When Will The Party End?

September 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

July 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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.


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.

 

 


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.

 


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.

Invest in candles and cans of beans!


Same Game, Different Rules.

May 19, 2016

The last decade has seen a dramatic deterioration in South African economic and political conditions. In this modern world very little attention is paid to memory, so the world of 2005 seems misty and vague, but in retrospect it was a national Utopia; we had a strong and popular government which was working to solve problems like inequality and HIV and foreign affairs with vigour and efficacy, we had a booming economy, and the nation was cohesive; the poor expected that someone would look after them, the rich expected to be left alone with their wealth, blacks and whites were gradually moving away from the hostilities of the apartheid era. In contrast, nowadays things seem to be falling apart; even the Parliamentary opposition has fallen into desuetude.

But in 2005 many were convinced that South African economic and political conditions were simply not good enough — which was a fair enough claim if anybody had been able to prove that they had a better alternative. There was a strong groundswell calling for radical change within the Tripartite Alliance, as if this long national nightmare of peace and prosperity needed to be brought to an end, to make room for strife and poverty. And, lo, that was exactly what came to pass. Now, in 2015, there seems to be another groundswell within the Tripartite Alliance, calling, if not for radical change because nobody would believe in that any more, at least for regime change.

Basically, the SACP and COSATU are threatening, as they did between 1998 and 2007, to withdraw support from the ANC until their demands are met. They are also, increasingly, criticising the government’s policies, and are throwing their weight behind a candidacy for the Presidency of the ANC not favoured by its current President. This all looks like a re-run of the Mbeki-Zuma struggle of 2005-8, but it is actually very different in practice although the actors and agendas are very similar.

The SACP and COSATU are aware that their influence within the ANC must decline with the departure of Zuma, who leaned on them and their capacity for manipulating elections very heavily in order to seize control of the party. Now the rest of the ANC leadership at provincial level is as good at rigging votes and faking credential challenges as anyone in the alliance, and they don’t need the SACP and COSATU. Therefore, the formerly indispensible cheaters are naturally looking for other allies. However, the process of looking for other allies makes them behave unreliably from the perspective of Zuma supporters. Therefore, increasingly, the SACP and COSATU are distancing themselves from Zuma – and thus makes others eager to step into their shoes as the gofers and hit-men for Zuma. In other words, they are making themselves dispensible, and meanwhile, since they have until recently been the utterly unthinking supporters of Zuma, nobody imagines that they are in any way principled.

Their weakness might not seem to be a problem. When they attacked Mbeki in 2005, he was completely independent of them, since they had withdrawn support for him for the previous seven years. Yet the hostility which they showed overthrew him – so can’t this be done again?

In 2005-7, however, the SACP and COSATU operated in alliance with the sleazeballs and derelicts who’d been flung from power, and with agents of Zuma who had hidden their real allegiances until it was too later for Mbeki to act against them in any principled way. There are still plenty of sleazeballs and derelicts, but the ones who opposed Zuma, or didn’t support him enough, have been turfed out of all positions and made a horrible example of, and that doesn’t encourage anybody to follow their example. So the SACP and COSATU may not have as many allies as they need, even though obviously think they have them.

The SACP and COSATU can no lonber pretend that they stand for anything positive. Both are so tainted with their unquestioning support for Zuma’s antics, especially where it contradicted everything they pretended to stand for, that they can’t get much in the way of disinterested public support any more. Therefore it’s harder for them to fool people into supporting whatever clown they decide to support, except for those whom they can bribe with cash (of which they don’t have much these days) or offers of jobs (and they have difficulty being trusted even with that.).

Much of the big business community supports the same person that the SACP and COSATU support — namely, Cyril Ramaphosa — so it is possible that the SACP and COSATU might be able to garner their support. However, the alternative to Cyril Ramaphosa is not a figure like Mbeki, whom the neoliberal elite hated and feared; it is, instead, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whom the neoliberal elite know that they can do business with. So, although the elite might like Cyril, they don’t like him so much that they feel the need to do any favours for the SACP and COSATU. Moreover, the neoliberal elite ultimately does not like Communists or the organised working class, and would like to see them both eliminated; they were happy to offer them rope with which they could hang themselves, but now much of the big business community thinks that it’s gallows-time.

The general situation is also very different. Under Mbeki, the economy was doing tolerably well and the illusion of success was widespread in the global economy as well. Administration appeared to be functioning. It seemed easy to throw everything into chaos without long-term consequences; it seemed so easy to run South Africa, once one assumed that Mbeki was a corrupt and incompetent windbag; even a disaster like him could accomplish much.

But now the economy is deteriorating weekly, the world a combination of bloodbath and banking crisis, the administration of the country is inept on so many levels, leaderless and bankrupt. We know that bad times are coming. Therefore, disruption and disaster no longer seem like fun episodes without consequence, but rather seem like things liable to precipitate the catastrophe which even the ruling class is a little worried about, for fear that they might not get their cash out before it is looted or becomes valueless. Therefore, the ruling-class struggle against Zuma is not playing out in the same way that the ruling-class struggle against Mbeki played out.

There is not going to be a massive uprising. There is not going to be a mobilisation of the ANC’s leadership against Zuma. This is partly because Zuma has been there before and knows how it is done; in this sense he is more shrewd than Mbeki because he does not suffer from any illusion about how the members of his party or of the alliance might be motivated by any idealism. Like Stalin, he knows that politicians are motivated by greed, spite and fear, and therefore Zuma prevailed over Mbeki as Stalin prevailed over Trotsky, and any competitor to Zuma who does not have everything in the ANC sewn up in advance will fail as Bukharin and Zinoviev failed against Stalin after Trotsky’s fall.

But in that case, the ruling class attempt to overthrow Zuma will necessarily fail, because it is half-hearted. The ruling class doesn’t really care who rules South Africa so long as they rule whoever that person is. They know that the difference between Zuma or Dlamini-Zuma or Ramaphosa or even Maimane is not all that significant — certainly much less significant than any South African journalist would like people to believe. But meanwhile, Zuma very desperately doesn’t want Ramaphosa to take over, and meanwhile, a lot of Zuma’s supporters, and even his opponents, very well remember the slights and bullying and backstabbing which the SACP and COSATU perpetrated back in their days of glory. The fact that they want Ramaphosa to win is almost, in itself, a reason to oppose Ramaphosa. Wouldn’t it be nice, they ask themselves, if the SACP and COSATU went down to hell, dragged down by the concrete lifebelt of Ramaphosa?

As a result, current South African politics is strangely content-free. The savage and well-justified attacks on Zuma late last year, the frantic wish to have him removed for his temerity in deposing the ruling-class’s own man in the Ministry of Finance, blazed up but then died down again as soon as Zuma had appointed the ruling-class a new man in the same Ministry. Nobody cared that the new new man had a track record of incompetence identical to the old new man’s. The fury was just stage fire, created for the purpose and sustained by the incoherent and inchoate hatred which a politically ignorant media establishment is obliged to feel for anyone against whom their masters tell them to turn their hatred. When the ruling class walked away from the fire they had started, of course it guttered out; there was no fuel for it at all.

So we are stuck in a meaningless political transition between alternatives, none of whom are of any use to us. It is like the American Presidential elections, a mass of sound and fury and fanatical declarations that this empty suit or that empty suit represents the greatest hope or the vilest betrayal that ever existed in the history of what was once a Republic. Truly, our politics are now normal, driven, like everyone else’s, by Twitter and Facebook.

And without hope, of course.