Thursday, January 29, 2004

Votes are power....

News reaches us of a revolt in Iran. To be sure, it is a congenial revolt, within the established political elite, but a revolt nonetheless. The BBC (yes, that BBC) reports that provincial governors are calling for the postponement of Parliamentary elections, because the Council of Guardians has basically disqualified all the candidates.

That must have been a desperate last throw of the dice for the theocratic despots. The technique of ruling through sham elections of vetted candidates relies wholly upon at least active acquiescence in the system of the bulk of the population (whether that acquiescence is obtained through outright fear as it is in Syria, or simply resignation and lack of ideological alternatives). It is a well tested technique. The Soviet Union had candidates heavily vetted by the Communist Party, Cuba still has Committees for Defence of the Revolution to screen candidates.

Of course, the political structures of the SU crumbled like a house of cards when the passive support of choosing the pre-selected candidate disappeared. Sham elections may be a tool to allow the illusion of inclusion in the political process (and of preventing an utter ossification of the public administrative process) as well as securing information flows from all parts of the political body; but they offer the threat of being used against the elites that seek to manipulate them.

There are alternative techniques – Louis Bonaparte in Imperial France relied upon the rural networks of regime loyalists to select candidates, as well as out and out gerrymandering and corruption. Modern liberal democracies use institutionalised parties, who gain a monopoly of candidate selection. If we look at Modern Britain, the Parties seek to predominate in an area so that they may control the selection of candidates to ensure they get to pick which monkey in a rosette gets elected.

In reality, we are voting between alternative Councils of Guardians, rather than for the candidates selected. This can be seen when comparing European elections, machine elections where parties pick candidates, with the Yanklander primaries – wild west democracy where the parties compete for the attentions of candidates. Of course, that is largely appearance, the Yanklander elections have their Councils of Guardians in the form of the people who bankroll the candidates in green and hugger-mugger, but the principle observation stands.

We just need to look back again, into history, to see a different sort of politics. Just reading Uncle Charlie for My ‘Illusive Connexion’ post below, revealed an even more wild-west breed of politics – public meetings where motions were put (and debated!), people attempting (though failing) to organise public meetings in support of war (where was that in our day, for all the left-war bloggers, where was there any attempt to galvanise a pro-war party, rather than hide behind the skirts of the certainty of political control of the armed forces doing whatsoe’er it please?). The anti-war bunch weren’t much better, and what debate was on the matter was trivial and circumscribed into channels of following my leader – those same leaders appointed by Councils of Guardians who provided cash and volunteers to run the ‘movement’.

My point? That passivity and acquiescence doesn’t just occur in tyrannies, and that any political system/structure gains by it – you just need to attend my Union branch meetings to see that. While the giant of the mob slumbers, the Lilliputian politicians can play their games, but when it wake, oh when it wakes...

That we can look back to a different politics, means we can look forward to it anew. The secret of history, is that looking back implies a future to look forward to. Why is this relevant, well, it all relates to Hutton, you’ll see....

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Socialism in an Age of Nitpicking....

Dear SIAW,

"You think we exaggerate? Try these for a start: abortion and divorce on demand; collective management of industry; narrow pay differentials and strictly regulated "perks" for managers; voluntary collectivisation of farming; stricter limitations on the death penalty than in any other European state at that time; freedom of expression, except (as in similar wartime conditions anywhere else) for active opponents of the state; free health care; treaties and trade agreements openly negotiated and published in full ... The Bolshevik government of 1917-24 was as much a victim of its circumstances as a shaper of them, and of course not every proclaimed policy was fully implemented, any more than any government's could have been in conditions of revolutionary upheaval, blockade and military intervention by the western powers and Japan, and civil wars launched by shifting alliances of assorted enemies."

This'll be the state that abolished the death penalty (against Lenin's preferences[1]), only to have Trotsky sentence them to be shot instead [2]. The regime that abolished censorship. The regime that withdrew fuel from Soviets that had the temerity to vote for Martov over Lenin[3]. The regime that re-instituted and intensified Tsarist conditions for political prisons[4]. The regime that gunned down its own soldiers in the back to make them put down rebels[5]. The regime Against which workers solidly struck, in strikes which under any other regime would have leftists panting over the revolutionary situation[6].

Let's face it, it was the bolshevik's decision to seize power as a conscious minority against the unconscious majority which necessitated building an apparatus of terror which Stalin was able to take command of - so, ably as MacLeod would have it.

I'll post this e-mail on my own blog -


Bill M.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The illusive connexion.

So, the American civil war and the Gulf War. How can I connect these two events seperated by about 140 years? Gotta be a tough one. After all, the civil war was a, well, civil war, whilst t'other the invasion of a Sovereign state (cue trumpets and a moist eye for beloved soveriegnty lost).

Well, a lot of time has been spent arguing of the beneficial effects of American occupation on Japan (an example googled(tm) up quickly can be seen here, no comment on content). I'll leave the argument generally to one side, perhaps I'll go into it in some detail another day.

However, one can conceivably build the same argument out of the occupation of the south post-bellum Ameriky.

There are several features which strike a resemblance - complete military occupation; military restructiuring of the democratic processes; de-Southification of the Government (or de-Democratification, as it was the Democrats back then who held the South); support from local Republicans - an internal faction of the south; the imposition of new economic realities (both the abolition of Slavery and the erection of trade tarifs. This lead to an increase in Government centralisation Yankland side, with the country going from "The united states are.." to "The United Sate is...".

The economic causes of the war are important - Lincoln's main concern was the integrity of the United States (his home state Illinois would have been fubarred cut off from the Mississipi - internal transport was his big beef). The southern states wanted to expand their slave economy - without expansion they died (hence Seward's proposition of conquering Mexico and southwards was his idea of a unifying comprimise, give them land and shut them up). They also feared tarifs, knowing the British would respond, and their all important cotton exports might well get knacked. The north wanted the tarifs, wanted to limit the slaves to existing territories and wanted free labour.

Occupation resolved that question, it also brought looting and carpet-bagging lasted many years, indeed, federal occupation has been required in the south right up into the mid-twentieth century, to tame the rural wilder-men who govern some parts of it. Virginia remains partitioned to this day, as a consequence of the rebuilding of the South.

So much for similarities, lets look at differences. Obviously, cultural, both sides had a democratic tradition, and the cult of the constitution as their bedrock. As well as a common language. There were Republicans in the south, as perfect an identity of interests as between the Russian nomenklatura and their Communist élite counterparts in Eastern Yurp. The oppressed slaves could be freed and given enough votes to counter-out the recalcitrant aristos of the South. Two important internal allies to build a new national hegemony in the Southern states.

How does this relate to Iraq? There are no natural partners, certainly not domineering enough to provide steady support, there is a modern media which means that the dodgy tactics used by Union generals in the south are out. That it took continued occupation of the the South (effectively) until this day, and even of Japan, suggests that military presence will be required for a long time to come to prevent Iraq falling out of its new 'democratic' orbit.

The lack of a common culture, lines of easy communication which allow hegemony and influence to spread, means that simple absoprtion is impossible. Hampered,obviously, by geographical distance as well, the US south could be absorbed as part of a single entity, Iraq will have to remain a seperate Iraq.

The point I am building to is this, it is not military might that shapes politics, politics remains a demographic process, the elements of political chemistry must be present to make the democratic product. Democracy is not brought in at bayonet point, all it can that weapons can do is remove the obstacle to any parties that could want to make democracy.

As for continuing occupation, it will have to continue a long while, and the US may well find itself having to extend military pseudopods furtehr over the globe the longer it allows its economic interests to dominate its military priorities. That might be no bad thing, after all, that would mean that a workers revolt in the US becomes a world socialist revolt...


Well, running a blog is a time consuming business. Currently, our LMS is fubarred, so I've got time to shake things out a little. Firstly, let me say, I think at most this will only ever be a weekly blog - perhaps there is a space in the blogger ecosphere for weeklies - as Billmon might sugest as well as Norm.

Speaking of Norm, he replied. I've already said I won't come back on him - my dead of e-dog-fighting are over, I have learnt to resist. His reply is suggestive, though, and I may come back to some of the themes he raises. I'll also keep an eye out for his second installment. As I said to him, I found his reply surprising, I didn't expect his emphasis to vary so wildly from what I felt was a killer point. You decide, but for me, it illustrates the simple joy and complexity of human communication, the radical uncertainty of meaning that makes discourse such a useful use of time, as to make me want to keep up by blog, in whatever shoddy way I can manage.

Next, I will post that much promised discussion on the similarities between the Iraq war and the American civil war. I'm sure you've all been drooling with anticipation.

I'll let you know when I've worked it out, when I might well do my regular blogging, possibly weekends, as Norm suggests, its the quiet time.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2004

In Offence of Orwell

Very quickly, then.
Mick Hartly writes on Chomsky, specifically: "For Chomsky, one of whose favourite terms is "Orwellian", we already live in the world of Big Brother. But to spell this out is immediately to see how fatuous it is, and what an insult it is to everything that Orwell stood for. To pretend that we in the West are living in an Orwellian state is simply grotesque while Kim Jong Il still rules in North Korea."

Quick points on this:
1) 1984 was famously 1948 transposed, a time of continued rationing in peacetime, a time shortly after Orwell's experiences (down the road from here) at the Ministry of Information at Senate House, after Orwell had nearly had his book Animal Farm spiked by friends of Stalinist tyranny in high places.
2) IIRC, and I may be wrong here, Orwell was influenced by Trotskyite apostate Burnham and his Managerial Revolution, with the idea that technocratic élites on both sides of the Cold War were converging in practise.
3) Orwell wrote compellingly on propaganda in Homage to Catalonia on the way in which the British press distorted the Spanish Revolution.

Orwell's strength and power comes from his critique of the totalitarianism iminent in liberal society, otherwise 1984 and Animal Farm are pretty much irrelevent - Koestler's Darkness at Noon offers a better insight into the Stalinist state.

I'd add, though, that Orwell would probably have derided Chomsky for his attacks on his own country. Orwell was, after all, a Nationalist Tosser - 'One family with the wrong members in charge' my Fat Hairy Arse.

As for the Cold War - Chomsky never denied that Cold War ideology existed, after all, his critique of Vietnam was based on the Domino Theory being the motivation for US strategists. We can, however, evince some idea of the non-existence of the Cold War from two discernable facts.
1) US planner knew the USSR to be militarilly inferior wholst at the same time bleating about missile gaps, weapon gaps, etc.
2) That US foriegn policy and intervention did not change significantly from ante-Cold War to During to Post.

The problem is that Chomsky is critiquing the world cultural hegemon, and many people read it as a specific attack on the US without bothering to see the broader critique that it is nation states that are like mafia families, that many other countries behave, or would behave given the chance, in the same way. It's also worth noting that Chomsky regularly lauds the freedoms America affords, and points to them as bringing responsibilities to prevent the government organised sluaghter that is the policy of the American ruling class.

I'm no lackey of Chomsky, I think his politics, whilst he may occaisionally mention past desires to abolish the wages system, is fundamentally an extreme liberalism and heavilly reformist - influence IMNSHO by the American pragmatic philosophical tradition. What I will say, though, is that his propaganda model has withstood the test, though it needs tweaking for the UK.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Let loose the blogs of warrrrrr!

Norm is considering his reply - not a problem, this is a part-time blog anyhow.

I was going to post on the relations between the war in Iraq, and the US civil war - hold that thought, it's one for more time, I think.

I just want to ruminate now on the extent of controversy in the blogosphere over the Iraq war - there do seem to be two quite distinct and hostile parties forming over this issue - whyfore?

My first answer could well be the ol' Hegelian identity of opposites malarky. See, conservatives don't find the war controversial, 'My country über alles, right or wrong!', only ultra-nationalists with a beef about 'natioinal sovereignty' might have any conservative doubts, but alea jacta est, they'd say. Neo-liberals are in fact, erm, Liberals, and form a part of the 'progressive' identity I'm examining here.

War and anti-war progressives are trying to occupy the same ideological space, and this war is turning into a measure of delineating what that space is, and the identities of these progressive camps.

Both sides are reduced to an emotional stance, a chasm of meaning over which they cannot communicate reduces them to an emotional semaphore. There are no longer common premises. Once the empirical has been thoroughly investigated (although there are still areas of empirical dispute) they are left with a pro-anti war feeling.

Unsurprisingly, I blame the left. Specifically, the anti-war left. The pro-war left enjoy the same advantages here that conservatives do - defending the actual. Their version won, they are defending something tangible and real. The anti-war left are defending a what if, what might have been.

Further, their tactics were ultimately of opportunism. They promoted the anti-war feeling - the SWP and its famous anger - it wants the workers to feel. They reduced the argument to an emotional content, to build a bigger movement, rather than try and build around a rational course.

Were I a reformist, I think I would have wanted to promote a rational political outcome of the anti-war protests, not an anti-Blair-lets-change-leaders feeling. Perhaps the example of revolutionary Spain. A law making a referendum required to be called before the country could go to war (with them as vote for the motion being conscripted first). A practical, tangible response, that could have garnered support from all sides, convinced they'd win the vote, but ultimately robbing lying, cheating politicians of the decision.

Of course, I don't believe I fall in either camp, and I'm not a reformist. I am not part of the warring identity, Impossiblists opposed the war as war, not any side of it, and oppose support for the resistance/insurgents/whatever now. I think the tangible opposition to war is socialism as an immediate and practical alternative. I'll continue to post about the war, for a while, developing this distinctive position, but I'll break out sometime soon.

Sheesh, and this was supposed to be a short post.

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Thursday, January 08, 2004

Letter to Norman Geras

Dear Norman,

It’s not for me to argue whether supporting the Iraq war was liberal or not. I do, and will, however, argue that it certainly was not Socialist, neither logically nor practically.

I will start by taking arms against your assertion that opponents of the war need to annunciate: 'It would be better if Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq'. Or: 'It would be better if the torture chambers and all the other paraphernalia of murder and oppression in Iraq were still in place', i.e. that that is their effective position.

This position puts me very much in mind of Bernard Shaw’s letters to the press, in praise of Jack the Ripper, for his having thrown a spotlight on the horrors of the East End. Are we expected to support the actions of powers in terms of their incidental outcomes?

Certainly, we know that alleviating the Iraqis was not a real concern of the Great powers – their hope remained, to the bitter end, for a Palace Coup so that a new dictator could come to power, ensuring the territorial integrity of Iraq and preventing the need to risk their own troops lives. Perhaps Tony Blair was looking forward to dealing with New Ba’ath – with their special New Torture chambers?

While we’re about it – can you say ‘It is better that the House of Fahd continues to rule in Saudi’ or ‘'It is better that the torture chambers and all the other paraphernalia of murder and oppression in Saudi Arabi are still in place'? This is as much your position. After all, we know, from the announcement, shortly after occupation, to pull American troops out of Saudi, that propping up the Tyrants of Arabia was at least one war aim. Removing the American presence that was destabilising a friendly, murderous, torturous regime.

This is not, you’ll note, the ‘Why single out this particular dictator while leaving others in place’ argument (though that is quite a strong one). This is that the active support of reaction was a significant motive and part of the war plan. It is not weighing the removal of one dictator against the failure to remove others (a result which can only be described as a positive good) but weighing the removal of one dictator against the support for another. Kaiser or Tsar?

That, at least, problematises the moral valancey of the war arguments, I hope. I want to discuss class, however.

There can be no doubt that the war has significantly weakened the Iraqi working class. Now, it needs to be understood that by war, I mean the war that has lasted for over ten years, culminating in the current occupation, and consisting of a state of siege which can be said to have strengthened Saddam’s internal power. After all, the arguments over the Sanctions deaths often includes the claim that the starvation was caused by Saddam – I’ll grant that, with the proviso that the state of siege helped him to achieve it.

Now, the workers of Iraq face 60% unemployment, the absence of basic facilities and infrastructure, dangerous factions unleashed, the collapse of civil government, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, state sanctioned murder by occupying forces, etc. It is clear that the war has been grossly detrimental to them, as well as to the workers in the occupying countries. For example the longshoremen in the US were threatened with national security reasons for striking during time of war, the Firefighters here were accused of stabbing British hired killers in the back, etc.

War inevitably damaged the interests of the working class, we who rely so heavily upon an integrated productive system, that the inevitable chaos of war harms us more than the potential gains of that war. Socialists, obviously, would have to support whatever actions the workers took to liberate themselves, but the war in Iraq has not liberated them, has not delivered (and appears unlikely to) democracy. It has, in fact, left most of the Ba’ath secret state apparatus intact, with former police being recalled to their duties under American tutelage.

Indeed, the experience of Afghanistan tells us that tribalism, reaction and anti-democratic politics will triumph, as the US looks around for cultures upon which to found a new hegemon.

All that said, I hope I’ve made clear that I consider that socialists should oppose all wars – as my organisation, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, has done throughout it 100 years of existence. I cannot support leftists who cheer on the ‘resistance’ in their campaign of murdering British, American and Iraqi workers to achieve their political ends. The most important thing for Iraq now is peace, at any price, to allow the working class to grow and be able to organise itself to engage in political action to capture the state machinery as part of a world socialist revolution.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Peace at Any Price

The Israel Palestine conflict is something of a cause celebre on the Left these days, with accusations of anti-semitism, inconstistancy, bruitality, stupidty and and any otehr type of -ty you can think of.

As an Impossiblist, I will state, for the record, that I believe in the abolition of Israel. Before the cries begin of double standards, special pleading, etc. may I point out that I believe in the abolition of Palestine, Ireland, Morrocco, Peru, Latvia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, United States of America and the UK. That is, I am an anti-nationalist. As an impossiblist I am opposed in principle to nationalism and nationalist revolts, I do not support any national liberation movement.

Consequently, I am not singling out the Jews as for specific opposition, but maintaining my consitent approach to refuting the idea that national independence is of banaefit to oppressed groups.

My basis for this is taking the class line. That in the end, a nation state is a unit of property, and that Jewish people do not own Israel, Jewish capitalists do, the rest remaining wage slaves who are exploited by them as own and control the state. Changing national boundaries, names, pack-drills, etc. just means a change in ownership and management, the wage slaves remain wages slaves nonetheless.

Hitching a ride with the new owners does not guarantee any safety for these wage-slaves, no extra protection, merely the opportunity to be dragooned into the defense of their masters property. Only the struggle for common and democratic ownership of the world by the human race can alleviate the the suffering caused by oppression and power. In any conflict, I am on the side of the workers.

Thus, in Israel, I, and the cause of the working class, is diminished by every worker slain by a suicide bomber - Israeli or Palestinean. Evrery child gunned down, every bairn blown up, everyone slaughtered in a rocket blast, are losses to the army of socilaism.

War itself is a noxious evil for the workers, an anti-democratic darwinian machine that saps our productive strength and our capacity to work together and co-operate - a fact learnt in every workplace. Hence why we take the position, of peace at any price. Capitalist peace, that is, when the organised slaughter is suspended, and the workers have the opportunity to organise and build consciously and directly to take power, peacefully, in their own interest.

It is better an 'unjust' peace, with one bunch of capitalists screwed over by the other, with the boundary drawn in the wrong place, with the military position emasculated, than to fight in the capitalists' wars.

For me, then, the clear Impossiblist position is to oppose the conflict in Israel/Palestine as such, and figure the workers' movement as a world-wide force, as the only thing capable of bringing a 'just' resolution, one in which the interests and divisions of capitalist conflict are eradicated.

Workers have no country.

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