Why Are We So Curst?

May 30, 2018

It is not at all surprising that the world is fucked up. The people who have taken charge of it are fucked up people — that is, people who have no allegiance to anything but themselves (or, at best, their own short-term interests where these coincide with the interests of the class which they perceive to benefit them personally).

Because they are not interested in anything but themselves, they are ignorant, and often seem stupid, but in reality they are more to be seen as single-minded; their minds are devoted to their own advancement. Therefore, when they get into power, they use that power to rig the system which put them in power so that they can stay there, and bring their friends and the members of the class which they perceive to benefit them into power.

All these people are fucked-up, and one of the ways by which you may know this is that they don’t want to hear anything except praise for themselves — they are not only selfish, they are extraordinarily vain. Therefore, when in power, they suppress all criticism, partly by simply promoting all toadyism. Hence they neither know nor care about the consequences of their actions. Hence the global calamity, and the incomprehension with which their agents view notions like Xi’s “Ecological Civilisation” in China, which is simply a propagandistic way of expressing the notion that countries ought to have some thought for how their populations are going to stay alive in future.

Yes, we know all this. But there remain two obvious questions. Why is it that there has been such extraordinarily little resistance from the left to the rise to power of these people, including, now, a pathetically restricted level of criticism of the conduct of these people even though they are plainly pursuing policies which will not only immiserate us all, but probably kill us? And, as a corollary which is also an embarrassing truth, why is it that there has been some resistance in some countries, even though it has for the most part not come from the left?

Let’s be clear about the nature of actual resistance. The countries which have resisted are many and varied: Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador in Latin America (and also Brazil before the coup, although this was a highly limited resistance) plus Cuba in the Caribbean; Zimbabwe in Africa (with some support for its resistance from South Africa, suggesting a modest sympathy for resistance of a sort); Iran in the Middle East; Russia and China in Eurasia; Malaysia and North Korea on the Pacific Rim. India, while not resisting, has made some noises of resistance; so have Iraq, Syria, and on occasion Turkey. Also, many of the former states of the Soviet Union have made accommodation with the form of resistance evolved in Russia.

What have these countries in common? The actual resisting countries are all fiercely nationalistic. They are also countries with a fierce desire to possess strong governments, having all had weak governments or puppet governments imposed on them by outsiders in the past. In other words, there’s a universal desire among these countries to run their own affairs properly and decide their own futures. It’s not that they oppose capitalism, but they oppose a homogenizing neoliberal capitalist project which ultimately best serves foreign powers. What is more, they are doing so in a loose concert, and in a way which deliberately appeals, and in some cases is intended to appeal, to a wider audience.

Of course, collaborative nationalism is something of a contradiction in terms. These countries do not all see the world in the same way, do not share identical values, nor do they act with equal energy and commitment to their goals — which makes them weaker than the unified, monolithic plutocratic capitalist states. Yet they all identify a common enemy and their governments, supported by a majority of their populations, are prepared to resist that enemy — to the extent that the enemy acts, or is suspected to be acting, as an enemy. (It’s worth pondering how long it has taken for this attitude to evolve, and what bitter experience China, Russia, Iran and the Latin American countries have gone through to recognise that the United States and its allies simply cannot be trusted to compromise on any issue, but always want everything for themselves.)

So this resistance does not come from pure, altruistic or socialistic sources. It comes, however, from sources which do wish to make a better world. China is run by a Communist Party which purports to — and to some extent, actually does — represent a practically implemented Marxist viewpoint. Iran is run by theocrats, but theocrats who also view their country as the spiritual home of their sect, and therefore as a country deserving to be defended in the same way that god is to be defended. Russia is run by an interlocking cabal of politicians and businesspeople headed by Vladimir Putin (but much too complexly so for him to be called a dictator by anyone who isn’t quite consciously being dishonest), a cabal whose common ground is the desire to restore Russia to something like its former status, more or less in the tradition of Peter the Great.

To sum up, although some of the resistance to the impending global disaster caused by Western countries’ corrupt and (on any terms but their own) incompetent governance comes from countries which have leftist impulses and histories, the resistance is not driven by leftism. How, then, has the global left responded to the disaster, and how has it responded to the resistance?

The answer is that to a very large extent the global left has become part of the problem. Liberal social democracy — the attempt to construct a left separate from Marxism but nevertheless responsive (in a modest way) to the problems which Marxism identifies — has collapsed into neoliberalism. There are hangovers from liberal social democracy still existing in parts of the West — Corbyn in Britain and conceivably Sanders in the United States are two examples — but these are generally assiduously prevented from any access to power, and it is not likely that if they gained power they would be able to restore anything like the liberal social democracy of the 1960s. Across most of the world that liberal social democracy never existed anyway, except as a puppet-show played by Western imperialists to legitimate their corrupt activities, so elsewhere such things don’t matter.

Outside that, there was Stalinism and the various forms of anti-Stalinist leftism, whether Bolshevik or anarchistic. Stalinism has largely collapsed, cravenly, into neoliberalism, covering up its treachery with a blizzard of rhetoric. (This is not altogether true everywhere, of course — Asian Stalinism, while it colludes with neoliberalism in many ways, remains one of the few leftist power-bases from which neoliberalism may be questioned and critiqued. However, it is certainly true of Stalinist leaders in Europe, even though their members may feel otherwise as their support for the resistance leader Melanchon illustrates.) Anti-Stalinist leftism was never able to build a solid powerbase anywhere (it is now clear that Catalonia in 1936-8 was a freak which could not be repeated) and the problem with it is thus that it never felt a need to be responsible, so that it was all too easily co-opted by neoliberalism.

The result of all this is that the global left, where it has not simply sold out, has been able to provide a series of critiques of global disaster, but these critiques are necessarily incoherent and unconnected to real power-structures. In consequence, these critiques are easily confused with the absurd and corrupt factionalism which characterises the anti-Stalinist left and which has permeated the Stalinist left to some degree. Above all, these critiques are unprincipled and, generally speaking, lack any Marxist consciousness worth mentioning.

This is partly because both the Stalinist and the anti-Stalinist left leaped onto the “new social movements” and “identity politics” bandwagons (an acknowledgement made as far back as 1999 by Naomi Klein in her soft-left book No Logo), bandwagons which they did not create and which turned out to be steered by the neoliberals and their treacherous social democratic agents. As a result, instead of refashioning the real issues of party, ethnic and gender discrimination within an overarching framework of class-consciousness, the lefts abandoned class-consciousness and plunged into the futile mire of postmodern politics, leaving economic reality behind.

Therefore the left is incapable of analysing the situation separately from the way in which the rulers of the world wish it to be analysed — it is thus incapable of effective critique, and all too often repeats the slogans of the oppressors, merely using different jargon. (Of course there are individuals who are more capable than others. There are intelligent people on the left capable of engaging with reality. But as an organised force, this is, to put it politely, the most common aspect of the left.) In effect, then, the left has lost power and lost consciousness of the need to possess power, and the impact of both losses has been disastrous for its capacity to interpret the world, and therefore for its capacity to change it.

This being the case, shouldn’t the left simply get out of the way and allow those who are in power and who are effectively fighting the battle which the left ought to be fighting, to get on with it? Well, no, because the people who are fighting are not on the left and cannot be trusted, in the long run, to serve the left’s ends. So the left’s response should be complex; qualified support, together with endeavouring to build its own support-base by opposing the disastrous policies of neoliberal plutocracy and, ultimately, opposing the compromises which the current resistance will inevitably make with those policies, and the current resistance’s own policies where those are anti-leftist.

But the left’s actual response is not this. The Western non-Stalinist left discovered early on that the USSR was not truly leftist. Soon after that, the Stalinist left discovered that China was not truly leftist. Not long after that, the non-Stalinist left also discovered that China was not truly leftist. If Russia and China were not leftist, then surely the countries which had been their satellites or allies, and the parties which had been their supporters, were not leftist either. Therefore, nobody was leftist except for the Western left. This was a fortunate discovery, since it exempted the Western left from the obligation of defending the USSR, China or anybody else against the criticism, condemnation, destabilization and ultimate aggression of the plutocratic neoliberal oligarchy of the West.

In fact, if the USSR and China and so on were not leftist, this provided a useful gold standard by which to declare that South Africa, or the Bolivarian republics, or the surviving Middle Eastern secular states, were not leftist either. Admittedly some leftists might choose to identify one or more of these states as being more or less leftist on occasion, as Tariq Ali did about Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba. But this placed no obligations on any other leftists to do the same; all were free to attack whoever they wished to attack for not being leftist and therefore for not deserving support. Therefore, the only reason for condemning an attack launched by Western plutocrats was that the attack was in some way wrong by Western standards; no country in the world deserved to be defended against such attack intrinsically, according to the Western left.

From the 1880s to the 1980s, the left had two major reasons for opposing imperialist and counter-revolutionary activities by the capitalist powers: in order to defend the homeland of socialism (wherever that was) and in order to follow the orders of the left party’s politburo, or central committee, or boss, or whatever. In practice, this meant furthering what appeared to be the interests of the left in a broad sense (even if it didn’t always turn out that way, as with the Nazi-Soviet Pact). Today, the left instead opposes such activities only when they appear to be popular in the corporate press and when it is absolutely certain that the Daily Mail and the Guardian will not criticise the left for doing so. As a result nobody expects the left to say anything original or interesting or, indeed, left-wing.

So in the end, the left does not offer any resistance because it does not dare to, and it has abandoned the project which might provide a basis for such resistance. Where it criticises the projects of plutocratic neoliberal oligarchs, it does so on a very crude and primitive basis by the standards of the leftists of the past, because it can only follow the models laid down by the oligarchs themselves.

If the left is to gain any traction, it must break free from this. At the present, the left seems to be completely irrelevant to the struggle being played out for the future of the human race. This is a truly extraordinary development, and one which is anything but healthy.

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31 Theses on the Syrian War.

May 16, 2018
  1. The Syrian war arose out of the “Arab Spring”, which was an attempt by the United States government to remodel the Middle East in its own interests through destabilisation and other kinds of political pressure rather than pure aggression as in the earlier Iraqi war.
  2. The agenda of the “Arab Spring” was to bring all Arab countries under a Sunni-corporate regime, discourage democracy, and ultimately mobilise Arab governments into an anti-Iranian front headed by Saudi Arabia and (implicitly) Israel.
  3. The need to focus Qatari, Saudi and NATO aggression against Libya in order to prevent the Libyan government from defeating the Qatari/Saudi/NATO-funded Wahhabi insurgents meant that the attack on Syria had to be delayed.
  4. The delay meant that the Syrian government was able to see what the Qatari/Saudi/NATO coalition intended for the countries which they overthrew in the bloody chaos which followed the Wahhabi takeover in Libya.
  5. Since the Syrian government understood that this chaos was what the American and Gulf fomentors of the “Arab Spring” sought for them, and since as nationalists and secularists they were opposed both to imperialist control and to Islamic fundamentalism, especially of the Wahhabi sort, they suppressed all signs of a nascent uprising extremely brutally.
  6. The Syrian spy services were extremely incompetent in failing to identify the impending Wahhabi guerrilla war, and may have compounded their blunder by attempting to promote Islamic fundamentalism as a supposed counterweight to the American-sponsored “liberal” movement supposedly inspired by the “Arab Spring”; meanwhile, the Syrian armed forces were notably incompetent in resisting the initial incursions of guerrillas.
  7. In the initial stages of the war at least, there was substantial (if not overwhelming) support for the insurgents among the population (at least certain segments of a very divided population).
  8. Given that the Ba’ath Party espoused a one-party state led by a family of dictators surrounded by a narrow cabal of supporters, and strictly censored all political debate and suppressed all opposition by violence, it is natural that some people would feel that anything would be better than this.
  9. In a dictatorial context, people tend to be quite ignorant of what is going on around them and are easily convinced that if the Party said something, then the opposite of that had to be true; it is thus the responsibility of the opposition to the dictatorship to provide reliable and relevant information.
  10. The uprising in Syria was clearly endorsed by the United States for its own purposes (meaning that supporting the uprising meant supporting U.S. imperialism) and was sponsored by the Wahhabi regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar (meaning that supporting the uprising entailed supporting the Wahhabi Sunni movement).
  11. Therefore, although the popular support for the Syrian uprising was understandable, the leaders of the uprising knew that they were serving the interests, not of Syrians, but of the American government and the dictators of the Gulf states, and deliberately deceived their people into believing that the uprising had any merit for Syrians themselves.
  12. The deception carried out by the ostensible leaders of the Syrian “revolution” and the “Free Syrian Army” must have been because they hoped for preferment in any future government even though few of them were Wahhabi, or because they had been bought off by American or Gulf agents.
  13. Although the ostensible leaders of the Syrian uprising, many of whom had once been trusted by the Syrian people, were traitors to Syria and were culpable in the crimes committed against Syria in the name of the insurgency, the most culpable people of all are the Western liberals and leftists who promoted the Syrian uprising as if it were indigenous to Syria, and provided cover for the American and Gulf agents and the odious forces which they supported in Syria.
  14. The Turkish and American involvement in the Syrian war, while substantial, was committed to more limited goals than the Saudi and Qatari involvement, because in the end the Turks and Americans were not ideologically committed, but were fundamentally concerned with their national interests as they perceived them.
  15. The failure of the Syrian uprising to overthrow the government by 2013 seems to have made the Obama administration doubt that the Saudi and Qatari methods would bring a successful result, and therefore the attempt was made to legitimate a US bombing campaign against Syria — which was presumably intended to so degrade the Syrian armed forces as to make the insurgents win — through claims that the Syrian government was using chemical warfare.
  16. The Russian concern about the ultimate destruction of its minor naval base in Syria, but also the Russian desire for a diplomatic coup, encouraged Russia to involve itself diplomatically and militarily in support of the prevention of a US bombing campaign by enlisting the UN to support the destruction of the Syrian chemical warfare capacity, which provided the US with the appearance of a diplomatic “victory” and thus compensated for the failure of the attempt to justify aggression.
  17. The Russian diplomatic success in Syria encouraged closer ties between Russia and Syria, but also, because the Russians encouraged the Chinese to involve themselves in diplomatic activity in the anti-chemical-warfare project, encouraged closer ties between China and Syria and between Russia and China, which also further encouraged Iranian engagement with Syria.
  18. The US encouragement of a coup against the Ukrainian government in order to install an anti-Russian regime had been in progress for several years, but it is possible that the Russian diplomatic success in Syria encouraged the US to advance the timetable of the coup and thus make it more chaotic, possibly also promoting the Russian fears which led to the seizure of the Crimea, and thus the provocation of the secession of the Donbass, which in turn promoted the direct US attack on Russia.
  19. It is also possible that the Saudi/Qatari support for a Wahhabi movement in Iraq to overthrow the Shi’ite Iraqi government or at least seize control of a large part of Iraqi territory, and thus open yet another front in the Syrian war into the bargain, was in part a US response to the Russo-Chinese intervention which had stymied direct aggression against Syria.
  20. The establishment of the “Islamic State” movement in Syria and Iraq provided a fresh source of recruits for the insurgency and severely overextended the Syrian armed forces, bringing them, after almost five years of fighting, to the verge of breakdown, but its genocidal brutality and cultural destructiveness also made it clear, yet again, what the real agenda of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States was.
  21. The behaviour of the “Islamic State” was intended to legitimate the US intervention supposedly (but not actually) in opposition to it, but this also provided justifications for the Russian government to intervene.
  22. The Russian intervention, associated as it was with an expanded Lebanese intervention and a substantial Iranian intervention, was not only legal in terms of international law and custom (unlike the US intervention, which amounted to invasion) but it was also much better planned and executed and had far greater prospect of success since it relied on enhancing the competence, equipment and morale.of the Syrian armed forces.
  23. The American ground invasion of Syria which followed the Russian intervention was tardy, inept and largely pointless given that it depended for its survival on sympathy from Turkey and Iraq which could not be guaranteed, especially not after Iraq had largely defeated the “Islamic State” and crushed the Kurdish attempt to take advantage of its temporary weakness.
  24. The Turkish shooting down of a Russian combat aircraft attacking Wahhabi insurgents on Syrian soil was almost certainly approved by the US.
  25. The Russian response to the Turkish attack on their armed forces was extraordinarily measured and suggests that Russian intelligence had realised that Turkey was the weakest link in the US-Turkish-Israeli-Jordanian-Saudi-Qatari coalition against Syria, and that a combination of coercion and diplomacy might shift Turkish support away from the Wahhabi insurgents who had little in common with Turkish Islamism.
  26. The failed coup against the Turkish government which followed an apparent warming of relations between Russia and Turkey was organised on US soil and was probably carried out with the approval of the US government; in any case the Turkish government believed that this was the case and would have been foolish to believe otherwise, so this was a major factor in the shift of Turkish allegiance away from support from the Wahhabi insurgents in Syria.
  27. The Syrian victories against Wahhabi insurgents in Homs, Aleppo and Palmyra was met with an ineffectual series of bombings of Syrian and allied forces undertaken by the Israelis and the US which suggested that the US support for the insurgents had become incoherent, a notion buttressed by the election of Donald Trump as US President which flew in the face of US ruling-class support for Wahhabi-sponsored regime change in Damascus.
  28. Despite the much improved military situation for the Syrian government after its string of victories and despite the expanded contribution of Russian armed forces, intelligence agencies and diplomats in the region, the Syrian government did not show the overstretch and hubris which might have been expected from the past, but instead continued a methodical process of systematic expansion of territorial control without any dramatic actions against the insurgents.
  29. The US increasing reliance on Kurdish insurgents to protect their forces occupying Eastern Syria, naturally generated conflict with Turkey, which eventually led to the Turkish invasion of north-eastern Syria and the collapse of the Kurdish forces in the region — making it possible for an ultimate negotiated Syrian recovery of the region to take place should Turkey be willing to allow this.
  30. The success of the Syrian Ba’ath Party in resisting this level of aggression when virtually all other attempts at self-defence in the region have failed, is a strong suggestion that the Ba’ath Party is a legitimate organisation in Syria, and must form part of any future government.
  31. Given all the above points, not only does the initiative lie with the Syrians, but it does so justly, and all possible support should be offered to any initiative aimed at restoring the territorial integrity of Syria and expelling all foreign invaders from that country, before any discussion of any constitutional changes takes place — and nobody involved in the Syrian insurgency should be viewed as an appropriate participant in any such discussion.

 

 


Towards the Brink of What?

May 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Greasy Zambezi.

November 27, 2017

Now that the smoke of the gunfire has drifted away and the caked gore has been hosed down the drain, it’s worth asking what the Zimbabwe coup was all about and what it meant.

Zimbabwe was always going to have a hard time going it alone. It’s a small country with a small economy, and trying to punch above its weight in diplomatic and military terms, while superficially easy in the tiny pool of SADC, meant making big, powerful enemies elsewhere such as Britain, which could, with the help of its EU friends and the US, make things very bad for Zimbabwe, especially since the British were trying to install a puppet government in Harare in the meantime.

And so they did. Zimbabwe’s government floundered; it was able to use its control of the state machinery to head off the puppet government, but at the cost both of delegitimising itself and of damaging the economy through the informal but devastating financial sanctions which Zimbabwe faced until the global economic crisis made such sanctions unnecessary to enforce. The attempt by Mbeki to broker an interim government to bring political peace to the country was successful on its own terms, but was completely pointless because since neither the potential puppet nor ZANU had any idea of how to sort out Zimbabwe’s problems and nobody had either the money or the will to do this.

As a result, Zimbabwe was a de facto one-party state, but the party had no real programme or policy. It also had no competitors and no challenges except the steady deterioration of the national polity and economy. So, inevitably, it became corrupt. As its leader grew older and more infirm, the elite increasingly partied in the ruins of what had been a potential dynamo for southern Africa.

In which case, the leader naturally could not trust his party to do what was right. So, naturally, he chose a successor from outside — namely, his girlfriend and subsequent wife. Of course nobody liked her; they wouldn’t have liked her even had she been likeable. However, the governing party had been so hollowed out, so stripped of any political meaning other than greed for cash and desire for comfort, that when the leader spoke, who were they to stop him? Anyway, was there any real reason, under these circumstances, why any person was better than any other person to be leader?

Of course there was — plunder. And the most effective plundering force was the army, which had gained immense financial interests in what remained of the Zimbabwean economy. And their man in ZANU was Emmerson Mnangagwa, long seen as the heir apparent before Mugabe changed his mind. With him in the Presidency, the military could look forward to a looting spree, at least for a little while longer. So, when Mnangagwa decided to organise a coup, he had no trouble finding allies. His only problem was that he had plenty of competitors who were willing to betray him, so that his plot was discovered and he was ignominiously removed from power. However, Mugabe failed to act against the army, as he would certainly have done in his heyday, and thus the army was able to reverse the political decision by main force. First Mnangagwa prepared the way by fleeing the country under the pretense of being in danger, and then, the pretext having been established, the tanks (actually, mostly armoured personnel carriers) could roll in.

The coup itself was characterised by surrealism on all sides. A general proclaims that his armed seizure of political power from an elected government is not a coup. Thereafter, the South African press (after an initial period of uncertainty, presumably while they were waiting to hear what the opinion of their handlers in London and Washington was) launched enthusiastic support for undemocratic seizure of power, having spent years warning everyone prepared to listen about the clear and present danger of the ANC undemocratically seizing power. This reached the point at which verious members of the South African press, plugging into the propaganda of the NATO countries, were proclaiming that the only problem thrown up by the “not-coup” was that the beastly President Mugabe was brutally refusing to tear up the Zimbabwean constitution which he was sworn to defend. Again, given that our press have devoted decades to telling us how blind obedience to the constitution is the only sign of true democratic values, there might have seemed to be something slightly amiss with this.

Surreal, yes, but also strangely inevitable how it worked out. Of course people turned out in their numbers to demand the installation of the new dictator — it is advisable to do so when troops are pointing guns at you, and when your employers tell you to go or else. The tens of thousands who materialised became hundreds of thousands in the local media, and eventually millions in the articles of those journalists whose white mentors have never bothered to tell them how to lie convincingly. No doubt some people believed all this stuff, just as some people believed in the staged toppling of Saddam Hussein’s status.

But it didn’t matter. A shit sandwich was being imposed instead of another shit sandwich, and the Zimbabwean people had no choice but to eat it. Since one shit sandwich is much like another, what difference does it make? Of course, the claim, of course made by the generals and the winning team of Zimbabwean politicians but also, pathetically, made by the local right-wing media, that This Must Be A Zimbabwean Solution, was itself shit — bullshit. Zimbabweans were not consulted; only generals and to a lesser extent the ZANU party bosses had any say in the matter. Those who believed that the Zimbabwean people had defeated a dictator and would now be free to decide their own destiny were boobs, and would get the ethical and humanitarian treatment customarily reserved for deluded boobs.

Obviously, the current situation benefits the people who have been trying to get ZANU out for their own purposes. It seems that the coup was not simply something engineered by foreigners — indeed, the usual British suspects, such as the Guardian and the BBC, seem to have been caught flatfooted, suggesting that the Secret Intelligence Service and their operators in the Foreign Office had not told their journalist helpers what to say — which in turn suggests that the SIS hadn’t exactly been told what was going to happen, or the where and when, though it is widely assumed that Britain, China and South Africa, at least, must have been given some hints by the Mnangagwa faction.

Still, the fallout from the coup is beneficial for some. The conspicuous failure of the AU to condemn the coup, for instance, is an indication of how completely that organisation has fallen under the control of the West (and hence a reminder that while Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma may be a better option than Cyril Ramaphosa, she isn’t going to save us from imperialism). The ineffectual huffing and puffing of SADC is less significant, but it’s interesting how stridently and enthusiastically the imperialist propaganda machines have been attacking it and proclaiming that Zimbabwe’s political integrity must be safeguarded against Southern African interference (for which read: only NATO countries are allowed to interfere anywhere, as in the Black Sea and the South China Sea, not to mention the West African train-smash).

In any case, now that it’s over, Mnangagwa and his generals are a far less homogeneous bunch than Mugabe and his cadres. They are much less likely to refuse to do what they are told by foreign bosses. The MDC will be greatly invigorated, although this does not mean that they are going to get anywhere in the election scheduled for next March — by all accounts Mnangagwa is not a man inclined to share power with others, and he is ultimately in charge of counting the votes. Still, he will have to do something to show that he is different from Mugabe and pretend to attract investment (which will not come, since it barely exists any more and there is very little to invest in).

He has already promised to pay compensation to everyone who lost farms during the land invasions early in the century — compensation which he does not possess, of course, so he is lying, but it’s the thought that counts. Perhaps he is hoping to do a deal with Britain under which they will furnish the cash and he can channel it towards the elderly white farmers — after taking a substantial cut, of course. (Dream on, Emmerson; Theresa May has spent all the dosh on an unseaworthy aircraft carrier without aircraft, and even if she had the dosh she isn’t going to give it to a crowd of un-English darkies half-way across the world.)

Many Zimbabweans are happy. Who can blame them? They haven’t had much to be happy or proud about for some time, unless you count the virtual pride which arises from the empty but truthful phrases which Mugabe used to spout. Now they can pretend, against all logic and evidence, that the future will be bright and better things can happen.

In the long run, Zimbabwe will be recolonised in some way, even if only by gradual deterioration into a failed state, as a ghastly example of what happens to those who dare to challenge the colonial powers. Unless, of course, The People Rise Up In Their Majesty And Demand Justice, as various yammerers like Patrick Bond pretend. Which is likely to happen on the second Tuesday following the resurrection of the dead by the Archangel Gibreel.

 


Klein in a Bottle.

November 6, 2017

Not so very long ago, Naomi Klein, former Wall Street journalist turned celebrity leftist, was the bright shining hope of the world. Her books The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything, which revealed the horrifying truth (which had been kept secret for so long) that capitalism exploits workers and harms the environment, were on every leftist’s bookshelf, crowding out Marxist theory because her books were enormously expensive.

Not everybody quite believed this, of course. Alexander Cockburn’s review of The Shock Doctrine pointed out that what Klein was representing as her own brilliant idea was something which had been around since Marx at least, and probably since Rousseau and Blake (and some of it went back to Savonarola). Also, the revelations about the link between CIA torture, CIA mind control and capitalism had been traced in the 1960s when the facts about the CIA’s experiments with hallucinogens and sensory deprivation started coming out — and the political implications came as no great surprise to anyone who had been paying attention to what happened in any fascist or quasi-fascist seizure of power in the twentieth century.

Of course, said Cockburn, it was good that someone was saying all this stuff again given the terrible drought of leftists in the twenty-first century. However, Klein is particularly mistaken in claiming that this “shock doctrine” is something relatively new, most particularly on display in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, based on the CIA ideas of the 1960s fused with the neoliberal triumph of the late 1970s. In fact, argues Cockburn, to say this is to pretend that the disastrous twenty-first-century neoliberals, the Bushes and Blairs and Berlusconis and their descendants, were something novel and something which can therefore be fought against as dangerous innovators. Instead, he remarks, they are very much within a long continuum of capitalism stretching back at least to the eighteenth century, and to fight against them you have to fight against the system which created them; it isn’t enough to vote out Bush. The long dark Obama era demonstrated that Cockburn was right and Klein wrong.

Now Klein has come up with another book. Unlike its three major predecessors, and like her journalism, it is very short on research and is unreferenced. Her argument is that we are in a big big crisis, due to Trump, and therefore we must do everything that we can, as fast as possible, to challenge the rise of whatever it is that we are supposed to fight against in Trump, and Brexit, the two official foes of the official liberal ruling class of the Western world.

The book is called No Is Not Enough. This is a weird title. Who ever thought that no was enough? When, in politics or anywhere else, has rejection been the be-all and end-all of activity? Perhaps, though, this is a sign that Western political thought has really lost its sense of self-worth and become no more than a knee-jerk resistance to right-wing initiatives which in themselves are not properly understood.

Manifestly there must be something positive towards which any political movement must mobilise its adherents. This is true of every political movement which can ever aspire to have any adherents for any length of time. So, then, what is the positive thing which Klein has hitherto provided? In the main, she has complained about the misbehaviour of big business and of Republicans, contending that it would be nicer if there were fewer sweatshops and more non-franchised coffee shops, that it would be better if capitalism did not entail using the government to frighten people into pursuing policies which harm their interests, and that it would be good if someone would do something about global warming. Effectively, this is nebulous reformism. It is the politics of hipster liberalism, wishing to carry on with one’s current life without change, but also without guilt or unpleasant news on the television or the social media, and without right-wing propaganda blaring in one’s ears.

Does this new book represent anything different? Ninety-nine percent of the book’s critique is an attack on Donald Trump and some of his Cabinet. This is not exactly courageous stand-taking; everybody who would purport to be on the left obviously opposes Trump. He is a very easy target to attack, and in attacking him it is easy to ignore the extremely odious and terribly powerful people who oppose Trump in order to put themselves in power and implement policies which are as destructive as Trump’s, but perhaps more coherently assembled and more effectively propagandised, and hence more dangerous in the long run. Ignoring such people’s existence — or worse, effectively allying oneself with them, as in South Africa where the same kind of sand-in-the-eyes leftism has been used to legitimate support for the richest and most right wing people in the country under the pretense of saving the nation from Zuma — is a suicidal policy.

So if the book were simply a criticism of Trump then it would be (in effect) propaganda for the kind of system which Trump represents. By claiming that the only problem to be addressed is this nasty chancre weeping pus on your cheek, you are ignoring the fact that your big problem is actually that you have syphilis. Fortunately, there is a 1% of the book in which Klein does mention that the opposition to Trump, in the person of Hillary Clinton, was a corrupt liar campaigning for the special interests of gangster capitalists. Also, she mentions the existence of that gangster capitalism and points out that it essentially runs the socio-economic system of the United States by remote control.

These are points with which any leftist can fundamentally agree. These are also points, however, which direct attention to a far more important problem than the problem of having a preposterous ignorant sociopathic gasbag in the White House, or even the people who helped to put that gasbag there. The solutions to that problem — the control of the system by a corrupt and largely invisible ruling class which uses that control to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else — are different from the problem of the wrong guy winning an election.

But this is the problem which Klein complains about. She endorsed Bernie Sanders as the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. Undeniably Sanders was a less odious candidate than Hillary Clinton; arguably, he was the least unpleasant prospect of all the figures who sought to stand for President in either the Democratic or Republican Party. However, Sanders is a right-wing figure, a military hawk, a Zionist and a supporter of most of the conservative policies pursued by the Democratic Party down the decades. His populist attacks on corrupt banks were unusual, but they also almost certainly led nowhere, since he had no mass base behind him and any attempt to implement an anti-trust law against the banks would certainly have been blocked by all parties. His claims to be a socialist are certainly as fraudulent as Hillary Clinton’s claims to be a feminist. Klein claims that the mere uttering of such terms is a good thing — but in both cases the term could be used safely because it had been drained of all practical meaning.

Furthermore, Bernie Sanders endorsed Clinton for the Presidency. Klein criticises Clinton, but it is clear that she preferred Clinton over Trump. Therefore she was prepared to vote for the system and to call on others to do the same. What is the point of criticising the system if in practice you refuse to challenge it? This seems like the same sort of ineffectual hipster politics characteristic of Klein. It also explains why Klein spends so much more time criticising Trump than criticising the system which allowed Trump to rise, or, for that matter, criticising representatives of the system like Obama and Clinton who happen to use rhetoric which resembles Klein’s own rhetoric, but whose agenda is essentially the same as that of Trump: the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many and through the degradation of the planet and its resources.

So Klein’s “yes” is a very small one compared to her “NO”, and it is also a very unappealing one. She tries to gussy this up (whatever that phrase means) with references to the victories which have been attained over neoliberalism and “Trumpism”. These victories include a massive populist revolt in Argentina against corrupt neoliberalism which eventually led to a slightly less reactionary ruling-class family taking power and pursuing a slightly less corrupt version of neoliberalism. There is also the massive populist revolt in Greece against corrupt neoliberalism, in which the Greeks boldly voted for the party which pledged not to implement corrupt neoliberalism, after which the party implemented corrupt neoliberalism. On the whole, Klein’s poster boys for the New Politics are neither attractive nor credible.

Victories over “Trumpism” appear similar. Her thesis is that Trump’s victory has ushered in a series of extreme-right movement, such as UKIP in Britain, or the BJP in India, or Duterte’s Presidency in the Philippines. She fails to notice that Duterte, for all his violence and populism, is rather different from Trump and his agenda, that UKIP is an insignificant party (the anti-EU vote was essentially a Conservative victory) and the BJP has been around since the 1930s in various Hindu incarnations.

Meanwhile, her evidence of victories over this nonexistent fascistic united front include the stitched-up victory of the vicious reactionary neoliberal Macron in France and the victory of the xenophobic reactionary populists in Holland (where she praises a “Green” party which committed itself to supporting the European Union in its current neoliberal form). It seems obvious from this that Klein is trapped within the confines of the status quo, like a cockroach in a corked bottle waiting for the ammonia to be dripped in. Since that status quo is essentially neoliberal and reactionary, her campaigns against neoliberalism and reactionary politics appear wholly cosmetic.

Indeed, she went on a lot of marches in the United States to protest against Trump. Good for her; it is good for the legs and the lungs, assuming you don’t breathe too much of the city air. These marches, however, were mostly organised by the Democratic Party and were essentially calls for the installation of Hillary Clinton as President, so Klein was marching against her own professed principles and policies. The purposes of the marches were to mobilise specific interests, such as technology professionals and women, who normally tend to support the Democrats. Of course one may try to take advantage of such campaigns to challenge the system. There is little sign, however, that this happened, and Klein certainly did nothing to pursue that.

In the end she does come up with a call for the masses to rise up in what she calls the “Leap”, a call for a transformation of society on Utopian grounds. At last! Someone who will save us! Indeed, she says that this has happened before — when big oil spills happened in 1969, the people rose up and called for someone to do something about the environment, and lo, someone did and the Environmental Protection Agency was formed and the Clean Air Act passed. Klein says that this kind of triumph of the people can be done again. Erm, well perhaps, but shouldn’t we remember that the person who answered the call of the people was President Richard Nixon, saving the environment in his spare time when he wasn’t murdering hundreds of thousands of Indo-Chinese and overthrowing Latin American governments.

Her other inspiration is Standing Rock, where the evil government wanted to run a pipeline carrying Canadian tar-sands oil through an Indian reservation (this being government land the pipeline could travel free there). To further save money they wanted to run the pipeline slap through the local lake. And there the people rose up and said NO! Hurray for the people! Oh yes — except that the government rose up and said PISS OFF!, violently chased the Indians and their supporters away, and built the pipeline slap through the local lake. So she is celebrating the disastrous failure of weakly-supported single-interest campaigns to attain anything positive.

Her Leap is no leap. It’s a vague call for someone to do something, something nice, something like a higher minimum wage and more windmills and solar panels and child-minders and fewer police shooting black people. It has no political support worth mentioning  and no capacity to develop any. It is the feel-good politics of hipsterism, incapable of accomplishing anything and devoid of any potential to build the political analysis — the class analysis, especially — which it completely lacks.

And there we leave Klein in her bottle. A Klein bottle is a three-dimensional Moebius strip, a bottle with no actual inside or outside. As a result it’s difficult to see how to get out of the bottle. On the positive side, it cannot actually be build in the real world, any more than can Klein’s mythical politics.

 

 


Captivation (II): “Jump in the urinal and stand on your head: I’m the one who’s alive, you are all dead.”

November 6, 2017

The decisive and smashing victory of the Republican wing of the 1% Party, over the Democratic wing of the 1% Party, has not gone unnoticed. With speed and stamina the heroes of American liberalism and their bought-and-paid-for toadies across the world have rushed into the breach (after making sure that there were absolutely no weapons trained on them from anywhere).

Their conclusions are straightforward: the American people have betrayed the Party and therefore deserve neither support nor allegiance. Therefore they have sent their minions out into the street to fight against the American people. Down with the people, down! Or, at best, as Brecht sarcastically put it, the call goes out to dissolve the people and elect a new people who will vote for the correct candidate.

The Democratic Party faithful are also pointing out how bad the people are for voting for the wrong candidate. Obviously they must be racist, misogynist and fascistic. How could one vote against the Democratic Party when its previous candidate was black, except on grounds of racism? How could one vote against the Democratic Party candidate when she is a woman, except on grounds of sexism? Obviously, too, voting for a bullying male candidate shows that one is voting for the bully because one is embedded in Nazi-style politics. Besides, the enemy candidate is known to be covertly supported by Vladimir Putin, who is Hitler, and therefore the Republican Party are all Hitler supporters. The evidence is clear, and only a racist misogynist fascist could challenge it.

Notice something interesting about these conclusions: they say essentially nothing about what the Democratic Party was planning to do, had it happened to win the election. In fact it was openly admitting that it was planning to do very little. Instead, where there were policies, these amounted to “Defend the Obama legacy!”; the extension of state-subsidised but private health management organisations to large numbers of people who would otherwise be unable to afford such healthcare. (Unfortunately, the soaring cost of these private health management organisations is increasingly making this Affordable Care Act unaffordable, which rather undermines the project.)

The rest of the legacy that they make a fuss about is Obama’s enthusiastic signing on for the Paris accord on climate change, which is non-binding and hasn’t been approved by Congress so his signing means nothing. Also, his actual energy policy involves building more coal-fired power stations, promoting tar sands in Canada, and fracking for oil and gas all over the United States, so Obama’s policies are aimed at accelerating climate change even though he and all his supporters claim the opposite. (Trump is supposedly a climate change denialist. Which is worse, a climate change denialist who pursues policies which encourage global warming because he doesn’t realise it, or a person who acknowledges climate change but encourages global warming because it’s good for the income of his financial backers?)

As for the rest of the Obama legacy, it’s difficult to make much out; the extension of NAFTA across the Atlantic and Pacific seems to be collapsing, the wars in Ukraine, Africa and the Middle East are not going well, and apart from that, promoting the interests of the banks and the stock market ahead of everybody else in the country doesn’t seem to play very well in Peoria. So, basically, the Democratic Party ran on a platform of “Vote for us despite the fact that we haven’t done anything worthwhile in eight years and have no plans to do anything worthwhile in the next four!”.

The remarkable thing about this is how few Democrats can see that this wouldn’t have been a winning strategy even if they didn’t have a widely loathed candidate who had alienated a vast chunk of Democratic supporters by strenuously undermining and then dismissing a widely admired and much more popular competitor, Bernie Sanders (who seems a much more amiable person despite his lack of any clear distinction from her Hillaryship). It seems quite obvious that the Democrats are politically clueless. They don’t even know how to deceive the voters any more; they are so committed to serving the interests of the American ruling class that they’ve forgotten the political tricks which the American ruling class, like ruling classes everywhere, have played to game the system and fool the boobs.

Now, this is not new. It was in the pipeline when Hillary’s husband was running the show in the 1990s, when his speciality was going to working-class people and telling them that they were going to be fired, but that he felt their pain, and that in the long term they would be better off for it. After eight years of that the New Democrats were thrown out of power when they tried to elect Al Gore, an animatronic captive balloon. On mature consideration of their defeat, the New Democrats concluded that they had been robbed of power by their evil enemies and should become more New Democrat, which would obviously lead to success because their policies of rewarding the rich and punishing the poor were the royal road to victory in all elections. They then decided to cover up for this by putting up a black candidate, thus gaining themselves the black vote. However, when they put up a female candidate, they somehow failed.

The French Socialist Party, the German Social Democratic Party, the British Labour Party and of course the South African ANC have gone essentially the same way. They have adopted the economic policies of their enemies, thus betraying every principle they ever professed, and then tried to cover it up by adopting some of the practices of their enemies, such as identity politics, demonized enemies and figer-pointing at everyone but oneself. It is hardly surprising, then, that these parties have become almost indistinguishable from their opponents, and also hardly surprising that their support has plunged because nobody who really cares about the policies which they once professed will vote for them.

The shrewd-looking assumption of these parties was that people who care about policies are only a tiny minority of the voting public, and therefore the overwhelming majority of their supporters wouldn’t mind if they sold out. This turns out to be a highly problematic assumption. Of course most voters couldn’t be arsed to understand exactly what they are voting for, so they vote for glamour and surfaces.

However, the people generating the glamour and surfaces need to have some dim idea of what their potential customers are attracted to – and when you burn out the brains of your leadership and abolish all purpose in life, you also lose touch with your customers. Then you have to hire market research companies to tell you what the customers want, and these companies are trained to tell their employers what they want to hear. So in the end the people who destroyed the party on the assumption that destroying the party would do their interests no harm, are paying people to tell them what they desire to hear. They might as well be listening to the voices in their heads.

Apart from the fact that this leads to a ridiculous political disconnection from one’s constituency – and this is an almost universal characteristic of modern political parties – in the long term it also means that a whole class of self-deluding people with complete contempt for voters become the leading fitures in the cabal. Since nobody ever criticises them for this in their hearing (or if anyone does, they don’t listen, because anyone who disagrees with them is wrong) it follows that they don’t understand that their behaviour is conspicuously alienating their supporters. So they start behaving like this where their supporters can hear, and they start attacking their potential voters, because they hate and despise them all and they are arrogant enough to want to show it. And then they alienate those voters (very often by attacking the supporters of their opponents and thus making those supporters resentful).

This was what Mitt Romney did in 2012 with his “moochers” remark about the entire Democratic Party constituency, and what Hillary Clinton did in 2016 with her “deplorables” remark about the entire Republican Party constituency. It’s worth remembering, incidentally, that Romney endorsed Clinton and her moochers. The fact is that they both hate not only those who vote for their opponents, but those who voter for them. The political system has generated a “political class” in Peter Oborne’s term, which has essentially the same attitude towards the people living in their nation that Marie Antoinette had. (And if you doubt this applies to South Africa, listen to a senior South African politician talking about his opponents; the DA/EFF alliance claim that everyone opposing them is a crook, while the ANC claims that everyone opposing them is a racist.)

This is an understandable process; it is a natural product of the hostility of the social democratic movement in Europe and the psuedo-social democratic movement in the United States, to any serious pursuit of socialism. Once they were fully convinced that no socialist movement could pose a threat to their status, they naturally stopped pretending to be socialist, and once they did that, they had no defenses, or even any desire for defense, against a hostile takeover by the forces of neoliberalism.

However, this has always been the way of the social democrats. What of the actual left which appeared to have some kind of commitment to socialism? What steps have they taken, over the last fifteen years when this process has been on the go, to build structures which can accomplish something? Obvious policies would be either to take over the social democratic parties from within and turn them into something more meaningful, or build an alternative party which draws away all the dissatisfied and purged membership from the social democratic parties and then tries to beat them at their own game.

It seems obvious that, apart from the extremely flimsy campaign of Jeremy Corbyn in British Labour (which seems more nostalgia than anything else, even if it was a hopeful sign at the time) the left has done nothing of the kind. Nor has it built, nor attempted to build, a radical non-parliamentary alternative, whether revolutionary or reformist. All that the Western left has been able to manage has been to ineffectually criticise multinational corporate capital (without finding any means for practically expressing that criticism where it is substantive) and to critique the residue of Third World nationalism which still survives, and in doing so to support, possibly intentionally, the activities of NATO imperialism in attacking that nationalism and supplanting it with theocracy or plutocracy or, ideally, both.

So, we are in a bad way because not only is the system rigged against us, but the people whom we trusted to protect us against the system being rigged, or to expose the rigging when it happened, are doing absolutely nothing about this. This cannot end well.


At Last, the Creator Reads the Mars Trilogy.

November 6, 2017

Kim Stanley Robinson has written a great deal of future history. Most of it centres around two things: the decline of the American capitalist empire in the early twenty-first century, and the rise of alternatives to capitalism in the solar system in the ensuing centuries. In a sense, then, his work is rather like the 1980s work of Bruce Sterling (think Schismatrix), albeit considerably more sophisticated and less pretentious.

The gist of his work is that the near future is going to be bad, because of capitalism, but after capitalism everything will be all right, because of technology. If this sounds simplistic, it isn’t — not altogether, because the only way that the technology can become unfettered is by getting rid of capitalism as an exclusive and overarching dominant concept — that is, by getting rid of what we now call neoliberalism, although Robinson’s ideas were formed in the 1970s and he doesn’t quite talk that way. He also isn’t particularly interested in postmodernism, even though he is interested both in art and in Fredric Jameson, the man who attempted to Marxise postmodernism (although he may have only succeeded in postmodernising Marxism).

But although the Creator has admired books like Icehenge and Pacific Edge and The Memory of Whiteness, all of which are set in this Robinsonian future history, the Creator never yet read the Mars Trilogy, Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars. It was all just too much. The Creator used to fantasise about being a science fiction writer, and the problem with Robinson was that he was just too good to serve as a model; it was impossible to do as well as him, let alone better. And these three texts were supposedly the very best of them all. Let them alone, lest you become depressed. Anyway, there are other things out there to read.

Anyway, the other day the Creator was at a Bargain Books, which is the only place where one can obtain remotely affordable texts off-line, and came across a copy of Blue Mars. There was nothing else worth getting in the shop apart from ridiculously expensive South African ruling class propaganda, so Kim Stanley Robinson was a perfect means of counteracting this. But, having bought it, it seemed right to read it. And the Creator saw that it was good.

The trouble was that Blue Mars is the third volume in the trilogy, and a great deal of it was obviously heavily dependent on knowing what had happened in the earlier two. Vaguely remembering that there was a lot of Robinson in the bookshelf, the Creator went into the dark crevice where such books are kept, and discovered that Red Mars and Green Mars were side-by-side with all the Robinson books which the Creator had actually (more or less) read. The trilogy had been looming untouched for a decade. Perhaps the Creator had unconsciously been putting it all off until the last volume manifested itself.

OK, so what’s it about? Ostensibly, the colonisation of Mars. The Americans send a man to Mars. Then the Americans and the Russians get together and send a hundred colonists to Mars to set up things so that actual colonisation can get going. Presently the colonisation gets going, and that, of course, is where the trouble starts. By the end of Red Mars, the trouble is in full swing, because the corporations — “transnationals”, Robinson calls them — are taking over and using Mars both as a source of income and as a way of scoring off each other — corporate war by other means — and because profit and military power are involved, they grow increasingly intolerant of the hippy-dippy society which the scientists, engineers and psychologists evolved in the early decades of colonisation. And so something has to be done, and the corporations decide to kill off all the trouble-making colonists and start all over again with nice corporate clones and zombies who will do what they are told.

Green Mars deals with the failure of the corporate project. As might be expected, they manage to kill off just enough of the troublemakers to make the survivors bitter and resentful, and therefore the survivors are gradually able to keep the flame of resistance alive as Mars is flooded with drones — especially because the cheese-paring bean-counters whom the corporations put in charge invariably skimp on things like healthcare and social services, because this is the Great Frontier and everybody should be a Rugged Individualist, or else get nabbed by the corporate police and dragged off to the torture-chambers (and of course Rugged Individualism doesn’t apply to the bean-counters or to the billionaires who drop in from time to time to check that their investments are generating sufficient short-term profit at the expense of the people and environment of Mars. Anyway, in the end everybody gets pissed off enough to launch a revolution — which is only possible because the Earthies get a bit tangled up in a slight environmental problem they face — the sudden six-metre rise in sea-level as a result of the collapse of the whole Antarctic ice sheet.

Blue Mars is probably the most boring of the trilogy texts; having succeeded in winning independence from Earth, the Martians have to create a new society, and of course they fail; what they create is a collage of old societies, and meanwhile, because capitalism is defeated and discredited and hence humanity has the opportunity to achieve the goals which Marx wanted them to accomplish and which capitalism always stifled, there are new kinds of society and new technological systems appearing everywhere, and therefore there is no simple ownership of the mode of production, and therefore not even a Marxist can figure out what is going on. While nothing clear or coherent is happening, what is clear is that the future is as bright as the new fusion “gaslights” illuminating and heating the outer worlds, and as new as the asteroidal generation starships roaring off. to colonise new worlds and spread humanity’s genius and screwups to the stars.

So that’s the technological side of the trilogy, which is in itself interesting, with its tension between huge “Pharoanic” projects to provide Mars with the water, nitrogen and heat it needs to be terraformed, and the small-scale, “ecopoetic” transformations which are supposed to do the same thing, but in a nice way, of course. It all runs by machinery anyway; the question is only how big it is.

And who’s in charge, and what their motives are, and that raises all the human questions which are what makes the trilogy really interesting.

The First Man On Mars, John Boone, is one of the First Hundred, the unacknowledged ecopoetic legislators of the world called Mars. Virtually all of the story is told through members of the First Hundred, who witness the gradual transformation of Mars, which happens according to their wishes or against their wishes, depending on whether they are Reds who want to keep Mars pristine and inhabitable only inside pressurised buildings, or Greens who want to turn Mars into a second Earth (no prizes for guessing which side wins, although it is the Reds who often appear the more interesting figures, apart from the autistic scientist-hero Sax). The First Hundred can witness the development of Mars (which spans two centuries) thanks to the convenient invention of a life-prolonging DNA auto-repair treatment — although this means that they live to become both mythic heroes and to witness the death of almost all of their dreams, and to become crotchety oldsters in a world of youth, the world of the “Accelerando” which Robinson represents as the speeding-up and perfecting of humanity’s mission to dominate the solar system and itself.

Boone, however, the mythic American hero of the frontier, is killed right at the start of the first volume of the trilogy, by thugs egged on by another American — a Mission Control administrator jealous of the celebrity status of astronauts — who believes that he can turn Mars into an American paradise if only the problematic Boone were out of the way. So for the rest of the book, as the reader follows Boone’s blundering attempts to understand what is going on and formulate an appropriate liberal response to the radical circumstances of terraformed, corporate-dominated Mars, it is already written that Boone will fail, and the catastrophe of 2061, the failed revolution against the capitalists, is already written into the book from the beginning.

But the revolution wins in the end — the revolution for freedom, that is; freedom from not being punished for interfering with corporate interests, freedom to develop your own lifestyle, but not freedom to keep the water down in the aquifers, or the carbon dioxide in the icecaps; that freedom is lost along with 2061, when the massive civil war shatters what remains of Red Mars and leaves the corporations who win the war paradoxically free to dump nitrogen from Titan to beef up the atmospheric pressure and fly space mirrors to reflect heat onto the planet. (The mirrors are eventually moved away after the Revolution and become Venetian blinds for Venus, cooling it down until the atmosphere freezes out.) The whole intellectual conflict, between individual freedom and social restraint, and between political need and economic necessity, and between the way we used to do things in the good old days and the way these uppity young troublemakers want to do it now, is beautifully played out and makes the text probably the most interesting and sophisticated science fiction sequence ever written.

Technically and historically, of course, it’s not about Mars at all; it’s about how we could turn the human race, on Earth or anywhere else, into a bunch of happy campers, all well-fed, relaxed and living the way we want to be, if only we could get capitalist acquisitiveness out of the way. It’s apparent throughout the text that there’s always plenty of resources — generated by robots which can build anything to any amount at any time. Only greed and envy keep the resources from being spread around. Technology and social science and democratic debate can resolve all problems.

Yes, but will they? The depressing thing about the book is that it’s twenty-five years since Red Mars was conceived, and we ought to be going to Mars by now; the First Hundred set off in 2020 on the Ares. Boone ought already to have returned by now to the last hurrah of American governmental space imperialism. He hasn’t, and we aren’t doing any of this. We don’t even have fusion power, which is absolutely essential for the bulk of the projects which are bustled through space.

Nor have we got the cash and the impetus to go into space. Instead of gigantic Energias boosting space shuttles two at a time into orbit, the Energia and the space shuttle have both been closed down and there is no sign of any serious replacement. This is partly because Robinson assumes that the end of the Cold War would also mean the end of the arms race, the end of global conflict, and therefore the military and aerospace industries are obliged to plug for a huge space boondoggle in order to preserve their corporate identity — one of the first corporations to dominate Mars is Armscor, which of course no longer exists in our real world except as Denel, a stumbling relic of apartheid South Africa’s techno-fetishism. But Armscor died because the global war machine opposed its competition; Robinson simply underestimated the corruption and self-destructive nature of capitalism, being a traditional Marxist who, like his mentor Fredric Jameson, has a poisoned, guilty admiration for what capitalism was (but seems to be no longer).

Robinson, indeed, also has a Good Capitalist, a man who recognises that the world cannot continue going to hell in a handbasket forever, that sooner or later the handbasket must arrive in hell, and rather than have that happen, decides to throw in his lot with the enemies of corporate capitalism and trust that he can do a deal with them by working along with the Martian resistance to corporate capitalism. It is, of course, possible that people might pretend to do that sort of thing, but in fact the experience of corporate capitalists working with revolutionaries in South Africa is not exactly encouraging. Meanwhile, Robinson’s corporate capitalist is something of a combination of Egon Musk and Howard Hughes — suggesting that Robinson is desperately buying into capitalism’s own fraudulent image of the risk-taking, edge-living entrepreneur. We don’t see much of that stuff in the real world.

Robinson’s wonderful world of a new bright future does include trifling sacrifices which have to be made for freedom  — like the corporate warriors who reprogram city environment maintenance systems to hyperoxygenate the atmosphere under the domed cities. In one spectacularly horrible scene, some of Robinson’s heroes find themselves facing this crisis, and when a fuse is lit their living bodies burn like torches (Robinson helpfully reminds us of what happened to the early Apollo astronauts in an oxygenated space capsule). But this isn’t the problem. The problem is that this future isn’t going to materialise. We aren’t going to Mars, and we aren’t even going to build Mars on Earth. What we seem to be building instead is a cesspool filled with barbed wire.