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.”

Endgame for International Law.

June 9, 2011

One of the Big Bright Ideas of liberals in the 1990s was the idea that international law was going to solve all our problems. Lawyers like Phillippe Sands launched campaigns to challenge the armed aggression of Anglo-American imperialism on the basis of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine evolved under the Clinton administration. The foundation of such campaigns, of course, was the notion that the UN Security Council, which alone had the international authority to authorise armed action against sovereign governments, could serve as a basis for moral leadership. Atop that foundation was the notion that the International Criminal Court (ICC), set up with such noisy fanfare by the UN and the EU and the Clinton administration again, would be the most suitable tool through which to effect the legal consequences of any decisions made by the Security Council.
In contrast to these ideas, the so-called “neoconservatives” in the Bush II administration (who were often former radical leftists who brought their authoritarian arrogance with them when they shifted to the extreme right) concluded that international law was a dead letter. This was exemplified by John Bolton, a campaigner for the abolition of the United Nations whom Bush, inevitably, appointed as UN Ambassador, but there was a broad groundswell of support for this notion. Partly it was crude patriotism; no outsider should ever be allowed to interfere with whatever the US wanted to do (hence the “Hague Invasion Act”, under which Congress proclaimed its intention of using armed force to liberate any hapless American held captive by the ICC — this was actually a political stunt, since Clinton had already negotiated complete exemption for American citizens from the ICC, but it served to justify the Bush administration’s refusal to ratify the ICC’s authority). Partly it was neoliberalism; no law should ever be allowed to interfere with whatever a rich person wanted to do.
There was a conflict between these groupings, but this conflict, although it pretended to be a moral conflict, was in practice a conflict over who had the power. In some ways it was also a tactical conflict; could Western imperialism be better served through co-opting non-Westerners into supporting the ICC and the UN (which could be relied on to do the West’s bidding because the West paid the piper) or would such imperialism be better served through co-opting them into joining massive armed international aggression? The latter was represented by the “coalition of the willing” nations who supported America’s unprovoked attack on Iraq, but also, later, by the way in which the African Union endorsed, and provided backing for, the American-sponsored invasion of Somalia in 2006.
The route of international law was problematic. According to the UN Charter, there were two major crimes in the world: international aggression (which is defined very clearly, as launching an attack on a country’s territory) and genocide (which is defined very obscurely, but has come to mean either the extermination of a group, or the desire to exterminate a group, or doing things which look as if you might want to exterminate a group). The problem was that all such issues had to be referred to the Security Council, and if China (after 1971, when it was belatedly allowed to join), Russia, Britain, France or the United States refused to accept a Security Council decision, then that decision was revoked.
As a result, those five countries, or any of their allies, were essentially free to perform those major crimes. When North Korea attacked South Korea in 1950, the then Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council in a sulk, and therefore the aggression clause was invoked and half a million Western troops deployed to slaughter three million Koreans. But when Israel attacked Egypt in 1956, the United States could ensure that no forces were sent to march on Tel-Aviv and punish the aggressor (and subsequently it turned out that France and Britain were in league with Israel. Subsequently, virtually all the international aggressions which have been launched have taken place under the auspices or protection of the United States, the globe’s champion aggressor, and the whole concept of punishing aggression has fallen by the wayside, meaning that the core of international law as conceived under the United Nations (and its predecessor, the League of Nations) has been simply euthanized.
Genocide likewise. It is not really possible to claim that the massacres which followed the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949 were genocide (landlords are not usually considered an ethnic group). It was, perhaps, possible to see the slaughter of half a million Communists in Indonesia in 1965 as a genocidal act, but since this was being done by the Indonesian government with US assistance, it was impossible to take action. It is interesting to note that the first real accusations of genocide surfaced in connection with the Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia in 1975, immediately after the US puppet government was overthrown and a US spy ship was seized by the new Cambodian government. Suddenly everybody was talking about genocide in that country, and genocide became the Big Issue.
There was, however, a problem with this. It was obvious that the Khmer Rouge was not out to exterminate the Khmers. It was, instead, partly trying to wipe out its political opponents (which it identified as most of the population of Pnomh Penh) and partly trying to cope with a massive famine which arose because the US in bombing Cambodia flat over the previous five years had largely destroyed the country’s agriculture (although this could obviously not be called genocide or even aggression, though technically it was both, because the US was doing it). Meanwhile, because the Khmer Rouge was hostile to Vietnam and sympathetic to China, and the US was violently hostile to Vietnam and sympathetic to China, the US was unwilling to let anyone take action against the Khmer Rouge. So, ironically, the action which inaugurated the Age of Talking About Genocide As If It Were Happening, which was in scale something like a genocide but arguably didn’t fit the definition, was launched with US approval and escaped punishment or censure because the US supported it. (After the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge, the US actually financially and militarily supported the Khmer Rouge, genocide and all.)
Since then, virtually every country which the West does not like has routinely been accused of genocide, from Albania to Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the Rwandan (and less-publicised Burundian) genocides, which were textbook cases based on ethnic violence with the goal of extermination, were allowed to happen largely because the West did not want to draw attention to its role in provoking or prolonging them. (The Clinton government, that paragon of international law, refused to allow the UN to use the word “genocide” in its discussion of the Rwandan situation; half a million Tutsis were being hacked to bits in an unfortunate incident of inter-communal strife which should not be blown out of proportion.) In contrast, when thuggish militias in ex-Yugoslavia gunned down a thousand or so civilians, this was proclaimed to be genocide. It appeared that the new international law recognised white people’s rights to be considerably more than a hundred times as important as black people’s. However, this was not really the case; the fact was that the bombers and troops were available to attack Serbia, and therefore the goal was to set a precedent for the use of those bombers and troops so that international law could be used as a tool of international imperialism. Had it been necessary to use intervention in a black country to justify such imperialism, it would have been done — but it was cheaper, for strategic reasons, to intervene first in a white country.
What all this means is that the international law which was being appealed to in the 1990s was something with a fifty-year track record of appalling hypocrisy. It had been exploited for fifty years by the corrupt, brutal and utterly cynical regimes of the world — mainly of the West, the powers who had won the Cold War and now saw themselves as the masters of the universe. Now the lawyers of the West were saying that, henceforth, all this hypocrisy and dishonesty would vanish in their hands and international law would become the device for saving the world. In particular, no longer would it be necessary to appeal to “genocide” for an excuse for Western imperialist intervention. Now all that was needed was “crimes against humanity” (which presumably included stepping deliberately upon someone’s toe) which would arouse a “responsibility to protect” — meaning that foreigners would be entitled to leap in and save the victims of that terrible toe-trampling, if necessary by shooting off the foot that did the trampling. Or both feet. Or napalming the region where it had happened.
And, as a useful addendum, the long-standing “racketeering and anti-money-laundering” policies of Western countries, under which, every now and then, some minor gangster would have her or his wealth stolen by the state instead of by some other gangster, were to be used for purposes of international politics. Henceforth the West had the right not only to invade, but to plunder the resources of, any country they attacked, because obviously any bad person was bad because he or she had money, and hence such “financial sanctions” would automatically stop that bad activity, because nobody in the world does anything, ever, unless they are paid to do so.
The consequences of this ridiculous situation, which was embarrassingly justified by people like Sands who seem to have genuinely fooled themselves into thinking that the system was not corrupt and that “their” rulers (unlike everybody else’s rulers) were just and noble, are plain to see.
Recently, under the responsibility to protect ruling, the French invaded Ivory Coast, deposed the man they didn’t want in charge and installed their guy instead, with the authorization and armed support of the United Nations. Being sensible, the French did not put many white soldiers in harm’s way, but instead hired or co-opted mercenaries from the northern areas of Ivory Coast where the guy they liked held sway. However, these mercenary militiamen were undisciplined thugs who slaughtered civilians in their thousands. And, embarrassingly, at the time the militiamen swept through south-eastern Ivory Coast, Amnesty International were in the area, doing their job trying to collect evidence of crimes committed by the guy the UN wanted kicked out. Amnesty International is an extremely corrupt organisation, but even they could hardly ignore the murders happening all around them, so they sought out the United Nations “peacekeepers”, who were keeping the peace by firing 23mm rotary cannon into the local villages from their MI-24 helicopters (a 23mm cannon-shell certainly makes you very peaceful if it hits you). AI asked the UN to please stop the slaughter of civilians. And what did the UN say? “It is not our responsibility to protect civilians”, they replied. Even though the UN had originally been deployed to the Ivory Coast to stop civilian massacres in the former civil war, and even though they had overwhelming force with which to perform that protection. In other words, the UN no longer applies “responsibility to protect” at all — it is simply, even in the UN’s eyes, an excuse for imperialist action.
Most recently, the chief investigator/prosecutor for the ICC stepped out onto the stage to justify the Western imperialist war against Libya. That war has been doing on for several months, and there has been plenty of time to assemble evidence that the Libyan regime has committed massacres. The Libyan regime is not a particularly nice dictatorship and Colonel Qadhaffi is not over-supplied with scruples when it comes to hanging on to power, so one would expect that the ICC would have found quite a bit of evidence to excuse the bloody massacre which NATO is perpetrating in that country under the auspices of “responsibility to protect”, as in Ivory Coast but on a still greater scale. (The Libyans have acknowledged about a thousand civilian deaths in the bombing campaign so far; they haven’t revealed their military losses, or deaths due to starvation, lack of healthcare or destruction of civilian infrastructure, all of which are happening thanks to NATO’s campaign. All this is arguably more devastating than anything which Qadhaffi’s thugs might have done in suppressing the rebellion — and it’s getting worse.)
Anyway, back to the much-revered ICC. The rapporteur announced that the Libyan government had ordered its troops to rape the rebels, and had equipped their troops with “sex drugs” to encourage them to rape the rebels. Let’s take that seriously for a moment. You’re fighting a big rebellion against your government. You send in your militias to suppress that rebellion, knowing that your militias are under-equipped and possibly low in morale. Are you really going to order them to take time off from fighting against an armed insurrection by running around screwing women and gobbling Viagra to keep their dicks hard? That is, quite simply, not the way any sane organisation behaves. It’s not even the way an insane organisation behaves. But it is the way that, in the past, Western propagandists have struggled to demonise their enemies (one remembers the “rape camps” in Serbia in the 1990s, not to mention the “stolen baby incubators” story in Kuwait in 1990). Western minds are apparently so saturated with sadistic pornography that they have come to think that this is what war is all about. It isn’t.
Meanwhile, exactly one woman has been found, out of all the women available for rape in rebel areas, who actually claims to have been raped by Libyan troops. (There was no attempt to substantiate her claim, as would have happened in any ordinary rape case, by, for instance, performing a semen test.) It seems odd, then, that the ICC claims that universal rape was called for, but that there is a certain absence of it actually happening. Perhaps the Libyan government military is not under Qaddhaffi’s sexual domination? Perhaps Libyan men can’t get it up?
Or, most probably, the ICC has lost all sense of being an International Criminal Court, and has become simply a conduit for the crudest, least credible, most despicable propaganda imaginable, and thus cannot be seen in any way as a legitimate legal entity capable of putting war criminals on trial. And that’s, basically, it. We can write finis to the desire to promote international law. If we want to have an international law, we’re going to have to start all over again, because what we have now is a global gangster’s charter for raping the planet.

Let’s All Drink To The Death Of A Clown!

April 7, 2011

The troops, never mind whose, have marched into Abidjan, securing it for Western capitalism (of a special type) as completely as the troops which marched into the Ashanti country in 1895. There is looting and rape and murder, but as Donald Rumsfeld (inspirer of the current wave of plutocratic plunder) pointed out, stuff happens, and freedom (of a special type) is messy. In any case, as Human Rights Watch (which does not need to be instructed to say so by their patrons in the Pentagon and the State Department) incessantly shouts, the other side is much worse (by virtue of being the other side), and therefore it does not matter how bad our side is.
South Africans are prepared to follow instructions and celebrate the fall of Laurent Gbagbo, whom they know nothing about except that they are expected to celebrate his fall, and celebrate the rise of Allison Outtara, whom they know nothing about except that they are expected to celebrate his rise. Exception and expectation should be followed by expectoration, but they are, of course, not. We are too well-trained and too unthinking, like the participants in a Nuremberg rally. “One hundred thousand men in a single block!” cries the newspapers, and can one hundred thousand blockheads be wrong?
The clowns who rule Africa and Arabia and Central Asia are an embarrassment. They were installed, duly, by the West in order to create the illusion of independence. That was why clowns were chosen; they could clown for the cameras so that the West could roll the tape and explain that Western governments were not clowns and therefore all was well at home by comparison. And, of course, Arabia was the same. The West did its best to do the same for Asia — a typical example being the clowns who have scampered across the governmental stages of Pakistan — but were most successful in Central Asia, where the post-Soviet “independent republics” were exactly as independent as the dead calf in a game of dead calfball, a game characteristic of Central Asia, and which is played by Russia, China and the United States with the Central Asian Republics and their governments. But what counts for us is Africa.
The clowns in suits and battledress (or Mao) jackets are still with us, of course. What has happened, however, is that the opportunity for clowning has become somewhat restricted. Nowadays the script is dictated from Washington and includes a carefully-determined array of worshipful observations about Western interests combined with a strictly-limited collation of hypocrisy and mendacity intended to simultaneously cover up international corruption and facilitate accusations of African corruption.
Africa initially had the advantage that clowning made absolutely no difference. It was a country of incredibly weak states and strong capitalist comprador ruling classes. Win over the President, a few dozen generals, civil servants, businessmen and tribal chiefs, and you had the country. Of course, these people had to have the right to steal what they pleased, and frequently they squabbled over whose turn it was to eat. Their underlings had to have the right to steal, more modestly, but there could be no question about that right, for if they did not have that right then the leaders would not have the right, and if the leaders did not have the right to steal then the public might ask where the money was going.
Where it was going was, of course, overseas. First it went directly overseas, via the usual neo-colonial systems of overworked, underpaid plantation and mine labourers. Then in the 1980s commodity prices collapsed, so the rulers were easily persuaded to borrow money which they could not repay, after which interest rates were carefully raised so that African countries ceased wasting money on pretending to develop themselves and instead poured the money directly into the pockets of Western bankers. A few countries held out against this, but not for long. Presently in the 1990s came the call for the people of Africa to rise up against their leaders and stop them being so corrupt, and some even were fooled into doing this, and then less corrupt people were installed who focussed their attention on plundering the country directly for the benefit of foreigners, without diverting more than a tributary of the river of gold into their own Swiss or Brazilian bank accounts.
And now the situation is changed again, and not for the better. It is worth noting that the two Arab countries which the West has particularly chosen to attack since 2000 — Iraq and Libya — are two countries where the dictator tried to plough some of the state cash, controlled by a state-owned oil company, back into development again. Maybe this is coincidence, for these happened to be countries which the West wanted to attack anyway, because they had carefully demonised both dictators, and also because the West had an opportunity (though in the case of Iraq certainly, and Libya probably, the West worked extremely hard to create that opportunity).
But in Africa south of the Sahara, there have been a sequence of Western-backed invasions or “uprisings”; the DRC in 1997, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Somalia, the long torment of the Sudan, and now, of course, Ivory Coast. (The Ethiopia-Eritrea war was also one where the US had a hand, and perhaps it fits the system, because ever since that war Ethiopia has been firmly in America’s back pocket.) These are not, for the most part, important countries. However, they are opportunities for countries which the West has powerful interest in to display apparent power, and they are also opportunities for the West to ensure that a government is entirely under its authority, like the hapless Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia. And to punish governments which are not under its authority, which is why Charles Taylor is waltzing with kangaroos in The Hague.
What seems to be going on is that the West is becoming a little desperate. It is true that the economic crunch happened only in 2007-8, whereas many of the invasions of Africa and elsewhere happened well before that. However, the West has been in big economic trouble for some time. It is true that Clinton and Bush both pretended that all was well with the economy, but both of them knew that their respective economies depended ultimately upon financialised bubbles which would burst sooner or later. Both of them also knew that when those bubbles burst the economy would slow down if nothing happened to ease it, and both of them were aware that there were powerful forces elsewhere which could threaten U.S. economic hegemony — both were painfully aware of the power of China even though both chose to pretend that it did not threaten them.
So is it coincidence that both leaders attempted to develop control over important sources of natural resources? Clinton, via Rwanda, gained control of much of the world’s coltan production which facilitated the short-lived electronics boom of the 1995-2005 period. Bush, more traditionally, threw his weight into the oil supply. Cheaper oil would have helped the United States in the short run; the fact that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was so badly bungled that it briefly lowered rather than raising Arab fear of U.S. power counteracted this, and in any case oil is running low and so a fall in the oil price was undesirable. (Besides, it could have harmed U.S. financial interests which are heavily involved in oil futures.)
These solutions have turned out not to be solutions, and now the problem is multiplied by the fact that the West is now in approximately the situation of those hapless African countries in the 1980s. The West does not export enough to fund its imports, and it is massively in debt and therefore is suffering from capital flight. What is to be done about this? If it were possible to put pressure on Latin America and Asia, then this could be done, but Latin America and Asia are not easily crushed — Latin American governments are united in distrust of the United States, and most of Asia can shelter either under the Chinese wing or the Indian wing — and both China and India are highly ambiguous allies for the United States, and both are active competitors with Europe. Japan is no longer so supine towards the United States as it used to be, although it is probably the most abject supporter of U.S. power in east Asia. No, these countries are not credible sources of wealth or power. Nor is Central Asia so secure now that the United States faces massive competition there from both China and Russia, both of whom are restless about American empire in the region.
Is terrorizing Africa going to be a solution? The comprador elite can no doubt be persuaded to screw their populace more thoroughly. There may be some more natural resources to plunder more effectively, although the United States needs little more from Africa than oil. However, it is hard to believe that this will provide more than a tiny fraction — probably less than one percent — of the increment that the Western ruling class wants each year in order to keep itself in the expansive style to which it is accustomed. Moreover, the more armed aggression against Africa, the weaker the comprador elite becomes. Then, the more probable that countries will sag into internal uprisings on the Somalian model which will require foreign troops, or at least foreign funding for local mercenaries that the West is beginning to find difficult to afford and which will counterbalance any money gained from such operations.
So it does not look like a solution. But for the moment it might look like one. At any event, the Western populace needs to be unified behind some distraction and aggression against Africa is likely to be a popular policy, pandering to racism while dressed up as the liberation of the continent. Like the liberation of the arrival of the missionaries, the liberation of the arrival of the colonists, the liberation of the departure of the colonists, the liberation of the arrival of the World Bank and IMF and Lehman Brothers. Ah, we have been well and truly liberated, about as liberated as a continent can be and still draw breath.
If only we could free our own minds! Well, perhaps we can. Perhaps we even have. But unfortunately, with the press and other media firmly in the grasp of those with no minds and no concept of freedom, we have little hope of learning about it.

Welcome To The Desert Of Unreason.

March 23, 2011

The cruise missiles are flying, the American and British and French bombers are bombing, the American and satellite politicians are lying — there is nothing new there. It seems probable that the dictator of Libya will be overthrown in a few days. It might take a little longer; perhaps there will be an upsurge of patriotism on the part of those who did not hate him so much; perhaps there will be a small upsurge of shame on the part of those who wish to profit by his collapse. No matter. He will be gone, and the Western imperialists will control Libya as they did before Colonel Kaddhaffi launched his coup.

Now, none of this is particularly surprising. The Western imperialists — the Americans and their lackeys, if one can be so polite as to call people like Sarkozy and Cameron lackeys, which actually attributes to them merits which they do not possess since lackeys are customarily more or less useful people and Sarkozy and Cameron have no use-value — anyway, they have all been trying to find pretexts for attacking Libya almost since the campaign to destabilise the Arab states began. Libya, actually a less calamitously badly-run Arab state than most (of course that is the faint praise that damns) has been represented as the next domino ever since Tunisia caved in.

Does this mean that the Western imperialists engineered the whole shebang, perhaps bribing the Eastern Libyan tribal leaders and Kaddhaffi’s political allies to turn on him? Impossible to say and not really worth discussing in consequence. Besides, like most political operators, the Western imperialists are far more opportunists than they are technicians of disaster. That disaster follows in their wake goes without question; their selfish greed can provide no other consequence. But opportunities to generate disaster are there for the taking.

However, before we turn away from the whole affair in disgust (it is hard to see Kaddhaffi as someone deserving to be actively protected) it’s worth noting that there are serious consequences even if these may not be taken too seriously in practice. This is the first time in recent history — the first time since the end of the Cold War, certainly — that unprovoked Western imperialist aggression has been legitimated by the United Nations. The war against Serbia was fought without U.N. support; so was the invasion of Iraq. Granted, the U.N. did not oppose these horrible episodes, but it did not endorse it, and on many recent occasions, largely with South African support, the Security Council has held out against endorsing Western aggression. Admittedly, the U.N. allowed Western aggression in Afghanistan, but 9/11 was a fairly serious provocation. Admittedly, the U.N. has consistently rewarded Western aggression by offering ex post facto imprimaturs (in Iraq and Somalia and Haiti to name but three). However, you might argue that in these cases the U.N. couldn’t do anything to stop the consequences of Western aggression and might well have been endeavouring to ameliorate the horrid effects of bombardment, invasion and political destabilisation.

But you cannot say that with regard to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. That resolution permitted Western invasion of Libya in support of the rebels in the civil war, something desired by the Western powers in various civil wars (for instance, those in southern Sudan and Darfur) for decades or more. It was a blank cheque for aggression to be drawn on the planetary moral bank, a bankrupt institution if ever there was one (but America has plenty of experience of fraudulent bankruptcy, moral or financial). What bloody idiot would vote for such a thing, given the stinking record of the United States and Western Europe in the Arab world and in Africa?

Well, it was called for by the Arab League — but the Arab League is an American catspaw. It was, however, drafted by, among other Security Council members, Lebanon of all countries. Yes, Lebanon — one of the major beneficiaries of the Arab revolts so long as Western powers were kept out of those revolts, for it was in Lebanon where Hizbollah was able to take power in consequence of a crazed squabble in the Lebanese Parliament and the desperate unpopularity of the pro-American, pro-Israeli right wing in that Parliament. So, by deliberately calling for Western imperialist aggression in a Mediterranean Arab state, Hizbollah, defined as a terrorist organisation by the United States on orders from Tel-Aviv, was painstakingly loading a double-barrelled shotgun, cocking it, aiming it at its own foot and pressing the trigger. If the U.S. Marines come ashore yet again in Beirut in the next five years, nobody will be able to say that Hizbollah has any right to be surprised.

But when that happened, many in the U.S. said that this was a fruitless exercise. Granted the U.S. wanted to have the right to destroy Kaddhaffi. Granted, the French had recognised the rag-tag rebels of Benghazi. Granted, the British Defense Minister had put a stick of special forces ashore on Libya only to have them ignominiously rounded up again. The line-up was complete. But it would still be hard to sell to the average citizen in the streets of the U.S., for it usually takes weeks to get all those zombies marching to the beat of the media drum — especially with the media drum having long since instructed the zombies to hate and distrust the Commander-in-Chief who would be calling for any such aggression. The only way would be to hide behind the United Nations, and it was widely suspected that neither Russia nor China would endorse Western aggression.

But they did. They supported the resolution, and so did South Africa. No doubt the Russian and Chinese governments felt that it did not matter, since they would have no prospect of gaining control of Libyan oil in any event. The Zuma administration’s foreign policy is a catspaw of the West, like so many of its policies, so the South African vote was inevitably going to be whatever Washington wanted. Still, the Russians and Chinese may yet come to rue their decision to give the West a free hand to invade whatever countries they want to attack; the Russians and Chinese will certainly not find that the same benison will be granted to them. On the contrary, they will probably find their own erstwhile satellites, like North Korea and the Central Asian dictatorships, falling increasingly under Western imperialist control with the enthusiastic applause of the “international community” cheer-led and conducted from behind the scenes by the blood-drenched U.S. State Department. Effectively, with three of its core members submitting to Western power, this could be the end of BRIC before it even begins.

Yes, but what is this all about?

The U.S. hates Kaddhaffi, who has been their enemy of last resort since the late 1970s. When Palestinian dissidents blew up an American pub in West Germany in 1985, the U.S. bombed Tripoli and tried to kill Kaddhaffi; when Palestinians under orders from Iranians blew up an American airliner (in revenge for the Americans blowing up an Iranian airliner) in 1988, Kaddhaffi was blamed and sanctions were imposed on the basis of all this absurdity. It was with difficulty that the African Union (led by South Africa) was able to get Libya back into the international community again; the Americans wanted them a pariah forever.

It has very little to do with oil. Libyan oil can only be transported via the Mediterranean, which the U.S. controls. If the U.S. wants Libya to divert its oil from Western Europe to the United States it has only to send an e-mail to get this assured. Therefore, it is all about publicity and propaganda. Having manufactured Kaddhaffi as an enemy, what we are now seeing is the last act of the tragedy; the destruction of the enemy. It worked in Serbia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Haiti and in Somalia — all countries where, to some extent however minor, a nation’s government had defied the United States and therefore the nation had to be punished. Libya is about to be punished through the installation of a new government dependent on the U.S. for its survival. This will be defined as democracy, though no doubt for Western Libyans this will not be perceived as such.

It is, of course, possible that the consequences may not be very pleasant for the West. While it is unlikely that very many will mourn Kaddhaffi’s fall, it is still true that he has stood up against the West and therefore has some claim to patriotism which the tribal rebels of Benghazi and environs have forfeited. Hence the overthrow of Kaddhaffi may be seen as an entirely Western move, in which case there may be uprisings against the easterners which will necessitate a permanent Western military commitment in Libya to safeguard the oil and the Westernised government. It is even possible that Islamic fundamentalists may find a fertile soil in the ensuing squabbling. This is all speculative, but it is very probably what Hizbollah had in the back of their minds when they called for the West to oust Kaddhaffi. It would be mildly amusing (from a safe distance) if the Western attack on Libya, which is intended to secure a docile petro-puppet, generated instead an unstable anti-Western regime, such as happened (to some extent, at least) in Iraq, and to a far greater extent in Afghanistan.

However, let us suppose that this does not happen, that the installation of the new government goes as planned, the oil flow continues as desired, and everything is hunky dory in Washington, D C. What difference will this have made? Neither Obama, nor Sarkozy, nor Cameron, stand to gain much from their famous victory. In a few months, unless there is some calamity, it will have been forgotten about and the medal ribbons won will be unmemorable. Nobody will make much more money out of the oil revenues than they would have made otherwise.

But meanwhile, in all three countries, the governments are pursuing policies which will lead almost inevitably to their doom. Britain, of course, is deliberately dismantling its welfare state (on the pretext of resolving the economic crisis) in order to hand the money saved to the ruling classes. France had begun doing this even before the economic crisis. In the United States, Obama is leaving the dismantling of the welfare state to local politicians, who are enthusiastically using the gigantic state budget deficits to attack the rights of civil servants — while the plans for dismantling U.S. Social Security, once opposed by Democrats but now clapped on by those tedious buffoons who back Obama are well advanced.

These plans are all going to exaggerate the problems of the current depression, since the current depression is caused by a lack of purchasing power; these plans are all aimed at reducing the spending power of the working and middle classes. In other words, the countries who are flinging their military weight about are, behind the scenes, endeavouring to wreck their own economies as effectively as they are wrecking Libya’s. Hence, there is no long-term plan visible; what Obama and his little scatterbrained friends are doing is simply what Clinton and Bush and their friends did before them, but then under more favourable conditions. As the radioactive clouds drift across Japan and the turbulence of global weather grows ever more menacing, it is business as usual in the command bunkers.

Let us hope that they soon disappear under a plutonium-laced tsunami . . .


Confusion, Delusion, Revolution.

March 8, 2011

Yes, there is a fresh spirit of expressing popular discontent with their governments evident in the Arab world. No, this is not something new. Between 1950 and 1970, Arab governments installed by Western imperialists went down like a row of ninepins unless, like the Yemeni or Lebanese government, they were actively propped up by direct Western intervention.
But after 1970, Arab governments stabilised. Was this because they suddenly became more likeable? Not exactly. The answer is twofold; the victory of Israel over Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and an intensification of Western intervention. Western support helped keep Jordan afloat (the Israeli invasion had wrecked the country), propped up the monarchy in Morocco and the dictatorship in Algeria, and attempted to prop up the right-wing tyranny in Lebanon (which helped promote the civil war there); most particularly, the dictatorship in Egypt was sustained with Western money (especially after it signed a peace agreement with Israel).
In Libya, Syria and Iraq, highly repressive (but relatively wealth-redistributive) dictatorships established a stultified culture where all utterance focussed on glorifying the regime in exchange for hard cash. These states were tolerated by the West in part because they served as useful tools sometimes (Syria in offering military aid to crush Palestinians in the chaotic Lebanon, Iraq in trying to overthrow the Iranian government through the first Gulf War — significantly, in both cases, the West eventually turned on their tools, using Israeli power against the Syrians and directly crushing the Iraqis). Basically, between Western agents and intensified tyranny financed by a higher oil price, the Arabs were almost politically paralysed. It didn’t help that the secularism fostered by Nasser had failed, and that its sponsor, the Soviet Union, was essentially chased out of the Arab world by America and its oil companies.
None of this, however, means that the people of the Arab world were happy with their rulers. The interesting question is why they waited so long to object to them. 1989-91, when the West was constantly banging on about the global revolution, passed with scarcely a bubble of discontent in the Arab world. After 1999 there were uprisings all over Latin America (though these, significantly, were largely driven by democratic reformism rather than by revolutionary action, even though the reformism was spiced with revolutionary rhetoric) but not in the Arab world. Maybe this was because the Americans showed themselves so very willing and able to drop bombs with pinpoint accuracy on the menacing creches, orphanages, museums and health facilities which were endangering Western security from Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. But in fact the only Arab revolution during this period was the one in Palestine, and this one sputtered and died, doomed from the start because it was led by the hapless Palestinian Authority, and then crushed like a snail under the Zionist jackboot.
So why has 2011 been the year of Arab revolution? We can write off all the claptrap about “social media”, as if there never ever was a real revolution before people could tweet about it. People who talk about such things should be confined. Rather, we have to ask what people’s motives are — and the answer is that they appear to be the same motives which people have had for the last sixty years; they don’t like being ruled by a gang of corrupt goons working for Western big business. (Much like in South Africa, in fact — except that the realisation that this is the nature of the current government has not become universal yet.)
So the real question is, why now? Have people become more aware that they are oppressed than before? It seems difficult to believe. The difference, therefore, seems to be that people have become aware that they can do something about it.
A variety of factors may have converged on this. The dictators are getting old and weak and their followers are more and more corrupt. As a result, their popularity is declining while their capacity to strike fear into their enemies is not increasing. When the dictator of Tunisia went too far in his corruption — and it was a trivial matter which sparked the uprising against him — ultimately he lacked support, and the cruel tenacity to make use of what support he possessed. Hence he went.
When the dictator of Egypt found himself faced with an uprising, he lacked the authority to use effective force against it. He was too old and feeble to wish to control the country for much longer, and yet he was sufficiently egotistical to be reluctant to hand over to anybody else. Hence he dithered and prevaricated until his generals told him to go. But, of course, handing power over to the military after the fall of an unpopular, undemocratic, corrupt regime, at best takes us back to Nasser (who together with his fellow junior military officers overthrow Farouk). At worst, takes us to every corrupt military regime which has misruled in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia for the benefit of Western imperialism. In other words, the grand revolution in Egypt may have led virtually nowhere.
As for the events in Libya, this seems to have been a combination of tribal revolt and attempted military putsch. It has already led to a civil war in which Western countries are trying to get directly involved. Assuming that this succeeds in getting rid of Gadaffi (which would at least make African Union meetings marginally more sane in conduct if not in content) it is far from clear that this will lead to a substantial improvement for the Libyan people.
So the actual performance of the revolutions which have been most strongly foregrounded in Western propaganda has not been terrific. On the other hand, there have been plenty of other uprisings which Western propaganda has chosen not to foreground. So there does seem to be something happening, but it isn’t just that dictators are getting old and incompetent.
There have, however, been a number of empowering events recently. The American invasion of Iraq might have been expected to encourage Arabs to be docile and submissive (which was almost certainly its intention) but the incompetence of American action and the remarkably successful uprising against the occupation bred an unexpected pride in Arab resistance. Then, the remarkable success of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, surviving PA putsch and Israeli invasion (they may not be brilliant performers, but they’re still there), almost certainly energised the Arab resistance to Israel; so, undoubtedly, did Hizbollah’s startling performance in fighting the Israeli army to a standstill on the Lebanese border, which was more than anybody else had managed in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, of course, Bush’s War On Terror just happened, coincidentally, to be a War On Muslims. Most Arabs tend to be Muslims. Therefore, to the sense that Arabs had more potential than they were using, came the other sense that the most powerful country in the world wanted to kill them in sufficiently large numbers to be worried about.
And then, of course, Obama was elected. For a start, everybody thought that he was going to be a good guy. Then he turned out to be a lot like Bush. But — a timid, cautious Bush, one who was dependent upon a splintered base and therefore needed to suck up to his opponents. Also, he started a couple more wars which tied down the U.S. military even more completely than Bush had. Suddenly it must have seemed that it was possible to challenge governments which were historically subservient to U.S. interests, because the U.S. was no longer able to do much to support those governments.
Indeed, so it has proved. Not that the U.S. can’t do anything, but it can’t do as much as it used to be able to do, and it can’t do nearly as much as it would like to do. Hence, in a way, what we are seeing is the possibility of decolonisation in the Arab world, for the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. But — of course — it’s only a possibility. The U.S. may not be able to send in the Marines any more, but it has plenty of comprador elites to work with in the Arab world who are just as happy to shoot down the locals as the Marines would have been. Therefore the Arab revolutions have not, thus far, succeeded — although the turmoil happening almost across the Arab crescent is certainly welcome news for democratic freedoms in the region — and there may yet be immense clampdowns coming.
Some speculate on whether the revolution will spread south. Well, to be precise, some hope and pray that there will be a revolution in South Africa, because they have no prospect of winning power through democratic elections. This is not likely, quite simply, because the energising effects of Arab radicalism do not exist in central or southern Africa. If Africa is going to have any revolutions, we are going to have our own revolutions in our own way. The idea that revolutions happen as an imitation of other countries having revolutions is as absurd as the idea that revolutions happen because someone suggests having a revolution on Facebook. Revolutions happen when there is a perceived need for them, and if there is going to be a revolution in Zambia it will be because the Zambians don’t feel there is any other way to get what they need.
What we really need in South Africa, and elsewhere in Africa, is change we can believe in. But that is another story altogether.

Ebony In Ivory.

January 28, 2011

Should we care, even a little bit, about what is going on in Ivory Coast? It all seems as futile, petty and hideous as what is going on in CoPe. Gbagbo and Ouattara are like two clowns at a circus swatting at each other with heavily-padded sticks and performing pratfalls for the amusement of an audience which has failed to turn up.
Yes, but, like what is going on in CoPe, there is more to this than meets what the eye is permitted to see.
A little unreliable background. Ivory Coast was a French colony and became a French satellite state after the French rushed to neocolonise after their debacles in Vietnam and Algeria. It was ruled by a ruthless right-wing dictator, Houphouet-Boigny, for several decades. Somewhat like Kenya, its American equivalent on the east coast, it managed to stumble along with superficial peace and economic growth (based largely on the single crop of cocoa) although the dictator became increasingly demented and diverted more and more money to fantasy projects, a sort of mini-Mobutu.
But, of course, after the dictator died the wheels came off very fast. For one thing, the Americans were driving commodity prices down and thus generating a global economic crisis which enabled them to seize control of governments via global financial institutions (IMF, World Bank and other big merchant banks). Ivory Coast had run up gigantic debts and, with the death of their French-crony dictator and the collapse of the cocoa price, they were forced to borrow money from the IMF, which, as usual, imposed devastatingly unpopular socio-economic policies on the country in return for the loan. The man put in charge of administering these policies was an American-trained corporate hack named Ouattara.
Meanwhile in the increasingly irrelevant political front, Ivory Coast had become a democracy (that is, it was holding elections to decide who would take the blame for the policies imposed by foreigners). The big winner was a demagogue named Gbagbo, who had strong links to the country’s big business. As everywhere else in coastal West Africa, big business exists chiefly on the coast, where colonial authority was strong, as opposed to the interior, where colonial authority was weak. So Gbagbo was a Southerner. Just to further complicate matters, the coast is Christian or animist, the interior is Muslim. Oh, and there are tribal and linguistic divisions, too. But the biggest issue is money and power.
Gbagbo held power and didn’t want to give it up just because nobody liked him, so he refused to step down when he became unpopular — in part because he was quite popular with business, who put money into his campaign. He lost an election early in the twenty-first century because business had little authority in the interior. (Ouattara came from the interior, and therefore, even though he was a businessman, he had interior credibility; he was their homeboy. However, he wasn’t there at the time.)
The people who were there, however, rose up in their majesty in the north, set up militias and called for Gbagbo to go away and not come back. In the south, Gbagbo said “Shan’t!” and hunkered down behind his army. The result was a couple of years of low-intensity civil war followed by a standoff with occasional planeloads of suits from the African Union flying in to have long and agreeable lunches on the subject of brokering a peace deal the details of which seemed not to exist.
Eventually the Ivorians seem to have become weary of this farce, and Gbagbo agreed to hold an election, which was duly held last year with the American-backed suit Ouattara standing against him. According to the polls, Gbagbo lost and should have stepped down. Gbagbo disputed the result of the polls, claiming that the results in the North were not legitimate and that the votes for him had been disallowed, and demanding instead that loads of Northern votes be disallowed instead, thus ensuring that he won the election. (It was, actually, quite a close poll. It is just possible that Gbagbo may be telling the truth, although his record suggests that we should not buy a used car or a vote from him.)
All this looks quite a lot like Zimbabwe without any of the interesting features. Gbagbo is a bit like a Mugabe without struggle credibility or anti-Western PR skills (Gbagbo has mouthed off a lot of anti-French rhetoric, but in fact he has been in France’s pocket for most of the last decade — part of the conflict, as elsewhere in Western and Central Africa, is driven by the cold war between France and the US over control of the remaining scraps of the French colonial empire.) Ouattara is, like Tsvangirai, the IMF’s man, but without even a trade union history to betray. Presumably, if Gbagbo stays in power, Ivory Coast will be misruled. Presumably, if Ouattara comes to power, Ivory Coast will be misruled. There seems to be no prospect of good governance or real popular power. So far have we come in the evolution of democracy since the Greece of Pericles!
There is violence. People are being killed. It seems that people are being killed in the North and South — although, interestingly, the only actual flight of people is happening from the North. Why people should be fleeing from the North is not clear if Ouattara is the good guy (supposedly they are afraid of civil war, but then why shouldn’t people in the South be equally afraid?). It seems possible that this is, at least to some extent, a publicity stunt intended to legitimate whatever actions might be sought after by the international community, insofar as there is such a thing.
Indeed, outside Ivory Coast the situation is far more interesting. The United States has denounced Gbagbo and proclaimed sanctions against him. The European Union has denounced Gbagbo and proclaimed sanctions against him. The Economic Community of West African States (basically Nigeria and its little friends) has denounced Gbagbo and threatened to invade Ivory Coast to overthrow him. The African Union has denounced Gbagbo although, as is commonplace with the African Union these days, it does not seem able to decide whether anything else should be done. Such vigorous unanimity is nevertheless quite startling. It makes a fascinating contrast with the situation in Sudan, say, where an actual civil war was going on but there the reaction was much less unanimous and clear-cut. Everybody seems to be doing the right thing in step, with freedom on the march.
One should always be suspicious when everybody seems to be doing something altruistic. What are they really getting out of it? In this case, one answer seems to be oil. With the new deep-drilling techniques which so successfully devastated the Gulf of Mexico and reputedly have caused calamity in the Caspian, it will be possible to turn Ivory Coast from a cococracy into a petrostate, thus ensuring that its economy ruins our lungs instead of our teeth. The US is not tremendously interested in controlling the world’s chocolate (the US produces some of the worst chocolate bars in the world) but obviously crude oil is another matter altogether.
So it seems that the US is particularly interested in seeing regime change in Ivory Coast, as in Iraq, in order to secure its control of oil in the region (especially with the Middle East getting all unstable and stuff). Regime change, of course, means putting our sonofabitch in charge, and the designated sonofabitch is Ouattara. Therefore everybody has to pretend that Ouattara is the Nelson Mandela of West Africa, while Gbagbo is a dark evil slimeball like Aristide who must be removed at once. The fact that everybody seems willing to pretend this speaks volumes about the actual independence of West Africa and its environs. It is also rather striking that the AU envoy to Ivory Coast turned out to be the President of Kenya, that country with such a wonderful track record of managing elections and the political clashes arising out of them, who came out with the conclusion that not enough was being done to overthrow the evil Gbagbo.
In the past, the clash between the US and France suggested a possibility that, as in the Cold War, countries could benefit by playing off the opponents against each other. Unfortunately, this clash is no longer so clear-cut, for France is now run by a reactionary nitwit named Sarkozy who has close ties with the United States and is also deeply concerned with domestic issues. Since he wants to crush the French workers in order to imitate the U.S. economic miracle, even though that miracle is a thing of the distant past, Sarkozy is almost certainly willing to bow the knee to the US. Britain, of course, when told to jump by Washington, merely says, on landing, “Was that high enough, master?”. Germany couldn’t care less if West Africa sank into the Gulf of Guinea tomorrow, since Angela Merkel is busy building the Fourth Reich on the ruins of the European Union. Hence the EU/FR and America speak with one forked tongue on the issue, and since Nigeria is an American satellite and has been for decades, so does Ecowas, and so, with Nigeria and Kenya, the two American satellites, in authority, and the third American satellite Ethiopia playing third fiddle in the background, does the African Union. (What would Patrice Lumumba or Kwame Nkrumah have said?) In other words they are all doing what seems to be right in political terms (because Ouattara won the election) for reasons which are wrong in other political terms (both because Ouattara was put there to win the election by outside forces, and people are cheering him on because those outside forces are instructing them to).
It seems that the Americans have made West Africa unfortunately similar to the Middle East from which they are transferring their oily intrigues!
Almost the only people who have gained any credit in the whole sorry shebang have been South African politicians. Thabo Mbeki flew in and suggested a Government of National Unity, which is what he invariably suggests whenever anything goes wrong. It was, at least, smarter than anything anyone else has suggested, but since nobody else outside Ivory Coast was prepared to tolerate Gbagbo in power once they knew that the Americans wanted him out, nothing came of that. Jacob Zuma, oddly, has spoken out strongly in opposition to invading Ivory Coast and has suggested that, instead of invading Ivory Coast it might be an idea to see whether any of Gbagbo’s complaints of election fraud had any validity. That sounds a bit more sensible than once again tearing up the United Nations Charter in order to secure Washington a few more gigabarrels of crude oil. (Note that nobody has the least excuse for invading Ivory Coast, and indeed, nobody has any legitimate pretext for imposing economic sanctions simply on the basis of a disputed election result.)
It may seem odd for the Creator to be speaking out in support of Zuma, but then again, Zuma does come from the ANC and therefore cannot altogether go against its history of sanity and reasonable compromise, however hard he has worked to undermine this. It seems clear that Zuma is less in the back pocket of the United States than most of the other leaders of Africa. However, what is really horrendous is the way in which everybody does what they are told in unison, regardless of validity. It raises big questions about whether revolution in Tunisia, or even in Egypt if that comes off, will really build a new nation, or whether it will simply mean that Uncle Sam will have to untie the strings from his old puppets and tie new ones on in the way that the Wikileaks and Palestine Papers cables have indicated.

South Africa: Satellite of the American Empire?

March 27, 2008

The Monthly Review is the most prestigious of the journals of American Trotskyism, and is one of the few that has not become a front organisation for neoliberalism, so it deserves our support. It is genuinely leftist and retains many of the values which motivated the Left in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before the anti-imperialist struggle was flung in the dust for a smile, a song and a Ho-Ho-Ho-Chi-Minh.

But for all this positive stuff there is, of course, a big, big but — the Monthly Review is often preposterously wrongheaded. One of its most recent trumpet-calls has been a declaration — not, so far as the Creator can see, based on any evidence — that American imperialism has, being weak, become obliged to rely upon satellite states to do its dirty work. The satellite states which the Monthly Review identifies, a notion which is being so widely spread about the Internet that it is even appearing here, are India, Brazil and South Africa.

On the face of it this is not an implausible position. If the United States is really growing weaker it makes sense for it to seek allies. Pakistan helped it attack Afghanistan. Britain helped it attack Iraq. France helped it attack Haiti. Ethiopia helped it attack Somalia. These are all fairly evident events and Britain and France, as well as, for instance, Canada, a spear-carrier for the US in the occupation of Afghanistan and of Haiti, might be considered natural allies of the United States. But is this true of the three countries specially singled out by the Monthly Review?

Brazil, of course, is a major American trading partner. It also, to its shame, assisted in the United Nations figleaf occupation of Haiti, and thus with the brutal repression of the democratic opposition in that trampled nation. However, if Brazil is really assisting the United States in its attempts to restore control over Latin America, it is not doing a tremendously good job. The populist-socialist states of Bolivia and Ecuador and Venezuela, and the social democracies of Argentina and Chile, have grown up under Brazil’s current government without Brazil doing anything very obvious to oppose or subvert them. It could surely do more if it wanted to — Brazil in the 1960s was a major promoter of the right-wing terrorism which eventually overwhelmed much of the continent in the 1970s, and if anything, Brazil is more powerful and influential now than it was then. It seems most likely, then, that Brazil is not attempting to directly serve American political imperialist interests.

India is another major American trading partner and a major beneficiary of outsourcing. Hence it is presumably in a position to serve as America’s spear-carrier in South Asia. For instance, it has, has it not, served American interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan? (Apparently not, judging by results.) Er — in that case, what American interests does it have the capacity to influence? In Sri Lanka? Bangladesh? Nepal? Burma? Abruptly, one sees that even if India were panting to bend the knee before American imperialism, it is not in a particularly good position to serve American interests; virtually all of the countries around it are either already American clients, or they are too feeble to be worth bothering about. However, there is little or no sign that India actually is doing this; even under the ultra-right-wing BJP government, which was avowedly more pro-American than the confused and bizarre Congress government at the moment, the Indians cheerfully trampled on the American shibboleth of nuclear non-proliferation and fought a bloody war with America’s ally Pakistan. This does not look like a promising country for subservience.

Of course, both countries have strong pro-American commercial elites. Hence both countries will sometimes act in the interests of the United States because those elites wish it so. Yet on the other hand one cannot guarantee that elites will always do this, just because they often do it. Especially when the United States is weak, elites might look elsewhere for their power-worshipping instincts to be satisfied, and also for their wallets to be filled up.

That leaves South Africa as the last survivor of the Monthly Review thesis. South Africa was originally part of the British Empire, which after the Second World War became a satellite empire of America. However, unlike Australia and Canada, which fell more or less directly under American influence, South Africa preferred to follow the British line; South Africa equipped itself with British weaponry until Britain could not get away with selling any more to it. But South Africa had no obvious role in the Cold War, except for symbolic acts like sending a squadron of fighters to Korea and promising to guard a Cape Sea Route which the USSR had no real intention of threatening.

It was, of course, true that from the 1970s South Africa troubled Southern Africa, destabilising virtually every country in the region. Some of this served U.S. interests; the obvious example was the South African support for Unita in Angola, which killed so many people to no final purpose. However, the South Africans were not doing this as American surrogates; they had, instead, developed Unita for their own purposes after the CIA abandoned them (the CIA had preferred the gutless and corrupt FNLA). Furthermore, given that there was virtually no Soviet presence in Mozambique, South Africa’s equally destructive destabilisation of Mozambique served no obvious American purpose; it was simply a continuation of South Africa’s Rhodesian policies and a dim dream of driving the ANC far, far away where they would no longer trouble Pretoria. South African aggression even disrupted U.S. client states like Botswana.

Indeed, it is a moot point how far American support for the apartheid state was a strategic thing, and how far, like American support for Israel, it reflected simple reactionary power-worship and admiration for violence for its own sake. Certainly the Americans supported the apartheid state long after they ought to have abandoned it as an embarrassment, and did what they could to preserve it by lifting sanctions and offering other assistance. (A great deal of American support for South Africa came through Israel, of course — especially in ballistic missile weaponry.) But all this did not exactly make the U.S. beloved in Lusaka, even though by the early 1990s, with the disappearance of the USSR, it was dangerous to make any resentment obvious.

So what has South Africa done, lately, to merit attention as an American satellite? Well, it opposed the attacks on Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and Somalia. It also opposed the surrogate attack on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and did what it could to defend the interests of Libya and the Sudan. It has been friendly to Iran, supported Fatah for as long as it could (actually longer) and more recently invited Hamas to Pretoria for discussions. It has been a staunch opponent of Western attacks on Zimbabwe, even though George W Bush described President Mbeki as his “point man” on the issue (which was a generous benison which President Mbeki undoubtedly did not want). On a couple of occasions — Lesotho in 1998 and Equatorial Guinea in 2004 — it acted to prevent minor destabilisation operations which almost certainly emanated from Western planning, despite subsequent counter-propaganda to the contrary. It played a major role in paralysing the last round of the World Trade Organisation. In short, in foreign policy it has been about as anti-imperialist as any anti-imperialist could reasonably expect a militarily, politically and economically weak state to be.

No doubt its domestic policy has been neoliberal in some ways, but it has certainly not been ostentatiously so. The GEAR policy may in some ways have resembled a structural adjustment plan, but nevertheless South Africa did not permit the IMF or the World Bank to simply dictate its policies. As a result South Africa managed to avoid some of the more catastrophic consequences of excessive subservience which have done so much damage to comparable economies in East Asia and Argentina. South African capital has certainly penetrated Africa — particularly mining, telecommunications and service industries. Some of the SADC countries are little better than South African economic satellites; the rand dominates the region.

Yet it is hard to see that in doing this it is necessarily dancing to Washington’s tune; if this is an imperialism it is a private imperialism of Pretoria’s own devising. Incidentally, it is worth noting that it does not appear to be a destructive imperialism; on the contrary, South African investment in infrastructure in the region has been fairly extensive. No doubt it serves the ruling class in the region to an unfair extent, but at least it has not been an example of Naomi Klein’s disaster capitalism. Mines, hotels, cellphone antennas and highways are not automatically signs of potential calamity.

Of course, some, such as Dennis Brutus and Patrick Bond, will say that this is the case; that southern Africa would be far better off in resisting South Africa’s corruption, and would be happier in pursuing the traditional socialist path exemplified by — well, by absolutely nothing in Africa, any more. But this is in any case rather different from saying that South Africa is doing these things under American orders. There is remarkably little evidence for that. Instead it seems probable that South Africa is trying to build itself a niche, not so much as a superpower, but at least as a state capable of independent action in support of its own interests, and therefore enthusiastic about other states also being capable of independent action, even if only to act as distractions for the American superpower to pay attention to.

Then why the denunciation in the Monthly Review? One reason seems to have been the South African decision to support sanctions against Iran. This is probably a bad move on South Africa’s part, but on the other hand, South Africa had been patiently calling for Iran to be given more time to show its good behaviour, and the time had largely run out. The sanctions, in any case, are largely symbolic (though it is disturbing to see them being imposed; one recalls earlier United Nations interventions which America has used as pretexts for aggression).

Another, more important, seems simply to be that the Monthly Review does not like the governments of India, Brazil and South Africa. It feels that we ought to be more left-wing, which is fair enough. (In many ways it, like most Trotskyites, confuses anti-American rhetoric with anti-imperialist policy.) Therefore it concludes, apparently, that the best way to promote this view is to pretend that these governments are not merely moderate and occasionally conservative, but are reactionary toadies of Yankee imperialism. In order to do this the Monthly Review has to play fast and loose with reality, but sadly that is not usually a problem for Trotskyites.

It does seem obvious that having mildly left-wing governments in these major countries, and having these countries join hands in mutual defense against U.S. interference, is not necessarily a bad thing. It is, instead, something which leftists could exploit to their own advantage. However, a lot of leftists believe that nothing can ever be supported unless it is entirely worthy of support, and therefore anything not entirely worthy of support must be opposed with utmost power. Thus, paradoxically, the Monthly Review is in this case lining up with elements of the imperialism which it wishes to oppose, and which dearly would like to see South Africa, India and Brazil enlisted to radically oppose leftism in their respective regions. Doubtless the Monthly Review murmurs “The worse, the better”, to itself as it rocks itself to sleep at night.

But meanwhile, the rest of us need to be more wide awake than that.

Iain M Banks: Imperialist Propagandist?

March 23, 2008

Popular fiction is a fine place to go to for reactionary propaganda. Presumably because it is supposed to be popular, and because “the people” are supposed to be conservative (and thanks to bad education and atrocious reactionary public relations, this seems to be more true every month) popular fiction writers are encouraged to be reactionary, or at least deeply conservative.

It’s pretty obvious that most love stories reaffirm traditional kinds of sexual stereotyping, even where they transgress them as in some kinds of pornography. In addition, most of these stories, and especially the pornographic ones, espouse very conventional class structures, where all the interest and power resides in the wealthiest ones. Detective stories are almost always written from the perspective of the sleuth as opposed to the criminal and tend to espouse centralised power. (All the way from Edgar Wallace’s fantasies to the ur-fascist Patricia Cornwell, who helps to show us that lesbians are not necessarily radical lefties.) As for fantasy, obviously there is a lot of potential there for challenging established views, but equally obviously, a vast amount of fantasy is simply puddling around in an imaginary medieval world, and usually the journey back to medievalism is a journey back to simplistic authoritarianism in the Narnia mould.

So that leaves science fiction. Now, science fiction is revolutionary, or rather it can be revolutionary. It can also be unbelievably dull, and pretentious, and pedantic, and obsessed with itself. Rather like a weblog that is 500 pages long and that you have to read to the end to find out what’s really wrong with the world. (A bit like this weblog except that you don’t have to go to a bookshop to get hold of it.) It’s no surprise that Scientology was founded by a science fiction writer.

One can also have people who want to contain politics within a kind of technological bottle; such people, unfortunately, seem to include William Gibson, an otherwise intelligent and attractive person who devoted a great deal of time to promoting the notion that artificial intelligence was a literal salvation; that once we had machines which claimed to think, we would live forever in paradise and thus would not need politics any more, so that the fact that the real world was fucked beyond recall was no longer of any concern for anyone. (He actually had one of his characters announce, and nothing in that particular series of books seemed to challenge the validity of it, that politics had come to an end — which, since the books described how the upper class were in the saddle on the backs of the lower class, was quite convenient for those who had happened to end up in that saddle.)

A great deal of science fiction has been politically-oriented, but all too often this has been, at best, crude and simplistic. Robert A Heinlein wrote some intermittently amusing political tracts such as Double Star, but these works, and more (nominally) serious ones such as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, are all wrecked by Heinlein’s natural inclination to represent American society as the high point of human development, bound to enjoy victory without effort.

The trouble is that science fiction is about power. Its core is the way in which humanity can attain greater security or authority through machinery. Therefore, many writers are obsessed with the deployment of power and with fantasias of ever-greater power. Hence the absurd gigantism of E E Smith or A E Van Vogt. So it naturally attracts people who, in various ways and to varying degrees, are conservative, and believe (as a result) that the exercise of power is a fairly simple thing, provided that the right people are exercising it. (In turn, the collapse of power, as in Asimov’s galactic empire, is disturbing in itself, while the need for the right people — the Foundation or the incorruptible robots — to exercise it is the all-embracing issue.)

For this reason, right-wing science fiction tends to be simplistic. Left-wing science fiction, on the other hand, tends to be less common, partly because right-wing tendencies set the standards and attract the readership. Also, people who start on the left, like Brian W Aldiss and Arthur C Clarke, often shift rightward (or in Clarke’s case centreward) with time. Hence left-wing science fiction is unusual enough for its existence to excite commentators.

An example would be Kim Stanley Robinson, whose work has attracted plaudits from Fredric Jameson. Jameson is a very bright individual, but he is also prone to exaggerated excitement and questionable interpretations which probably stem from the huge predicament of trying to combine Marxism, postmodernism and aesthetics. Robinson’s Mars trilogy, for instance, is extremely interesting, but Jameson’s claim that it is one of the great political novels of the late twentieth century is only partly legitimated because there are so few actual political novels of the late twentieth century at all. In fact Robinson’s intellectual analysis, while vastly superior to most science fiction, is not particularly profound. More problematically, not only are his characters wooden, but they are not especially interesting; villains and heroes are obsessive figures, driven by what is actually the author’s need to further the plot and elaborate on the techno-ideological framework underpinning it — and that makes them very boring figures. One cannot imagine them attending parties, or throwing very entertaining ones.

So one comes back to Iain M Banks, the Scots author who, so his publicists claim, turned science fiction upside down. He began young, producing an impressive and disturbing if playful book, The Wasp Factory, and then an impressive science fiction book with the slightly pretentious name Consider Phlebas. (Many of his non-science-fiction books, initially, had fantastic elements, although they gradually became more pedestrian; he has not produced a fantastical non-science-fiction book since A Song of Stone, which was more pornographic than anything else.)

Consider Phlebas was a compilation of images from earlier science fiction, with no technical novelties, but an intriguing representation of a space war between a communist society — the Culture — ruled by artificial intelligences and an aggressive interstellar empire. The communists eventually defeated the empire, though with difficulty, and at the cost of the central character’s life, so there was a tragic element to the story despite the fact that the broad ideological foundation of the book was optimistic. If it had been the only science fiction book Banks had ever produced, it would have been a lesson in how to write a science fiction novel and would have done Banks every possible credit.

Unfortunately Banks could not let the Culture alone. It seemed clear that it was too dear to his heart for him to ignore it. Hence he began producing a series of Culture stories, following the usual pattern of science fiction writers who put a great deal of effort into developing a secondary world and find themselves unable to change their tune, probably because their fantastic world actually reflects the world as they see it, and the world as they believe it ought to be.

Banks used the Culture as — well, a culture in the biotechnological sense. His novels reflected the problems experienced by an advanced society which desired to spread its advanced nature throughout the cosmos, in which most societies were less advanced than it was. Of course, concepts like “advanced” beg questions, as does everything else about Banks’ Culture novels. What he was trying to do, it would appear, was to combine two separate elements of his contemporary society; the notion of a left-wing alternative to the authoritarian capitalism which had evolved hegemonic control of the West, and at the same time, the notion of a West which, if it could only abandon its authoritarian capitalism, would have a great deal, in terms of technology and cultural development, not to mention political sophistication, to offer the less developed countries of the world.

Or would it?

One of Banks’ early Culture novels was The Player Of Games, dealing with the Culture’s attempts to eliminate the odious expansionist, racist, sexist, authoritarian Empire of Azad. The Empire was set up, as Banks always sets up the Culture’s opponents, as a revolting spectacle which could plausibly be seen as a demonic enemy deserving destruction. This destruction, in the course of the book, the Empire receives. No nice Culture people are harmed in the making of the book.

Yet — what grounds does the Culture have for considering itself superior? It is trying to turn Azad into something like itself; this is made clear when the game-player finds himself playing a gigantic game against the Emperor. It is, thus, doing the same as the Empire is doing to other cultures, except insofar as it is doing it in a nice way, because the Culture has such massive resources compared with the Empire. Furthermore, the Culture provokes a civil war within the Empire of Azad which is seen to take many lives, and presumably takes many more in circumstances which Banks does not bother to present in the book. It is, in short, not morally so superior to the Empire of Azad as Banks’ presentation of it makes it appear.

Of course, the Culture does not permit the kind of socio-economic inequality which Banks insists is essential to the Empire and makes the Empire so evil. However, the Culture does this by handing over its government to artificial intelligences which do not care about property and therefore do not distinguish between people on property terms — and by producing such a surplus of property that everyone has more than enough. If the Empire of Azad had such a surplus, would it really still be an Empire along the same lines? Banks cannot say. But the Culture could provide the Empire with the technology to generate such a surplus; it refuses, however, to do this until the Empire has bloodily collapsed. In a sense, then, the Culture chooses to undermine its enemy and make it collapse and then claims moral authority over the ruins, rather than offering the Empire a choice.

Although Banks goes to some lengths to conceal the fact, the Culture is also very much a hierarchical society. While the majority of its human inhabitants are hedonists, there is a small elite called Contact, essentially the military arm of the Culture, within which is an elite of the elite, Special Circumstances, the special forces and intelligence arm of Contact, upon whom Banks focuses most of his attention, and who are enormously admired by almost human within the Culture, and feared by those outside it.

As to the non-human, mechanical inhabitants, there are minds which are less than human — handling vehicles and houses and also small free-flying devices called knife missiles — and then there are minds which are greater than human, the drones which are ubiquitous and treat humans with courtesy despite their superiority. Above these are the Minds which operate spacecraft or control conglomerations of life-forms mechanical or biological, and which are so vastly superior to human or drone that they treat humans as pets and drones as little more than slaves. It is, in short, a society much like the society in Zamyatin’s We, where all real power resides in the hands of a tiny ruling class in whom all others are expected to trust unquestioningly and which has, in addition, the moral authority of Jehovah, Allah and Ahura Mazda rolled into one. In a sense the Culture is a tyranny without a tyrant (like Pol Pot’s Cambodia); in a sense it is a theocracy.

Banks’ books are filled with sadism, lovingly described and ostentatiously disapproved of, but this sadism, like the hedonism, seems to make the books attractive to their readers. The Culture is not altogether free from it. In the last Culture book, Look To Windward (the title of which seemed to suggest closure, since it was a quotation from Eliot like the first), the Culture’s meddling in another society had provoked a genocidal war. That society now sought to wreak revenge on the Culture by exposing it to the slaughter of a vast population (though proportionally far smaller than what it had done to the weaker society). The Culture not only prevented this al-Qaeda-like revenge from happening, it carefully tortured those responsible for planning the revenge to death (an atrocity thoroughly described by Banks). No, the Culture appears to have no real moral supremacy over other cultures in Banks’ books, except in his mind. It is no wonder that throughout the books one sees people abandoning the Culture and joining other, less self-righteous works.

Banks’ unexpected return to the Culture in Matter is no repudiation. Instead, it struggles vainly to recover the glory-days of Banks’ Culture and to excuse the odious behaviour which the Culture, and other “advanced” galactic societies displays, by comparison both with the horrid behaviour of the less developed societies (they rape and murder and burn, which is terrible, but it is all happening under the benign Culture’s auspices so it will be good in the end). Besides, other alien races exist which do exactly what the Culture does (though, says Banks, they don’t do it as well — Banks in this book is as xenophobic and anthropocentric as John W Campbell could have wished.

Possibly Banks’ newly-discovered doubts about liberal imperialism after the invasion of Iraq, and his rejection of New Labour, have been discarded after the London Transport bombings. Conceivably he has had his Cohen/Kamm moment in the last couple of years. In any case, he appears no more than a rhetorical radical trapped in a gilded imperialist cage, a familiar but far from beautiful sight to see.