The Colonial Year Is Dead, And The Greeks, Too, Are Finished.

October 10, 2011

The Creator is not particularly high on rebellion (although it is entertaining to see a handful of young people defying the American dictatorship of the bourgeoisie on Wall Street — would there were ten million of them) but it may be interesting to our reader to learn exactly what the hell is going on, and why we are all being invited to boycott retsina, ouzo and spanakopita.

As usual, the lies told by the ruling class are aimed at justifying the transfer of money from the poor to the rich. When the 2008 banking crisis reached its climax the following year, it was easy for the ruling class to see that their long campaign to disempower, disenfranchise and generally diss the poor, the downtrodden and the left across the whole global ruling bloc had succeeded so spectacularly that not a single lying, fraudulent “bankster” had so much as been indicted, let alone chased down the street being pelted with stones with his pants around his ankles and ultimately necklaced.

This was immensely reassuring, and so they went on to Phase II of the crisis; taking advantage of it by making money out of it. The affluent world had saved its banks by borrowing immense amounts of money (from the banks) and giving it to the banks; that meant that in addition to the immense donations, the banks were eligible to receive immense amounts of interest on the loans which they had made to governments in order to keep them capable of making loans. If this sounds tipsy, it is. Basically, the banks were getting it coming and going.

The only problem was, would the governments be able to pay that interest? Governments had run up fairly high debts since about 1990; this was because interest rates had been kept low in order to encourage borrowing. Interest rates, in turn, were low because wages had been kept low so as to shift wealth from the poor to the rich — and so, in order to keep the economy turning over, people had to be encouraged to borrow, which meant low interest rates, which naturally encouraged governments to borrow, too. Now on top of that debt, massive debts had been incurred to the banks. But on top of that, the banking bailout meant that there was no money for real economic stimulus, so national economies sagged and tax revenue plummetted, pushing the ongoing deficit higher. Debt soared.

The countries suffering most from this were, obviously, the countries which had the highest deficits — the so-called PIGS countries, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Although their debts were not so much bigger than anybody else in Western Europe’s (or rather, everybody had big debts although theirs were the biggest) they were targeted for structural adjustment by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They were granted loans, but at much higher rates of interest than the going rate (supposedly because they were bad risks) and on condition that they rendered themselves more able to pay their interest costs, by slashing social spending and increasing taxes.

This was a straight colonial operation. The banks in rich Europe were giving poor Europe money which was immediately given back to them with interest, in return for poor Europe putting itself completely under the control of rich Europe. Naturally there was resistance, but in poor Europe the governments were completely in the hands of the rich and the public was ignored. Both wealth and power were trickling up to the hands of the financial aristocracy.

Of course, the PIGS countries’ economies went into free fall; that was part of the point. If the countries developed too fast, they would be able to pay off their debts and the rich banks would make less of a profit. Keeping the PIGS countries from developing was thus desirable.

The only danger was that these economies would fall too fast for the governments to be able to pay the interest. This didn’t happen in Ireland, partly because of the highly centralised nature of the Irish state and the passivity of the population which made it possible to raise taxes without serious resistance. Spain was considered too big to fail, so problems there were swept under the carpet. Portugal went along with the affair, at least rhetorically, and when the crisis reached danger-point the Portuguese elected a right-wing government to do the bankers’ work for them — showing how docile the population were.

The big problem was Greece, which had a trifecta: a left-wing government which wasn’t going away in the near future, a very high debt and deficit level, a very pissed-off population with strong mobilizing tools, and a strong tradition of the rich not paying their taxes. The left-wing (insofar as any government in Europe can be called left-wing, which is about three millimetres) PASOK government was trying to implement the extreme-right policies which had been imposed on it partly simply in order to make money for the bankers, but also in order to discredit a left-wing government. This succeeded, up to a point, but PASOK, although it crushed popular demonstrations with the best of them, was, first in private and increasingly in public, extremely unhappy about the right-wing austerity policies aimed at damaging the Greek economy. As a result, the demonstrators had a sense, as they did not in places like Spain, that they might get somewhere, which energised them.

Meanwhile, the policies failed. The austerity policies damaged social services (although PASOK did not implement them fully, so not as much damage was done as the banksters wanted) and further weakened the feeble Greek economy. The deficit, consequently, soared. The disaffected populace refused to pay higher taxes; the rich squirrelled the money away while the poor pointed to this as a sign that they weren’t bloody well paying on the rich’s behalf (an unheard-of stand in Western Europe for thirty years). The debt expanded. Greece began running out of money. The European Central Bank failed to pay its pledged cash to the Greek government on time, no doubt hoping to up the pressure, but instead providing the Greek government with copper-bottomed pretexts for blaming someone else for their failures. The ratings agencies downgraded the Greek economy, thus justifying further-increased interest rates on future loans.

What was happening was that the system was failing itself. In their vindictiveness, Western financial imperialism was punishing Greece for being odiously Mediterranean, but was forgetting that colonialism only works if you can extract something from the colony. Sucking cash out of a country faster than that country can generate cash is like overfishing; you end up with a cod-free Grand Banks. (That’s the fishing-grounds off Newfoundland, not the international financial community; they have plenty of cod, the fuckers.) Unlike the fish, however, countries have a response; they can blow up the cash pipeline through which the money is being sucked. This was what Greece, eventually, felt compelled to do.

Why is a small country on the fringes of Europe, one of the smallest and poorest states in the richest continent on the planet, but a planet where much if not most of the manufacturing is done far away from where the money is — why should this small country’s financial woes have anything to do with us? South Africa was not flung to the ground when Ivory Coast burned to ashes — why should Canada quail before the possibility of Athens melting into a puddle?

The answer is simple — it has nothing at all to do with Greece itself and everything to do with the system. The gigantic amounts of cash flung into the global financial system to save it, did not save it. Instead, they saved its face; they enabled people to pretend that the global financial system was functional when it was not. It gave a couple of years for the global financial system to repair itself and make itself functional — but in order to do this, the global financial system would have had to lower its profit margins, and it chose, instead, to go on with the same absurd but profitable policies which caused the financial crisis in the first place. One of these absurd policies was lending vast amounts of money to people who couldn’t possibly pay it back — and the most conspicuous example of this ongoing policy was the loans to the PIGS countries.

The global financial system is, very probably, ruined. We don’t know for sure. The global economy is already in a depression, with the only things holding it up being the financial system which is lending people money to buy Chinese goods, and the Chinese economy itself, which appears to be heading for its first recession in thirty years, complete with its own home-grown banking crisis. It is just possible that the rumours of a China crisis are Western propaganda, because the Western bourgeoisie hates China so much that it would slash its own wrists in order to bleed in China’s tea, but it is likely that China has no more found a way to escape crises of capitalism than anyone else has.

Therefore, with everyone relying on what the American economic pundit Paul Krugman calls the “confidence fairy” to save them, it is hardly surprising that things are on a knife-edge. The Greek crisis provides the pretext for this. It is the pin which pricks the balloon of false European financial confidence. The possibility that Greece will stop paying the interest on its debts has been enough to rock the Western European financial system, simply because so many banks leaped into the opportunity to suckle on Greece’s carotid arteries.

The dimmer but still credible possibility that Greece might simply announce that it is never paying back the money it owes (it will never pay that money back anyway, but the pretense that it might is what is keeping some loaners solvent) is what is rocking the global financial economy, because that would be sending the confidence fairy to the gas chamber. And what if other countries followed suit? What if Portugal and Spain began wondering why they should pay if Greece doesn’t? What about Italy, which has belatedly been discovered to be in much the same financial state as Spain? (The banksters have been inclined to let Italy off the hook, because it has an extreme-right-wing government.) What if rioters in the streets of Dublin demand that their government default along with Greece? The answer could be a chain of banking failures in Europe (and, later, America) which could have the same potential effect as the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 — with the difference that in 2008 the West was still solvent enough to prop up the banks with shiploads of cash.

Bloody Greeks! Dontja just hate them? Thank Gawd for living in South Africa, where we are never going to have an economic crisis! I’m off to buy myself a brand-new unnecessary electronic device — on credit, naturally!

 


How Does It Feel To Be Such A Freak? (I)

July 25, 2008

It appears that disaster happens whenever the Creator is asleep at the switch. Only a few months ago the Creator arrived in Cape Town, turned on the wireless talking-type radio, and bejeezus but that Zuma bhoyo was the new President of the ANC. Took a lot of Glenmorangie to wash that one down. Now the Creator arrives in Cape Town, purchases a sheaf of printed corporate propaganda, and heilige scheiss, that Zuma kêrel, bless his little cotton socks, has fired the Premiers of the Eastern and Western Cape. Maybe the Creator should just stay home. Maybe the Creator should just never get out of bed.

However, the interesting thing about this stuff is not the corrupt and criminal activities of the Zuma gang. You do not get very far by demonstrating that a bunch of corrupt crooks will act like a bunch of corrupt crooks. Nor is it odd that there are a lot of corrupt crooks out there. Nor is it surprising when, say, the good Mr. Malema of the ANC Youth League talks and acts like a brain-damaged psychopath. After all, he undertook to do that when he was installed in his post. That is what such people are expected to do, and what they are paid to do. It does not mean that Mr. Malema is indeed a brain-damaged psychopath; nor does it mean that even if he is a brain-damaged psychopath, he will be permitted to do anything psychopathic with his brain-damage.

Instead, what he is doing is playing a role absolutely vital if the ANC is to be discredited and corporate-controlled neoliberalism is to take charge of the country — that of a person unfit to hold his position but nevertheless secure in it. It is vital that South Africans be persuaded to despise the government and hate and fear the political process. After all, the political process is the only thing which can endanger corporate-controlled neoliberalism. (More on Lauren Beukes much later.)

No, none of this is particularly interesting once you understand that this is a puppet-show. It is mildly interesting to trace some of the strings. The puppets, however, are not intrinsically interesting. Nor is the plot of the show either good or original; we have seen it before in many other countries; Russia under Yeltsin, Argentina under Menem, and so on. Populist front-men for big business, backed by media lies and Western imperialism — nu?

What interests the Creator instead is the people who can watch the show and somehow manage to persuade themselves that it is not a puppet-show, that it is revolutionary, radical, people’s power, and that they must support it to the best of their ability without actually spending money or (in extreme cases) getting out of their recliner-chairs.

The Creator is not talking about “pundits” and “journalists” and “independent political commentators”. This category of people, like Sipho Seepe or Richard Calland or Anthony Butler, is not at all interesting. They do it for the money and always have. No doubt this is in part because of their reactionary ideological positions. However, broadly speaking, attending to such people is about as interesting as listening to a sound-track of the noises a whore makes while striving to bring her customer to orgasm. However, there are other people who are, or might conceivably be, capable of doing other things. These people are intelligent enough to perceive arrant bullshit, and independent enough to mention the fact. How do they brainwash themselves into redefining shit as sugar and then stirring tablespoonfuls of said ordure into their steaming cuppas?

Comrades and colleagues, meet — or rather don’t — Mr. William Saunderson-Meyer. He used to write a column called “Jaundiced Eye” in which he was cynical about the political system. Hoorah for such things, because while perpetual cynicism is utterly powerless, at least it is not necessarily co-opted. However, sadly,

 

Brother Billy has both guns drawn,

He ain’t been right since Vietnam,

 

as Warren Zevon carolled on “Play It All Night Long”, and sadly, while Brother Billy S-M indeed now has both guns drawn, he ain’t been right — in the sense of accurately reflecting the nature of the physical, psychological or spiritual universe — since he partially recovered from a nasty car accident. Fortunately he has full capacity as a South African journalist. Do not ask what that says about South African journalists.

The Creator’s eye fell on Brother Billy while paging through a courtesy copy of the Argus last week, wishing it were something else. (Hence no direct quotes — sorry, but then again, why be sorry?) Brother Billy’s putative jaundice was being applied to Jacob Zuma, and it was as yellow as anyone could expect. The gist of the article was to begin by saying that Zuma was behaving awfully by allowing his supporters to threaten the judiciary and the Democratic Alliance, two issues which frequently cause white reactionaries to change their trousers. So far, utterly banal and crapulous. Yet the article wafted out of this and into the realms of cerebral paresis with amazing vim and speed.

Brother Billy’s ensuing line was to cry ¡Hola! Zuma is not really a criminal at all! He is a victim! He is a victim of an evil conspiracy! Of an evil conspiracy by the spiteful and conspiratorial Thabo Mbeki! (At this point, Brother Billy apparently had to reach out and wipe himself with a handful of Baby-Soft. Then, pulling up his fresh brown trousers, proceed.) This conspiracy is evil! How do we know that it is evil? Because of all the people who are just as bad as Zuma or — come to think of it — much worse, but have not ever been tried, but have been cossetted, protected, defended, indemnified by the evil Mbeki! Look at Jackie Selebi! Ooo, isn’t it ‘orrible? That Mbeki is so bad! At least Zuma is a good guy! By comparison with the real bad guys out there who are all Mbeki supporters! Hats off to Jacob Zuma, donchaloveim? Whoop! Hooraw!

At this point the article stopped, possibly because the attendants came in with a Thorazine injection and some stout leather straps. The Creator may not be giving quite the flavour of the article, but the above paragraph is a faithful presentation of Brother Billy’s factual content and argumentation. Except for the bit about the Baby-Soft, which is purely conceptual.

Let us nevertheless consider and analyse this. Jacob Zuma’s bank account revealed that millions of rands had been paid into it by the French arms company Thint (formerly Thomson-CSF, formerly Thales — these people change their names as often as if they were thieves) and by Zuma’s “financial advisor”, multi-millionaire Schabir Shaik. It is not clear what this money was paid for, although Zuma subsequently performed services of a financially advantageous nature for both parties in his capacity as Deputy President and supremo of the arms deal involving Thint and Shaik’s brother. Jacob Zuma’s tax records reveal that he paid no tax on any of this money. Case to answer, not so? Heavy stuff, not so?

All right. Is it credible that this was all constructed by Mbeki? No, it appears not; it’s inconceivable that he could have fabricated so much material without Zuma’s knowledge.

Is there any actual evidence that Mbeki had any grudge of any kind against Zuma which might lead to such fabrication? Mbeki supported Zuma in his run for the Deputy Presidency of the ANC in 2002. In return, Zuma supported Mbeki as President. The two seemed eminently cordial, up until the evidence of Zuma’s criminal corruption began to leak out, and Mbeki defended Zuma’s right to remain as Deputy President of the country up until Zuma’s financial adviser was put away for bribery and corruption involving Zuma. So the answer to the question must be no.

Okay. But at least Mbeki’s Cabinet is full of crooks who have accepted huge sums of money in exchange for favours, not so? No, indeed, not so. Mbeki’s Cabinet is certainly full of people who have been accused of such behaviour by their (and Mbeki’s) political enemies, and such accusations have been extensively hyped by newspapers owned by their (and Mbeki’s) political enemies. However, not a single such accusation has contained enough information to warrant legal action. There is no hard evidence of bribery and corruption in Mbeki’s Cabinet, despite plenty of investigation, and despite the obvious fact that the press, the Democratic Alliance, and a large number of non-governmental organisations will pay vast amounts of money if any such information were provided. It isn’t possible for Mbeki to prevent such information from getting out, or to stop action from being taken on it. He doesn’t have that kind of power. Nobody does.

Oh, and Jackie Selebi, Commissioner of Police, was dismissed from his post although there was no hard evidence against him, because the Scorpions found a criminal who was prepared to testify (without hard evidence) against Selebi. It remains to be discovered whether the criminal is telling the truth. (The criminal was threatened with life in jail if he refused to testify.) Brother Billy was not aware of this.

So — Brother Billy’s argument is obvious hogwash. Nothing that he said was true; there is a vast amount of evidence suggesting that Zuma is guilty, there is no evidence that Zuma is a victim of a conspiracy (other than some indications that Mbeki tried in vain to protect Zuma, or at least protect his party from the horrible consequences of Zuma’s indictment) and there is no evidence that Zuma has been singled out while others have escaped scot-free. This is so bad, it is actually good, for poor Brother Billy surely must believe the lies he is telling. In order to bullshit us, he has surely bullshitted himself first. How has he done this?

The answer seems to be a form of cognitive dissonance. Brother Billy knows — because he has been told frequently — that Mbeki is evil. He would be incapable of accepting that Mbeki is anything else, because that would entail questioning what he is told. Evil must be counterbalanced by good; he has also been told that. Therefore, if Zuma is evil, the whole structure of Brother Billy’s world is in danger of coming unglued. How can there be two evils, both opposed to each other? And yet the same people who tell Brother Billy that Zuma is evil are telling him that Mbeki is evil. Somehow the facade of reality must be saved, but how?

Solution — Mbeki double, double evil! So evil he evilled Zuma into evil! Zuma’s evil is all the fault of Mbeki’s evil! And, therefore, not only by comparison, but also by the law that shows that when evil is evilled it turns into good, Zuma’s evil becomes good and all that evil evils off onto Mbeki’s double-evil, so Mbeki becomes treble-evil! Aaaah! That feels so much better, just like an enema, although having the opposite effect because it fills one up with even more shit than before!

In other words, the ideology which Saunderson-Meyer serves is both invulnerably bullet-proof and indefinitely protean. The secret is to define the enemy as demonic. Once one has done that, anyone becomes good by comparison. Then, the person one sees in the mirror in the morning becomes a paragon of rectitude because that person supports the good, the true and the beautiful. What is more, a demon is not just bad, but omnipotent — and therefore, the person in the mirror (and anyone that person likes) becomes enormously brave by being prepared to take on the devil incarnate.

A meaningful ideology should be testable against reality. But this one is not, because any failure in the ideology can be explained through the invincible evil of Mbeki and his allies. Whatever Mbeki does or says can then be explained in terms of evil — does he oppose something in Zimbabwe? Why, that shows his devilish cunning in trying to lure people into the trap which is surely intended to serve the evil Mugabe (another demonic figure). Does he stand up for foreigners against xenophobia? Why, the language he uses can be parsed into proving that secretly he hates foreigners — he did not say enough, and that means that he actually desires to see all foreigners killed! If he denies it, that means it must be true! If he doesn’t deny it, that means it must be true — or else he would deny it!

Mbeki-hatred is much like campaigning against witchcraft. Jab her with a pin — if she flinches, it is a sign of a guilty conscience! If she doesn’t flinch, it is a sign of the lack of sensitivity which all witches have! Throw her in the water! If she floats, she’s a witch! (No, that particular test wasn’t invented by Monty Python.) If she sinks — well, better safe than sorry.

Meanwhile, is Mbeki good or bad in the real world? The wondrous impact of the Saunderson-Meyer ideology is that it’s impossible to tell. Viewed through such a lens it is tempting to say that Mbeki, or Balindlela, or Rasool, are parfit gentille knights. Most likely, in fact, they aren’t. In the real world they are, however, probably better options than the alternatives put forward by the obvious crooks of the ANC’s National Executive Committee or the Central Committee of the SACP.

A probability which the ideology is clearly designed to prevent anyone from seeing.