Thursday, September 30, 2004

'Fascist-minded, racist... scum'

That's what Gerald Kaufman calls people in the Countryside Alliance who attacked him on Tuesday in his article in today's The Guardian. Kaufman writes that "I was spotted by a pro-hunt demonstrator, a stout, middle-aged man dressed in checked tweeds. He rushed up to me and yelled: "You Jewish bigot!" He went on screaming this at me dozens of times; perhaps it was the only phrase he knew." He goes on to say that "[t]he commotion he made attracted other pro-hunt demonstrators, hundreds of them, who surrounded me... All of them were howling at me, and a number took up the tweed-clad man's theme, offering such observations as: "You're an immigrant", and "You weren't born in this country" ."

No surprise that the Countryside Alliance is full of tweed-wearing racist reactionaries. While the backward views of some in the Countryside Alliance will not surprise most people - pro-fox hunting protesters' threatened and actual use of violence seems to have come as an unexpected shock to many in the media. But, really, the willingness of social elites to resort to violence and illegality when they feel their interests seriously under threat is to be expected. Perhaps I can draw a (rather tenuous) comparison here - Chile 1973. The ruling class in Chile had no compunction against overthrowing the democratically elected socialist President, Allende, in an illegal and murderous coup. In normal periods, when things are going its way, the social elite is, of course, loudly in favour of confining political activity to established 'constitutional channels', respect for 'the rule of law' and parliamentary democracy - indeed they find it hard to shut up about how great they are. However, history shows us that, when the dominant class feels its interests seriously threatened, it will not hesitate to drop its otherwise seemingly inviolable reverence for parliamentary democracy and legality. Parliamentary democracy is fine - as long as the interests of the ruling class are not attacked. This is the central lie of capitalist democracy. I do not mean that parliamentary democracy is a 'sham' and certainly not that 'bourgeois freedoms' are false. We must struggle to protect our democratic rights and freedoms. What I mean is that 'bourgeois freedoms' are severely limited by the structure of economic power inherent in capitalist social relations. The ruling class under capitalism has ultimate political power - democratic freedoms and rights exist only on their say so.

Of course, the parallel we can draw between the actions of the foxhunting protesters and the actions of those who overthrew Allende is only a very vague one. On the most obvious level, the illegality and violence of the foxhunting idiots consists of low level thuggishness and scuffles with police - while the Allende example involves the bloody, military overthrow of parliamentary democracy! The impending ban on fox-hunting clearly does not threaten the central interests of the ruling class - and indeed it is incorrect to see the pro-foxhunting movement simply as a ruling class movement. The defence of foxhunting is, at most, only of significant interest to peripheral fractions of the dominant class - predominantly the rural landowning aristocratic/semi-aristocratic fractions. The comparison between this, then, and the actions of the ruling class in Chile - where the fundamental economic interests of the whole bourgeoisie were under threat - is in many ways a trivial one. However, I think that, in some small way at least, the violent and illegal reaction of the foxhunting elite to the upcoming ban should reinforce socialists' understanding that the commitment of the ruling class to democracy and constitutional activity is by no means unconditional. It should further underline the harsh political reality that, when push comes to shove, the bourgeoisie will react violently against any serious attempts to wrest power from its grip.

Enough of the wider political lessons for socialists to be drawn from this whole foxhunting thing. What about the immediate issue at hand? Is the ban on foxhunting important - in fact should we support it? Much of the debate of course revolves around the issue of animal suffering. Beyond the immediate arguments over animal cruelty, there are two types of argument made in defence of hunting which stand out. Firstly, there are arguments made (especially on the letters page of the liberal newspapers) against the ban on the grounds of 'liberal tolerance'. The argument goes something like this: foxhunting is rather a trivial matter to get upset about and that the activities of a minority group in society should not be banned unless absolutely necessary - especially when that activity is of central importance to that minority group's sense of identity. The second argument (and this argument usually comes from quarters more to the political right) is that that the real impetus behind the moves to ban foxhunting is driven by a barely concealed class issue - dislike of the 'toffs' and 'honest country people'. The claims about cruelty, this argument goes, act as a kind of smoke screen for the real motivations of the anti-hunt lobby.

I think that the answer I would give to these two arguments run into to each other and I will set them out in a minute. Before that, a quick note on the cruelty issue. I certainly think that some elements of the anti-foxhunting lobby articulate rather ludicrously sentimental and unrealistic points of view. The fox is not a cuddly creature (and it certainly has no qualms about ripping chickens to pieces for example). Is concern over the cruelty of foxhunting then, misplaced? No, I don't think so. Though some animal rights campaigners sentimentalise the issue and paint childish images of cuddly foxy woxys, this does not mean that the suffering of hunted foxes can be dismissed as the concern only of infantile idiots. The deliberate infliction of pain and suffering on a sentient creature for the sole purpose of amusing human beings is no activity for civilised people to engage in. The natural world is a cruel place - foxes are not nice to chickens - but humans have evolved to the point where we can make conscious choices about whether or not to inflict suffering on others. If it is not necessary then we should not not do it - choosing not to harm other creatures is a mark of our humanity and of our (partial) separation from other animals. The fact that this creature we choose not to harm does not have the capacity to understand the concept of cruelty and moral choice is neither here nor there.

In addition, it is often argued that it is hypocritical to ban foxhunting while far greater animal cruelties exist unchecked - battery farming of poultry for example. But this is a stupid argument. You can be against foxhunting and battery farming. The fact that far greater evil exists does not mean that we should be unconcerned about smaller ones.

Now for the arguments against banning hunting which make use of the concept of liberal tolerance and idea of class based petty nastiness. Any good socialist will tell you that liberal arguments about 'pluralism' are usually a load of bollocks. Liberal pluralism usually overlooks the economic and political relations of power that lie under the surface. It is all very well to seek to safeguard diversity and plurality - as long as you are not blind to the structures of domination which underlie any given social formation. Those liberals who seek to protect foxhunting on the gounds of 'toleration' and 'minority rights' typically fail to see this 'minority interest group' in the context of wider relations of social hierarchy and power. The foxhunting lobby is not just 'another minority group' on a par with, say, Sikhs or single mothers. As a whole, in fact, they are a very powerful group and foxhunting exists, in a way, as an emblem of that power.

Foxhunting is rooted in the relations of power which grew up around the development of capitalism. Foxhunting only really took off in the late 18th century - at around the same time that land was appropriated on a massive scale by the by the rich, thanks to the Acts of Enclosure. Foxhunting requires the availability of large, relatively unpopulated and relatively open spaces of land. Uncultivated woodland on the one hand, and land divided into plots farmed by large numbers of peasants on the other is awfully difficult to charge across on horseback with a large number of mates. Foxhunting on a relatively large scale was only made possible because of the direct ownership of large amounts of sparsely populated, open land by a small number of people. The act of charging across farmland on horseback is also a great way of signifying your ownership of territory and ability to do what you please on it.

Foxhunting was/is not the exclusive preserve of super-rich landowners of course. Like all high status pursuits, foxhunting attracts the attentions of the nouveaux riches anxious to ape the lifestyles of the social group they aspire to be associated with. This still applies today. Foxhunting is a high status pursuit. Engaging in foxhunting is a way of signifying your belonging to a social elite. Anyone who has seen a hunt gathering will tell you that there is a real sense of elitist social hierarchy amongst foxhunters. Riders will often be gentry-types and relatively rich landowners, together with a sprinkling of nouveaux riches from various quarters (think of Otis Ferry). They are surrounded by cap doffing rural working class types who attend to the dogs and by middle and working class spectators who turn up to watch, in admiration, the activities of people who they, consciously or unconsciously, regard as their 'betters'. Foxhunting and class relations/hierarchy are intimately bound up together. It is the preserve of a social elite and an emblem of their power.

As for the argument that opposition to foxhunting is often based on some barely concealed notion of class war, my answer is - well yes it is, so what? Ok, the liberal left would baulk at being accused of stoking up class struggle. For the far-left amongst the anti-hunt lobby, however, the accusation that we are motivated by class struggle is entirely true and is nothing to be ashamed of.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Brown and Third World Debt

On Sunday, Gordon Brown pledged that Britain would write off its share of the debts owed by third world countries to the World Bank. This is to be welcomed - and lets hope that other countries follow suit (as I understand Canada is planning to do).

However, we should not get carried away in our praise for Brown's generosity here. For one thing, as the World Development Movement point out Brown is not writing off all of the UK's share of third world debt - only those owed to the World Bank. It does not cover IMF debts amongst others. Moreover, the cold grip of neo-liberal theology has not been loosened. War on Want report that 'The UK government is giving away millions of pounds from the UK aid budget to privatisation consultants engaged to ‘advise’ developing countries on handing over their public services to the private sector'. As John Hilary from War on Want says '"[t]here is a solid body of evidence showing that privatisation of public services increases poverty in developing countries."' Brown's moves to write off debt then represent a step in the right direction - but a very small step.

It would take an awful lot of persuading to make the 'left-leaning' Brown admit that neo-liberalism, enforced privatisation and 'structural adjustment' is immensely damaging to millions of lives (talk about global terrorism!) - that would really be a victory - but, of course, in reality, the causes of third world poverty are embedded within the structures of the global economic system at a much deeper level even than this. While Labourist social democrats might be forced to concede that neo-liberal economics cause misery, they could never admit that the responsibility for third world poverty lies with capitalism itself.

There are two excellent pieces of work covering the historical roots of third world poverty. I highly recommend them both. Giovanni Arrighi contributed an essay on 'The African Crisis' to New Left Review in 2002. You can see this article on-line here. Arrighi concentrates, for the most part on post-1975 changes in the world economy and its effects on sub-saharan Africa. He explains the radical descent into economic disaster and starvation in the late 70s and 80s in the context of the world crisis of capitalism which set in after rates of profit began to drop in the 1970s after the 'golden age' of post-war Keynesian growth. In addition to a crisis in terms of profit rates, the world hegemonic power, the US, was also suffering from a (connected) crisis of legitimacy in terms of its hegemonic status. The US had suffered disastrous defeat in Vietnam and also lost face when the Shah was overthrown in Iran. In addition there was growing crisis of confidence in the Dollar. Arrighi explains that the US responded to these crises in a number of ways including (crucially in terms of third world debt) ' resorting to economic policies—a drastic contraction in money supply, higher interest rates, lower taxes for the wealthy, and virtually unrestricted freedom of action for capitalist enterprise—that liquidated not just the legacy of the domestic New Deal but also, and especially, the Fair Deal for poor countries ostensibly launched by Truman in 1949.Through this battery of policies, the US government started to compete aggressively for capital worldwide, to finance a growing trade and current account deficit in its own balance of payments; thereby provoking a sharp increase in real interest rates worldwide—and a major reversal in the direction of global capital flows'. Arrighi shows that this deliberately engineered hike in interest rates lead directly to the African famines we all remember from the 1980s.

The second thing I recommend here is Mike Davis's 'Late Victorian Holocausts' (Verso, 2001). In this Davis sets out the 'hidden history' of the Victorian era - the massive famines that swept through third world countries in the age of colonialism and imperialism. Davis shows that it was the integration of (what are now) third world economies into the global capitalist system that lead to the almost unimaginable death tolls which he sets out - death tolls he points out which are virtually unrecorded in most mainstream historical accounts of the Victorian era (the victors of course, write history - we hear of the dreadful famines that ravaged Mao's China for example, but little about the capitalist famines). The brutal opening up of Indian, South American etc markets and their integration into the world system of liberal capitalism by imperial powers had devastating consequences. Davis tells us that in India, for example, 'there were 31 serious famines in 120 years of British rule and only seventeen recorded famines in the entire previous two millenia' (Davis, 2002, 287). Davis points out that today's third world poverty can be traced back to the effects of Victorian imperialism.

What to do then? Brown's reforms should be welcomed and indeed any measures that will lead to the relief of poverty must be supported. But, if, as Davis and Arrighi claim, the roots of third world poverty are firmly embedded within the workings of capitalism then reforms, of course, can never be enough. Only the abolition of capitalism and the genuine socialist transformation of the world economy can provide an adequate solution. But we already knew that.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Highlights and Lowlights

Some highlights and lowlights from around the small world of blogs I swim through like a fish in the night - or something.

Hak Mao gets all hot under the kitty collar about religion, in response to a Nick Cohen article about secularism. OK, much of this I agree with, but I find myself equally hostile to those who are stridently anti-religious as those sorts of fundamentalists Hak mentions. In particular I agree with Hak that 'the emancipation of humanity is achievable through education and the equitable distribution of wealth and resources, not by prayer and hopes for the hereafter.' However, a hostile attitude towards religious belief is, I think as much a bigoted stance as that of say some US televangelist. Remember, after all that religion is not just the 'opium of the people' in some pejorative sense (indeed opium was used as a medicinal relase from pain) it is also the 'sigh of the oppressed' and the 'heart of heartless world'. Like everything, theology and religious belief must be seen in a dialectical way - it is changeable and it may have many positive and negative points about it simultaneously. It is also mistaken to see any religion as a homogenous mass and certainly wrong to denounce it as always reactionary. Think of the catholic priests amongst the Sandinistas, Camillo Torres, etc. Think of the many socialists who were and are also Christian, Jewish, Muslim etc.

Harry's Place get all reactionary and bothered about the 'cult' of Che Guevara. Apparently Che was a committed 'Stalinist'. These guys just don't give up.

Lenin provides us with an interesting essay in defence of the idea of the 'withering away of the state' in response to the ex-Marxist, Norman Geras' worries. In my Debsian Socialist guise I weigh in with a typically unfocussed stream of consciousness somewhere in the comments box.

Finally, Mahagonny gives the libertarians a good kicking over their misinterpretation of Hegel and also manages to get one of them to change his rightwing little mind over the aforesaid philosopher's arguments.

Victor Serge

I came across this short essay by Victor Serge today (in my opinion a moral collossus of the early 20th century socialist movement) called 'Flame on the Snow'. I recommend it to all. It's a description of some Bolshevik militia in the snows of winter 1920/1921. I found it highly poignant as I read it. It seems to encapsulate so many of the contradictions of Bolshevism and the nature of the situation that the revolutionaries found themselves in, in the first few years of the revolution - one both of great hope and great tragedy.

Serge was a supporter of the Bolshevik revolution, and indeed went over to Russia to assist in 1919. He was present in Russia as the early hopes of the revolutionaries were gradually worn away and the nightmare of Stalinism began to set in. He joined the Left opposition in Russia against Stalin (along with Trotsky) and only narrowly escaped the purges. Later Serge became highly critical (and I think quite rightly) of Trotsky - and in particular the rather ruthless moral consequentialism he expounded. But he never lost faith in the possibility of socialism and never went back on his support of and praise for the ideals and hopes of the 1917 revolution. The site I link to has an excelent quote which perhaps sums up Serge's thoughts about Bolshevism and Stalinism:

“It is often said that ‘the germ of all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning’. Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs, a mass of other germs, and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious socialist revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in the corpse – and which he may have carried in him since his birth – is that very sensible?”

Good stuff. The essay 'Flame on the Snow' expresses quite effectively I think both the horror and the hopes of post-revolutionary Russia at a time when the Bolsheviks were attempting to fight off the Whites and foreign interventionist armies. We are given a sense of the ideals which drive the revolutionaries and also, very honestly, of the conditions which seem to be dirtying and soiling those ideals - the brutalising horror of life and death struggle in the snows of winter.

Serge seems to express doubts, perhaps about the revolution (both his and those of the militia) - 'Return. Tire. The rifle weighs. It is necessary. It is necessary. It is necessary. We will make the new life. ' - It is 'necessary' Serge seems to repeat to himself. Is Serge here trying to convey a sense of doubt here - a mental struggle to convince himself to go on in the face of all the hardships and all the moral complexities and ambiguities the revolutionaries must deal with? In the headquaters there is a portrait - 'Karl Marx, framed with red ribbons. The ribbons are bleached; the portrait loses its colour.' This draining away of colour expresses some of the draining away of hope - the degeneration of the revolution, perhaps. In addition, we have a striking description of a 'dying factory' which suggests the wider hardships that Russia faces -

'And the immense dead factory, scrap in the walkways, rusted benches, formidable squatted machines, oiled, inactive, the halls with windows whose panes have been broken. There will remain soon only the metal casings drawn up on the ruins of a city ... The immense dead factory, thirty thousand workers in 1914, four and a half thousand present today. Others: dead, returned to the ground, they died the best, or soldiers.'

The industrial base of the country is being ground away - the proletariat, the basis of the revolution is shrinking - and more than this we get a sense of the enormous loss of human life - Bolshevik soldiers dying in the vicious civil war. On top of this Serge is not afraid to show us a list of those executed by the Cheka - they list the names, ages and crimes of the convicted. Here we get a sense perhaps of a loss of moral certainty - the inevitable dirtying of hands as the revolutionaries attempt to retain their grip in the face of overwhelming odds and violent opposition. Serge's own reaction to this brutality is one I think of resigned confusion - what can be done? Is this necessary? Serge I think has ambiguous feelings here. He may argue that in extreme situations measures such as these were unavoidable (and indeed at the time the Whites were massacring far greater numbers and these people remained anonymous - no public posting of the names and crimes of those Reds killed) but is clearly rather horrified by it. The tone of the essay suggests that he is stuggling to retain hope amidst the horror of what he sees around him.

The hope Serge struggles to keep hold of is articulated I think, quite movingly, in the last lines -

'Consciousness that the present hardly exists; and that it is necessary to give everything, at this hour, to the future so that there may be a present. Consciousness that all of us are nothing if we are not with our class, its humanity rising. Consciousness that work ahead does not have limits, that it requires a million arm and brains, that it is the only justification of our lives. Consciousness that a world collapses and that you can live only while giving yourself to the world which waits to be born.'

Perdido Street Station

OK, here's my first book review.

A few weeks ago I came across an essay called 'Capitalist Monsters' by Steve Shapiro in the excellent Historical Materialism journal in which a number of fantasy/Sci-fi short-stories/novels by socialist writers were discussed in the context of Marxist theory. Amongst those mentioned was Perdido Street Station (2000, Pan Books) by China Mieville. I'm not a big fantasy or sci-fi fan (the image of Red Dwarf convention Geeks springs to mind) but the review of this book was sufficiently intriguing to make me hunt down a copy of the book. Mielville also contributed an introductory essay to this issue of Historical Materialism which I found very interesting.

Mieville is a Marxist. This, of course, informs his view of the workings of society, the nature of social relationships and the formation of individual human consciousness. Unlike most other Fantasy/Sci-Fi writers, Mieville takes great care to construct fictional societies in his story which, although fantastical in many ways, are given believable and seemingly material and concrete foundations. Mieville is critical of the tendency in most Fantasy/Sci-fi stories for authors to present, say, feudal type societies populated by warrior knights and dutiful servants without paying attention to the economic and productive basis on which these social relationships must be based. Take Tolkein, for example. Intelligent life (Humans, Elves, Orcs etc) on Middle Earth seem to be exist within medieval kinds of social structures - we are presented with Kings, Knights, Peasants etc. But it is never really shown or explained how the characters we come across are provided with the means for life. Who produces Gandalf's food? Where do the Hobbits' clothes come from? Who built the magnificent structures of Rivendell - who maintains them? Tolkein is a good example of this tendency in Fantasy fiction - the medieval social existences they present seem to be suspended in mid air. This, of course, ties in with the tendency in Fantasy literature to focus almost exclusively on noble, high-born chartacters existing somewhere in the upper levels of social hierarchy. Those few low born characters we see, such as Sam the Hobbit, are idealised peasant types - cap-doffing simpletons with good hearts. But, the armies of slaves or field-toiling peasants who must, necessarily exist to support the upper hierarchies of well born characters are never shown or alluded to. Mieville's world (New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station) however is invested with a strong sense of realism. New Crobuzon is a city of factories, industrial chimneys and pollution populated by workers, scientists, politicians and professionals. The economic 'base' of the New Crozubon 'superstructure' is brought impressively to the reader's attention. Mieville almost hits us across the face with a sense of the brutal, concrete reality of the industrialised, productive economy of his imaginary city.

In addition, Mieville is critical of what he terms the 'tendency towards moral absolutism in fantasy, the idea that orcs/trolls/whatever are bad, as a kind of racial characteristic' (Quoted from interview with Mieville on the China Mieville site). The racist implications of such a tendency are immediately apparent - but in addition to this aspect, Mieville is just as critical of moral absolutism per se. His characters are not morally unambiguous - there are no clear cut 'goodies' or 'baddies' (although it is clear that some characters are better than others). Mieville prefers to present rather more complicated characters than this - characters with motivations, and reasons for what they do other than the simple authorial assertion that they are 'good' or 'bad'.

Mieville's involvement in the Fantasy genre of literature is pretty unusual for a committed Marxist. Fantasy and Science Fiction is often regarded as 'escapist' or 'irrationalist' by those on the political Left. But Mieville is surely right to point out that 'considerations of the fantastic have long been part of certain Marxist traditions. they stretch from the Frankfurt School Marxists and Walter Benjamin on Surrealism, Kafka and disney, to Ernst Bloch on Utopia, the Trotskysant surrealists such as Breton and Pierre Naville, and the sloganeering of the Situationists attempting to turn the fantastic and dreams into class weapons' (Mieville, Historical Materialism, 2002, 10. 4). In addition Mieville points out that the fantastic should be of interest to socialists for a more important reason - to do with the Marxist analysis of social reality under capitalism. For Marxists, the 'real' under capitalism is fantastic. 'The lived reality' he points out 'of capitalism is commodity fetishism' (op. cit.). Under capitalism '[o]ur commodities control us, and our social relations are dictated by their relations and interactions' (op.cit.). Any narrow 'realism' - any supposed direct depiction of reality as it appears to us on the surface unmediated by any form of ideologically clouded subjectivity - is as ideological as reality itself. Mieville, argues, therefore, that any putatively 'realistic' novel is not necessarily more insightful or, indeed, less escapist than a fantasy story. Mieville claims that '[f]antasy is a mode that, in constructing an internally but actually impossible totality - constructed on the basis that the impossible is, for this work, true - mimics the 'absurdity of capitalist modernity.... [T] he fantastic might enable us to open up for a critical art' (op.cit.).

A very brief synopsis: an academic scientist, Isaac, is approached by a Garuda - a winged bird man type creature who has been exiled by his people and had his wings amputated for reasons the Garuda is reluctant to explain - and asked to help him fly again. Isaac's experiments with a 'crisis engine' lead the pair to think that Isaac could indeed find a way to help the Garuda fly. Isaac's experiments lead to a series of events leading to the accidental release of creatures called 'slake moths' - insect like beings kept in captivity by organised criminals who 'milk' the creatures of hallucinogenic substances they then sell illegally to drug users - who wreak havoc on New Crobuzon society. The creatures feed on the consciousness of their victims - sucking their minds dry like insects feed on pollen-nectar. Isaac and a gang of associates attempt to deal with the flying horror, before the corrupt authorities of New Crozubon can descend on them.

It's actually a lot better than my synopsis sounds.

One of the most interesting aspects of Mieville's story is his presentation of the 'slake moths'. This is the aspect of Perdido Street Station that Shapiro focuses on in his essay mentioned above. The 'slake moths' are strikingly allegorical creatures in some ways - they are, as Shapiro suggests, particulary 'capitalist monsters'. I don't mean this in any crude sense - the moths don't go around in top hats attempting to screw people out of money. They are in many ways representatives not of capitalists, or of any particular human behaviour associated with the capitalist mode of production but of capital itself in a general sense. Shapiro reminds us of Marx's famous description of capital as 'dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks'. Capital, like the slake moths, is essentially parasitic, draining its victims of the surplus value - appropriating part of the energy we might say- they create. The slake moths do not suck human labour itself of course, but live off the psychic exudations of their human prey. In a fine description, Shapiro writes that ' in their rapacity and insatiability - and indeed, in their very presence in the air over the city - the slake moths are an expression... of the self-valorising movements of capital. As psychic vampires who prey on imagination and thought, they enact the appropriation and accumulation of human mental creativity. ' (Shapiro, Historical Materialism, 2002, 10.4) . Shapiro goes on to say that '[t]hey even transform this impapable intellectual capital... into a tangible commodity' (Op.cit) - that is they produce a substance which can be sold on as a consumer drug.

Shapiro argues that the 'escaped moths' unrestrained predation is a nightmare of surplus appropration gone mad' (op.cit.). While in captivity, their appropriation of human mental creativity was controllable and regulated by the criminals who owned them (capitalists owning the means of production?) and supervised by the corrupt New Crobuzon authorities (the capitalist state providing protection for its own national capitals?) . But once released the slake moths are uncontrollable. This Shapiro argues reminds us of the ultimately uncontrollable nature of capitalist accumulation - its tendency to devour all before it and, no less importantly, its inherent instability (what would the moths do once they had exhausted the supply of human prey?).

There are other aspects of Melville's novels which can be read in a Marxist light and which Shapiro does not mention. The unreal global web of the 'Weaver' (an ethereal spider creature) could be seen to parallel the global 'web' of capitalist social relations which both ensnares and links all inhabitants of the world. The idea of 'crisis' which provides the basis for Isaac's crisis engine - a dynamic ever-changing force inherent in reality and human activity which (through Isaac's engine can be harnessed by human ingenuity) is reminiscent, perhaps, of Marxist ideas of dialectical change and the forces which drive history and human development. The 'Vodyanoi' (amphibious creature who work the docks) who go on strike against their employers and the underground revolutionary paper the 'Runagate Rampant' are much more immediately apparent references to Marxist politics.

One of the most striking passages in the novel I think comes when it is explained what the Garuda's crime was - why he was exiled from his community. It appears that the Garuda is guilty of 'choice-theft' - the only crime that the Garuda can conceive of. Choice theft is to 'take the choice of another... to forget their concrete reality, to abstract them, to forget that you are a node in a matrix, that actions have consequences. We must not take the choices of another being. What is community but a means to... for all we individuals to have...our choices.' (Mieville, 2000, 847). The Garuda explains that 'we have all the choices that we can. Except when someone forgets themselves, forgets the reality of their companions, as if they were an individual alone... And steals food, and takes the choice of others to eat it, or lies about game, and takes the choice of other to hunt it; or grows angry and attacks without reason, and takes the choice of another not to be bruised or live in fear'. (op. cit). This, it seems to me is a very interesting articulation of socialist ideas about freedom. There is nothing in the socialist conception of a just society that would mean that individuality was subsumed and lost within some communal totality. Quite the opposite. For socialists real freedom and individuality is only possible once we realise that we exist within a social whole. Individuals exist within a network of social relations - indeed are constituted by them. Freedom does not exist in some turning away from others - in some right wing libertarian view of 'negative' liberty - we can only become free through our relationships with others. A libertarian survivalist living alone in a cabin in Utah is not free in any substantial sense. We are social creatures and can only express and create our own individuality in cooperation with and respect for others as real and valuable creatures. We can be free only in and through our relationships with others. This, i think, is what Mieville is trying to express through the Garuda.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

My Previous Work

Until now, I have been operating under various pseudonyms on various sites. I am also known as 'Debsian Socialist' - under which guise I have been appearing on various other blogs. As I can't be arsed to write anything very clever here at the moment you may like to search out my words of genius on other sites including 'Lenin's Tomb' and Harry's Place'. This will give you a good idea of the calibre of intellectual you are dealing with here. I also appear on Guardian Unlimited's Talk pages (mostly on International) but I can't give you my user name for that because some of the people on that site are mental and they might track me down and murder me with a breeze block or something.

So anyway. That's all.

Welcome to my blog fishface

This is my first post. It is a load of bollocks. But, in time, it will contain all sorts of fabulous stuff on topics ranging from Poulantzas' theory of state power to making paper aeroplanes. Probly.

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