Blah Wars Episode MMXVI: A New Despair.

November 6, 2017

It’s not just easy, but inevitable, to become despondent about the political, social, cultural and economic future of South Africa and the global network within which it exists. Much of what we can make out about the circumstances of the nation and the world suggest that we are in a state of chronic slow decline which is most likely to become precipitous decline within the next decade or so.

There are many ways of coping with this. One is to take so many happy pills that one wears a permanent grin under any and all circumstances, including imminent death in grotesque agony. A related method is to close down all access to the outer world, stopping reading the newspapers, listening to the radio or watching TV or accessing the Internet, and thus supplying a private Freedom From Information Act, because, like Oedipus, what could we see that could bring us joy?

Unfortunately, an easier method is to accept that, despite the absurdity of almost all the propaganda generated to deceive us by the media, and despite the obvious mendacity of the ruling class and its corporate and governmental agents, everything is for the best and what we are told three times (or three times three times, or three times three times three times) is true. So many people are prepared to march along the paths that the press and the politicians and the pundits tell them to follow.

The problem with believing lies is not just that you will inevitably be led to do the wrong thing — the real problem is that you lose contact with the right thing, with the idea that you might gain access to the right thing, that you might be able to think for yourself, let alone act for yourself. Being a willing participant in your deception means abandoning all individuality; you become a person in a pod, a volunteer for the Matrix. You then are unable to take action even when it is clearly necessary and when the proper action is blindingly obvious — and as for when the situation is obscure, and it is not clear whom one should support or what is to be done, you might as well never have been born, for all the use you would be to anyone else.

And that’s the real problem; we have to act as a collective, or we are lost, and the more people who cannot participate in any such collective, and who do not believe in participating in such collectives, the more likely it is that the bad guys will win.

Ah yes, the bad guys. They’re out there. But, yes, they’re also in here. So how to distinguish between the bad guys and the bad guys? Which evil scumbag who’s out to get us should you support? You have to choose between Clinton and Trump, between the narcissistic psychopath with a jawbreaking record of evil-doing, and — well, actually, the other one is the same, isn’t he? Or she?

So those who have a desire to gain political understanding in order to take political action in order to reverse the chaos which seems to be impending, face the immense difficult of not being able to know what needs to be done. The media are a mass of disinformation — again, the only thing to do is to try to pursue the least bad disinformation, which usually means that the disinformer is concerned with falsifying reality in a relatively narrow zone. Someone who hates a particular person, or a category of persons, might tell some of the truth about other people.

But the problem is that virtually all the narrow disinformers are incapable of gaining access to information for themselves. They rely on the Internet for their information, and are therefore obliged to sift through a mass of disinformation and attempt to distinguish what is bogus. Often this means that they are deceived by plausible but bogus information, or by half-truths used to conceal a greater lie. Which means that it is very dangerous to assume that even the most seemingly honest Internet commentator (often this means, the commentator who says what the observer wants to hear) is either genuinely honest, or accurate in response.

Which, again, is depressing.

The solution, then, is to cleave to personal experience, what there is of it, and to impressions of trustworthiness, which relies heavily upon knowledge of the speaker’s class allegiances, but also upon their private loyalties. If you know that everybody around you is short of cash, if you can see the vast numbers of beggars on the streets and the people desperate for jobs, and if you can see the huge public infrastructures going unmaintained, then you know that the country is in bad socio-economic condition, and you can take things from there. The solution, obviously, is to increase the amount of money going to people who have jobs (at the moment everyone except the very rich are going backwards, as is admitted by the media bragging about how people’s income is going up by as much as 1% a quarter — which is lower even than the fake inflation figures). Then the solution is also to create jobs. And the solution is to maintain public infrastructures. And there are lots of other solutions, but at least personal experience shows you what the answer is.

Then you cast about for people talking about how to resolve these problems, and you discover that virtually everybody is talking about how vitally important it is for the very rich to hang on to the wealth via intensified property rights, how essential it is to keep salaries low by crushing organised labour and eliminating the minimum wage, and how necessary it is to allow public infrastructure to continue crumbling in order to keep taxes low and to preserve the policy of austerity. Everybody who says these things must know that they are the opposite of what is actually needed. Therefore, they are lying. Therefore one casts about for people who are saying the opposite. There actually are a few such people out there, even though not all of them can be trusted to fulfil their claims.

But, more importantly, it is important to campaign for the real stuff. And once one has started campaigning for the real stuff, it is also important to recognise that there is more real stuff out there, and that there is an enormous majority of people out there who are massively worried about the real stuff, the people whom the propaganda and the lies are designed to deceive and confuse. If only those people can be spoken to — and most of them are at least dimly aware of what is really going on — then they would rise up and shake off the shallowly-embedded parasites on the body politic, the journalists and lawyers and politicians and NGOs and pundits who are all working for the plutocracy. And then it might be possible to do something about the power of the plutocracy.

So the thing to do is to keep one’s eye on the main issue and ignore all the lies. Without, however, simply sticking your fingers in your ears and ignoring all inputs because (as the liars say) everybody is a liar and everybody is corrupt except the few individuals whom the liars are promoting. Abandoning hope means that the liars will win.

We really have to get down to it. But it’s not easy.



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

November 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captivation (I)

November 6, 2017

When the concept of “State Capture” came to the fore in the propaganda media early this year, the issue was the dismissal of the apparently incompetent and (if a muckraking magazine is to believed) corrupt Finance Minister, Nhlanha Nene. He was to be replaced by a completely unknown figure, Van Rooyen.

In a sense the Finance Minister is the most important person in the Cabinet outside the Presidency. The Finance Minister determines spending priorities and can therefore decide whether the rich or the poor benefit from government policies, so that if desired, the Finance Minister can actually reverse the intention of those policies. Backed by the Treasury, the South African Revenue Service and the Reserve Bank, the Finance Minister is almost invincible within the Cabinet. So, the only way to change course is to remove him from power, and the only person who can do that is the President.

On the face of it, Nene was not doing anything that his predecessor Gordhan had not done before him. That is, he was pursuing an austerity policy for the poor and the middle class, while shovelling cash into the insatiable maws of the very rich, mainly via the parastatal companies which were the recipients of “infrastructure” money intended to facilitate minerals exports. (Since the overseas market for minerals has plummetted, this was a disastrous investment, but Nene continued to pursue it as if he had no choice. Possibly he was doing it not in pursuit of a mythical return on investment, but because the ruling class wanted him to continue to bankroll them.)

Van Rooyen, however, lasted only a weekend. There was a storm of violent propaganda in the usual agencies. More importantly, big financial interests sold off their holdings of South African currency, causing the value of the rand to collapse and the interest rate on bonds to soar. (It is possible that the Reserve Bank, which is largely privately owned even though its governor is state-appointed, was involved in some of these shenanigans.) The U.S. credit ratings agencies let it be known that Van Rooyen was not an acceptable Finance Minister and that they would downgrade South Africa’s credit rating accordingly. As a result of all this pressure from the ruling elite inside and outside the country. President Zuma removed Van Rooyen from office and replaced him with Nene’s predecessor, Gordhan.

So, why was Nene removed, and why was he to be replaced by someone who did not have any obvious contacts with the ruling elite, of the kind which Gordhan and Nene and their cronies had?

This was the question which has most particularly been avoided ever since last December in the propaganda agencies of the ruling elite. Rather, instead of asking a question, the propaganda agencies have been propagating a myth, plausible on the face of it, ridiculous when one digs a little deeper. The myth is that Nene was fired, and Van Rooyen installed, on the orders of an Indian commercial family with ties to President Zuma’s commercial interests, the Gupta family.

This victory for the ruling elite over the wishes of the government (whatever motivated those wishes) represents a decisive shift in power. In consequence of that shift in power, the myth went into high gear, and the front-man for the myth very rapidly became Gordhan himself. The banking industry, with which Gordhan had always enjoyed cordial relations since the days when he had protected them against taxation when he was Commissioner of SARS, shut down the Guptas’ accounts, essentially making it impossible for them to do business in South Africa. The press, which is controlled by corporate interests which dominate government policy and have done so since before South Africa was a country, denounced the Guptas as enemies of the people, and declared that Zuma and anyone who supported him, or even who endorsed policies which the press didn’t like, was an agent of the Guptas.

The Minister of Finance claims to be defending South Africa against enemies seeking to steal its money — that is, what remains of its money, much of which has lost most of its value under the stewardship of the Minister of Finance and his friends.

Who are these thieves? Apparently, they include ESCOM, DENEL, TRANSNET and South African Airways, all of whom are under attack by the Ministry of Finance for failing to act in a responsible manner, for failing to do as the Treasury tells them. What we are also told is that much of this is not simply irresponsibility, but actual criminality, for these entities are under the control of the Gupta family, a medium-sized business family based in India.

How is it that a (comparatively) small Indian family, hounded out of South Africa and currently lurking in Dubai, whose wealth amounts to a few paltry billions of rands (as compared with the hundreds of billions available for deployment from companies like Billiton and Anglo and even LonMin) could have seized control of the country? Supposedly, they have somehow outweighed those bigger companies in the corruption stakes with Jacob Zuma and his henchpeople. Zuma is supposed to be corrupt and biddable, but apparently he is also committed to supporting Indian people over white people.

Well, perhaps. No actual evidence for it, though.

The people in charge of South Africa’s state-owned enterprises are mismanaging them — often preposterously so; they make blunders which nobody with the slightest familiarity with the issues involved could make out of ignorance. Either they are complete fools – fools of such stature that they make other government hacks look like geniuses – or, more likely, they are corrupt.

Unsurprising; Zuma is corrupt, so why should his appointees not be corrupt?

Logically, then, we need someone who is not corrupt to challenge corruption in state-owned enterprises. And, somehow, we are told that the man who is not corrupt is Pravin Gordhan, late of the “Indian Cabal” in the Natal United Democratic Front, the man responsible for making SARS what it is today, and also responsible for making the South African economy what it is today. And this shining light of competence and probity is portrayed as the man the Empire – that is, the ruling class and therefore all the rest of us who are merely appendages of the ruling class – wants.

This is such a convenient and simple narrative — the bad guys happening to be the people who have supposedly always been opposed by the ruling class, the good guys happening to be the best friends of the ruling class — that it’s hard to believe that there can be much truth in it. On the other hand, if there is a legitimate basis for the decision to dismiss Nene, then why was it not revealed? And if Nene was not tolerable, why should Gordhan then be tolerable? Why be so hard-line one moment, and as soft as butter in a blast furnace the next?

The most likely answer is that the reason for dismissing Nene was that in some way he was interfering with policies which Zuma and his allies supported — for whatever reason. It could be that he was trying to take the side of the established big business which dominates the state against the Gupta interlopers. It could also be that he was trying to undermine the financial stability of the state enterprises, as was hinted at the time — something which also potentially serves big business, which wants to see those enterprises weakened and sold off. It could be that he was doing both to varying degrees, and therefore pressure was put on Zuma to remove him and replace him with someone more pliable. At which point, established big business launched an attack on South Africa’s financial state in order to force Zuma to back down — which he did, but not to the point of reinstating Nene; instead he reinstated Gordhan. Perhaps this was simply face-saving. Perhaps, however, Gordhan was the chosen man of the ruling class, for whatever reason.

Certainly, what has happened since then has been a remarkable outpouring of allegations about the Guptas and the titanic threat which they pose to the state. Apparently they control the Minister for Mines, Zwane, as well as Van Rooyen (who was shifted to Cooperative Governance). One can understand why they would want the Minister for Mines, but why would they want Cooperative Governance? Of course, perhaps they bribed someone to make him Minister of Finance — but then why didn’t that person stay bribed, given the vast amounts (hundreds of millions) which the Guptas supposedly offer as bribes? And if they are giving hundreds of millions in bribes, how can they possibly be making a profit on transactions which are only ten times bigger? For surely they are not only bribing one person; one captured minister doth not a captured state make. We are also told that they have bribed the CEO of ESCOM (who has now resigned, either because he is guilty, guilty, guilty! or because he couldn’t handle being hounded and abused by journalists on a daily basis) in order to do, well, not very much.

What is also interesting is the claims by various people that they were offered ministries. In particular, the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mcebisi Jonas, has declared that the Guptas offered him both the Ministry of Finance and a gigantic bribe to accept the job. (He didn’t mention the fact at the time, but only several months later, once the anti-Gupta campaign was in full swing.) Suddenly Jonas has been elevated to a stardom which he never enjoyed before; he is the Leader of the Good Guys. The fact that if the Guptas are so corrupt, then they must have believed (on who knows what basis?) that Jonas was as corrupt or more so, does not, apparently, matter.

The “State of Capture” report rushed out by the former Public Protector to bolster all this press propaganda is essentially a compendium of media and other allegations, untested and untestable, which is given credence by her previous report on Nkandla (which was carefully tested, within the limits of a body which has virtually no real investigative ability but has plenty of lawyers and accountants who can read documents).

Meanwhile, it is interesting that the ruling class, which has been trumpetting the instantly-impending doom of Zuma for several years, has in recent months turned against their candidate, Cyril Ramaphosa. It will be recalled that the ruling class persuaded Motlanthe to stand against Zuma and then dropped him, because Ramaphosa was prepared to step up to the plate as Deputy President with the endorsement of Zuma and the SACP and the ruling class and the press. After that came the deluge of ruling-class attacks on Zuma in the press, and the denunciation of Zuma by the SACP, and the endorsement of Ramaphosa for President by COSATU. Self-evidently the ruling class had their man in position, and did not seek any alternatives (particularly not the hated Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s favoured successor – and, ironically, also Mbeki’s favoured successor).

But recently, journalists have been denouncing Ramaphosa and touting all manner of alternatives – Mkhize, Gordhan, anybody who might conceivably be willing to do whatever he is told by the ruling class. Apparently Ramaphosa the corporate toady is just too independent to be tolerated, or perhaps he is so unpopular within the ANC that he is not considered capable of beating Dlamini-Zuma.

Meanwhile again, in the background, Jonas (who, like Gordhan, is a Communist) has come out to declare that the royal road to saving the economy is by changing labour legislation to serve the interests of bosses rather than workers. (No trade union or leftists condemned him, for he is the hero of the anti-Gupta revolution.) And this, along with selling off the state enterprises and cutting income taxes (recently mooted by the SACP Secretary-General, who wants to increase sales tax instead, thus hammering the poor) is what it’s all about.

This is where the South African left has led us.


Let’s Sing Another Song, Boys . . .

November 6, 2017

. . . this one has grown old and bitter.

There is wholehearted consensus among all honest observers of South Africa that the problem of the country relates to two significant factors: the refusal of government to serve the genuine interests of the nation’s people, and the consequent collapse in public trust in government. The former factor has brought with it the steady deterioration in social services and in the general performance of government in such fields as foreign affairs and constitutional rule. The latter factor has brought with it social unrest and political paralysis.

These observers do not offer much in the way of practical suggestions about how to resolve these problems. The worst of them (the overwhelming majority) merely say that we should get rid of the African National Congress and then somehow everything will be all right. The best of them (such as Hein Marais) merely say that we need to establish a government which serves the genuine interests of the nation’s people, mostly by redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor in an efficient way and by promoting productive investment in the economy, and thus wins back public trust in government. Of course, if this were as politically easy a thing to do as these observers pretend, somebody would have done it simply out of the self-interest of installing themselves as saviour of the nation and winning a Mandela-style popularity with the majority.

There are, however, dishonest observers. These ones agree that the problem of the country relates to the refusal of government to serve the genuine interests of the elite, and the consequent collapse in elite trust in government. The former has brought with it redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, and the latter has brought with it the anger and resentment of the elite directed against the government. It is this which motivates most of the criticism of the ANC which is made by journalists and the purported intelligentsia in ruling-class-friendly segments of academia and the ruling-class-sponsored non-governmental organisations (many of which are also organised, and often sponsored, by governments, though not the South African government).

The consequence of listening too closely to the dishonest observers who make up the overwhelming bulk of those empowered to make commentary, and to those honest observers whose observations are appropriated for the purposes of such commentary, is pretty bad. It entails believing that something needs to be done, and what needs to be done is to get rid of the government, without ever specifying what it needs to be replaced with — because that means allowing the government to be replaced, not with what the people want, or with what might be best in running the country, but rather with the people whom the power elite wish to see running the country. In other words, just like what happened at Polokwane in 2007.

So, what happened in South Africa in 2016?

Just over 26% of the electorate voted for the Democratic Alliance; just over 54% of the electorate voted for the African National Congress. Under normal circumstances that would be deemed a blowout victory for the ANC. Just over 8% voted for the Economic Freedom Fighters. Under normal circumstances that would be deemed, at best, a respectably pitiful performance by the EFF. However, because the EFF was able to cooperate with the DA to hand power to them in Johannesburg and Tshwane metroes (the DA was able to take over Nelson Mandela Bay, although they lost it, because they could cooperate with any one of the political catamites — the UDM, CoPe, PAC, etc — who were eager to collaborate with them in exchange for money and jobs. So, suddenly we are told that the EFF are wonderful, not because they are, but because it is convenient to say so from the perspective of the ruling elite who back the Democratic Alliance.

In reality, the ANC lost a good deal of support because people stayed away. They did not go over to the Democratic Alliance, presumably because they knew that the Democratic Alliance opposes everything they want to see done. Therefore, they showed more sense than those European leftists and American liberals who, abandoning faith in fake social democrats and false populists, instead went off and voted for the right wing — as many of them must have done. But they were not fooled by the ANC either. Therefore, we are in the position in which nobody in politics is truly trusted, perhaps because the tasks which they are hoped to perform are simply beyond realistic expectation.

This is because of the rightward shift in the ANC, not in anything else which has happened. Granted, the DA and the white establishment generally has become a little more openly right-wing, but this is not of any great significance, since it mirrors the global shift of the NATO countries (to whom the DA owes allegiance) towards outright fascism. It is the ANC which is correctly perceived to have abandoned its principles, and therefore people either stay away or vote for the party perceived to at least pretend to maintain those principles, namely the EFF.

This, however, also tells us little about what will happen in 2019; the only thing which can be said for sure is that the DA is not going to win. Its support base has possibly peaked; the rapid growth of the black middle class or perir-bourgeoisie, the only road by which the DA can gain much electoral traction, has stalled with the stagnation of the economy and the looting of the state engineered by the tiny super-rich minority who fund the DA; hence, ironically, the super-rich minority has sabotaged their own party. Just one of the little contradictions of capitalism, comrades.

But the trouble for those who want to sort out the problems of the country is that the weakness of the DA does not mean the salvation of the country. Assuming that the EFF doubles or trebles in size (an unlikely proposition) and assuming that the EFF’s pretensions to stand by the Freedom Charter have some basis in fact (almost as unlikely) then the ANC could find itself pushed below the 50% mark, and the ANC could find itself needing to shift to the left in order to get EFF support and keep itself from disintegrating. That could, just possibly, bring some kind of redemption to the country.

However, if the EFF remains relatively small, then the ANC, under new management but possibly with the same horrible policies (or even more right-wing ones, if the Gordhan/Ramaphosa gang have their way) would probably hang in there with more than 50%, a mixture as before. And if the ANC’s right wing continues in its paranoid ascent, then even if the ANC’s support dips below 50%, a deal with the DA would probably be what the ANC would desire. (The DA wouldn’t want such a deal, but would probably be pressured into accepting by its corporate bosses — and such a deal, since it would probably lead to a further rightward shift and thence another split in the ANC, would ultimately benefit the DA by causing the ANC’s support to disintegrate.)

Maybe we should simply give up on electoral politics? Maybe what we need is what Hunter S Thompson called “some high-powered shark with a fistful of answers” like Yoweri Museveni? Or maybe we’re just doing it wrong?


Challenge/Response On #OPENSTELLENBOSCH.

November 6, 2017

Since the Association of Commonwealth Language and Literary Studies (which, although an Association, has not much to do with the Commonwealth and deals to only a limited extent with language) invited two former members (an interesting fact in itself) of #OPENSTELLENBOSCH to address it, the least one can do is respond to this address, which took the form of a challenge to the academics of ACLALS to uncritically support the organisation (although it no longer actually exists).

The organisation deserves attention. It was set up to make Stellenbosch University a more hospitable place for non-Afrikaans-speaking and particularly black students (including both coloured and african in the mixture). As such it deserved support, insofar as this agenda is indeed followed and its tactics and strategy are worth following. On the other hand, if there were major problems, it wouldn’t deserve support until it had reformed itself — so the call for uncritical support was itself problematic.

The address consisted of two elements: a video with parts which the presenters didn’t like omitted, and a rather long and jargon-laden talk by one of the members.

The video, oddly enough, was not by students, but by the Johannesburg-based film-maker Aryan Kaganof, whose films tend to depict the received ideas of the white Johannesburg media elite. The problem with this is that although Kaganof has some talent (though much less than is claimed for him) as a film-maker, he has no original political ideas, nor any commitment to the movement which the students had constructed — so it might be expected, and so it proved, that the video would provide little context or useful information.

Nevertheless there were a few interesting points. It was claimed that the movement at Stellenbosch had been initiated by a sympathetic white lecturer, who was later hounded out of the movement because she was white; the lecturer seemed aggrieved about this, as liberal-minded whites usually are, but she really should have anticipated it. Certainly the representatives from #RHODESMUSTFALL, addressing the camera or clowning for audiences, came across as bombastic, self-glorifying and largely delusional, and appeared to offer nothing for their Stellenbosch colleagues except racist rhetoric and power-fantasies.

Of course it is understandable that young people engaged in their first political action over-dramatise themselves. All the same, someone solemnly proclaiming that in Stellenbosch he shares Steve Biko’s feelings about black oppression as expressed in I Write What I Like is going too far. Biko was living in an overtly racist, exploitative society dominated by white people who wanted to kill those who refused to be crushed; Stellenbosch is a mildly racist (but deracialising) university dominated by white people who want to teach students under the overall supervision of black people. There is no reality underpinning this extravagant metaphor.

The insertion of some footage from the prelude to the Marikana massacre was not, of course, the fault of the students; it was Kaganof, following on a little group who sprayed “Remember Marikana” around the University of Cape Town one day. Over the footage Kaganof superimposes tachistoscopic flashes of various words which supposedly give meaning. In fact they do not, and the footage itself is empty, because there has never been any real debate about Marikana or any serious attempt to understand what happened there — it has simply been appropriated without debate, a tactic which ultimately has only benefited the same ruling class which was responsible for the Rustenberg unrest and the massacre in the first place. It would seem that Kaganof is appropriating #OPENSTELLENBOSCH in the same way that he is appropriating Marikana, and it also seems that the students in the movement have no objection to this. This latter is the problem.

It relates to the immense valorisation of the removal of the statue of Rhodes from the plinth at the foot of Jameson Steps at Cape Town; while the statue has been removed, the steps remain with the same name, that of an odious British imperialist agent. This scene is the only one in the video which depicts a large group of people, although the vast majority are simply looking on. But furthermore, it is a scene which leads nowhere, since unless one manages to turn Rhodes into a symbol of American neoliberal imperialism — a difficult task — it is a symbol without a referent, given that “colonialism” is not now undertaken by Britain (at least not independently so). At least the attack on the statue of Rhodes at Oxford had some meaning as an attack on the existing British ruling class; condemning Rhodes means nothing to the modern South African ruling class, and no effort was made to inject meaning into it by the students. It was simply a carnival of forcing management to do something they did not wish to do, but which, in itself, meant nothing.

The great accomplishment of #OPENSTELLENBOSCH, at least according to Kaganof’s video, was to disrupt a class taught by a young coloured junior lecturer, an event excitedly framed by the legend “HIDDEN CAMERA”, suggesting that something outrageous and hitherto secret is being revealed. In fact, it is simply cellphone footage of students bullying a young woman and preventing her from doing her job. No doubt they feel justified in doing so, and if the consequences had been significantly positive, perhaps this would have been fair. As it is, however, the footage shows the potentially ugly side of the movement. It also shows — with the chant of “I can’t breathe!” — its reliance on American iconography. There is nothing automatically invalid about this — although it should be viewed with suspicion — but the appropriation of the slogan of Black Lives Matter seems a little problematic given that the American protest related to a black man murdered by white police; the implication is that this young coloured woman, by performing her duties, is murdering the students.

After this presentation came a speech by one Mohammed Shabangu. He said all the things which one expects to be said under such circumstances; the protests were revolutionary, according to him, because they struck at the university’s residue of racism, hence represented a program to transform the university into an institution serving the people, hence represented a blow at the oppressive government, a blow at neoliberalism, a blow at capitalism, a strike against apartheid and colonialism as well. What a lot of walloping, with very little actual effort displayed!

But unpacking these claims reveals a lot of ill-justified conflation. It is natural that there is a residue of racism at Stellenbosch, but the evidence that this is monolithically imposed by management is absent, and the way in which this racism manifests itself was not clearly identified (the use of Afrikaans is not evidence — and, incidentally, Stellenbosch was unusually multilingual in its policies). This, again, is not clearly an attack on the corporatisation of the institution, which was hardly mentioned in the video and for which attack no evidence was led in the talk. (Apart from the campaign to insource functions in the institution, which seems to have collapsed, there seems to be no such attack.)

Then again, although universities are state institutions, they are autonomous, and attacks on them are not exactly attacks on the state, which can use such attacks to gain more authority over universities (and hence drive more neoliberal corporatisation). The state itself is neoliberal in orientation, but its orientation is partly driven by the corporate sector, which is not only in South Africa, but global. Hence lumping all these things together, when they are rather ill-fitting portions of an immense and ill-directed machine, is problematic if one wishes to do something effective to change the functioning of the machine. Neoliberalism is highly adaptive and manipulative, and is also extremely powerful and seductive. So a blind denunciation of everything one does not like as “neoliberal” and a claim to be fighting against neoliberalism regardless of what one is doing, looks like telling lies and claiming easy victories when these are not actually victories.

Apart from these intellectual failures (which may just be Shabangu’s, but in fact they look suspiciously similar to the rhetoric of most of the student protesters) Shabangu and his colleague Greer Valley displayed some uncomfortable attitudes. Shabangu admitted that he had only spent a year at Stellenbosch, and had hated it. So he had left. For another South African university more attuned to his cultural concerns? No. For an African university more sympathetic to his identity? No, he had gone to Germany to study (a common destination for graduates of Afrikaans universities, incidentally).

For a professed anti-colonialist to go back to the metropole to further his studies is a little problematic, but Shabangu went further, declaring that Germany was a much better country than South Africa, much less racist, much more caring about immigrants, and compared himself with the refugees from Syria. The fact that this speech was not followed by the sound of hundreds of academics slapping themselves in the face in shame and embarrassment at sitting through such horrible subaltern subordination suggests rather that his audience was waiting for everything to be over rather than that they were endorsing it.

One question asked was what about other institutions. Significantly the students did not mention the feminist protests at Rhodes or the homosexual protests at Cape Town; some have suggested that these protests are extremely problematic, and even that they were created to derail and undermine the more substantive student protests, but at least they should have been mentioned, but weren’t. Shabangu went so far as to claim that nobody knew about the protests at black institutions because the racist media did not cover them; in reality, there was some coverage, but Shabangu had obviously not bothered to find out what had happened in preparing for his talk. Had he provided substantive information about the Stellenbosch protests this might have been justified; instead, his generalisations would have been buttressed by such research (and therefore he appeared either ill-prepared or unconcerned about anything happening beyond the Grape Curtain).

He was also asked, since he hadn’t spoken about this in his talk, what the consequences, the “bitter fruits and sweet fruits” had been of the protests. His primary response was to point out that the movement appeared to have collapsed. He argued that this was partly due to repression — the deployment of more security guards on campus — which is probably true, although the burning or otherwise destruction of various buildings on various campuses certainly provided a useful pretext for such security guards without doing anything to further the objectives of the movement. However, he admitted that it was also due to “identity politics” — that is, racism — which had led him and Valley to leave the movement.

So what had the accomplishments been? Taking down Verwoerd’s plaque, apparently — which seems rather insignificant in comparison with the claimed objectives. So no sustainable movement was built, and no substantive accomplishments were gained, and the movement, by its determination to attack sympathetic academics and alienate supportive students on racial grounds, rendered itself undeserving of support, meaning that it could not be reformed or transformed into something more efficacious.

It didn’t seem to occur to either Shabangu or Valley that this was not really an advertisement for academics to join the movement. Obviously it is desirable for academics to join a struggle to change universities into something more like what academics would want to see happening. Obviously it is unfortunate that many academics are unwilling to recognise that this is important. But it is particularly unfortunate that students at the moment are not capable of putting together a movement deserving of academic support, nor of presenting an image of that movement which would create the illusion that it deserved academic support.

Perhaps something is wrong here.


At Last, the Creator Reads the Mars Trilogy.

November 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So This Is Freedom? They Must Be Joking!

November 6, 2017

The politics of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave are beyond belief as well as beneath contempt – like the politics of most similar countries, of course.
The Republican Party and the Democratic Party are both, of course, the same party; the party of wealth, privilege, power and disdain for anyone who lacks these things. Both are also parties of global military violence and domestic economic oppression (which, when challenged, often morphs into global economic violence and domestic military oppression). The difference between them is one of style, and to some extent of constituency which determines that style, plus the fact that there are different market segments seeking to appeal to them. This style, and those different market segments, determine who votes for the different halves of the party – rather like the ANC and the DA in South Africa, although here it’s three-quarters and one-quarter, or at least has been since 1994 when the first polls were held.
But still, this recent Presidential primary election season has gone beyond the usual joke, beyond the usual surrealism, into something which makes one begin to believe that perhaps the Satanic deity which created this world to torment us is beginning to manifest itself in all its hideous clarity.
The primary nightmare is being constructed around Donald Trump, the ex-bankrupt real estate and casino tycoon, who decided to stand for the Presidency as a potential Republican candidate. Since many Americans either passionately love or passionately dislike the rich, this could either be a problem or an advantage. He’s not, of course, the first billionaire to stand for the Presidency — anyone remember Mitt Romney? However, the issue about Trump is not that he is a billionaire at all; the issue around Trump is that he is a racist and a misogynist.
There is a degree of truth in this. Trump wants to keep out the illegal Mexican immigrants, so that makes him a racist (since he doesn’t want to keep out all those illegal British immigrants who come flooding into the country, smelling the place up with their spiceless food). He also wants to keep out the Muslims, merely because they are shooting back at the Americans who shoot at them. Trump has also said some rather unpleasant things about female journalists, usually the blow-dried, overgroomed, excessively made-up right-wing ones on TV shows who try, without much competence or conviction, to make fun of him.
So he doesn’t like brown-skinned people or women. That should make him unelectable. However – and here’s where it gets complicated – it isn’t actually clear that Trump doesn’t like brown-skinned people or women. He certainly claims to dislike people who come into the country and steal jobs and women and all of the usual xenophobic rubbish which one hears from all conservative politicians (most of them pretending to be liberals), many of whom have no difficulty getting elected or re-elected. His hostility to Muslims is based entirely on the fact that the United States happens to like going to war wuith Muslim countries, and seems to have no basis in any religious prejudice of his own (although he is happily exploiting anti-Muslim prejudice in others, just as Clinton and Bush and Obama did). Similarly, he dislikes anybody who opposes or challenges him, regardless of gender (like any CEO, that is) and therefore abuses and despises female journalists who serve other people’s agendas. Soi, basically, Trump is a nasty person, but not unusually nasty.
Of course, then, that’s politics. One does what one can to make one’s opponents look objectionable; George W Bush was depicted as an inebriated simian miscreant, John Kerry was depicted as an irresponsible coward, Barack Obama was depicted as a weakling and (worse still) a black — and, of course, all these things turned out to be true. Yet there was nothing novel about any of these points. And there is nothing novel about Trumpitude except for the fact that he is unusually brash about his odiousness — which many people, not all of them Republicans, find refreshing. Much better to be sold a plate of shit than a plate of shit labelled “Chocolate ice cream” — although it makes little difference if you are still forced to eat it at gunpoint.
Turning to the Democratic Party side of the aisle, a Titanic Struggle was waged between the Socialist Monster Bernie Sanders and the Shrieking Harpy Hillary Clinton. Sanders is a socialist in the sense that he wants to see a little more regulation applied to the major banks — in other words, he’s a socialist like Winston Churchill was a socialist when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Accusing Hillary of being a harpy makes a little more sense, since the Harpies were monstrous female creatures which killed people, and Hillary has certainly killed a lot of people. However, almost nobody is talking about that; instead they are accusing Hillary of being in league with the banks, just because she was on a retainer from Goldman Sachs, how unfair can you get, shame.
Like most Titanic Struggles, this one was fixed from the start; Hillary was always going to win, because she was the Chosen One of the sponsors of the Democratic Party; the conflict between Obama and Hillary in 2008 was more even-handed because the sponsors liked each of them equally. Sanders was always going to lose, because he isn’t wrapping himself in the bloodstained dollar of global aggression. Oddly enough, he actually supports American global aggression (he’s a big fan of Zionist aggression, for instance, which is American aggression by proxy) but rather than appropriate that he prefers to talk about other things, like how awful the bankers are. He is, thus, a populist, seeking to pretend to serve the people, one who possibly intends well in some ways but generally will serve the interests of the ruling class in whatever minor sense that he holds power. (This is approximately what we saw with Obama, although Sanders is more effective at playing the populist game than Obama was because Sanders has some limited understanding of what the people want.) This is why, when Clinton eventually racked up enough delegates to win on a first ballot at the Convention, Sanders immediately cast aside all his valid criticisms of Clinton and became a Clintonista; you gotta Get With The Program.
This is, therefore, a bizarre situation. One party is nominating an anti-politician who is almost certainly going to lose, not because they want to lose, but because pressure from grassroots is forcing them to nominate someone whom they really don’t like and who doesn’t actually stand for their principles. One party is nominating a career politician, a complete insider who is ludicrously pretending to be an outside, who is widely despised, notoriously corrupt and dedicated to principles which her party professes to oppose (although it actually supports them). Both are committed to values and policies which make their country’s name stink throughout the world, and one of them is even acknowledged as such by the media (because he represents a challenge to the individuals and groups which control the media). His likely competitor represents no such challenge, being entirely in thrall to those individuals and groups.
What’s bizarre about this? The ruling class remains in charge. Assuming that Clinton wins, there will be no problem controlling her. If Trump wins, the ruling class can accommodate themselves to his blustering manner and presumably they will have no difficulty in making him do what they tell him.
But still, one gets the impression that the system is losing control of the democratic charade, putting forward much more blatantly ludicrous and odious people than usual. Furthermore, the public is no longer deceived in the same way that it was. Granted, the public is still trying to elect a leader who will serve them, so they are still utterly deluded. But they are also trying to counteract the lies which they are told by the establishment, with a different set of lies. These lies are provided to them by their masters, but are cunningly packaged to appear to challenge the lies they have been told in the past. Those who can remember the lies of the past will recognise that these lies are valueless – but fortunately the whole tenor of contemporary culture is aimed at forgetting everything in the past, especially the lies which we have been told.
As a result, informed people know that the situation is just as bad as it has been for decades, and that it is more conspicuously so than before. But uninformed people do not know this, although they doubtless have a vague notion that the situation is indeed bad.
In the real world, too, there is no alternative to the promotion of bad policies. Clinton stands for everything bad about the Obama administration and is resolved that nothing good will materialise. Trump stands for a rhetorical fantasy of corporate power and reactionaries saving the world through violence and willpower — arguably fascistic, but then all contemporary politics are fascistic. In the end, then, both are committed to pursuing policies of national suicide to the bitter end — which will be the destruction of far more than that odious country stretching from sea to shining sea, from the halls of Montezuma to the plains of Abraham.
Can this be challenged? Can the United States rescue itself from a situation in which the leader of the state must inevitably be a hypocritical liar, simply because the ruling class will not permit any other category of people to hold the post, and because the policies pursued by any leader of the state must oppose the interests of the people who vote for that leader, so therefore the leader must lie and distract? It seems impossible to challenge this in the United States, partly because of repression, partly because of media disinformation, and partly because of more than a hundred years of conformist brainwashing which has turned even the people who think of themselves as radicals into goose-stepping, unthinking supporters of a ghastly, suicidal status quo.
And this is the Land of the Free, this is the country which rules the world on the basis of its claim that all alternatives to it are worse — that anyone who doesn’t knuckle under to the supremacy of Uncle Sam is a clone of Kim or Castro. This is the country from which our own media draw much of their material and virtually all of their ideological dogma. Looked at closely, the situation doesn’t bear thinking about. Maybe the end of the world will not be such a bad thing after all, if it draws down the curtain on this long global nightmare.