that the United States would have made a breakthrough such as interstellar flight as a by-product of trying to develop invisibility and teleportation, and that aliens, after a million years, would still know nothing about such matters. It’s still less plausible that the United States, given such omnipotence, would not display such omnipotence in its policy towards the rest of the world. Actually, the rest of the universe. The home planet of the Greys would be occupied and we would seen be seeing Greys carrying CEOs’ briefcases, or perhaps Greyskin rugs in front of the 1%’s fireplaces. If we were allowed to see anything at all in a world where the USA could zap anybody they didn’t like into vacuum and control every planet around every star for hundreds of lightyears around. No, things would be very different if Uncle Sam could do that. And, definitely, Uncle Sam wouldn’t hand even a smidgen of that tech to their friends in Britain, let alone to the Scots. (Remember how the Americans tried to stop the British from getting the A-bomb? And that was obvious tech based on physics which everybody in the world understood.)

OK, so that trope is problematic. Another trope — the gradual speciation of the human race — is also plausible up to a point, but McLeod’s notion of incorporating this with having a touch of Romani blood in you, so that those with the right touch of Romani blood can’t interbreed without that touch — this doesn’t seem much like the way speciation operates in the real world. Most likely McLeod is upset at the way the Romani are being treated in contemporary Europe, and good for him. Also, the notion that the Romani are part-Neanderthal doesn’t really correspond well with what little we know about both the background of the Romani and of the Neanderthalenses (who were, let’s not forget, and even McLeod admits it, of our own species). That’s a sideline (although a sideline that really fucks up the central character’s life and ultimately turns him into an even more horrible person than he is before the big fuck-up takes place).

But the Big Issue of the book is politics — of course, given McLeod’s predelictions. The beginning of the book is the good old New Bad Future — everything’s in decay, everybody’s dissatisfied, there are tiny acts of rebellion and sabotage everywhere but no hope whatsoever for this independent Scotland or those horrible barmpots down south either. The War on Terror continues with the Americans in occupation of Iran and various other places and naturally getting their bums kicked, and nobody can do anything about the loonies who are in charge.

There are, however, the revolutionaries. But nobody knows who they are. You can’t get in touch with them. They do distribute leaflets, but nobody reads them because they are boring bilge. Yet somehow they are said to be responsible for everything that goes wrong everywhere. So do they even exist, or are they just a creation of the government who are constantly ramming through new repressive legislation to suppress them? It’s all rather as if the government were deliberately fostering fear of the Greys coming to abduct us so that they could spend more money on anti-flying-saucer artillery. The parallel isn’t exact, but McLeod is obviously aware of it.

Hold on, though. Not even the Socialist Workers’ Party was that dim-witted. If there were a revolutionary movement they would be out to win some support, and under the circumstances such as McLeod describes would probably manage it, too. These revolutionaries don’t behave like revolutionaries — maybe McLeod’s general disillusion with Trotskyites (or at least Cliffites) is coming through here, but still, he should make a more plausible set of figures than that.

Anyway, one day the government decides to act. Not against the revolutionaries. The world’s governments suddenly act against finance capital. They nationalise the world’s banks and they invade the world’s tax havens and shut them down. Oh, all the banksters get gigantic payouts, but from now on credit comes from the State and from nowhere else, and the mobility of money depends entirely on State permission — more or less the way things used to be in the People’s Republic of China. Initially the revolutionaries perk up and say “Woo-hoo! Chaos! We just need to exploit the chaos, and the ruling class will collapse!”. Then, when chaos doesn’t come, the revolutionaries say “Fuck it.” and announce that they’re going out of the revolution business. In fact, they’re all going to run off and set up start-up companies instead.

This is rather less plausible than the United States having the power to exterminate all its enemies with no comebacks and then not using that power. Why in the world would a global political system very largely controlled by finance capital decide to turn off the money spigot, shut down financialisation and return to manufacturing capital as the sole target of investment? Or, putting it another way, why didn’t they do that when finance capital fell on its arse and pulled the whole planet down with it in 2007-8? McLeod’s “Big Deal”, the crucial part of his political trope, is a depoliticised fantasy, a wet dream wetter than anything dreamed by his central character (who “wanks himself raw” over a Space Sister in a Star Trek uniform he meets in one of his visions).

But even this is more credible than what happens next. The “New Improvement” is the bullet McLeod is saving for irony; masakhane, we are building, everybody has a job but the new metamaterials use no raw materials, no pigs were harmed in the making of this metabacon, the cranes are going up and the superballoons and superspaceships are going up even higher, soaring ever more, towards our limitless future — and apparently all thanks to a few crumbs of technology dropped upon us by aliens.

But no, not only the aliens are involved. Also, the revolutionaries who have gone into business are all Steve Jobs/Richard Branson types, in control, with focus, fully capable of ensuring a planned society which transforms the world into this humming hive of happy workers. They have steered the Big Deal into the New Improvement and now things can only get better. There’s a lot to the book which is being left out because why spoil it, but the insistently repeated image is of the ramjet-powered spaceplane which initially rises high, but then must plummet again from the balloon, but don’t worry, long before it hits the ground it’s moving fast enough for the ramjets to ignite and then it can rise again, soaring forever. Like the future. Just as the aliens want. Just as the businesspeople, or are they revolutionaries still, want.

What McLeod is killing off here is not just irony, it’s also consciousness of how the world is working. It’s a bland Popular Mechanics vision of the future — no wonder that McLeod explicitly compares it with a 1950s image. It’s desirable, but it’s also completely implausible, unfortunately, because there is no political backing for it, no indication of how the current socio-economic system which would never tolerate anything like that could be swept aside. Perhaps as South Africans who remember how the plans for making a workers’ paradise out of post-apartheid South Africa were first watered down by COSATU, then compromised and stalled by Mbeki, and finally killed off altogether by Zuma. That didn’t happen by accident, it happened because the ruling class didn’t want it, and the ruling class wouldn’t want what McLeod wants.

Oh, what the hell. The book’s a book for a’ that. Go read the flipping thing.

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.

Triumph of the Vacuum I: England Made Me.

November 12, 2015

So the British election has come and gone, and yet it wasn’t really a British election at all, was it? The Scots voted almost unanimously against it, the Irish voted both ways at once and the Welsh and Cornish weren’t consulted. So it was an English election, and the English have, by a margin of not a hell of a lot of votes but a huge number of gerrymandered seats, chosen to commit suicide.

To those who don’t think clearly, this probably sounds an extreme thing to say. How can voting for a chubby, hearty posh lad whose only concern is to enrich the wealthy, promote xenophobia, kill dark-skinned people and otherwise do whatever the colonial power of the United States demands, possibly be a bad thing? Or, at least, such a bad thing? Isn’t David Cameron a safe pair of hands?

Indeed he is, although the hands are not his, but those invisible hands which rig the casino popularly called the City. And the word “safe” simply means that he can be trusted to serve the interests of the City, meaning the big banking and financial agencies who generate the bulk of Britain’s gross domestic product and organise its transfer into the capacious pockets of chubby (or skinny, or obese), hearty, posh lads and (occasionally) lasses in the ruling class.

The grim fact is that although Labour made a dog’s breakfast of ruling Britain under Blair (being able to win elections does not mean that you can run things properly) the Tories managed to perform less well, even though Labour had been applying Tory policies. However, the Tories were not in charge when everything went pear-shaped (ironically, a pear was the symbol of the Labour Party at the time, the rose being abandoned because someone might have thought it should be red) and have been running ever since on the ticket of not being responsible for the disaster which their policies and their financial masters brought about. Like saying that you weren’t responsible for the accident because the four-year-old in the back seat had a toy steering-wheel on his pushchair and this steering-wheel, you claim, was actually controlling the car.

But that was in 2008, which is seven years ago now, and although the Tories claim to have run the economy brilliantly since then, in reality unemployment and underemployment remain stubbornly high and life for a lot of Poms remains as miserable as it has been since the bottom fell out of the false Brown boom with its fake strong and stable pound (which still remains, of course, strong and stable because the United States won’t let anyone attack it, not because the British economy is powerful enough to justify such a strong currency). In other words, Tory genius is predicated on Britain remaining a colony of the metropole across the Atlantic.

So much for the claim of running the economy well. The Tories have, admittedly, expressed their hatred for immigrants brilliantly. Immigrants play an absolutely vital role in nothing substantive whatsoever, but are useful for stirring up sadistic hatred among the substantial class of Britons who, recognising the relative nature of happiness, find it easier to make their neighbours unhappy than to make themselves happier. It works well in the South African townships, so why not among Westerners infinitely more privileged and better-educated? Why not, indeed.

Apart from this, the Tories have also managed to build bad relations with Europe, bad relations with Russia, poor relations with most Asian and Latin American countries and with most Middle Eastern countries apart from Israel and Saudi Arabia — in other words, apart from their hostility to Europe, their policies are a mental annexe to the United States. But this means that they depend on the United States to defend themselves militarily and economically against the hostility which they are arousing, and since U.S. friendship cannot be trusted, as history shows, the Tories have been unusually inept in their foreign policy.

Given all this, the Tories’ landslide victory is a little surprising. It may be argued that it isn’t a landslide victory since they received less than two-fifths of the vote, but this is a constituency-based system which is inherently unfair, and in which there were five major parties — in order of support, Conservative, New Labour, United Kingdom Independence, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist. (The last two changed places with the election.) With such a lot of people competing for votes, inevitably there were a lot of votes wasted in  many constituencies. However, the Tories are the biggest party and they thus justly received the lion’s share of the representation.

So, why vote Tory if you know from experience that they are incompetent? One argument is that the press commands public opinion — “It woz the Sun wot won it”. Numerous Labour supporters were spending a lot of time before the election telling everyone who would listen that the polls were proving that this theory was false. Now that Labour have been comprehensively defeated they are probably telling everyone who will listen that they lost because of media bias. The media is, undeniably, biased against Labour, and has always been with the exception of the Blair years; nevertheless Labour managed to win against the tide of the media in 1945 and 1964 and 1974. So the Tories profit from the media, but not inevitably or comprehensively so. (On the other hand, hearing a relentless drumbeat of news about the incompetence, corruption and general worthlessness of Labourites and the genius, diligence and soundness of Tories must make a difference.)

The question is, who are you going to believe, the newspapers or your experience? The newspapers and the BBC tell you that the Tories have saved the country, experience tells you that things are tough. Either you are a workshy benefit scrounger refusing to exercise entrepreneurship in the new big ownership society, or else the newspapers and the BBC and the Tories are talking bullshit. Who would want to believe the former? But luckily there’s a Third Way — which is to believe that you are a victim of workshy benefit scroungers refusing to exercise entrepreneurship. It’s the Muslims and the blacks and the coal miners and the National Health Service and the Welsh and the Scots and the Cornish and the gays and the women and practically the whole population of Britain except David Cameron, Nigel Farage and you. You’re all alone out there (Tony Blair says so quite explicitly in his latest pronouncement advising Labour to win by making itself more right-wing)

And so, given that you are suffering, you have the choice of changing the country in a way which might benefit you (but the only party which actually promised that was the Scottish Nationalist Party, the principal beneficiary of the election) or changing the country in a way which harms other people who appear to be competing with you, and whom the media and most of the parties all combine to tell you are evil and deserve to be punished. Who’s going to beat up the weak, poor and brown-skinned? Who’s going to tell the foreigners to fuck off and die, and back it up with bombs if necessary? Labour say they will, but you can’t trust them to. UKIP will certainly do it, but they aren’t going to win. The Liberal Democrats will pursue any policy which keeps Nick Clegg a seat in the Cabinet. Therefore, vote Tory and the world is yours!

So in a sense people were voting Tory out of sadism. But a lot of them were voting for other parties out of sadism, too. After all, Labour has its own history of brutality and destruction and cruelty — and within the party, the big beneficiaries of the election are the Blairites who are the quintessence of everything evil about Labour.

So the British — or rather, the English, for the Scots and Welsh were probably concerned with other things — were, in the end, voting about something. They were voting to hurt people more than they were being hurt themselves. This is not, however, because the English are genetically nasty (which is a widespread theory in post-election theorizing). It is, rather, because they were told that the best possible option was to hurt people, and then, that they had a choice between hurting people a little or hurting people a lot. In our culture more is always supposed to be better, so they voted to hurt people a lot. Those who did not vote to hurt people enough are wusses. You have to be tough. There are hard choices to be made. Nobody said it was going to be easy, as Heinrich Himmler said when he stood too close to some Jews being executed and blood and brains spattered all over his uniform.

Those who say that the option is to help people? Well, there are the Scottish Nationalists and to a lesser extent Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein, but only the Scots and Welsh and Irish would vote for them because their primary allegiance is to help people of the same ethnicity as themselves. The only English party which is against hurting people is, nominally at least, the Greens. They didn’t do at all badly in the election, but they have a nasty miasma of crankishness hanging over them and they also have a tendency to tell everyone that the solution to all our problems is really easy and simple to implement — just wear hemp fibres and recycle your polystyrene drinking cups and all difficulties are over. As of now they are not a majority party and could not compete with a tidal-wave of evil hatred.

The only party which could have challenged this tidal wave, had it been true to its pre-1983 history and its political interests, was Labour. Instead they ran on a pledge to hurt people almost as much as the Tories, but not quite as much. In other words, they were gutless pink Tories, as the Liberal Democrats were yellow Tories. In which case, why not vote for the Tories?

But the thing about all this, then, is that there’s a vacuum in British politics which is only filled by hatred. However, that hatred does not actually fill the important part of the vacuum, which is an absence of any policy which addresses the problems confronted by Britain in the twenty-first century. Hatred doesn’t do it because the problems are structural and produced by class forces. You have to understand what is going on to address those problems, and instead you’re off beating up Muslim women for wearing veils (or for not wearing veils if you’ve been recruited for ISIS by the Secret Intelligence Service). This vacuum is only going to get more vacuous over time, and it sucks all sanity and all hope away. And this is the problem confronted not only by Britain, but by every country and political system everywhere which cleaves to the neoliberal model which the Anglo-American world has imposed.