Teetering.

May 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Force is the Last Refuge of the Incompetent.

January 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Doomsday Scenarios.

November 28, 2015

A mildly fascinating question: how close are we to global thermonuclear war?

This is not a jocular question. In South Africa we are obsessed with the failings and foibles of our own government (though these are often covered up by the press, who single out very specific failings and foibles and deploy them for the purposes of their controllers). We are also, sort of, aware of the potential global economic crisis, and are growing increasingly aware of the undeniable global environmental crisis. But the fact that we might be killed off by a war, either vapourised by igniting lithium deuteride or frozen in the ensuing global winter (rather ironic that it would sort out the global warming problem) is out of our consciousness.

This question is raised by the shooting-down of a Russian Su-24 strike aircraft by the Turkish Air Force over northern Syria.

Is this going to lead to a world war? Informed sources closely connected with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the countries under its ambit say, “No, the Russians wouldn’t dare” in various ways. Obviously war can only be started by Russia, since NATO countries, by definition, do not start wars — they engage in humanitarian interventions, as in Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Iraq, etc., etc., etc.

So, let’s put the question another way. Is this going to lead to a world war in the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world in which the Western politicians and their bought media live? The answer is that we really don’t know yet. It could have been said that when Kaiser Wilhelm sent the gunboat Panther to Agadir, it didn’t start a world war — but the First World War was partly provoked by French fears of German meddling in what it considered its own affairs, so yes, that action did in a sense start the world war, or at least contributed to it. So, if there’s going to be a global thermonuclear war within the next couple of decades, if there are any subsequent historians, they would certainly say that the Turkish shootdown was a major contributing factor.

What actually happened is fairly simple and clear. The Russians were giving close air support to the Syrian Arab Army, which is taking over the area between Aleppo and the Turkish border so as to cut the supply lines of the Wahhabi guerrillas who control half of Aleppo. This area is partly occupied by Turkmen guerrillas linked to the Al-Nusra Front, which in turn is part of the Army of Conquest funded by Saudi Arabia. These guerrillas are from Central Asia, and are associated with the Islamic extremist movements in that region; they were presumably recruited there and trained in Turkey, and the Turks are pretending that they are Turks (they have some ethnic connections, although the territorial links have been broken for half a millennium) and supposedly under Turkish protection.

The guerrillas in question are connected to al-Qaeda and are in an informal alliance with the “Islamic State” guerrillas, so in theory the United States is at war with them, and NATO is at war with them, and therefore, Turkey is at war with them. In practice, the guerrillas were brought there by NATO countries, and could not survive without Turkish support, including aerial reconnaissance (this was what a Turkish RF-4 was doing over Syrian territory when the Syrians shot it down) but providing aerial fighter cover for the guerrillas is a step much further than the Turks have taken before.

The big question is whether the Turks did it on their own, or whether this was part of a NATO (for which read, of course, American) project to raise the stakes in the fight.

The same question can be asked about the bomb which blew up a Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula. This was claimed by the Islamic State, and it’s perfectly possible that the Egyptian authorities at the Sharm-el-Sheik airport were so sloppy as to allow Islamic State guerrillas to smuggle a kilogram of high explosive connected with a barometric-pressure fuse (the airliner exploded when it reached cruising altitude, exactly like the Lockerbie airliner which was bombed with a barometric-pressure fuse) on board. After all, the Egyptians are only fighting a massive war in the Sinai Peninsula, part of their massive war against political dissidents everywhere, they are only a police state, they are only utterly dependent on foreign tourism to prop up their ramshackle dictatorship — how unsurprising that the first attempt to bomb an airliner in the area should succeed!

Or else we might ask if the Saudi intelligence services, or the Israeli intelligence services, or even the American intelligence services, might have been involved, with the goal of making the Syrian intervention unpopular with the Russian public. It’s the kind of exceptionally stupid thing they would do. (Using a barometric-pressure fuse instead of a time fuse is also a hint; the Lockerbie bomb was set by the Iranians in revenge for the shooting-down by the Americans of their airliner the previous year, and the Russian war in Syria is in support of Iran, and in alliance with Iran. A message from the Godfather, like a horse’s head in your bed.)

Of course IS might have acted alone, and the Turks might have acted alone (although NATO has backed them to the hilt and denounced the Russians for having an aircraft in a place where the Turks could shoot it down, and pretended to believe all the transparent lies the Turks have provided to excuse this incredibly provocative behaviour). The point is that nobody has acted to calm the tensions (except the Russians, who responded very cautiously to the airliner downing, in contrast to the excited yelps of joy coming out of the Western media on the subject, and who have responded to the Turkish action by simply beefing up their air defenses in Syria and imposing economic sanctions against Turkey — by any standards a proportionate reaction).

The thing is that the Russians are supposedly acting in an informal alliance with NATO, and yet it was a NATO country which shot the aircraft down while it was engaged in combat with the “extremist terrorists” whom NATO politicians are forever denouncing verbally. And yet despite these denunciations, NATO countries (and their allies, such as Australia) are major sources of recruitment for these Wahhabi guerrilla forces in Syria. Somehow, thousands of young disaffected Muslims manage to leave Britain and France and Australia and travel to Syria, and nobody stops them. After they have been trained and experienced combat, some of them come back, and of those, some proceed to try to shoot up trains with automatic weapons, or shoot up concerts with automatic weapons, or blow up bars with explosive belts.

Where do they get the guns and the explosives, and how is it that the most intensive political surveillance in the world is incapable of noticing either the weapons, the training, or the willingness to use them? Or is it that the surveillance notices them and the political control behind the surveillance is quite happy to see it all happen, because it can be used politically to justify more complete political repression and panic the public into blind support for the ruling class and racist endorsement of xenophobic and imperialist policies? Or is it that the surveillance notices them and the political control encourages it all to happen?

None of this is certain, except that no NATO country can be trusted to tell the truth about what is going on. (And Syria can’t be trusted much more, and Russia only a little more.) However, one minor point is that China stands with Russia in its Syrian policy, while the Chinese are very uneasy about the Islamic fundamentalist guerrilla movement in its Central Asian provinces, and are worried that the Americans seem to be supporting this movement — so the Turkmen receiving training and combat experience in Syrian Wahhabi guerrilla forces might ultimately be used to destabilise China, as the Chechens receiving the same things in the same forces might be used to destabilise Russia. China also sent a small naval force to support Syria when the Americans were trying to invade Syria in 2013 over the fake chemical weapons crisis. It does, then, seem that some sort of global bloc is forming.

The trouble is that NATO has been on the march since it invaded Serbia in 1999, and as NATO becomes economically weaker it becomes more and more dependent on military strategies. Its leadership, to put matters politely, lives in la-la land; one of its current propaganda tropes is that the Syrian government is backing ISIS, which makes exactly as much sense as the notion that Francisco Franco was backing the Spanish anarchist movement in 1937 (the claim then made by the Stalinists).

And as a result of floating on an ocean of fantasy pumped out by their public relations consultants (some of whom go under the name of intelligence agencies) the ruling class of the NATO countries has decided to launch a cold war against Russia and China (and incidentally to promote political turmoil in Brazil and economic sanctions against South Africa — of the BRICS countries only India is exempt from assault because it is so very, very right wing that the NATO ruling class hasn’t the heart to hurt it). But this cold war hasn’t been very effective; Russia wouldn’t give up its military bases in Crimea, and wouldn’t knuckle under when sanctions were imposed as if Russia were Equatorial Guinea. And then Russia went and decided to offer support to Syria, and coordinate the military and political cooperation between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, far more effectively than America was able to coordinate the cooperation between Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia. And so Russia must be punished, and so the Su-24 was shot down.

But all that does is piss off the Russians and trouble the Chinese (who aren’t keen about the Americans muscling in on their turf, although the Trans-Pacific Partnership which is allegedly aimed against the Chinese will probably damage the economies of the participating countries, and the Americans are incapable of doing anything effective in the South China Sea except irritate the Chinese military and Chinese big business). It also creates the impression that the NATO countries are both heavily armed and slightly crazed, and possibly desperate.

The last time the situation was like this, in the early 1980s, everybody in the world was scared, and as we now know, the most scared people of all were sitting in the Kremlin, nibbling their nails up to the elbow and jumping whenever a fresh radar blip showed another NATO combat or missile testing their defenses. Putin and Xi don’t give the impression of being frightened — but the NATO leadership scamper in circles on a regularly choreographed basis. “The Russians are coming! The Chinese are coming! ISIL/ISIS/Daesh are coming! The anti-semites are coming! Jeremy Corbyn is coming! We officially call for public panic and amok-running!” As a result, the Russians and Chinese (and the Indians) are all boosting their militaries quite substantially.

And these maniacs, and these more measured but quite clearly worried people, are the people with their fingers on the nuclear buttons, and there is no way of snipping those fingers off, or taking the fuses out of the nuclear warheads. If we get through the next decade without mushroom clouds in all directions, we will be exceedingly lucky. Maybe the Malagassy lemurs will survive. Maybe they will make a better job of it than we did.


Je Suis Going To Be Sick.

November 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Slightly Less Ignorant Observations About Trotskyism.

November 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An Ambiguous Tribute.

November 12, 2015

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

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

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

Yes, but.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Triumph of the Vacuum I: England Made Me.

November 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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