Attempting to Answer the Good Question.

July 30, 2018

So — what is the crisis of the left, and how should the left respond to it in order to succeed in overcoming the crisis, and what would that entail?

It is not a crisis of the left in South Africa all by itself. The global left has lost power, or has changed itself into something no longer leftist in order to retain power. Evidently, something has gone wrong which is not simply South African. But here we are in South Africa, and so let’s see how the crisis here has played itself out.

The general objective of the left — the dissemination of political and economic power throughout society — has been abandoned by those in power for several decades. The economic and political system is now explicitly devoted to destroying this objective by enriching plutocrats and immiserating the rest of us. The “democratic” system is fundamentally separated from actual political power, which resides elsewhere. Hence the “democratic” system serves largely as a technique to persuade the immiserated masses that there is no political solution to their problems. The generally-presented solution appears through attacking carefully-delineated politicians defined as “corrupt” (or whatever concept serves plutocratic interests by enabling them to seize power or wealth on the pretext of struggling against it). Thus the political system today is implicitly Bonapartist, but without a Bonaparte; or perhaps like early Italian Fascism without Mussolini.

The former authority which the left had in respect of public opinion has been dissipated as the right has inserted its values and slogans into the public mind and held them there by propaganda and patronage. The left has meanwhile lost most access to the media, and to other opinion-making sources, except when individuals purporting to be leftists produce material which serves interests outside actual leftist interests — in which cases the leftists involved are often funded by right-wing elements.

Much of this suggests that the left’s external crisis has internal components, of which the following are a sample:

The organised left has ceased to pursue actual leftist interests where it is in power.

The organised left, where not in power, does not pursue truly leftist interests but prefers to pursue the momentary interest of factions and individuals, usually by attacking targets made easy because they are already being attacked by more powerful right-wing forces.

There is more to the problem than this, yet this will surely do for a start! It doesn’t matter much what kind of capitalism is driving the system, nor does it matter much how serious the immiseration problem is (although it is serious and growing more serious and is almost entirely ignored by the public information dissemination systems, the “ideological state apparatuses” as they are correctly called by Althusser). The left is marginalised, and has colluded in this process of marginalisation — which means that there are at least two problems needing to be addressed here, as was evident when looking at Hall and McKinley and seeing that they were devoutly and stridently pretending that there was absolutely no gigantic grey flap-eared long-trunked creature in the room and standing on their toes.

Is there even a constituency for a left to take advantage of any more? Evidently there is. The EFF managed to get a million voters by doing little more than getting a reputation for wanting to nationalise the means of production, declaring that this would be their policy if elected, and then putting their names on the ballot-paper. Granted they eventually threw this policy away, along with most of the rest of the reasons for supporting them, and this must obviously disillusion many or most of their voters. Still, it shows that it is possible to mobilise considerable support for the left if anyone seriously tries. (It is significant that before the EFF nobody seriously tried.)

So if it is possible to do this even with frivolous celebrities taking the lead, with scanty organisation, and against a vast barrage of right-wing propaganda, it might be possible to do much more with a solid ideological base, a clear message of relevance to the bulk of the population, a decent organisation and a more reliable and trustworthy collection of leaders. It might be worth developing a left-wing political party possessing these characteristics, instead of the current stock of deadbeats, hoopla artists, fraudsters, clowns and traitors.

The obstacles to this from outside any possible origin or constituency for such a movement are obvious. The plutocrats will smear such a movement, and will try to buy off its leaders or bully its members. If the movement becomes a serious force, it is quite likely, even in the most purportedly liberal countries, that violence and even murder might be used — especially if the members of the movement are ethnically or religiously different from the plutocracy, as with the war against the Black Panthers in the United States and against the Irish Republicans in the United Kingdom. While the most resolute members of such a movement will resist any and all such attacks — and, paradoxically, the more strenuous attacks often arouse more strenuous resistance — weak or ignorant supporters may be driven away.

A still more important danger is, however, the problem of what those supporters consist of. The rank and file of any such part are usually “all right” in the sense that they have had some experience of immiseration and oppression, or have identified it out of their own experience even if they are not directly immiserated or oppressed, and therefore are eager to resist it. It is among more senior cadres of the support for such a movement that the real problem comes.

Someone who has earned (or been given) status and authority within a movement is naturally eager to cling to such status and authority, especially if it is that person’s only chance or opportunity at getting it. Therefore, that person will want to make sure that the movement facilitates that status and authority — and money, if possible — changing its structure and agendas to suit the process. In other words, such organisations may be subverted by individuals, or groups of individuals, seeking to use those organisations to feed vanity or greed.

So what is needed is not just an organisation with policies which appear right and are couched in ways that appeal to the public, but also an organisation capable of maintaining tight discipline on its membership and at the same time arousing an enthusiasm for relatively selfless behaviour. This is not only about preventing people from stealing the cashbox — it is also about discouraging people from campaigning against the actual interests of the organisation, and against its future success, because their ideologies tell them that these interests are false consciousness and that future success is undesirable. Unfortunately, people following such ideologies tend to be hard-working fanatics.

Also, a disciplined organisation tends to be hijacked by leaders who use the discipline to impose their own ideological preconceptions on the organisation. In order to ward off these dangers, the organisation needs simultaneously to be flexible and rigid; to be filled with a sense of open debate and discussion, and absolutely tied to a programme of action based on a rigid framework through which the political world is understood.

These are impossible contradictions, but they have to be managed through time and through leaders who are prepared to set boundaries and accept challenges. The organisation has to be democratic. But it also has to be authoritarian. Where the leaders exploit a situation for their own purposes without due cause they have to be challenged, or even removed, but not by leaders who are simply exploiting that situation again.

What is needed, therefore, is a clear knowledge of organisational history as well as national history, of ideology and also the meta-ideology which is about how ideology evolves and how it is used and abused. These are issues which are almost never properly incorporated into the tedious brainwashing which South African organisations usually substitute for political education, and this is why those organisations so often collapse into shapes which amount to the opposite of what they purport to stand for. Political education is not just an addendum — it is actually what politics is all about.

And all this has to be done against the background of transforming South Africa. The debate is all very well, but understanding the nation and understanding the organisation are only tools towards changing it. So nobody can get bogged down in the processes of defending the organisation against internal threats and external menace, of education and debate and discussion and continual reformation — a kind of permanent revolution, if you wish, but not exactly as either Trotsky or Mao carried that kind of thing out.

All this surely means that the current organisations cannot fulfil the needs of the left in South Africa. A wholly new organisation, consisting almost entirely of personnel not drawn from the historically corrupted organisations, would have to be set up. Such an organisation could still draw on the kind of people who have supported leftist organisations in the past, but its goal would have to be to reconstruct, from the ground up, the political structures, debates, insights, faiths and values which the South African left once aspired to, between the 1950s and the 1980s.

Even if the South African left of that time did not actually manage any of those things (but in retrospect much of the left, particularly the left which was not ossified by exile, attempted these things much more effectually than any other political tendency in the country) they are worth pursuing as ideals. They are not impossible dreams. They have simply been disregarded and discarded by the corrupt exploiters who have taken over all of our politics. Now that virtually every sane person is aware that our leaders are corrupt exploiters, it is not going to be enough to merely remove them and replace them with someone else who might be marginally less corrupt or slightly less exploitative. We need to purify ourselves, without becoming leftist variants of the Islamic State.

It isn’t going to be easy. But it has to be done.

 

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Bad Answers to a Good Question (I): Stuart Hall.

July 30, 2018

The Good Question is, of course, “What is the problem with the western Left, and what should it do to resolve the problem?”. Stuart Hall’s book Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left: The Hard Road to Renewal is an answer to this question. It isn’t a good answer, but firstly it’s a good position from which to have asked the question, and secondly it’s interesting to see that someone as astute, informed and motivated as Hall is unable to answer it effectively.

Hall was a Marxist cultural commentator, a formidably astute figure in the tradition of Raymond Williams, emerging from the cabal of leftists who formed the New Left Review in the aftermath of the 1956 splits in the British Communist Party. However, amid all these, and despite Hall’s resolute Oxbridge tone and slightly pedantic, astringent style, one tends to forget one other thing — he was a West Indian from Jamaica, and highly conscious of his blackness and of the forced inferior status of blacks in the United Kingdom versus whites. Hence his class consciousness was always related to his racial identity — which helps to explain what happened.

The book covers the period 1978-1988, basically the period during which the British Labour Party suppressed its left wing and, with it, all pretense at socialism, during which the British Labour Party also lost power (never to regain it as a party of labour) and during which the British Conservative Party rose from near-collapse to near-complete hegemony. It was also the period during which the British left outside the Labour Party threw away whatever chances they might have had of developing some access to power and even of a substantive understanding of what was going on. So this is the background, and one would expect — and Hall claims — that the book is a response to this.

Where it starts out is the collapsing situation of the Labour Party under Callaghan and Healey, who first proclaimed the death of Keynesianism and the necessity of wage cuts and the crushing of trade unions, which led ultimately to the collapse of Labour at the polls in 1979 and the victory of Thatcher’s Conservatives. Hall recognises that this is happening, and recognises what is coming, but at the time he had absolutely no answer except to point out the situation; he couldn’t see any way of improving Labour, and was scathing about both its behaviour and its potential to change itself, and yet couldn’t see any alternative to it which could fight the Conservatives.

On the other hand, Hall initially underestimated the scale of the ideological transformation which was to come — having lived all his life in a society which was fundamentally leftist he did not understand what it would mean for the character of that society to be forcibly shifted rightward — although by 1980 he was recognising that this was happening, in “The Great Moving Right Show”, he didn’t understand that the transformation was likely not to be a minor or temporary one, but would change the circumstances within which the left would operate, and very much for the worse.

After Thatcher’s victory and once the Conservatives had been able to place right-wing ideas at the forefront of public consciousness, couched in the terms of a challenge to orthodoxy, Hall was able to find a couple of events in public affairs which concerned, and seemed in part to console, him.

He proclaimed his enthusiastic support for the striking miners and shipworkers of Gdansk as a heroic struggle against the statism which he identified in Stalinism and also opposed in the Labour Party. On the surface this made a certain sense since the miners and shipworkers were engaged in a struggle against an oppressive, undemocratic and foreign-supported government. On the other hand, they were engaged in a struggle whose aim was ultimately the restoration of capitalist relations of production — they were fighting for the right to be exploited by bosses (without properly understanding, in most cases, that this exploitation would entail shutting down many of the mines and most of the shipyards which were kept afloat by the socialist system they were opposing). In other words Hall was fighting for capitalism in the name of fighting for democracy, and was also fighting for the system which he claimed to oppose in Thatcherism. He was endorsing the new Cold War precisely at the time when the Euro-American right was using the new Cold War as a bogey to distract the public as they pushed through right-wing changes to constitution and society.

However, one cannot say that Hall was simply a Thatcherite agent, for he also opposed the Falklands war, jeering at the government which was sending armed forces to fight for British interests in the South Atlantic. He was not jeering on the grounds that the Falklanders deserved to be deprived of their citizenship and forced to live under a quasi-fascist dictatorship, or that the Argentinean claim to the Falklands was so strong that it obliged him to support that dictatorship. He was jeering on the grounds that this was an “old-fashioned ” action, that a “modern” government would have done things differently (Hall naturally did not specify what else could have been done, since the choice was between surrender or resistance). He also jeers strenuously at the Labour Party for being so old-fashioned as to support the government in their attempt to resist an aggressor and further the interests of Britain.

This raises interesting questions about the realism of Hall’s frequent declarations of his own “realism” in the context of his leftism, and how committed he actually was to the latter rather than to the former. The questions were to some extent answered after 1983, when, in despite of the unpopularity of the actual policies of the Conservative Government and the manifest failure of their claims to superior competence, the Labour Party was once again defeated, and very thoroughly.

There were various reasons cited by the Labour left for the defeat. One was the split of the “Social Democrats”, the extreme right of the Labour Party, and their well-funded and successful campaign to divide the Labour vote. One was the internecine fighting in the Labour Party after its 1979 defeat, which saw the left under Benn routed and instead a compromise candidate, Foot, installed as a thoroughly unsuitable and weak leader with the real power in the hands of the right-wing and thoroughly discredited Healey, the architect of the 1979 disaster. This led to a severe disjunct between the rank and file and the leadership, and to a very weak message getting across with very little support from the Labour Party’s central office which was under the control of the right and wished to ensure that when Foot was discredited, the left did not regain any power of influence.

These are very important factors, and could in themselves have been decisive (although they are not to be seen as excuses for the left in the Labour Party and the country generally to rest on their laurels; the left had been repeatedly defeated over the past decade and the Labour Party also faced very serious challenges outside these issues).

On the other hand, the right in the Labour Party argued that the problem was simply the Labour left, which was forcing Labour to adopt absurd policies like democracy, opposition to armed aggression and wealth redistribution and which was merely a Trojan Horse for a vast Russian conspiracy seeking to take over the country through the Trotskyite entryists — in effect, the right in the Labour Party was repeating Tory Party propaganda as depicted in the tabloid newspapers and more decorously in the Tory broadsheets. Instead of recognising that this was important propaganda, however mendacious, which had to be countered by intelligent responses, the Labour right pretended to swallow it whole because it served as a stick with which to beat the left.

But Hall does not see things that way. Instead, his position is in part that the left is indeed the problem. In a sense this is fair, for since Hall was on the left it was reasonable for him to seek to put the left’s house in order. Basing his ideas on a reading of Gramsci, he defined Thatcherism as “authoritarian populism”, which seems fair. However, this also had the effect of reducing Thatcherism not to the expression of plutocratic interests exploiting the prejudices of the petit-bourgeoisie and exporting those prejudices into the working class, but rather of erasing the plutocratic interests in favour of the propaganda which they made use of. In other words, although the authoritarianism was certainly there (insofar as Hall acknowledged this, however, he focussed predominantly on its impact on black Britons in a “law and order state”) he felt that the problem was the marketing tools which it employed.

Acknowledging this, then, he declared that Labour, largely because it was beholden to old-fashioned statist Fabianism and hostage to the “fundamentalist left”, was failing to market itself properly. It needed to modernise, and above all to recognise that there had been a fundamental shift in the working class which old-fashioned leftists had not identified. At first, wisely, Hall did not say what this fundamental shift consisted of.

Instead, he pointed out that, with the exception of the Greater London Council which he valorised beyond anything else, the Labour left was too old-fashioned to grapple with the new forces in society. By these forces he meant campaigns for gay rights, women’s rights and black people’s rights, which, he said, the left was wholly failing to address, being trapped in a white-straight-patriarchal complex. Later, to this he added the fact that wealthy pop singers were undertaking campaigns to increase economic aid to third world countries, which he noted as yet another seismic shift in British society. This latter point indicates the emptiness at the core of Hall’s analysis.

Of course gays, women and blacks deserved to be liberated, and of course they deserved to be represented, and their liberation and representation was a part of the left’s broader campaign for the liberation and democratisation of society. This had been the case since the eighteenth century in the case of women and blacks, although gays had been largely ignored until the 1960s (which gives some credence to Hall’s claims about the conservatism of the left, though this shouldn’t be taken too far).

But the point is that while the left must support the interests of gays, women and blacks, gays, women and blacks do not have to support the left. They need to be given a reason to support the left. What the left needs to do is to integrate the interests of gays, women and blacks into the broader project for the liberation of society and to persuade gays, women and blacks that one common struggle is ultimately to their advantage — otherwise, any political body, however reactionary, would be able to gain the momentary support of gays, women and blacks (themselves anything but homogeneous groupings anyway) by throwing them a conspicuous bone — even if it later turned out to be a rubber bone. Hall didn’t recognise this, instead simply praising the doomed GLC, shut down a year after he offered his praise, for its stances.

In fact, though there were obvious reasons for Hall’s stance, not least his own skin colour, an important issue was also the need to portray the left in the Labour Party as old and outmoded and therefore to be removed. Hall, together with his Communist colleague Martin Jacques and Eric Hobsbawm, became one of the leading lights of the “renewal” movement in the Labour Party which had hitched its star to Neil Kinnock and to denouncing the Labour left (shifting to the centre much as the Eurocommunists were doing in parallel with the Russian Bolsheviks abandoning what little remained of their principles under Chernenko and Gorbachev).

Eventually, in 1985, Hall said what he meant by modernisation. One was to address the new technologies being applied in the workplace which would adapt to them rather than challenge the way they were used to undermine the interests of workers. One was to accept globalisation (in the sense of capitalism using the globe as a tool against the working class in a particular area, and financialisation as a tool against any leftist government) as a necessary part of the modern world rather than challenging it. One was to repudiate statist socialism in the form of Eastern Europe, China, Cuba and so on. The last was to accept that the right wing was correct in calling for the downscaling of spending on welfare, and that the “welfare state” was no longer possible.

In other words, Hall was calling for complete surrender to neoliberal capitalism and its values, disguising this as the renewal of the left.

The problem came for Hall in 1987 when his thesis that what was wrong with the Labour Party was predominantly its weak propaganda, its inappropriately extreme leftism and its lack of modernity was tested under a leader whose entire focus was on making propaganda and attacking the left, and who was wedded to the idea that the Labour Party needed to be modernised (artfully not saying precisely what that meant, but it was strongly hinted that it meant accepting the Thatcherist view of society). Labour lost decisively; evidently, faced with Labour and Conservative Thatcherites, the electorate chose Conservative ones. Either Hall would have to acknowledge that his theses were wrong, or would have to explain how his thesis had not been falsified given this obvious test, or he would have to expose himself as a political charlatan.

The last was his decision; he went on calling for “modernised” surrender to plutocratic financialised capitalism and an abandonment of socialist principles, and denouncing what he called the “hard left”, namely those who, like Tony Benn and Derek Hatton, criticised such surrender and attempted to pursue other paths. In the end, Hall paved the way for the utter destruction of Labour as a leftist organisation, which eventually took place under Blair. Manifestly, if Hall had understood the questions in the first place, his answers showed that he was not only unrealistic, but that he seemed not to realise how unrealistic he was. Unless, that is, he had been diverted from his goals by other factors, such as a desire to get jolly nice lunches with right-wing editors, jolly good opportunities to air his reactionary views in Marxism Today and the New Statesman, and a jolly sense of his own importance and rectitude, even if this was justified by nothing in heaven or earth.

 


The Cultural Revolution.

May 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Jew Problem.

May 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ramaphosa’s South Africa: Apocalypse Rebranded.

May 16, 2018

It was only to be expected that when the ruling-class puppet who still enjoyed the support of the ruling-class managed to replace the ruling-class puppet who had forfeited the support of the ruling class, the ruling-class propaganda organs would pretend that this event represented a new beginning for South Africa and that all which was bad was now good, and all which was old was now new. The nation was Born Again, washed in the blood of the Buffalo.

In the real world, nothing like this could be said to have happened except by malicious liars. In the real world, there were real problems in South Africa in 2017; the lack of a clear government policy on resolving the problems of the people, and the presence of a clear government policy on not resolving those problems but instead exerting its energies to helping rich people grow richer.

The manifest nature of these policies bred a wide-ranging discontent with the government which was encouraged by the habit which the South African government had developed of telling outrageous lies and making preposterous promises which it never attempted to fulfil. This again served the purpose of rich people, since they were they able to accuse government of being intrinsically incapable — or alternatively, of declaring that certain people whom they had captured were intrinsically incapable, while other people whom they had captured were intrinsically capable by virtue of doing exactly what the ruling-class told them, when they were so told.

These two key problems — the failures of government policy, and the public response to these failures (partly manipulated by ruling-class ideology and propaganda) fed on each other; as government became ineffective it became less popular, and as it became less popular it had less reason to be effective because the crisis seemed inescapable, and the spiral of disaster went round and round until the consequences are to be found in places like Port Elizabeth.

Anyone who wished to solve these problems would, of course, have to work through the African National Congress, which was unfortunately the instrument through which the problems had been made possible. Somehow, the African National Congress would have to be turned into a different kind of instrument, one working towards the goal of developing the country in a way which served the interests of the majority, and which united its members and mobilised its supporters towards that goal by pursuing and implementing policies which furthered that goal. By doing this the party could first unite itself and discourage crass and unthinking self-interested factionalism, and then gradually win back the support which it had lost and the public trust in the potential efficacy of good governance which had been all but discredited.

That would require strong and principled leadership and a mass base within the party willing to support the leadership at all costs. It would also, however, require leadership which was prepared to challenge the hegemony of the ruling class, repudiate its automatic leadership, and be ready to refute its propaganda. The problem with this was that most of the leading figures within the party who were promoting factionalism and misgovernance were under the thumb of the ruling-class and could be expected to side with the ruling class against the ANC if it came to a conflict.

All that is sheer speculation, since the man selected by the ruling-class to do their dirty work was Cyril Ramaphosa, who possessed none of these qualities and maintained none of these objectives. All the same, the last six months have not been a positive experience even for those who had no illusions about what was likely to take place.

The first surprise was that Ramaphosa seemed genuinely likely to lose to Dlamini-Zuma in the elections for the Presidency of the ANC. Had that happened it would have been the end for Ramaphosa, for Dlamini-Zuma had no reason to love or admire him and would certainly have ruthlessly purged his supporters — and the ageing serial loser Ramaphosa would have been a ludicrous choice for 2022, even for a white business elite who appear in love with incompetence.

Dlamini-Zuma had no charisma, but she had Zuma’s supporters behind her, having promised not to act against them in the way that Ramaphosa’s cheerleaders in the media said that Ramaphosa would — in effect she was promising not to break up the ANC and align herself with the ANC’s enemies in the run-up to the 2019 elections, while Ramaphosa was doing both. Also, Dlamini-Zuma hearked back to the Mbeki era, to a time when the ANC was both popular and competent. She was known to be a tough-minded, no-nonsense person. In effect she was the nearest thing to the kind of person who might conceivably roll back the failures of governance — and thus, perhaps, of popularity — bedeviling the ANC. Hence the propagandists of white monopoly capital smeared her incessantly, which sealed her positionamong her supporters (and probably made little difference among her opponents).

So Ramaphosa had to fight back, but he couldn’t. His campaign had peaked too early, while it was pretending not to be a campaign back in 2016, and now he had to sit and watch his support leak away. The only option was to use the SACP to rig — or in the case of the Eastern Cape, violently disrupt — provincial consultative elections. But even that seemed not to be enough, so Ramaphosa, or perhaps his backers, had to do a deal with the Zuma faction to ensure that Ramaphosa, at least, would become President, and some of his henchmen would also gain preferment.

The details of this deal have never been revealed and the deal itself has been erased from history by the corporate propagandists, but essentially it seems to have been a simple one — Ramaphosa would win the Presidency, in exchange for half the posts in the National Executive Committee (and particularly three of the six senior office-bearers) being reserved for Zuma supporters. Naturally this entailed throwing Dlamini-Zuma under the bus — without the support of the Zuma leaders she didn’t make it into the top six.

It’s hard to believe that there was not also a clause under which Zuma would be protected from prosecution and would be allowed to make a dignified exit, unlike Mbeki before him — why do the deal otherwise? Indeed there were rumours of such agreements. However, big businessmen are characterised as “snakes in suits” (which is grossly unfair to snakes) and any such clause would have been drafted by Ramaphosa with the fingers of the hand behind his back crossed. In any case, Ramaphosa was not his own man; he had to act according to the orders of his white monopoly capitalist patrons, and those orders were clear; Zuma had to be humiliated.

As it turned out, the moment Ramaphosa and Mantashe were in a position to act on their orders, they did so. Zuma’s supporters were not in it for solidarity or ideology, they were in it for money and power, and Zuma could no longer offer as much money and power as Ramaphosa could. Hence it wasn’t hard to get a few Zuma supporters to turn their coats — no doubt for cash — and once this had happened the whole Zuma coalition, made unstable by the 49% nature of their support in the National Executive Committee — collapsed. The people who had previously declared their loyalty to Zuma cheered, or looked on mutely, as Zuma was hounded out of office and charged — as, of course, he richly deserved, but then so does Ramaphosa.

The immediate problem was that Ramaphosa’s support was thus itself not based on anything other than money and power, which had to contend with the personal antipathy which most former Zuma supporters felt both for Ramaphosa himself and for the thugs and fixers who had supported him. There was also the broader antipathy felt by ANC supporters for people like Ramaphosa who were collaborating eagerly with the ANC’s enemies. As a result, Ramaphosa’s position was unstable — something like Zuma’s position after Polokwane; stronger because Ramaphosa was not facing charges as Zuma had been, but weaker because Ramaphosa had no propaganda narrative sustaining him.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa needed to find positions to reward his loyal supporters, partly to maintain that loyalty, and partly to ensure that such loyalty could translate into authority over the ANC. He tried, and failed, to hound the ANC’s Secretary-General out of his position (which was a formidable one, and Magashule was a formidable politician holding it; by comparison, Mantashe’s Chairmanship was far less really powerful even if supposedly senior). With a weak position in the NEC, he had to fall back on the provinces, as Zuma had done when he was preparing for the purge of Mbeki loyalists in mid-2008. Could the leadership of the ANC be persuaded to betray their allies in the provinces? Doubtless they could — if they were fools enough not to see that this would be a precursor to their own political destruction.

However, the process was long and complex. Where Zuma and Mantashe in 2008 had gone through the Western and Eastern Cape like a chainsaw through a cow’s midriff, Ramaphosa’s action against the Eastern Cape and North-West (he didn’t dare act against KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga) resembled someone trying to murder someone with a Weed-eater. The slower it happened, and the more violence and self-destructive propaganda it required, the more Ramaphosa undermined the stability of the ANC in these provinces and stored up potential disaster for the following election — thus further dispelling all hope that he might be able to resolve the political crisis.

Admittedly, under Gordhan’s supervision the Ramaphosa regime nominally tightened its grip in the state enterprises. Zuma supporters in these bodies were systematically purged and replaced by corporate loyalists. However, these were not people who supported Ramaphosa or the ANC; nor were they people who supported the use of the state enterprises to serve any national development project. They were simply there to help big business make money out of the state enterprises, or alternatively to prevent the state enterprises from costing the ruling class money. Symptoms of this were evident in the appointment of a leading privatiser to run ESCOM, and in the SABC’s further collapse into a babbling hollow of neoliberal business jargon. None of this served any useful purpose for the government or for Ramaphosa’s position; neither Gordhan nor Ramaphosa enjoyed any real control over these people, nor was there any move towards the real reform of state enterprises by decommercialising their Byzantine pseudo-corporate structures, structures which have always defeated any real effort to reform them.

So under Ramaphosa the African National Congress has been weakened, both organisationally and electorally. (The attempts to win over Julius Malema to the ANC fold might seem to be a cheap way of winning back votes, but after the EFF sold out to the DA in 2016 those votes which will be cast by former EFF supporters were always going to come back to the ANC; there is nowhere else for them to go.) As for reconstructing the national economy, there is no sign of this, and no plan for it — except for continuing present bad policies alongside hopelessly holding out a begging-bowl to the NATO countries. Provincial and municipal governance continues to deteriorate, partly driven by in-fighting fuelled by Ramaphosa’s incompetent efforts to seize control. No doubt this is what his patrons wanted.

But it is not what any of us need.


Ramapholver.

May 16, 2018

On the face of it, Crispian “Chippy” Olver’s book How To Steal A City is both interesting and timely. Interesting in that it gives one insight into why and how the ANC managed to lose the Port Elizabeth metro in 2016, and timely in that it gives one insight into why and how the ANC is losing support across the whole country — not always, let it be said, insight which Olver either intends to give, or indeed displays himself.

On the other hand, it’s a scary representation of how little comprehension there is in the current ANC of the problems faced by the country.

In February 2015 Olver was tasked by President Zuma and Gwede Mantashe — an odd combination, isn’t it? — to be the front-man for a Regional Transition Team which would turn around the Nelson Mandela Metro and prevent it from being lost to the Democratic Alliance in the August 2016 elections. The RTT was going to be run by Charles Ngqakula, an Mbekiite Communist of doubtful enthusiasm or indeed competence. Since it was a municipal issue, the overall handler was Pravin Gordhan, the Communist ex-Finance Minister shifted to run the local government ministry in part because Zuma no longer trusted him (and how right Zuma was).

The prevalence of SACP members is obviously no accident, and indeed Olver, reading between the lines, is almost certainly a Commie himself, though significantly not bragging about it. Well, one would understand that in such an important issue, the SACP would seek to take control of it so that they could brag about its success afterwards, and also not make it too obvious that they were in control of it, so that they could avoid responsibility for its failure afterwards.

Also, it’s obvious that outsiders have advantages in sorting out a situation — especially in the business world, where the phenomenon of the “turnaround CEO” (who is parachuted in to slaughter the leadership of a company, crush its workers, destroy all expensive projects and lie about his success so that the stock price goes up and he can claim success before moving on to wreck something else) is well known. But this is not necessarily a productive business model — most turnaround CEOs are serial corporate killers — and one would expect the ANC to have a more nuanced understanding of how to resolve such problems, which are not exactly new in its administration.

The trouble with an outsider is that he doesn’t know very much about the situation — Olver grew up in Cape Town and worked in Johannesburg, and his experience of the Eastern Cape didn’t include much time in Port Elizabeth — and also doesn’t have a lot of local allies, so in a situation in which you don’t have the kind of absolute power that exists in the corporate world, it becomes tricky. Also, of course, in a situation where networks of corruption have been established, it is most likely that everyone will be against you. Plus, of course, when you have a black/coloured political organisation rooted in ethnic nationalism with a strong culture of macho intolerance, deference to established authority and a huge pretense of working-class solidarity (rather like the Scottish Labour Party), bringing in an abrasive white middle-class Anglo who is also gay might have its own set of problems.

What actually happened seems to have been interesting. All the time that Olver was there he was closely monitored from a local perspective by the SACP in the form of the “Stalini” faction — Olver says that it was named after a hall where the SACP gangsters met, but it’s hard to believe that the spirit of Joseph Dzhugashvilli did not hover approvingly over their heads throughout — and from a national perspective by Olver’s actual master Gwede Mantashe, the SACP Secretary-General, ANC Secretary-General and all-around He Who Must Be Obeyed by anyone who wants to get anywhere in the SACP or in any organisation, like the ANC, SANCO or COSATU, dominated by SACP fixers.

So, all in all, Olver was set up to fail, and must have known that he would fail. It does seem, however, that he was genuinely surprised at how bad things were — or he claims to be; he did have friends in the metro who must have known how bad things were, and he was capable of reading. In which case, perhaps he is simply saying that things were very, very bad in order to show how impossible it was to set things right. It didn’t help that he was given Danny Jordaan to work with — a celebrity in his own right who refused to work closely with Olver, manifestly trying to keep his options open in case he needed the Stalini gang on his side. In any case Jordaan was dependent on africans who were simply exploiting him as a tame coloured, while virtually all the coloureds of Port Elizabeth were going over to the DA in a body.

Then there is Olver’s curious alliance with AfriForum. Obviously AfriForum would be aware of corruption within the city management, since they had been the ones, in the days of apartheid, who constructed that management and knew where the butter-dishes and the bread-knives and the gravy-boats were. Equally obviously, AfriForum would have no interest in enhancing the competence of ANC government in Port Elizabeth. They might be interested in promoting conflict within the ANC, but fundamentally their goal would be to see the DA take power — or, yet better, almost take power, so that AfriForum, or its friends in the Freedom Front Plus, might be the kingmakers. So why did Olver trust them?

Perhaps the simple answer is that Olver didn’t know whether he could trust anybody. He didn’t even know whether he could trust himself — what were his real motives, and what was he going to get out of enabling the ANC to somehow cling to power in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro? In the end, did he even desire that? Should he have been surprised, as a man embedded at the heart of the corruption of the ANC, that the ANC had a corrupt heart? Obviously not, if he employed a bodyguard; and, yes, people were killed, even in Port Elizabeth, in order to conceal or facilitate the theft of state monies.

But it wasn’t even that simple. The unions were staunchly behind the Stalini faction because they were offering perquisites to NEHAWU and SAMWU. It was, in the end, the unions which drove Olver out of town, mobilising their goon squads to form a rowdy mob breaking up all attempts to hold a serious discussion of what had gone wrong at the ANC’s ramshackle offices at the unfashionable end of Govan Mbeki Boulevard. But from their perspective, Olver was just a white consultant who had come in ostensibly to straighten things out but actually, surely, to work for the benefit of the bosses, as opposed to “our people” who could be trusted.

Trusted to do what? Olver was startled when he realised that factions in the ANC in the city were prepared not to campaign for the election. But from their perspective again, what Olver had done was to promote certain individuals — many of them very seedy and with doubtful credentials as ANC supporters — and offer them jobs in exchange for success in the election. If the election were won, it would be Olver and his appointees who would be winning it, even if Jordaan as nominal Mayor were ostensibly the front-man. Of course, they did not want to lose their places by losing the election; rather, they needed to ensure that Olver and his allies lost, and if they lost the election in the course of that — well, you can’t make lamb’s knuckle stew without killing a lamb.

But also there were other opportunities opening up which Olver himself was a little late to recognise. Technically he was acting under the auspices of Zuma, but even as he was acting, the fight between Zuma and the white monopoly capital forces which had decided to back Ramaphosa against Zuma was gaining momentum. Olver was well aware that within the political system he embraced he needed a powerful patron; once Gordhan had come out as an enemy of Zuma and a support of Ramaphosa, and been sidelined from Finance, it was only a matter of time until he was shoved out of Cabinet altogether in which case Olver would have no defender against Mantashe. In turn, this meant that if he took decisions which alienated powerful people, he would have no defenders elsewhere.

What the Stalini people appear to have recognised in the situation was this. The municipal election was less than a year away, and only their complete surrender to Olver and his agents could save the ANC from defeat in it (but the Stalini faction would be the losers, since Olver and his agents wanted them out, and Jordaan had his own people who needed preferment). However, the provincial elective congress of the ANC was only two years away, and after that came the national elective congress.

What they resolved to do was to sabotage Olver, Jordaan and company in the run-up to the municipal election, and thus hand power over to the white ruling class in the city — but, in return for that service, they would expect some support in their attempt to seize control of the provincial ANC, through which, if they played their cards right and aligned themselves with Ramaphosa, they could gain provincial patronage. Thus, in abandoning the sinking ship of Port Elizabeth, they could instead piratically board the relatively sound ship of the Eastern Cape. All that was required was an absolute contempt for the interests and traditional values of the ANC, and the Stalini faction, as well as the Zuma gang and the Ramaphosa mob, all had that in spadefulls.

The ANC would quite possibly have lost the election in any case, but it’s quite possible that the sabotage of organisation and mobilisation which Olver chronicles played an important role in the defeat. Ironically, this deliberate undermining of the party would almost certainly not have happened had Olver and Jordaan not been deployed to Nelson Mandela Bay — in which case the ANC might possibly have won the election! (Admittedly the circumstances of the 2016 election were crucial; Ramaphosa’s supporters wanted the ANC to lose some metropolitan councils so that this could be used as a stick with which to beat Zuma.)

In any case, after the defeat, scapegoats had to be found, and Olver was the most obvious scapegoat. (Jordaan’s subsequent pillorying seemed to be related to this, but it now appears that — ironically again — this related not to Nelson Mandela Bay, but to corrupt power-plays within the South African Soccer Federation.) Once he had been driven out, he obviously needed something fresh to do. The book’s narrative stops there — but we know what subsequently happened; the Stalini faction seized control of the Eastern Cape ANC by violence, while Olver became a staunch supporter and ally of Cyril Ramaphosa, because it was obvious that Ramaphosa was going to be made President. Hence Olver aligned himself with the people who sabotaged his cause, humiliated him and hounded him out of Port Elizabeth.

But such is politics. If you can’t stand the heat, you shouldn’t devote your life to burning down the kitchen.


Towards the Brink of What?

May 16, 2018

Clever people think there is going to be a nuclear war. Noam Chomsky is worried about it. American Democrats pretend to be worried about it as part of their campaign to demonise President Trump; supposedly in his childishness he might fire America’s nuclear arsenal at someone else. He has said that weapons are to be used, and no Democrat dares to point out that the words which President Trump employed are almost identical to the words used by Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton’s godmother, on much the same topic.

Which suggests that blowing up the world could be a bipartisan initiative.

American people who are depicted as clever in the American propaganda media say that a nuclear war would be a one-sided affair. They say that nobody could harm the United States except possibly the Russians; everybody else has too little weaponry to matter. In reality, the Chinese, should they wish to do so, could destroy fifty or a hundred American cities, meaning killing at least half the population of the United States. The French could do almost as much, and the British if they have worked out his to disable the safety locks on their American-made Trident missiles and control systems. (The British could also fire nuclear cruise missiles from their Tornadoes.) The Indians have a nuclear submarine capable of launching a few nuclear weapons at the United States, which would do more harm to that country than Hitler did to the USSR in three years of fighting. Even the Israelis have nuclear cruise missiles in their submarines which could probably reach the United States (the anti-submarine defenses of which have been wound down to almost nothing).

In other words, the American people depicted as clever in the American propaganda media are ignorant psychopaths trying to use the menace of nuclear war to terrify the boobs, as usual, and appear not to realise that they would also be turned into charcoal shadows on the calcined wall if anything serious were to happen.

Above that level, however, there is almost a certainty that the Americans are not so psychopathic as they present themselves (and have done so since the 1950s), that Donald Trump is not a deranged child-man bent on suicide, and therefore, that nuclear war is not very likely except as a by-product of a cold war turning hot by accident. This is the real danger, and has been growing in intensity over the past two decades.

The West’s war with Russia began in the 1990s, when the West’s allies in the Gulf offered military and financial aid to the Wahhabi rebels in Chechnya. It is for this reason, and no other, that the West pledged eternal love and admiration to those rebels; granted there is some sneaking admiration for people prepared to fight against impossible odds and appear to win, but on the other hand no Western country loves secessionists in any territory of which they approve. What is obvious is that the West was hoping that the fragmentation of the Soviet Union would be followed by the fragmentation of Russia, and Putin’s refusal to accept this, and his brutal prosecution of the war in Chechnya to prevent any further fragmentation, was the principal reason why Putin began to be demonised.

The West’s war with China began much later; it is difficult to put a finger on it. Adoration for the Tienanmen Square uprising showed the direction which things would take — China must become a satrapy of the West or else — but there was much less concern with China at that time. The British had to make nice with China in order to keep a toehold of control in Hong Kong; the Americans had to make nice with China in order to have an alternative to Pakistan in case things went bad in Afghanistan. (As they did.) Nobody else apart from the Japanese had any reason to worry about China; India’s sabre-rattling is entirely for home consumption, part of the general manipulation of foolish Hindu fanatics.

But the potential for the war was there, and the Chinese expansion into the oil-rich waters of the South China Sea was a military expansion which the Americans did their best to exploit (although since the expansion was already in place in the 1980s, the campaign twenty years later to challenge China’s position based on the Law of the Sea which the United States never ratified is both ridiculously belated and pathetically dishonest).

The NATO expansion up to the borders of Russia was annoyingly provocative, but this has probably been overstated. Much more serious was the attempt to get Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO, which the Russians correctly saw as a process of encirclement and rolling back Russian access to the Middle East and Central Asia, the two areas where Russia sees potential for reconstructing its old empire with Chinese financial aid. This was compounded by the fact that the states which NATO was backing were preposterously unstable, as was shown by the mad Georgian attempt to defeat Russia in 2008 which nearly lost Georgia its army and air force without in any way inconveniencing Russia — actions almost certainly green-lighted by the Americans.

Then came the NATO war with Syria, which the Russians immediately recognised as a carbon copy of what the West had tried to do in Chechnya, and which the Chinese speedily recognised as a close relative of what seemed to be going on in China’s Islamic far west, where Uighur gunmen and bombers were trying to push for a Wahhabi separatism, though without much success. As a result, China began to sit up and take notice, and offered some aid to the Russian efforts to block an American invasion of Syria after the initial flooding of the country with foreign gunmen failed to overthrow the Ba’ath Party.

And then, of course, came the decider; the American-sponsored coup in Ukraine aimed at bringing that country into NATO and throwing the Russians out of Crimea, their principal southern naval and air force base. As everybody knows, this was a disaster; not only did the coup bring a spectacularly incompetent government to control of Kyiv, making them remarkably unfit NATO allies, but the Russians refused to be thrown out of Crimea and instead annexed the peninsula to the cheers of the locals, most of whom were horrified at the racist shenanigans in the rest of Ukraine.

It seems unlikely that the Russians planned for the separatists in Novorossiya to take things as far as they did — Russia didn’t really want a permanent enemy in Ukraine, though obviously seizing Crimea would be a thorn for decades — but when it happened, largely as a consequence of artificially-stoked Russophobia in western Ukraine, the Russians naturally made sure that Novorossiya would not be stomped flat, and that any reunification of Ukraine would have to happen with Russian approval. And the Americans didn’t like that, so they began to use claims that the Russians were coming to fool the Western European boobs into doing whatever they were told.

Then came the “Pivot to Asia”, meaning that the Americans began bustling around the Asian continent telling everybody to have nothing to do with the Chinese initiatives to link Europe, South and Central Asia with a belt of transport and manufacturing hubs (it has been proved that you can make a belt out of hubs, so stop complaining). And what do we get out of this? asked the Asians. Why, said the Americans, sign up for our Free Trade Agreement, grant American corporations absolute control of your economies, and every Asian country can become as successful as Mexico in the next twenty years! The Asians looked thoughtfully at Mexico, looked thoughtfully at the supertanker-loads of money which the Chinese were spending on economic development throughout the Asian continent, and kicked the American envoys down the steps.

Well, that couldn’t be tolerated, so the Americans ramped up tension with China by trying to pick a renewed fight with North Korea. Meanwhile, they decided to solve the Syrian problem once and for all by sending more and better-armed Wahhabi gunmen to conquer that country, and as an afterthought, by tying the Iranians down in a quagmire in Yemen thanks to the invasion of that country by the invincible Saudi Royal Armed Forces.

All that this accomplished was to get the Russians to make a deal with the Iranians and the Lebanese to offer ground support to the Ba’ath in Syria, while the Russians provided air support and intelligence. This very nearly led to a war between Russia and Turkey, and caused the Israelis to ramp up their participation in the war, sponsoring gunmen to keep Syrian troops away from the borders of the Golan Heights and periodically bombing Syrian targets. Anything which involves the Turks and the Israelis tends to arouse the ire of the average Arab, and the fact that the Saudis were happily fighting side by side with the Israelis did nothing to reduce the tension there or encourage them to be frightened of the Iranians, who were now best friends with the Russians (while they were also major suppliers of oil to China and therefore umbilically linked).

When the Russian initiative succeeded and the Syrian government recovered great swathes of territory and incidentally demonstrated both the complicity of the West in ghastly Wahhabi massacres in the area, and the complicity of the Western media in lying about the whole context and process of the war, this did no good for the American-Saudi-Israeli cause, and meanwhile the Americans began relying so heavily on Kurdish gunmen linked to separatists in Turkey, and botched an attempted military coup in Turkey, that Turkey began tilting towards Russia. It was a huge, and hugely predictable, mess.

Having been defeated (although perhaps only temporarily) in Asia and the Middle East, losing face calamitously, the West had to fall back on lies. Hence the claims that the Russians engineered the election of President Trump and the departure of Britain from the European Union, and perhaps also the North Korean development of an intercontinental ballistic missile. These claims are ludicrous, and grow more ludicrous with every repetition as more lies and exaggerations are added, but they serve to rally the boobs behind a new cold war with Russia, and meanwhile there is also the demand that the West should punish China for unsportingly manufacturing goods more cheaply than the West can, and in far greater quantities, by slapping tariffs and fines on imports from China, thus making consumer goods in the West more expensive and scarce.

These two cold wars are dangerous, although they segue into one cold war because China and Russia are militarily and economically very close these days. The war in Syria is hot, however, and both China and Russia are involved on one side, and the West on the other. The situation in Ukraine is unstable, with Russia and the West at loggerheads. Meanwhile the aftermath of Western aggressive imperialism has left unresolved wars flaring in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Niger, Central Africa and the Congo. Any one of these wars could lead to problems between the Sino-Russian alliance and the West, especially since China is increasingly concerned to build strategic partnerships in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, where the wars are happening.

So what? the purportedly clever Americans and Britons say. Yes, Western policies have driven the world closer to the brink of war than it has been since September 1939 or July 1914. But unlike those months, today nobody is ready for war. The West does not want to start a war, even though it would win, and the Sino-Russians are too weak and would not dare, because they would lose. Therefore, the central element of Western foreign policy should be to press further into the hedge around war, because it is impossible to burst through the hedge into actual war.

But what if it is? The Americans think of themselves as militarily all-powerful, but their armed forces are extremely clumsy and ineffective, especially their ground forces. Their navy is hugely vulnerable. Their air force is obsessed with the “silver bullet” and in developing ever more expensive, ever more complex, ever less reliable warplanes. Their “special forces” are little more than a global death squad. Meanwhile, Russia has developed some fairly effective basic weaponry and sold the designs to China, which is producing them in gigantic quantities, and the Chinese and Russian militaries are both much more serious and sober, and much less politicised, than the American or European militaries. Both Russia and China are concentrating on defending their local areas of influence; China on the local seas out to Japan and Taiwan and the Philippines, Russia on Eastern Europe, the Baltic, Black Sea, White Sea and Sea of Okhotsk, and they would both be difficult countries to invade.

But if war breaks out, Europe will be in danger of invasion, as will the American allies off China’s coast — Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — and without Europe and the Asian allies, the United States would face a grave economic crisis. In order to defend its Asian allies it would have to expend its navy, and unlike the Chinese, who have been turning out warships like so many sausages, they cannot replenish their losses. As for the prospects of defending Eastern Europe, it seems unlikely that anything could stop the Russians from overrunning the territories which they conquered in 1945, and then using these as bases from which to bombard America’s allies — while Russia’s formidable submarine fleet would make resupply for American forces in Europe very difficult. It would be an extremely scary and troublesome war, and the long-term prospects for American victory are not good (the United States no longer possesses a huge manufacturing base to convert to military purposes as it did in 1940).

So it seems that war is not very likely, but if it does come, the United States will lose. This, however, was also the judgement made about the Kaiser’s Germany, and in a sense about Tojo’s Japan, both countries which felt themselves encircled and threatened and decided, despite the strong position they were in, that they could only get weaker in future and that now was the moment to strike against their enemies. (Adam Tooze makes a convincing argument that this was why the Nazis went to war in 1939, contradicting both the assessments of the Wehrmacht and Hitler’s own plans laid out both in Mein Kampf and in the Hossbach Memorandum of 1937, usually represented as the blueprint for war.) In other words, it’s not so very unlikely as all that, and the prospects for the actual conduct of such a war, with all sides possessing vast weapons of mass destruction, are more terrifying than almost anyone in this day and age can imagine, remote as we are even from the genocidal conflicts of the 1980s which have been swept under the carpet.