When Will The Party End?

September 6, 2018

The State Capture Inquiry, that propaganda parade fronted by Deputy Chief Justice Zondo (ha, ha, a charade you are) is very largely a project on behalf of the South African Communist Party.

That is, a number of the witnesses, and all of the ones with genuinely damaging things to say about the conduct of the South African government, are members of the Party who are repeating the story which the Party was putting about, in alliance with other corporate front organisations, from about 2015 on, although it had been implicit ever since the Mangaung ANC Conference.

The story being told is that a single family of capitalists, fortuitously all foreigners and Hindu at that, was responsible for all the corruption taking place in South Africa under the Zuma administration. This is obviously very politically convenient for the SACP, because they can thus claim that the disasters wrought by the Zuma administration were not to be blamed on the SACP, because the SACP did not know about the Guptas when they installed Zuma in power.

This is, thus, the “state capture” story; a narrative intended to distract public attention from the generally corrupt condition of the nation — in particular, the way in which the ruling class and especially the oligarchy serves to manipulate and control the government — by focussing on a few designated spots of such activity. Does the SACP know what it is doing, or has it simply been fooled into doing this, perhaps by believing that “one has to start somewhere”, or “half a loaf is better than nothing”. (Depends on the condition of the loaf, of course.)

One should note that the SACP allowed its leadership to be given lucrative positions in government in defiance of its own constitution (that is, before the constitution was deliberately changed so that SACP leaders could give themselves lucrative positions in government). This means that by the standards of the founders of the SACP, the SACP had already become corrupted. (Even if one discounts Blade Nzimande’s theft of a business donation to the Party, incidentally, what is the Party doing accepting business donations? It would seem likely that the SACP heavily depends for its survival on gifts of money from capitalists, which means that it cannot possibly be a socialist organisation.)

So it is hard to believe that the SACP is innocent in this whole affair, or that it is accidentally collaborating with big business in order to further the interests of big business.

The SACP has long had a history of taking very firm public stands within the Tripartite Alliance. For instance, when Thabo Mbeki was President and oversaw an economic austerity programme called “Growth, Employment and Redistribution”, the SACP took a very strong line against this, condemning it as an undemocratically imposed neoliberal project and accusing all of Thabo Mbeki’s allies within the ANC of being agents of capital — the “1996 class project”, it was called, referring to Mbeki’s rise to being Deputy President, from being second fiddle to the racist reactionary F W De Klerk.

Then again, when Thabo Mbeki was battling with the international drug companies to try to force them to reduce the price of antiretrovirals before he would permit them to be disseminated free to HIV sufferers, the SACP took a strong line that the drugs should be disseminated free regardless of the cost to the government, and that there could be no delay in this and no time wasted in haggling with the international drug companies which were at the time sponsoring a massive campaign to undermine Mbeki so as to secure themselves the gigantic profits which would accrue from a South African treatment campaign using AZT at the 1999 price.

When Thabo Mbeki was trying to prevent Jacob Zuma from becoming President of the ANC at Polokwane in 2007, the SACP supported Zuma, on the grounds that Zuma was a left-winger whereas Mbeki was a reactionary stooge of capital. At the time one of the most strident supporters of Zuma was the ANC Youth League, who called on Zuma supporters to endorse the concept of nationalising the mining industry.

The nationalisation of the “commanding heights of the economy”, as the British Labour Party put it way back in 1946, was an obvious step in the direction of socialism, but surprisingly the SACP came out against it. They declared that the Youth League was simply hoping to seize the mines in order to loot their profits and assets, and that nationalisation was a dangerous and immoderate act. What the SACP demanded was instead that the government should oversee and regulate the mining industry and, by using legal tools, ensure that the fruits of that industry should be distributed for the benefit of all.

Another, less important but still significant, thing backed by the SACP was the issue of tolls on the Gauteng freeways. These freeways were upgraded in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, and it had been agreed that this would be financed by a complex electronic tolling system, to be administered, naturally, by foreigners, and largely enriching them — essentially a stealth privatisation of the roads. Right-wing libertarian racists and trade unionists combined to criticise this, and the SACP endorsed this criticism.

These pre-Zuma stances were, of course, debatable, and a cynic might notice that they were all ways for the SACP to get favourable headlines in reactionary newspapers, and win kudos from ignorant international leftist celebrities, without actually committing itself to any positive policies; also, that the SACP’s stance in all these cases was actually endorsed by big business. Still, it was possible to see these as principled left-wing stands within the narrow framework of the SACP’s ideological position.

But then came the SACP-backed coup against Mbeki in 2008, and the rise of SACP members into posts where they could actually implement the policies which they had been clamouring for. To the cheers of the pharmaceutical industry’s front-men, SACP member Barbara Hogan was elevated to the position of Health Minister. In this post she did essentially nothing. Eventually a crisis arose; as a result of provincial budget mismanagement, the hospitals and clinics in the Free State began running out of antiretrovirals. This was the moment at which Hogan could show her commitment to serving the suffering HIV-ridden masses regardless of expense. Instead she pranced about in other provinces on pointless photo-opportunity hospital visits, as the Free State victims sickened and died. Eventually even Zuma could take no more and shifted her sideways into Public Enterprises, where she did considerable damage before being sacked altogether.

Meanwhile, SACP member Pravin Gordhan was elevated to the position of Minister of Finance. He was a lot more energetic than Hogan — he speedily imposed an austerity programme which was far more savage in its reduction of public spending than the decade-earlier GEAR had been. GEAR had been introduced during a period of economic boom (as Keynesian economics recommended), while Gordhan’s austerity was introduced during a period of slump (as nineteenth-century classical economics recommended). So Gordhan’s policies, unlike Mbeki’s, led to the steady collapse of the South African economy and particularly of state revenue (a process which was naturally blamed on the restructuring of SARS and ultimately on the Guptas).

Neither Hogan nor Gordhan were criticised by the SACP in any way even though both of them effectively repudiated the declared policy of the party. Instead, Hogan was married off to the senile Ahmed Kathrada so that she could manipulate him in his last years to attack the ANC and promote the interests of the SACP-favoured Raaphosa, while Gordhan was solidly supported by the SACP and became one of its key allies in promoting the interests of big business.

Eventually Zuma fell, and once again SACP members were rewarded for their support of corporate interests by being installed in Cabinet positions. Nzimande had previously distinguished himself by his contempt for students and his hostility to reducing university fees while he was Minister of Higher Education, a post from which he was removed because of his ineptitude and apparent corruption. Now Ramaphosa rewarded him with the lesser post of Transport Minister, in which position Nzimande rapidly concluded that e-tolls administered by foreigners were a good thing, and selling South African transport services to foreign corporate entities was a sensible idea. Naturally he was not criticised by the party for this.

A slightly more important post was the Ministry of Mineral Resources, in charge of mining, to which the SACP’s boss fixer (and former right-hand corruptionmaster of Zuma) Gwede Mantashe was elevated. Nobody would have expected him to nationalise anything. All the same, it was slightly surprising when he came forward to declare that the “Mining Charter”, which had been a political football for some time (partly intended to enrich a handful of black people in the Ramaphosa manner, partly intended to cosy up to trade unions by pretending to protect mineworkers from exploitation and ill-treatment) would henceforth not be implemented, just as the foreign-owned mining companies and their tame media outlets have been demanding. In other words, Mantashe was declaring that there was absolutely no need to oversee or regulate the mining industry, for the fruits of the land should properly accrue to some of the richest people in the world who happen to be sponsors of the SACP and, by implication, Mantashe’s pals.

So, putting it all together, the SACP is so heavily implicated in state capture in its own right — never mind the state capture carried out by the administration that it helped to install — that the idea of having the SACP testifying about the horrors of state capture could only have been dreamed up either by someone who is having a huge laugh at the expense of everyone in South Africa with an IQ above single figures and anyone who has any sense of human decency at all, or by someone who is mechanically devoted to making use of the most corrupt people in the nation to cover up for the corruption of all the other corrupt people.

Which is actually rather clever, but hardly human either. The only question about it is how long the SACP can continue to exist under these conditions. The reptilian aliens who make up its leadership, of course, don’t care. But is there nobody else around who can notice that the Communist Party has no Communism and that the Party is no fun any more?

 

 

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Zimbabwe Goes To The Po.

September 6, 2018

For several weeks before the Zimbabwean election, South Africans were told a) to be very excited about the Zimbabwean election because it was a New Dawn for that unhappy country, and b) to be prepared to be outraged about the Zimbabwean election because it was going to be rigged by the evil ZANU (PF) party.

Then came the election, and South Africans were told a) to be very excited about the Zimbabwean election because someone very like Cyril Ramaphosa had won the election, which was obviously a New Dawn, and b) to be outraged about the Zimbabwean election, because someone very like Cyril Ramaphosa had won the election by using the evil ZANU (PF) party to rig the election.

Even by the remarkably low standards of South African political propaganda, even by the exceptionally contemptible conduct of South African political propaganda over Zimbabwe, this is all something to be embarrassed about. However, South Africa’s political propagandists are immune to shame and incapable of learning anything.

So, what did happen? And why did the South African propagandists, along with many other related propagandists all across the West, find themselves obliged to make such idiots of themselves?

Obviously, the Movement for Democratic Change (which is not a movement and has no plans for any democratic change) claimed that the election was rigged. That is the custom, in the United States as much as in Africa. Naturally they did not have to provide evidence, since the exercise was not aimed at proving anything but at whipping up violent passions in the minds of their partisans and thus providing source material for video propaganda to be used by their patrons in the NATO countries. This proves nothing.

Obviously, the NATO and South African media (and therefore the oligarchy, by extrapolation) was more sympathetic to the MDC than to ZANU (PF). That was obvious from all coverage and commentary. For instance, there was a completely unchallenged and endlessly-repeated declaration that the Presidential election had been close (unlike the Parliamentary election which was an unquestionable landslide for ZANU (PF). In reality, the ZANU (PF) candidate led over the MDC candidate by a margin of 10%, a greater margin than in any American Presidential election since 1972, so all the commentary, including the legitimation for the court challenge, was based on lies.

Yet the sympathy did not extend to any support; indeed, the only evident external support for the MDC’s pathetic legal attempt to reverse the verdict of the voters was from the South African Economic Freedom Fighters, who had historically been supporters of ZANU (PF). (Obviously the MDC’s legal battle, like its election campaign, was financed by a mixture of NATO governments and oligarchs, but that doesn’t alter the fact that those governments and oligarchs did not go out of their way to help the MDC win.) Many outsiders, including Cyril Ramaphosa who is usually considered a friend of the oligarchs whenever he can be, went out of their way to urge the MDC not to resist.

There is, of course, the outburst of street violence which followed the MDC’s defeat. Such political violence is often associated with NATO-supported projects to install NATO-friendly governments, as in the “Arab Spring”, the Ukrainian and Armenian coups, or the “colour revolutions” of the George W Bush era. It is thus not surprising that ZANU (PF) took the violence quite seriously, and, sidelining the riot police (who were perfectly capable of handling whatever the MDC threw at them) sent in the Army to send a clear message that any such activity would be met with an extreme response.

At the same time, this showed that the ZANU (PF) President, who had originally been installed by a military coup, was happy to continue giving the military credit for his continued control of the country — and therefore, to keep granting the generals the high status which they expect. It is often claimed that ZANU (PF) is a fig-leaf for military control; there is a degree of truth in this although it shouldn’t be taken too far; the military and the politicians cooperate in dividing up the national cake. Also, the strong military involvement in politics, which has only grown stronger (but not unmanageable, as in many African countries) since the downfall of President Mugabe, is more or less a guarantee of continuity; if the MDC had won either of the elections, they would still have to accede to the policies of the military, which are more or less in line with ZANU (PF).

The conclusion to draw from all these things is that the Zimbabwean election was not really considered important by the oligarchs of the West. It’s quite possible that after two decades of socio-economic war against Zimbabwe, they are satisfied that its status as whipping-boy and example of the horrors befalling any African country which dares to challenge white predominance is satisfactory. Also, the overthrow of Mugabe took away the emotional need which white Westerners have for a feeble demon whom they can proclaim to be the enemy of all humanity and launch a crusade against. (Besides, they have been focussing all their energies on Assad and Putin and Trump, and it would take time to build up Mnangagwa to anything like the same status.)

Arguably, both ZANU (PF) and the MDC are in the same boat, being both committed to subordinating Zimbabwe to foreign interests. Under current circumstances, they have essentially no choice; Zimbabwe can’t continue running on empty forever, it isn’t capable of internally generating the capital which it needs for resurrecting its economy, and nobody is going to give Zimbabwe money for free. Therefore, one might even argue that the military coup, brutal and appalling and undemocratic as it was, might have been the force which cut the Gordian knot and gave Zimbabwe a potential future — for under Mugabe, stiffly committed to indigenisation and independence as he was, Zimbabwe would always have been trapped in the grim socio-economic circumstances imposed on it by international financial interests, no matter how much Mugabe’s government twisted or turned.

So the West no doubt feels that it doesn’t really matter much who wins the election. Zimbabwe will have to turn to foreign plutocrats in order to survive. If foreign plutocrats are to do anything for Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe will have to privatise, Zimbabwe will have to surrender all say over its land and minerals and labour rights. There is no alternative; Zimbabwean workers have essentially no power, because the MDC first absorbed all the trade union activists and then allowed the trade unions to collapse (because the MDC was working for people who wouldn’t need trade unions once they took over). Meanwhile, the collapse of the economy means that everybody had to work for peanuts and everybody had to accept whatever job came to hand — and where is organised labour then? So at least the MDC has accomplished something.

The only trouble for the West is that it may be mistaken in its belief that Zimbabwe is going to fall into its lap like a rotten-ripe plum. Zimbabwe is certainly going to fall into someone’s lap. South Africa has neither the energy nor the will to seize the opportunity and buy the country out from under its people, as would certainly be possible (and, from the point of view of South Africa and Africa, would probably be the best solution). Europe and the United States don’t have either the money or the attention-span to do anything like that — and anyway are always unwilling to spend money now in anticipation of profit later. So, most likely, Zimbabwe is going to become a satellite of China.

Which is not terribly surprising, Zimbabwe having had good relations with North Korea for all of its existence. However, the West will be surprised because the West vaguely believes that Africa is anti-Chinese — because all the people in Africa whom the West pays to tell lies to their brethren are anti-Chinese. Meanwhile, perhaps the Chinese will not be as bad towards Zimbabwe as the British were towards the inhabitants of the nations which were eventually forced to become Rhodesia. Or maybe they will be just as bad. Imperialism is imperialism, no matter who is yanking the chain.

Still, at least the people who have spent the last fifty years fucking up Zimbabwe, oppressing its inhabitants and slaughtering anyone who resists the oppression — these people in the City of London and down Wall Street and in Washington D C will not find themselves benefiting from the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis. It is a small part of the way in which those of us who have grown weary of being expected to bend over so that the NATO countries can more conveniently kick us in the pants, are glad to be kicked by someone marginally less vicious and with considerably less odious a history.

Perhaps it is the most we can expect.


Throwing BRICS at Them.

September 6, 2018

Recently South Africa celebrated the Tenth BRICS Summit, an opportunity for the leaders of four major manufacturing countries outside the G7 to enjoy a holiday at the state’s expense at a plush hotel in Sandton, while the leader of the host country had a chance to pretend that the Summit was something worth doing, and the American-dominated local media had a chance either to circle at Ramaphosa’s haemorrhoid vein like horse-leeches, or to shout American-sponsored ooga-booga rubbish about the Yellow Peril and the menace of Ernst Stavros Putin.

And, of course, there were protests. Some were more or less sensible, like the Muslim protest against the anti-Muslim policies of the vicious fundamentalist Indian Prime Minister Modi. Some were unknowable, like the protests against kibitzing Turkish President Erdogan. (Were they justly protesting against his oppressive rule, or against his vicious prejudice against Kurds, or were they American-sponsored ooga-booga rubbish about Erdogan’s successful pushback against the attempted American coup and his decision to abandon the American attempt to overthrow the Syrian government?) And then there was the SAFTU protest against BRICS existing at all. Since this was the only one purporting to come from the left, this is the only one really worth paying attention to for its own sake.

What was the protest about? It relates closely to the South African Trotskyite campaign against BRICS, spearheaded by Patrick Bond and his tea-girl Jane Duncan, both with lucrative Gauteng university gigs and who essentially say the same things. SAFTU’s political advisers are all Trotskyites and generally acolytes of Bond (or whoever is behind him). Their line on BRICS, therefore, is that it should not be supported or endorsed because it is a front-organisation for imperialism and plutocracy. To this Greenpeace, which is run by an acolyte of South African Trotskyism, adds that BRICS is a plot to impose fossil-fuel electricity on the world.

Is this true? The BRICS countries all espouse capitalism, and they are all powerful relative to many or all of their neighbours. As capitalist countries they are plutocratic countries, since capitalists inevitably have political power, and as strong countries they are imperialist countries in the sense that they are trying to build up their influence over their neighbours. But the problem with this analysis is that every country in the world at the moment is capitalist; even Cuba has renounced communism. On the grounds which SAFTU puts forward, it would be as easy to denounce Lesotho or Nepal as to denounce the BRICS countries. So in an important sense, the Bond line is simply a cheap shot of abuse employed by exploiting confusion over Marxist terminology.

Let’s, however, be a little more specific. Firstly, what is BRICS? It’s basically a salon des refúses. In the late 1990s the West wouldn’t allow China or Russia in their economic club, and also alienated both countries by their attack on Serbia (in the case of the Chinese by actually bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade). So that stimulated the two to get together, which was beneficial for both, especially after the American puppet Yeltsin died of alcoholic complications, because China had lots of money and Russia had lots of technology left over from the collapse of the USSR, and they both had an interest in resisting American imperialism in their neighbourhoods, which overlapped in the Far East and Central Asia.

But obviously working together wasn’t enough after the Bush regime took over and made it clear that American power would be used to prop up the global imperialist system without any of the concealments which the Clinton administration had tried to set up. That was potentially humiliating for the RC alliance, so they sought out allies. Fortunately, at the time India and Brazil had nominally leftist governments — very nominally in the case of the Indian Congress Alliance — and they were amenable to getting together with Russia and China so long as it didn’t close the door on keeping their American connections. That was the BRIC; meanwhile the ANC in South Africa had always had good relations with Russia, and cultivated friendly relations with China which was becoming a major mineral consumer, so joining in and forming BRICS made a lot of economic and political sense.

The point about BRICS is that it is based on three continents which aren’t North America or Europe, and therefore has the potential to mobilise a coalition against the NATO/European Union/British Dominions coalition which makes most of the trouble in the world today. However, it’s mostly an economic cooperation bloc, with its own development bank to facilitate activities in Latin America, Asia and Africa where most of the world’s economic action is taking place. It even wants its own investment ratings agency, which is mainly a propaganda stunt (since the BRICS bank has its own capacity for identifying profitable investments) to undermine the absurd and obscene power of the American-controlled investment ratings agencies.

All this means that BRICS is very similar to — and essentially modelled on — the international financial agency set up by the U.S. and its satellites to police global inequality and channel wealth into the pockets of the elite. That seems to confirm the suspicions of SAFTU and the Trotskyites.

Actually, though, it doesn’t. BRICS isn’t a centralised global empire along the lines of the United States. It’s basically a club for countries which would rather get on with their own development and not be bullied by the United States.

Russia certainly wants to have strong influence over its neighbours, and neighbours who behave in a hostile fashion in alliance with the United States, like Ukraine and Georgia, tend to get hammered — but neighbours who aren’t hostile, even when they’re allied with the United States, don’t get hammered. The Russians didn’t invade Armenia when that country threw out its President who had been schmoozing with the Russians — they just went and schmoozed with the new President.

China certainly wants to have control over the traditional Chinese imperial domains as of about 1800, and also wants to have strong influence over its neighbours and reliable access to natural resources across the world. That’s imperialism by some definitions, but it’s a long way away from colonialism. The Chinese aren’t occupying the planet, nor are they waving nuclear weapons at anyone who disagrees with them, nor do Chinese gunboats sail to surround any nation-state which declares itself independent of Chinese control.

As for India and Brazil — we can leave South Africa out of the equation since they aren’t an independent state and don’t really have any influence over the BRICS agenda, they’re just the token black sitting in the front office — they just want to get on with their own affairs and would like to have good political and economic relations with America and China and Russia. If the latter two want them to belong to BRICS, so long as they can get something out of it, well and good. The idea that they automatically must do whatever China or Russia tell them is ridiculous as well as supported by no evidence.

So — why waste time on attacking BRICS? Obviously the BRICS countries deserve criticism for their behaviour, but they do not deserve any special criticism. The Greenpeace criticism, for instance, ignores the obvious fact that China is the world’s largest manufacturer and employer of renewable energy systems. Criticism of India for its ill-treatment of minorities in the service of the extractive industry is just — but the same thing happens in North America, South America, Africa and Australia. If we want to protest against such things, we don’t have to wait for the BRICS conference — we can all traipse off to the Botswanan or Canadian Embassies.

The specific critique of the BRICS countries by the South African Trotskyites is particularly interesting. The critique of South Africa, naturally, comes from themselves, but the critique of India comes from Arundhati Roy and her chums in the Indian far left. Meanwhile, the critique of Brazil seems to come from the Workers’ Party there. (This is a bit odd, because the South African Trotskyites fell over themselves to proclaim that the coup against the Workers’ Party government was nothing to make a fuss about — and of course the current Brazilian government, like the Ramaphosa and Modi governments, is hardly a bedrock sympathiser of whatever BRICS stands for.)

But it’s when you get to the Eurasian heartland of BRICS that you find something interesting. The criticisms of China and Russia are straight outta Wall Street and Foggy Bottom. Instead of specific complaints like the Indian military occupation of Kashmir or the Brazilian jailing of President Lula, you get flabby stuff about worker rights and military aggression relating directly to the legitimation of U.S. military and economic campaigns against China and Russia, campaigns which specifically serve U.S. imperialism and thus exemplify the problem which BRICS was set up to deal with.

This strongly suggests that the South African left’s problem with BRICS is not simply that it exists, or that it is “sub-imperialist” (as Bond discovered in a memorable misrepresentation of Luxemburg’s theorising). The problem is that it challenges U.S. imperialism, and the specific campaign against BRICS is therefore a campaign against resistance to imperialism. On one hand, the “sub-imperialist” pretense is a claim that supporting BRICS is not actually anti-imperialist because China and Russia are secretly working for America and serving the Washington Consensus, and on the other hand, American propaganda is employed to proclaim that, anyway, the core of BRICS is a menace to our way of life and we must all band together against it in support of Gott und Vaterland. It’s about the most bizarre employment of Trotskyism that’s been seen since South African Trotskyites banded together to support Jacob Zuma.

But it’s also a clear indication of how the left has corrupted itself into acting against its own interests. Obviously, BRICS is not an “emancipatory project” (as the former Bond shoepolisher Richard Pithouse put it) if by “emancipation” you mean freeing the workers from the capitalist yoke, but it is certainly a project aimed at emancipating nation-states from U.S. imperialism, which is the current global problem, and also at emancipating governments from neoliberal strangulation — and these are valuable projects even if they won’t bring the millennium. Misrepresenting BRICS by pretending that it has claimed to be a revolutionary transformative movement, which it has never done, is naturally a part of the reactionary propaganda which the left is serving. As such, the left is allowing itself to be used by those who have destroyed it, as if in a kind of Stockholm syndrome, or a masochistic desire to be beaten some more.

Or maybe they’re just being paid by the CIA. Take your choice.


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.

 


Bad Answers to a Good Question (II): Dale McKinley.

July 30, 2018

It might seem a bit silly to follow up a critique of a serious and profound intellectual like Stuart Hall by critiquing a doltish airhead like Dale McKinley, but the step isn’t really from the sublime to the ridiculous, for politics isn’t so much about intelligence as it is about a combination of personal prejudice and social circumstances, and as Hall’s example shows, intelligence and experience count for nothing against a weak position and a dubious ideological analysis.

McKinley was a Zimbabwean Trotskyite who was sent to the United States to study, no doubt because he was deemed the most promising Zimbabwean Trotskyite, and then went to South Africa to launch a campaign against the ANC once the apartheid regime had been defeated by the ANC and it was safe to do so. He wrote a book and headed up a couple of tiny but well-funded fake-leftist organisations, had a brief stint as a columnist for a right-wing newspaper, and generally did all the things which an ambitious fake leftist serving imperialist plutocracy might be expected to do. However, let us pretend that he was actually a leftist, and ask what his position ought to have been when he wrote “The Crisis of the Left in Contemporary South Africa” in 2008.

That was not a good year for the left, in South Africa or indeed most other places. Despite the conspicuous failure of neoliberal economics, plutocracy was able to take advantage of the failure to enrich itself at the expense of taxpayers as it had previously done at the expense of consumers. Reactionary regimes were on the march across the globe, even if the excesses of the Bush administration were clearly leading to the victory of a right-wing Democrat who would be the catspaw of big financial interests.

In South Africa, the long retreat of the organised left from possessing any influence over the government had only been reversed by abandoning all pretense at leftism and throwing their weight behind the most reactionary and plutocrat-friendly ANC leader available, namely Jacob Zuma. This meant that the influence they had was in the direction of increasing the power of the plutocracy, which was also being enhanced by the growing power of openly pro-plutocrat parties like the Democratic Alliance and the activities of non-governmental organisations which were backed by American billionaires with close ties to the U.S. government. Meanwhile the actual power of the plutocracy over the general public was growing steadily and the access of the public to any capacity to challenge it was dwindling.

So the core question would have to be how to do something about this; how to mobilise people against the growing inequality of wealth, how to roll back the overweeking influence of the plutocracy over all spheres of government, and how to promote the basic values of the left which the organised left had so signally abandoned, against the background of a world movement which was increasingly hostile to any such moves.

So, what did McKinley have to say about all this? He acknowledged that all these problems existed, and added that the left had become balkanised on special issues — which was not actually an adequate statement, because the Trotskyite left had deliberately focused on special issues in order to further the objectives of their sponsors such as the pharmaceutical industry, whereas the left of any numerical significance, the SACP and COSATU, had not devoted all their energy to these things. However, such balkanisation was an obvious danger as Hall’s ill-advised recommendations revealed decades before. So we may accept this.

Instead of addressing this, however, the articles goes on an extended whine about how the ANC had supposedly become neoliberal twelve years earlier (essentially repeating the stale and false pretenses of McKinley and Bond at the time) and, simultaneously, supported a German-style corporatist state (failing to notice the contradiction between neoliberalism and statist corporatism). This he also blames on the SACP and COSATU.

But he then suggests that what might be desirable is “vibrant anti-capitalist forces capable of and willing to contest fundamentally the politics, policies and overall developmental agenda of both capital and the state”, although (correctly) he notes that neither the SACP nor COSATU would be capable of this. Of course, contestation is only meaningful if there is a prospect of successful contestation; couching the concept in “contestation” is rather problematic in itself, suggesting a commitment to opposition for its own sake. However, he does suggest the possibility of being able “contest power relations within South African society”, which might offer something meaningful. But it is also painfully abstract.

What does this mean in practice? It turns out that to McKinley it means that “the leadership of the SACP and COSATU” must “cut the long-standing umbilical cord with the ANC”. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the political positions of these organisations (or nothing which cannot be fixed by helpful advice from McKinley and his comrades) but the only problem is that they are linked to the ANC. In other words, the problem is not capitalism, not the intricate structures of exploitation built into society which had been able to interpenetrate the ANC as well as the SACP and COSATU and ultimately take them all over for its own purposes. The problem is simply the ANC. Solution: boycott the ANC. Then the ANC will drop dead automatically, apparently, and all problems will then be solved.

Of course McKinley doesn’t say this. Indeed, he says that “the capitalists who own and manage the means of production” are “the core foundation of South Africa’s accumulative path”. But then, apart from repudiating the ANC, what’s to be done about these capitalists and stop them from running the whole shooting-match? And how will repudiating the ANC facilitate this process? One waits breathlessly for an answer.

One would probably turn blue, however, if that were the case, for instead McKinley veers off into complaining about the fact that the little front-organisations and NGOs which Trotskyites had set up or successfully infiltrated, devoted to “poor communities'” “basic services and free expression” (actually what McKinley means is electricity theft and corporatised propaganda in the media) were not getting much traction from the SACP and COSATU once they had gained positions in government through their support for Zuma. Is McKinley really interested in solving the problems of the left, or is he upset because he his own slice of the cake is significantly smaller than that of others as a result of his miscalculation of the correlations of power?

Again, when McKinley says that these little front-organisations embody “the possibilities for those implicitly anti-capitalist battles to give birth to more explicitly socialist politics” it is almost amusing to reflect that one of the organisations which he identified, Abahlali baseMjondolo, became explicitly pro-neoliberal when it went over to the Democratic Alliance, while McKinley himself now works for Right2Know, an organisation funded by and for South Africa’s big corporate media conglomerates. Of course, he is right to say that “[t]he question that the South African left needs to ask honestly is whether or not it still believes in the possibilities of actually overthrowing capitalism”, to which the honest answer in the case of the SACP and COSATU (and all other unions and all Trotskyite movements) must be “No”, an answer to which McKinley seems to have no response, since all his ideas depend entirely on the answer being the opposite.

McKinley presumes to advise everybody on the errors of “vanguardist” parties in the “collapse of Communism” (although he is nothing if not a vanguardist) but he also claims that “it is quite clear that concrete struggles against, for example, privatization of the public sector and for socialized provision of housing, water, electricity, basic foodstuffs, and land are aimed at contesting capitalist relations of ownership and distribution”. This is certainly not clear. Anti-privatisation campaigns may simply be based in a desire to get actual services which would not be provided by capitalists — actually, they usually are. None of these campaigns in South Africa has advanced the cause of socialism, and most of them, because they have been opportunistic and unrealistically mounted, have not retarded the cause of capitalism in the slightest.

Meanwhile, McKinley suggests that what is needed “is a strategy that essentially forces unionized workers to respond politically to intensifying mass struggles from . . . grassroots communities”. In other words, McKinley and his friends must organise the grassroots to do things which will enable them to control the trade unions, while pretending that this is a spontaneous process. This is an obvious side effect of McKinley’s delusions of spontaneity against the background of his actual vanguardism.

Such dishonesty is pathetic, but it is also preposterous; if the unions are not responding to the immiseration of their own members, why would they respond to the orchestrated activities of organisations outside their membership? Indeed, although NUMSA is much more influenced by Trotskyites than before, it is not very good at getting workers to respond to anything other than immediate wage demands — even the recent sensible critique of the Ramaphosa assault on the minimum wage and the Labour Relations Act drew very little support from NUMSA members. One can only imagine how little support they would have offered to issues wholly unrelated to immediate union interests. Thus McKinley’s dreams of using his tiny groupuscules to hijack really significant organisations — that perennial fantasy of western Trotskyism — appears to lead nowhere even on its own terms.

For the most part McKinley’s conclusion, avoiding serious discussion, relies on empty and windy phrases like “a new kind of left politics” [read: the same old stuff McKinley had been pushing for twenty years] and “a real and meaningful left unity” [read: everybody at last listening to McKinley’s same old stuff] and “a new organizational form” [whatever that means]. In effect he had, in 2008, nothing to offer except more of the same dressed up as something different.

Which means that after fourteen years of failing to accomplish anything through the familiar tactics of western Trotskyism which had failed to accomplish anything anywhere else, McKinley’s response to a fresh series of crises of the left was to demand that everyone accept that the familiar tactics of western Trotskyism must be accepted by everybody on the left as the solution to all these crises. It’s as if a doctor were to respond to a patient’s diabetes by prescribing leeches, and when the patient then develops lung cancer, the doctor were to prescribe even more leeches.

This is only one person’s incapacity, of course, and he was a fairly incapable person even before he displayed this so dramatically in a long badly-written article in an obscure and uninfluential journal. All the same, it is an example of a kind of ideological paralysis, in which it is simply impossible to imagine that, all other things having changed, anything other than what one has just done and wants to do again can be done. Yet there is also the acknowledgement that those things have changed. This is weird; we have failed, so fail again; fail better. But when we fail worse, fail again, for it is as if failing worse is more important than succeeding, so long as we fail in the proper way.

And, towards the end of this failure in the proper way, reality has to be twisted; the actual problems are pushed into the background, the past failures are forgotten, opponents’ successes are discounted, lies are repeated regardless of whether they serve any purpose, and generally everything is subsumed to the demands of wholly baseless ideological confidence. Any problems can be covered up with jargon, or, in McKinley’s case, wholly spurious statements that this or that dubious claim from a dubious source authoritatively proves whatever it is that McKinley wishes to see proven at the moment. It is strangely similar — or perhaps not so strangely — to the behaviour of the Soviet Communist Party’s ideological “theorists”, or high priests of the dead religion of Brezhnevian Stalinism, in the last years of the USSR.

Which maybe makes sense. But isn’t this, actually, the core of the crisis of the left? The left’s inability to address the crisis of the left? Is this why the crisis became a crisis — wise people were fooled, and fools became dogmatic? It certainly seems so.


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.