The Two Stooges.

November 28, 2015

An apocalyptic battle, an Armageddon indeed, is looming for the soul of the ANC.

That’s a joke, if you didn’t guess. The battle is between two contenders for the Presidency of the ANC, namely Cyril Ramaphosa, who was installed as Deputy President at the Mangaung Conference to the surprise of almost everybody except the business community, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, erstwhile Minister of Health and current Chair of the African Union Commission.

On the face of it the two are uncontroversial. Ramaphosa was ANC Secretary-General during Mandela’s elected term of office. Dlamini-Zuma was Minister of Health at the same time, but was shifted to Foreign Affairs under Mbeki. There appears to be not a lot to choose between them.

Yet the ominously nicknamed “Premier League” of pro-Zuma provincial premiers have declared that they don’t want Ramaphosa to succeed as President of the ANC the way that Zuma succeeded Mbeki and Mbeki succeeded Mandela. They have thrown their support, which incidentally surely means Zuma’s personal support, behind Dlamini-Zuma. On the other hand, the South African Communist Party have come out staunchly in support of Ramaphosa. What is this apparent conflict all about?

Obviously, it isn’t about competence. On a purely technical level, both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma are able people. Ramaphosa was an early financial supporter of Zuma, although never as enthusiastically so as someone like Sexwale. Dlamini-Zuma, meanwhile, was Zuma’s wife, although she divorced him on grounds which are murky but reflect little credit on Zuma. Thus, if it comes down to loyalty, one might expect Zuma to back Ramaphosa rather than the reverse.

What is Zuma’s agenda? Not to carry on the Zuma legacy, for there is no Zuma legacy. His agenda is to ensure that, once he has withdrawn from the scene, he is able to ensure that he will not be sent to prison for his crimes. The problem is that any future President faced with the problems which Zuma is leaving behind will be sorely tempted to blame it all on Zuma — which is quite deserved. In which case, the best way to blame Zuma would be to attack him directly for his corruption, and in order to prove that corruption it would be easy to have him hauled into court.

This, presumably, is what Zuma is afraid of, and it is certainly something that Ramaphosa is capable of. As a managerial bureaucrat in the private sector, there is nothing that Ramaphosa does not know about blame-shifting and double-crossing. But why would Zuma assume that the consummate political operator, Dlamini-Zuma, would be incapable of screening herself with Zuma when she gets into trouble, as she undoubtedly will? It could be that he believes that Dlamini-Zuma’s family ties with Zuma would prevent that. In that case he is probably mistaken, but it is at least a more plausible option than the notion that Ramaphosa would ever show any gratitude for the man who allowed him to be installed in power.

What, though, are these two people doing there? Ramaphosa has done nothing of substance since leaving politics in 1997 — his career since he was stuck in the Deputy Presidency has been a tour de waffle. Dlamini-Zuma’s time in the African Union Commission has been little better; she has basically served as a groom of neocolonialism and a useful stooge for the imperialists — reversing any anticipation which might ever have existed that her support for Mbeki’s policies meant that she had any of Mbeki’s principles. So neither of them has a record of substantial accomplishment within the ANC.

Meanwhile, however, both of them have records of substantial service to forces outside the ANC, and indeed outside anything really to do with the interests of South Africa or its people. Ramaphosa, of course, has been a servant of the mining industry and the white ruling class virtually since the ANC was unbanned. Dlamini-Zuma once seemed more impressive as a minister under Mbeki – which is the main argument used against her by her enemies – but on the whole she has accomplished very little since leaving office. Indeed, her activities within the AU have largely served to legitimate Western imperialism in Africa, largely in the interests of the NATO countries.

So the rise of this particular pair to prominence within the ANC possibly has nothing much to do with the value either for the elite of the ANC or with their popularity with the rank and file.

Of course, to the extent to which the rank and file has anything to do with it, given the choice they probably would not select Ramaphosa. At least Dlamini-Zuma hasn’t been demonised to the extent that Ramaphosa has, both by such forces as the EFF and by Ramaphosa’s supporters whose uncritical and ludicrous praise makes him look exactly like the toady of power that he is. And it’s just possible that Dlamini-Zuma has enough pride in herself to be prepared to take some kind of independent action. She might surprise us. She can hardly be worse than Ramaphosa, at least.

The argument that we need a woman for President is, of course, pitiful and should be discarded. It’s as loathesome as the argument that the psychopathic crook Hillary Clinton should be elected President of the US because she has ovaries. (Most of the women making this argument in Hillary’s case, and probably many making this argument in Nkosazana’s case, are probably making it because they like the fact that these women are problematic as human beings. Not that Nkosazana is anywhere near as hideous as Hillary)

All the same, however, nobody should assume that either of these stooges represents a substantial improvement on Zuma. No Messiah is coming to rescue us from the crises we are in. If we are to be rescued, we must rescue ourselves.

The Privileged Demand More Privileges.

November 12, 2015

#FEESMUSTFALL is, by no real coincidence, a product of the 1% — the proportion of the population who actually go to university, and whose access to university provides many of them with employment (often thoroughly unproductive employment, but who’s asking such questions any more?).

Most of these protesting students are, relative to the rest, privileged; they are at worst the cream of the working class, but more often they are petit-bourgeois. They are studying towards degrees which qualify them to serve the exploitative, neoliberal capitalist system, which they intend to do.

Their campaign, then, is that their families should be more extensively subsidised towards their privileges and towards their goal of becoming servants of the bourgeoisie, by reducing how much they have to pay. There are other demands, but these are essentially smokescreens which are insignificant, as is shown by the disintegration of the movement the moment that they received a promise of financial incentives to stop.

All this is not to say that it would not be a good idea to reform the university system. However, there is not the slightest prospect of sustainably reforming the university system while the national socio-economic system is in its current state. If that were done, it would not last, for the plutocrats control the academic institutions and would mould them to serve their private gain, as they have been doing over recent decades. So at the very least the universities must be placed institutionally outside the capitalist system — which is probably impossible — or else the all-pervasive dominance of neoliberal plutocratic capitalism must be removed, which is what the EFF wants, or at least claims to want.

But there is no plan for this, nor should anyone expect the students to plan for this, because the students are not remotely interested in such planning. Why should they be? They are not being paid to improve the institutions in which they are being badly educated. They have no special interest in instituting improvements which will only bear fruit long after they have left. So therefore, allowing the students to lead the transformation of the institutions in which they are being abused is problematic – especially because the students themselves are not a united body; within each institution there are rich and poor students, and there are rich and poor institutions, institutions which have privileges within the privilege enjoyed by all universities. The students have no capacity to work together in eliminating the special privileges of the elite universities, nor do they desire to, since these universities provide the royal road to the neoliberal social privileges which the students aspire to.

Therefore, the whole student protest movement is a chamber-pot full of diarrhoea. No doubt most of the students are well-intentioned, but they are ignorant, unskilled, politically uneducated, led by morons and misled by charlatans. Their public statements display a moneyed arrogance and a bubble-dwelling insouciant disengagement from the realities of South African working-class or even lower-middle-class life which is naturally to be expected from the protected children of petit-bourgeois families whose political education is provided by Mmusi Maimane and Business Day.

This is not, however, a tremendously bad thing. On the contrary, it is the best which can be expected under the current terrible circumstances. At least a handful of students have come out and said that they are not happy with the way things are happening. Like the inept and co-opted service delivery protests, like the incompetent and often ludicrously mismanaged anti-COSATU trade union movement, it is not much, it is not good, but at least it is something.

Far more worrying, however, is the way in which the ruling class has responded to the student protests.

More or less from the beginning the ruling class media, the SABC radio, the neoliberal press and the corporate-managed blogs, as well as the horde of corporate-sponsored pundits who pretend to be independent commentators and have usurped the position of the intelligentsia, has supported the student protests with a fervour ranging from obscene (SAFM, for instance) to psychotic (the Mail and Guardian). This is very strange given that the students are, supposedly, left-wing, and are calling for more money to be taken out of the fiscus and given to public institutions – universities, that is – and some of them are also calling for universities to hire and manage their support staff directly instead of doing so through outsourced companies, as is the all but universal practice. These ruling-class media normally demand lower public spending and, of course, greater privatization and casualisation as a matter of course. Why should they change their tune regarding universities?

They badly need left-wing credibility. This is because they are speaking to a left-wing audience, an audience which has grown increasingly cynical about its right-wing government. If the corporate propaganda tools are too ostentatious about being corporate propaganda tools – and usually they are – then the public will tune out. On the other hand, they are the self-declared voice of the ruling class, since all others are censored and silenced. Therefore, when they speak, if they speak in a way which seems remotely tolerable, given that they have money and power, people listen. Therefore they need an issue on which to sound leftist, and thus disarm their critics.

So the support for the students is exactly the same as the reason why right-wingers pretend to support other left-wing causes – and sometimes even do support them if they are completely devoid of principle and lacking in support from anywhere else.

But unfortunately this situation is more sinister than the ruling class offering tacit support to powerless leftists. By supporting the students’ demands, the ruling class are waging a form of class warfare against the working class and on behalf of themselves; there is a strong chance that they can ensure that money is shifted from services which the working class use, to the universities which are virtually only used by petit-bourgeois and bourgeois people (and those children of workers who are sponsored to get there are aspirant petit-bourgeois and bourgeois people, however much they may deny it – which accounts for NUMSA’s bizarre statements on the issue; NUMSA’s leadership is petit-bourgeois however much they might pretend otherwise).

There’s another side to it which is more difficult to discuss. However, the press has raised it by comparing the student protests to June 1976 – a bizarre comparison which has almost no merit other than the fact that the students, like the scholars of Soweto, have no power to enforce their demands and therefore depend on the goodwill of the government (which in 1976 was absent, unlike now). The point about those protests was that although they were supposedly about getting the government to stop imposing Afrikaans on black education, they were actually about getting rid of the government – and only the abject weakness of the scholars and the nonexistence of effective political organizations at the time prevented them from directly raising the issue. The courage of the scholars was undeniable; their efficacy less so, and to talk about students scampering about on their campuses in the same breath as the scholars shot down on the streets of Soweto is to deface the memory of the anti-apartheid struggle – a handy plus for the South African ruling class, which dislikes that memory.

It’s interesting that the press is refusing to compare these protests with the campus uprisings of the 1980s, which are in some ways similar – except that those uprisings came out of a highly coherent political tradition, were more or less disciplined, and were directly and explicitly linked to off-campus struggles with which the students sympathized. These are things which the South African ruling class definitely doesn’t want to encourage. What they want is indoctrination and, failing that, incoherence and chaos which can be exploited.

Even more alarmingly, some are comparing the protests with the Arab Spring and hoping that they will lead to something similar. Given that the Arab Spring was a disaster in which corrupt global powers installed tyranny and chaos in the Middle East by brutal force, leading to the current hideous state of affairs there, this is not altogether inappropriate. But this is their vision for South Africa? Apparently, some of the right wing in the ruling class hate the ANC so much that they would be prepared to hand the country over to odious foreign despots rather than see it rule any longer.

Meanwhile, virtually no capital has been made out of any of this. The students are not accomplishing anything of substance, none of the opportunistic fake-leftists have really made any capital out of it apart from the usual temporary hyped “victories”. The scary revelation is how little political significance universities have any more.

I Demand A Better Future.

November 12, 2015

The current situation in South Africa gives very little scope for optimism.

Daily electricity blackouts are, of course, what we were warned against by the white right wing who claimed that the blacks would never know how to manage a complicated thing like a power plant. This seemed to come true when ESCOM engineered the Cape Town blackouts by sabotaging one of Koeberg’s generators while shutting down the high-tension line connecting the city with the rest of the grid. Duly Thabo Mbeki was blamed, who responded by authorising the building of Medupi and Khusile and signing a memorandum of understanding for the French to build new nuclear power plants. Then Thabo Mbeki was deposed, to the cheers of the ruling class, and suddenly all power outages stopped. And the French memorandum of understanding was repudiated, and meanwhile construction on the power plants languished (under Mbeki the Vukani power station had been built efficiently and on time, although it later transpired that ESCOM had sabotaged the coal silos) for the next five years, and now, supposedly, we have a shortage of generation capacity and regular blackouts and need to give ever more money to ESCOM. This is all Mbeki’s fault, we are reliably told.

De-industrialisation was what we were warned against by the Trotskyites who claimed that neoliberals would never want to see money wasted on manufacturing or job creation but would stuff it all into their pockets, or into low-wage, low-investment service industries, instead. This seemed to come true with the rapid decline of industrial investment in the late 90s and early 00s — although there was fairly rapid overall economic growth from the early 00s, after the end of GEAR, employment creation was slow and investment scanty. So everybody rose up in their majesty and protested against the neoliberal Mbeki, and all the Trotskyites cheered when Zuma replaced him. Subsequently we have had eight years of uninterrupted GEAR-style austerity, differing only from GEAR in the severity with which the national economic policy has put the brakes on economic growth and job creation and the extent to which the economic crisis has been used by the ruling class to enrich themselves and impoverish everyone else. It is hinted that this is all Mbeki’s fault, but the solution is at hand — installing Cyril Ramaphosa, the corporate crook, in a position to impose more severe austerity measures and thus rescue us all. It remains to be see if the Trotskyites will cheer when that happens.

Internecine conflict in the form of “service delivery protests” started in the last days of the Mbeki government. Those appeared to be organised by the local ANC branches, perhaps with the connivance and sponsorship of the Zuma clique, but they were represented then, and are represented now, as exasperation with the intolerable nature of the Mbeki government. They did not, however, cease, as one might have expected, when the Mbeki government was deposed. Instead, they accelerated, pastly because service genuinely deteriorated under Zuma, partly because discipline within the ANC collapsed under Zuma, and partly because these protests increasingly turned into festivals of looting and mayhem which eventually fed into the public resentment against unemployment and inequality which was in turn transformed into hostility to foreigners, who were supposedly employed and privileged, the facts which contradicted this notwithstanding. It is not clear whether this is still being orchestrated by the regime or not. However, King Goodwill Zwelethini, who is endorsed by President Zuma, has consistently promoted xenophobic violence in the good old Inkatha fashion. The ANC in the province, and key Zuma toadies like the Minister of Home Affairs and of State Security, have endorsed him. So effectively the government has given its imprimatur to the disintegration of South African society in an acid-pool of mob thuggery.

These are conspicuous matters — the failure of government service delivery, economic and social policy are unsurprising, and were predicted by all competent authorities (the Creator and, well, there must have been someone else) when Zuma took over. The question is not whether to be surprised by these developments. The question is whether anything can be done about them.

There are two factions within the ruling class, both of which are virtual factions — that is, they appear to exist, but their independent existence is not meaningful and they are really both identical. One faction supports Zuma and the ANC and wishes things to stay exactly as they are forever, perhaps by proclaiming Zuma as Life President and abolishing elections. The other cries out for change, which it represents as either removing Zuma from power within the ANC, or removing the ANC from power nationally. (In other words these ruling class factions purport to be, respectively, within and outside the ANC, although it is not clear whether this is really the case and it is in any case certain that the ruling class can slither into any political cracks like scorpions.)

But these are not solutions to any problem. They are simply occasions for the pretense of solutions. The former group pretends that all is well now and that thanks to the National Development Plan we will go on steadily towards greatness. The latter group pretends that all will be well the moment their favoured stooge replaces Zuma, after which, thanks to the National Development Plan we will go on steadily towards greatness. All of this is simply indecent camouflage for the real interests of the tiny and corrupt minority who rule this country as they rule all other countries associated with Western imperialist power.

Parliament and its Enemies.

February 28, 2015

Gradually, the status of the EFF is beginning to crystallise. Now that it has a democratically elected leadership (something which the UDF never possessed) it can turn its attention to maintaining organisational discipline. This should mean calling people like Andile Mngxitama to account.

In the Pan-Africanist Congress and the Africanist movement in general there has long been a tradition of telling lies in order to foster private advantage, an advantage handicapped by the intellectual deficiencies of the PAC leadership. Mngxitama seems to be acting within this tradition. At least, when you go to a press conference to announce that you are the victim of a conspiratorial deal under which the leadership of your party has undertaken not to disrupt the Presidential State of the Nation address, it’s advisable not to hold that press conference the day before the leadership of the party disrupts the Presidential State of the Nation address. One is apt to be recognised as a very silly and incompetent liar when one does that.

But more to the point, there’s a big difference between “bringing the organisation into disrepute” when the organisation is riding high in power and influence, and when the organisation is an insurgent force which has to cope with immense amounts of attacks from all sides. The former is just pitiful; when Jeremy Cronin accused the ANC of being just like ZANU (PF), and was called on the carpet, he wasn’t kicked out of the party because he was easily exposed as a nauseating, opportunistic hypocrite (a role he has played ever since). If he had done something like that in 1989, he could easily have been shot (and the Jeremy Cronin of 1989 would have pulled the trigger himself).

Mngxitama doesn’t understand party discipline because his goal is not to accomplish anything, but to get himself talked about and potentially get some money out of that, which is the goal of most of our contemporary politicians. By his behaviour he’s showing himself unfit to have been elected as an official of the EFF — which is the petulant reason he’s telling all these lies and smearing his own party. Whether or not he’s kicked out, the point is that he will never be taken seriously as an EFF member again, by anyone, even the right-wingers who may try to exploit him as an example of the “divisions” within the EFF.

It is fortunate, in fact, that those members of the EFF who are corrupt Africanists are exposing themselves so clumsily as tools of white plutocracy (Wa Azania is another example of this tendency). One must remember that Africanists have often made healthy recruits for the Charterist movement; figures like Terror Lekota were once Africanists.

Meanwhile, the disruption of the State of the Nation address was, of course, a publicity stunt, but it also conveyed various messages which are worth conveying, so claims that such behaviour is doing nothing more than lowering the tone of political debate.

The most obvious message is that the President is dishonest and afraid of acknowledging his own dishonesty.

Another obvious message is that the President abuses his authority and prefers violence to debate.

Yet another obvious message is that what the President has to say is not worth listening to.

Furthermore, another obvious message is that when the rules of procedure serve to protect dishonest and cowardly thugs engaged in telling lies and wasting time, the rules of procedure should be exploited in order to show the thugs up.

All this is quite obvious to anyone paying attention to events. It is known to virtually the whole public, which is why this publicity stunt was so successful. Also, virtually everything that the Zuma supporters did, all the way down to the hysterical shrieks of Baleka Mbete and her allies, cast more light on it and made the issues more obvious. The DA was forced to piggyback on the EFF’s success, which was helpful for both of them (although virtually all commentators, and the ANC itself, attempted to discredit the EFF and endorse the DA, for the DA poses no threat to the established order whereas the EFF might).

The thing which the ANC took away with them from this was the idea that thuggery works. This is, in fact, the idea which the Zuma faction has always possessed, and it is a gross oversimplification. Firstly, thuggery works best when you have the support of the propaganda agencies (which the Zuma faction no longer has) and when the public is stupid enough to be behind you (which the Zuma faction can no longer be sure of) and when you are dealing with people who are either cowards, or paralysed by indecision or by divided loyalties. Thuggery worked against Mbeki because he had been betrayed by all his allies and thus could not take action against it. Thuggery did not work against the ANC Youth League, and it doesn’t work against the EFF. You can only intimidate people who are either cowardly, or know that you are prepared to carry your intimidation to the bitter end, and since the EFF aren’t cowards and don’t believe that the ANC will use apartheid-era tactics against them, these criteria don’t apply.

Thuggery also doesn’t greatly impress people who disagree with your basic principles, which is why it probably hasn’t impressed the DA. (Meanwhile, thuggery used by the EFF against the ANC might be more effective provided it is used in the pretense — or even the reality — of defending the Freedom Charter.) So when the ANC disrupted the Western Cape “State of the Province” address, they weren’t doing exactly the same as the EFF had done to them. No doubt to some extent they were rallying ANC supporters (who feel, with considerable reason, that the DA doesn’t look after their interests) but they weren’t making DA supporters uncomfortable in the way that the EFF did by focussing on the personal dishonesty and abuse of authority f the President. On the contrary, they were probably galvanising DA supporters. And, as for the ANC supporters, there must have been some who were aghast at the sheer hypocrisy of justifying an assault on MPs by saying that hooliganism must be rooted out of elected assemblies, and then promoting the behaviour which you had called hooliganism in another elected assembly. Therefore the action probably lost support without gaining any.

The fundamental problem about Parliament, and in a sense all elected assemblies in South Africa, is that they are fetishised and idealised to a ridiculous extent by people who ought to know better. We are told that because they are elected assemblies they are representatives of the masses, and therefore deserve a respectful hearing. Actually that is only true to the extent to which they actually represent the masses — and, on investigation, they usually represent the masses very badly, whether in a municipal chamber misspending the rates, in a provincial legislature mismanaging the provincial administration, or in Parliament failing to run things effectively. The general public want a lot of quite specific things which we are not getting, and our elected assemblies are failing (for the most part) to even acknowledge this, let alone do something about it.

Therefore, the protest against Zuma and the State of the Nation Address makes a certain amount of sense as a protest both against bad governance and against elected assemblies helping to enable, protect and cover up for that bad governance. The same would be true of disrupting the Western Cape legislature if one could believe that the people doing the disruption had any real intention of improving the governance or of discouring such cover-ups — which, of course, they don’t.

So, if these legislatures are not fulfilling their function, then they do not deserve to be held in high regard and treated with respect. Yet many commentators do not accept this, because in the end they hope that their factions will take control of the country someday and will seek to mismanage it in the interests of the tiny minority constituting their chosen faction.. Therefore they want the glamour of Parliament and high office, the fashion parades and uniforms and brass bands, to substitute for legitimate government, and therefore they do not want anyone to detract from those shoddy symbols. Also, of course, they do not want to encourage people to think too deeply about who they are voting for or what they are voting about.

Such people are obviously the enemies of democratic governance, and yet they are the ones who are chosen to speak on behalf of democratic governance by the propaganda organs of the ruling class — who are, clearly, themselves opposed to democratic governance. The enemies of Parliament, in other words, are everywhere in power. They are the enemies of the actual Parliament, the idea that a gathering of elected representatives might be able to make a difference to the lives of those who elected them — on behalf of the Parliament which has walls and restaurants and guards and glittering brazen ornaments.

Paradoxically, this means that the ANC in the Western Cape legislature was doing the right thing after all, although for the wrong reason and, because they were the wrong people to do the job, having the wrong effect. Unfortunately, nobody is going to think more deeply about the radical potential of an elected legislature because the ANC disrupts it. They will either think about how they can exploit and make use of the situation, or they will pretend to be outraged because they cannot exploit the situation on these terms, but only by pretending that shibboleths and empty symbols are the only thing which is important in politics. It’s very like the people who appeal to the Constitution in order to prevent the public from accessing their rights.

It is certainly important to know when it’s appropriate to accept discipline, even the discipline of people for whom you have little respect. Sometimes discipline is deserved, and sometimes it is advisable or necessary, simply because the alternative is chaos. Sometimes it has to be challenged. In a case where you are in a weak (but just and intellectually valid) position and discipline can be used to make it still weaker, then that discipline has to be jettisoned. But when you are challenging discipline simply because you do not have the strength of character, organisational loyalty and political intelligence to recognise the value of that discipline, when you would rather play in the muck and pretend that you are free — that’s when someone has to strike you firmly in the back of the neck. We need more such strikers in our political climate.

The French Disconnection.

February 7, 2015

So the Wahhabi Sunni militants in Yemen, who are theoretically at war with the Yemeni dictatorship which is aligned with the Saudi dictatorship (although elsewhere in Arabia these militants are usually aligned with, and often funded by, the Saudi dictatorship) decided that they could take no more of the massacres perpetrated against them. (These massacres are sometimes committed by Yemenis in the pay of the dictatorship, more often by Americans; the Americans and the dictatorship, however, are mostly fighting against the Shi’ite rebellion against the Yemeni dictatorship, although the Wahhabi Sunni militants are elsewhere mostly concerned to suppress Shi’ite rights and indeed to massacre Shi’ites, as in Syria and Iraq.) Doubtless murmuring under their breath “In the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate”, these Wahhabi Sunni militants therefore hired some people who had been fighting against the Assad government in Syria on behalf of other Wahhabi Sunni militants, and sent them off to murder some French journalists in Paris.

If you think that makes any sense, you have not been paying attention (for which the Creator forgives you).

We should, first of all, clear all sense of outrage from our minds, which means that we should ignore virtually all commentary about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There is a war going on, the war to sustain the supremacy of the United States in the world; a large part of that war is armed aggression against Muslim countries because it happens to be easier to legitimate such aggression in American eyes, and also because (purely coincidentally) there is a lot of oil under Muslim sand. There is a war within that war, in which Saudi Arabia is attempting to expand its influence in the Arabian peninsula and in Mesopotamia by promoting instability and fomenting Wahhabi violence in the region. In these wars the laws of war have been suspended; civilians are slaughtered without quarter or even concern and illegal weapons may be used. Hence, butchering unarmed people in Arabia or Mesopotamia or Paris cannot be condemned because there is no basis for condemning it.

Of course, we may say that the war should not be happening, that the laws of war ought to exist, and if we say that then we can certainly condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre (like all the other related massacres) on moral grounds. Some have earned the right to do that. Nobody engaged in the war, however, has any such right.

Disregarding all that, however, it seems obvious that murdering the staff of an anti-government periodical is a very foolish thing to do under the circumstances. What is worse — publishing a cartoon, or exterminating a wedding-party? Logic suggests the latter, and yet the perpetrators of the Yemeni bloodbaths sit peacefully in their air-conditioned offices twiddling controllers and watching screens, joking with each other as their missiles blast civilians into sprays of blood, shit and flesh, while the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were themselves turned into such amorphous “bugsplats” by rifle and rocketry. Why the one, and not the other?

It’s not going to be possible to say, because, as is customary these day, the perpetrators were murdered by the French state. This raises the possibility that the perpetrators might have been employed, not by the Yemenis at all, but by the French state itself. A common characteristic of Arabian guerrilla movements is their eagerness to take credit for things which they did not actually accomplish; meanwhile, the French state had its own reasons both for attacking Charlie Hebdo and for promoting fear and loathing of Muslims. The speed with which the assassins were identified suggests that the French state must have had a good deal of information about what was going on, unless the assassins announced themselves (in which case why did they bother to wear ski-masks?). However, although such speculation is entertaining, it probably should not be assumed to be true.

Charlie Hebdo was engaged in what appears to be another war entirely from the one being waged in Arabia and Mesopotamia (and North and Central and East Africa). This is the war against sacredness, the idea that there are some things which can and should be deemed special by virtue of their very nature. Ridiculing sacred figures such as Mohommed and Jesus is a tactic in this war, which is an extension of the Enlightenment and an attempt to strip the world of any worship at all — except, perhaps, the worship of money and those who possess it. Understandably, pursuing such tactics outrages people whose world revolves around the sacred and who also view the modernisation in the name of the Enlightenment as simply a form of intellectual colonisation — as indeed it usually is.

So, although it might seem absurd to attack a magazine for making rude references to a religious prophet, it probably doesn’t seem so to those who financed the attack or those who launched it. They cannot, after all, get at the drone pilots, safe in the United States, or the other drone operators safe in Djibouti under French protection. They cannot get at the people who order these things in Washington, London or Paris. They can, however, get at people whom they probably conceive of as among the propagandists for a war against the Islamic world. Particularly those ones who do not receive protection (whereas official propagandists certainly would receive such protection, at least better protection than a couple of lightly-armed beat cops.

Still, the attack seems strikingly pointless. It only makes sense if you believe that the enemies of Islam are all essentially the same — that Charlie Hebdo is just one tentacle of an octopus of religious bigotry, and that by slashing at the tentacle you can cause the octopus to wince. In reality, most of the other enemies of Islam in France do not much like Charlie Hebdo. After all, despite its anti-Islamic fervour and its Zionism it still made frequent and pungent criticisms of the French state and the state religion. French leaders are glad to exploit the magazine’s suffering by mobilising anti-Islamic fervour around the massacre. Meanwhile they can delight in the massacre of its journalists and cartoonists; enemies of neoliberal uniformity are dead! Best if all is the fact that the massacre was carried out by Muslim gunmen who, when push comes to shove, were trained, equipped and commanded by forces under the indirect control of the United States which is allied with the neoliberal French state! So the neoliberal state arranges massacres which benefit it, but which it can use to justify its existence and tighten its grip on the throat of the people! What could be more perfect?

Naturally, although the gunmen may have believed in the octopus theory (which is just a mirror-image of white Western conspiracy theories about Muslims fostered by the neoliberal imperialists) their leaders probably did not. They did not believe that the massacre would accomplish anything to reduce the suffering of Muslims in the world. Rather, they believed that it would have two effects useful for them. Firstly, it would fool French Muslims into thinking that someone was sticking up for their interests, thus bringing them more fully under the Sunni-Wahhabi umbrella and thus increasing the tyrannical power of the Saudi dictatorship and its allies. Secondly, it would empower and encourage French Islamophobia, and thus build a sense of paranoia and oppression all around which would not only force French Muslims more fully under the Sunni-Wahhabi umbrella, but also make French Islamophobes and their dupes more subservient to the American anti-Islamic campaign, and thus less critical of neoliberalism. What could be more perfect?

Oh, Creator, you’re such a beastly cynic and conspiracy theorist. What hard evidence have you for all these things? (Disregarding, as one must, the entire tendency of neoliberal foreign policy since at least 1967, that is.)

Well, let’s consider the “We are Charlie” movement. According to the propaganda organs, a million people marched over the weekend in protest against the massacre. That’s an impressive number of people, all in absolute conformity, under the protection and with the encouragement of government officials of course, demonstrating in support of non-conformity and rejection of government. You don’t really believe that, do you? If that were the case, it would be 1968 multiplied (which the founders of Charlie Hebdo would approve, being old soixante-huit veterans themselves) and the government would collapse after the street fighting began.

No, they were marching against these filthy, corrupt Muslims who are seeking to take away our grand freedoms — the ones donated by the benevolent regime which has taken away our working rights, our privacy, our social mobility, our access to the media and our ability to change from one kind of government to another. We may have lost all our rights, but we still have freedoms, which are under threat from Muslims who must be bombed, or something. Maybe we can go fire-bomb a mosque tonight to show how we value our freedoms. The police won’t object.

Notice how much bigger this march was than the march against the Iraq war in London in 2003, and that was big enough (and if Jonathan Steel is to be trusted, was establishment enough). Of course, this is a march without a real objective, because nobody was urging anybody to make any demands or sacrifices or pursue any goals. Just a protest against gunmen shooting journalists, carefully drained of any context. You won’t take part in the march? Good Lord, are you in favour of gunmen shooting journalists? What do you mean, nobody marched against NATO’s murder of Serbian journalists in 1999, or of al-Jazeera journalists in 2001 and 2003? What has that got to do with anything?

It is, in short, a march of delusion. It changes nothing, except that it flings a wet, stinking blanket of conformity over the populace, like one of Napoleon III’s plebiscites. (“Do you support law and order and national harmony? Answer yes or no.”) And of course the current French government, like most governments nowadays, has about the same legitimacy as Napoleon III had.

Would the Saudis be able to turn out similar proportions of people in support of murdering French journalists? Probably. But they don’t need to bother.

Cops And/Or Robbers.

February 7, 2015

The slow, steady suicide of the South African state continues.

A minor, but highly instructive example is the Dewani murder case. On the face of it, the case appears remarkably simple. Shrien Dewani is a masochistic homosexual whose ridiculously wealthy family compelled him to marry a blonde trophy wife, which had the potential to interfere with his Internet-aided cavortings (and this was doubtless the idea).

Somehow, the unhappy couple went to Cape Town for their honeymoon and went for a spin in Gugulethu, which is not the tourist centre of town, where Dewani was dumped after which the wife was unceremoniously shot. It then transpired that Dewani had not mentioned to anybody that he had had a little meeting with his driver a day before the trip, which was captured on closed-circuit TV, and when the driver was pulled in he immediately claimed that Dewani had paid him to bump off the wife.

Had the entire case been pre-baked and handed to the police with a pizza spatula it could hardly have been more convenient. Just to allow a little more convenience, Dewani scuttled off to the UK and used up the family cash to try to avoid extradition at all costs, hiring the repulsive celebrity publicist and speedily-imprisoned paedophile Max Clifford to smear South Africa on Dewani’s behalf. All this did Dewani no favours in the eyes of South Africans, and meanwhile it gave the cops limitless time to fine-tune their case to the last detail. By the time Dewani arrived in South Africa he should have been practically ready for the prayer-book, six-foot-drop and naked dump into a pit of quicklime.

Instead, what’s happened has been instructive; the cops have apparently devoted time to coaching the witnesses in contradictory directions so that they say different things about the same events, while the forensic evidence has been mishandled really bizarrely. There is now a real chance that they might lose the case even with an honest judge. And, of course, South Africa does not have many honest judges; they are all busy sucking up to the ruling class. So it seems that Dewani was correct in his apparent assumption that it would not only be easy to find someone to murder his wife for him in Cape Town, but that he would also get away with it — although he probably didn’t expect to have to spend so much time and money on his getaway.

Of course, this displays the incompetence of the police, and will very probably display the bias of the judge, but it also displays the incompetence of the National Prosecuting Authority, so that’s the executive, the judiciary and the legislature all done and dealt with.

This is worth thinking about when one considers the recent South Park-style shenanigans in Parliament.

It will be recalled that the shenanigans are about two things: the Marikana massacre, and the Nkandla fraud. The two events are both conspicuous failures of governance; the first a failure to resolve a dispute peacefully (or at least to restrain violence so that nobody got killed by the state) and the second a failure to hold the President accountable for his corrupt exploitation of his position for personal financial gain. Both, therefore, are issues which could serve as examples of a wider corruption and ineptitude within government, which Parliament ought to address.

But they are also both issues which have been predominantly taken up by the ruling class for use against the ANC. On the other hand, one could argue very strongly that they are both issues which represent occasions when the ruling class has got what it wanted. The Marikana massacre was an extension of the militarised and unaccountable policing which the ruling class wants (and it also provided an excuse for the ruling class-controlled AMCU to call off a strike which the ruling class no longer needed once the power of the NUM had been broken). The Nkandla corruption was, arguably, a reward for Jacob Zuma’s compliance with their wishes.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that these two issues have received relatively little attention in Parliament, in spite of their immense significance in the media, and the fact that the “official opposition”, the Democratic Alliance, has been campaigning very noisily around Nkandla (though hardly at all around Marikana, doubtless because it embarrasses the large corporate entities which control the DA). Until, that is, the EFF arrived, with its well-justified and sensible hatred for Zuma and his deputy (whom the DA has to back off from since he is adored by the large corporate entities which control the DA). In effect, by attacking Zuma for Nkandla and Ramaphosa for Marikana, the EFF was following the narrative already established by the corporate media, so they were doing nothing new, and indeed arguably were potentially falling into a trap laid by their enemies.

And yet, in doing so, they were also pointing out how completely Parliament had failed to call the leaders of the country to account, and thus how not only the ANC was failing in its governance, but the DA was failing in opposition. Thus what they were doing was pointing out how Parliament had collapsed into a mere lapdog of executive power, which means corporate power — a fact which had largely escaped the people who never failed to make such accusations (sometimes justified, usually not) when Mbeki was President and the ruling class was keen on attacking him.

The EFF essentially behaved as if Parliament were an elected sovereign body. They refused to cover up for President Zuma’s misdeeds at Nkandla, and when Zuma hid from them and sent Ramaphosa in his place, called him a person unfit to receive a report on the Marikana massacre given that he had financial connections with the company involved in the strike. When the ANC used parliamentary rules to suppress the EFF’s protest, the EFF refused to acknowledge the rules, whereupon the ANC used force against them on behalf of the rules — first calling the police, and later, after it proved that the police had too much respect for Parliament to act brutally, calling the riot squad, claiming that Parliament was being brought into disrepute, rather in the same way that the ANC and COSATU love to expel people on this very subjective and dubious basis.

And then, rather suddenly, the DA decided to do the same. That is, they suddenly began to pretend that they cared deeply enough about these things to defy Parliamentary regulations and even face physical assaults. They had not done this before, and this was probably for two reasons. One, they did not need to — they had the press and Thuli Madonsela to do the work. Two, they did not want to — the ruling class would hardly be happy at having their beloved Cyril Ramaphosa attacked (and on every occasion when Cyril has been criticised the people most under the thumb of the ruling class, the leader-page commentators and cartoonists, have leaped to his defense). But the trouble is that the DA knows perfectly well that if the big conspiracy is exposed too conspicuously, if their collaboration with the neoliberal leaders within the ANC is revealed, then the public will stop voting for them. So, at least for a little, they had to stagger after the EFF, like a clockwork rhinoceros blundering after a caracal.

Then, of course, Ramaphosa had to play the peacemaker. It was what his white masters have employed him to do, much as he surely disliked to do it. He offered to withdraw the sanctions which the ANC imposed on the EFF in Parliament, if the EFF would only undertake to be nice and submissive. The EFF, sensibly, agreed to this, knowing that it could not possibly be binding — and then the ANC in Parliament repudiated Ramaphosa and reinstated the sanctions. If Ramaphosa ever had any status in the NEC into which he was parachuted by his masters, or in the ANC caucus which almost certainly despises him as an amateur and a turncoat, he lost it at once — although the press, owned by Ramaphosa’s masters, naturally could not say this.

Meanwhile, just in case anyone thought that the Fourth Estate was the watchdog which would discourage corruption and prevent abuses of power, the press was (again) exposed as the toadies of corrupt power which they have always been.

The story first broke in noseWeek, South Africa’s only muckraking magazine. The Sunday Times‘ crack investigative journalists, “Mzilikazi wa Afrika” and Steven Hofstatter, ran a story in 2011 claiming that the Cato Manor Serious and Violent Crimes Unit, commanded by General Booysen, the head of the Hawks in the province, was a hit-squad murdering people with impunity. The unit was closed down and Booysen arrested. noseWeek suggested, as informed by Booysen, that this was a ploy to remove Booysen for getting too close to corrupt police who were plundering KwaZulu-Natal SAPS supplies; it was obvious that “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had received their information from within the SAPS. Presently noseWeek’s claims received some corroboration of a kind; the criminal charges against Booysen and his colleagues were all dropped and instead disciplinary charges were made. Subsequently, however, the disciplinary charges also collapsed.

It was obvious that the arrests and the disbandment had been completely frivolous and that “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had delivered a heap of someone else’s garbage which they had not bothered to test. However, the editor of the paper stood by them and they were allowed to keep all the awards which they had received for a story which should never have been published. No newspaper followed up any of noseWeek‘s stories.

But in October-November this year, the self-same team repeated a raft of implausible-sounding allegations about an alleged “rogue unit” within the South African Revenue Service which “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had made earlier in the same paper; the core of the allegations was that the “rogue unit” had been investigating high government officials including Zuma himself. It seemed credible that, once again, “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter were acting as channels for an official smear campaign in order to protect corrupt officials against investigation, with the approval of their editor and owner. Within days of the repetition of the articles, the “rogue unit” was closed down and its leaders suspended and threatened with criminal charges.

This time, however, there was a response; the South African Revenue Service was one of the sacred cows of the corporate ruling class. Max du Preez, the right-wing commentator with close ties to the ruling class, said in one of his rambling articles that the attack on SARS had been facilitated by the press. The Mail and Guardian ran a front-page article claiming that the attack on SARS was an ANC plot to punish the organisation for trying to impose import duty on imported T-shirts, and mentioning that it had been facilitated by the press. However, neither Du Preez nor the Mail and Guardian dared to mention either the newspaper which had run the stories, or the journalists who had acted as front-people for a government smear campaign. Thus the public, unless they were paying close attention (which few do) remained in the dark, except that the government, as usual, was bad. The fact that the press was colluding with corruption and covering up for this collusion as much as possible, passed the public by — apart from the vast majority of the public who understandably don’t believe a word of what they read or hear or see in the media.

So the security forces and the judiciary are incompetent or corrupt, the legislature is dysfunctional, the executive is out of control and the media are happily covering up for all these things while facilitating them as often as not? Well, what do you expect? Why make a fuss? We can move our wealth offshore, can’t we? Pass the under-age Ukrainian prostitute, would you?

Investigating the NUMSA Case.

February 7, 2015

Donning one’s deerstalker hat, putting on a dressing-gown and taking a pipeful of strong tobacco out of the toe of one’s Persian slipper, it is time to settle down and investigate the Curious Case of the Trade Union Federation in the Dark.

What has led COSATU to expel NUMSA? It has certainly not been an easy road, and has taken a good deal of time. The given reasons for expelling NUMSA are that NUMSA has been poaching other union members, and that NUMSA has been criticising the ANC (to the point of talking about setting up an alternative political party, but not actually doing so), and criticising COSATU for being unduly sympathetic to the ANC.

This is not, however, new stuff. NUMSA, like other unions within COSATU, has criticised the ANC intermittently for twenty years or so. COSATU as an entity was severely critical of the ANC’s economic and social policies. What is new, therefore, is that this has led to a political conflict within COSATU, between those unions wishing to go on with this criticism and those unions wishing to abandon essentially all criticism of the ANC — the latter unions particularly represented by NEHAWU and NUM.

Why not, then, just agree to disagree? There were doubtless trade unions which felt that GEAR could be given a try, and trade unions which felt that denouncing the government as a pack of AIDS denialists was a bit over the top, but they did not go running around denouncing those who said these things, and they did not find themselves getting kicked out of the federation. One can make a strong case that attacking the ANC, while fun, does little real harm so long as it is accommodated within the framework of the “Tripartite Alliance”. In other words, NUMSA’s behaviour can be considered more as political theatre than as anything concrete. Up until now it was also possible to believe that COSATU’s leadership’s attacks on NUMSA were also political theatre.

But the expulsion of a union is not theatre; it’s solid fact. It goes along with the attempt to fire Zwelenzima Vavi for immoral behaviour. Therefore it appears that if this was posturing before, it has now turned into something real — and extremely destructive. Why?

For one thing, where the issues of GEAR and AIDS were — in a sense — peripheral to a trade union’s core business, the current problems which the union movement has with the ANC are far more fundamental. This is not so much because there have been dramatic changes in ANC policies, as because the ongoing failure of those policies are becoming extreme enough to affect the average worker. Salaries are falling relative to real experienced inflation, and the call is going out from government and business to make this situation worse. Service delivery is deteriorating in much of the country, and the call is going out from government and business to reduce public spending on service delivery. Unemployment, meanwhile, is rising. So workers are under pressure, and are looking to their union leaders to do something about this.

The logical response to this would be to power up unionization; to expand the unions, to become more militantly anti-employer, to criticise those government members who are promoting the policies which are stifling growth and encouraging unemployment, and to strive towards alternative policies. Of course this means attacking the ANC’s policies and some of its leadership, but this does not, actually, mean an attack on the idea of the ANC running the country. It simply means that the ANC is to be portrayed as having strayed off the paths of righteousness and needing to be guided back. In a sense it means reviving political and economic debate.

Obviously, this isn’t happening. COSATU trade unions are not expanding; with the exception of NUMSA, they are shrinking, sometimes quite calamitously so. Strikes are certainly taking place, but in general they are ending with big concessions to the employers and wage settlements which are below the rate of real experienced inflation. Unions outside COSATU are largely devoid of militancy (with the ostensible exception of AMCU, although this may also be more theatre than reality, painful as it has been for AMCU’s members). It seems, then, that far from trying to remedy the situation, the organised working class is losing ground and lacking leadership.

Given that there is a crisis, COSATU’s leadership must resolve it. However, they enjoy the support and patronage of the ANC’s leadership, and the ANC’s leadership enjoy the support and patronage of the business caste. As such, then, the ANC leadership has a strong motive to veto any aggressive action on the part of the unions, and COSATU’s leadership has a strong motive to accept such a veto. In effect, NUMSA’s accusation that the ANC wished to turn COSATU into the ANC’s “labour desk” is far too mild; the ANC actually seemingly wishes COSATU to be an organisation which does nothing for labour at all, but instead simply milks the workers of their dues and makes ritual obeisance to the ANC at election time. This does not seem to be wholly opposed to the agenda of many union leaders.

The alternative to resolving the crisis is to deny that it exists. The standard method of denial employed by the Zuma administration of the ANC is to accuse anyone who says there is a crisis, or who dissents from received policy, of factionalism, and thus getting rid of them. This method builds unity among those who are not dissenters, though at the price of losing not only the dissenters, but others who dislike such spurious accusations. This is obviously the method which is being used against NUMSA; eliminate the people who say there is a problem, and the problem ceases to be one which needs to be addressed. Business can continue as usual — which is to say, doing nothing.

The obvious problem with applying this method is that it allows those who are kicked out freedom of action, and it expands and legitimates their position among those who dissent. The steady draining of support from the ANC since Zuma took over has been largely a product of the attack on Mbeki’s supporters, which produced CoPe, and then on Malema and his supporters, which produced the EFF. The calculated risk for the ANC — losing support — is balanced against the greater unity and the superior status of party leadership among those remaining behind. Thus far the loss of support has been manageable.

The problem for COSATU is that it is not the ANC. It is instead a federation of unions, some of which support NUMSA (as the expulsion vote showed, more than a third of the federation’s executive supported NUMSA even though the executive has been relentlessly purged of NUMSA supporters over the last few years). Therefore, the danger is that these unions might decide that membership of COSATU was no longer a benefit to them and might hive off and perhaps link up with NUMSA and its allies. Also, individual members of unions might decide that they no longer trust their unions, in which case COSATU unions might split, anti-COSATU members forming alternative unions which could align themselves with NUMSA.

All this has a great deal of potential to benefit the ruling class, of course. Splintering unions and factionalism within union federations is something which bosses can take advantage of, as they did during the NUM-AMCU conflict. On the other hand, if COSATU were to end up a small rump of ANC-supporting unions with limited membership, and NUMSA were able to unite a large number of dissident unions into a militant federation following a more drastic anti-neoliberal, anti-corporate line than COSATU is capable of, then this would not be such good news for the bosses. It’s difficult to predict how this will turn out.

One thing which seems clear, however, is that NUMSA has been angling for expulsion. This is because simply walking out of the federation which you helped form, and which you have belonged to for thirty years, is unlikely to be automatically supported by your membership however much they might like your policies. Also, doing this out of antipathy to the ANC means turning your back on the party which you have supported for the same length of time, and effectively giving support to the enemies of that party, many of whom are neoliberals and white supremacists. That’s a difficult change to make for the rank and file of the union.

But expulsion — that’s different. Provided that you are not being expelled for anything particularly wrong, provided that you can convince your members that it’s a stitch-up by a kangaroo court (which it obviously is in this case) then the immediate response for the union member is that the union comes first, and if the federation and the party don’t like that, tough. NUMSA has not lost membership as a result of its leaders’ critical stance on the ANC and COSATU; instead its membership has been increasing. Hence it is quite unlikely that a lot of members are going to leave following this expulsion. Instead, the members will be angry; they’ll want to punish COSATU and the ANC for ill-treating them, and they’ll consider their leaders vindicated by the whole affair. As a result, the alternative metalworkers’ union set up by COSATU’s leadership to serve as a vehicle for NUMSA members to flee to, is probably not going to do very well.

This  set of circumstances has been obvious for some time. COSATU’s leadership must have known that it was the case. Therefore, why did COSATU choose to expel NUMSA now? Why not wait until December, when NUMSA’s “United Front” would be nominally launched, or March, when the “United Front” is supposed to go into full operation? Obviously a union which had set up an anti-ANC party would be ripe for expulsion from a pro-ANC federation, and with such solid grounds for attacking NUMSA the expulsion might have been more damaging for the union — especially if the ANC and COSATU spent a few months condemning the “United Front”, and especially if the “United Front” fails to get much traction in the community (which seems lamentably likely given its actual nature as a cabal of Trotskyites).

One possibility is that COSATU’s leadership is stupid and has not thought through these issues even though they have had plenty of time to do so. Another possibility is that the ANC, which has been trying to distance itself from action taken against NUMSA, is actually putting pressure on COSATU, behind the scenes, to expel NUMSA. If NUMSA were indeed expelled for setting up a party in competition with the ANC, then the political significance of the expulsion would be obvious, and perhaps the ANC does not want to be too directly involved.

In either case, however, the ANC and COSATU have probably done precisely the wrong thing from their own perspective. The question now is simply whether NUMSA will be able to walk the walk, after talking the talk for so long. Will it be able to simultaneously set up a counter-COSATU and a counter-ANC? It would actually be better advised to work in the former than the latter, for the “United Front” is not going to be a success in the short term. But we shall have to wait and see whether NUMSA does anything at all, or whether, like so many radical movements before it, it proves to be all hat and no cattle, all mouth and trousers.

Glory to the Union!

February 7, 2015

After the uprising against corrupt foreign power which brought Nigel Farage to the Presidency of the New United Kingdom there were some who argued that the new politics could not last. However, when President Branson was elected in a free, fair and honest poll last August it was clear that the new politics were here to stay. Now, with the elections to the Union Assembly, it is clear that the changes are irrevocable.

Gone are the days of mudge and fudge when weak leaders alternated at Westminster. Gone are obsolete parties like the Labour Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, both of which did not dare even to put up candidates for the free, fair and honest poll for the Union Assembly.

Gone, too, are the days when the Union was dominated by corporate oligarchs. Some maintain that President Branson, democratically elected leader of the Free-Born Briton Party, has corporate links, but such crude smears belong to the politics of the past. Deputy President Cameron of the Conservative Unionist Party certainly cannot be accused of any such links to a mythical ruling class which exists only in the minds of exiled journalists in Putin’s pay. As for allegations that the League of St George is fascistic, merely because it restores the much-maligned British war leader William Joyce to his place in history, these can be dismissed as the maunderings of extremists.

Admittedly, the Union faces a hard road ahead. Many were perhaps disheartened when President Branson decided to suspend Operation Longshanks, the campaign to stop terrorists from imposing their brutal rule on the suffering people of Unionist Scotland. The Guardian wholeheartedly supports this move on humanitarian grounds. However, tough decisions will have to be made and, regrettably, some civilians in the region will die, many of them doubtless innocent, paying with their lives for the insanity of their supposedly-elected leaders in furthering the goals of Russian imperialism.

It is also true that the President’s prudent decisions have been associated with a temporary shortage of fuel. Putin’s vast propaganda machine is spreading the lie that this is linked to the momentary interruption of North Sea oil and the financial difficulties inevitable in a time of transition. In reality, the shortage can easily be resolved, and we call on our European coalition partners, and allies such as President Branson’s special adviser Anne-Marie Slaughter, to defy Russian meddling and give us the economic and military aid we need to solve all our difficulties. Our British Union must not fail, for the sake of justice and civilisation.

The Guardian says:

Forward with President Branson!

Forward against alien aggression!

Glory to the Union!

Christian Imperialists Advise Arabs On Religion, Nationalism.

October 19, 2014

LONDON AND WASHINGTON: The rulers of the Christian Empire engaged in a holy war against Islam have offered divinely-inspired advice to their Muslim enemies on how to conduct religion and warfare.

“You people don’t understand Islam,” says British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has never read a word of the Qur’an, let alone prayed to Allah. “Islam is a religion of absolute, submissive non-violence. Mahound, or whatever the name of your false prophet is, said quite clearly that Muslims have a duty to bend over and allow Christians to fuck them in the bum whenever demanded. It says so in that book thingy that you people seem so excited about and that our soldiers like to piss on in front of you.”

Cameron, whose religion is divided over the question whether all homosexuals and feminists should burn forever in an imaginary torture chamber, added that he was horrified by the cruelty of Muslims. “I am utterly appalled,” he explained. “by the fact that you seem to be cutting off the heads of people you consider to be agents of countries which are bombing and shooting you. That is no sort of way to behave. You ought to blow people to bloody fragments from a discreet distance, as our dear friends the Israelis do. And of course you should only do that when we tell you to do it.”

“You got that about right, boy,” said the multimillionaire U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was once opposed to war but has abandoned his principles for political gain. “You dirty sand-niggers have no respect for cultural diversity and that’s why we have to kill you. We, on the other hand, are prepared to accept people from any cultural or racial perspective, no matter how inferior, so long as they are psychopathic homicidal sadists and jump when we snap our fingers.

“Some people in Iraq and Syria are killing people without asking permission first. That’s undemocratic, and it’s America’s duty to spread democracy and show our commitment to human rights by killing people. Or freely rounding them up, throwing them in democratic jails without trial and torturing them into accepting civilised values. My commitment to freedom and democracy is so great that I’ve been ordering any number of military dictators and absolute theocratic monarchs to crush the people of Iraq and Syria, and given enough bombs and mercenaries we should be able to destroy Mesopotamia in order to save it. There is light at the end of the tunnel!”

Kerry’s nominal master, President Barack Obama, a former Professor of International Law whose current position is that international law does not apply to the United States and that the laws of the United States should not be considered binding on any act of the President or his minions, agreed. “Kill them all and let God sort it out,” said Obama, once mistakenly believed to be a Muslim and hence supposedly committed to non-violence. “And by God, I mean, of course, Wall Street.”

Problematising the Left (IV): The Loss of Realism.

September 2, 2014

If one reads George Orwell as a leftist instead of as a neoconservative or a liberal (the images which current propaganda provide for him) one comes across two very interesting aspects of his work.

Towards the end of Homage to Catalonia, Orwell talks about the compromise with which the war would inevitably end due to the Republican government’s refusal to adopt revolutionary tactics. He was writing in 1937, after having fought with the POUM militia on the Huesca front and in the Barcelona street-fighting, and it was understandable that he had a parochial attitude to the war. Still, he understood fascist ideology; he had no excuse for imagining that the fascists would compromise if they were winning. He was simply so angry with the Stalinists for their behaviour in crushing what remained of the revolutionary movement in Catalonia (although, as Trotsky rightly pointed out, that revolutionary movement essentially connived at its own crushing) that he couldn’t see the Stalinist obsession with class compromise and alliance-building was very different from the Fascist agenda.

A related matter appears in several of Orwell’s essays between the publication of Homage and the outbreak of World War II, and also appears in diluted form in the novel Coming Up For Air. This is Orwell’s profound hostility to militarisation. In the novel it takes the form of the bomb accidentally dropped by a British bomber on manoeuvres on a British town. In the essays it takes the form of hostility to arms manufacturing, conscription and regimentation, which are persistently gibed at or denounced.

Orwell understood that fascism was planning war, but believed that this would be an imperialist war between capitalists and super-capitalists (the latter being the fascists). Therefore he did not want either side to win; rather, he wanted the capitalists to be overthrown in a socialist revolution, after which the socialists would defeat the fascists. The stronger the capitalists were, the more difficult it would be to overthrow them; therefore they should not be armed. Besides, Orwell convinced himself, the capitalists might sell out to the fascists, in which case all that weaponry would be used to crush the social revolution.

This isn’t a completely absurd assumption, but it turned out to be a disastrous one, because it assumes that the war at home is more important than foreign aggression. If Orwell’s desires had been fulfilled, Britain would have been conquered by the Nazis in 1940 and Orwell would have ended in a concentration-camp. (Orwell delivered brilliant rhetorical attacks on his own position during the 1940-42 period, especially in Partisan Review and Tribune, denouncing pacifism and anarchism in terms which he privately admitted to be unfair — sometimes in apologetic letters to the people whom he was attacking.) Orwell’s assumption seems to have underpinned a great deal of the left’s inchoate hostility to rearmament during the period.

It is sometimes claimed that this was all the fault of the Communists, but up until the Nazi-Soviet Pact the Communists strongly supported resistance to fascism, and some of the most powerful proponents of the anti-force line came from the anarchist and far-left movements who were also opposed to the Communists. If the left were unwilling to struggle against fascism, did they believe that fascism was a paper tiger, as Orwell seemed to have felt (against all evidence) immediately after his return from Spain? Did they simply think that the whole struggle was game, in which the rhetorical point-scoring of a badly-chaired party branch meeting counted for just as much as the conquest of the Sudetenland or Catalonia? Were they, in short, cut off from reality? Orwell later, bitterly, referred to much of the left as “masturbatory”, and the appellation seems appropriate to the times.

Fast-forward to the 1980s in South Africa and one sees something quite similar. The apartheid regime was trying to legitimise its rule by co-opting a black elite into serving as subordinates for the white elite. This was quite obvious, resembling what had happened in the late 1970s in Rhodesia and Namibia. Meanwhile, although in some ways apartheid repression was relaxing (for instance, in terms of censorship) numerous political leaders were disappearing or dying mysteriously, detention without trial was intensifying, and after 1984 the army was increasingly used to suppress demonstrations, while the country was placed under emergency rule after 1985. The left had an ideological duty to oppose apartheid (especially because it was increasingly conniving with multinational capital) whereas if the left failed to do this, apartheid was breeding a death-squad state which would surely crush the left in the way that it was being crushed in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as everybody on the left knew.

But much of the left was conspicuously not struggling against the apartheid state or its minions. The elements of the National Forum — the Trotskyites around Neville Alexander, the Black Consciousness proponents of AZAPO and the various other groupings which joined or associated themselves with this movement (such as the PAC) — were not running around organising rebellions, boycotts or anything of the kind. On the contrary, they were condemning rebellions, breaking consumer boycotts, calling for people to break strikes and cross picket lines, and sometimes physically attacking members of organisations who were rebelling, boycotting and striking. Simultaneously, however, they were producing documents which proved that their own political line was infinitely more anti-apartheid than the line taken by those supporting the Freedom Charter, and also that whereas the Charterists were merely non-racist, they were anti-racist, and therefore they ought to be supported.

Why were they doing these things? They believed that their political positions were the correct ones, whereas the Charterists were incorrect. Therefore they felt that it was more important to ensure that the correct political positions prevailed rather than allowing the incorrect ones to prevail, even if that meant delaying virtually all political activity until the incorrect political position could be demobilised and defeated. They were pretending that resolving the political differences between themselves and the Charterists were more important than either getting rid of apartheid or defending the left against a potential massacre.

How could anyone sustain such a nonsensical position? This was done by demonising the Charterists in order to glorify themselves. Specifically, the National Forum contended that the Charterists were essentially in league with the whites because they were not as anti-white as the PAC and AZAPO pretended to be, and that the Charterists were essentially in league with the capitalists because they were not as anti-capitalist as the Trotskyites around Neville Alexander pretended to be. (In reality, the former were less anti-white, and the latter much less anti-capitalist, than they claimed. Alexander was the toast of the liberal white community, and the white liberal media constantly tried to promote AZAPO and the PAC as alternatives to the ANC. In the end this was a rhetorical distinction which the National Forum elevated into the status of a doctrine.)

Again, the term “masturbatory” does not seem inappropriate; the far left in South Africa at the time were fantasising in order to give themselves pleasure. This was obvious to the Charterists, who developed a deep contempt for the National Forum supporters (having earlier been willing to work with them during the period of the tricameral constitution referendum of 1983). More to the point, it meant that the National Forum opposed every anti-apartheid initiative and thus became irredeemably tainted with suspicion of being actually pro-apartheid, and of professing radical positions while actually holding reactionary ones. From this it was not far to concluding that the Africanists and Trotskyites were apartheid agents, a notion naturally congenial to the Charterist leadership and especially to the SACP, who particularly hated Trotskyism because of Martin Legassick’s failed coup against them in the 1970s. This simultaneously made the conflict between the Charterists and the far left more bitter, and ensured that the far left would lose support which it never subsequently regained because it was trapped within its negative posture.

What do these examples tell us about the contemporary realistic attitude of the far left? Logically speaking, the far left should be in a stronger position than it has been in for many decades. The SACP and most of the leadership of COSATU, for long the bellwethers of the Charterist left, have utterly discredited themselves as leftists and are simply providers of patronage — which enables them to hang on to their leadership positions but ensures the erosion of their popular support. The neoliberal business elite has largely wrecked the economy, trapping it in a low-wage, low-productivity, low-investment neocolonial mode, and its control of the government ensures that this will continue while the government only discredits itself further. It is obviously time for alternatives, and the far left can make huge play from providing them. Indeed, most of the success of the EFF, despite its inchoate policies and its problematic organisation, derives from this obvious point.

However, it is also obvious that precisely because the people have been repeatedly betrayed by their leaders, they are not going to simply support an alternative automatically. What if the person providing the alternative is a huckster, as so often in the past? What if the alternative provided turns out to be a pyramid scheme, or a system for siphoning cash into the pockets of the elite, as so often in the past (and particularly in the present). Why throw the rascals out, only to throw the other rascals in? It’s a question endlessly asked by those facing precisely the same problem all over the world.

So the far left has to show that it has a solid ground in reality and in what the people want, and here, it seems, the far left has floated away from the shore, way out of its depth, clutching concrete lifebelts.

The far left appears convinced that the masses support it and that the government is unpopular. Therefore it is not necessary to persuade the masses of anything, or indeed to provide a serious alternative to government policy. The far left has also bought into the 1960s Trotskyite concept that the masses are necessarily more radical than the leaders — a notion necessary to sidestep the “vanguardist” Leninist notion that the leaders have to educate the masses into radicalism — and therefore that a revolutionary situation always exists.

As a result, the far left has offered its support for service delivery protests and for the platinum-belt strike (interestingly the far left offered much more unconditional support for this strike than for the NUMSA strike even though the NUMSA strike was conducted by a union actively cooperating with the far left). The problem with this support is that it is support for reformist initiatives which do not in any way further the organisational or political interests of the far left. Of course such support could be used to build organisations and disseminate political ideas, but the far left has not been doing this — and as a result the platinum-belt strike benefited only the highly dubious union AMCU, while service delivery protests serve, as usual, the interests of local ANC politicians who organise them.

On the other hand, the far left also supports whatever anti-ANC campaign is available. Sometimes this entails wildly exaggerating the significance of very small local initiatives which sympathise, or pretend to sympathise, with the far left. Very often, however, this entails collaborating with right-wing anti-ANC initiatives which ultimately serve neoliberal goals, simply because this collaboration gives the far left an easy opportunity for a mention in a reactionary newspaper article. (The far left also is fond of utilising mendacious discourse around such issues as “democracy”, which the far left does not conspicuously support in practice.)

As a result the far left continues to have the reputation of being possibly closet neoliberals but undeniably untrustworthy for any serious purpose, while simultaneously arousing the hostility of local ANC supporters by their support for local anti-ANC initiatives. Hence the far left gains no reliable support at any level from these campaigns. The problem is compounded by the inability of the far left to combine; the far left in Gauteng, Johannesburg and Cape Town seems incapable of any effectual union, and even within those areas, egotistical leaders of tiny organisations insist on their own independence, probably so as to appropriate the funds flowing in from abroad (not only the Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung, but also, much more problematically, the Open Society Foundation which has links with the US State Department.)

If the far left were realistic, they would be more homogeneous and their policies would be consistent instead of being opportunistic to the point of incoherence. If they were realistic, they would be much more effective, and would have a chance of growing. Unfortunately, if they were realistic they would have to acknowledge that they have a long way to go before building a real organisation (which has been blindingly obvious for forty years). It seems that most prefer to live in a dream-world in which such organisation is unnecessary and in which they are always-already victorious, and always-already robbed of the fruits of their victory by the evil ANC. It is largely a replay of the 1980s or of the 1930s, except that there is little evidence that anyone else, whether the Tories or the ANC, will step in to save the country from the neoliberal capitalist elite whom the far left consistently either ignore or pander to.