Blues for Allah in Africa.

January 1, 2014

The political situation in Africa grows more dire daily, which is perhaps not surprising but is certainly deeply disturbing. It will be remembered that Western-sponsored aggression against Somalia was the beginning of the latest wave of disasters. Then came Western-sponsored aggression and actual aggression against Ivory Coast to install a brutal dictatorship under the cloak of election, then came Western destabilization and aggression against Libya, then came Western aggression against Mali, and now we have Western aggression against the Central African Republic. In all these countries the consequences have certainly not been favourable, and they appear fairly often to have been disastrous. This coincides with the ongoing problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (most of which are aftermaths of the Western-backed invasion of the DRC in 1997), and in the MalagassyRepublic (which is an aftermath of the Western-backed coup). Instability in Zimbabwe may also be attributed to this, as may the ongoing instability in Mozambique and even in Angola.

Of course all of these countries bear considerable responsibility for their own problems, but there is very little doubt about the fact that the West’s involvement in the continent has been increasingly destructive over the last decade. This, perhaps not coincidentally, is also the period during which the West has substantially cut its aid to Africa. Perhaps it did not wish to waste time improving infrastructure and financial systems in a continent which it was proposing to turn into a combination wasteland and garbage-heap?

It is, however, striking how little advantage the West has acquired from all this. Supposedly, the invasion of Somalia was going to secure the Horn of Africa for Western oil and transport interests, whereas it touched off a wave of piracy and has yet to show much sign of offshore oil development. (Ditto in Ivory Coast, where the aggression was apparently mainly for oil rights.) In Libya oil production has plummeted as the gunmen whom the West installed in power have begun shooting each other and splintering the country into combative, repressive fragments. Much the same seems to have happened in Mali, although nobody outside the country seems to care (the war was, after all, fought to facilitate a pogrom against white people). It is striking that in all these countries, the war was fought by Muslims against Muslims, although with the funding and heavy-weaponry provided by Christian mercenaries. It’s almost as if the real object of the exercise is to make life as lousy as possible for as many Muslims as can be managed.

The situation in the CAR is particularly striking. It will be recalled that France had spent decades propping up increasingly vile regimes which were based on bigoted and repressive Christian regimes trampling on the rights of the Muslim majority. This included the deluded (and reputedly cannibalistic) rule of Emperor Bokassa, friend, ally and possible table companion of President Giscard d’Estaing. It will perhaps be recalled that France based its main African intervention forces in the CAR until France’s neo-colonial system in Africa began unraveling under the assault of the Clinton administration in the US, which wanted everything for itself. As a result the stability of the CAR itself ceased to be guaranteed.

Eventually South Africa pulled some of France’s CAR chestnuts out of the fire and arranged for a corrupt pseudo-elected dictator to be installed with South African assistance and French backing. However, the French wound down their involvement in the CAR in order to get more heavily involved in Mali, and meanwhile the South African government forgot all about what they were doing there. Hence, when the northern “Seleka” coalition attacked to overthrow the dictator, the South Africans found themselves outnumbered forty to one, with no intelligence worthy of the name, no prospect of reinforcement or resupply, and no reason for being there. After a short and bloody rearguard action the South Africans fled and abandoned the mission and Seleka took over.

It doesn’t seem as if Seleka have been a particularly competent government. In essence, they were people from the highly disorganized north, which shared almost no culture in common with the south (where the mines and what little money hadn’t yet been stolen was). Inevitably this was transformed by some into a Muslim-Christian conflict, and the presence of Chadian troops to help Seleka hold on to power, as well as the absence of any legitimacy or indeed purpose for the government, did not help. The Christians set up anti-Seleka militias, no doubt with French backing, the Muslims were urged to become more ludicrous by the usual suspects in the Arabian Peninsula, and meanwhile nobody else cared because, frankly, nobody would lift a finger if the whole Central African Republic were abducted by aliens from Galaxy Zog.

Ultimately, however, the conflict between Muslims and Christians was stoked up to the point at which corrupt journalists from French papers and from the Guardian were in a position to pretend that Christians faced “genocide” unless the Islamofascists were crushed immediately. It was the usual balderdash which is always used to cover up criminal international aggression. In reality the number of people killed was terrible, and the Seleka government was appalling, but the alternative showed no sign of being better. Then the French bribed the President to invite them in, and the mercenaries of the Légion Étrangère moved in to do the dirty work – that is, to protect the Christian militias in their anti-Muslim massacres. The Chadians and Seleka, after potting a few French and their allies, fled northward to where the mercenaries couldn’t get at them, probably hoping (probably correctly) that the brutal behaviour of the foreigners would ultimately provide more legitimacy for Seleka than anything else, and perhaps help erase the memory of their bungling thuggery.

And meanwhile Barack Obama, whose regime provides funding and transport for the French mercenaries since it can no longer afford to launch aggressions itself, piously declared that the CAR people should stop killing each other. As usual, Obama manages to be a more odious human, and a worse President, than George W Bush or any of his predecessors.

Incidentally, but not coincidentally (it is probably far more causative) there’s a very interesting recent book by the Hungarian-born scientist and statistician Morten Jerven called Poor Numbers which details why we don’t know diddly-squat about African economies. Jerven contends that most African countries don’t collect statistics effectively because they are discouraged from doing so by both donors and international finance agencies; he also points out that most international financial agencies differ dramatically and indeed absurdly over how wealthy African countries are and how their economies change over time. Many African countries deny this, but this may be a political matter (since Jerven is particularly critical of the way in which elite agencies like central banks and NGOs are privileged over the more grassroots statistical agencies and the agricultural service systems which they are meant to serve).

Jerven certainly makes a plausible case, which helps to explain why South Africa seems to be doing so badly (economically speaking) while other African countries appear to be doing brilliantly and yet are also somehow falling apart. What seems to be really happening is that these countries are exporting more unprocessed minerals which are counted as if the export were benefiting the countries (whereas it actually benefits the countries where the transnational mining companies are based) and these countries have evolved small affluent classes which appear to be spending more (and therefore boosting imports of luxury goods). In other words, South Africa on a grand scale, with as little attention as possible paid to the poorer sections of the economy and community.

In that case, what’s surely happening is a growing socio-economic divide within African countries (which does seem to be happening, and which may be even worse in many countries than in South Africa) which is driving increasing conflict – and meanwhile the central state is weaker and less legitimate, hence less able to address that conflict. And therefore foreigners step in because the real beneficiaries are the mining and agribusiness companies based elsewhere. And since those companies are mainly based in the West, where the public is reluctant to send off troops to die except in defense of Jesus against the devilish Muslims, the easiest place to do the job is in Islamic countries.

But it seems likely that this tendency, this combination of greed, guns and gullibility, is coming soon to a theatre of war near you.

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The Second Inquisition.

June 29, 2012

The ANC discussion document, “Building a National Democratic Society and the Balance of Forces in 2012” has, pretty obviously, been written by the SACP. They were always the big bugs for National Democratic Revolution — it was, essentially, the first stage of the socialist revolution, the second being the one which would bring them to power — and if there were any doubts, the document talks enthusiastically about “Colonialism of a Special Type” on page 5 as the foundations of our democracy. Nobody outside the SACP has mentioned CST for many years, because that analysis of South African society, interesting as it might be to revisit these days, was wholly overtaken by events in the late 1980s.

The text suggests that “the ANC has . . . opted for a limited NDR, which accommodates (and even promotes) existing economic power relations”. This seems fair. (However, this is also extensively qualified, probably because the SACP is now more comfortably in government than it was in the 1990s. For instance, there is an extensive defense of GEAR which the Creator would not substantially challenge, but which reverses the stance taken by the SACP before 2007.) There are also fairly sensible remarks about the social grants system and the education budget (which, it is argued, is better managed than is usually acknowledged).

The goals are outlined thus:

 

The bedrock of our political system is therefore highlighted as:

• A legitimate state that derives its authority from the people through regular elections and popular participation.

• The mobilisation of the nation around a common vision of the kind of society and world we are building, acting in partnership with each sector for the realisation of the common good.

• The means for citizens to exercise their human rights, and for checks and balances in a law-governed society.

• Building the South African nation inclusive of the multiple identities based on class, gender, age, language, geographic location, and religion, as a united African nation, adding to the diversity and identity of the continent and humanity at large.

 

Nice set of mission statements, which no liberal could contend with. There is also a set of economic goals:

 

• Macro economic balances that support sustainable growth and development, not to be treated as things-in-themselves, but as requirements that ensure higher rates of growth, labour-absorption and poverty reduction.

• An industrial strategy to build an economy with high levels of manufacturing activity, modern services, expanding trade, cutting edge technology and a vibrant small business and cooperative sector.

• The mobilisation of investment towards these ends, including state, private and community investment.

• The achievement of shared growth by focusing on the creation of decent jobs and ensuring an improving quality of life for workers.

• The implementation of programmes to eliminate economic dualism and exclusion, including specific attention to industries in marginalised communities, rural and agrarian development, access to micro-credit, small business development, public works projects and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods at community and household level. This also requires the intensification of broad-based black economic empowerment programmes, and balanced and sustainable spatial development.

 

At once we see a few problems. How do we define the contents of the first point? Is the second point even possible (if “industrial strategy” is as narrowly defined as it usually is)? The third point is potentially valid, as is the fourth,. but the fifth point bogs itself down in failed current policies which suggests that the authors are not necessarily as wedded to change as the earlier points suggested.

However, obviously the big question is, why hasn’t this all already happened? What’s gone wrong with the ANC that it isn’t mobilising the nation, uniting the country, and building the economy? It’s no wonder that many delegates to the conference currently going on are pissed off, because this all looks rather like a slap in the face, or at least on the wrist, from Party to Congress.

Then, there follows this useful table (p.18), which should drive any assessment of what’s going on:

 

Table 1. Per capita personal income by race group

 

Year White Indian Coloured African Average  
Per capita income in constant 2000 Rands:
1993  46 486 19 537 8 990 5 073 11 177  
1995   48 387 23 424 9 668 6 525 12 572  
2000 56 179 23 025 12 911 8 926 16 220  
2008  75 297 51 457 16 567 9 790 17 475  
Relative per capita personal incomes (% of White level):
1993 100 42.0 19.3 10.9 24.0  
1995 100 48.4 20.0 13.5 26.0  
2000 100 41.0 23.0 15.9 28.9  
2008 100 60.0 22.0 13.0 23.2  

 

Wow. So, according to this, Indians are the main beneficiaries of the first economic transition. Maybe that explains the Guptas. The figures look rather dodgy (why did Indian income fall in 2000?) but they confirm what everyone knows — that coloureds and indians are doing well in post-apartheid South Africa (indian income increasing by 264%, coloured by 184%), that whites are doing all right (income increasing by 162%) and that africans have benefited less than is usually claimed (income increasing by 193%, a little better than coloureds, but starting from a base that’s only half the coloureds’, a quarter the indians’ and a ninth the whites’). Racialising the inequality helps to explain why indians are so unpopular in working-class KwaZulu-Natal, and perhaps also why coloureds and africans don’t get on — they’re fighting over a shrinking share of the bones tossed to them by the whites and indians.

But racialising the situation is too easy — what we would need is a class analysis, a breakdown of the division of South African income according to how many are earning at particular levels. In the United States, for instance, we know (from Saez and Piketty, if you Google it) that the top 0.01% of the population earned an average of nearly $20 million last year, compared with the bottom 90% earning an average of $30 000. (That’s still three times the white South African average but twelve times the overall South African average.) We know that the US top 0.01% earnings rose by just over 20% on the previous year (which helps explain why they were earning 656 times as many as the bottom 90%, whose incomes fell slightly).

All this raises the puzzling question as to why American rich people’s heads are not impaled on pikes at the city gate, but at least the data is there. But it is absent from this South African document altogether.. It’s almost as if the SACP has given up on class conflict — perhaps because of the class to which its members predominantly belong.

Indeed, the document talks about a “patriotic bourgeoisie”, which would make Frantz Fanon pick up his machine-gun; it’s the absence of such a bourgeoisie which drives most of South Africa’s problems. It warns that their goals “may not be in the interests of economic transformation”. Duh. What’s recommended, therefore, is more broad-based black economic empowerment. Jesus fucking Christ, there aren’t enough swearwords in the world to express how stupid and evil this is, how complete a repudiation of almost everything thus far. This is, therefore, a document which is intended to cement the corrupt class relations of globalised capitalism in South Africa while paying lip-service to a desire to do some modest thing to ameliorate the horror which globalised capitalism has inflicted upon us.

Just to make that point clearer, “The ANC must therefore continue to engage with various strata and interests within the white community on our national vision”. Yeah, right. In the old days, people who talked like this were correctly called impimpis. And the capitalists, Well, the plan here involves “challenging and engaging monopoly capital to the extent that they are an obstacle to our national vision (by, for example, blocking new entrants into various sectors of the economy) as well as with regards our quest to build social justice and reduce inequality”. How do you “engage” someone who is an obstacle to the national vision? And why should the problem be “blocking new entrants” — what’s that got to do with social justice? The indications are that this is simply a desire to be given a slice of the capitalist cake without actually changing anything fundamental.

In fact, when the document identifies “obstacles to transformation”, every one of these obstacles is within the ANC or the government. While it is perfectly true that things like corruption, incompetence and bad policies make the provision of socio-economic justice more difficult, this has nothing to do with a “second transition”. All of the actual obstacles to social justice lie in special interest groups who do not want to share their wealth or reduce their prospects of getting even richer in future. The document airily dismisses this, and therefore ought to have been printed on toilet paper.

This helps to clarify the gigantic intellectual divide between what the ANC/SACP say, and what they actually intend to do.

The document then talks about the “global context”, starting with talking vaguely about globalisation and neoliberalism. They say that there is a global financial crisis. Fuck, how did they find that one out? They must have used Jacob Zuma’s intelligence network, or something. But then they say, and this is interesting, “The disarray in the [Western] left is a result of the intellectual and moral vacuum created by the absence of a robust and compelling alternative to neo-liberalism”. Yeah, they’ve obviously been reading this blog because they couldn’t have figured that one out by themselves. And yet . . . doesn’t that mean that they need to provide such an alternative themselves? No, of course not, because that’s the Western left and it doesn’t apply to us, does it? The South African Left, having sold out to capital long ago, obviously isn’t going to acknowledge this.

On Africa, without blushing, they quote Pixley ka Seme, Frantz Fanon and Kwame Nkrumah. Their fingers should have withered up as they downloaded those quotes, because they follow this up by saying that Africa is going to do great because it is an “investment frontier”. Viva neo-colonialism, viva! Forward to a people’s sweatshop! They do say that we need to “position ourselves strategically” — they say it twice, but never say what it means, and of course they don’t mention AFRICOM, because . . . well, don’t mention zer war, jah!

Those of you who are astute will have noted the absence of anything about the second transition thus far (and we’re four-fifths of the way through). They make up for this in Part E, where they say: “we must heed the call in our 2012 January 8th Statement for the ANC to pay single-minded and undivided attention towards overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality. This is what our second transition must be about.” (p.36). Ah, so some vapid bullshit is going to guide us by making us pay attention to something. What does paying attention mean? Does it mean fulfilling the programme of action set out in this document? No, all they say is that we must have a “trajectory” over the next fifty years. Is that trajectory to resemble the trajectory of a hippo falling off a skyscraper? They don’t say.

They do say that we should get more money and better distribution. Yay! This can be done by, er, making the economy bigger. Wha? You want to know more? Here it is (p.38, if you think it’s a joke):

 

• strengthening innovation policy, the sector and linkages with companies;

• improving functioning of the labour market through reforms and specific proposals concerning dispute resolution and discipline, to help the economy absorb more labour;

• supporting small business through better coordination in the different agencies, the development finance institutions, and SME incubators;

• improving the skills base through improved education and training;

• increasing investment in social and economic infrastructure to lower costs, raise productivity and bring more people into the mainstream;

• reducing the regulatory burden in sectors where the private sector is a main investor;

• a comprehensive ICT policy as an input to economic and social development and as a driving sector of innovation;

• improving state capacity to effectively implement economic policy.

 

That is, more public-private partnerships, weaker labour legislation, more deregulation and above all, make it easier to download porn off the Internet. Oh, they also say we need better education, better healthcare, better social services and better policing. No lie, of course, but don’t they say that every year? Do we need a policy conference to generate things which Jacob Zuma emits whenever he exhales (from whichever orifice)? They also say that the people must be involved in all this, though they don’t say how this is to be done, or what the people would get out of being involved. However, they say that there must be an ideological struggle against neoliberalism and global capitalism — well, they don’t quite say that, but they mention neoliberalism and global capitalism and then say that there must be an unspecified ideological struggle. Perhaps the ideological struggle ought to be over the correct status of Comrade Bernstein in the pantheon of deceased Marxists? Difficult to say.

What they do say, in addition to arguing that it would help if the ANC continues to win elections, is that the ANC must have a “revolutionary and disciplined cadreship”. What “revolutionary” means in the context of this reactionary plutocratic apologia is hard to comprehend, but one sees what “disciplined” means — it means, don’t ask questions if you want to keep your lucrative sinecure. This body is to guide and dominate society’s “motive forces” — presumably what the Party, in the bad old days, called the proletariat, but now it seems to be mostly the bourgeoisie, and especially the 1% at the top.

So now you know what they’re talking about at Midrand. Well, actually they aren’t, they’re talking about which dudes are going to be making money out of all this shit, after Mangaung. But at least you know that there isn’t going to be any Second Transition, and that Saint Julius was crucified in vain.

 


Wash, Wash Me Green.

June 21, 2012

There are many things which make the sensitive, cultivated observer want to return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. (In practice, since the planet cannot support seven billion hunter-gatherers, this means going up in a tower with a high-powered rifle and picking off competitors at random — a practice the Creator heartily recommends to everyone.) Many of these things are expressed in the contents of the media, whose advertisements are packaged as editorials, but whose editorials are not acknowledged for the advertisements which they are. In any event, the phenomenon of greenwashing is most particularly striking and strident. The Creator was glancing over an advertisement for a foreign-owned corporation called Pick’n’Pay. The advertisement showed a shoal of fish fluttering through cool, green, deep water. A pretty picture, much prettier than the corporation, but unfortunately the picture had lettering on it — which the fish, mercifully, could not read. The lettering explained that Pick’n’Pay was a GREEN corporation, because the World Wildlife Fund had given them a certificate to that effect. (The WWF will give anyone a certificate saying anything, in exchange for money to keep the WWF afloat; saving the planet is strictly a secondary side-effect of the enrichment of WWF’s managers.) Pick’n’Pay also revealed that various Stewardship Forums had given them certificates saying that they were GREEN. (Of course, the revelation did not include the fact that these Stewardship Forums are industry bodies upon which Pick’n’Pay sits like La Tricoteuse at the foot of the guillotine.) And, lastly, that Pick’n’Pay only sources its fish from fish-farms where there are definite, time-bound improvements taking place. What, precisely, does this last bit mean? That the fish are getting company-sponsored date-stamped bow-ties to wear? That the manager of the fish-farm expects his ranch-style house to be completed within six months? It could mean either of these things, or none. It probably means nothing. It might mean pitifully trivial changes. It might even mean that fish-farms are becoming slightly less noxious cauldrons of toxic, parasite-ridden, micro-organism sodden fish-shit. But that is unlikely, because it would not be profitable. Greenwashing is unpleasant because it’s a particularly insulting form of corporate propaganda, but there’s much more to it than that. The Green movement arose out of the ecology movement which arose out of the authority-questioning leftism of the 1960s, and therefore greenwashing is a frontal assault on the liberties which the West won in the 1960s and the South Africans won through their subsequent struggles. The Green movement is also supposed to be based on science — and although many Greens know no more about science than would go through the eye of a rather small needle, there are a lot of Green scientists out there including most of the ones of any actual integrity and ability. In other words, the Green movement is an attempt to expose the environment-destroying ways of capitalism, and the way in which environment destruction is justified through appeals to greed and selfishness, to a dose of reality — you can’t eat gold, and you can’t use your new Apple toy if you’re dead. So greenwashing is a way of using the Green movement to legitimate the destruction of the environment; it says, “Support our environmental destruction and thus save the environment!”. It is no wonder that the Mail and Guardian has an annual special greenwashing competition with a supplement lauding the greatest greenwashers. To those who are utterly cut off from reality, it seems like a splendid thing; if you sound like a good person, you can become a good person (in the same way that continually smiling ensures that you will become happy). Of course, it is all made easier if you control the press and can ensure that nasty smelly dissident actual Greens are kept well offstage most of the time. But not all the time. The task is to allow the Greens to do all the basic work of establishing a particular idea in the public mind, and then move in, shoulder the Greens aside, appropriate the idea to your own purposes and then broadcast your interests through your use of the idea, while denouncing anyone who asks questions as a covert enemy of progress and the human race. A perfect example of this is the contemporary electricity generation situation. We are faced with two problems; we are running out of oil, which will lead to massive transport problems as cars, buses and trucks become obsolete. We are also stuffing the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which is leading to global warming, causing huge problems with wild weather and which will ultimately cause an agricultural crisis as various historic food-growing areas become unsuitable to the purpose. The Greens have been perennially complaining about these two problems, and have been calling for the pursuit of sustainable policies to resolve them — namely, a massive expansion of renewable energy, both to ensure access to electricity and to reduce the production of carbon dioxide, and this to go hand in hand with a massive expansion of electrically-based public transport (possibly associated with electric personal transport, at least in urban areas and over short distances). These are blindingly obvious points, and have been blindingly obvious for more than thirty years. Obviously, a large part of the response to this is to deny that we are running out of oil and to deny that we are stuffing the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, or to claim that this has nothing to do with wild weather and will not cause an agricultural crisis — in other words, simply denying both reality and scientific interpretations of it, all the way down to basic physics. However, another response is to say that all these problems are real, but that the solutions to the problems are very different from the solutions which the Greens want. “Clean coal” means burning coal efficiently (grinding it to powder and holding the burning mass suspended on jets of hot air in the furnace). The smokestacks from “clean coal” power plants emit white smoke rather than black, and the whiteness can be reduced by adding sulphur precipitators to the smokestacks, removing much of the sulphuric acid. (This ends up with immense ponds of poisonous acids, but never mind that.) However, this apparent cleanliness has a problem; exactly the same amount of carbon dioxide is being puffed into the atmosphere as before. Here, the “greenwash” solution is to make the destroyers of the environment look pretty — like painting secret police headquarters in Day-Glo colours and calling it Freedom Campus. (Recall how the Bureau of State Security — BOSS — changed its name to the Directorate of National Security — DONS.) It is possible to take all that carbon dioxide and “sequester” it, by taking it out of the smokestacks, compressing it to a liquid and pumping it underground. Carbon dioxide, however, is a small molecule and would have little difficulty migrating out of any conceivable pressurised underground reservoir. In any event, only a tiny fraction of carbon dioxide could be captured unless you want to make everything too expensive to run. So the whole “clean coal” bonanza, which was part of Barack Obama’s solution to the American energy crisis, is a lie as well as a greenwash. “Natural gas” sounds awfully green, since it is natural, unlike that nasty gas which comes from somewhere other than nature. However, this stuff is simply short-chain hydrocarbons — a few carbon atoms in a row with hydrogen atoms stuck to them; basically fuel oil that never quite made it. The line is that burning natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than burning coal, and therefore burning natural gas is good. The problem with this is that burning natural gas may be more efficient than burning coal (you can burn it in a gas turbine, which is essentially a bloody big jet engine, and which turns the dynamo directly instead of going through the whole steam-turbine procedure as you have to with coal) but it still generates carbon dioxide because of all those carbon atoms. Incidentally, because gas burns at a higher temperature than coal, it produces nitric acid instead of sulphuric acid. Fun stuff to breathe. A subsidiary problem is that the littlest of all the natural gas components is methane, which happens to be the most severe greenhouse gas available in large quantities, and the one most likely to boil off when a tank or pipeline is ruptured or a seal is imperfect. So natural gas has a built-in tendency to promote the greenhouse effect, but one which is unmeasurable because it is determined by how inefficient the industry is. Another subsidiary problem is that natural gas is only available in large quantities in relatively small pockets of shale, and in order to access these pockets you have to break up the shale to allow the gas to flow, using pressurised water a procedure known as hydrofracturing. Doing this, of course, you shatter the strata, enabling any gunk you please to flow from layer to layer. In theory, this could lead to very nasty hydrocarbons (particularly the cyclic ones such as benzine, which exist in modest quantities in natural gas) to get into the groundwater. It’s impossible to pump all the gas out, so some of those hydrocarbons must stay around, and it’s also impossible to put the strata back together once you’ve shattered them. Nobody knows how much damage this will do to the long-term access to water in areas where hydrofracturing takes place. (It would be possible to do research into this, but that would cost money, and if the answer were what almost everybody fears it is, the whole green image of natural gas would turn shit-coloured.) And then, of course, there is dear old nuclear power, always the big bugaboo of the Greens from the 1970s and their big triumph (though the Green triumph over nuclear power was rather like the TAC’s triumph over Thabo Mbeki, taking credit for someone else’s victory). Nuclear reactors themselves emit no carbon dioxide or methane. Therefore they are green power of the highest order. Let’s build loads of clean, safe, carbon-friendly nuclear reactors! Of course, this requires one to ignore the mining and refining of the uranium (which uses loads of energy, most of which comes from hydrocarbons or coal) and the enrichment of the uranium (which uses vast amounts of energy again). If your whole electrical economy runs on nuclear power, then nuclear energy might be carbon-friendly; otherwise, you’re just burning carbon to create nuclear fuel — which could be seen as the ultimate greenwash. Also, exactly like coal and oil and gas, U-235 is non-renewable. You dig it out of the ground, burn it and it’s gone, leaving you with a lot of unsightly radioactive waste. You can make plutonium with it, which is based on U-238 which is enormously more common, but somehow people seem nervous about a substance which is not only extremely poisonous but is also used for nuclear weapons. You can even use U-235 reactors to make U-233 from equally common thorium, although that’s turned out to be more difficult than was originally thought. But the point is, all these “green” solutions to the energy and resource crisis represent ways of digging irreplaceable stuff out of the ground, destroying it to produce energy, and by doing so, generating large amounts of extremely dangerous waste products which you have no means of dealing with and therefore are obliged to pretend that they aren’t all that dangerous, on the “Toxic sludge is good for you!” principle. And that’s the Green movement in a nutshell. In our next lesson, kiddies, we will learn how to make delicious chocolate pudding out of human ordure.


The Players and the Game.

July 22, 2011

The Department of Trade and Industry belatedly complains about the Competition Commission giving a free ride to Wal-Mart. A Cabinet lekgotla decides to set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company. The Democratic Alliance calls on the South African Revenue Service to investigate Julius Malema’s financial state. What’s going on here?
Clearly, a kind of game is being played. The white ruling class is strongly in favour of Wal-Mart buying out some of South Africa’s major retail industries. It is, equally, strongly against the establishment of a state-owned pharmaceutical company. It is also strongly in favour of demonising Julius Malema, most particularly because Julius Malema wants not only pharmaceutical companies but banks and mines to be owned by the state. Hmmm — looks as if these are moves in a chess game with two sides. One can cheer on either side, can one not?
On the other hand, the game is not so simple. If the government had really wanted Wal-Mart not to buy out local retail industries, it could have stopped it in its tracks very simply, but it did not, although the government did present evidence against the deal to the Competition Commission.
But why send the matter to the Competition Commission, which is simply a body which exists to cover up for the financial crimes of the ruling class? Either the government did not want to win the case, or it hoped somehow that a body not directly connected with it would torpedo the deal and thus enable it to win the case without taking responsibility for it. Again, either the government is terrified of the white ruling class, or it is in the pocket of the white ruling class but does not want to reveal this fact to its constituency, or else the government is simply divided between such factions.
Again, the fact that the Cabinet decides to establish a state-owned pharmaceutical company does not mean that a state-owned pharmaceutical company is going to be established. Such a company would take years and billions to develop, even under ideal conditions, and current conditions are anything but ideal. (Jeremy Cronin recently trumpetted a new bus service for Rustenburg, to be set up with simply oodles of taxpayers’ money — it’s going to take four years to get the buses running. Since it takes about a month to ship the buses here from China and a similar time to train the drivers, and the whole project will cost about a billion, we must assume that forty-seven months have been set aside for the political discussions over who is to rake in the rest of the money devoted to this initiative.) It’s obvious that the government wishes to be seen to do something about high drug prices; it’s less certain that it wants to actually do this.
Then again, the Democratic Alliance’s stunt is almost certainly not really intended as an action against Julius Malema the person. Malema the image is largely a construct of the white ruling class and its tame media, has been built up as a black boogeyman over a long period of time, and would be a sorry loss to them and their panic-mongers were Malema the real human being to disappear from view and the image thus to collapse in a great ruin of racist stereotypes. In any case, what they are protesting against is apparently Malema building a house, as if the notion of black people living in houses is rather distasteful to them. (Judging by the municipal policies of the DA, this is probably the case.)
So, in a vital sense, the game is not about winning or losing. The game is about being seen to play. The real owners of property are off the board.
But this doesn’t make the game unimportant. In a sense, the game is the only way in which the actual public has any opportunity to express itself, and it is also by watching how the ruling class plays its side of the game that we can see just how bizarre the situation actually is. While the public cannot take part in the game, it is free to yell at the government from a distance. Also, sometimes the pawns in the game (such as Malema) interact with the public.
Essentially, what these three episodes have in common is quite simple. The ruling class is not interested in developing South Africa, neither economically nor socially, the ruling class doesn’t want to help the people of South Africa, and the ruling class is strongly hostile to public debate on any meaningful issue. These issues are made absolutely clear through these three episodes. It’s much more than just that the ruling class is showing two fingers to South Africa, and dropping its pants and showing its arse to South Africa, the ruling class is shitting on South Africa and everything it and its people stand for. And, more to the point, the ruling class, through its control of the media, is preventing anyone from protesting about this gross defecation.
Look — it is possible to argue that Wal-Mart’s taking over a large retail chain is not really a huge issue. The obvious danger is that Wal-Mart will then use its global muscle to sell goods cheaper than other retail outlets can manage, driving them out of business and establishing dominance of the local retail market, after which it will be free to jack up prices again. That means that it will be doing what it has done in towns and states throughout the United States, so there is nothing unusual about this expectation. Of course, this will hurt consumers and increase unemployment, but not massively so — we are talking about a modest increase in prices and a few tens of thousands of people unemployed. It is bad, but hardly worth fighting about given the actual catastrophic conditions which the present government is promoting. However, the trade union movement is aware that it has let down the working class very badly, and therefore COSATU’s leaders need to pretend that they are concerned about jobs, and therefore they are cajoling the government into putting on this show, with, probably, little hope or expectation of winning.
On the other hand, though, the ruling class’s support for the Wal-Mart bid means that they are having to line up with foreigners (which South Africans don’t really like) and make explicit their support for big companies over little ones (which nobody except ruling classes really like). In other words, they are making themselves look bad (although they are couching their propaganda in the ridiculous terms of consumer choice) over a relatively minor issue which most of them are not going to benefit from. And, also, some of South Africa’s ruling class will inevitably lose out if the local retail chains go down. What’s in it for them?
Two things, or perhaps three. One obvious thing — anything the unions like, the ruling class will oppose. While the ruling class applauds the current leaders of the union movement for their incompetence, just as the ruling class applauds Zuma for his incompetence, the reason for this applause is that the ruling class hates unions as part of its hatred for democracy and freedom. Wal-Mart also hates unions. Case closed.
Another obvious thing — Wal-Mart are foreigners. The profits will go abroad. The bulk of South Africa’s ruling class are either foreign-based, or owe their allegiances to people who are foreign-based. Therefore, support for Wal-Mart means support for South African economic activity becoming more dependent upon foreigners, which the ruling class wants (and this also undermines democracy, since the less economic freedom locals have, the less political freedom the country has). Case closed.
The third thing is discursive. If the ruling class can get away with running a public campaign under the banner “Up with unemployment and neo-colonialism!” then they have set a vital precedent in breaking the spirit of the public. The more we let them get away with, the more they will take. In this sense the issue is potentially far bigger than its actual nature.
But it’s the same with the fantasised drug company — the ruling class is effectively campaigning here under the slogan “Higher prices for your drugs, with less access to the drugs you need, and let foreigners have all the money!”. And the representatives spouting that slogan are allowed to walk around in public and present that slogan in almost so many words. Nobody slips a tyre around their necks, sloshes petrol and strikes a match. This illustrates the decline of South African civil society very clearly.
And, in a sense, it’s the same with the DA’s propaganda campaign against Malema, a campaign which it is conducting in self-evident alliance with the South African Communist Party. (The DA-SACP alliance has been evidence since 2008, when Helen Zille and Ryan Coetzee joined with Max Ozinsky and Mcebisi Skwatsha to destroy the ANC’s power-base in the Western Cape by jointly smearing all the coloured Charterist politicians in the province.) The campaign is, of course, the DA going ooga-booga for its white supremacist constituency, but in another sense it’s the ruling class going after someone who might actually believe in some of the egalitarian issues he raises, and thus a major part of neoliberalism. The SACP, of course, does not believe in egalitarianism and never has, but is sitting pretty so long as it can pretend to believe in this, and definitely does not wish to be challenged by some upstart who might actually mean what he says and thus threaten the SACP’ corporate funding which keeps it alive. In other words, suppress debate, silence freedom of speech, and ensure that the ruling class doesn’t have to answer awkward questions about who owns what, and what they are doing with the money they are making off with.
What should we do about all this? At the moment, almost the only thing we can do is to remember that there is such a thing as the ruling class. A possibility, dubious as it might seem, is that the government might be persuaded to challenge the ruling class on occasion.
The way in which the Left serves the ruling class is to insist that the government cannot challenge the ruling class, and in fact to pretend that the government and the ruling class are identical. This means that the Left challenges the government rather than the ruling class, pretending that this is a bold stroke for the people and speaking truth to power and all the other tosh which the Left has adopted from the hired media whores of the ruling class. As a result, the Left struggles to undermine the only power capable of challenging the ruling class.
Issues like these three show that the Left is mistaken in this matter — and, to be fair, the Left is nominally on the side of the angels when it comes to Wal-Mart, and perhaps even pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, we can be absolutely certain that the Left will abandon this stance any time it finds it more comfortable to do so, which is why it is reasonable to suspect that in these cases, the bad guys are going to win, and the Left will blame this defeat on people like Malema rather than on their own cowardice, treachery and (among the rank and file supporters of Stalinism and Trotskyism in South Africa) simple failure to understand what is going on.
And that’s how the game is played.


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.